The Top 5 Modern Combos – Past and Present, by Kerry Meyerhoff

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The Top 5 Modern Combos - Past and Present

A discussion of the top 5 Modern combos, past and present, and what you need to know

Modern is Magic: the Gathering’s second most popular format, and it features cards from all Magic sets stretching back to Eighth Edition and original Mirrodin block. There are hundreds of different playable archetypes, both mainstream and fringe, constructed of thousands of set-legal cards, with only thirty-five currently on the banned list. In this series, I’m going to explore Modern in-depth, looking at the format in its current state, analysing what existed in the past, and giving you an idea of what sort of cards to play, or play around.

This article is going to be a bit of a special one, which will delve into the history of Modern and its predecessor, Extended, to talk about the most degenerate, fun and wacky combos that have ever graced the format. There were so many which didn’t even make it into Modern as we know it today, because of their dominance in Extended, and some combos which were format-defining for a long time before the ban hammer took its dues.

Then, I will talk about the current Modern format. With so many things banned out, which combo decks still perpetuate and are as strong as ever? If you’re looking to play combo, what sort of style deck should you build? Or, if you want to put a stop to all the filthy degenerates, what strategies will you need to pile on the hate for? There are many exciting combo decks still available in Modern, whatever your style, and here I’ll examine the five best and most format-defining combo decks that have managed to survive the ban hammer.

So, without further ado:

 

Combos of the Past

5. Turbo Depths

Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage and Thespian's Stage combo
Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage and Thespian’s Stage combo

This oft-played Legacy combo revolves around the card Dark Depths. Initially when it was printed in Coldsnap, there was no indication that the card was even any good, and it went relatively unplayed for a while; 30 mana over the course of several turns is not a good investment, and it doesn’t even tap for mana, so you are having to give up a land drop to have the opportunity. However, after this card faded into obscurity, Wizards printed two excellent ways of interacting with it – Vampire Hexmage in original Zendikar and Thespian’s Stage in Gatecrash. 

Vampire Hexmage is a pretty simple interaction; you can sacrifice it to remove the counters from Dark Depths, the land checks the game state, it has no counters on, so you can get a Marit Lage immediately. If you have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you can get it as early as turn two by making your Depths able to tap for black. With Thespian’s Stage, the interaction is slightly more complex, but works in the same sort of way; you can pay 2 to copy Dark Depths, but because of the way copying works, Thespian’s Stage becomes a Dark Depths with no counters on it. The legendary rule applies, as Depths is a Legendary land, so you sacrifice the original Dark Depths and keep the copy; then the game state is checked, the copy exists with no counters, so at the cost of 2 lands you have your 20/20 token.

Obviously, having a 20/20 flying indestructible on turn two or three is absolutely bonkers, as unless your opponent has an exile effect and the mana to cast it, they’re just dead. Even with chump blockers, they will never get far enough ahead on the board to be able to think about winning without removing your token. This combo was very effective in Extended, first arising with the release of Zendikar before Thespian’s Stage was even out, in an incredibly fast form which centred around finding combo pieces and winning by turn three. In 2009 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa made a Top 8 in the Pro Tour with it. When Extended became Modern, it was one of the first things put straight onto the ban list, cemented with the release of Gatecrash and another way to break the card.

The reason that it is at number five is that despite its blistering speed and power, it’s very all-in. You have to sacrifice at least one land, possibly two in order to make the combo work, and your whole deck is centred around finding it as fast as possible; if your opponent manages to find their Path to Exile then you are set way back in tempo and unless you can present it again within a couple of turns, requiring several more combo pieces, you are probably going to lose. It’s a very glass cannon situation, which is why, although the combo is incredibly powerful, it’s at the bottom of this list.

4. Eggs

Eggs combo
Eggs combo. Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Eggs is one of the weirdest, and most long-winded, combo decks ever dreamed up. It’s a very old school combo that goes back way before Extended existed, though it became mainstream with the release of M13 and Faith’s Reward. It revolves around the idea of “cracking eggs” – sacrificing small one-mana artifacts such as Chromatic Sphere, Elsewhere Flask and Chromatic Star to filter mana and draw cards. Essentially, you consistently draw cards without losing any mana in the process, and then using Lotus Bloom you cast Second Sunrise, returning all your “eggs” to the battlefield and beginning the whole process again.

This all takes place over the course of one turn, until between Second Sunrise and Faith’s Reward you have drawn your entire deck. With one Lotus Bloom you can consistently draw, and with two, you can go completely infinite. Once you’ve drawn your whole deck, you can play and sacrifice Pyrite Spellbomb to deal damage. Then, you use Conjurer’s Bauble to put Second Sunrise back in your deck, draw it, and bring back Bauble, Blooms and Spellbomb, and do the entire thing again. If you’re thinking that this combo has a lot of moving pieces and seems very long-winded, you’d be completely correct.

However, despite the necessity of so many moving parts, the deck was actually incredibly consistent, due to the sheer volume of redundant cards. You never needed to draw exactly one card, because there are so many that do the same thing. Even the Pyrite Spellbomb could easily be replaced by Grapeshot, Banefire or Laboratory Maniac to allow for extra win conditions post-sideboard. The deck is incredibly difficult to play and to get your head around – particularly in the mirror match, as Second Sunrise affects both players – but if you could do it, it was a very potent combo.

The deck was made famous by Stanislav Cifka at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, who cleared out a field of newly-unbanned Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks and newly-printed Deathrite Shaman decks to take the title. Immediately, though, Wizards voiced concerns. The problem wasn’t necessarily that the deck was too powerful, or that it had unreasonably good cards; only that even Cifka, the man who masterminded the deck and a professional chess master, took an age to win a match with it. The combo turn could take up to fifteen minutes depending on how the draws went. Usually, your opponent could just concede when they realise you can go off, but in the final of a Pro Tour, nobody’s going anywhere on the 1% chance that Cifka makes a mistake and fluffs the turn.

Watching anyone play Eggs through in its entirety is an excruciating experience for the spectator, the opponent, the commentators in premier play and quite honestly, most times, the player doing it. It’s very dull, sometimes requires note-taking or doing maths on paper to figure out what you can or can’t do, and makes everyone involved wish they were anywhere else. That’s why Wizards took action against Eggs. They couldn’t have such a mind-numbing deck being at the top level of premier play and losing viewers by the millions.

The reason Eggs is at number four is because the combo is very consistent, but there is a lot of hate against it which can slow it down. It can usually beat the hate with enough time and sideboard tech, but by that point the opponent may have already won. The deck is still around in Modern today in the form of Krark-Clan Ironworks combo; however, it’s much less consistent and quick without Second Sunrise, and therefore a lot easier to handle. Should it ever ascend once more to premier play, Wizards will quickly temper it again. Eggs is something nobody needs to see succeed.

3. Storm

Storm combo
Storm combo. Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Storm is a difficult deck to discuss, as it’s more of a concept than a set of individual cards. There have been hundreds of different iterations of Storm decks since the mechanic’s first printing, looking for ways to abuse mana generation to go infinite and “storm off”. It’s an archetype present in every format that Storm finishers are legal in, even in Modern to this day. However, it’s also endured a lot of hate from Wizards of the Coast, as MaRo has admitted that the Storm mechanic was a huge mistake, and they are constantly trying their best to retroactively fix it by making Storm less playable.

Firstly, I have decided to include it here instead of in the Present part because, I believe, that Storm in Modern at the moment is not one of the five strongest combo decks. It was a lot stronger in the past, and deserved its place here, but in its current iteration it has been sufficiently castrated (at least for now) and has been surpassed by other archetypes. Therefore, although I am aware Storm is a viable Modern deck, I believe that it belongs here in its strongest forms, among the best decks of history.

It’s hard to specifically discuss one Storm deck. Storm, as a concept, simply revolves around generating more mana through Manamorphose, Desperate Ritual, Seething Song, Rite of Flame and similar effects. Then, you use the mana to cast cantrips, either free ones like Gitaxian Probe or cheap ones like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, the generated mana turned blue with Manamorphose. Eventually, you end up with most of your deck in your hand and the rest in the graveyard, and you can flash back a Past in Flames to do it all again. Eventually, you have built up enough Storm count, and you can use a finisher like Grapeshot, Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Agony to kill your opponent.

In Extended, Storm was a much more vicious deck when Invasion and Odyssey were in the meta, due to Tendrils being legal. When they rotated and Storm was left without its primary win condition, it became worse but still not unplayable. Throughout the years, Wizards has repeatedly attempted to temper Storm, first by banning Preordain and Ponder, then Rite of Flame, then Seething Song. Each time it has risen again, worse than before but never quite gone. The most recent ban to hit the deck is that of Gitaxian Probe, which it used as an important free cantrip, but even that has not tempered Storm’s ability to persevere and it still makes up a decent proportion of the Modern meta, bolstered by the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance in Aether Revolt.

There is no doubt that Storm has the capability of being the best combo deck in every format. Without certain bans and restrictions – ie in a vacuum – Storm is the deck the majority points to as being “the best”. However, Wizards are so aware of this, and the fact that like Eggs, the combo turns can take a very long time, something that they don’t like in premier play, they are constantly vigilant as to the possibility of Storm breaking out, and keep it tightly under control; for this reason, it’s at number three, as it’s always heavily checked by bans.

2. Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin combo
Splinter Twin combo

“They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well..
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.”

Lord Byron so eloquently expresses how I feel whenever someone mentions Twin. I began playing Modern just after Birthing Pod was banned, and so Splinter Twin holds a special place in my heart as the “deck to beat” when I was new to the format. The combo itself is pretty simple – Twin, when combined with Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite, forms an infinite loop. Exarch taps to create a copy of itself, the copy enters the battlefield, triggers and untaps the original, and the loop is repeated until the controller has X tokens, where X is any number he or she desires. Then they swing in.

The Twin combo is simple and elegant, requiring only two cards, and its simplicity is matched only by its versatility. Exarch and Pestermite are perfectly costed at 3 mana and only one blue, with the ability to flash in at the opponent’s end step, tap down their waiting counterspell mana and then flow beautifully into an untap and turn-four Twin. The enchantment itself isn’t as easy to cast – it needs two red mana – but with fetch and shock lands, this is a consistently achievable goal.

Of course, the combo is fragile, and does have weaknesses. Pestermite dies to all the creature removal under the sun, and Exarch is not much better. The true strength of the Twin decks lay mainly in the counterspells, the control suite and the Snapcaster Mage value turns which could happen freely, because the opponent was always terrified to tap out or use resources to stop anything that wasn’t Exarch. It was so easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, of “they can’t possibly have it” – and then the moment of dread when you counter their Snapcaster to prevent them flashing back a Cryptic Command, and then they tap three mana in your end step. You could lose out of absolutely nowhere if you let your shields down for a second, and therein lay the strength of this deck.

Despite its consistency and strength, due to the numerous hate cards and the fact that it was impossible for the deck to win before turn four, Splinter Twin lasted in Modern for a very long time. It was eventually banned out in January 2016, due mainly to the fact that Wizards felt it was too ubiquitous. It was true that it had held a large percentage of the top tier meta for a long time, and that most control decks were running the combo simply because it was worse not to; it was so easy to slot into every red/blue deck or control shell just for the chance at cheesing a free win or two. Even some Storm decks were sideboarding into the Twin combo to catch people out after they had boarded for Storm and cut all their creature removal. Based on that principle alone, Wizards had a point.

However, there is to this day much contention over the issue. Many people believe that Twin wasn’t strong enough to be banned (myself included) and feel that it actually held the format in check, in a strange way. Perhaps there is yet hope in the future for this iconic pair to be seen together again in Modern; but for now, their long reign has come to an end.

1. Blazing Infect

Blazing Infect combo
Blazing Infect combo

The number one combo deck of all time in Extended and Modern is actually a twist on the current, more watered-down Infect archetype – Blazing Infect. This deck, piloted by Sam Black, made an outstanding showing at Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011 and was understandably banned not long afterwards.

The combo essentially revolves around dealing 10 Infect damage on turn two. Of course, that’s the strategy that most Infect decks employ; however, this particular combo-oriented list includes very consistent and deadly ways of ensuring the kill. Firstly, the namesake of the deck, and the card which was eventually banned, Blazing Shoal, which is the only pump spell necessary; and secondly, either a Progenitus or a Reaper King to pitch to it, tutored out of the deck with Summoner’s Pact or Spoils of the Vault. The deck also ran Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact, to clear out potential blockers or blank removal of the Infect threat, as well as hand disruption spells to ensure the coast was clear.

Of course, the fastest version of the deck was incredibly all-in. If somehow they couldn’t connect with their Infect threat, due to a blocker or a counterspell or any kind of removal, the game was usually over, as they would have pitched most of their hand to the effort, possibly lost most of their life total to Spoils or even just lost by themselves on the next upkeep if they’d cast a Pact they couldn’t pay for. This was unlikely to happen due to the amount of free answers they employed, and the availability of Gitaxian Probe to check the opponent’s hand for free as well, but the rare times it did, it was more likely to lose to itself and its own triggers than to continue the game and lose to whatever deck the opponent happened to be playing, which is always a big warning flag for Wizards.

There were a few slower variants of the deck which weren’t quite so all-in, and focused on a strategy which was about using hand attack to grind down the opponent’s answers. The fact remains, though, that no matter which style of deck, the combo was incredibly consistent, easy to tutor up and had the inevitability factor, as tapping out to further your own game plan could always immediately result in your death out of the blue, as early as turn two. If they had a Glistener Elf on the field, you couldn’t tap your mana or you might just immediately lose – though, if you don’t play a blocker and they happen to have Pact of Negation for your counterspell, you immediately lose as well. It made every game a tightrope of tough decisions.

So, there you have it. The most powerful past combo of Modern was most certainly Blazing Infect, the epitome of a glass cannon deck, and it’s a generally agreed as a very good thing that the deck is now gone. Don’t hold your breath for Blazing Shoal to come off the ban list.

So, what about in today’s format? Read on…..

 

Combos of the Present

5. Grishoalbrand

Grishoalbrand combo
Grishoalbrand combo

This incredibly janky combo originated in Japan with a man named Kurata Shintarou, who had come up with the idea of using Nourishing Shoal pitching something huge like Progenitus or Worldspine Wurm together with Griselbrand‘s activated ability to draw the entire deck. There had been decks online built around the Footsteps of the Goryo, however, nothing had managed to be really consistent until Shintarou devised this package and suggested adding it to the deck. The concept was built upon by various members of the Magic community, including some pros at GPs and SCG Tour events, and eventually came to be the combo we know today.

Essentially, in magical Christmas land, the deck spends turn one discarding a Griselbrand, and on turn two reanimates it with Goryo’s Vengeance. Then, they use Griselbrand’s activated ability along with the Nourishing Shoals to sustain it, and draw as many cards as they can without dying (bear in mind, Griselbrand has haste, so he can swing and attack to gain 7 more that turn, if done precombat). Then, they pitch Simian Spirit Guides, to cast Desperate Rituals, to gain enough mana to cast Faithless Looting if they need to draw more, or Through the Breach if they’ve already found their combo. Through the Breach nets them a 5-mana Borborygmos Enraged; and they can then activate his ability, pitching as many lands as required to Bolt their opponent to death, as they will certainly have plenty in hand.

Frankly, it’s no wonder the deck took so long to come up with.

Since the emergence of the original list, there have been various different builds brought to light, some even including blue mana for Serum Visions and tempo counterspells such as Remand which aren’t so fast, but which try to protect themselves a little more. The fastest build, though, is the one which has seen the most success, as it favours speed over anything else and can get the combo out before the opponent has a chance to stop it. The power creep of these decks was halted recently when Dredge returned as an archetype, as people began to pack the graveyard hate in force, and the deck is a lot worse when you have to Through the Breach your Griselbrand instead of reanimating it. However, now that Dredge has been put back on the naughty list, and the meta has become more aggro and creature oriented, Grishoalbrand might be well placed to make a comeback.

There have been murmurings about banning this combo out, but the reason they haven’t – and the reason why it’s last on this top five – is because of its inconsistency. There are some exact pieces you need to go off, and if you can’t find them or something your opponent does gets in the way, it’s near impossible to win, because your backup plans aren’t usually good enough and your hand is full of total rubbish. A well-placed counterspell or piece of graveyard hate can easily just mean the end of the match. It also mulligans poorly, despite needing a lot of the right pieces early on. Put simply, you’re at the mercy of your draws in a huge way, and although you get a lot of looks at it, sometimes you just can’t get there.

4. Scapeshift

Scapeshift
Scapeshift combo

Valakut strategies have been around in Extended since the beginning, and the card was banned out for a long period once the format became Modern, as Wizards thought that the combo with Scapeshift would be too good for the format. After its cautious unban around the time of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, there was a lot of hype and brewing going on, but Valakut has proven so far to be a very good target for an unban, as it produced a fun and interesting deck which is neither disruptive nor oppressive.

The Scapeshift combo historically goes in a RUG shell, complemented by cards such as Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder which fetch out blue lands and ramp you early, until you hit the eight-land event horizon. When that happens, the combo occurs; you tap all of your lands and float mana, then cast Scapeshift – and if your opponent has a counterspell, you have four mana still in your pool for a Cryptic Command to back it up. If the spell is successful, you sacrifice all your lands, fetch out two Valakuts and six mountains, and shoot the opponent for 36 damage. The combo works because Valakut checks as it enters the battlefield, and sees all the other lands entering at the same time, but in that same vein, because it can see all the mountains, it knows that you control five or more, so for each mountain that enters, it triggers once.

The combo is very effective because not only does it just require any seven lands (as long as two are green) and Scapeshift, but it is actually backed up by counterspells as well. The deck is very slow, though, and relies on chump blocking and sacrificing Sakura-Tribe Elders as well as cards like Lightning Bolt and Remand to keep the opponent behind on board until they can reach the event horizon. It can also be subject to terrible luck; drawing Valakut is about the worst thing that can happen, because it immediately halves your possible damage output. There is generally only space to run two Valakuts in the blue build, due to the mana fixing that’s necessary and the amount of mountains you have to run to ensure you have enough left to tutor out. With just one Valakut you can deal 18 or 21 damage, depending how many lands you sacrifice, which is usually enough to get the job done. However, if you draw both Valakuts, it’s very difficult to recover from; not only does it make your win condition susceptible to cards like Spreading Seas and Ghost Quarter, but at that point it’s incredibly slow and requires playing mountains manually most of the time, and shooting down the board to stay ahead rather than actually killing your opponent. It is very possible to win under these conditions, but it’s very grindy and feels more like a bad control deck than any kind of combo.

Recently, people have taken to building the Valakut decks slightly differently, dropping the slower blue builds and including Primeval Titan and Through the Breach. This seems to be a very effective deck, most particularly because it doesn’t require as much fixing and can therefore afford to run more Valakuts. It’s less of an all-in combo turn and more inevitable, because Primeval Titan is pretty-much-the-end-of-the-game-but-not-quite in most situations, and sometimes the deck needs an extra turn or two to finish, especially if the Titan was hard cast instead of Breached.

Scapeshift is a fun way to interact with lands in Modern, and with so many ways to build the deck, it’s a good combo if you like flexibility. However, its fragility in the face of drawing Valakuts is a big issue, and its backup plan is slow and arduous, and for this reason it’s placed at number four.

3. Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam combo
Ad Nauseam combo

The Ad Nauseam combo is one of the most classic “Modern” combo decks in existence. Though Ad Nauseam itself is a card that sees play in Legacy and even Vintage, it’s part of so many different combos, and the specific one I’ll discuss here has been Modern-specific since its inception. It’s not quite fast enough or sturdy enough for Legacy, but it fits perfectly into the Modern card pool. It is the very definition of the classic turn four deck.

The combo, like Grishoalbrand, is based on drawing your entire deck. The way Ad Nauseam goes about it, though, is by abusing Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife in conjunction with Ad Nauseam to draw every card and not die. Both effects mean you can simply go to minus a million life and cannot lose the game from it, so you can execute the combo. After drawing your whole deck, you exile Simian Spirit Guides to cast Lightning Storm, similarly to the win condition in Grishoalbrand, pitching lands two damage at a time to kill your opponent. You can also use Conflagrate if you have it in the graveyard already, or can generate enough red mana to cast it twice.

The key thing to remember about Ad Nauseam is that it requires a lot of mana to “go off”, so you have a quite clearly telegraphed turn when your Lotus Blooms come off suspend and your opponent will likely have disruption at the ready. Additionally, although the combo is very easy to execute, it’s easy to fluff as well; pitching Spirit Guides too early and not leaving enough in the deck, using a risky Spoils of the Vault to fetch a combo piece and accidentally killing yourself or exiling your win conditions in the process, or even forgetting to keep a couple of spare lands in your hand to prevent your opponent redirecting Lightning Storm back at your face are all easy errors to commit. As a Merfolk player, one of the funniest interactions I ever had with an Ad Nauseam deck was pitching a land of my own to redirect Lightning Storm to my own Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, thus countering the spell entirely. It really is very easy to disrupt, and although you have Pact of Negation to protect you, you must be aware of your opponent’s board and open mana, and play around things accordingly.

The strength of this deck is its consistency. It can regularly go off on turn four, and even if it struggles to find its pieces, it can stall very well by playing Phyrexian Unlife or spare copies of Angel’s Grace every turn to buy time and Sleight of Hand its way to the combo. Angel’s Grace also works well at saving your life in response to a trigger from a Pact, if you’ve had to use one early to stop the opponent’s combo. It’s also got three win conditions (if you include Laboratory Maniac) backed up by Spoils and Pact of Negation, so there are always ways to try and get there. The inclusion of Patrician’s Scorn to blow up opposing Leylines of Sanctity is also very handy, although you must be incredibly careful using it in conjunction with Phyrexian Unlife so you don’t kill yourself. It doesn’t have much of a backup plan in case everything goes wrong, but there are enough win conditions and stalling tactics that you can generally wait a long time to find the perfect moment to go off.

Ad Nauseam is one of the cornerstones of Modern combo, a quirky and interesting deck that’s relatively easy to pilot, pretty fun to play and is very unlikely to get banned out. If you want to venture into combo, it’s a great place to start. It’s placed at number three for its consistency and the way it can stall games out for turn after turn until it’s ready; however, it’s very easy to fluff the combo turn due to bad luck or pilot error, so for that reason, it’s not made it into our top two.

2. Kiki-Chord

Kiki-Chord combo
Kiki-Chord combo

The Kiki-Chord deck was the brainchild of SCG Tour favourite and streamer Jeff Hoogland. He came up with the list not long after the Splinter Twin ban, as a way of incorporating combo into the creature decks that surged in popularity after the Eldrazi trampled into the format. The deck is simultaneously a zoo deck, a hatebears deck and a combo deck seamlessly wrapped up in a package of mana dorks, tutors and removal.

The combo element of the deck is very simple; it relies on Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, which interact in a very similar way to the Splinter Twin package. Restoration Angel enters the battlefield, blinks Kiki-Jiki and then he taps to copy it, and it blinks him again, etc. etc., making X many hasty 3/4 flyers. The beauty of the deck is in the card Chord of Calling, the other half of its namesake. Between Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, there are usually a lot of low-cost creatures powered out early, making it easy to cast. The inclusion of Eternal Witness allows you to buy back your Chord immediately, allowing for a great curve of Witness to buy back Chord, into Angel blinking Witness to buy it back again, into Kiki-Jiki on subsequent turns.

Of course, this isn’t all that the deck does well. With a lot of small hatebear-ish creatures that fill up the board quickly, it does well in grindy board stalls and against removal. Gavony Township can be a trump card in these sorts of situations. In addition, the fact that the main namesake of the deck is a tutor means that the deck can be incredibly flexible and fit any role required of it; if there is hate brought in for the combo, it can switch to bringing out Voice of Resurgence or Sun Titan and simply go for a brute force win, or even Qasali Pridemage or Gaddock Teeg to hate out the opponent’s strategy. It can be aggressive, grindy or just turn around and kill you out of nowhere, and with Eternal Witness constantly buying back resources and access to white’s removal and sideboard hate, it’s got many different options for how to play the games out.

The deck is incredibly strong, but the key is knowing how to play it. Even its creator Jeff admits that it is very hard to play, to know what your role is in each matchup and how best to play it out, and that can only come from experience and many, many reps with the deck. The skill level of a Kiki-Chord player will usually directly correlate with results, because the deck has that much flexibility and relies so much on pilot choices that it’s easy to see who can do it properly. The trick is knowing what you are expected to be in every matchup and playing that role accordingly, as well as knowing your entire decklist back to front so you can be sure what you are Chording for before you cast it.

Recently, there has been another addition to some versions of this deck. Another infinite combo has arisen that involves Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune. You remove the counters from Spike Feeder to gain life, put counters on everything you control, and then remove them again to essentially get your entire board to be massive. It doesn’t win immediately (it does gain you infinite life which is usually a scoop – but not always) which is why it’s not seen as much play as the Resto/Kiki combo, but it’s useful as a backup plan if necessary. It also produces two more kill-on-sight threats for the opponent, as letting either of them live can immediately lead to trouble.

Kiki/Resto was the spiritual descendant of Twin once it had gone, and the shell of tutors and strong creatures surrounding it has brought this deck into being. It’s certainly very strong and in the right pair of hands can be an excellent choice of deck; however, although the combo element is easy, picking your moment, knowing the meta and most importantly knowing the interactions in your deck requires a lot of time and effort, so if you want to play Kiki-Chord well, you need to really devote yourself to it. This is why it’s pipped to the post by our number one deck.

So what’s the top combo deck in Modern right now?…

 

1. Abzan Company

Abzan Company combo
Abzan Company combo

This combo has gone by a lot of different names and featured in many different decks over the years. Most popularly, it was included in the Birthing Pod lists of two and a half years ago, when Phyrexian mana proved yet again that it’s a silly mechanic and allowed access to a very easy and consistent turn-four infinite combo that was very hard to interact with. Now, though the tutor has been banned out, the combo itself lives on through the spiritual successor to Pod, Collected Company.

The combo itself is relatively simple, though it involves a lot of pieces. It consists of having a sacrifice outlet – usually a Viscera Seer – a creature which prevents -1/-1 counters or puts +1/+1 counters on creatures such as Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and finally a Persist creature to sacrifice for infinite value. This is normally Kitchen Finks in the first instance as it is run as a four-of in the deck and can be found off Collected Company, however, the deck’s actual win condition is usually Murderous Redcap. Essentially, you can sacrifice the Kitchen Finks X number of times, with either Melira preventing the Persist counters from going onto it or Anafenza immediately cancelling them out with bolster, and use Viscera Seer’s ability to scry Murderous Redcap to the top, gaining infinite life in the process as a by-product. Then, the next turn you can draw Redcap and use it in the same way to just shoot your opponent to death.

Needing three separate pieces and having to go through the graveyard are two definite downsides to this combo. It makes it a little easier to disrupt, and allows for several angles of attack which can shut it down. However, the key thing about the Abzan combo is that there are many replaceable pieces, and much like Tron lands, it’s difficult to know if you’re killing the right one at any given time. The deck runs Chord of Calling and Collected Company, so it can power out a lot of creatures in a turn, and as the main combo piece is actually a Persist creature, it means that usually it’s quite difficult to be able to actually remove it efficiently. The great thing about this deck, and one of the things that really gives it a lot of strength, is how well it can grind out in the same way as Kiki-Chord, by fetching what it needs, playing around removal as best it can and simply building a board of 2 and 3 power creatures which, with the aid of a Gavony Township, Anafenza or Voice, will eventually be able to just swing for the win; and all the while you’re afraid of the combo, so you don’t want to use your removal unless forced.

The deck is very similar to Kiki-Chord in a lot of ways, but the combo is slightly more sturdy due to the number of replaceable pieces in it, the mana costs are lower and easier to reach when Chording, and the ability of those pieces to sustain themselves in the face of cards like Lightning Bolt, Terminate or Abrupt Decay also lends it an incredible inevitability. Minus some dedicated sideboard hate, the combo is hard to shut down, but even if it is, the deck can still function very well without it, and that’s the factor that really puts it in the number one spot. The combo is great, but if you don’t have it or they’ve found a way to stop it – you can just win anyway with brute force.

So, there you have it. If you want to play what I believe is currently the best combo deck available in Modern – it’s Abzan Company.

 

What do you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree with some of the rankings? Is there a deck you wanted to see featured? Let me know in the comments!

This is the penultimate in my “top 5” Modern article series, and the last one will be a little bit special – so keep an eye out for it!

Thanks for reading,

Kerry Meyerhoff

The Top 5 Modern Combos - Past and Present, by Kerry Meyerhoff
A discussion of the top 5 Modern combos, past and present, and what you need to know them.

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