Arcanum Infinitium

Posted in Reconstructed on November 19, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

I asked for combo decks, and you all certainly delivered.



Combo is always one of my favorite archetypes to play and work on. In fact, one of the easiest ways to destroy my productivity is to put a combo deck near me.

I remember sitting next to my computer at home growing up, spending hours leaving everything I needed to do alone, and just going through the motions with High Tide, Storm, Dredge, Heartbeat, Pyromancer Ascension, and more. In college, sometimes I would tantalize myself with goldfishing combo decks as a reward for doing homework: "Okay Gavin, you can goldfish that Storm deck again as soon as you finish writing this page."

These days, crazy combo decks like those (fortunately) don't get let loose in Standard except once in a pale moon. (And if you read Pale Moon, you'll quickly realize that card doesn't come out of the shoebox very often.) Still, it's fun to make an effort in Standard—you never know what you'll come up with!

Like today, for example.

Triton Tactics | Art by Jack Wang

Triton Tactics-Elite Arcanist combo? Oh yes, my friend. Oh yes.

Justin McComb's Elite Arcanist Combo

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The Battle Plan

I know what some of you might be thinking. "You're usin' Triton Tactics and Elite Arcanist in that there deck? What kind of gazelle honkeytonk is this!?"

Hold your horses there, Partner! Let me run through the combo.

Elite Arcanist can carry a lot of power—but in this deck it wants to hold one card in particular: Triton Tactics. If you teach it how to cast Triton Tactics, then it can untap itself and one of your other creatures for just one mana.

On its own, that's not much to hoot and holler about. But in conjunction with Zhur-Taa Druid, you can reboot the universe.

Tap Zhur-Taa Druid for a mana. The Druid deals 1 damage to your opponent—pow! Use that mana to activate Elite Arcanist, cast Triton Tactics targeting Elite Arcanist and Zhur-Taa Druid. Repeat over and over again, making the pow sound effect every time. About twenty pows later, the game will be yours!


With a perfect draw, this deck can win as early as turn four. But a lot of the time, you're going to play a sort of midrange game, maybe killing a creature or two and eventually setting up for your combo.

Something I'd like to do is help make the deck more consistent. It's a three-card combo, and those can usually use some tools to help assemble their combo better. I'd also like to add in some cards that help the deck do something even when its combo isn't coming together. I've said it before and I'll say it again: just like how most good stories have at least two things going on, the same is true for most good decks. Flexibility is invaluable.

Deck Breakdown

What's working and what is just a bit too arcane to put to good use? Let's go through the deck card by card and see!

Elite Arcanist

The Arcanist is one of the cornerstone pieces of this combo deck. It's completely irreplaceable and, to combo out, you have to draw one. I wouldn't want to play less than four of such an integral card.

It's worth noting that, while the combo is attractive, there will be games where it's just right to roll this card out there with some other spell on it. It's very vulnerable, so often you won't want to actually cast it on turn four unless that assembles the combo for next turn, but when it comes around to turn eight perhaps it's just right to send this out there carrying a Magma Jet on it.

Knowing when and how to play your Elite Arcanists is going to be very important with this deck. If you think your opponent has something, don't just walk into a two-for-one—wait and try to draw it out, or get up to seven mana so you can cast Arcanist with Dissolve backup. Sometimes you might just want to wait for a second Triton Tactics and a spare mana to fend off Lightning Strike. Be careful, and your Arcanists will carry you to victory.

Zhur-Taa Druid

The Druid makes up the other creature half of the combo and is similarly a card I want to draw. If nothing else, it accelerates you on mana. However, unlike the Arcanist, Zhur-Taa Druid isn't completely irreplaceable.

While Zhur-Taa Druid is the only creature in Standard that also kills your opponent in the process of going off, there are a few more combos you can pull off. If you have, say, a Sylvan Caryatid, you can still cast unlimited spells. On its own that won't do much, but with something like Young Pyromancer around, suddenly it becomes much more interesting.

Sylvan Caryatid
Young Pyromancer

While at that point it's a four-card combo—Elite Arcanist, Triton Tactics, a mana creature, and a Young Pyromancer—both additional mana creatures and Young Pyromancer are good on their own. Plus it just gives you another method of attack. To top it off, Pyromancer gives you another angle to aim for winning with.

The cards to add? Four Young Pyromancer and four Sylvan Caryatid. I could go deeper down this well if I wanted—there's certainly some kind of all-in deck featuring Elvish Mystic and Guttersnipe—but every card you add begets a cut, and I didn't want to cut out all of this deck's resilience to do so.

Omenspeaker

I like Omenspeaker quite a bit in general. It blocks well, and in decks like this it also helps you dig you closer to your combo.

However, while normally I'd be all for the consistency Omenspeaker adds, it does have one unchangeable fault: it's a creature. After adding Young Pyromancer and knowing that I'm going to be cutting a few other spells from the deck, I want to trim excess creatures where I can. Omenspeaker isn't integral, it's just a nice card to have. No excess creatures allowed on this voyage—sorry, Omenspeaker!

Nivix Cyclops
Spellheart Chimera

These cards are attempting to take the role of a creature that can end the game if the Elite Arcanist plan doesn't come together. I think Justin is spot-on in including some cards like this: not everything will always come together, and you want to be striking from additional positions. You can't allow your opponent drawing four removal spells to easily end your game.

While Nivix Cyclops and Spellheart Chimera are good in their role, I think there's an even better option. What's a 3/5 flier from Theros that scrys and is hard to kill?

Hopefully you were able to answer the Sphinx's riddle:

Prognostic Sphinx

Prognostic Sphinx has a few great upsides. First and foremost, it is excellentagainst removal spells. The natural defense for a deck fighting this one is to dig for removal spells and leverage them to shut you down. Unfortunately for that player, the prognosis for removal spells being used against this Sphinx isn't very good.

As if that wasn't enough, it also scrys you further into your deck so you can assemble the combo or find the Dissolve to make you feel secure in casting it. Even if your opponent does spend a few removal spells to off the Sphinx, that hopefully means the coast is now clear to lay out whatever combo pieces you have.

Why Sphinx over Ætherling, another hard-to-remove creature? The extra mana (or let's be realistic, the extra two mana: if your goal is to beat removal, you aren't casting Ætherling without a blue mana up to flicker it) makes a big difference. With eight green accelerators in your deck, slamming a Sphinx on the fourth turn quickly puts your opponent in a rough spot. Plus, it even plays good defense to boot!

I'm actually pretty happy playing the full four-pack of Prognostic Sphinx. It's going to be strong whether you're going down the control route, combo route, or simply the frustrate-your-opponent route.

Triton Tactics

While not a stellar Constructed card in general, this deck turns its power level upside down by making it an integral combo piece. I definitely want all four of these to help me draw the combo more often. And it's not even that bad in a pinch—it certainly helps protect your creatures from burn or cause some tricky attacks on the part of your opponent.

Lightning Strike

While a fine card in general, Lightning Strike isn't helping build toward any of your game plans very well. I'm all for utility, but I think there are better options for this deck.

Like what? Well, how about Izzet Charm! It can still take down a large cadre of early creatures, but the other two modes are quite useful in aiding this deck's battle plan. It can either dig you closer to the combo pieces you're on the hunt for or help protect your combo. This is a pretty smooth straight swap: four Izzet Charms it is!

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Similar to Izzet Charm, Magma Jet does good work in this deck by fending off creatures and also helping to find what you're looking for. And unlike our fallen comrade the Omenspeaker, it's a spell to trigger Young Pyromancer. No complaints here—let's stick with four.

Dissolve

Dissolve is doing a couple great things here. First, given enough mana, it helps protect your combo. Second, the scry 1 puts you that much closer to finding the piece you're looking for. Finally, slamming this under an Elite Arcanist can put a thorn in the side of your opponent if you manage to untap with it.

While I don't know that I want the full four, since this deck probably won't be holding a ton of mana up early and I don't want to get clogged on them, three sounds like a pretty good number to me.

Syncopate

Like Dissolve, Syncopate is a counterspell. Unlike Dissolve, it doesn't have many of the same advantages. It doesn't help dig you to your combo, doesn't work underneath Elite Arcanist, and costs a lot of mana to protect your combo pieces with. While I like having some countermagic, Izzet Charm is accomplishing a similar role to Syncopate here while doing so much more. This seems out of sync with what the deck wants—I'm okay cutting this.

Divination

Divination makes for a reasonable play early. However, what this deck really wants is a massive draw spell. If you draw a bunch of accelerants and no action, or go for your combo early and it gets dismantled, you're going to need more than going up one card to get back in the game.

The card I want to put here instead is a couple Opportunities. It's even an instant, so you can keep up Dissolve mana and then slam an end-step Opportunity. Plus, it's pretty sweet if you even manage to get it active under an Elite Arcanist.

With all of those changes in mind, and some scry lands to help out the consistency even more, it brings the deck to:

Arcanum Infinitium

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From here, this deck is in your hands.

Maybe you get the rush from the thrill of the combo and want to try an all-in combo version. If you go down that path, I'd consider Voyaging Satyr, Elvish Mystic, Guttersnipe, and even Signal the Clans to ensure you have the pieces you need. Hammer of Purphoros could give them haste to help you win out of nowhere. A single removal spell could crumple you completely—but if opponents don't have one, you're going to be in pretty good shape to win in games where you draw Elite Arcanist and Triton Tactics.

Signal the Clans
Hammer of Purphoros

A little more risk averse? You could try moving this even closer to the control axis, reserving the combo for your finishing move. In that deck, I'd consider putting some more countermagic back in and using some form of card draw like Jace, Architect of Thought.

Or maybe you're happy with what you see here. Regardless of which path you walk down, enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

There were quite a few exciting combo decks sent in this week. Curious for some inspiration of your own? Take a look!

Josh B's Storm of Possibilities

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Gem-rey L.'s 4-Color Servitude Combo

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Jacob Johnson's Door Brace

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Austin B's Redstorm

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Eddie Taylor's The Apostles Chime In

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Shade909's Super-Evolving BUG

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Jeremy Natale's Horizon Bant

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Hiroya Kobayashi's Old Maid

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Markus Beyreder's Hidden Heroes

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Ryan Cimera's Ooze Fold

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Jared Walker's Izzet a Young Pyromancer Deck?

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Itou Kazunari's Goblin Pressure

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Javier Perez's Garruk, the Genius

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Erik Ståhlberg's Tymaret Post

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Jacques's Bombing Run

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Arjan Boerma's Visionary

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Qoarl's Exessive Enchanting

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Lore's Epicness

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