Anything But: One-Land Combo

As always we have so much to cover! I’m going to do my best to try and keep things to the point, so let’s start with November’s Academy Showcase! Things went awesomely, as this month we ran two 8-player Pauper constructed events. The idea was providing that tournament type we didn’t have, and it seemed that players had a fun time with them. We had quite the variety of decks, which I’ll talk a little more about, but congratulations goes out to our two winners! In the first match we had Heagyth win with DelverBlue and then the second was won by E. Hustle who played Tortured Reanimator in a more classic BG version. Don’t forget follow me on Twitter to see what’s coming up for December or check out this thread!

We also finished up JustSin’s Team League this past weekend so big congratulations goes out to Team DBC for pulling in first and team Sneaky Little Green Men for second! Thanks to members of both teams and of course the guys behind the scenes at MTGO Academy for their sponsoring this event. As always you can find the videos for the finals and the third round on the MTGO Academy YouTube page and keep an eye out for my final thoughts on how everything went, which can be found on this week.

Now at this point I think we’re all familiar with what has happened regarding Daily Events. I’m not going to talk about it because it has been talked to death and frankly I’m of a mind that we don’t know what is going to happen yet, so all the freaking out should at least be put on hold until we do know. What we’re going to have today is a very short, final section of the Competitive Corner which actually ended right on schedule with the event shutdown. I’m not going to really talk about what information we have, as it won’t be as useful without a Daily Event to head into, and we don’t know where things will go. So I’m going to save us both a little time and skip out on some of that. What I do need to talk about is the future of this section. Oddly enough it was about a year ago that I joined the guys here at MTGO Academy, and Wizards had just reduced what postings they were issuing and now I find myself again debating over the outcome of the biggest piece of my bi-weekly series.

While I’m glad to have 8-player events, the bottom line is they are not the same as Dailies, obviously. It is nice that they provide us with results for some of these events; however, I don’t believe there is any number of results that they could show us for these that would enable the solid creation of a metagame. When you have an event that is limited to only eight players at a time, it really isn’t a solid foundation for establishing an idea of what is being played. Each “event” will have a heavier influence on a restarting metagame, and I don’t feel information provided will paint a realistic picture. It comes down to that law of small numbers. No matter what the provided information shows is being heavily played, you’re working off a very small sample that will be unreliable because there are too many factors that will impact player choice for that specific event. This also does not take into consideration the fact that the results posted include only the top four, which means that a player only has to win one match. To compensate for this feeling last time Wizards made changesm I decided to devote a significant amount of time watching all Daily Events. There is no way that this can be done for 8-player events. I think ultimately I will continue to provide summary information for the 8-player events that they do give us; however, there won’t be much as far as analysis or anything to go with it.

 Here’s this week’s rogues…

1. UB Control – 13
2. Teachings – 8
3. GW Tokens – 7
4. IzzetControl – 5
5. AzTrinket – 5
6. DimirTrinket – 4
7. Infect – 4
8. AzControl – 3
9. Tortured Reanimator – 3
10. UB Mill Control – 3
11. Rebels – 2
12. Gray Control – 1
13. OrzPest – 1
14. RedTron – 1
15. ComboTron – 1
16. Ur Tron – 1
17. GreenTron – 1
18. TurboFog – 1
19. DamnRats – 1

Here’s how the undefeated odds are looking…

There has been a lot of unhappiness out there these days and perhaps rightfully so. There may be hard times ahead for the format. We know other formats will easily bounce back after changes, but there is potential here for Pauper to suffer as a format. I’m not going to doomsay, but I do want to emphasize that many in the format are doing what they can to keep the interest going. Pauper events in the Academy Showcase is one great way, but I do want to mention another before we get going here. Several of us in the community want to make sure the interest in the format keeps going so there will be a Pauper PE coming up on 11/23! I hope many of you show up and support the format. For details you can head over to the announcement on Casting Commons. I’ll be checking out some games and giving my voice to the cause over on my Twitch page.

But today we’re going to keep things fun. I’m going to offer you a deck that can provide combo players with plenty of entertainment. For those of you who watched the first 8-player constructed event that we ran for the Academy Showcase, you probably saw that we had two players running a deck that hadn’t really been seen in the competitive scene before. There was an attempt made, but it never ended up showing. With the 8-player format, it would seem that Shaffawaffa5 and obZen thought this was a great opportunity to give the deck a try. Now before we go any further with the discussion I want to take a minute and recommend Shaffawaffa’s articles. If you don’t read them, you’re missing out on a great contributor for the format. He himself wrote up a small introduction to the decks at one point as well as his own breakdown of how the event went, and you should take a look there first. Here’s what the lists looked like from this month’s Academy Showcase…

In the event these two started off at different ends of our bracket, so things were well set for a possible mirror in the finals. In the first round Shaffa faced down ellamaris who was running DimirTrinket, a possibly difficult match, and obZen was playing against JXClaytor, who was running TurboFog. Both players were able to move on to the next round where things would get a bit more difficult. Shaffa would end up playing against Heagyth who would go on to win the first event in the worst possible matchup for the deck: DelverBlue. On the other side obZen was able to move on to the finals by beating snijdoodt and GreedyTron, but would also fall to the terrible DelverBlue match. Now instead of trying to break things down for you guys and doing a terrible job, I’ve enlisted Shaffa’s help for aiding people to understand how the deck works…

JustSin: So let’s start with a background on how the deck came to be, shall we?

Shaffawaffa5: So it started for me before gatecrash came out, before spy existed, but once it was spoiled I realized the power of the card and wanted to brew with it. I took special_kyle’s empty the warrens deck, which if you don’t know it was an Empty the Warrens deck that ran like 7 lands. It was basically Belcher, but he took belcher and made it Pauper legal. He could kill on turn 1 using Empty the Warrens and Goblin Bushwhacker. He didn’t get huge storm counts but enough to beat someone, and he could go off quickly. So I took his list and started using it with a 1 land build, but it didn’t seem like I would have that much consistency because it was already unlikely you’d have a land. At first I proxied Balustrade Spy with Driver of the Dead, another four mana black creature, and I kept in the Empty the Warrens package. Mostly my deck was kyles deck with a back up Spy win condition and I was actually really happy with it, but then Empty the Warrens got banned, and I just sort of gave up on the deck. I played with it a little bit because it was fun, but the format was really fast in February. I think it’s important that everyone understand that in the end this deck is more the community’s than my own at this point. I am speaking about my experience with it, but others came up with it too and have been independently developing this deck as well.

JustSin: Absolutely! So could you break down the win condition for this deck for us?

Shaffawaffa5: Well there are actually several ways this deck can win…

1. Get 7 mana, use Balustrade Spy on yourself, and then use Haunting Misery on your opponent if you have it in hand.

2. Get to 7 mana, use Balustrade Spy on yourself, and with Conjurer’s Bauble in play you use it targeting Haunting Misery, returning it to your hand and cast it for the win.

3. Get to 8 mana, use Balustrade Spy on yourself, play the Conjurer’s Bauble, use the Bauble to return Haunting Misery to your hand and cast it for the win.

Those are the traditional win cons that I helped develop.

JustSin: Does that mean there are non-traditional ones??

Shaffawaffa5: Well those are “traditional” to me. It is conceivable that someone came up with the Oninaka win conditions before they figured out Bauble. [For those who don’t know, Oninaka was the player who almost placed with the deck in a Daily Event that I pointed out to Shaffa a day or so after he had first showed me the deck –Sin] The Oninaka win conditions as I call them revolve around Songs of the Damned and they really make the deck a lot better. There are a lot of them actually and I’m not even sure of all the ways to make them work yet, but basically it is like this…

4. Get to 5 mana, use Balustrade Spy on yourself, cast Songs of the Damned getting like 20+ mana, flashback Morgue Theft targeting Anarchist, flashback another Morgue Theft onto a Simian Spirit Guide, exile Simian Spirit Guide to cast Anarchist, and have it target Haunting Misery, which you use on your opponent for the win.

5. Get 5 mana, have a Conjurer’s Bauble in play, use Balustrade Spy on yourself, then Bauble the Songs of the Damned on top of your library, cast the Songs, and then complete the combo with the Morgue Theft and Anarchist stuff.

And then there are a bunch of different iterations of that. The Oninaka wins allow you to go off with just 5 mana as opposed to my original win conditions that take 7.

JustSin: So it’s faster then?

Shaffawaffa5: Yep it’s faster and more consistent actually because you can use Songs and Bauble. In the end you increase a piece of the combo with no draw backs because Songs are often as good as Dark Ritual anyway, and Bauble ends up being a 1 mana cycler. Also things like Destroy the Evidence add additional redundancy, but at a cost of having dead cards in your hand.

JustSin: You and obZen decided to take the decks in different directions correct?

Shaffawaffa5: We were running different lists, but not materially different. There were little differences like he was running Elves of Deep Shadow and I was running Springleaf Drum. Mostly the cards that were different were things like he had some extra copies of Destroy the Evidence and those elves while I was running Springleaf Drum and Deadshot Minotaur. He also had Crypt Rats in the sideboard so you probably saw that too. He and I work very closely on the list.

JustSin: What would you say are the good/bad match-ups for the deck?

Shaffawaffa5: Well that is a funny question because there are certainly bad match-ups and then there are match-ups that the deck will beat if it gets a good draw, but the bad match-ups are DelverBlue and basically anything with countermagic. The deck has historically had issues with lifegain as well.

JustSin: We saw the match between the deck and GreedyTron, but would I be correct in assuming the lifegain in that deck isn’t an issue because of the speed variance?

Shaffawaffa5: Yes usually Tron takes too long to gain the amount of life necessary to beat us. This deck was actually built to beat Tron like decks. I would say Tron is a good match-up and basically everything else besides countermagic decks at this point are 50/50ish. Life gain decks are probably 40/60 because we have to essentially combo off twice post board. We have a different win con available to us now to beat life gain.

JustSin: What’s that?

Shaffawaffa5: It’s a win con created by a user called Tom the Scud. It’s an Oninaka style win where you Spy into Songs, then you use Morgue Theft on Pit Keeper and Morgue Theft a Blood Celebrant. Then you cast Pit Keeper targeting Cavern Harpy, cast the Harpy off of Celebrant mana, bounce your Pit Keeper and recast it targeting Mnemonic Wall. Then you use the Wall to target Songs of the Damned and you can make a bunch of mana here continuing to bounce the Harpy and Wall repeatedly. When you need life you bounce Mnemonic Wall and cast Gnaw to the Bone by actually getting it from the graveyard and casting it. Seeing as how with each cycle you get more mana than life this generates you infinite mana. You then bounce your Balustrade Spy with your Cavern Harpy targeting your opponent and milling them out. It is long and convoluted, but it works. These days the plan is to bring this alternative win condition in versus Azorius variants and Tron.

JustSin: So your current lists can change it up by using this as an alt win con out of the sideboard?

Shaffawaffa5: Yep we swap 5 cards in for this, but we get to take out Anarchist and Haunting Misery so it’s only really a 3 card change to the general list.

JustSin: That’s pretty sweet. During the Academy Showcase we saw some very impressive Turn 2 wins from obZen, but is that the earliest this deck can combo out the win?

Shaffawaffa5: No it actually can win on turn one. This hand will do it…

Land Grant, Lotus Petal, Simian Spirit Guide, Dark Ritual, Balustrade Spy, Songs of the Damned


Land Grant, Lotus Petal x2, Dark Ritual, Balustrade Spy, Songs of the Damned


Land Grant, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual x2, Balustrade Spy, Songs of the Damned

There are a lot of different ones, but they are quite similar. Ultimately, Turn 2 wins aren’t all that uncommon. I find I can go off about 85% of the time by turn 5.

JustSin: Now I know when some people hear about a deck in an all commons format that can win on Turn 1 there will be cries for the deck being overpowered. Do I assume despite the speed and power of the deck you’d consider it something people don’t have to be concerned about, like we saw with Infect/Red Storm, because of its struggles against countermagic?

Shaffawaffa5: I don’t think we need to worry about seeing a lot of it because of inconsistency issues mostly. Few good decks beat themselves. You really can’t win much if you go past turn 5 so 15% of the time you just lose to anything. Then if they apply pressure to you they cut off the amount of turns you have, but the countermagic really does hurt it. Maybe not as badly as you’d think, but it usually necessitates longer games because you need to get Land Grant, Balustrade Spy, Songs of the Damned, AND Duress. So you’ve turned your 3 card combo into a 4 card combo and it takes additional mana, which requires more time too. When an Insectile Aberration is flying at your face you don’t really have time.

JustSin: I can see that! With the removal of DEs have you tried the deck in 8-mans? You guys had some success in the Academy Showcase, which was an 8-man event or has the “meta” we’ve seen so far for these discouraged play?

Shaffawaffa5: I actually have not played any 8-mans yet, I intend to alleviate that this evening though since I’ve been out of town. Well if you want to call what we’ve seen a meta I would play it in there. Burn can out race you, but you can out race it as well so I don’t really care there. MonoBlack is a bit of a weird match-up since it is dependent upon their list a lot, and I often don’t know what their list is. They have 3 cards I care about; Chittering Rats, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Corrupt.

JustSin: Really? Even though Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Corrupt don’t come in until turns five and six respectively?

Shaffawaffa5: Yes, the goldfish aspect of the deck is a bit hindered when they make you discard. Usually discarding isn’t a big deal, but if they use Chittering Rats on you and you couldn’t combo off the turn before then Chittering Rats is actually like a 3 mana timewalk so I will lose almost any game against MonoBlack that goes Chittering Rats into Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but I will win most games that I don’t see a Chittering Rats even through all the discard. The deck is a lot like Storm, but in some crucial ways it isn’t. For example, you can store your resources on the board so they can’t just attack your hand like casting Conjurer’s Bauble the turn before you combo off. Although you may be hellbent you just need to draw a Balustrade Spy; things like that. Oh and I forgot to tell you another way you can win too, that this is reminding me of…

JustSin: What’s that?

Shaffawaffa5: 10. Beatdown!

It doesn’t work too well, but it exists.

JustSin: Just play dorks and swing?

Shaffawaffa5: Yea basically, one of the interesting things about this deck is that it is playing rituals and rather large creatures. If you play a Turn 2 Wirewood Guardian that is a 6/6 creature on Turn 2 that many decks will have a tough time dealing with. Sometimes it is all you can do. You did see me win game 3 of the first Round in the Academy Showcase with that strategy. That event was a great showcase of what the deck can do. I think it displayed the strengths and weaknesses pretty well.

JustSin: Definitely! So is there anything we’ve forgotten or any final thoughts you want to share?

Shaffawaffa5: I guess the one thing I just want to emphasize is that while I did come up with this deck idea on my own, I don’t really consider it my deck as the concept has been around since Balustrade Spy was spoiled. People came up with it independently without the help of the community this deck would be a lot worse. Oh, and that this deck is also slightly better now than it was in February because we get to play Street Wraith now, which is a huge boost for the deck. That card does a lot; it reduces the deck size, powers up Haunting Misery as well as  Songs of the Damned, it’s targetable with Morgue Theft to use Theft as a cycler…

JustSin: And you can’t forget the beats! lol

Shaffawaffa5: Oh it beats hard! hahaha

And there you have it! Hope you guys enjoyed this look at a powerfully entertaining deck. If you have further questions I’m sure Shaffa will be peaking in and would be happy to drop answers here or check him out on Twitter. Don’t forget to follow me there as well for the latest in random thoughts about Magic.

  1. I want to state so everyone reading this comments knows why I said 85% and 15%. When I give percentages it is rare that I’ve done the appropriate amount of calculations to make them statistically significant. I do not stand by 85% and 15% as real estimate of the success rate. When I use percentages like that in conversations with friends it is more to say you are very likely to go off by turn 5, and that a small percentage of the time you will lose to your deck’s own inconsistencies.

    JustSin and I are friends and we talk often. After rereading what I messaged him during the interview I realize that I slipped into my conversing with friends mode. These statistics are not something anyone should rely upon. I should have been more careful about my use of statistics during the interview. My apologies for any confusion those numbers may have caused.

  2. “You did see me win game 3 of the first Round in the Academy Showcase with that strategy.” – where can we see this? :)

  3. @Samuel Kalkin: It makes me very sad to say this, but the video files were unable to be transferred from our Twitch channel. I’m not sure why this happened, as I set our Twitch channel to default-archive the videos, but now they’re gone. :(

    It’s too bad because JustSin did a really great job casting, and the matches were really exciting.

  4. @shaffa: thanks for the clarification note lol

    @sam: yes unfortunately Twitch seems to have glitched on us, but if you check out shaffa’s twitter he has photos of several first turn wins he’s managed to pull off with the deck since our discussion, as far as the beatdown strategy he employed well it was funny to watch and mostly came down to hard casting Street Wraith’s and attacking lol

  5. excellent article! really enjoyed the insight and explanations of the deck….

    thanks for sharing Justin and shaffawaffa!

    Can’t wait to read more…

  6. With respect to my ridiculous rube goldberg combo, I usually just cast Gnaw from the graveyard; that gets you 60 plus life which should be enough to run your combo enough times to mill your opponent out. (Unless he’s playing 55-land treasure hunt).

    Probably better to go truly infinite by getting back the Gnaw, though.

  7. @tom: obZen and I figured out a way to make this combo work faster. In place of Gnaw we’re running Gray Merchant. Nets 3 life per cycle but shoots for 6. So if they get to 30 it should just take 5 cycles as opposed to 16-23 like it does with spy.

  8. @tom: just to piggy back off of shaffa I want to thank you. Your “rube goldberg” combo was an important piece to further the development of the deck, and it did exactly what we were looking for from the board to combat hate. with that said it was a very time consuming to resolve, and I had the privilege of resolving this combo on turn 2 against AZKitty(luckily for me I finally won after storm 95 while my opponent had taken a nap woke up, ate a sandwich, checked all his social networking sites and still had time to tell me about it). After this experience I absolutely had to find another way, so after a short conversation with shaffa we swapped out Gnaw to the Bone for Gray Merchant to reduce the time it takes to win, and it adds another creature to boot!