[Magical Musing] Modern: Entering the Combo phase

Written by Shawn


Wizards announced a revolutionary change to Modern.


To be fair, this change was not explicit but if you squint your eyes hard enough, you can see the picture clearly. And what is that picture you ask?



Yes – the “Combo phase” (which comes directly before the “Combat phase”) has been unofficially introduced, and the c-c-combos are landing with the addition of recent cards into Modern. Let’s take a look.


Eldrazi Tron


Things nobody ever said: “Of course I lost – They were playing Eldrazi Tron!”


Things most people said: “Of course I lost – They had chalice on 1!”


Things everyone will say: “Of course I lost – Karn got Lattice!”



Eldrazi Tron was never really scary in the past. It was a classic recipe for Modern – a pinch of disruption with Chalice and Thought-Knot Seer and a few dashes of creature beats with Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher.


But adding a full playset of Karn, the Great Creator in the deck is like saying, “You know what this soup needs? Gordon f-ing Ramsay! Now it’s not just a soup, it’s a 5-course meal baby!”



Need grave hate? Demonic Tutor for Tormod’s Crypt! Feeling the burn? Demonic Tutor for Basilisk Collar or Wurmcoil Engine! Is your opponent playing Magic: The Gathering? Not anymore! Demonic Tutor for Mycosynth Lattice!



Just to be clear – the Swiss Army Knife planeswalker itself doesn’t bother me. It’s the fact a midrange deck like Eldrazi Tron suddenly ending the game through a one-card combo that does. The games are often combat centric attrition matchups, but can conclude in such an abrupt way that you are left wondering what just happened.



Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis


A philosophical question. Is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?



Before you say it – I agree, the Hogaak deck itself isn’t a combo by definition… But it has all the symptoms of a combo:

  • Playing draft chaff for its linear abilities? Check!
  • If it could play 12 Faithless Lootings, would it? Absolutely!
  • Does the sideboard contain more ways to stop people from stopping your strategy than general interaction? Of course!



You may ask, “what’s this have to do with Hogaak huh?! Lots of combo decks exist! Are you always such a salty, old man?!” Yes, I am. But more importantly, my beef with Hogaak is its mana cost, or lack of it. Imagine a world where your payoffs were free: Goryo’s Vengeance, Whir of Invention, Scapeshift, Collected Company. Free spells are annoying, if not downright broken. But it’s hard to put into words the reasons why Hogaak in particular is so annoying so I wrote a short list:

  • Hogaak can be cast from the graveyard or hand – even if you somehow kill it, your opponent can just cast it again. And unlike Dredge, you can cast Hogaak in your hand just as easily as if it was in the graveyard, so there’s no meaningful decisions for having it in whatever zone it is in.
  • Hogaak can block – usually these recurring graveyard creatures can’t block (e.g. Gravecrawler, Bloodghast, newly entered Prized Amalgam) but Hogaak fogs the opponent a turn before bashing in for trample damage, making it difficult for opponents to race.
  • Hogaak makes the supporting cast better – usually combo decks need to trade off explosion at the expense of resources and/or consistency. Hogaak however not only uses Satyr Wayfinder, as an example, to dig for the combo pieces but also serves as a mana source for convoking ol’ Hoggie boy long after his usefulness is done.
  • Hogaak is big… and tramples – in case you forgot, it’s an 8/8 trample. The game ends fast if you don’t immediately answer it in one or two turns.





I know these aren’t combos per se – but when you come across these interactions at their most degenerate, it’s hard to not feel like something fundamentally changed within Modern. This list is not exhaustive either. Arclight Phoenix resembles Hogaak in its annoying free, recursion value and Teferi, Time Raveler parallels Karn, the Great Creator in its annoying “Only I Can Play Magic” abilities.



Thanks for reading this article. If you have any ideas for future topics, let me know. See you at the next Magic event in Shanghai!



Shanghai MTG League