My name is Carlos, and I have a problem:
I have an obsession with bad combo decks.
Whether it's going infinite with Petals of Insight and Psychic Puppetry, or Second Sunrise and [card Floating-Dream Zubera]Zuberas[/card], I've always had a fascination with the way bad cards come together to do something broken. I can always get myself to put down the bad decks for awhile. Yet, after a week or so, I start hearing the siren call and have to get to work on a new one. This time, the combo is so bad that I'm absolutely giddy about it.
Now, my problem with bad combo decks in a format like Commander is this: no matter how bad your combo is, it's still really good when you get to play all the best tutors and enablers. That's why when I set out to build a truly Frankenstein-esque masterpiece, I stick to a pretty tight budget. (At least according to StarCityGames, just to make sure it's fair for everyone else. Obviously.)
Now, this masterpiece started a few weekends ago, at a Grand Prix Trial for Pittsburgh. Some of my friends had dropped and started playing Commander when the epiphany happened: one of the new guys cast Reap, against a mono-black deck. Now, I'm the kind of guy who loves an All Suns' Dawn more than most, but when I saw an instant-speed Praetor's Counsel, I pretty much lost it. I mean, how is that even remotely fair? There has to be some way to break that interaction, right?
Now, there's a glaring issue with building a deck around Reap: what if no one's playing black? Well, that's where the "bad cards" part of this combo deck come in. We're going to make people play black. Unfortunately, Painter's Servant is banned so we'll just have to up the ante. When anyone starts playing with cards like Prismatic Lace and Deathlace, people had better sit up and pay attention.
- Reap (0.39)
- Prismatic Lace (0.49)
- Deathlace (0.49)
- Illusion // Reality (0.25)
- Quickchange (0.15)
- Sway of Illusion (0.25)
What's that? You didn't think I was serious?
Many thanks to norbert88 on Twitter for helping me find the gem that is Sway of Illluson. How perfect is that card for this deck? It even cantrips! That said, in case people aren't playing creatures, most of your other options change the color of any permanent.
Now, you may be wondering what exactly the plan is once you've made a few permanents black and cast Reap. Well, next you make a few more permanents black, and then you casting Regrowth on Reap and start doing it all again!
Nostalgic Dreams is easily the worst card here, purely because it removes itself from the game, which isn't very good when your plan is Reap. The rest of these are all absolutely stellar because they're reasonably cheap ways to buyback Reap, as well as any of the other relevant cards in the deck.
Now, the three biggest constraints on combo decks are mana, cards, and velocity. Ignoring mana and velocity for the moment, I'd like to take a second to appreciate that with a Prismatic Lace, Reap[card], and [card]Regrowth, we can generate an infinite supply of other cards, so long as we can make enough mana to continue the cycle, and as long as we combo off before we die. That said, mana and velocity aren't really things that we can ignore, since they are very real constraints.
Let's take care of mana first, shall we?
This set of cards accomplishes quite a few things. First, High Tide gives us a mana-production engine that increases proportionally with our ability to get more cards with Reap, since we'll recast High Tide each time we cast Reap. Second, Bubbling Muck puts us into a third color. If they could fit into the budget, cards like Mana Reflection and even Heartbeat of Spring would make it much easier to generate the obscene amounts of mana that the deck needs.
Now, it's important to note that black is not going to be nearly as important as blue and green to this deck, but having another exponential ritual like High Tide is pretty important, and the ability to touch black for transmute tutors like Dimir Infiltrator will really add a lot of consistency to the deck.
Finally, cards like Early Harvest are what enables the deck to go off and produce near infinite mana and cards. As long as you can produce enough mana for the initial iteration of Reap/Regrowth shenanigans, you don't have to worry terribly much about mana or cards. Now we just need to be sure that we have enough mana to manage the initial iteration of the Reap loop:
- Explore (.49)
- Rampant Growth (0.25)
- Kodama's Reach (0.49)
- Cultivate (0.99)
- Search for Tomorrow (0.19)
- Primal Growth (0.39)
- Sakura-Tribe Elder (0.99)
- Deep Reconnaissance (0.25)
- Far Wanderings (0.19)
- Krosan Tusker (0.25)
Most of the ramp suite is pretty standard, but I do want to comment a little on some of them. Explore is particularly awesome here as a mid-combo draw engine and ramp spell. Similarly, Search for Tomorrow and Primal Growth are both stellar because, with enough High Tides, they actually produce more mana than they cost! While they're not as efficient as Explosive Vegetation early in the game, they're much better mid-combo.
Similarly, the less expensive ramp spells are also much more convenient than Explosive Vegetation purely because they cost one or two mana less. That makes them much more useful in the earlier iterations of the Reap loop. By the time you can cast Explosive Vegetation in that loop, the extra mana is probably completely irrelevant, and any other color fixing would do just as well.
Now that we have mechanisms for producing nigh-infinite cards and mana, the deck needs to be able to accomplish that in a reasonable number of turns. Easiest and most consistent way to do this is to run a bunch of slow, clunky draw spells and tutors. These help you sculpt your hand and dig for Reap, and help you find a win condition once you've gone infinite.
Tutors and Card Draw
- Dizzy Spell (0.15)
- Muddle the Mixture (0.75)
- Dimir Infiltrator (0.19)
- Dimir House Guard (0.25)
- Drift of Phantasms (0.25)
- Dimir Machinations (0.49)
- Perplex (0.25)
- Clutch of the Undercity (0.39)
- Shred Memory (0.25)
- Deep Analysis (0.99)
- Ior Ruin Expedition (0.19)
- Compulsive Research (0.39)
- Concentrate (0.99)
- Flow of Ideas (0.25)
Now, there's actually two kinds of tutors here. There are Transmute tutors, and there are the things that find the Transmute tutors. Anyone who played the old Heartbeat of Spring combo deck in Ravnica-Champions Standard will be familiar with this. You can Weird Harvest for Drift of Phantasms and Dimir Infiltrator, transmute those into Early Harvest and Reap, and basically have your combo set up for you. Easy, right?
Finally, all of these card draw spells are awesome when you're setting up your combo turn; they fit very nicely into the curve of the deck, and most of them are great mid-combo as well. Ior Ruin Expedition is just the pinnacle of efficiency once you've got your engine going, and nothing says game over quite like the third Flow of Ideas for ten or more cards.
In addition to the suite of tutors, we can also run more mana-efficient cantrips that will give us all kinds of deck manipulation and filtering, layering consistency and speed to the deck. Cards like Preordain and Ponder have repeatedly demonstrated their usefulness in combo decks across formats, so there's no reason they won't work here as well!
- Ponder (0.99)
- Serum Visions (0.25)
- Preordain (0.09)
- Gitaxian Probe (0.99)
- Peek (0.15)
- See Beyond (0.15)
- Jinx (0.25)
- Opt (0.19)
- Impulse (0.89)
- Flash of Insight (0.49)
- Shrine of Piercing Vision (0.25)
- Ideas Unbound (0.39)
All of these are great at helping you dig to hit land drops, or sculpt your hand over the first couple turns. They're also very good at helping you dig for relevant spells mid-combo. Some of the cantrips, like Jinx and Ideas Unbound get much, much better mid-combo, since they provide additional utility along with a cantrip.
These are the kinds of cards that allow you to use your mana efficiently in early iterations of the Reap loop, since you'll only have a few extra mana and won't be able to afford to cast something like Flow of Ideas. They also give you reasons to keep casting Deathlace for more value off of Reap!
Finally, even if we have managed to give the deck enough velocity, mana, and cards, to function in a game of Commander, you still have to be able to end the game. Right now, all we have is a shell that can draw it's deck. Here are the game-ending spells in all their glory:
Win the Game!
- Gigadrowse (0.25)
- Blue Sun's Zenith (0.99)
- Mind's Desire (1.39)
- Temporal Fissure (0.25)
- Ebony Charm (0.25)
Alright, so Gigadrowse may not be a win condition, but besides Muddle the Mixture this deck is completely dead against countermagic, which is something we want to avoid. If there are blue decks at the table, you can just sit and ramp, and wait until you can tap down all or most of the open blue sources on the table with Gigadrowse, untap and win.
The rest of these, though, are awesome win conditions, mostly because it's not possible for you to deck yourself with a Blue Sun's Zenith in your deck. For some reason I can't fathom, Mind's Desire is unbanned, so why not Mind's Desire your deck away, Temporal Fissure everyone else's permanents to their hand, and then Ebony Charm everyone infinite times? Oh, did I mention that Ebony Charm is tutorable graveyard hate too?
All we've got to do is add a mana base, and that'll be the whole deck! We need to run just enough forests to cast our first ramp spell on turn three, and mostly Islands for High Tide, and just enough swamps to splash for our tutors and Bubbling Muck.
What's that? I need a Commander too? Oh, right. Well, there are only three choices for this color combination, and all of them are justifiable. Vorosh, the Hunter can put a quick clock on the table and is a fine blocker, and gives you something to do with your mana while you're sculpting your hand. The Mimeoplasm fill a pretty similar role to [card Vorosh, the Hunter]Vorosh[/card], but doubles as graveyard hate, and is probably just the best Voltron general in the format.
Damia, Sage of Stone is what I'm choosing to head this because she's the most synergistic, I think. If your hand gets disrupted, or you cantripped a bunch and whiffed on a Regrowth or Early Harvest, [card Damia, Sage of Stone]Damia[/card] lets you refuel without much trouble, all while being a GREAT blocker. With that taken care of, here's the final 99:
[deckbox did="a120" size="small" width="560"]
Using StarCityGames prices as a baseline, this masterpiece costs $39.23, and it's certainly more than capable of wrecking a table that's unprepared for Deathlace shenanigans. And, really, what table is ever prepared for Deathlace?
Hopefully you enjoyed this foray into one of my guiltiest Magic pleasures: bad combo decks. I'm excited to see any comments about this deck since I'm looking to improve it as much as possible while keeping it under a pretty tight budget. I'm also interested in hearing about your own bad combo decks, or cards you think would be a good basis for a bad combo!
But mostly, I'm hoping that someone can help me come up with a suitably epic and hilarious name for this monstrosity!
@cag5383 on Twitter