Hello, I’m Patrick, and I’m a combo addict. I know what you’re thinking; how can someone like me, who has been playing Magic: The Gathering for over 15 years, be so single-minded in his want to brew only the jankiest of combos? I wish I had an answer for you, but I do know how indispensable EDHREC is at feeding that addiction! This series presents various aspects of playing combo decks, from the specifics of a given combo, to how combo players look to build such a deck, to how we can get more consistency in our favored format. Finally, I will prove that a combo-style deck doesn’t have to be degenerate. Really, it doesn’t! If it pleases the court, I submit into evidence Exhibit A: Reveillark and Karmic Guide.
Reveillark and Karmic Guide are a staple combo in most graveyard recursion decks that use white. It is such a powerful combination of effects that many decks run it purely for value instead of building a deck around them, which is why our journey into jank starts here. This is the kind of combo that people don’t hate on because it is quick and to the point; however, there is often unused potential when all the pieces are assembled on the board.
Let’s start by looking at what the two cards are and do.
Obviously, this combo is all about getting creatures from the graveyard onto the battlefield. To ensure we’re all on the same page let’s run through an idealised situation and then go into how to improve and best utilize the combo.
In this idealized situation Karmic Guide and some value creature with power 2 or less are in our graveyard. Let’s use Wall of Omens for convenience and for the love of drawing cards. We evoke Reveillark, which forces us to sacrifice it as soon as it hits the battlefield. This triggers its exit the battlefield ability bringing Karmic Guide and Wall of Omens back to the battlefield. Karmic Guide enters the battlefield and returns Reveillark. Now there are three creatures on board where previously there were none and Wall of Omens draws a card. If that doesn’t feel good, I don’t know what does!
This kind of play is where the value tends to end in many decks, but this is precisely where we can try to make it a strong exploitable combo. There are a few options to explore in terms of a third creature that allows the Reveillark and Karmic Guide combo to be repeatable and relatively safe from disruption.
Staying in white provides access to Mirror Entity, or Viscera Seer in black to enhance the combo. The key is to find a creature that is a viable target to bring back from the graveyard with Reveillark that can either kill our team or sacrifice them at instant speed. This level of protection allows us to attack and block indefinitely without much recourse, or allows the combo to live long enough for us to draw into win conditions.
The easier of the two interactions is Mirror Entity, since it removes any worry about stacking triggers in the right order to return the pieces to the board. Mirror Entity’s ability, paying 0, puts the life total of all our creatures to 0 and sends them to the graveyard simultaneously. This allows us to stack any triggers that happen as we choose and can resolve the Reveillark trigger last to bring back our combo with the loop.
The trickier interaction is with Viscera Seer, because its ability requires stacking the sacrifice triggers so that the creatures enter the graveyard in a specific order to bring them back. Let’s run through it to remove any hesitation in the heat battle.
Oh no, someone targeted our Viscera Seer with Swords to Plowshares, we’ll never be able to recover if we let this resolve! Luckily, we have Reveillark and Karmic Guide on the battlefield! The first instinct for most players is to try to just sacrifice Viscera Seer for the scry 1, and then remember that they had the combo on board and go to sacrifice the other two. Sadly, this line of play will not lead to all three creatures to return to the battlefield.
To that end, we start by sacrificing the Reveillark, and then, holding priority, we sacrifice the Karmic Guide and the Viscera Seer in either order. This ordering is how we can make sure that the Viscera Seer and Karmic Guide are valid targets for the Reveillark’s ability to bring them back.
It’s the pesky stack that makes us do it this way, first in last out. When we do this, the sacrifices happen on the stack in the order of Viscera Seer, Karmic Guide, and finally Reveillark. Having Reveillark leave the battlefield last is the key step to ensure it has valid targets to bring back.
The best thing about this combo is that it fits pretty well into any deck that runs white, as it is a small value engine and doesn’t need to be central to your strategy when building a deck. As proof, according to EDHREC, in 74% of decks that include Reveillark, include Karmic Guide, with a synergy rating of +68%. The reverse of comparing Karmic Guide to Reveillark, there is only a +45% synergy which points out that Reveillark requires a little more building around than Karmic Guide does. No matter what color we want to go into there are three general categories that should be filled out, enablers, finishers and value.
Enablers are cards that fuel the combo, or at the very least get the whole thing started. In this case it is sacrifice outlets. Let’s go over some of the best ones I found using EDHREC and see where it leads us.
Viscera Seer: Lets us scry our library to get what we want.
Mirror Entity: Can kill our team, but is also a win condition with enough mana or creatures.
Spawning Pit: Lets us go infinitely wide if we want.
Altar of Dementia: Mill for the win and enable the combo.
Vish Kaal, Blood Arbiter: Possible commander and enabler.
Finishers are the game enders, where we have to figure out where we want to take the deck and how we win.
Murderous Redcap: Kills the opponents, and can take care of any pesky creatures on the way.
Venser, Shaper Savant: Bounce all the permanents that aren’t yours, and set everyone back to the stone age. Doesn’t end the game on that turn, but it might as well be.
Acidic Slime: Kill all the lands and mana rocks, one at a time.
Boonweaver Giant: This is another combo on top of the one we’re talking about already, we can put Pattern of Rebirth on the giant, and then start to tutor up all the big scary creatures we could want from our deck.
Soul’s Attendant/Soul Warden/Suture Priest: If life gain is your strategy, these are the cards you want. We just need Test of Endurance out and we will win the game on our next upkeep if no one stops us.
Stoneforge Mystic: Find the equipment needed to voltron your way to the winning position.
Finally, we need some way to get to our combo pieces without just running out of things to do before we get there. That’s where value cards comes into play. Looking through EDHREC, the following cards are in numerous decks for good reason because they provide answers to situations while keeping you alive.
Solemn Simulacrum: An engine to draw our deck and get play all of our basic lands.
Duplicant: Get rid of each creature on the board forever.
Reclamation Sage: Kill the artifacts and enchantments.
Eternal Witness: Get our stuff back that was so unfairly killed.
According to EDHREC, the most common commanders that run this combo are Karador, Ghost Chieftain in first, then Alesha, She who Smiles at Death, and in third Roon of the Hidden Realms. They all tend to focus on really squeezing out value from each creature, much like our combo.
The most obvious place to start is graveyard hate. Rest in Peace eats this combo alive, along withScavenging Ooze orAnafenza the Foremost as a general since their effects all exile your creatures from the graveyard or stops them from going to the graveyard at all. This requires some enchantment and creature removal to protect this combo. The combo is also weak to mass exile effects such asMerciless Evacuation. Reveillark’s ability still triggers as it exits the battlefield, but without a graveyard there are no valid targets. The best option is to send everything to the graveyard in response and hope for a reanimator spell.
The next weak point in the combo is when Reveillark is evoked there is the possibility of a counter spell, since everything else along the loop are triggered abilities, which are more difficult to interact with for other players. Fortunately the combo can recover from a counter using any other reanimator effects in the deck to bring creatures back to the battlefield or your hand.
The last place we could get stopped are tax effects, Torpor Orb, or even cards that punish you for putting creatures onto the battlefield without casting them from your hand. This is a consideration that is very meta and commander dependent.
This discussion doesn’t really lead us to just going out into the world and playing a deck, because it only informs us of what kind of choices we should be making when building around the Reveillark and Karmic Guide combo. To help with that, here is a deck that is a slightly modified average deck from EDHREC.
The biggest changes made were putting in the signets and taking out a couple of creatures that couldn’t be targeted with Reveillark, and replacing them with some of the value targets mentioned in the article. It ended up being much more of a tool box value deck with possible combo finishers. This list can be tuned to your liking and to fit your meta. Especially if you are one who loves card draw because we lack a lot of that here. The best part about EDH is that week to week your decks don’t have to be the same. Find new things to do with it!
With some combos, the win condition is the resolution of the spells, but in this case there is only an engine that can protect itself. There are many ways we can start to abuse the engine to create a game winning plan. The most important thing about your game plan is to tune it to your meta, so that you win in a way that your group thinks is an ok way to win.
Even if you find that you hate combo plays after running Reveillark and Karmic Guide, you at least will appreciate the power of it. This combo won’t necessarily win the game, but if you’re a player interested in “going off”, this combination will satisfy you.
I will be back with another combo next time, but if you have any suggestions or questions just make a comment below!