I already teased on Twitter that I was very excited by a particular card from War of the Spark, for a particularly odd reason:
I just realised that Fblthp makes a deck work in standard that I’ve tried to make happen for so long. So excited!
I’m gonna keep it under wraps for now, but it’s a combo deck where it’s actually important that two of your combo pieces are foil 🤔
— Sleep-In Simon Nielsen (@MrChecklistcard) April 5, 2019
This tweet is quite cryptic, it almost seems like a troll. How could it be important that some of your cards are foil? And what does Fblthp, the Lost have to do with this?
Well, dear readers, this is the article where I will unveil my pet project that has been going on for far too long.
This one is very similar to Wolverine’s
It was during preparation for Pro Tour Dominaria, back when I was still playtesting with team Mintcard, that Christian Calcano exclaimed in our team forum that he had just faced some odd God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck with all-stars such as Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, Diligent Excavator and Rona, Disciple of Gix that would just go infinite in some convoluted combo with Walking Ballista.
Both Lee Shi Tian and I love weird combo decks in Standard so we went into the archetype, trying to see if we could mimic what that deck did. In the end, the power level felt short and the deck is almost impossible to test on Magic Online, so we let it sit.
In Core Set 2019 Militia Bugler got printed, and breathed new life into our hopes and dreams of this deck. After all, it can find all the combo pieces! We liked the deck somewhat, Zen Takahashi was even close to just locking in the deck for his Nationals, but in the end we were not happy with our sideboard.
Rotation happened, and Gate to the Afterlife is no longer in Standard. But of course we still took a look at the deck for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. Lazav, the Multifarious was a huge overperformer in the deck, and we could replace Walking Ballista with Chamber Sentry, so there was hope. But alas, a bad manabase and just missing that one last thing led me to discard the deck yet again.
After the first week of War of the Spark spoilers, my fire got reignited, and I am committed to at least try to make this deck work:
Historic Combo by Simon Nielsen
What do you mean this goes infinite?
Okay, let me preface this by saying that the combo sounds incredibly convoluted like it’s some magical Christmas land. If I just told you that it’s a 6-7 card combo, you’d just roll your eyes at me, immediately close the article and possibly sue Mage for wasting your time. But if someone were to explain the KCI combo to you by naming all the individual pieces of their infinite combo, you’d also think that was a crazy, stupid deck.
The essence here is that as long as your graveyard is stocked enough, you only need a Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle in play and activate the chain with a historic spell – of which you have 8 that cost 0 mana, so you don’t even necessarily need to untap with Teshar.
The way it works is that you play Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle and play a Chamber Sentry for 0. That one is great because it costs no mana and dies as soon as it hits play. With Teshar’s trigger you bring back Rona, Disciple of Gix which then grabs a second Chamber Sentry out of your graveyard. Your initial Chamber Sentry will resolve and go to the graveyard. Then you cast the Sentry that was exiled by Rona, trigger Teshar again and bring back yet another Rona, which recurs the original Chamber Sentry. You sacrifice the other Rona to the triggered ability and now you have created a loop, where Chamber Sentry brings back Rona, Disciple of Gix which brings back Chamber Sentry. Though you do need two of each to make it work.
At this point we have demonstrated a loop but we aren’t going anywhere. The simplest win condition is to have Diligent Excavator out and just mill their entire library. I will get back to more elaborate win conditions in a moment.
You don’t always need two Chamber Sentries because we also have Mox Amber as a free historic spell. It can go to the graveyard for free as well because it’s legendary, but because of the timing restriction you either need one Chamber Sentry plus two Mox Amber or 3 Mox Amber.
However, if you go off with Mox Amber you’ll also gain infinite mana in the process, which is pretty key to stitch together a win condition even when you don’t have Diligent Excavator yet.
The win condition
Oh you thought I was done with the explanations?
In true Matt Nass-style, I only want to play win conditions that actually fit into my game plan. Diligent Excavator is perfect for this, because when you run it out on turn 2 you can just start milling yourself for every historic spell you cast. Of which you have a lot.
This also means that if you have Diligent Excavator in play when you cast Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, you can actually start to go off even though you don’t have all the pieces yet, just hoping to mill the last ones as you go.
But in a game where you don’t have access to Diligent Excavator, you can still go off. If you instead have the infinite mana combo with Mox Amber you can, once you have thousands of mana in your pool, replace the Mox Ambers with Lazav, the Multifarious. Since it’s legendary, Rona, Disciple of Gix can pick it up just as well.
Once you played Lazav and surveilled, you can easily get it into your graveyard again by copying a Chamber Sentry which makes Lazav die immediately so that he is ready for another go. This way you get to look through your own entire deck, and once you have surveilled into a Diligent Excavator you can just copy that and mill out the opponent.
If you have two Fblthp, the Lost you can also do a similar loop where your Rona keeps picking up the poor homunculus and you’ll be able to just draw your entire deck (which is pretty good with infinite mana).
Sometimes milling everything is not what you need
However, sometimes milling the opponent for all their cards is not good enough. Nexus of Fate will just shuffle back in, and you can die when you pass the turn. Unlike Walking Ballista, Chamber Sentry needs a turn in play before it gets to deal damage, so that is useless for this purpose.
I knew I wanted to include a single card in my maindeck that would let me win against a Nexus deck. And in line with the best combo deck philosophy, it had to be one that fit my game plan. Since we have access to our entire deck when we go off, a single copy is fine. Even when we don’t have access to infinite mana yet, but have the rest of the combo in place, you can just mill yourself until you hit the necessary Mox Amber.
I settled for a single maindeck Plaguecrafter. I already wanted it in my sideboard, and it lets you play an effective grinding game with Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle. But once you have access to all the mana and your entire deck, you can use Lazav, the Multifarious to copy a Teshar in your graveyard. Because of the way Lazav is worded, this lets you have two Teshars in play, so every time you go through the loop you also get to bring back a Plaguecrafter to clear all creatures and planeswalkers they may have in play as well as all the cards in their hand. You can mill their library down until it only contains Nexus of Fate and without any other resources, even though they can technically take all the turns, they can’t advance the board state, so they will have to pass the turn and die to the lethal board you will have amassed in the process.
This strategy is also a good way to avoid dying to a Lightning Strike on your opponent’s upkeep before they have to draw from an empty library.
Alternatives to Plaguecrafter that I considered are:
- Cruel Celebrant. It cleanly drains your opponent’s life total as you go off and can be found with Militia Bugler. It can also pad your life total as you chump-block against an aggro deck, but overall it’s quite useless to draw.
- Explosive Apparatus. Quite a weak card, but it’s at least a cheap historic card to use with Teshar. I wouldn’t recommend it unless there’s something with two toughness you also really need to get rid of.
- Bolas’s Citadel. This is another sideboard card which makes it a very compelling choice. It can get picked up by Rona as part of the loop, and it should be trivial to get 9 other useless permanents in play, so since Citadel can sacrifice itself you just get to use it over and over again. Also, since our spells are quite cheap and you can see if you have a land or spell on top when you choose targets for Diligent Excavator, you could just go off with the card. If it overperforms, I could see moving it to the maindeck.
The supporting cast
The rag-tag team that keeps it all together
I already mentioned how Diligent Excavator is good even outside the combo, because it lets you fill up your graveyard super quickly which is important as this is mainly how you find your combo. I’m not sure you need all 4 though, I could see 3 or maybe even 2 be the correct number. But since it makes the combo so much less demanding if you have it in play, I think it’s good to just start all four.
Stitcher’s Supplier does a similar job as a cheap way to fill up the graveyard. You can’t really make it die outside of chump-blocking, but you can also do that quite liberally. This is also something Plaguecrafter can help with, or you can ping it with Chamber Sentry. I’m also not sure that this is a 4-of, but again, a full graveyard makes things so much easier.
Lazav, the Multifarious is indeed multifarious in this deck as it’s both a way to help dig through your deck, an early enabler of Mox Amber and can be part of your combo. But most importantly it copies Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle so that you have access to the combo even if you only milled your legendary bird cleric but never drew it. Rona, Disciple of Gix can do something similar as it can recur Teshar from the graveyard itself.
Lazav could maybe be trimmed to 3 copies, it’s not actually super essential.Militia Bugler is the glue that holds it all together. With a 96 % hitrate, it lets you access any part of the convoluted combo that you miss. It can also just let you play a grindy game and it’s perfect to bring back with a Teshar in such a scenario. Interactions like these are why you don’t need to go fully off when you try to combo. Since Bugler can also find Chamber Sentry, that’s an easy way to just complete the combo or keep the value-chain going. Traveler’s Amulet is basically a way to turn some of our lands – which we don’t need very many of – into a cheap historic spell to trigger Teshar. The correct ratio of lands and amulets isn’t clear to me yet.
The little homunculus that could
Let me just say that I love how Wizards actually went ahead and created a card for this fan favorite flavor-text legend from the original Totally Lost. And I love even more, that the final design is basically just a blue, legendary Elvish Visionary. Which is exactly what this deck needs!
It sifts through our deck as an early play, enables Mox Amber, triggers Teshar and can be brought back for value, gets found off of Militia Bugler and enables you to draw your deck once you have the pieces. That is just wonderful, and I didn’t even mention how you can enable it to draw two with Bolas’s Citadel!
Playing for a grindy game
What I really love about creature-based combo decks is that you just get to win games by accumulating value and attacking with innocuous creatures. This deck is no different, and the sideboard is designed to play well with the Militia Bugler and Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle side of the deck.
We can find removal spells with our buglers, use Rona, Disciple of Gix to get us a Massacre Girl that we milled over or just make them sacrifice their creatures over and over again with Plaguecrafter.
Right now, nobody really plays any sort of graveyard-hate, but one issue that I have thought about for postboard games is how Tocatli Honor Guard completely shuts down this deck. Even all of our many removal options from the sideboard are triggered abilities! Possibly I need to run Cast Down or Kaya’s Wrath to deal with this issue, but I am very hesistant to add cards to the deck that can’t be found with Militia Bugler or brought back from the graveyard in some way.
I don’t know yet how this deck would behave on Magic Arena. Maybe you just time out before you can go through the full loop. Maybe it just takes an impossible amount of time to click through everything.
I do know how it works on Magic Online. And aside from just the sheer time and amount of clicks it takes to go off, there’s an additional hurdle. When you go off, you have to choose which copy of Rona, Disciple of Gix to keep due to the legendary rule. And you always want to keep the one that just came into play, because that is the one the trigger belongs to. So if you sacrifice the wrong Rona, the card you pulled out of your graveyard will just stay in exile, unable to be cast.
And on Magic Online you have no way of knowing which Rona is which. Nice.
However! There is a fix. If you acquire two foil copies of Rona and two nonfoil ones, you can try to combo off with one of each, always alternating between sacrificing foil and nonfoil. As if you already thought playing infinite combo decks online was a drag, this one takes it one step further. Good luck finding those foil Ronas!
I think that the obscurity of playing this deck online has hampered its evolution a lot, as it is so hard to actually test it online. I’m certainly looking forward to sleeving up this deck for some live Standard tournament, whether it’s FNM, a GP side event or maybe something bigger if the deck proves to be a real contender in an unsuspecting metagame.
As a value-creature based combo deck with a slick curve, it reminds me of 4-color Rally, a deck that was certainly very successful in the months after Battle for Zendikar. I don’t think this deck is nearly as strong with a lower individual power level than Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Collected Company. Historic Combo is also less resilient against interaction, so I don’t think this deck can ever succeed if it is popular. But maybe, just maybe, it can break a single tournament.