October 1, 2015

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Going Rogue: Reliquary Retreat

Welcome back to another edition of Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway.

This week I'm going to introduce you to a brand new combo in Modern (legal as of tomorrow!) and show you a deck that uses it to offer you three different options for instant-kills. It's all in the untap.

First, the new, fantastic, mouth-watering, Zoo-beefing, two-card combo: Knight of the Reliquary + Retreat to Coralhelm. It works by letting you rip all the lands out of your deck with the Knight's ability, and then untapping the Knight when each one comes into play. Fetches help you double-up on your landfall triggers too, either generating extra mana from a Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise, or tapping down their team. Eventually you tend to finish with a Kessig Wolf Run to ensure the Knight gets through and gets the job done.

tl;dr: It goes something like this:

+ =

Now, while combos are often too-cute-to-be-true, let me take a moment to reassure you that this is the real deal, and here's why:

  • Knight of the Reliquary is already a competitive staple with a home in various decks, so your cost to playing her is very low.
  • She's naturally resilient to Lightning Bolt, usually, by virtue to seldom being less than a 4/4, and her ability lets you fetch a Sejiri Steppe to counter anything that tries to remove her.
  • Retreat to Coralhelm isn't a dead card on its own either. Free tapdowns are a combat boon (and can even be used via a fetchland to delay a Splinter Twin combo), and the option to scry is a combo deck's best friend.
  • Unlike Twin, the enchantment half of this combo can be played first. And while the Knight doesn't naturally flash in like a Deceiver Exarch, there are several popular options to circumvent that, such as Chord of Calling and Collected Company.

Immediately upon discovering this interaction, I got to brewing.

At first I tried an all-in combo shell with Lotus Cobra, Ruin Ghost, and wacky alternate win-cons like Azure Mage or Blue Sun's Zenith, but it was too janky, even for me.

Then I tried it in a aggro-control shell with Geist of Saint Traft, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Reveillark, Sun Titan, and a few different Swords of such and such. Made for some very explosive draws, but we can still do better.

Then finally I discovered that the pros were tinkering with this interaction too, and arrived at a final build inspired by a simple concept tweeted by Jeff Hoogland: Put it in Kiki-Chord.

So how do I play this pile of nonsense?

The game plan is pretty simple on the surface. You're just about always on the beatdown, and you have access to comboing off for an instant kill as early as turn 3 via three channels:

Beyond that, the deck is full of other role-players to keep the pressure on while fulfilling other important needs. Tarmogoyf isn't often getting bigger than 3/4, but that's exactly where you want him to punish an opponent for bolting your turn-1 Birds of Paradise. Voice of Resurgence adds a cost to combo interruptions. Vendilion Clique to peek n' beat. Glen Elendra Archmage to be a general pain in the arse. Eternal Witness for supreme flexibility. And then maindeck hate for Infect, Zoo, Affinity, Twin, and any graveyard decks in the form of Spellskite, Qasali Pridemage, and Scavenging Ooze. All sorts of ways to muscle up and keep your opponent off their game plan.

Out of the sideboard we gain access to a series of specific hate cards, countermagic, some extra bodies in case we want to side out some Retreats, and a pair of Simic Charms in case we'd rather just protect them. (Display of Dominance is another option for this effect that might actually be better in certain meta environments.)

Overall, I am very satisfied with the deck. Its first ten test matches in this configuration led to a 9-1 result, fairly evenly distributed between beat down wins and combo finishes. Do we have our next modern Tier 1 option?

If you're going to build it yourself, there are a few ways to reduce the price tag without losing too much game:

  • The Goyfs can come out for additional copies of Scavenging Ooze, Qasali Pridemage, or by adding bodies like Kitchen Finks or Courser of Kruphix. Keeping your green creature count high is important for convoking Chord of Calling, but Geist of Saint Traft can also fit here, as it hits hard once you've tapped down blockers with Landfall triggers from Retreat.
  • You can replace Misty Rainforest with Flooded Strand without losing too much, but it does make your Dryad Arbor win condition about 33% harder to complete.
  • The mana base is somewhat flexible, but remember that Knight of the Reliquary can only sacrifice Forests and Plains. In order to get her to lethal size, you generally want 8-10 such enablers and about 8 fetches, so if you're not careful, too much mana base creativity can quietly dilute the power of this combo.

Look interesting? Slap it together and take it out to your next Modern event. It'll be legal by the time you pick your sleeve colour.

Have fun, and may the force be with brew.