Combo Corner — Spy Kit

Patrick here, the resident Johnny at EDHREC. Sometimes I see a card that causes me to think, “What can I do with this?”

This month is a prime example of this situation. I spent a good portion of my youth without a consistent playgroup, which led to me reading cards over and over again, trying to force interesting interactions between cards I owned. Even today I comb through cards and set aside a few for further investigation. At time of writing, the focal point of the article is listed at 28 decks. That seems low to me considering what can be done with it.

So without further ado, our star of the month, hailing from the plane of Fiora, weighing in at a 2 generic mana:

Secret Agent Kit

The Combo

Before I present a specific deck list, I want to take a step back and see what kind of cards and situation Spy Kit can work with and in. Naturally I’m looking for interesting interactions. I don’t want to judge whether an interaction is simply good, bad, or maybe just misunderstood, but simply evaluate if it does something that I want to do in a game. This is where baby combos are born. Together we can judge if they are powerful when we go to deck construction. To help us later, we start by listing the cards by color, and then look to see if there is one color or another that supports the combo better than others.

White:

Cornered Market: This is a nearly unplayable card in Commander in any other context.
Declaration in Stone: Board wipe that turns into card draw.
Winnow: Targeted removal that replaces itself.

Blue:

Bazaar of Wonders: Much like Cornered Market, shuts down a board when it’s been set up right.
Dichotomancy: We would need more cards to make this work, but this just seems fun to do at least once in your life, right?
Echoing Truth: It’s like Cyclonic Rift, only not 5 bucks.
Faerie Miscreant: It’s like a cantrip! That counts, right?
Mask of the Mimic: Creature tutor in blue, that’s pretty sweet.
Mechanized Production: A win the game card that also works with bonus value. Also, you could end up with eight Spy Kits at the end of the game, that just seems fun.
Mimeofacture: It’s cheaper to cast than Dichotomancy, and does basically the same thing.
Retraced Image: It’s Show and Tell, but just for you!

Black:

Bile Blight: -3/-3 to all the non-legendaries. Probably not good enough most of the time.
Echoing Decay: It’s like Bile Blight, but for 1B instead.
Eradicate: This will shut down games if done right.
Festering Newt: Probably not good enough, but it is interesting to note that we don’t have to think about using all names, but only specific names.
Relentless Rats: A classic aggro deck, that would allow us to turn a utility creature into an honorary Relentless Rats.
Plague Rats: It’s an older and not quite as good Relentless Rats.
Sever the Bloodline: A mono black exile effect on creatures. This doesn’t happen often. But it could also turn into a board wipe.
Shadowborn Apostle: If you’ve thought about Relentless Rats, you’ve probably thought about Shadowborn Apostles too.

Red:

Homing Lighting: Mass removal in red for 2RR, there are probably better ways to go about this though.

Green:

Pack Hunt: Three creature tutor, how can we go wrong?
Verdant Succession: It’s like Survival of the Fittest and Sneak Attack in one card for the budget minded. Kind of. Ok, not really, but still super interesting.
Doubling Chant: It’s Pack Hunt, only more expensive and less good.
Echoing Courage: Cheap overrun effect at instant speed. If you love to surprise people with being dead, this might be the right card for you.
Timberpack Wolf: It’s a really, really, lame Relentless Rats, but in green, so that’s something I guess.
Bifurcate: Another tutor for a creature, only it puts in onto the battlefield. Neat.

Gold:

Biovisionary: Win the game cards are always looking for more ways to activate their triggers.
Clarion Ultimatum: Massive ramp and a creature tutor. Expensive in comparison to other effects we have already seen.
Cylian Sunsinger: While it casts for green, it can only be run in Naya colors, it can be a really good Overrun.
Detention Sphere: An Oblivion Ring for a board wipe seems good.
Evil Twin: Repeatable removal that can also kill of a legendary creature, seems decent.
Izzet Staticaster: If we have a way to turn the board into X/1’s we can turn this creature into a board wipe.
Maelstrom Pulse: This is a card that often gets cut right at the last moment in GB decks because the actual utility of it isn’t high enough most of the time. But here it might just be what we’re looking for.

Colorless:

Bubbling Cauldron: The other half of Festering Newt, this seems pretty nice to put in budget combo deck.

One newt plz.I wonder how many salamander creatures there are.

The Decks:

Knowing what colors support a combo is a good start, as we can start to populate a deck from the list to see if any redundant effects might appear. A robust combo deck has multiple cards that do similar things.

If we were playing standard or modern, we could get away with running four-ofs in the deck and be reasonably happy with our odds. All we can do is look at the numbers and make a judgement call on if we find it worthwhile to run a deck however many of redundant effects it contains. If not we have to run tutors just to make the deck function.

Let’s emphasize this point by running it through the hypergeometric calculator to gain some understanding of how likely we are to draw into our combo besides our instinct.
Feel free to skip the next section if you aren’t a huge fan of numbers. There will be a through line at the end to catch up to speed.


Number Cruncher

Let’s start with assuming we have a two-card combo, Card A and Card B. We have a 99 card deck, and we want to see both Card A and Card B within the first four turns.
This means we’ve seen 7 cards from our starting hand, and then an additional 4 cards (we’re playing multiplayer here, so we draw no matter what on our first turn.)

We first plug into the calculator to find the possibility of Card A the following: 99 population, 1 success in population, 11 sample size, and 1 in successes in sample. The resulting number is %11.11, so just over 1 in 10 games.

Next we input to get our chances of finding Card B. The numbers change some because we have to assume that in order for our overall success, we already have drawn into Card A, so our numbers are decreased by one in population and sample size, which looks like: 98 population, 1 success in population, 10 sample size, and 1 in success in sample. This gives us a %10.20 chance to draw into Card B.

Then we multiply the probabilities, and we have our chances of having both cards in hand within 4 turns.

Card A Probability (%11.11) * Card B Probability (%10.20) = Probability of Card A and B (%1.13)


That is about one in a hundred games. Ultimately, it is up to each player to decide what percentages they are comfortable with, as the percentage to draw into our win conditions are the closest we have to hard numbers for winning.
For the first deck this month we are running about seven tutors, depending on how you consider a tutor. Frankly, we could do with more but this is a good start for getting a feel for what the deck can do.

The Deck

This is a control deck that aims to recur Eradicate while keeping the board on lockdown with Spy Kit and Cornered Market. The ideal way for this to happen is to get Masterwork of Ingenuity to copy Spy Kit and have both equipped, so that there is no chance for opponents to cast their creatures.

That being said, there is another opportunity. Instead of blue we use green to tutor out our creatures for fun and profit. Let’s use use last month’s deck as example and tweak it to better fit our current theme. There is a chance that going to a value deck instead of strict control is a better shell for this combo.

Combodor, Ghost Chieftain

Commander (1)
Creatures (31)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (10)
Enchantments (6)
Artifacts (10)
Lands (37)

This list is far less all in, but we do run into the problem of just having a dead draw when we have [/card]Spy Kit[/card], Verdant Succession or Cornered Market alone. Of course, there is always an option of putting more tutors into the deck to cover up for this fact.

The Interactions

If we decide to actually test these decks at our local game store (LGS), we need to understand how card names work.

The first thing that to check is probably the most self explanatory rules in the Magic: The Gathering. Rules 201.2a-c, which defines what constitutes two or more objects having the same name or not. These rules essentially boil down to objects that have at least one name in common, have the same name, and surprisingly, objects that don’t share any names, are not named the same.

Now that we know how names work, we need to go over something that is often overlooked when learning how to play this wonderful game: the difference between a creature and a creature card. It is a subtle difference, but it does help explain a number of interactions that pop up.

A creature card is a card that has the type “creature”. Once we cast a creature card and it resolves, our creature card becomes an actual creature on the battlefield. More specifically, there are no cards on the battlefield of Magic: The Gathering, only the permanents we have in play (represented by cardboard). So when a spell or ability refers to a card, it has to target something that is not on the battlefield, and vice versa: when it refers to a creature, it has to be on the battlefield.

In the case of Verdant Succession, when the trigger goes onto the stack from the creature that has Spy Kit attached to it, we need to check the name of the creature that died, not the name of the creature card. With the equipped creature, the name of the creature is all the names of non-legendary creature cards. This name of the creature is what allows us to put into play any replacement creature in our library from the trigger.

Lastly, we should explain how we are able to get creatures onto the battlefield while under our own Cornered Market lock. Cornered Market stops people from casting spells that share a name with a permanent on the battlefield, but it doesn’t stop us from putting permanents straight onto the battlefield. When Verdant Succession’s trigger resolves, we haven’t cast the creature, but simply put it smack onto the field. This also works for any other ability that puts permanents onto the battlefield, such as Ninjutsu or Zur the Enchanter’s ability.

Being reprinted soon!

The Responses

Truth be told, there too many openings for this kind of combo to fall apart for it to be top tier, but with some luck and the right meta call, it could finish off the game successfully. The reason why there are so many openings is that you need each card on board in order to do anything remotely useful.

Not only that, we have to be on the lookout for counterspells, enchantment and artifact removal, and any instant speed creature removal that responds to the equip trigger on Spy Kit. Finally, a Captain Sisay deck would just laugh in the face of our lock. All those legendaries that can be cast without even thinking about it in most cases. That is sad news for us.

These are the reasons why I felt a control shell might be the best way to account for these weaknesses, as we need to protect, protect and protect any threat we do manage to get down.

The Resolution

Out of everything listed though, I think that the best unexplored deck that could be done is to play a Cornered Market deck with the top played permanents in the format, and then just ramp and get them out before anyone else.

As always, let me know what kind of combos you would like to see explained or looked into in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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Patrick is a co-host of the podcast Commander Time! and all around combo player. Some say, he might one day see a build around card he didn't like, but there is no proof of such a thing.