I play combo decks in Modern. It’s just what I do. I’ve always been under the impression that despite Modern’s incredible diversity, there are really only 2 types of decks: linear decks and the decks that try to answer those linear deck. I’ve been on both halves of this, but much prefer the former. More than not, I’ll be playing Ad Nauseam, but the powerful two-card combo deck has its drawbacks.
In this article, I’ll be covering a Modern combo deck that I really love to play and watch, but hasn’t been seen in the format for a while. Let’s jump into it.
Fist of Suns by Jonah Gaynor
Before going over card choices and important tips for playing the deck, let’s talk about the overall strategy of the deck.
The goal of this deck is pretty simple: cheat in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and/or Griselbrand through either Fist of Suns (which gives you the extra turn trigger on Emrakul, which is very welcome) or Through the Breach.
It’s incredibly hard for opponents to deal with either creature once they’re in play, so the game is over more times than not if you resolve your important spells. Unlike the Goryo’s Reanimator deck in Modern, this deck does not utilize the graveyard, which has its obvious pros and cons. On one hand, this deck is less explosive and usually kills a little slower, but on the other hand it isn’t weak against graveyard hate. Instead, the only meaningful interaction that your opponent can have with you is through counter spells or discard spells.
Card Choices/Explanations of Roles
Some of the cards in this deck, like most combo decks, are pretty much unplayable in any other context, but that’s what makes combo decks so appealing to many. Here are some of the cards that need a little explanation regarding their inclusion:
Yes, it nets you one mana, but you need four in order to cast it to begin with, which is nutter butters. However, it fits really nicely in this deck. It obviously pairs very well with a turn 3 (or 2!) Fist of Suns, but it also easily ramps you into a turn 4 (or 3!) Through the Breach. Also, that one time where you aren’t casting either but you really need mana that you don’t have, you’ll thank Channel the Suns.
It’s not the best counter spell in the format. It’s not the best draw spell in the format. It’s not the best kill spell in the format. However, it’s all three of those things, which gives the deck a really flexible card that allows it to interact more meaningfully with how the opponent is trying to disrupt it.
Another odd one, but I think it merits a 1-of. It’s mana and card neutral, which makes it feel like Gitaxian Probe (R.I.P.) more often than not, but in this deck it can frequently be the difference between having the mana to use Fist of Suns and not. Additionally, when going off with Griselbrand with only 3 extra mana in play, drawing multiple copies of Simian Spirit Guide and a Manamorphose can let you cast Emrakul through Fist of Suns immediately.
A non-zero amount of the time, you’ll Through the Breach in an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, attack the opponent, wipe their permanents, and still have your opponent be alive at 2 or 3 life. This is where Lightning Bolt shines. It operates like a split card in this deck, where one half is Murder and the other half is Lava Spike. It’s not sexy, but it gets the job done.
This card is the definition of “I’m scared and don’t know what I’m gonna need!” However, in Modern, the format is so wide open that combo decks including Echoing Truth is frequently correct. Another option is Natural State, but I guarantee there are times when you’ll be very happy that you can handle the Truth.
Important Notes/Lines of Play
It’s very important to be as mana-efficient as possible. That means that if you have the option between casting a draw spell and a Pentad Prism, it’s mostly correct to cast the Pentad Prism (especially on turn 2). Magic is beautiful in that it lets you draw a card every turn, so your deck will sort you out with what you want sometimes, whereas Magic doesn’t let you play 2 extra lands in a turn.
Don’t be afraid to go for it. Bryant Cook, of Legacy TES fame, is a big advocate of playing the odds and seeing what happens. In Bryant’s case, a lot of his decisions boil down to “does my opponent have Force of Will + blue card”, which is sometimes rather had to come to a conclusion about. Fortunately for us, there are no playable free counters in this format, meaning that if you see your opponent holding up 2 mana every turn, it might be wise to not play your important spell right into it. However, it’s frequently correct to “make them have it,” especially if you have more impactful cards in your hand.
Do you think your opponent brought in Ancient Grudge for Fist of Suns? There is no shame (assuming they’re not killing you) in waiting until you have 8 mana available. This deck has mana coming out of its pores, so it won’t be too long until you can play around artifact-hate in this way.
If you don’t know what kind of hate cards your opponent has, it’s usually not a bad idea to bring in some number of Echoing Truth as a hedge. One of the beautiful things about combo decks in most formats is that they usually win game 1 and have a lower win percentage in games 2 and 3. However, because we won game 1, we have an extra game to spare if we misread what our opponent was on, or couldn’t suss out what sideboarded hate cards they might have for the post-board games.
Mulligan aggressively. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see players make when they are unfamiliar with piloting combo decks. Unlike decks like Jund, we don’t need to maximize the efficiency of all of our cards to win. We’re looking for a specific subset of cards in our deck, so mulligan aggressively and you will be rewarded.
(If you don’t know what the above image is, definitely YouTube search “Craig Jones Lightning Helix”.)
Trust the top of the deck. If you don’t have access to the combo, always play to win the game, and never to not lose the game. This goes for Magic in general, but you will get punished far more often if you do this while playing a combo deck like this one. Fortunately for us, we have some redundancy in our combo pieces. So, let’s say you have a Fist of Suns in play and a lot of mana, but no big creature. The top of the deck will be kind to you a lot. 8 cards are exactly what you want (4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and 4 Griselbrand) and 10 cards let you access one or more cards to find those fatties (4 Serum Visions, 3 Sleight of Hand, 2 Izzet Charm, 1 Manamorphose). That’s 18 of probably around 45 cards in your deck that you’re happy to see.
Have fun. This is also good advice for Magic as a whole, but it’s especially relevant when playing combo decks like this one. It’s fairly easy to ride non-combo decks to victory by letting the deck do what it does naturally, but combo decks don’t really operate this way. You will make mistakes that cost you games and there will be times when you didn’t see a line of play that could have won you the game, and you’ll feel bad about it afterwards. It happens. But remember that your deck is powerful enough to win any matchup and you just need to figure out the puzzle of that game.
I highly recommend giving this deck a shot if you’re bored of what you’re playing in Modern and you’re looking for something that will catch your opponents off-guard.
Did you see that Death’s Shadow Jund deck that dominated Grand Prix Vancouver? If you didn’t, you can read all about the deck and some analysis of where the format is headed in this article by Austin Mansell
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