Today we’re going to do something different. Instead of taking a deck and creating a budget version, we’re going to take two decks, introduce them to each other, put some smooth jazz on, and see if they don’t get together and make a little deck baby. Like most of my columns, the experience will probably get awkward and vaguely uncomfortable before we’re done.
The first deck we’ll be looking at is Travis Woo’s Summoner’s Egg Combo deck. It’s a pretty neat little combo brew he put together earlier this year, which operates on a simple premise: slap a creature under Summoner’s Egg, sacrifice it, and oh hey look, you’ve got an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for four mana. Pretty sweet deal, and pretty straightforward. But if you look at the decklist in the link above, you can see why this column would try to give it a once-over. In addition to the price of an Emrakul, the deck uses Mutavault and Grove of the Burnwillows. And while those are pretty easily substituted, the deck uses Through the Breach as a backup plan. Through the Breach is just barely outside the budget we set for these columns. And really, it’s a card of pretty enduring popularity; it sees competitive play, and is just one small metagame shift away from shooting up in price like a Splinter Twin or a Birthing Pod. So if possible, we’re going to want a strategy that avoids it.
The second deck in our sights is Alfonso Barcelona Cabeza’s Restore Balance deck from Pro Tour Born of the Gods. This deck also operates on a pretty simple principle, but is more complicated in execution. First you suspend a Greater Gargadon. Then you cast any spell with cascade. Because Restore Balance is the only spell in the deck with a lower mana cost, you always hit it off the cascade. With Restore Balance on the stack, you sacrifice all your lands to the Greater Gargadon (assuming you didn’t already replace those lands with borderposts). Hopefully that puts the Gargadon into play; if not it gets him a lot closer, and still wipes out all your opponent’s lands and creatures. This deck uses even more expensive cards, but the problem here isn’t just the Vendilion Cliques and Elspeth, Knight-Errants… we can work around those. The problem is that to use both Ardent Plea and Violent Outburst, you need four colors. Four colors means fetchlands. And as we all know by now, “you need fetchlands” is a phrase that makes me suddenly throw my computer over my shoulder, then look around behind me in disbelief and say, “I have no idea why I did that.”
So the two decks are on the couch, and they’re making small talk, but Summoner’s Egg is blowing it, man. I can see Restore Balance losing interest. We need a common interest to bring these two crazy kids together. But what can we possibly find to combine these strategies? What would a combination of these strategies even look like?
It’s very convenient for my metaphor that the demon in that art is basically going, “how you doin’?”
The reason a Restore Balance deck is so expensive is because Restore Balance is useless unless you can cheat it into play, and the most popular way of doing so takes you across four colors. Summoner’s Egg can use any color you want, but can only cheat in creatures. Hellcarver Demon is a mana-prohibitive creature who can cheat sorceries like Restore Balance into play. And yes, when it does so, it destroys everything on your side of the board… creatures, lands, cards in hand… all things that are great to destroy right before you cast a Restore Balance. So basically this combo destroys everything on both sides of the board, but leaves you with a 6/6 creature, right?
No. Because Hellcarver Demon doesn’t grab one card off the top of your deck. Hellcarver Demon grabs six cards. So if you’ve got an Eldrazi in those first six cards, you just stack them so Restore Balance resolves first, and wipes the board. Then you drop your creature with annihilator. Then it’s good game, because your opponent is locked out forever. So worst-case scenario, you wipe out everything except your 6/6 creature. Best-case scenario, your six-point Mind’s Desire in creature form pays off big.
Well, okay, worst-case scenario your Hellcarver Demon whiffs, because the top six cards in your library are no good. Which is where this little fella comes in:
In game one, this thing is pretty good. It turns your Hellcarver Demon’s 6-card reach into a 13-card reach, making it very, very likely that you’ll hit an Eldrazi (or at least a Gargadon) before you’re done. In game two, when your opponent knows the trick, and knows to counter your Summoner’s Egg, it gets downright hilarious.
“Well that’s all well and good, but Dan, you keep talking about Eldrazi. But you know Emrakul is too expensive for a budget builder, so how is the deck going to even work?”
Okay, I want to sit you down for a talk, everybody. I want you to imagine for a moment that the last time you played Magic was 1995. Elder Dragons were not only chase rares, but pretty much the height of aggressive power bombs. It’s hard for you to even imagine something more destructive than, say, Palladia-Mors, or Vaevictis Asmadi. Then you trail off for a few years, you forget about Magic for a while. You don’t come back until 2010, and as you open your first pack, your friend mentions something called, “mythic rares.” You look at the first card in the pack, and it’s called Ulamog’s Crusher. “WOW,” you exclaim! “This has got to be one of those mythics you were talking about, right?”
“No,” says your friend. “It’s a common. It’s kind of unplayable outside of pauper, actually.”
The only thing you could possibly do at that point is flip a table over and run around in circles, yelling at the spoiled children all around you. Do they not know how good they have it? Do they not understand that in your day, you would walk uphill in two-foot snow to trade for an Arcades Sabboth? You tied an onion to your belt! It was the style at the time!
Anyway, this is a long, roundabout way of getting us to the fact that power creep is an insidious thing, and the ready availability of insanely powerful cards can sometimes blind you to the ready availability of merely ridiculously powerful cards. But you can produce quite a bit of power with said cards. Maximum power? No. Quite a bit of power. More than enough to achieve your goals… in this case, the previously mentioned board lock.
Pathrazer of Ulamog
Big dude. Annihilator. And even some evasion, which is handy because a Restore Balance off a Hellcarver Demon will still leave your opponent with one creature of their choice. Basically, a card that will never make someone say, “well at least I got killed by something that wasn’t an Emrakul.”
Now let’s put it together, see what we’ve got.
The Mysterious Production of Eggs
So how do we play this deck? The answer is: carefully and attentively. If your opponent has blue in their deck, wait until you have a Summoning Trap in your hand before dropping an Egg. If they have white, wait until they tap out on their turn before sacrificing it, so you can have a Demon ready to attack before they can hit it with a Path to Exile. You probably know the decks you’ll be up against, either because they’re run by your friends, or because you’re the kind of person who looks for deck ideas online (like right now), and you know what kind of metagame is out there. Play around your opponent; you get one shot at success with a combo deck, so you have to pick your moment carefully. If you do, you win (or put yourself in a position where you can’t lose) in one move.