Last Friday morning, Allosaurus Rider went from a $.50 bulk-binder warmer to the next $20 buyout. The Coldsnap and Duel Deck throwback has since stabilized in the $5-$7 range with most major retailers, but dino hype hasn't had this much bite since Jurassic World trailers started appearing in late 2014. You can thank Gavin Verhey for the buyout; his Eldritch Moon preview last Thursday threw Modern speculators into a panic as they raced to find the best combo with Magic's newest Birthing Pod and Natural Order effect. Now that the hype has (somewhat) subsided, it's time to see if the Allosaurus Evolution combo has the fangs its buyout suggested, or if it's a bust like 90% of scenes in Jurassic World.
My minimal contribution to the Allosaurus Rider buyout was a four-copy purchase for MTGO. What can I say? I was already snagging cards to try and improve the abysmal RG Tron vs. Ad Nauseam matchup (with me on Urzatron this time), and decided it couldn't hurt to throw a few Riders in the cart. As for [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
[/tippy] itself, I'm staying away until the pre-order price drops. Although the card is likely to succeed in at least one format, its current price-tag is a bit steep for a rare in a set that is sure to benefit from metric tons of cracked packs. That drop is even more inevitable for paper copies of Rider, which are already falling as mania wanes and more rational card evaluation eyes take over.
In preparation for today's article, I conducted a number of tests with a few different [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
[/tippy] and Allosaurus Rider brews, tweaking ratios and singletons to get a sense of Allosaurus Evolution's feasibility in Modern. Today, we'll go over the general results and high-level findings, which will come as good news to people who both stayed away from the Rider buyout peaks, but also to those who got in early and picked up Riders for mere quarters.
The Allosaurus Evolution Combo
Most Moderners with an Internet connection have either seen the combo on social media or looked it up themselves. In case you haven't, or in case you've forgotten the origin of this particular buyout like most people tend to forget all the rest, here's a quick summary.
Like Birthing Pod before it, [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
[/tippy] is limited by the casting-cost of sacrificed creatures. In most cases, this means a gradual, although still powerful, jump up the curve. Birds of Paradise becomes Kitchen Finks. Voice of Resurgence becomes Siege Rhino. Kitchen Finks becomes Sigarda, Host of Herons. You don't need to Evolve two mana up the curve if you don't want to: Birds is happy to become Voice just as Voice is happy to become Finks. Or Finks into your hater of choice, whether two-drop Spellskite or three-drop Aven Mindcensor. Indeed, these are the small, toolbox synergies where Evolution is most likely to excel in Modern, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The dinosaur in the room is growling at me to go bigger. Much bigger.
Unlike puny Voice or Finks, an evolved Allosaurus jumps the chain up to a whopping nine mana. That's Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite big. Griselbrand big. Iona, Shield of Emeria big. Rider also does it for free, as early as turn two if you have the Evolution in hand, Rider at the ready, a dork and mana in play, and green cards to pitch. No one wants to wait until turns 6-7 to organically power out a seven-drop, or even 4-5 to do so off an acceleration package. We want to attain the turn 2-3 knockout that is the gold standard of Modern combo, and the free Allosaurus is just the evolutionary trampoline to help us make the leap.
Here's the dinosaur dream we're all trying to live (especially if you want your overpriced Riders to hold value):
- Open with land and Birds of Paradise.
- Draw a card and play a second land.
- Pitch two green cards (more Birds, a redundant Rider, Finks/Voice, Abrupt Decay) to cast Allosaurus Rider.
- Rider hits the battlefield. You have priority before an opponent can Lightning Bolt the dino, so cast [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
- If Evolution resolves, fetch your choice of turn two Griselbrand, Elesh Norn, Iona, or another monster of your choice.
You can also postpone the combo until turn three, eliminating the opening Birds from the chain to totally insulate yourself from removal. Because you have priority when Rider himself resolves, there's no window for an opponent to slay the Allosaurus before you morph it into something far scarier. As an added bonus, the combo doesn't use the graveyard, offering an edge over the heavily graveyard-dependent (but faster) Goryo's Vengeance strategies.
Although I highlight Elesh Norn, Yawgmoth's Bargain with wings, and Iona, the Modern cardpool offers plenty of other nightmares to close the game off an evolved Rider. Here's a brief list of interesting options:
- Sigarda, Host of Herons: BGx can kill Ionas. Innistrad's leading angel, however, is largely untouchable.
- Sundering Titan: send their mana back to turn 0.
- Sire of Insanity: game-over against slow control decks if resolved on turn two. Jeskai better have Path because Bolt doesn't cut it against the 6/4 Sire.
- Keranos, God of Storms: Gods are creatures too! Another BGx knockout from the Twin days. Also, like Sigarda, much more attainable even without Rider.
- Blazing Archon: There are aggro decks that can't win through this effect in Game 1. Be careful of double Bolt/Galvanic Blast or Path.
- Primeval Titan: Prime Time can't win on the spot as in Amulet Bloom, but the mana advantage generated should be decisive.
Been playing around with other Evolution targets? Share your tech in the comments!
Brewing Allosaurus Evolution
When I tested Emrakul a few weeks back, I used a single decklist with a consistent one-for-one trade between an old card and a new one. This method is effective when you know a card slots into an existing strategy, but useless when you're not even sure the best way to build around a card in the first place. That's precisely the problem I faced with [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
From my first test through my last, I couldn't decide the best way to build the Allosaurus Evolution list. What was the framework? Was it contemporary Abzan Company or Kiki Chord? Was it old-school Siege Rhino Pod? Was it something entirely new? Even deciding on a general template, I struggled with adjusting the relative number of Birds and Noble Hierarchs against toolbox creatures, combo pieces, supporting cards, and interactive bullets.
Ultimately, I tested not one, not two, but literally six different builds of the strategy against a variety of top-tier exemplars. Rather than list out sub-optimal decklists in various states of development disrepair, I'm going to present just a single decklist that combines all the ideas from the six feeder builds. This brew is still a disaster, but it accurately captures most of the technology I experimented with over the course of my tests.
As promised, it's a real circus of a list. In Game 1, you're playing a toolbox deck with a combo Plan A and a value Plan B. This means we make concessions to Rider. Kiki Chord's Wall of Omens becomes the worse Rider-bait Elvish Visionary. White Path to Exile switches to green Abrupt Decay. We even include a Summoner's Pact pair as Rider #5 if you're comboing on turn four or later. The three creatures are knockouts against most decks in the format, with Elesh Norn sweeping away low-to-the-ground critters, Griselbrand pulling you too far ahead in cards and value, and Iona shutting down most strategies in between.
Keeping with the combo theme, the deck's singleton creatures (both in the main 60 and the sideboard) all act as mini haymakers in certain matchups. Turn two Spellskite or Gaddock Teeg is lights-out against many unfair strategies. Aven Mindcensor shores up the Company/Chord/Pod historic weakness to big-mana decks relying on search effects, and the sideboard offers a host of options for sniping matchups in open metagames. As a final note, the lone Eternal Witness can't return exiled [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
[/tippy]s (read the card's final clause), but does recur sacrificed Voices and Ouphes in grindier matchups.
Again, I'm deliberately presenting this list as a happy mess to showcase the wide range of options available to Evolution brewers. It gives you a sense of how old synergies (Gavony Township plus one-drops and persist) can combine with Rider combo requirements (Voice, a historic roleplayer in these toolbox decks, finds new purpose as turn three Evolution fodder). Here are other interactions I tinkered with before omitting them from the list above---they had steeper deckbuilding requirements and would have required their own builds.
- Primeval Titan and Summoner's Pact
Relive the Amulet Bloom glory days with an inconsistent turn 2-3 Titan off Pact. Titan triggers ensure you can pay the Pact upkeep cost.
- Magus of the Moon in RG Evolution
Tutorable Blood Moon on command is powerful if it doesn't shut down your whole deck. A straight Gruul build limits these risks while also preserving many of the green Evolution synergies (notably Finks).
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Evolution
Take one part Kiki Chord and add 3-4 Evolutions. Top marks for redundancy on our combo evaluation scale.
- Eldritch delving with Hooting Mandrills
Any delve creature will do to accelerate you up to Griselbrand or Elesh Norn (Iona is sitting that one out unless it's Angler).
Regardless of your take on Allosaurus Evolution, most builds are going to share three components: the Allosaurus combo itself, a hateful toolbox package, and a midrange backup plan. Don't downplay the second route in your testing! Evolution is the only Modern tutor capable of putting haters like Aven Mindcensor or even Thalia, Guardian of Thraben directly into play from your library as early as turn two. That's a decisive edge over Company and Chord decks which can't do that at absolute earliest until turn three.
Evaluating a Combo
Whenever I come across a new combo and my Johnny sense start tingling, I take a deep breath, sit down, and ask myself three questions before I start buying cards and brewing decks:
- Is it consistent? How reliably can you draw and cast/execute the combo?
- Is it resilient? How does the combo resist interaction?
- Is it powerful? How decisively and regularly does the combo close the game?
Decks like Scapeshift and Ad Nauseam are high on all three counts. These strategies use multiple copies of one- or two-card combos (Scapeshift/Bring to Light for one, Angel's Grace/Phyrexian Unlife for the other). They are also highly resilient to interaction. Ad Nauseam can win at instant speed and half of its combo is uncounterable. Scapeshift wins at sorcery speed but, as a one-card combo, allows you to hold up mana for interaction. Of course, both combos are also instant K.Os if they resolve, at least in most game states.
You can map other Modern strategies in the combo family along these standards. Infect and Abzan Company (to the extent they are more "combo" than "aggro" and "midrange," respectively) are at the top of their class. Storm and Grishoalbrand are barely getting by on even a single benchmark, and sometimes go a flat 0 for 3 in certain metagames.
Deck tiering and prevalence is often a good indicator of a combo's success, even if the Goblin Electromancer diehards will maintain their deck is just "under the radar." That may be so, but for every Amulet Bloom that is legitimately overlooked, there are dozens of fun but probably bad combo decks masquerading as the next turn four rule violator. Take that from a Puresteel Paladin Cheerios player who loves turn two Retract kills.
As Modern combo players, it's our job to assess any new combo using these three questions, which should be done both theoretically and through testing. This was certainly my objective in sleeving up some Forests with bad dinosaur drawings penned across the image.
Allosaurus Evolution Test Results
As mentioned earlier, I tested a variety of Allosaurus Evolution builds against a handful of top-tier decks. These included Infect, Burn, RG Tron, Jund, and Jeskai Control. If you read my QuietSpeculation Insider pieces, this was a continuation and expansion of my initial test results done for my recent Monday article.
In each game, I used a variation on the list posted above, making small adjustments in between games. This isn't a very scientific testing method if you're trying to calculate exact match-win-percentages, but it's significantly more useful if you're just trying to assess general viability. The Rider core remained largely unchanged, which allowed me to see how it worked in each matchup without worrying about if I got the number of Hierarchs vs. Birds right.
Here's a quick match and game breakdown of my results.
- Infect: 2-3 (3-6 in games)
- Burn: 3-2 (6-2 in games)
- RG Tron: 3-2 (6-3 in games)
- Jund: 1-4 (2-8 in games)
- Jeskai Control: 1-4 (1-8 in games)
Not the best showing for a new deck, but also not the worst. Honestly, I expected Allosaurus Evolution to bomb worse than Jurassic Park III, so positive records in at least a few of these top-tier matches were heartening on their own. Rather than discuss each match as a whole, I'll discuss each of the three combo benchmarks from the previous section through the lens of my different rounds.
1. Is the Rider/Evolution combo consistent? Not really.
On paper, the deck appears to be built around a two-card combo: Rider plus Evolution. But once you add the three lands (or two lands plus one dork) and the two green Rider pitches, the probabilities start to fall, and your chance of executing this combo by turn three starts to hover around the 15% range. Unlike other two-card combos in Modern, you also don't have any redundancy outside of a wildly unreliable Summoner's Pact.
The combo gets much more consistent when you're not under pressure and can organically draw into it by turns 4-5. This happened in the Tron matchup, especially when you can fire off a timely turn two Voice into turn three Evolution/Fulminator to jam up their mana. Indeed, that Mindcensor and Fulminator combo was much better in this deck against Tron than in other Company or Chord strategies: Evolution lets you tutor it directly from your deck so you're effectively playing five copies.
That said, if you were under pressure from Infect and didn't have the combo, you weren't going to have time or selection spells (Serum Visions) to assemble it.
2. Is the Rider/Evolution combo resilient? Definitely not.
Jund and Jeskai Control were major problems for Allosaurus Evolution specifically because of their disruption. I was nervous about Remand before I started testing, and Jeskai matchups only confirmed my fears. Getting an Evolution countered in any way, particularly off a cantripped counter like Remand, ranges between a two-for-one or a five-for-one. The virtual five happens when you're losing Rider, the two exiled cards, Evolution, and your entire turn while your opponent didn't even lose a card off the Remand draw. Disgusting. Jund also caused problems with its discard spells, stranding useless Riders in the hand or forcing us to play them as the world's most expensive Tarmogoyf chumps.
If I played [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]
[/tippy] tomorrow, I'd probably ditch or trim the Riders in favor of more toolbox options. The deck was significantly more resilient when it was playing a toolbox and midrange plan with an Evolution Plan B; an opponent couldn't just hold up Remand mana every turn if they were getting smashed by a Voice and a Finks. I noticed this in some tight Jund games where the basic toolbox worked very well (turn four Sigarda, Host of Herons is terrifying for BGx when you effectively run five copies), but where bad Rider topdecks pulled games out of reach.
3. Is the Rider/Evolution combo powerful? Absolutely.
I lived the Evolution dream in three games, going turn one dork into turn two haymaker on separate occasions against Infect, Tron, and Jund. I also executed the combo on turn three in another six games against each deck in the gauntlet. I won seven of those nine games, losing one against Jeskai when the Griselbrand was stuck in my hand and I had to fetch Iona instead (she took a Cryptic Command next turn, and losing another to RG Tron's Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. That means my win-rate in games with the turn 2-3 combo was 78%. Time to take down a Grand Prix?
Sadly, it also means my win-rate when I didn't have the combo was a hilarious 29%. Although I went 7/9 in combo games, I was only 11/38 in the non-combo games. Guess Allosaurus Rider might not be making any Grand Prix victory laps anytime soon. This ties back with the combo's consistency issues, particularly in games where you don't have the fast combo (which will be at least 70%-80% of matches). If enterprising brewers can improve those comboless games, or the games where you can't combo until later, the deck may be more viable. But with so much of its power bundled in the glass-cannon opener, there's little incentive to play Allosaurus Evolution over other fragile decks.
Eldritch Evolution's Future
Despite some lackluster performances by Allosaurus Rider, Evolution itself was a great card. I fully expect to see its toolbox and midrange elements once Eldritch Moon becomes Modern-legal, chiefly on the power of a turn two tutor up the curve. This was the major competitive edge Evolution maintained over Chord and Company decks, and in a format that rewards speed as much as Modern, this dual function as a fast tutor or a mid-game value generator (in tandem with Finks/Voice) is invaluable.
How have you been testing Modern's very own Natural Order? Any brews or builds to report? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned next week as we keep reviewing the exciting Eldritch Moon action. As for Allosaurus Rider, he might not be the competitive work
horsedino we were hoping for, but he'll always have one of the best illustrations in Modern.