Bryan Gottlieb, in his recent article about the strategic principles behind Doom Whisperer and how to maximize the card in Standard, let drop a spicy little number for Modern, almost as a footnote. Though we could have let this gem get lost under piles of decklists and discussion of Modern's newest fair midrange card (Assassin's Trophy), I'm a little too excited about how close Necrotic Ooze has become to a completely busted one-card combo.
In Magic, there's a phenomenon where certain cards just get better and better as more and more synergistic cards are printed to interact favorably with them. Stoneforge Mystic broke once Sword of Feast and Famine and Batterskull came around. Birthing Pod broke once a critical mass of miscellaneously-costed value creatures saw print. Rakdos Vengevine, a breakout deck from Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, got pushed over the line once Stitcher's Supplier saw the light of day. It only takes a single new offering to push these "breakables" over the line. Cards like this quickly move from "marginal" to "bannable" with a few choice interactions. Bryan's list unequivocally shows that Doom Whisperer offers one of those potentially game-winning interactions with Necrotic Ooze.
- 1 Grim Poppet
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 2 Doom Whisperer
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Morselhoarder
- 3 Necrotic Ooze
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Viscera Seer
- 4 Vizier of Remedies
There are so many cool combos with this deck, it's hard to know where to start. Of course, we have the classic Devoted Druid with Vizier of Remedies combo, but that's old hat at this point. If Modern shifts towards low-removal strategies, Druid + Vizier becomes one of the format's premier combos. Think Dredge, Ad Nauseam, or Amulet Titan. Hell, even Tron is weak to this interaction. Decks without removal will fold on the third turn without much of a fight. We've seen this before, though. Counters Company has been a Modern deck since Vizier of Remedies saw print and it hasn't quite broken through the barrier of the heavy-removal decks, like Jeskai. What's changed?
You lead off with a Birds of Paradise, following it up with a Grisly Salvage. Dump a Doom Whisperer into the graveyard and pick up a Necrotic Ooze. Here's where things get exciting. Repeatable surveil gets Devoted Druid and Morselhoarder in the graveyard, which immediately generates infinite mana. A Duskwatch Recruiter stacks the deck, enabling you to use one more surveil ability to mill a Walking Ballista into the graveyard. The Ballista in the graveyard alongside infinite mana makes for a swift mass of +1/+1 counters on Necrotic Ooze and instant death for the opponent. This happens as early as turn 3, and with Chord of Calling it can even happen at instant speed.
This is a synergy worth building around. This is synergy that could, in theory, boost Necrotic Ooze to a $30 card. This is synergy that could break a format. We're so very close to something completely busted. But it's not perfected yet, not by any means. Let's go over what Bryan included and try to figure out if there's anything we can be doing better.
These two are the core of any green creature-combo deck. Whether it's with Collected Company or Chord of Calling + Eldritch Evolution, these are shoe-ins. I might consider including a fourth Noble Hierarch, but the double-black casting costs in Doom Whisperer and Necrotic Ooze dissuade me from making that leap. In this deck, at least, the mana is quite a bit more demanding than previous Abzan Company builds.
This combo offers some free win equity, but the card Vizier of Remedies is a bit weak on its own. If it weren't for the combo with Necrotic Ooze and a Morselhoarder, I'd be inclined to ditch these two altogether and try for some other multi-activated ability combo.
This is a game-winner on its own, unkillable by Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, or Fatal Push. In addition, it gives you the most powerful route to a quick win, offering the whole combo worth of set-up in a single card. It finds you other combo pieces. It comes down as early as turn 3, which means against most non-interactive decks you can guarantee a win the subsequent turn no matter what. It's possible (even probable) that this should be a three-of.
The penultimate piece of the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo as well as the Necrotic Ooze combo, Recruiter also offers the kind of card advantage that allows decks like this to keep fighting through multiple removal spells. Three copies is more than we've seen in the past, but it seems well worth it.
These are the singletons that allow you to fully execute the one-card Ooze combo without needing an untap step. I'd be willing to play a second Morselhoarder, seeing as how it needs to be in the graveyard to get the instant-speed kill with Ooze. The card is weak on its own, but the ability to go infinite with Devoted Druid's "add a -1/-1 counter" ability and Morselhoarder's mana generation is just so incredibly potent. The one Ballista, of course, is sacrosanct and will likely stay that way for as long as there is a Devoted Druid infinite mana combo.
The Poppet is a bit sketchy for me, but the Fauna Shaman makes perfect sense as an outlet for discarding important creatures, and the Finks/Seer combo allows you to gain infinite life with a Vizier of Remedies. I'd be more than willing to shave Poppet, Seer, and Finks to streamline the deck and make it better at executing its combo. We're trying to be as broken as possible, and none of these cards really seem to pull their weight in a format as fast as Modern.
Note: I recognize that in a deck looking to pay a lot of life to quickly mill over a bunch of combo pieces, a card like Kitchen Finks can come in mighty handy. If you're looking for a few extra life points here and there, though, Scavenging Ooze is the card to use in the maindeck. Not only does any excess mana during a combo turn allow you to buy yourself extra surveil uses, but the card is a huge beating against the resurging Dredge strategy. Ross Merriam wrote about how Creeping Chill will bring Dredge back to the realm of respectability, and it pays to hedge your bets with a flexible card like Scavenging Ooze. We're looking for activated abilities in a Necrotic Ooze deck, not triggered ones, and if that's the case, it makes sense to play both Oozes in this archetype.
Plus, you can irk your opponents with any number of ooze-related puns. I'll leave that particular type of creativity as an exercise for the reader.
This card is going to break at some point. I suspect that Doom Whisperer will be a part of it, but even if not, we can easily bide our time and wait for some other creature with a narrow, non-mana-gated activated ability to push it over the edge. I'm not sure if there should be a fourth, but it seems like one of the better things to try out. This card is just itching to break the rules of the game. We're pushing its limits in this deck, and I'm excited to see if we've pushed them too far.
Now this is an oft-underrated spell that really ties the room together. Dumping a bunch of creatures with activated abilities into your graveyard is just what a Necrotic Ooze deck wants to do. Combine that with the ability to dig deep to find the Ooze itself, and you have the perfect card. This could easily be a four-of, and I will start four copies until and unless I see it underperforming.
It grabs a Necrotic Ooze to win at instant speed without requiring an untap step. It gets other stuff, too, but this is the biggest draw. Chord of Calling is a fundamentally busted card, and though it's played second fiddle to Birthing Pod and Collected Company for many years, this is the deck to make it a true star.
This one, on the other hand, has me a little bit skeptical. Without juicy creatures to sacrifice (such as Voice of Resurgence) I'm not sure that Eldritch Evolution is worth the cost. Depending on how good the various hate creatures are (things like Obstinate Baloth, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Wickerbough Elder, and the like) it might still be valid, but for now this card is on my watchlist of underperformers.
With a third Doom Whisperer, a second Morselhoarder, and a fourth Grisly Salvage as our additions for Grim Poppet, Kitchen Finks, and Viscera Seer, Necrotic Ooze combo looks quite a bit more direct and to-the-point.
As for the sideboard, this is where things get interesting. As a creature combo deck, you need to maintain a certain density of your own linear effects while properly mixing in some disruption or lock pieces. Navigating this balance is one of the more exciting pieces of Magic strategy.
There are a few oddballs in Bryan's sideboard, to be sure. Thoughtseize is likely worse than some mix of Sin Collector, Gaddock Teeg, Tidehollow Sculler, or other disruptive creatures. Wickerbough Elder is excellent with Necrotic Ooze, and Obstinate Baloth plays a great role in fighting Burn and Liliana of the Veil decks, but Knight of Autumn is just an incredible card and deserves consideration. The one Liliana, the Last Hope is also an oddball choice. Would an Orzhov Pontiff not get the job done better?
Assassin's Trophy, of course, is an understandable inclusion. Tron is an annoying deck, and flexible removal is always desirable against a wide range of matchups. Is this doing a job we need? Is it worth playing a noncreature spell for that utility? It's unclear, but the card is a useful catchall in an unsteady Modern metagame. I'm willing to tentatively keep them in, but it's by no means a sacred cow.
But enough about Assassin's Trophy. There's a secret card that I don't think folks have been giving due consideration.
I'd like to see Dusk//Dawn in a deck with Grisly Salvage. If we're grinding, then let's grind. I can't wait to mill over one of those with a surveil ability or a Salvage hit and just watch my opponent contort to try and not get destroyed by it. In addition, the front half of the card does incredible work against a number of grindy midrange (i.e. Tarmogoyf) decks, and even hits against certain Humans draws. There are several playable aftermath cards, but this one looks to be one of the best possible inclusions in a green creature deck without the Eternal Witness/Collected Company engine. Try it out!
I don't promise that this exact deck is going to take over Modern. I don't promise you a trophy if you bring it to your next Modern Open. This particular build of a Necrotic Ooze deck might not be the proverbial "it." But mark my words: I don't know when, I don't know exactly how, but sometime soon, Necrotic Ooze is going to be a very potent and groan-inducing Magic card. It's simply offering too much potential on a single creature. The one who figures out exactly how to activate said potential is going to be handsomely rewarded, indeed.