Going Rogue: Marionette Master Combo
Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway!
It’s been quite a long time since I’ve shared a new brew, but it’s a special time of year right now. That magical time where even the proudest of Modern fanbois will meander out of their damp, curmudgeonly cave to briefly wonder what creative opportunities rotation will bring to Standard.
With half the card pool falling to the wayside, rotation is a brewer’s paradise. And frankly, it's made even better by general ignorance of the format, because you don’t wind up caught in the same traps that have repressed innovation for the last 12 months.
So today I want to bring you some developments on an idea I’ve seen bounding around the internet over the last few days: Marionette Master combo.
Yep, it turns out that with Treasure tokens floating around everywhere, this rightfully-overlooked bulk rare can suddenly drop your opponent from 20 to zero in a single, fairly-unanswerable blow.
Unlike most combos, there’s not really a whole lot of explaining to do about this one either. Cast it as a 4/6, sacrifice five Treasure tokens, deal 20. Unless your opponent can kill it with the Fabricate trigger on the stack - something realistically only achievable by Cast Out or Vraska's Contempt - there's not a whole lot they can do but watch.
The Big Question: FIVE treasures - are you for real?
Okay - I admit that situation is a little bit fantastical. It's certainly doable, but the quality of treasure-making cards isn't overly high, so making a deck with only that angle in mind is not a promising recipe for success.
When it comes down to execution though, there's thankfully a much better way to go about this.
Loading the deck up with other useful and value-oriented artifacts that can be sacrificed vastly expands the options available to you for "going off". Renegade Map and Traveler's Amulet let us cut aggressively into the land count in what will amount to a fairly controlling deck - a huge boon - while also acting as ramp for our Improvise spells which we'll get to soon. Metalspinner's Puzzleknot is just a terrific little value engine for similar reasons to the first two, and Walking Ballista is just a fantastic card that blocks and controls well, makes use of other excess mana, counts as a combo piece, AND taps for improvise.
But the real heart of this deck?
The fit here is unreal. Tezzeret the Schemer comes in at fairly high loyalty and starts making Treasure tokens (even if he won't call them that.) His -2 is basically Terminate in a deck this jam-packed with artifacts, and his ultimate is a legitimate win condition. Attacking with an army of 5/5 Traveler's Amulets is just as satisfying as it sounds.
But if all that's not enough, Tezzeret can also vastly cut down on the number of artifacts necessary for a combo kill by making your Marionette Master a 9/1.
So all that is to say that the combo is actually far more realistic than the in-the-box Treasure token mode, and the number of ways to get there makes the deck a real contender.
The Supporting Cast
In a deck full of disposable artifacts, both Improvise and Revolt are easy peasy to turn on, which makes our removal suite purr like a kitten. The early game is generally dominated by 1-for-1 exchanges while we set up our pieces, and the deck is very capable of buying however much or little time it needs.
Reverse Engineer is a a hard four-of in the deck, and is critical to just about every matchup. With enough removal and card advantage, you basically wind up locking up the game and just waiting to draw the pieces needed to seal the deal.
Yahenni's Expertise is also an important part of that puzzle, giving you the option to conserve spot removal for more specific threats, and also pop out a Puzzleknot for value - either that, or one of the deck's surprise all-stars, Sailor of Means.
Yes, for all the talk of "fake treasure", the deck does still support some legitimate booty. Sailor of Means, it turns out, is an excellent card. Its stats, while underwhelming on paper, are surprisingly relevant at buying you time and picking off pesky x/1s, and the fact that it's good both before and after a Yahenni's Expertise is just fantastic. We also run a few copies of Prosperous Pirates to further support the theme, and actually a full set of both are available in the 75 for matchups where you need to shift into full-combo gear.
Is it good? Why?
While at the time of writing, I only have 10 matches under my belt with this iteration of the deck, I find myself sitting pretty at 8-2 against other strong decks such as UW Monument, UW Approach, WB Vampires, UB Pirates, Ramunap Red, and Temur Energy.
One of the main things that seems to help make the deck viable is the state of countermagic in Standard. The best counterspells in the format are Spell Pierce, Dispel, and Negate, and neither of them hit our key combo piece. Plus, the other playable counterspells are all cost-based softies, so we can just keep building up treasure to win the mana race.
Other than countering Marionette Master, answers are few and far between. Grasp of Darkness was an absolute blowout for this combo, but it's rotated out now, so now we only need to play around four-drop removal like Cast Out and Vraska's Contempt, as they can keep the drain potential to one-per-artifact if played in response to the Fabricate trigger.
In terms of more aggressive matchups, access to a full set of Battle at the Bridge and the ability to cast them hyper-efficiently offers a major advantage. Overkilling for the sake of life gain is very helpful, and we won't mind tapping out to do it as the deck doesn't really have much use for open mana.
Having learned that fact, I gradually tested and tweaked my way completely out of the countermagic game. The deck is extremely sorcery-oriented in its speed, so there isn't much else to do while holding up mana. For the same reason, I've opted to leave my card drawing at sorcery speed as well, and shied away from the much-abuzz Odyssey reprint.
Instead, I packed three copies of Duress into the sideboard, which is just about as effective as a Dispel for protecting the combo, and it can nab a number of other important things too. Speaking of the sideboard, let's look at the rest of it.
The sideboard is more of a tweakboard, as it holds options for moving up to the full four of cards already in the main such as Ballista, Fatal Push, Battle at the Bridge, and some of our combo pieces. The quantities of the former go up and down based on the speed of the opponent, and the latter goes up when we're not expecting too much interaction. I'm also currently experimenting with two copies of Walk the Plank, but I'm not sold yet. The same can be said for the singleton Depths of Desire, which is really only there because it turned up on the same Gatherer search result as everything else that initially formed the basis for the deck.
Herald of Anguish is an important card that comes in quite often. I initially started it in the main, but found it difficult to keep alive since there really isn't much else in the deck for our opponents to warrant spending their removal on. When it comes down in game two though, it really leaves a mark, and again has terrific synergy with its abilities to either grind out value or help combo out.
The one thing I have not planned for is the mirror, and if this deck has competitive legs - as it seems to - I can see shifting some things around to include hosers like Lost Legacy that probably help in several other matchups too.
Enough Jibber-Jabber. Show me the jank, you Modern snob!
I won't deny it. But I'll always love Standard once a year.
Marionette Master Combo
I imagine you started this article with a raised eyebrow, but I hope my explanations have brought it down a little. The synergy level is surreal, and watching the pieces come together in your hand is really very enjoyable.
Plus, if you already have the Ballistas and the Fatal Pushes, as many of us do, the deck is extremely affordable to cobble together. Always a huge benefit.
I implore you to try it out, and please leave your thoughts here in the comments when you do.