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Metagame Mentor: 10 Off-Meta Combo Decks Winning in Modern

January 26, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Last week, I broke down the top 15 archetypes in the current Modern metagame, showcasing a diversity of play styles including aggro, midrange, control, ramp, and combo. However, the variety goes deeper, especially when it pertains to combo. Today, I'll cover the top ten off-meta combo decks that recently found success in Modern tournaments.

The Modern Metagame

Modern, one of the possible Constructed formats for Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs), is a nonrotating, 60-card format featuring cards from approximately the last 20 years. Its deep card pool enables a variety of powerful strategies. For a detailed introduction, I recommend last week's format primer, which introduced the top 15 archetypes, matchups, and interactions.

As I wrote in that article, Izzet Murktide and Hammer Time are currently the two most prominent decks to beat. The metagame has remained relatively stable over the past month, but there are always new developments, most notably the emergence of Underworld Breach as a fair value card. This trend continued last weekend, but the overall metagame table would look strikingly similar to last week's. Instead, let's zoom in on a high-profile event.

At last weekend's 8-player Magic Online Champions Showcase, a quarter of the field was on Domain Zoo, which put up a good showing in the Modern rounds. But in the end, in a metagame that also featured two Izzet Murktide decks, two Jeskai Breach decks, and two other decks, Izzet Murktide emerged victorious. Modern champion Bart van Etten defeated draft champion Damian Buckley in the finals, and both finalists earned an invitation to World Championship XXIX, held at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22–24, 2023.

Yet there's more to Modern than Izzet Murktide and the other popular archetypes that I covered last week.

The Top 10 Off-Meta Combo Decks in Modern

Looking for something different, but powerful? After sifting through thousands of successful Modern decklists from recent tournaments, I picked ten underrated combo archetypes, in no particular order, to consider.

Tameshi Bloom, like all combo decks in this article, hasn't been popular lately but is still powerful enough to put up a good showing at major events. Just two weeks ago, Jack Lynch piloted this deck to a 9-4 finish at the $20K RCQ at SCG CON, missing the single-elmination playoffs by a single win.

The core of the deck around Lotus Bloom, which can be put onto the battlefield by Wargate. By sacrificing Lotus Bloom and repeatedly recurring it with Tameshi, Reality Architect, you can ramp up to seven mana and use Cultivator Colossus to draw half your deck. This particular list includes Dryad of the Ilysian Grove and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as win conditions, but other options are available. Eladamri's Call helps you consistently find the pieces of the combo while also unlocking a creature toolbox in the sideboard.

Hardened Scales can also win by attacking with aggressive creatures, but its best draws explode in a combo-like way, producing lethal damage out of thin air. For example, suppose you start the turn with Hardened Scales, The Ozolith, Power Depot, and three other lands on the battlefield. Your opponent is at 16 life, and you control no creatures. However, if your hand contains Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista, then that's lethal! To accomplish this, Arcbound Ravager absorbs the +1/+1 counter on Power Depot, then devours Power Depot and finally itself. Hardened Scales adds an extra +1/+1 counter every time, and The Ozolith doubles modular's effectiveness. The end result is a 16/16 Walking Ballista. If you add Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp, a gigantic 30/30 Walking Ballista would have even been possible!

By exploiting these synergies, Davide Patacchiola won the 137-player Classic Qualifier Trieste two weeks ago, earning an invitation to the European Championship. This Regional Championship (to be held in Athens, Greece on June 10-11 in the Pioneer format) marks the next step on the organized play pyramid. Top performers at that Regional Championship will earn a qualification for the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28-30. Yet the path to the Pro Tour can begin with a spicy Modern deck.

Vito Tomasicchio recently finished an impressive 9th place at the Grand Open Qualifier Trieste, narrowly missing the single-elimination playoffs on tiebreakers. His 11-3-1 record was still more than enough to secure him a European Championship qualification.

In his deck, which I've come to call Shift to Light, the key card is Bring to Light. With a five-color mana base, it transforms into a tutor that can immediately cast the card it finds. One noteworthy tutor target is Valki, God of Lies, since the rules allow you to cast the seven-mana Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor with Bring to Light. However, the most important tutor target in the deck is Scapeshift. When you sacrifice seven lands, you can search for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains, roasting your opponent for 18 damage. This turns Bring to Light into an unstoppable a one-card late-game win condition.

Gruul Storm, recently taken to a six-win run by Magic Online player CWS in a Challenge event, is a powerful combo strategy that exploits the explosive synergy between Underworld Breach and Dragon's Rage Channeler. The Gruul colors unlock Goblin Anarchomancer, who turns Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual, and Manamorphose into efficient mana producers. They allow you to cast numerous spells in a single turn, after which a pair of Grapeshots will finish the job.

There are two advantages to playing green instead of blue. First, you gain access to powerful sideboard options such as Veil of Summer, which counters Spell Pierce and Thoughtseize. Second, Goblin Anarchomancer reduces the cost of Underworld Breach, which is something that Baral, Chief of Compliance or Goblin Electromancer could never do.

Dredge has been one of the most powerful mechanics in Modern since the format's inception—something the designers were keenly aware of when they placed Golgari Grave-Troll on the initial ban list in 2011. Although the card was unbanned in 2015, it was banned once again in 2017, making it the only card in Modern to get banned twice. Throughout the years, Dredge has been a top-tier deck in Modern, generally using Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Thug, and Darkblast in lieu of Golgari Grave-Troll, but its popularity had waned in recent years. Recently, however, Sodeq put the graveyard-abusing archetype back on the map with a second-place finish in an MTGO Challenge event.

Two key cards in his deck are Thrilling Discovery or Cathartic Reunion, which not only put dredge cards into the graveyard but also allow you to mill yourself immediately. Ideally, you mill Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam, which will return to the battlefield without having to invest any mana. Another card that you hope to mill is Creeping Chill, which can return Silversmote Ghoul to the battlefield. Once you escape Ox of Agonas, which allows you to put dredge cards into your graveyard while triggering any Prized Amalgam already there, victory will be almost assured. However, anti-graveyard cards like Leyline of the Void or Endurance keep this deck in check.

At the $20K RCQ at SCG CON two weeks ago, MrFringe89 took a deck that I dubbed Asmo Portal to a 9-3-1 finish, one win short of making it to the single-elimination playoffs. The appetizing strategy marries two combo angles. The first revolves around The Underworld Cookbook + Ovalchase Daredevil engine, which creates a steady stream of Food tokens. With those tokens, you can not only activate Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar but also cast Trash for Treasure, which spearheads the second combo angle.

After you've put Portal to Phyrexia or Sundering Titan into your graveyard, typically via Goblin Engineer or Scrapwork Mutt, Trash for Treasure will put a game-winning artifact onto the battlefield for the low cost of three mana. The artifact-swapping sorcery has been Modern-legal since the format's inception, but Scrapwork Mutt and Portal to Phyrexia from The Brothers’ War may have been the missing pieces. The new set also introduced Phyrexian Dragon Engine, whose card draw ability will trigger when you return it with Goblin Engineer. With all these new synergies, this novel brew deserves consideration.

Belcher is a combo deck with zero land cards. As a result, an activation of Goblin Charbelcher will deal damage to your opponent equal to the number of cards in your library, which is generally enough to win the game. To reach seven mana, the deck uses numerous modal double-faced cards alongside a smattering of rituals. For example, after a tapped Valakut Awakening on turn one, you might play Shatterskull Smashing untapped on turn two, chain Desperate Ritual into Pyretic Ritual into Irencrag Feat, and win the game with Goblin Charbelcher.

Belcher also gets to exploit Recross the Paths as a tutor that allows you to stack your entire deck. Since the deck contains zero land cards, you'll reveal your entire library and subsequently order it in any way you desire. Another benefit of using Belcher over other combo strategies is that it doesn't use the graveyard, so it dodges graveyard hate. MTGO player TheManLand recently took the deck to eight wins in a Super Qualifier, which was close to the amount needed to earn a Regional Championship qualification in that event.

Devoted Druid has enabled numerous combos over the years, but the one involving Vizier of Remedies is the most prominent and mana-efficient. Vizier of Remedies effectively allows you to untap Devoted Druid for free, allowing to you to add infinite green mana. Using this mana, you can win the game with Walking Ballista, Viridian Longbow, or Finale of Devastation.

Eladamri's Call helps find your combo pieces, and Stoneforge Mystic can fetch Luxior, Giada's Gift as an alternative way to generate infinite mana with Devoted Druid. Such tutors are essential to build a consistent and competitive combo deck. Steven Borakove took it to a Top 8 finish at the $20K RCQ at SCG CON two weeks ago, one win short of clinching a Regional Championship qualification.

CopyCat is a combo strategy that uses Saheeli Rai to create infinite hasty copies of Felidar Guardian, each blinking the planeswalker to unlock another activation. This game-winning combo, which resulted in Felidar Guardian's ban from Standard in 2017 and the formation of the Play Design team, remains available in Modern today. Mochizuki Masaki recently took it to a Top 4 finish at a 193-player tournament in Tokyo.

Masaki slotted the combo in an otherwise straightforward Four-Color Omnath shell. This makes sense because if you draw only one piece of the combo, then you can use Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian to blink or copy Solitude or Fury for value. In this deck, Oath of Nissa not only improves consistency but also helps you dodge Blood Moon.

Urza ThopterSword revolves around the synergy between Thopter Founrdry and Sword of the Meek. After sacrificing Sword of the Meek, the created Thopter token brings back the Sword, allowing you to create a Thopter for every mana you have. The addition of Urza, Lord High Artificer, which can tap both Sword of the Meek and the Thopter token for mana, results in infinite Thopters, infinite life, infinite mana, and infinite Urza activations.

Using this game-winning combo, supported by Stoneforge Mystic and Ingenious Smith, MTGO player gyyby297 recently reached seven wins in a Super Qualifier. Solid results like these exemplify the abundance of under-the-radar Modern decks capable of good performances, especially when piloted by an experienced player.

Looking Ahead

If you're eager to start your own competitive tabletop Magic journey, you can find Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) near you via the event Locator or your regional organizer's website. RCQs can take place in Modern, Pioneer, Standard, or Limited—including the prerelease at SCG CON Indianapolis. Through April 3, these RCQs award qualifications for the third cycle of Regional Championships. These premier events will be held in the Pioneer format in May, June, or July (depending on your region) and will feed into the corresponding third Pro Tour of the season, which will be held at MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28-30.

However, all of that is in the future. In less than 30 days, on February 17-19, the first tabletop Pro Tour in years will return at MagicCon: Philadelphia. Officially named Pro Tour Phyrexia, it invites a few hundred of the world's very best Magic: the Gathering players to compete in a three-day tournament featuring a $500,00 prize pool. The formats are Phyrexia: All Will Be One Booster Draft in the morning of Friday and Saturday, and then Pioneer Constructed for five rounds afterward each of those days. Pioneer is also the Top 8 format on Sunday as the final remaining players compete to see who will take home the prestigious title and first-place trophy.

For other competitive players looking for an opportunity to show their skills, MagicCon: Philadelphia will also host two Phyrexia: All Will Be One Sealed Pro Tour Qualifiers, each of which qualify the four top finishers for Pro Tour March of the Machine, held at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5–7. MagicCon: Philadelphia also features four Secret Lair Showdowns in the Pioneer format, where players compete for coveted Secret Lair prizes, including an alternate-art Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and a very special variant on Brainstorm. If you're planning on joining us for these exciting competitions, be sure to grab your badge soon before they sell out!

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