Is Standard Combo An Epic Experiment?

Written by Michael Linear on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

Is Standard Combo An Epic Experiment?

Michael Linear

Michael Linear can be found playing degenerate decks in central Illinois. He is an avid fan of Modern and Legacy, and would play Vintage if people could not automatically win with Mishra’s Workshop. When not playing Magic, he is running late to classes because he was ranting on Twitter about minor grievances with Wizards of the Coast. He plans on teaching Math after getting a Masters degree in Mathematics. He is also a cat wizard.

Ravnica has Returned! Many times, the downfall of an otherwise interesting set is its effect on constructed tournaments. Urza Saga spawned the much maligned “Combo Winter.” Could people look back on Return to Ravnica as another set where combo ruled? I am unsure, but the cards to enable degenerate decks are surely present. Free spells, cheap ritual effects and draw engines usually create decks capable of absurd plays.

Combo in a nutshell

The use of “combo” in this article will refer to engine-based combo. Two-card combos like Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch have made waves in recent Standard environments, but a bona fide engine-based combo made up entirely of instants and sorceries has been intentionally absent. An engine-based combo is one where a player converts mana to cards, to make more mana to draw more cards, etc. At some point the massive amount of cards and mana lets the player win with Tendrils of Agony, Brain Freeze, Grapeshot, or a lot of direct damage spells.

A clear example is High Tide in Legacy. (Editor’s note: This article was submitted before Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, where Second Sunrise combo dominated the Modern format.) You cast High Tide and something like Candelabra of Tawnos to untap your lands and make a lot of mana. Then you cast Meditate to draw cards, which lets you play more High Tides and more cards like Turnabout to untap your lands. Eventually you cast either Brain Freeze to win or cast Blue Sun’s Zenith to make your opponent draw their entire library.

Engine-based combo is miserable to play against. You have to let your opponent play it out because they might fail to draw enough action to win or run out of mana to make more cards. Engine-based combo decks are also terrible because many times your opponent has “won” well before they actually put lethal damage on the stack, but they wait around to minimize the chance of killing themselves.

All that being said, engine-based combo has the opportunity to see resurgence with Return to Ravnica.

The new suspects

Goblin Electromancer

Goblin Electromancer is insane. I simply cannot believe this is a real card. Who does not want Gifts Ungiven for three, Seething Song for two or Farseek for one? I cannot think of a time I have not wanted this in play. It can even kill Geist of St. Traft. The downside is Goblin Electromancer makes your opponent’s removal relevant, which cannot be understated. Sometimes, however, you just want to stall your opponent for a turn.

Izzet Charm

Izzet Charm will make waves in Modern combo. Previously, players ran Lightning Bolt and would possibly sideboard Mana Leak or Dispel. Lightning Bolt could kill hate bears such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Meddling Mage. Mana Leak gave outs to other combo decks and control. Izzet Charm is a combo player’s dream because it does both and allows the combo player to pitch lands mid combo.

Epic Experiment

This card might be win more when Pyromancer’s Ascension, Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames are so good. I think casting it out of a Past in Flames after a Gifts Ungiven is the most likely place for the card. The card feels a lot like Ad Nauseam — sometimes it’s horrible and other times it just wins on the spot. Epic Experiment also may show up as a finisher in High Tide lists. Taking 20-minute turns can get old really fast, and an Epic Experiment with x= 12 seems good enough to seal the game.

Guttersnipe

This card is criminal in my opinion. It is a cheaper Tendrils of Agony in a format that is many turns slower. You can even cast it from a Desperate Ritual on Turn 2 in Modern. Modern storm decks most often lose from an inability to start, not an inability to finish. This card has the most potential in Standard, where there is a lack of Grapeshots. The card has free spells attached to it, and that is very dangerous.

X Spells Mark the Spot

Credit for this goes to Collin Mustain. The basic idea is to hold off creatures with removal spells while ramping into an incredible Epic Experiment. If you Reverberate an X spell like Epic Experiment or Devil’s Play, the copied spell has the same value of X. Reverberate also acts as a counterspell of sorts, putting a copy on the stack while the original is countered.

You can cast Epic Experiment and cast Reverberate targeting Epic Experiment, the copied Epic Experiment can flip another Reverberate to copy the original. You can then link them together in the same way as Mind’s Desire decks of old.

The usual “killing” Epic Experiment is x=4 with a Reverberate or Increasing Vengeance on the stack. An advantage this deck has is it runs almost no permanents that control decks can interact with. Tap-out control decks with Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere cannot really do anything disruptive.

Epic Experiment is not even required to win. Reverberate on Devil’s Play can just end that game after burning down your opponent’s team with Flames of the Firebrand and Brimstone Volley. Keep in mind Reverberate can target your opponent’s spells.

If the ability to go over the top of Izzet Charm proves necessary, this deck definitely accomplishes it with eight ramp effects and Divination to never miss on lands. The Worldspine Wurm is to prevent decking yourself. It can also be cast when your Epic Experiment flips multiple Ranger’s Paths and Farseeks.

Some other things to keep in mind are that you have to hold priority to Reverberate your own spell. When you ask if a spell resolves, you have passed priority. You cannot ask if it resolves and then cast Reverberate. If your Epic Experiment flips a Reverberate, it cannot Reverberate the Epic Experiment that resolved it, only one that is on the stack.

We will have to see the format in February because decks do not exist in vacuums, but the manabase for this deck becomes pretty perfect with the other shocklands. It has been a very long time since Standard had an engine-based combo deck, but the potential is there. It’s much more likely, however, that Return to Ravnica makes combo better in Modern.

More Modern Gifts

I prefer the Gifts Ungiven list over the Pyromancer Ascension list in Modern mainly because it is better handling disruption and hate in Game 2. Control loses its inevitability as Past in Flames allows you to essentially “draw” your entire graveyard if you are not playing straight into a counterspell. You can also use Grapeshot as a mini Wrath of God against Delver of Secrets and Zoo variants.

Some people have criticized the Gifts Ungiven build because they do not see the point of playing storm if it is not as fast. The point is that it wins more often. Little in the format warrants a Turn 2 kill, and Remand can often stop those strategies dead. The deck can occasionally win on Turn 2, but it is usually unwise because every card you draw drastically decreases your chance of killing yourself with the combo. The basic Gifts Ungiven tutors Seething Song, Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual and Past in Flames.

Goblin Electromancer is insane in this deck, allowing for Turn 3 Gifts Ungiven. Passing Turn 3 means you can play Remand or just win with Gifts Ungiven. Your opponent will be required to kill it before it acts as a free Seething Song and allows you to win easily. Keep in mind they have exactly one turn to kill it as you can respond to removal spells with all the cheaper rituals.

Lasting Legacy

Supreme Verdict and Abrupt Decay will have an interesting impact on Legacy. Many people pointed out Terminus is one mana and makes Supreme Verdict unplayable. How many times have you wanted a Turn 2 Terminus? You want to get the most value possible, and most decks will not be worth killing with Terminus until Turn 3 or 4. Against RUG Delver, you have to play around Daze and Spell Pierce anyway; Supreme Verdict solves that problem.

Abrupt Decay will be a solution to Maverick and RUG Delver. Maverick’s game plan is to go over the top of conditional counterspells like Daze and mana denial like Wasteland to win with Knight of the Reliquary. Pernicious Deed effects have always been strong against Maverick because they don’t care about power and toughness, only converted mana cost. The issue has always been resolving them against RUG Delver. Hello, Abrupt Decay.

RUG Delver’s plan has been to protect one threat while burning everything in its path and countering all attempts to stop it. Abrupt Decay kills every threat in the deck with certainty. Why does this matter to combo?  Storm-based combo has an issue beating both to some extent. RUG Delver has a fast clock backed by disruption and Maverick has Thalia, Guardian of Thraben backed by Wasteland. The elephant in the room is Show and Tell.

I was in awe before Return to Ravnica’s release as I watched cards spoiled that have been known to break entire formats. Mind’s Desire broke every format it touched and Epic Experiment is a hair from that card. This set is combo paradise.

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