Hi everyone! Welcome back to the Knowledge Pool!
This week we’re going to be looking at another deck I’ve personally built and remodeling it with the hope of reaching a more coherent deck list. I was quite happy with how our experiment turned out with Maelstrom Wanderer, and I think the deck I’m presenting today could foster an equally interesting discussion. Today we’re leaving the world of fat creatures and combat and building a deck focused on killing through infinite combos.
When the Commander 2016 decks were spoiled, we were introduced to the Partner mechanic, which resulted in a multitude of new commanders in a variety of color combinations. Mixing and matching the various partners provided room for customization and helped add diversity to the 4-color commander pool. Today we’re not interested in a 4-color deck, or even a 3-color deck. Today we’re going to play with 2 colors and 2 commanders in the form of Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix and Thrasios, Triton Hero, and when we look at these two side by side we immediately see the synergistic opportunities.
Kydele rewards us with an inherent strength of the UG color combination: drawing cards. The more cards we draw, the more mana we can make, and while that mana is colorless we can pump it into artifacts and colorless spells, or else filter it into blue or green mana. There are a few intricacies of Kydele’s ability that are worth addressing off the bat. First, Kydele makes additional mana for each card drawn, including your first of the turn, and doesn’t care about net card advantage. For instance, if we play Brainstorm, we’re effectively filtering the cards in our hand; we don’t end up with more cards in hand than we started with, but because we performed the action of drawing 3 cards, Kydele now makes 3 additional mana. The same is true for looting style effects, like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Windfall effects. The Windfall and Time Reversal effects are particularly potent with Kydele, as they will often allow us to generate upwards of 7 mana. Acknowledging the potential to generate tons of mana through Kydele leads us to our second key category: untap spells. Untapping permanents tends to be an underrated mechanic in Commander, and it shines when paired with Kydele, effectively doubling our mana output. However, there are a selection of cards that allow us to pay mana to untap Kydele, and these are the spells that present the greatest potential with our commander. Umbral Mantle and Sword of Paruns allow us to invest the mana we make with Kydele into untapping her, and if Kydele is generating 4 or more mana, they suddenly represent a means of generating infinite mana when paired with our commander.
Now if we consider our second commander, Thrasios, we begin to see the whole picture. If we can generate a lot of mana, Thrasios is a perfect mana sink that allows us to draw more cards. If we can create infinite mana, Thrasios will allow us to draw our entire deck. Beyond these interactions Thrasios is a powerful role-player, providing a cheap, defensive body we can play early, and presenting us a source of card advantage later in the game.
Most partner-focused decks I encounter tend to use Thrasios as a centerpiece, but in our case, Kydele is the lead. Our deck aims to enable Kydele, while using Thrasios as a convenient and ever-present combo piece. The Knowledge Pool has touched on combo-centric decks in the past (see my Maelstrom Wanderer series), and I made a point of excising combos due to the poor play environment that they tend to encourage. I’m aiming to build this deck such that we can still play an “enjoyable” game of Magic, while still relying upon combos as our primary win condition. This means we likely won’t be comboing early on, and it also means that we will focus on combos that rely on more than two pieces to win the game.
Placing these constraints on ourselves when building a combo-centric deck puts us in a tricky position when our primary playgroup follows the 75% theory. Without tuning, our deck could be too efficient and generate too many games lacking in interaction, and if we tip too far the other direction, our deck will do a lot of “nothing” while not having enough tools to compete with more traditional strategies. So what went wrong the first time? I’m presenting this deck as an “overhaul” because my first attempt fell too much into the latter category, being to “clunky” to consistently reach its win conditions. Let’s take a look at the deck, and then we can start evaluating the missteps.
My deck goals were: draw lots of cards to fuel Kydele, and then use the mana generated from Kydele or my other ramp sources to generate an infinite interaction.
After playing this deck a few key issues of this deck became apparent:
Lets start with the first primary issue: “there were too many ideas”. I often find when building decks that it can be easy to become overwhelmed by all the available options. Blue and green offer us a ton of awesome cards, and since our themes for the deck involve drawing cards and making mana, it can be easy to misjudge which cards are actually valuable to our strategy. If we consider my deck list, we see 8 cards that care about us playing additional lands, and 6 artifacts that make mana. When I built this deck, spells like Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Exploration seemed like a natural fit. I was going to be drawing lots of cards, so the ability to play out additional lands seemed valuable. Similarly, artifact ramp like Thran Dynamo and Gilded Lotus seemed valuable due to the untap effects I included in the deck.
But what if we consider these two mechanics within the context of our gameplan? Artifact ramp actually still makes a lot of sense. It gives us an outlet for the mana we make with Kydele, and many of the same spells we include to tutor for our combo pieces can also tutor for our artifact ramp. In contrast, the lands don’t fit our strategy so well. They don’t synergize nicely with our untap effects, only netting us a few additional mana, and we have few cards built into the deck that specifically appreciate us playing more lands. With this in mind, we have a few options: we can adjust our deck so that it makes better use of additional lands, or else we can remove the “lands matter” theme to open more card slots to bolster our other strategies. If we’re aiming for combo consistency it makes the most sense to choose the latter approach, and heighten our focus on the other categories.
Now that we’ve narrowed our scope to artifact ramp, untap effects, and card draw, we can take a look at the second issue for this deck: the focus on conservative play. In my previous article series I make a point of building decks that are balanced – we need the right amount of ramp, removal, and the utility to help us reach our goals. This approach works well for decks that attempt to play an interactive game, however it doesn’t lend itself as nicely to a combo-focused deck. Ramp is still very important for a deck like this, because we need as much mana as possible to ensure we can play our commander multiple times and so we can force our combos through, but removal and utility often end up as dead draws in situations where we need more fuel to reach our win conditions. Let’s take a look at the removal and utility I included in my previous iteration.
If we take a look at our removal we’re not actually doing too bad of a job, and I think we could rationalize keeping most of these cards. I’ve also included counters here as well, as we need to keep them in mind when we’re considering all the answers our deck has. We have 3 dedicated removal spells Beast Within, Capsize, and Cyclonic Rift. Of these, Beast Within is the most obvious cut as it doesn’t offer the utility of advancing our game plan. Cyclonic Rift is a tough cut from any blue Commander deck, offering one of the most powerful effects in the format. I’m on the fence about Rift, and I imagine we’ll find space for it in the end. Perhaps the most interesting option here is Capsize, as it plays as early game removal, and late game we can use it as an infinite mana outlet, bouncing all of our opponents’ things. Admittedly, the two blue mana makes the idea of bouncing all of our opponents’ things trickier, given that Kydele only makes colorless mana, but it would be a possibility under the right conditions.
The remaining two cards are Mystic Confluence and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Confluence was included because of its utility: it protects our combos, it draws cards, and it removes problem creatures. However, the 5 cmc likely makes it too inefficient for the deck we’re building. Ugin was included to be our only “wrath” outside of Cyclonic Rift, and the fact that he doesn’t destroy our artifacts was the primary selling point. Unfortunately, I think Ugin falls outside the scope of our game plan, and his high cost means he won’t protect us from an early game onslaught.
Outside of Confluence, we have three dedicated counters: Swan Song, Muddle the Mixture, and Counterspell. Of these, Song and Mixture will protect our combos from most of the common answers that will attempt to disrupt us, while Mixture doubles as a tutor in the early game. All three counters were selected for their efficiency, so that we can realistically hold them up while we attempt to combo. I don’t foresee dropping below three counter slots, however, I would consider other options like Pact of Negation to enhance our efficiency. I would also like to point out that while three counters isn’t a lot, we will be drawing a lot of cards so there’s a decent chance we’ll be holding one when it’s time to go for a kill. If we get into a counter war with a dedicated control deck, we’re likely to lose, but these counters are primarily included to protect us from players stopping us with a desperate removal spell.
These considerations leave us with some clear cuts, Beast Within, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Mystic Confluence, and present us two other potential cuts, Capsize and Cyclonic Rift, if we end up being particularly tight on space. While cutting 3-5 cards might not seem like it will make a huge influence on our deck, reducing our chances of bad draws in critical scenarios will be welcome the more games we play.
The last misstep I want to rectify involves us reevaluating some of my card choices. As I look back over the deck list, there are a handful of cards that stick out to me as being inefficient, and they’re primarily draw style spells. Let’s take a look at our draw spells again:
When I built this deck I focused on a key Commander philosophy: cards that achieve value multiple times are king. It made a lot of sense to approach a Kydele deck with this philosophy; if we consistently draw cards, we will consistently be able to make more mana with Kydele. However, many of the “consistent” draw spells were also slow or came with a drawback that ended up being too negative in practice.
There are a few instances where making the “consistent” choice ended up working well. In particular, Sylvan Library and Jace, the Mind Sculptor gave me the opportunity to Brainstorm every turn, which meant they enabled infinite mana generation from Umbral Mantle and Sword of the Paruns. Jace’s Archivist and Forgotten Creation also throttled us towards infinite mana territory, however these sorts of effects are a double-edged sword. Archivist could potentially strip answers from our opponents, but he also could dig them to win conditions. Luckily, we have control over when these abilities activate, so we can usually come out ahead if we time them correctly.
Where the “consistent” choices failed was with cards like Howling Mine and Dictate of Kruphix. Believe it or not, giving our opponents more potential answers to our combo win conditions is not in our best interest. Moreover, these cards were only netting us a single additional mana with Kydele, making them all the more egregious.
Beyond the “consistent” draw spells, we have the spells that are just too inefficient for their ability. I love Recurring Insight, and in most blue decks I feel that it is one of the more potent high-end draw spells available. Unfortunately, in this deck, Insight was too great an investment for the ability, especially in comparison to spells like Windfall. Pull From Tomorrow should be replaced with Stroke of Genius. Originally I chose Pull because it let us see 1 more card than Stroke, and therefore generated an additional mana with Kydele. What I didn’t consider was how color hungry this deck is. The two blue is a bigger investment than the extra colorless mana, and Stroke also presents us an alternate kill condition beyond drawing our own deck: we can force an opponent to draw their entire deck in the event that a Laboratory Maniac is no longer an option.
A few other cards are on the edge of being too inefficient, and may not make our final cut. Time Reversal and Memory Jar will usually represent a more expensive Windfall. Arcanis the Omnipotent is a powerful “consistent” effect, but the fact that it costs 3 blue and must survive to activate its ability must be taken into account.
Next time I’m will present an updated deck list I’ve been working on, and address how the changes attempt to fix the problems I outlined here. I’ll also go in-depth regarding our combo and win condition options. For now, I hope I’ve peaked your interest in Kydele, and inspired you to give combo a chance.
Let me know if any of you have experience with a deck like this, and feel like there is a specific combo or spell that is a “must include”. I would love to have some experienced suggestions to make this deck as effective as possible.
Until next time, I wish you all the best, and happy brewing!