No Rares, All Modern Combo

Posted in Reconstructed on October 19, 2015

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.

Can it be done? Could it be . . . ?

Combo is always an exciting archetype to take a look at, but usually many of the combo enablers (like Splinter Twin, or Amulet of Vigor) sit at higher rarities. After all, that's where the more "unusual" cards tend to hang out. And that can be a problem if you want to build on a budget.

Well, today I have a pretty neat Modern combo deck that you might just be able to build using commons you already have just lying around your house.

I hadn't even originally planned on this week being a budget week (especially considering next week will be a Standard budget week!), but when I received this rareless (outside of a couple lands, which are not mandatory) Modern combo decklist in my inbox, I saw it as a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

Plus, it's Devoid Week! Not only are we playing a deck with devoid cards, but we'll be playing a deck devoid of rares. How's that for thematics!

So, can it be done? Well, let's kick this off. Here we go!

Rick's Colorless Combo

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The Battle Plan

What exactly is going on here? How do all of these cards make up some sort of combo?

Well, the new card enabling all of this noise is this fine chap (who just wants to give you a hug):

Every time you cast a colorless spell, it untaps. Pretty simple.

Enter: Retraction Helix.

Now, every time you play a colorless spell, you can bounce something. Which means that if you have, say, an artifact that costs zero to cast such as Memnite, you can just loop it over and over and over again by playing it, bouncing it, untapping your drone, and casting it again. Now this doesn't inherently get you anywhere. . . . But with a Kozilek's Sentinel, Molten Nursery, or simply another Nettle Drone, that equals one very dead opponent.

Boom! They're dead. Pretty cool, right?

There are two main things I'm going to want to tweak or otherwise fix as we go through and modify this deck, and they mostly go hand in hand.

One of them is consistency. This is a combo that requires multiple cards to set up. Fortunately, this deck can have a lot of redundant combo pieces that we can add in, along with some smoothing in the form of card filtering. We can make room for those pieces.

Secondly, and this is something you'll very seldom hear me say, this deck should go more all-in on the combo. Normally, I'm the one saying that almost every deck should be attacking from multiple angles. (And I've even written about it multiple times in this column.)

Well, this is where the word "almost" comes in there—there are some exceptions, and this is one of them. Attacking with a couple Memnites early is not going to get the job done in Modern, and I'd rather eschew that plan in favor of a dedicated combo base. Maybe if I was playing with more rares, I'd try and make some affinity hybrid work out with Cranial Plating—but besides, that's far less exciting anyway.

So, with both of those pieces of knowledge in hand, let's go forth and make tweaks!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards should stay, and which should we retract from the decklist? Let's go through the deck card-by-card and decide!

Nettle Drone is one of the new cards that this entire engine is built around, and you absolutely need to draw one and not have it die to be able to win. It can serve a role as both the card that starts up your combo with Retraction Helix, as well as the card that kills your opponent if you draw two of them. I can't imagine cutting any of them at all, since it's integral to the deck.

However, I am certainly interested in adding more. How would I do that, you ask? Well, there are two other options!

Zephyr Scribe and Battered Golem both can untap whenever you cast an artifact. (There's also Mirran Spy, but that's weaker than either of those two.) The Scribe requires moving to zero mana noncreature artifacts, but that's a negligent price to pay. I could definitely go for another four copies of a card that does this, because it is so integral.

The question between those two for me is if you'd rather have Zephyr Scribe's looting ability, or be able to play with Welding Jar as your zero-cost artifact and use it to regenerate your Golem. They're both full of upside.

While I love seeing an extra card or two with the looting ability, the thing I am far more concerned about with this deck is protection. Making sure your creatures don't die while comboing off is crucial. Battered Golem it is!

This deck definitely needs zero-mana colorless spells to function. But what are the right ones?

Memnite and Ornithopter are not the ones I want to play with. As creatures, they're fragile, and I'm not planning to attack with Memnite to victory. Instead, two other cards emerge.

The first is Welding Jar. I already mentioned this one, but the Jar protects Battered Golem from commonly played cards like Lightning Bolt for free. When you're going off, this is a huge boon. If you have another zero-cost artifact in your hand, it means you can continue to combo out.

The second is a truly unlikely hero. And I have to say, in all my years as a Magic writer, if you told me some day I would write down this card on my decklist, I probably would have laughed. It was literally a card people made jokes about playing in the set. Well, it turns out the joke is on me.

It's finally time to break out Herbal Poultice.

Zero-cost artifact for the combo? Check! Ability to protect your creatures? Check! It's even at a manageable mana cost to do so: a turn-three Nettle Drone leads into four mana on turn four, which means mana for the regenerate from Poultice as well as the one mana for Retraction Helix.

It's crazy—but it's the kind of crazy that works.

Four Welding Jars. Three Herbal Poultices. I never thought I'd say this, but . . . sign me up!

If you're casting a million colorless spells in a single turn, the Sentinel is going to get a million power. And as a way to kill off your opponent, the Sentinel has a magical thing going for it: 3 toughness! Your opponent can't Lightning Bolt it. (And although they can Bolt your Battered Golem or Nettle Drone, that's where Herbal Poultice comes in!)

Doing this on two mana is the perfect spot, since it fits into your curve: a turn-two Sentinel, a turn-three Drone or Golem, then combo off on turn four. I definitely want more in this space.

If we were still using endless creatures to combo out, I'd look to Impact Tremors, but I would rather have the regenerative properties of Jar and Poultice. That makes Elusive Spellfist the card I'm looking for. While it doesn't have that fourth toughness, it can become unblockable—plenty important if the game goes long and the board gets gummed up to where Sentinel can't break through. (You can always bounce your opponent's blocker with the last untap while comboing off with Sentinel, but if they have a ton of creatures, then that's less tenable.) I'll play four of each!

I'm grouping all of these together because they all fulfil the same role here: being aggressive cards to help the deck with its beatdown plan. Well, now that plan is out and these cards no longer serve the role they once did. They can all go.

Also one of the combo keys of this deck, Helix is entirely necessary to have. I definitely want to play all four of them.

Retraction Helix also has a much older brother in Banishing Knack, which does functionally the same thing. Perfect! You have to find one of these to be victorious, and you may need extras if you have to fight through additional removal. Plus, if you just need to buy time, you can always just make a time heist and cast it as an Unsummon for a tempo play. I'll take the full eight!

Nursery is a little slower than the two-mana Sentinel or Spellfist, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in resiliency. It can also be a huge asset against a deck like Lantern Control, against which you can use Nursery to grind out damage over time.

Because of the slowness of Nursery (it sits at three mana, where Nettle Drone and Battered Golem live), I want to cut down to two copies. It's still nice to have around, but you don't need the full four.

This is a holdover from before the deck was as combo-centric, and as such it can safely go. The kind of spells I'd like to be playing instead are consistency and protection spells.

For consistency, the card I want here is Serum Visions. If you don't have access to Serum Visions, you could just as easily use Sleight of Hand without taking too big of a ding, but Visions is preferable.

After that, a pair of Dispels help serve as extra protection for your combo. Removal breaks this combo apart, and for one mana, Dispel shuts down Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and many similar spells.

What does the deck look like with all of those tweaks in mind? Well, something like this!

Gavin Verhey's Eldrazi Poultice

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How's that for a rareless Modern deck . . . featuring Herbal Poultice, no less!

While I wouldn't expect this to take the Pro Tour by storm, it certainly is a fun combo to play and show off and could be a lot of fun to build up and play at your local FNM. And, I mean, it's a chance to kill your opponents using Herbal Poultice—that opportunity doesn't come up every day!

If I were going to add in rares, I would definitely redo the mana base to include fetch lands, Steam Vents, and Eldrazi Temple to power out Nettle Drone on turn two. You could also consider splashing black to use Glaze Fiend as an additional creature that can't be easily blocked, which you can then use for the kill.

After that, Altar of the Brood is a great one-mana card that lets you set up your kill. Turn one Altar and turn two Nettle Drone off of Eldrazi temple sets you up for a turn three win! If you have those, I'd probably play them.

Have fun with this one!

McArtor's Mentions

On McArtor's Mentions, we take a look at a handful of the other Modern decks sent in this week. Let's check them out!

Qoarl's Herald of Eggs

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Wei's Puresteel Combo

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Andrew Weisel's Eldrazi Beatdown

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Kento Hatao's Bring Maze to Light

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Sekigami Ryota's Warp World

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Master and Commander

Two short weeks from now, I'll be showing you my Commander (2015 Edition) preview card! I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting for us to show off some Commander cards, and that's when it's finally going to happen. You'll definitely want to check back then!

However, that does mean no deck challenge for two weeks from now. Instead, take some inspiration from the Pro Tour last weekend, build some new decks, and get used to the metagame for Standard going forward. There's a lot to take in!

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions, please let me know! I'd love to hear from you. I'm always available if you send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr.

I'll be back next week with a look at budget Standard deck building! Have fun, and talk with you again then!




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