Guess who's Krak. Krak again.
Scrappy's back. Tell a friend.
This past weekend Matt Nass made Top 8 at Grand Prix Phoenix with Ironworks Combo. It's a deck that's been on the fringe of the fringes of the Modern metagame for some time, and its success this weekend was one of the most exciting results from the event.
The rest of the Modern metagame has kept chugging along nicely with the inclusion of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. Modern still seems as diverse as ever. It feels like Jace and Bloodbraid have been in the format for longer than the mere weeks it is that they have been, since things have already pretty much went back to normal by Modern standards.
Apparently it takes a heck of a lot for the Modern metagame to not just self-correct.
But Modern also delivers plenty of surprises as well.
I've had some experience with Ironworks Combo in the past and Nass's new list looks solid, so today I'll go over the deck and share my latest build along with a sideboard and matchup guide.
The current Modern metagame has opened the door for this deck to sneak in. Notably, Affinity and Lantern Control have fallen out of favor due to the rise of Jund, which has left the format lacking in Stony Silence, which is the worst card you can see if you're playing the deck, and Rest in Peace. The deck is resilient to most common hate other than Stony Silence and Rest in Peace so when those cards are in decline it's a good thing.
So what makes Ironworks Combo a powerful combo deck and what is it trying to accomplish? Since it isn't exactly obvious at first glance, I'll walk through it step-by-step.
Step One: Find Krark-Clan Ironworks.
This is almost always the critical first step you're trying to take, and the deck does an excellent job of searching for Krark-Clan Ironworks. Ancient Stirrings is your best way to dig since it's cheap, can find a versatile set of different cards, and digs deep. A large portion of the rest of the deck cycles and you also have Inventors' Fair to act as your extra copies to tutor up what you need directly.
Ironworks Combo can stall for quite some time with Scrap Trawler if it sticks to the battlefield. Just having Scrap Trawler out allows you to slowly "combo" without Krark-Clan Ironworks, or at least draw a bunch of cards and return a bunch of artifacts from your graveyard to hand. You can recycle Hangarback Walker and Engineered Explosives to buy the extra time you need.
Step Two: Combo Off
You have Krark-Clan Ironworks on the battlefield.
Ideally you have access to Scrap Trawler and get to start drawing a ridiculous amount of cards and generating a ridiculous amount of mana. Every Chromatic Star or Terrarion you draw nets you a mana, a card, and a zero cost artifact from your graveyard. You can start going down the chain cycling through all your cheap baubles until you draw a win condition or two Myr Retrievers, which actually go infinite in draws and mana instead of semi-infinite.
That's the basic idea, although the sequencing and decision-making when things don't go smoothly can get tricky.
Step Three: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
This step can be accomplished by looping Pyrite Spellbomb, Walking Ballista, or if you can't win the game outright just put yourself in a great position by casting Wurmcoil Engine or a giant Hangarback Walker.
This is what I would go into battle with for Ironworks Combo. Here's the explanation for my unique card choices.
The upside to having Ensnaring Bridge can be very high, since it sometimes bricks your opponent's strategy, or is the only card that can save you in a given situation. This plays especially nicely alongside Inventors' Fair, since the more tutorable options you have, the better, even if it doesn't come up much.
Ensnaring Bridge is excellent to have against dedicated creature decks, like Humans or Hexproof, and combo decks looking to Through the Breach you out with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (and you can sacrifice it once you have your own Emrakul out).
When Ensnaring Bridge is bad, against non-creature decks, it's still not useless. It's still an artifact that can be sacrificed to Krark-Clan Ironworks and returns artifacts with Scrap Trawler. This makes silver bullets more appealing, in general.
Porphyry Nodes' older brother. The nice thing about Culling Scales is that you can just keep it around for a long time with pretty much all of your cheap artifacts that cycle once you've eaten your opponent's threats. It does target so you can target a Chromatic Sphere and then sacrifice it in response to draw a card as well. The downside being that it targets, which means it can't eat Slippery Bogle.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is nice to have as another big "oops, I win card" to easily ramp into with Krark-Clan Ironworks, kind of filling the same role as Wurmcoil Engine, just with more versatility for a higher cost.
An extra kick in the pants to make sure you aren't losing to Tron, especially alongside your Ghost Quarters. Also works nicely against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks as well. You can even find it with Ancient Stirrings!
Now for sideboarding against some of the common matchups you'll face.
This battle is all about attrition, but I like our chances more than you might expect from a deck with so much disruption. Jund is scary, but by no means unwinnable.
Pyrite Spellbomb and Walking Ballista can kill an early Dark Confidant, and Myr Retriever and Scrap Trawler will keep you with cards in your hand. Myr Retriever is kind of like a mini Eternal Witness, just watch out for Scavenging Ooze.
Resolving Wurmcoil Engine or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will make it very difficult for them to win postboard. I like to remove Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as it becomes more difficult to fully combo off. Ensnaring Bridge won't slow them down enough, and they'll still be able to attack your hand and remove the Bridge eventually.
This is another difficult matchup as they have a fast clock and lots of disruption for your game plan. You may be wondering "why play a deck with a bad Jund and Humans matchup?" but the deck does have a lot of solid matchups beyond these two beasts.
I'd start by assuming the average Humans deck doesn't have any copies of Stony Silence to bring in, but if you feel (or know) otherwise, you want to start bringing in more copies of Nature's Claim. I'd start with one Nature's Claim in the dark just in case since it can hit Aether Vial, and then adjust up or down based on how likely it is that they have "generic white enchantment hate card" in their sideboard.
Wurmcoil Engine gets less effective if they keep in Reflector Mage, but you should just be able to at least sacrifice it to Krark-Clan Ironworks in response to the bounce, and I'd expect them to side out Reflector Mage anyways.
The Myr Retrievers can go as well since you won't need the extra redundancy, you'll just need speed and removal. If you can land an Engineered Explosives on two you'll almost certainly be in good shape.
Your goal postboard is to just land a Wurmcoil Engine that will take over the game. Ensnaring Bridge will be too slow to stop their Goblin Guides and Walking Ballista will usually be too small to trade with their 2/2s so they get cut. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn isn't necessary to put the game away; if you fully combo, you'll be able to Nature's Claim yourself out of burn range until you hit with a Wurmcoil Engine.
This is where your four Ghost Quarters really shine. The Crumble to Dust gives you the possibility of auto winning, and even dodges all the Nature's Claims they'll probably be bringing in against you.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn stays in the deck since it's actually necessary to end the game properly against them. Nature's Claim is nice for tagging an Expedition Map or Oblivion Stone, and the Engineered Explosives aren't at all useful here. Walking Ballista and Pyrite Spellbomb are almost useless here too, but there's nothing to really replace them with. They're at least artifacts that mesh with the Scrap Trawler chain so they have some merit.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of Ironworks Combo! The deck may look a little odd, but it is fast, consistent, and powerful, especially if you encounter the correct side of the metagame. I look forward to seeing how it does going forward with the continued evolution of the Modern metagame.