Combo Cat

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On August 21st I played in my first Standard Sunday Showdown at Face to Face Games Toronto and managed to top 8 with an untested brew that revolved around Demonic Pact. I’ve only been to two other Showdowns. In the winter I played Legacy using a red white Painter deck. I put up a reasonable fight, placing me 15th out of 50 players (3-2-1).

At the beginning of the summer I came to a Modern Showdown with my personalized version of Protean Hulk + Footsteps of the Goryo. The ‘typical’ build uses 7 creatures to make a convoluted infinite loop of Mogg Fanatic inflicted damage. My version played 4 copies of Hangerback Walker and 3 Memnite. I used drain creatures like Zulaport Cutthroat and Viscera Seer so I could drain my opponent for more then 30 life as soon as turn two. It’s still a complicated combo, but most opponents had no idea what was happening until I killed them. This time I was good enough to end up 4-2 and place 10th!

I’m telling you all this to illustrate that I prefer to say “oops I win” over attacking with creatures.

When GP Toronto was announced I tested with my friends and despite not getting the best results I locked myself into Esper Starfield.

I had built Humans Tribal, but that was the ‘deck to beat’ by the time the GP arrived and I enjoy the element of surprise. Starfield is a pile of enchantment based removal with lots of little combos. It was able to grind out anyone trying to play fair. The longer the game went the more likely I would win. I ended up with a result of 4-4 before dropping. After that I put the deck down and didn’t play any Standard for 3 months.

When Eldrich Moon spoilers arrived two cards got me very excited. They were Lupine Prototype and Harmless Offering. Both my Standard decks could improve with a little tweaking. I was initially testing red white humans with the deck playing ACTUAL red cards. Specifically maindeck Incendiary Flow for reach and extra removal when needed. Unfortunately, the extra strain on the manabase slows down the deck too much. It frequently succumbed to midrange decks like Bant Collected Company. I definitely saw the power of the 2cmc 5/5 wolf. Being resilient to almost all the popular removal in the format. My opponent would often fall to robowolf after dealing with all the little humans, even though he usually sat around; unable to attack or block until turn 5. I later re-tooled the humans into a mono-white build and it was certainly a competitive deck, but not exceptional. I decided to look back into the ways to win without attacking.

It was right around this time that Chris Botelho went undefeated during the Swiss rounds of GP Portland by milking all the value out of Demonic Pact before using Harmless Offering to pass them to his opponent. I dug out my GP deck and moved from Esper to Grixis. I started playing all the weekly events I could to learn how to play this concoction and see what I need to be prepared to play against. Unfortunately, all of my results were very poor with this new build. I had already signed up for the Showdown and was in love with the idea of giving my opponents a ‘deal with the devil’, but my testing record was abysmal. I was dying to my own Demonic Pacts more often then I was winning. With all the card draw I had I really thought 7 ways to ‘deal’ with a Pact would be fine, but apparently not. I dug out a copy of Disperse to add into the deck, but I really didn’t think a bounce spell would turn the deck around. On the day before the Showdown with no more time to test I made a drastic re-haul on the build. I traded out the card drawing power of Oath of Jace and various countermagic for the versatile and powerful cards white has to offer. Silumgar’s Command out. Nahiri, the Harbinger in.

Sunday Showdown Decklist – Mardu Pact

The Matches

Round 1 for the Showdown I was paired against Mono White Humans. I knew how it worked, but was very nervous about my aggro matchup. Game one I lost only because of an opposing Needle Spires, so I relaxed and felt pretty good since I knew things would be a lot better post board. Nahiri, the Harbinger was extremely impressive at dealing with multiple copies of Always Watching allowing me to sweep the board with ease. As soon as I was able to resolve Linvala, the Preserver, in game three, my opponent signed the match slip.

Round 2 I played against Spirits and was swiftly defeated in game one thanks to a slow start and an opposing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Games two and three went my way thanks to Linvala, the Preserver stabilizing me before going over the top. I was happy I chose her as my top end threat over Emrakul, the Promised End. If I did ever decide to ultimate Nahiri simply attacking for 13 damage is a lot less useful for a control deck then potentially gaining 10 life and putting three bodies on the board (after recasting her the next turn). I believe there were only a few games where I was capable of casting the 13/13 flying spaghetti monster, but at that stage in the game I didn’t need Emrakul to win anyways and was happy using the mana for any of my 6 man-lands. People would forget about Needle Spires’s ability to deal 4 damage. However, Shambling Vents probably won me more games than any other card in the deck by padding my life total and threatening the opponent’s. Anytime I suspected Spell Queller in my opponent’s hand on a clear board I was happy to attack with the Vents until they were forced to play him for no added value.

Round 3 was against Esper Control and was the longest match of the day. For a majority of game 1 I avoided playing any red sources to make my opponent think I was playing BW Control. When I eventually knew the coast was clear I used Nahiri, the Harbinger to break the stalemate. Her large loyalty coupled with card selection is more difficult to deal with than most people realize. The fact I can use her -2 every other turn if uninterrupted does feel unfair. The most common card I saw at the event against me was Liliana, the Last Hope. The fact that her +1 is essentially a “Blank” ability against this deck feels fantastic. I was always able to deal with her at my convenience, never even close to being threatened by the potentially scary “Zombie Emblem”. I got extremely lucky in this first game when I knew my opponent had Spell Queller in hand and I had Demonic Pact on board with “You Lose The Game” as the only remaining option. My hand consisted of Harmless Offering and Goblin Dark-Dwellers with a copy of Anguished Unmaking in my graveyard. I was a mana shy of being able to cast both spells so provided my opponent used his Spell Queller on whatever he could, I would lose on my next upkeep. I did consider explaining the situation and going to game two, but I played it out with the line I saw as the highest possibility of my opponent making a misstep. I used the Goblin to flashback Anguished Unmaking and held my breath. My opponent let my spell resolve and I took the game. Play to every out every time. In game 2 I passed my opponent a lethal Demonic Pact and this would be enough to put me into the top 8 with 2 rounds of ID’s.

I was ranked 5th place for the top 8 and my first match saw me on the draw against BG Delirium. One of the reasons I was drawn to the Pact deck is the fact that so many decks don’t have a way to answer my combo. Dromoka’s Command really has seem to have lost all its popularity in the last few months. Delirium, and to a lesser degree ramp decks are the reason I have one Infinite Obliteration in the mainboard. Two copies of Dark Petition combined with Infinite Obliteration give me the option to remove their endgame from the equation. As long as Emrakul is not an option Delirium does not have a fast clock and is not very interactive. I feel this is a great matchup for any Demonic Pact deck and I would be happy playing against this deck all day.

In game 1 my hand was very slow and I did come close to stabilizing but I didn’t have answers for what I consider to be the defining card of standard in Sylvan Advocate.

Since my opponent saw so little of my deck he still didn’t have any more answers for the combo game two. I passed him a Pact with two modes on it just to avoid the slim chance of a topdecked Transgress the Mind taking my Harmless Offering.

Game three was an extremely fun and close matchup. I failed to see that my opponent had accumulated enough mana and delirium in his graveyard to find and cast Emrakul using his Traverse the Ulvenwald. Under my opponent’s control he decided that using “You Lose the Game” was the ideal choice for me to make. A fitting end to a great event.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this deck unless you expect to see a lot of people ramping out Ulamog. I believe adding Crumble to Dust can make the difference. As of right now I don’t see any changes I want to make to this build as it felt extremely powerful all day.

Nahiri, the Harbinger does everything the deck wants. She controls your opponents board, she digs for exactly what cards you need, and she is a great way to get rid of your own pact.

Angelic Purge was not used much, but having an uncounterable way to destroy your own Demonic Pact while hurting your opponent’s board is a good option.

Collective Brutality is a card I can’t decide on. It feels as though it would be good against both aggro and control decks. Sometimes I can use two modes to turn a game around early. It just feels frustrating when I play the “Discard an instant or sorcery” mode to see a hand full of creatures and planeswalkers. I initially had three copies in the deck, but am happy with 1 for now.

Radiant Flames has an amount of risk with the popularity of Spell Queller present, but I still definitely feel like the risk is worth it for the only spell in Standard that uses 3 mana to deal three damage to all creatures. Kozilek’s Return is the alternative, but three plus toughness seems rather popular these days.

I love having one Oath of Gideon in the maindeck. This enchantment makes planeswalkers more powerful, allows me to be protected by some blockers, and is an alternative enchantment to sacrifice if your opponent has Dromoka’s Command. 3 CMC is a lot for a mostly defensive spell and it was often boarded out.

Demonic Pact will sadly be rotating out in just a few months though, so if you are tired of turning creatures sideways and attacking try playing the most powerful two card combo Standard has seen since Splinter Twin was legal.

Until next time,
Dan Armchuck

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