Show of hands: If I said there was a way to reliably get a turn 1 kill in Legacy, how many of you would believe me? Your hands, of course, should all be up because this week we’re talking about the most all-in combo deck of the format: Charbelcher.
Centred around Goblin Charbelcher, this deck seeks to power out its namesake as early as turn 1, then activate it for the kill. When you activate it, you flip over the top card of your deck until you reveal a land card, then Charbelcher deals damage to the opponent equal to the number of cards you revealed. “But Tyler,” you’re probably thinking, “how does that kill the opponent? Surely you’d hit a land well before it would be lethal.” Ah, but therein lies the beauty of Charbelcher. The odds of revealing a land are so low because the deck only runs one land!
How beautiful is that? That right there is the epitome of “Can you stop me?” Magic, where you throw your hand on to the table and force your opponent to have an answer or they lose. Goblin Charbelcher is “glass cannon” combo deck in that it goes all-in on the combo with little means of defending itself. Through consistency and blazing speed, this deck is capable of killing the opponent without having to worry about what they’re doing.
The way this deck works is through a combination of Spirit Guides, artifact mana, and rituals building up to seven mana to cast and activate Charbelcher. There are plenty of ways of achieving this, as your mana spells can be classified into three groups: Free Mana, Stepping Stones, and Game Winners. By combining these together, you can generate enough mana to use Charbelcher.
Free Mana spells include Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, Land Grant, Simian Spirit Guide, and Elvish Spirit Guide. These are the first steps you need to get going, as they’re your only means of casting your other spells. Land Grant is especially good in this role because it tutors up your Taiga (or Stomping Ground, for the budget conscious), making Charbelcher a guaranteed kill. It’s generally recommended to ship away any hand without at least one of these spells. Rite of Flame, Pyretic Ritual, and Tinder Wall are your Stepping Stones to actually killing the opponent. With these spells you’re actually netting mana in numbers close to what you need to win, and with enough of them you can get to a seven mana through a critical mass of mid-level mana producers. Finally, Seething Song and Lion’s Eye Diamond are your Game Winners, as they generate enough mana to activate Charbelcher and they’re generally the last spells you cast. Two Seething Songs on their own create the necessary seven mana, and Lion’s Eye Diamond conveniently makes enough mana to activate Charbelcher at the expense of your hand.
Filling out the deck are Gitaxian Probe, Burning Wish, and Manamorphose. Gitaxian Probe essentially makes your deck 56 cards by giving you a “free” cantrip, as well as giving you information on your opponent’s hand. Burning Wish enables you to run a package of 1-of sorceries in your sideboard that act like a Swiss Army knife, giving you utility cards you can fetch out as needed. Have a high Storm count but no Storm spells? Wish for a Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens. Opponent has a Gaddock Teeg stopping you from casting your win condition? Wish for a Pyroclasm. The sky’s the limit for the cards you can tutor for, and you can even customize the Wish package to suit your metagame. Lastly, Manamorphose is another essentially free way to dig through your deck once you start comboing. It also has the added bonus of being able to filter all the Red mana you make into Green for Tinder Wall/Xantid Swarm, Blue for Diminishing Returns, or Black for Tendrils of Agony, the latter two which are both tutorable by Burning Wish.
SO WHAT IS THIS DECK’S BIGGEST WEAKNESS?
Every deck has its weaknesses, and Charbelcher’s can be summed up in three words: Force. Of. Will. The fun police of the format, Force of Will is the biggest obstacle to you comboing off on turn 1. It’s the primary reason why Xantid Swarm is in the sideboard. It keeps you honest, which flies in the face of everything you’re trying to accomplish. Unlike other all-in decks like ANT and Doomsday, you don’t actually have the means to interact with the opponent’s hand through discard spells. You’re trading that interaction for redundancy and speed, so game 1 your strategy is to basically run out your combo and make them have it. Thankfully, the deck also runs Empty the Warrens as a backup plan that can also help mitigate Force of Will, as Force may be able to counter one copy of Empty the Warrens, but it can’t stop all of them. This way you’re at least guaranteed some Goblins to start beating down.
Fortunately, the majority of non-Blue decks are great matches for Charbelcher. You’re able to combo off much faster than most combo decks like Elves or ANT, and fairer decks like Death and Taxes are often dead before they hit turn 2 when they’re able to cast most of their hate cards. Even Jund and Shardless BUG are decent match-ups barring a turn 1 Thoughtseize when you’re on the draw.
WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR IN A SIDEBOARD?
As far as sideboarding is concerned, it really depends on whether or not you’re running Burning Wish. Sometimes, as a budgetary concern, Charbelcher players will eschew Burning Wish for the far cheaper Street Wraith. While they lose the versatility in their sideboard options, these players get to play with what’s essentially a 52 card deck. This frees them up to running whatever they want in their sideboards, and it also gives way to some hilarious stories. For example, one Charbelcher player at an SCG Open ran a sideboard of Goblin Game, Chandler, and one of every Atog. Another player opted to open a booster pack of Return to Ravnica prior to the event and registered the contents. When you do this, it’s important that you shuffle all 15 sideboard cards into your deck when sideboarding, then take those same 15 cards back out to give off the illusion of actually bringing in cards.
If you’re opting for Burning Wish, your sideboard should look pretty similar to the above list. Here you’re not really boarding the cards in your Wish package barring maybe the fourth Empty the Warrens. You have a bit more flexibility in terms of what cards you can run because you typically only need one of each card. The cards you choose for your Wish package should be equal parts proactive spells, such as Goblin War Strike, and reactive spells like Reverent Silence. Your reactive spells should reflect what you expect to face in your meta, like Pyroclasm for Death & Taxes, or Reverent Silence for Leyline of Sanctity.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER VERSIONS OF THE DECK?
For quite some time, in the early days of Charbelcher, players played both Taiga and Bayou in their decks, splashing Black for Dark Ritual and Infernal Tutor. Dark Ritual offered better mana acceleration than Pyretic Ritual, and Infernal Tutor gave the deck a way of finding its win condition that the later RG builds lack. You run your entire hand out in one go, so Infernal Tutor is almost always Hellbent, and last time I checked playing what’s essentially Demonic Tutor was pretty good. The only real downside was that the second land made Charbelcher slightly less reliable, but with Land Grant fetching out the Bayou first, you’ll still only need to flip 10 cards for a kill.
While it hasn’t seen play for quite some time, I played a version of 2-Land Belcher for several months as a backup to my Dredge deck.
This deck is probably one of my favourite decks for just messing around. The deck is pretty much the troll version of Charbelcher, especially post-board. This was long before I had my set of Burning Wishes, so I had to run Street Wraiths. Street Wraith gave me a full twelve cantrips which, when combined with Infernal Tutor, offered incredible consistency. The lack of Burning Wishes also gave me plenty of sideboard options that I normally wouldn’t have had I run them, such as Ruric Thar and Duress.
I had one memorable match where my friend was testing ANT for GP Washington DC where I comboed off on turn 1 in the first game, then game 2 I powered out a Ruric Thar on turn 1. He couldn’t actually cast any spells without dying to Ruric Thar, so he took the high road and punched me in the arm. This is easily my favourite incarnation of the deck, and if you’re looking for a more budget-oriented build of Charbelcher, I’d strongly suggest this version.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY SHOULD I BUILD CHARBELCHER?
You should build Charbelcher if you’re looking for a lightning-fast combo deck that won’t break the bank. If your metagame is heavy on the combo decks with nary a Force of Will to be seen, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better call than Charbelcher. So when in doubt, sleeve up this glass cannon and blast the competition away!
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