It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right

Posted in Command Tower on February 12, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

When the words "two-card combo" come up, it's usually in a bad light. Combinations such as Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience, Painter's Servant and Grindstone, or the winning duo at Pro Tour Fate Reforged last weekend of Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin end games immediately.

Deceiver Exarch | Art by Izzy

There are plenty of these powerful options in Magic, and over time the number will only grow. It's an unavoidable nature of adding cards to the game over time. But there are other combinations of cards that don't simply win on the spot. I find those combinations much more interesting in Commander.

I Want to Rock Right Now

Synergy is a tired business buzzword, but it's still one useful to describe the other type of two-card combos out there. My personal favorite, featured in my Pharika, God of Affliction deck, is Masked Admirers and Erratic Portal.

Neither of these cards are particularly scary. The former draws a card when it enters the battlefield, and the latter returns a creature to its owners hand unless he or she pays 1. Together, they don't take over games, but they harmonize as an engine to keep things going in two ways:

  • For a loop of 3GG we can draw a card.
  • With another creature to return and recast from our hand, we can pull Masked Admirers out of our graveyard.

Picking up a few extra cards without committing extra to the battlefield is typically the domain of blue and black decks. This duo isn't as good as something like Erebos, God of the Dead or Arcanis the Omnipotent, but for a mono-green deck it's a nice feature.

These types of synergies are great nuts and bolts for Commander decks. Choosing individually powerful cards in a vacuum will lead to fine decks, but those who work to bring harmony between cards will find success comes easier. It's why I'm such a big fan of redundancy in Commander decks: Having multiple copies of the necessary tools means your plans and combos flow easier.

While the concepts of redundancy and synergy are intertwined for me, there are other ways to look at two-card combos, and you sent them in droves. James shared the two cards he jams together in his Theon of Havenwood decks:

It's not a pairing that I put in every deck, but in my Thelon of Havenwood build that aims to spew out Saprolings and overwhelm the table, my Tooth and Nail targets are ALWAYS Sporoloth Ancient and Sporesower Thallid.

The two of them together seriously speed up my Saproling production, which is what the deck is all about. It's not a game-winning Tooth and Nail, by any means, but it does so much to stabilize my own position and fuel my game that I can't ever bring myself to grab two different creatures.

James's Thelon

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COMMANDER: Thelon of Havenwood

Sometimes synergies aren't for every deck. While Thelon of Havenwood is a natural spot for James's choices, something like Ghave, Guru of Spores wouldn't turn out ways to turn out more tokens.

Caleb took a more random and powerful approach in mixing cards for creatures:

I love Sultai for Commander. It is arguably the best color combination in terms of overall power, and can play a variety of roles, from graveyard-centric strategies to aggressive Craterhoof Behemoth strategies to control strategies. I also really love graveyard interactions. So my choice for favorite two-card combo for Commander has to be Prophet of Kruphix and Havengul Lich.

While both of these cards are powerful in and of themselves, they are magnified many times over when paired together. Havengul Lich makes your graveyard effectively an extension of your hand, and Prophet of Kruphix rewards you for always having creatures to play. In the right self-mill shell, this combo can let you cast half of your deck in a few turn cycles. My Sidisi, Brood Tyrant deck is just that. The combo is so good I tend to make it top priority to find it (Birthing Pod is especially good at that, as Sidisi has 4 CMC).

Caleb's Sidisi

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COMMANDER: Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
99 Cards

Prophet of Kruphix sits pretty high on my list of "This needs to die." Havengul Lich is something I'm usually curious to see unfold. Pairing them together really does magnify the power they produce, and it's a duo I haven't yet seen. Depending upon the contents of a graveyard, Havengul Lich can either become some sort of monstrous combo engine…or just a way to pull back Solemn Simulacrum one more time.

I'm always excited to find out where the pendulum of power will fall for it, and making Prophet of Kruphix even more annoying seemed impossible. I'm not even mad; that's amazing.

Some of you follow the path of "solid but not game breaking" when it comes to combos, and Christian reminded me of an oldie-but-goodie:

This is crazy simple and not a powerful move at all, but of all things, Sun Titan and Evolving Wilds. Really simple repeatable mana ramp/color fixing. Plus, it doesn't draw as much hate as the multitude of other things Sun Titan could bring back (I'm looking at you, Eternal Witness).

I like this combo because it's redundant with Terramorphic Expanse (of course I'd like redundancy) but it highlights that big engines like Sun Titan can be used in smaller ways. Just because you can loop Oblivion Ring with a way to sacrifice it with its triggered ability on the stack doesn't mean you should. The equation of optional gameplay changes when creating an overall better experience for other players is the desired outcome.

There was another kind of look I received, and I've included the combo discussion from Larry but I won't be providing any commentary on it: you'll have to come back next week for that.

My favorite two-card combo is Deadeye Navigator and Mangara of Corondor.

While peanut butter goes with many things, like Deadeye Navigator, my favorite jelly to pair it with is raspberry. You know what I love about raspberry jelly? It's sweeter than raspberries, which is something I see as a bit of a drawback on that tart berry. Mangara is the raspberry jelly to Deadeye Navigator's peanut butter. Put Mangara's ability on the stack, activate Deadeye Navigator's ability on Mangara, and watch your opponent's eyes narrow in contempt as Mangara fails to join his or her target permanent in permanent exile. Now there's no sour taste at all!

Deadeye Navigator, Mangara, and Thousand-Year Elixir is like adding bananas to the mix. ETB shenanigans are Deadeye Navigator's specialty and so much fun the deck practically formed itself…much like PB&J must have as I'm certain not even da Vinci and Tesla could have created something so incredible. Temur Sabertooth salivates.

Roon of the Hidden Realm and Mistmeadow Witch's abilities can also be used similarly but also offensively with Containment Priest. Since their targets return at the beginning of the end step, Sundial of the Infinite can make those abilities permanent as well. Angel of the Dire Hour, Luminate Primordial, and Phyrexian Ingester, and even Flickerwisp, enjoy exiling too. Coiling Oracle, Eternal Witness, Fertilid, Fierce Empath, Cryptic Annelid, Fathom Mage, Karmic Guide, Solemn Simulacrum, Soul of Harvest, Prime Speaker Zegana, and Sphinx of Uthuun offer repeated card advantage. In this deck, even the Djinn of Wishes is willing to bargain for more wishes. And since Twilight Shepherd made the list, I couldn't leave out Magus of the Disk. I'd go on but limits. So enjoy the PB&J trifle, layered with cake, chocolate, and bananas. Dig in!

Looverse's Tactical Exile

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COMMANDER: Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
99 Cards

The Reason Why Man I Don't Know

This week's question is one meant for anyone who has played in a group of players for a long time: What was the biggest impact on your Commander decks an opponent has made?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300-word limit to explain the reasons
  • Sample decklist or list of cards is requested (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

While it might be easy to point to a metagame of sorts where you started to use different cards to overcome someone else's deck, I'd like to highlight more those "Aha!" moments where someone else opened your eyes to cards and ways to play you haven't realized before. Expanding our repertoire of ways to enjoy Commander is always fun, and hearing how someone you played against provided it is fascinating.

Join us next week when we take synergy to a whole new level. See you then!

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