Crazy Chimera Combo

Posted in Reconstructed on September 24, 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.

Your mission was to send me brand new post-Theros Standard decks to critique—and you all certainly did not disappoint! There were some quite impressive decks sent along, and the one I ended up choosing really caught my eye as unique and interesting. I'm excited to show it off!

But first, a brief lesson on Chimeras.

Horizon Chimera | Art by Sam Burley

Dusk! With a creepy tingling sensation, you hear the fluttering of leathery wings: chimeras. Fearsome creatures composed of many disparate parts, fused together by magic, alchemy, or perhaps some other force altogether. These incredible beasts feature the strengths of each creature stitched together—three in the traditional myth—combining to create a force quite literally like none other. And perhaps this dusk, their target will be your opponent...

Why do I bring this up? Well, today's deck doesn't just feature a Chimera. The deck itself is kind of a chimera! Let's take a look.

Jacob Smith's Bant Chimera

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The Battle Plan

Let's play one of my favorite games: can you spot the combo?

If not, I'll give you a hint: it involves three pieces and a Chimera.

This deck takes three relatively unrelated cards and turns them into a resource engine. Here's how it works:

The three cards you need are Archangel of Thune; Fathom Mage; and the newcomer, Horizon Chimera. Archangel of Thune turns all your life into +1/+1 counters. Fathom Mage turns all of its +1/+1 counters into cards. Horizon Chimera—the previously missing link—turns all of your cards into life... which in turn triggers Archangel of Thune once more!

That means, once you assemble this combination, you can draw as many cards as you want, gain that much life, and put that many +1/+1 counters on all of your creatures. Sounds pretty good to me!

Now, as many of you might already know, three-card combinations are usually a little too unreliable. But this combo has something else going for it, something I call the "Project X" factor: These are all reasonable creatures to play on their own!

A long time ago, when Time Spiral and the original Ravnica was Standard legal, there existed a deck mysteriously named "Project X." It had a core, creature-centric combo: Soul Warden, Saffi Eriksdotter, and Crypt Champion. Without going too far into the intricacies of an archaic deck, the deck would use the combination of Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion to trigger Soul Warden as many times as its pilot wanted, ending with a life total of 42 trillion.

Now, that deck had a three-card, creature-centric combo, too. And, while the creatures it used weren't necessarily stellar, they were perfectly serviceable in a midrange deck. This gave the deck a very solid dual strategy: be a midrange deck that could just kill people with a combo sometimes.

If you've read this column for a while then you know I find it very important that decks have multiple strategies and angles of attack; "a good story always has at least two different plots," and all that. These kinds of decks do just that.

Jacob has recognized many of the right elements for this deck. You definitely want acceleration for your combo and the full boat of combo pieces. The key to me is going to be tweaking the deck so that it's a perfectly reasonable midrange deck with an "oops, I win" combo as opposed to a combo-focused deck.

Ready to see what changes that entails?

Deck Breakdown

Which pieces can stay as part of this chimera and which can be dumped into the bin of spare parts? Let's go through the deck and find out!

Elvish Mystic
Sylvan Caryatid

While going through this deck, I'm going to make two checks on every card. The first check is if it fits well with the combo side of the deck. The second check is if it fits well with the midrange side of the deck.

In general, a card needs to either fit both sides or at least fit the midrange side to be in consideration for keeping around. Cards that only serve the combo side have to be exceedingly good at setting up the combo to keep in consideration—remember, this is a midrange deck first that can occasionally get free wins off of its combo.

Fortunately, these two cards fit both sides admirably. Midrange decks love getting to cast their ponderous four- and five-drops early, and combo decks love deploying their pieces faster. The only change I want to make is getting that fourth Elvish Mystic in there. Even if you don't have an untapped green source on the first turn, it still gets you to a four-drop on turn three if you play it on the second turn. I definitely want to max out on these.

When you're playing a combo deck without much in the way of "tutoring" (searching your library for specific combo pieces), you need to give yourself the best chance to draw all of the requisite cards. If this deck had a Chord of Calling, Birthing Pod, or similar card, you might be able to skimp on the numbers a little bit, but in this case we don't have that luxury.

The good news is that Archangel of Thune is a pretty fabulous card anyway, being so strong that I would certainly considering playing it in a Bant midrange deck regardless of combo. The other two aren't quite on the same level, but they aren't bad cards. Fathom Mage can be crushing when it gets going, and it helps you draw into your other pieces. While Horizon Chimera is probably the weakest of them on its own as a Constructed-level card, it is still a 3-power flier that can come out at instant speed and start pushing damage through. This motley crew is plenty fine on its own.

Thassa, God of the Sea

Thassa is certainly a major powerhouse out of Theros, and there's definitely a deck for her. But is this the right one?

I would lean toward no here. Thassa is almost never going to be a creature in this deck. Unblockability is a nice touch, but not worth a card. (And you already have massive inevitability with a combo lurking in the deck anyway.) So, at that point, the reason you're looking at playing Thassa is the benefit of scrying every turn. I don't think that's quite worth three mana considering the other cards you could be playing.

A card that does catch my eye here instead is Omenspeaker. It provides some of the consistency this deck is looking for, while also sitting on a body that can help gum up the board early on. Sign me up for four!

Simic Manipulator

Simic Manipulator has always had high potential. If you play a first-turn Elvish Mystic off of a Breeding Pool and then cast a Manipulator on the second turn, you can spend the next few turns evolving it and steal a creature. That's probably the best-case scenario—and that lands you with a creature a few turns after you play the 0/1.

While that's all right, if you draw the Simic Manipulator later it's especially weak. Is the upside of snagging a creature on turn five worth the high downside of being a bad draw after the first few turns? Not really. I'm going to send this card back to the bench.

Prophet of Kruphix

Prophet of Kruphix is definitely one of the most fun cards in Theros to play with. In a deck like this, it's a pretty reasonable choice: you have a lot of cards that cost four and five, and Prophet of Kruphix lets you be extra efficient with your mana.

The first turn you play it, as long the Prophet of Kruphix doesn't immediately die, it's essentially "free" since you can play another creature on your opponent's turn. On your next turn, you can start doubling up on plays: one on your turn, and one on your opponent's turn. If your hand is full of creatures, this is an effective way to deploy them... especially if you have an active Fathom Mage and can start drawing tons of cards!

However, while Prophet of Kruphix is nearly free once you have five mana, it does come at a cost: being another card that isn't active until you have a bunch of mana. And while it does help cast your cards quicker if you have a glut of four- and five-mana cards once it gets rolling, being in your hand early on makes for just another slow card you can't do much with. Furthermore, you never really want to draw two Prophets since they're redundant in multiples.

While Prophet of Kruphix is strong, I want to try and push the curve on this deck down a little to give it some more mana-efficient plays in the first few turns. I'm going to move down to two copies of the Prophet. While I'm usually not a big fan of two-ofs like this, I really can't afford to draw two of these early. If you draw it, that's awesome—but it's not a crucial element of the deck.

Zameck Guildmage

Zameck Guildmage's abilities can be powerful—but they are often mana intensive. So many of this deck's major cards cost four and five mana to cast that you don't have a ton of extra mana available to also load them up with counters. I'd rather play a two-drop that can be great defensively or offensively but still has a similarly high-impact ability if you find yourself with mana in the late game.

The card I'm looking at? Fleecemane Lion. In addition to offering great wrath protection, the Lion has an oversized body for two mana that can help fend off early attacks. I'm going to play four of them.

Bident of Thassa

The potential to draw a fistful of cards is tempting—but I don't think this deck will be attacking with quite enough creatures to make good use of the Bident of Thassa. The Bident is best when you already have an army of creatures you can attack with, and in this deck many of your creatures come out after the four-mana mark. Plus, this deck doesn't really need another four-mana card. This Bident is going to need to become a bye-dent.

Prime Speaker Zegana
Garruk, Caller of Beasts

I've made a pretty big effort with the rest of this deck to lower the mana curve, but I do still think it's worth having a couple of hammers at the top of your curve. While I don't want four, I think two is more appropriate. The only question is: which ones?

If I wanted a six-mana Planeswalker, I'd actually look at Elspeth, Sun's Champion here. Making three creatures every turn is really hard to combat if your opponent doesn't remove Elspeth right away, and both of her other abilities are quite relevant.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

However, it's a bit moot: the card that really catches my eye here is the creature option. Prime Speaker Zegana is fantastic, seeing how she picks you up a bunch of new cards and provides a body to boot. She's a fantastic card to have in your hand when you have a Prophet of Kruphix rolling, and helps you assemble your combo—or just draw a bunch of cards to help run over your opponent. Two copies makes for a great curve-topper that can give you the ammo you need to push through. I'm going to keep those two and cut the Planeswalker slot—although I could certainly see playing some Elspeths if your local metagame has a lot of sweeper-heavy control decks.

The final card I'd like to add in is Detention Sphere. It answers any permanent that's frustrating you, removing anything from Planeswalkers to Polukranos. With big creatures, indestructible Gods, god Equipment, and powerful Planeswalkers running around, it's a pretty easy four-of for me.

Detention Sphere

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Project C

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I'm always interested in decks that attack you from a normal angle but can also combo you out, and this deck is definitely something I'm excited about. The first Standard events with Theros are this weekend—perhaps consider this in your preparations!

On a side note, does anybody have a good punch line for "so an Angel, a Chimera, and a Human walk into a bar..."? Post your best answers in the forums.

Honorable Mentions

Looking for a litany of new post-Theros decklists? Look no further! Here's a sampling of submissions from the past week.

Fuhe Xu's Mono-Red Minotaurs

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Devin Carter's Duskmantle Seer

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Luke Maudlin's Purphoros's Legion

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Bill Cheng's Artemis

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James's Abhorrent Demons

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Itou Kazunari's Boros Heroic Legion

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Nathan Kalsch's The God Complex

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Sam's The Ashen Rider Rides Again!

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Artifact (2)
2 Whip of Erebos
Enchantment (2)
2 Deadbridge Chant
Other (3)
3 Resuce from the Underworld
60 Cards

Ingvi Örnolfsson's Aggro-Rock

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Carlos McMartin's Paint It Black

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Anil Yigit Filiz's Heroic Tokens

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Tkotz's RUG Ordeal of the Gods

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Isaachaze's WBR Burn

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Cameron Hensel's Trash and Dash

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Stephen Wise's Auras

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Theros Theories

The stream of Theros decklists continues to be a delight! While the format is still fresh and new, and while the Pro Tour is on the horizon, let's continue this stream of Standard decks.

Format: Post-Theros Standard
Restrictions: None!
Deadline: Monday, September 30, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time

Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)

20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

I had a blast working on the deck this week, and hopefully you enjoyed reading about it. If you have any feedback, please send it my way by either posting in the forums or sending me a tweet. I'd love to hear from you.

I'll be back next week with another look at Standard. Have a great weekend with Theros finally in Standard—I look forward to seeing the results!

Talk with you soon!



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