You've heard this story before.
A Modern combo deck exists that people have dismissed for a large number of reasons. The same couple of people keep winning with it, but few others manage to replicate their success.
Except behind the scenes, the deck is absolutely crushing it. On Magic Online, the format is a bunch of decks hovering around 50% win rates. The current “best” decks are around 55%, and there's a shocking dark horse at 58%. Except none of those are our combo deck. It's up in the stratosphere at 65-70% win rates despite the interface making it significantly trickier to execute.
You might think this is a history lesson about this deck:
Turns out the exact same thing happened again. I went 8-2 at #PTOGW with the following list, losing only seven games along the way. Three were me mulliganing or failing to find action in the top quarter of my deck after firing off a mediocre Collected Company, three were me dying in a goldfish race the turn before I had lethal (twice when I had a turn 3 kill against Griselbrand, once when I had a turn 4 kill on the draw), and one was me just forgetting I sideboarded a card in and making a play that gave my opponent an out.
- 3 Spellskite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Viscera Seer
- 2 Wall of Roots
- 2 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
- 2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
For those unfamiliar with the deck, Abzan Company is resurrecting the old Melira Pod combo shell. In fact, the list of cards included looks almost exactly the same. In practice, the deck is wildly different and almost closer to Kiki Pod.
For those who didn't play extensively with either of those now-banned decks, the big difference had to do with how explosive Kiki was when it got online compared to Melira. It would often take multiple turns of Birthing Pod activations to assemble the three-card combo of Melira, Sylvok Outcast; Viscera Seer; and Kitchen Finks. The Melira Pod deck was often better off just Podding up some backbreaking midrange card and overwhelming its opponent with card advantage. Grand Prix Omaha was won by a Pod deck that was just as likely to chain Voice of Resurgence into Kitchen Finks into Siege Rhino as it was to combo off. The closer equivalent now would be the Naya or Bant Company decks that just cast Collected Company, drop a Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf, and go to town.
Kiki Pod could execute the same grindy game plan if the combo was impossible to assemble, but due to having its core combo involving cards that can untap, Kiki Pod would often just go from casting Birthing Pod to infinite combo within a single turn. Tons of seeming innocuous board states were immediately lethal given a Birthing Pod and mana or life to sink into it. My personal favorite was a fresh Murderous Redcap turning into Zealous Conscripts and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker , but the original one- and two-drop just chaining up into Kiki-Exarch is also quite absurd.
Birthing Pod was banned with the release of Fate Reforged, but a single set later, Dragons of Tarkir brought us the tools needed to revive the green creature combo archetype.
Collected Company is the obvious addition that made this possible, but despite enabling a lot of the same decks, it required a lot of structural changes that pushed them from midrange to combo. The big one is that while Birthing Pod let you find the specific silver bullet for that turn, Collected Company gives you whatever it finds. That nudges you away from a bunch of singletons towards a shell where Collected Company provides a consistent product every time you cast it. You could use this to find Knight of the Reliquary and Loxodon Smiter, but that sounds dumb when you could instead kill people on turn 3.
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is the other addition that really enabled this shell to work as well as it does. Collected Company makes you want to play a bunch of each combo piece to make it more likely that you get a two-combo-pieces-for-one-card deal. In theory you could jam a bunch of copies of Melira, Sylvok Outcast in your deck to do this, but playing a ton of a Legendary creature leads to some real issues. Melira is also a pretty terrible Magic card if you are falling back on the midrange plan.
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit lets you play four copies of “Melira” without running into Legend Rule issues, while also being a real card when you are just building a battlefield for combat instead of combo. Double white is a bit of a concern and a reason you can't overload on the card, but with Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise and fetchland-shockland mana, almost anything is possible.
Card By Card Notes
Basic Collected Company rules always apply here, just like with Standard Rally. It is almost always going to be the best card in your deck and everything else is going to be skewed to maximize its power level. Your maindeck needs 27-28 targets for it, and you need to make sure every post-sideboard configuration keeps at least 24 low-cost creatures to find with it. That means if you are sideboarding in four or more Path to Exile, Pithing Needle, or Abrupt Decay, you need to shave a copy or two of Chord of Calling, Murderous Redcap, or even land (usually Gavony Township) to make it work. In theory you can cut down on Collected Company, but the principle of “skew my deck to make the card I'm sideboarding out still work” seems bad.
The card most closely correlated with Collected Company is Eternal Witness. Once you get the first shot of value, the only thing better is getting more value. When you Collected Company into Eternal Witness, the Regrowth trigger goes on the stack and chooses targets after the Collected Company completely resolves and is in your graveyard, letting you rebuy the Collected Company and rush out a bunch of creatures. Usually this means your opponent dies to an infinite combo, but sometimes they just die to Kitchen Finks after Kitchen Finks running them out of cards.
The sad part is that because you are so creature-heavy, Eternal Witness becomes significantly worse when you aren't drawing Collected Company. The combo pieces are all fairly cheap and easy to recast if they die and you need to recast them, but often you will find yourself with no good targets for Witness because your things are all still on the battlefield. A full playset in the deck is going to make your Collected Company really good but your opening hand really weak.
These two things put you in a bit of a bind in sideboarding. Sometimes you are playing a quick, non-interactive matchup where your removal isn't great, but you can't really afford to skimp on Eternal Witness as you are then much more likely to whiff on Collected Company. I think sideboarding down to fewer than two is an emergency-only thing for matchups where they will have graveyard hate or there is no chance you have the time to chain Company. The latter mostly comes up against decks where having more creatures is not going to prevent your opponent from killing you on turn 3 or 4.
The combo pieces. There are a number of ways to put these together for an arbitrarily large loop.
Viscera Seer plus two-drop plus "creature with persist" is the basic one. Sacrifice the ersist creature to Viscera Seer and it comes back refreshed, either because it can't have -1/-1 counters due to Melira or because you resolve Anafenza's Bolster trigger, put the +1/+1 counter on the -1/-1 countered Persist creature, and watch state-based effects cancel the two. You are now back to your initial state with a scry and a enters-the-battlefield trigger from your persist creature to resolve. Murderous Redcap just does billions of damage to them (and their creatures in case of Platinum Angel or Worship), while Kitchen Finks “just” gives you quadrillions of life and scrys.
No, an arbitrarily large life total doesn't beat everyone, but even for the worst-case scenarios this is often good enough.
Notes on the infinite scry situation: you do not get to change the order of cards in your deck. You just see their current order and select the spot in that configuration you want on top. Doing this card by card is miserable as it involves upwards of 100 individual instances of scrying to the bottom. The shortcut I confirmed with the Pro Tour Judge was picking up my deck, looking at it, and then cutting to the point I wanted. Usually this is a Chord of Calling or Murderous Redcap, but if you are afraid of them using their turn to break up the combo, you will want to see where your Collected Companies are located and find the one with the best six cards after it. Sometimes it even matters what the seventh is as your next draw, but usually that is enough. If they don't Anger of the Gods or whatever, you can always re-loop to the kill right away.
It's worth noting that as a result, it is correct to stack Collected Company in ways that aren't just “best card closest to the top” if you are bottoming a second Collected Company. That should be below whiffs and above other hits you didn't select, to ensure it has the highest odds of being in a wrapped-around deck clump with the best creatures to hit.
Example: I Collected Company and find the two missing pieces of the combo, two lands, Collected Company, and Eternal Witness. I am going to put the cards on bottom in the order land, land, Company, Witness so that if I need to put that Company on top, it hits Eternal Witness plus the current top five cards of my deck.
Another minor Collected Company or Chord of Calling note: if you are untapping to set up the combo or potential combo with Kitchen Finks and are going to cast Company or Chord on your turn, it is usually best to play it on your upkeep so you can immediately draw the card you are putting on top.
If you end up with both two-drops, a Viscera Seer, and a Kitchen Finks, you are also generating "infinite" Bolster triggers. The Finks comes back as a 3/2 with no counter and you still have a Bolster trigger on the stack from Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. Respond to the Bolster trigger and you now have two, then three, then as many as you want. Let the arbitrarily large stack resolve, spread the Bolster love around, and attack with all of your now-super-lethal creatures.
The oddball combo is Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Melira, Sylvok Outcast with a Murderous Redcap entering the battlefield. You get a Bolster trigger and a Murderous Redcap damage trigger. Target the Redcap itself with the damage trigger. Redcap kills itself, comes back as a 2/2, and repeats. Again, you get one-shot infinite Bolster triggers. This combo can also be performed at instant speed via Chord of Calling if Murderous Redcap is in your library, or in a more convoluted way by Fiend Huntering an existing Redcap and then using a removal spell on your own Fiend Hunter. This is super-marginal, but it comes up against Ensnaring Bridge decks where you can attack with a Birds of Paradise and make it massive before damage despite them having a Pithing Needle on Viscera Seer.
If your opponent has an instant-speed removal spell, they will likely use it on your Anafenza or Melira in response to the first persist trigger. This results in a -1/-1 counter on your creature and you getting a couple of scrys. If you think they are holding this up and you have the combo assembled, you are not required to go off. You can sit there and force them to keep up mana until you can get a Spellskite or second persist creature to combo through removal.
These cards all also do things on their own.
Often in racing matchups you will use Viscera Seer to sacrifice chump blockers and scry as well as ditching irrelevant creatures on your final upkeep to dig to your out. Also, don't forget to use it in response to removal unless you really want the basic land off Path to Exile.
Nice Infect deck. It's worth noting that, if given the option, slowrolling a Chord of Calling for this to prevent death by poison is often right, as they can easily deal lethal real damage instead. Forcing them to put you to lethal poison counters and then move to real damage effectively gains you nine life to work with. Also worth noting: if you have a Melira and your opponent activates Inkmoth Nexus after, the “gains infect” ability is layered over the “loses infect” one. The Nexus will deal infect damage still, which amounts to approximately nothing when it can't place -1/-1 or poison counters.
Adding counters gives you the ability to grind out games with random creatures if necessary.
Also worth noting: Anafenza or Melira plus a Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap means your persist creature comes back fresh if it dies in combat. You can also Murderous Redcap a Kitchen Finks in these scenarios to gain free life.
I tested the alternate combo of Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune. Being able to combo through a Scavenging Ooze was nice, and the ability to draw one half of the combo and only need to find one more piece with Chord was sometimes useful, but it really ups the clunk factor on the deck.
Worth noting: an extra persist creature lets the normal combo go off through a Relic of Progenitus. Sacrifice the first one and let them try to exile all graveyards. Then sacrifice the second one to go off again.
As always, when a Modern deck is really good, people worry about bans. I think Melira is well within reason for now, but if anything is eventually going to go, it is this card. It's an instant-speed tutor. That gives the thing you look for flash. That costs three up front but has the special ability of “generates mana to cast itself.” This is very fundamentally broken.
The Wall of Roots plus Chord of Calling interaction is really something special. You can use Wall on your turn to advance the battlefield. Then, on their turn, use the Wall for mana and tap it as a “ Sol Ring creature” for Chord of Calling.
Occasionally you will want to Chord for an Eternal Witness that gets back the same Chord of Calling against grindy decks like Jund, just to get a free creature. You can also use this to “Chord” for a used removal spell in creature matchups.
Triple green mana is an actual constraint on Chord. You sometimes want to set up your mana for double black on Murderous Redcap and double white on Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, but getting Godless Shrine when you are light on green creatures or lands can cut you off casting Chord (or sometimes casting the second one). Think about this when choosing your land sequence.
Remember when playing multiple Chords in the same turn that the first creature you find can tap to Convoke the second one.
You can overpay on Chord of Calling, as it finds creatures with mana cost X or less. I did this when finding Viscera Seer against Merfolk so they couldn't pitch Master of Waves to Disrupting Shoal and counter an X = 1 Chord.
If you have a mix of Birds and Nobles early and might attack with an exalted 0/1 on turn 2, play the flying one first. If you are worried about removal on your first mana creature, play the one that matters least first.
We have now exited the core of the deck and gone on to the maindeck hate cards and tutor targets.
Spellskite does a ton of work, hence the large number of copies. It blocks opposing creatures very well, notably Wild Nacatl and Matter Reshaper. It KO's a couple of combo decks like Infect and G/W Hexproof. It protects your combo from removal. It just costs two and ends up on the battlefield, giving you a pseduo-mana creature via Chord of Calling. I went down to one copy and the deck had real issues at holding the ground long enough to win in the face of interaction and fast clocks.
You need some out to Scavenging Ooze maindeck. This is the best one.
All of these cards do good work against segments of the metagame.
None of them are essential to executing the combo.
Game 1, you are not in the business of messing around. This is not a grindy deck that can combo. It is a combo deck that can grind. If you are drawing a card, it should directly move you towards winning the game, reopen your ability to combo, or do a great job of giving you time to win.
Okay, maybe a bit of game 1 hedging is fine.
When I put everything together I ended up with an extra slot. The only constraint was that it had to be a card I actually wanted to put in my sideboard that was fine to draw game 1 so that I could get a fake sixteenth sideboard slot.
This is definitely a case of seasoning to taste. Choose a card that you think will serve you best that week.
One of the draws to G/W decks in Modern is that the lands are so good. In theory this deck can operate off 22 lands and nine mana creatures, but why would you do that when your 23rd land is basically a spell that prevents you from being mana-screwed?
Gavony Township plays two big roles: letting you beat people who try too hard to fight the combo and giving you an easy way to close in post-sideboard games where you are using removal or specific one-shot hate to cripple an opponent. It's just a great Magic card that wins games, not a lot to it. Remember you can use it to move mana creatures out of Orzhov Pontiff range in mirrors or to move normal creatures out of red sweeper range.
Horizon Canopy is sometimes used to draw the thing you scry to post-combo. Keep that in mind if you can draw into a Chord or the other two-drop and cast it immediately.
The rest of the mana is stock: fetchlands, the shocklands and basics you want, extra basics in the color you want the most of. The second Overgrown Tomb isn't stock, but it came up in testing enough against Spreading Seas and similar mana denial that I added it.
This card is fine. It's just worse than other lands you are playing. You need all five shocklands and four basics, and having six value lands is really huge in making your deck play out well in long games.
One of the big things that this deck brings to the table is a fully maximized sideboard. Every creature is something you can find with Chord of Calling or dig for with Collected Company, and every spell is something you can loop with Eternal Witness. These are all the cards I played or considered, or that other people played.
Between Kitchen Finks, Eternal Witness, and Collected Company, this deck generates a lot of natural two-for-ones. Add in a bit of removal and it is easy to just turn into a full-on attrition deck and go over the top of other creature-combo decks like Infect or aggro decks like Zoo and Merfolk. These are just the best options out there.
The only consideration moving forward is diversifying the Path to Exile slot to play around Chalice of the Void out of Eldrazi. The problem there is that having Path over a two-drop kill spell or Dismember is insane against Burn, and all the more restrictive options are costly against different Infect setups: can't Go for the Throat Inkmoth Nexus, can't Doom Blade Plague Stinger , etc. You could in theory Disfigure, but that is bad against Merfolk and Zoo. Shriekmaw is also interesting but is bad against a lot of things people play, like Haste creatures and creature-lands, and it also doesn't solve the Collected Company slot issue.
These are all bad cards other people played. They make Collected Company worse (admittedly, Painful Truths was in the deck that didn't have good card advantage because it didn't play Collected Company to begin with). They don't play with Eternal Witness. They are replaceable by creatures that do the same things and don't make our deck suck.
This, on the other hand, is worth considering as it's just a long-game breaker in the midrange matchups. The problem here is that the grindy matchups are either going to be going deep on Scavenging Ooze or Dispel to fight you.
The grindy decks are already going to be playing sweepers against you. Lingering Souls is great when the other half of your deck is strong against Pyroclasms, but when they just get to max out on that effect at no punishment, it just doesn't do the job. You also often want the removal against those decks for Scavenging Oozes or generic big threats, meaning you don't even have noncreature slots for this card. The same applies to using this against Affinity or Infect.
Also, there are creatures that do the same thing.
It almost certainly was a spew of a slot. I never wanted it and didn't even sideboard it in against Affinity. Creatures forever.
Sometimes you just have to be sure. You probably are fine against Affinity without this card, but I just really want them to know where they stand. With Affinity putting up reasonable finishes, I'm not interested in giving them any slack.
You need something that does this. Qasali Pridemage is a better Magic card to draw than Reclamation Sage if you are boarding it in as a hedge against hate cards. It kills at instant speed against Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager and can be readily reused via Eternal Witness.
"Kill all your things" against Affinity and Infect, also good against the mirror. Remember that you can sacrifice Orzhov Pontiff to Viscera Seer in response to the enters-the-battlefield trigger and haunt something that is about to die to get an extra trigger. Also, it can pump your team. Notably, Chording for Pontiff in response to their Pontiff saves your squad.
Shreds hands against control, combo, and Scapeshift. Tidehollow Sculler was considered, but it plays a slightly different role. Sin Collector actually works against decks with removal, whereas Sculler is specifically better against Tron and Grishoalbrand, where having the effect early and hitting creatures or planeswalkers matters.
Buys a turn and a half against Tron and Scapeshift to do other things. It isn't great, but having the first copy to find gives you a lot of flexibility to steal games in those matchups. The Stone Rain is also nice against other slower combo decks and Infect, where you are just trading for everything.
In theory I wanted another grindy card that slanted towards being better against Blue decks. I never tested this and never boarded it in, so I have zero games logged to see if this actually works or if I just get attritioned out through it via Snapcaster Mage or Path to Exile.
Good against Chord of Calling, not against Collected Company. I have too much experience with this card in Pod decks to think it does anything worth a slot against Tron or Scapeshift, where it is too slow or just dies, respectively.
Specifically good in the mirror.... maybe. Still doesn't shut off the tutor engine. Probably too slow to stop Griselbrand.
Sadly this doesn't stop Kozilek's Return, which we expected to see a lot of play in the sweeper spot. If people are dead set on Anger of the Gods, this belongs in the deck; otherwise it's negotiable as space allows.
Burn isn't beating all your 0/4 creatures and Kitchen Finks anyway. Unlike Affinity, you don't need to teach them an additional lesson.
I actually like this as a trump against midrange, but it's hard to find when you put it in your deck. You are cutting down on Chords there as their game plan is usually to kill everything you play, which makes Chord clunky.
Average interaction against a number of combo decks. For almost all the decks you board it in against, it is just OK but very beatable.
Sideboarding with this deck is too fluid, depending on your exact list, for a guide. Never mind the fact that there are literally dozens of archetypes to worry about. There are a few general rules: always make sure you have 24-25 Collected Company targets, keep your curve approximately the same as the maindeck curve, don't flood on three-drops, and don't put in cards that are overly conditional and break up the combo core.
The following cards are things I've found cuttable in certain situations. There may be more cards in situations I haven't considered.
One copy of each of these cards can be sideboarded out if you are going into a grindy matchup or just one where comboing isn't super important. If Melira is actually good against your opponent, you can take out an Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit instead.
The third copy of this card almost always goes if it isn't insane in the matchup, and the second often goes too if the curve permits.
One copy of this card goes out in matchups where nobody's trying to interact heavily via removal post-sideboard.
If infinite life isn't good enough and the 3/2 body isn't doing work, a copy of this card can go. If you are able to juke into a really hateful post-sideboard strategy that leans heavily on non-combo aspects to win, you can cut a second. The best example is Infect, but I'm not even 100% on that plan.
If these don't kill things, they get out. Note that Abrupt Decay is actually really good against Mono-Colorless Eldrazi as it kills Eldrazi Mimic, Relic of Progenitus, Chalice of the Void, and Endless One.
One or two copies of this card can go out if your opponent is really trying to kill everything you play or if they have cards like Leonin Arbiter that make searching bad.
The third copy can be shaved if you need to cut non-creature cards against matchups where you aren't going to have to go on a mediocre beatdown plan. Just don't cut it if your mana creatures are under heavy attack and consider if you can do something different on the play.
Let's get the big one out of the way: you are a favorite against Eldrazi.
They have tools to interact and a reasonable clock, but they die to arbitrarily large life. You are faster than they are. You are very good at delaying their clock in combat, especially as even without a sacrifice outlet, infinitely persisting Kitchen Finks can be hard for them to get around. Their really good starts can sometimes get you and their sideboard helps out a bit, but I would rather be on the combo side of things.
Affinity, Burn, and Infect are all also very favorable. Affinity is slightly ahead game 1 as their goldfish is hard to interact with and a little bit faster than yours, but your sideboard is absolutely devastating. Burn can steal games with early creatures and lots of removal, but often you can just Finks them right out. The best is how regularly you Eidolon of the Great Revel-lock them because Collected Company and Chord of Calling find Kitchen Finks without triggering it. Infect is scary, as they have the best interaction suite (including Twisted Image ) and the best clock, but you have a lot of hate in the maindeck between Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Spellskite, and even more in the sideboard.
Generic creature decks? Also all favorable. You block well and combo through light interaction well.
Jund and other midrange is basically 100% dependent on their exact configuration and ranges from decently favored to slightly unfavored. The cards that matter are Dark Confidant, Scavenging Ooze, cheap sweepers, and big breakers like Olivia Voldaren.
Lantern is... weird. You have a lot more game than it appears, and your sideboard has good cards. I have no idea if you are favored or behind, but you have the tools to work with that make me think it might be a rare close matchup for that deck.
The things you lose to are the decks that are hard to interact with on the battlefield and are fast. That is basically Tron and Grishoalbrand.
The unknowns are the fair blue decks. I didn't get a lot of testing in against those with properly configured lists on either side, because it's so hard to nail down what they will look like. The key ways they are going to beat you are by accumulating two-for-ones like Electrolyze or via a cheap threat that gets out of hand like Young Pyromancer. You are going to beat them by accumulating your own two-for-ones and using your instants to get them out of position.
I'm a Company Man
Regardless of how the Eldrazi situation pans out, I expect Abzan Company to be an important part of the metagame moving forward. While they didn't have quite the same numbers as Eldrazi, Abzan Company decks had a similar metagame share increase when comparing top-performing lists to the Pro Tour at large.
I don't know if I will play this deck at Grand Prix Detroit yet, but if I went back to last Thursday knowing what I know now, Abzan Company would still be a very real option. Considering how the Eldrazi decks broke the format for this event, that statement alone should tell be a strong sign of how good the deck is.