What happened to combo?
Combo: Short for combination. It’s meaning is complex but can be summarized as a method for achieving some desired objective or to unite for a common purpose. In Magic terms, it means to find cards that interact with each other to create a powerful effect. Much of the time, these combos are subtle and rely on extensive knowledge of the rules.
In the past few years, Wizards has kept powerful combos in Standard to a minimum. While I am grateful that Standard is not a degenerate format where players win in the first few turns of the game, I do wish we had some sort of combo presence in Standard.
The easiest combo to recognize involves Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.
If you have any creature that allows you to untap Kiki-Jiki, you can create an infinite number of copies and kill your opponent immediately. This powerful interaction is the premise for two different combo decks in Modern. You can use Zealous Conscripts, Deceiver Exarch, or even Village Bell-Ringer for this interaction.
In Standard, we typically do not have access to powerful interactions like this. The last one I can think of is when this combo was legal in Standard (with Exarch). Without the combo archetype, Standard devolves into the type of format we have now, with mostly midrange decks fighting for dominance over each other. I miss combo.
What we do get in Standard are powerful synergies. I would classify this group of cards as ones that generate a positive advantage for your board state. By playing these cards and a specific group of other cards to go with them, you create virtual card advantage. Basically, you get more value out of your cards than your opponent.
A great example of this would be Varolz, the Scar-Striped. By building your deck with cheap creatures that have a naturally high printed power, you gain an advantage from playing Varolz. Pairing cards like Vexing Devil in Standard or Death’s Shadow in Modern builds powerful interactions into your deck. I have talked about the Jund version of this deck a few times. If you have not read those articles, you can read about them here and here.
Another powerful interaction would be Restoration Angel plus any other creature with an enters- or leaves-the-battlefield effect. Whether it blinks Thragtusk, Sin Collector, or even something as innocent as Borderland Ranger, the interaction is powerful. We are all well familiar with how well the angel combines with every other card in the format, but it illustrates the concept well.
While we do not have any true combo decks in Standard, there is one new interaction that has reignited my love of combo. As with most comboesque decks, this one is based on a crazy card you would not normally think is playable. Thankfully, the cards you get to play alongside it are already proven tournament-quality cards.
That’s right, this mediocre-to-playable limited card is the centerpiece of a Standard deck. Here’s what you need in addition to the cyclops to beat your opponent easily.
Casting and flashing back Artful Dodge then playing Boros Charm gives you three spells to make Nivix Cyclops’s power ten and by choosing the double strike mode on the charm, you deal the full twenty.
Not only can you play narrow spells like Artful Dodge, but also ones that help control the game as well as lots of card draw. If your opponent does not have removal for the cyclops they may well just die on turn four. Because this is a creature-based combo deck, we are susceptible to removal, but unless they have the right removal at the right time, we should find success.
The deck’s creator, Travis Woo, wrote two amazing article on this deck. If you like it, I recommend reading his articles here and here as well. In the second one, he also includes a budget version of the deck in case you are short on funds for Standard.
Here’s my current list.
Hopefully by looking at the deck list, you can see the game plan. Any of the three win conditions are good enough to defeat your opponent but you must plan out your line of attack according to which threat you have in hand.
Basically you want to save the majority of your spells to fuel Guttersnipe or Nivix Cyclops, maximizing damage from those cards. Do not just play your spells on turns one and two unless you are digging for something specific. Maximizing your resources is an important part of the game to learn, but this deck is one exception to that fundamental concept. Every spell you can play can double as a burn spell. Whenever you play them with a threat in play, your opponent takes damage. So, save those spells to get the most out of your win conditions.
One of the best aspects of this deck is the number of cards you see. There are approximately a million ways to draw cards! Faithless Looting (twice), Izzet Charm (looting mode), and Thought Scour (to thin your deck) show you extra cards in the double digits on a regular basis. Seeing this many cards is certainly one of the most important strengths of this deck.
In previous versions (those without Geist of Saint Traft) there were times that even with the plethora of card selection, you still did not find a threat. By adding Geist to the deck you add another powerhouse win condition.
One of the biggest downfalls of this deck is its difficulty beating Jund. Every other deck in the format can be beaten with relative ease, but Jund presents difficultly. Sometimes their removal doesn’t match up with the threats you drew, and then you stomp them. The problem is that their deck has all the answers they need, and it’s just a matter of them drawing the correct cards for the situation.
The other problem is that every version of Jund is different and you have no way of knowing what removal suit they play maindeck. That forces you to play your cards based on what your opponent is statistically likely to have. Sometimes this works out in your favor, and others it doesn’t. Despite being your worst matchup by a mile, Jund is very beatable so don’t get too down on yourself for losing a couple matches to the deck.
Right now I am trying to figure out a better configuration that will beat Jund, but the list above does a reasonable job.
This is another deck that is a ton of fun to play but is still competitive at the same time. If you are tired of the midrange decks bouncing off each other, give Izzet Blitz a try. It definitely feels like playing a different game than your opponent. It’s such a breath of fresh air.
Until Next Time,
Unleash the Izzet Force!
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