Steal this Combo

Posted in Feature on October 11, 2006

By Chris Millar

"Last week featured what was probably my most controversial article ever."Welcome, Lesser and Greater Johnnies! Before I dig deep, peel back the layers, and expose the real amazing and fun combos, I’d like to clear up a little misunderstanding. Last week featured what was probably my most controversial article ever. I didn’t try to ruin Magic, or nerf your favourite colour, or play a deck with counterspells in the Casual Room. All I did was talk about a nifty two-card combo that could be used to kill creatures: Imagecrafter and Dwarven Demolition Team.

The controversy arose due to the fact that Dwarven Demolition Team says this:

: Destroy target Wall.

And Imagecrafter’s card text says this:

: Choose a creature type other than Legend or Wall. Target creature’s type becomes that type until end of turn.

Many anonymous readers wrote in to ask me if I knew how to read, which seemed like an odd question to deliver in text form. Many more readers politely asked if they were missing something and pointed out the apparent incompatibility of the two cards. One reader, let’s call him Jeffrey of No Fixed Email Address, even took time out of his day to write me this:

Dear Chris Millar,
Regarding your article "Tim Shifted":
I would love to tell you that your combo sucks because "Imagecrafter" DOES NOT turn a creature into a WALL. Sorry to be rude but you work at MTG. You should be ashamed :(
- Jeffrey

That is why I enjoy Wednesday mornings so much. I just bask in the love. The truth of the matter is that I do know how to read, people were missing something, and the Imagecrafter + Dwarven Demolition Team combo does work. The missing information is that Imagecrafter has Oracle text that differs from the text printed on the card. It now reads:

: Choose a creature type. Target creature’s type becomes that type until end of turn.

The reason for that is conveniently explained by Aaron Forsythe, in an article called Legendary Rules Changes that went up during Champions of Kamigawa previews.

How about some other combos that work?

Good Day to You, Zur

Last week was Timeshifted Week, and I used that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have some fun with an old friend, Prodigal Sorcerer, also known as Tim the Enchanter. The Enchanter-enthusiasts among you will be glad to know that the beloved Tim isn’t the only three-letter Enchanter in the neighbourhood. This week I’d like to look at Zur the Enchanter, not to be confused with the indefinite Zuran Enchanter, who is just one Enchanter among many.

This deck came all the way from Denmark, courtesy of master single-card strategist Christian Moeller-Holst. I’m a sucker for a deck with a toolbox, and Zur the Enchanter is nothing if not handy around the house. Given a little time, the Coldsnap Legend can make you immune to damage, facilitate a sudden twenty-to-the-dome strategy, or even allow you to blow up all the lands in play, just for kicks. I like to have Armageddon in my toolboxes. Right next to the needle-nose pliers.

As Christian says, "Even though the deck has a green base, it usually doesn’t have that much of a problem casting Zur on turn 3-4." Between Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Farseek, Living Wish, and Land Tax, you should be able to get the mana you need when you need it. Playing Seismic Assault or Necropotence might be tricky, but hopefully you’ll have an active Zur before you draw all of your nigh-uncastables.

Zur the Enchanter
How does the deck work? What’s the game plan? I’ll let Christian explain: "Since his ability triggers before your opponent gets a chance to block him, you’ll most likely want to put a Heart of Light on him, and if it’s needed, a Shielding Plax is in the deck to prevent any shenanigans from your opponent." Heart of Light will protect Zur from almost all Red removal as well as from damage incurred during the combat phase. Now you send Zur into the Red Zone each turn with impunity (without having to worry about him being killed in combat). Another way to accomplish this would be to make Zur unblockable with something like Unquestioned Authority, Writ of Passage, or Cloak of Mists. Of course, that won’t protect him from kill spells the way Heart of Light and Shielding Plax will. If mass removal, Wrath of God-style, is what you fear, then False Demise or Shade's Form might be a better alternative.

"When he has been secured, you’ll probably want to secure yourself. That can be done in several ways, say Circle of Protection: Red and Shifting Sky (turning all permanents Red, naturally) – but my favorite is Necropotence and Solitary Confinement (So I can’t take any damage, you say? Well I guess the downside is that I’m losing 1 life per round - sounds like a bargain to me)." In a pinch, an active Land Tax can help you to keep the Solitary Confinement around for a while. "The biggest problem for me was finding a proper win condition, but I settled on Land Tax + Seismic Assault. Should you have too many lands out, you can always fetch either an Overgrown Estate or an Excavation."

Christian uses many older cards, but don’t fret if you don’t have Land Tax and Necropotence and the Alpha-brand dual lands. As always, there are alternatives. To complement the Seismic Assault endgame, you could swap Land Tax for Trade Routes, which would allow you to effectively make every land you play a latent Shock to the dome. While less powerful, obviously, Phyrexian Arena is an okay substitute for Necropotence. Since you draw the extra card during your upkeep, and not your draw step, it combos just as well with Solitary Confinement, as long as you can keep paying the life.

Eggs, Sunrise-Side Up

Anyone who loves Prophecy (or, I suppose, Eighth Edition) will certainly recognize Lesser Gargadon. It’s a red Craw Wurm for two-thirds of the mana. The reason for the discount is that Lesser Gargadon eats up your lands when it gets involved in combat. The important thing about Lesser Gargadon is that it invites the question: What the hell is a Gargadon? Others might ask: If that’s the Lesser Gargadon, where’s the Greater Gargadon (or even the Middling Gargadon, for that matter)? Luckily, Time Spiral provides us with the answer to at least one of those questions.

To be honest, when I first saw Greater Gargadon, I wasn’t particularly excited. It seemed like a big dumb red creature to me. Sure, it’s a 9/7 behemoth, but it costs ten mana to play from your hand! Yeah, you can Suspend it, but it has Suspend 10, and you can speed up the suspension by blowing up your own permanents. That sounds like one part overcosted and two parts card-disadvantage, with a sprinkle of just-asking-for-Remand. In other words, a recipe for disaster. Needless to say, I was short-sighted.

It always pleases me greatly when a reader shares his or her kooky and brilliant deck ideas with me. It turns out that ideas are contagious, so allow me to cough a couple into your handkerchief. This one comes from Dom "bateleur" Camus, who is no stranger to the Art of Casual Deckbuilding, having trounced the competition in Bennie Smith’s Tombstone Stairwell Challenge. Many people have pet cards, and Dom’s just so happens to combo with Greater Gargadon. The card: Second Sunrise. The deck:

As Dom explains, this deck can let you pull off many cute tricks, including but not limited to:

  • Tap your lands to pay for Second Sunrise, sac your entire board to a suspended Gargadon, then play the Sunrise and bring everything back.
  • As above, but tap all your mana. Your stuff will come back untapped, giving you a one-shot mana boost. Second Sunrise as Early Harvest.
  • Sac your Summoner’s Eggs to a suspended Gargadon.
  • Use Pandemonium to open your own Eggs with Sandstalkers.
  • Sac-and-Sunrise morphed Imperial Hellkites to bring them back face up.
  • With Pandemonium in play, sac and bring back a board full of creatures to deal a stupid amount of damage.

"This is the 'full fat' version, which is unpleasantly rare-heavy, but the deck's core concept still works with only eight cheap rares (the Sunrises and the Gargadons). There are probably some even better things to add to this deck (I toyed with Coldsnap's Icefall for a while) – the Extended cardpool is large enough to make an exhaustive search impractical!"

Not to mention exhausting! I really like Dom's idea of using Greater Gargadon to better control your Recover triggers. There are many other possibilities, too. Any Vanguard deck that uses the Loxodon Hierarch Avatar as a sacrifice outlet could make use of Greater Gargadon – I'm looking at you, Zuberas. Perhaps the nastiest card to pair with Greater Gargadon is Odyssey's Balancing Act.

Neither Out Nor In

While we're on the subject of Pandemonium, I'd like to transition awkwardly to the next deck. History buffs are well aware that Pandemonium forms a two-card, twenty-one damage combo with Saproling Burst, which was known as Pande-Burst, or Sapro-Monium, depending on how iconoclastic you like to be. It also forms a quick and easy, two-card, infinite-damage combo with Sekki, Season's Guide. A reader with a very specific and bizarre nickname, Casual Online Player, wrote to me to suggest that Pandemonium would fit nicely into the deck I wrote about a couple weeks ago, with Darien, King of Kjeldor and Soul Warden. With all three cards on board and a way to damage yourself, you'll have infinite soldiers!

Pandemonium also happens to "combo" with a certain Legendary Creature from Time Spiral, a creature that I had a chance to preview but chose to preview Paradox Haze instead. Here's a rough (read: exact) recreation of a conversation I had with Scott Johns:

[13:58] Scott: oh hrm, here's a weird guy that never got a good home
[13:58] Scott: Norin the Wary
[13:58] Scott: [of flavor text fame]
[13:58] Scott: R
[13:58] Scott: Legendary Creature - Human Warrior
[13:58] Scott: 2/1
[13:58] Scott: When a player plays a spell or a creature attacks, remove Norin the Wary from the game. Return it to play under it's owner's control at eot
[13:59] Scott: That guy makes me laugh every time
[13:59] Chris: weird
[13:59] Chris: he IS wary
[13:59] Scott: he's REALLY wary
[13:59] Scott: heh
[13:59] Scott: flavor text: "I have a bad feeling about this."
[13:59] Chris: haha

At around this point, the ramifications of Norin's rules text made themselves apparent.

[13:59] Chris: so, you can't even attack with him?
[13:59] Chris: or block?
[13:59] Scott: hello
[13:59] Scott: he's wary!

Wary indeed! This has got to be the best melding of function and flavour in a Legendary Creature since the printing of Borin the Trepidacious. Not only will Norin the Wary run and hide when your opponent plays a spell or attacks with one of his creatures, but he'll also disappear if you do the same. He even gets cold feet and backs out of his own attacks. He's like a Gustcloak Jackal Pup... to the extreme!

Pros: He can't be killed by conventional removal spells. He can only be killed by permanents like Tim, or Murderous Betrayal, or Rod of Ruin. He's certainly no match for Imagecrafter and Dwarven Demolition Team, I don't care how wary he is.

Cons: He doesn't actually do anything.

Obviously, we're going to partially remedy the problem by pairing Norin with the timeshifted Pandemonium. Now whenever he flickers, he'll do two damage. Since he can blink out and back in once each turn, on your turn and on your opponent's turn, he can effectively do four damage per turn. With two Norins, you can do eight damage per turn. Wait a minute! Two Norins? Isn't he Legendary? Yes, he is, but who says the Legend Rule has to apply? Not me, and not the inventor of Mirror Gallery.

There are a few other cards that work well with Norin's flickering. The first is Confusion in the Ranks. The second is Aura Shards, the bane of my existence. The third is Spreading Plague. Now each time Norin comes into play, he'll destroy all other Red creatures. Combined with Shifting Sky, he'll destroy all other creatures of the colour of your choice. Obviously this plan conflicts more than a little with the Multiple Norin-Pandemonium-Mirror Gallery strategy, but I thought I'd jam as many ideas into the deck as I could.

The main problem with Norin is that he can't attack. Or can he? There are a few ways to get the timid fellow into the Red Zone, and I've included three of them in the deck. The first one is perhaps the most obvious, and that's Yore-Tiller Nephilim. With a Norin in the graveyard, the Nephilim will yank him out and thrust him into the middle of combat, bypassing the declare attackers step – which is what would cause Norin to flee in the first place. A similar trick can be pulled off with Dimir Doppelganger. Declare it as an attacker, then sometime before damage is dealt, turn him into Norin the Wary. You're not so wary now, are you? Last but not least, we have Time Spiral's Vesuvan Shapeshifter. You'll need Mirror Gallery for this one. Attack with a morphed Shapeshifter, then unmorph it (cloning Norin the Wary) while Norin's triggered ability is on the stack. You see, with a little help from his friends, Norin can stop being the Cowardly (Savannah) Lion and finally show some courage!

Until next time, steal this combo!

Chris Millar

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