Brewing Kaladesh: Aether Storm and Infinite Saheeli
by SaffronOlive // Sep 12, 2016
I've mentioned many times before that spoiler season is my favorite time of the year because everything is possible. Since we don't yet know what the upcoming metagame will look like, no idea is a bad idea, no matter how off the wall; during spoiler season, there's a chance—no matter how small—that any crazy idea could end up working. As such, today we are going to be looking at two of my favorite off-the-wall ideas for Kaladesh. The first is a Standard deck that harkens the return of the most broken mechanic in Magic's history: storm! While the keyword itself isn't returning any time soon, Aetherflux Reservoir is really Tendrils of Agony hiding in artifact form. Is it really possible that we can build a Storm combo deck in Standard? I think so! Second, we'll build around a combo that's been the talk of social media the past couple days, with a deck that wins by creating an infinite number of Saheeli Rais! Let's start by breaking down Standard Aether Storm!
Standard Aether Storm
Aetherflux Reservoir might look like an Against the Odds card, and in some ways it probably is an Against the Odds card, but it's also the closest thing we've seen to Tendrils of Agony since at least Ignite Memories and Grapeshot, and possibly since literal Tendrils of Agony way back in Scourge. That math on the life gain ability is pretty straightforward—if you can cast eight spells in the same turn, you'll gain 36 life from Aetherflux Reservoir alone, which means as long as you start the process with at least 15 life, you'll be able to 50 your opponent in one shot with Aetherflux Reservoir's second ability!
While the cards have very similar effects, there is one important difference between Tendrils of Agony and Aetherflux Reservoir: Tendrils of Agony has to be the last spell you cast in a turn, while Aetherflux Reservoir is best as the first (or better yet, already sitting on the battlefield from a previous turn when you decide to combo off). Because you need four mana left after casting nine spells to kill with Tendrils of Agony, pretty much the only way to make it work is using a bunch of rituals to generate mana, and we don't really have access to rituals in Standard. On the other hand, with Aetherflux Reservoir, the ideal play is to cast it on Turn 4 and then hopefully combo off for the win on Turn 5 or 6. Thankfully, Collected Company and Kolaghan's Command are rotating when Aetherflux Reservoir enters the format, which means that unless Standard is so overwhelmed with artifacts that players turn to main deck artifact destruction to cope, getting Aetherflux Reservoir to stick for a turn or two isn't all that unlikely. So, just how do we go about storming off in Standard with Aetherflux Reservoir?
Red gives us a couple of good options in Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Vessel of Volatility. While it's unfortunate that both Aetherflux Reservoir and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are competing for the same spot on the curve, if we can get Chandra, Torch of Defiance the turn before we cast Aetherflux Reservoir, we are in great shape. Not only can Chandra, Torch of Defiance kill a creature to keep our life total high, but she is one of the only ritual effects in Standard, giving us +2 red mana for a turn, and when we are storming off, we are going to want as much mana as possible. If we don't need the mana, we can also use Chandra, Torch of Defiance to draw an extra card, which is the other bottleneck in a Storm combo deck. Plus, she's simply a good card, and since we are going to have to play some jank to facilitate the combo kill, we'll take as many powerful standalone threats as we can get our hands on.
Meanwhile, Vessel of Volatility is a free spell. It costs a total of four mana and gives us back four mana, which means that for the cost of a card, we can increase our storm count by one. It also gives us a nice backup plan, since we can simply play it on Turn 2 and use it to cast an Aetherflux Reservoir or Chandra, Torch of Defiance on Turn 3.
So, just how do we go about casting eight spells in a turn? The key piece here is free (or cheap) artifacts. Admittedly, this brew is a little bit premature, since there are still a decent number of commons and uncommons to be revealed from Kaladesh, so it's possible that this group gets an upgrade, but the basic idea is that we can cast these spells for free to up our storm count and gain life with Aetherflux Reservoir. Bone Saw and Cathar's Shield are literally just +1 storm for zero mana, while Metalspinner's Puzzleknot costs us two mana but doesn't put us down a card, since we get to draw when it enters the battlefield. The other benefit of Metalspinner's Puzzleknot is that we can simply cast it in the early game to keep cycling through our deck and finding combo pieces, since we are planning on bouncing it and replaying it anyway as we combo off.
I really wish that Aetherflux Reservoir had been previewed before I got to spoil Paradoxical Outcome, because the two cards work incredibly well together. Remember: our goal is to cast eight spells in the same turn, and even with drawing an extra card here and there, it's not likely that we can pull this off with just the cards in our hand. With Paradoxical Outcome, we can cast our Metalspinner's Puzzleknot on Turn 2 to draw a card, and then on Turn 5 or 6, when we go to combo off, we can bounce it back to our hand to draw another card and then potentially recast it, if we have enough mana. That said, the key combo here is Paradoxical Outcome with Bone Saw and Cathar's Shield. Let's run through the scenario.
We cast a Metalspinner's Puzzleknot on Turn 2 to draw a card, a Radiant Flames on Turn 3 to wipe our opponent's board, an Aetherflux Reservoir on Turn 4, and a Chandra, Torch of Defiance on Turn 5 to kill another one of our opponent's creatures. On Turn 6, we are hoping to have at least two (and hopefully three) copies of Bone Saw or Cathar's Shield. With three, things are easy. We cast all three, bounce everything back to our hand with Paradoxical Outcome (drawing us a bunch of cards), and replay the three equipment along with the Metalspinner's Puzzleknot, which equals eight spells—enough to 50 our opponent with Aetherflux Reservoir. If we only have two equipment, things get a bit harder, but getting the storm kill is still doable.
Remember: when we have a Chandra, Torch of Defiance on the battlefield at the start of our combo, she turns into another free spell with the help of Paradoxical Outcome, since we can +1 for two mana, bounce her, and then +1 again, making the planeswalker mana-neutral and upping the storm count by one. So, with only two equipment, we are looking to cast both (two spells); bounce back everything with Paradoxical Outcome (three spells); and replay Chandra, Torch of Defiance, both equipment, and Metalspinner's Puzzleknot (which puts us up to seven spells). Then, we are basically hoping we can cast one more spell, which seems likely, considering we have four mana left over and just drew four spells from Paradoxical Outcome.
Finally, Torrential Gearhulk is our backup Paradoxical Outcome. There will be situations where we want to mini-combo on Turn 4 to draw some cards, which will leave us with Paradoxical Outcome in our graveyard. While Torrential Gearhulk isn't ideal because it costs six instead of four, we can still combo off with the right hand, and in the worst case, it's a good surprise blocker than can keep our life total high, eat an attacker, and generate some value with Paradoxical Outcome.
As for the rest of the deck, we focus on two things: the first is keeping our life total high over the first few turns of the game, since if we drop below 15 life, we need to cast an additional spell to win with the combo. What cards are best in this role will depend mostly on what Kaladesh Standard looks like, but right now, in the dark, Radiant Flames and Declaration in Stone seem like good options. Radiant Flames allows us to sweep away any number of early-game creatures on Turn 3, which curves nicely into Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Aetherflux Reservoir, while Declaration in Stone kills anything. Plus, we don't really mind giving our opponent a Clue token, because all we are trying to do is stall out long enough to combo off, so if our opponent takes time off to crack a Clue, that's fine with us—it's mana they are not using to resolve more threats.
Last, we have Filigree Familiar, which is the perfect card to round out our list. On Turn 3, it draws us a card, gains us a bit of life to keep us above 15, and then chumps anything while we are setting up for the combo. We can even use it during the combo if we have enough mana, gaining even more life and drawing even more cards with Paradoxical Outcome. Anyway, enough talking about there individual cards—here's the list!
Modern Infinite Saheeli
If you read my article last weekend, you know that I'm not a huge fan of Saheeli Rai as a planeswalker, but what about Saheeli Rai the combo piece? While I can't take credit for the original idea—people have been talking about it on Reddit and other social media for the past couple days—I did want to highlight the combo and throw in my two cents.
The basic idea of the combo is simple, although it isn't Standard legal and does take three different cards to pull off. Here's how it works. On Turn 1, you cast an Altar of the Brood, which mills the opponent whenever a permanent enters the battlefield under your control. On Turn 2, you cast a Liquimetal Coating, which can tap to turn any permanent into an artifact. Then, on Turn 3, you cast a Saheeli Rai, turn Saheeli Rai into an artifact with Liquimetal Coating, and then use Saheeli Rai's −2 ability to create a copy of herself. The important thing here is that the copy is also an artifact, thanks to the Liquimetal Coating on the original Saheeli Rai, so you can just keeping going through this loop over and over again, creating an infinite number of artifact Saheeli Rais (although you'll only have one on the battlefield at a time, thanks to the legend rule) until you mill the opponent out with Altar of the Brood.
Now, this one is very likely more Against the Odds than Aether Storm. While it has the upside of being fast, the biggest problem is you don't get any step-up time. Since the combo involves a one-drop into a two-drop into a three-drop, there's no window for Serum Visions or tutors; instead, we're just hoping to luck into the right three cards in the top ten cards of our library, and even playing the full four copies of each, the odds are not in our favor. Plus, the deck picks up on a ton of hate. Abrupt Decay kills every single combo piece, and most of the combo dies to Ancient Grudge and Stony Silence as well. As a result, instead of going all in on comboing off on Turn 3, maybe the best way to build the deck is to slow the opponent down by destroying their lands!
As you probably know by now, I'm a huge fan of Blood Moon, but Blood Moon has one big problem: it only turns non-basic lands into Mountains, so once our opponent knows they should be playing around Blood Moon, they'll typically try to search up some of their limited number of basic lands first. One solution to the problem is to destroy our opponent's basics, leaving them hard locked under the Blood Moon, but this is easier said than done in Modern, since we don't have efficient basic land destruction like Sinkhole. However, since we are already playing Liquimetal Coating as part of our infinite combo, we suddenly have access to a whole bunch of cards that destroy a permanent—any permanent—for only one mana in the form of Shattering Spree and Smelt, since we can simply turn our opponent's lands (or creatures or planeswalkers) into artifacts and then destroy them. As such, we can turn our deck into a sort of double combo deck, using Liquimetal Coating and Blood Moon to control our opponent's resources and then shifting into infinite combo mode when we happen to draw our Saheeli Rai and Altar of the Brood.
I mentioned earlier that one of the things I disliked about the Infinite Saheeli combo is that the curve doesn't allow for tutors and cantrips, but in a build that's based more around controlling our opponent's resources rather than comboing off as quickly as possible, we actually get access to more card filtering than most Modern decks. Serum Visions and Sleight of Mind help us set up our combo, digging through our deck for a low cost. Meanwhile, Muddle the Mixture can randomly protect our combo pieces while also finding Liquimetal Coating, which is suddenly the most important card in our deck, since it is necessary for not just the Saheeli Rai combo but the Shattering Spree / Smelt plan as well.
Rounding out our Infinite Saheeli deck, we have Koth of the Hammer and Simian Spirit Guide. As the only creature in our deck, we never really plan on casting a Simian Spirit Guide, since the odds of us winning the game with 2/2 beats are pretty low. On the other hand, the Ape is a great way to speed up our deck, not only allowing for Turn 2 Blood Moons but occasionally helping with the combo as well, giving us access to lines like Turn 1 Serum Visions, Turn 2 Liquimetal Coating, exile Simian Spirit Guide, and Smelt our opponent's land; or Turn 1 Serum Visions, Turn 2 Liquimetal Coating, Turn 3 Saheeli Rai plus Altar of the Brood for the combo kill.
Finally, Koth of the Hammer is still the fastest way to finish off the game in a Modern Blood Moon deck, and we need a backup plan for when our opponent has a way to disrupt the combo kill—relying on Saheeli Rai doing one damage a turn simply isn't fast enough. I considered playing Chandra, Torch of Defiance in this slot, and while some number may be correct, Koth of the Hammer just offers too much damage to be replaced altogether. Not only do hasty 4/4 Mountains close out the game very quickly but he ultimates in only two turns, at which point it becomes nearly impossible for our opponent to win, since we can ping them to death over the course of a couple turns with our Mountains, and if they resolve a creature, we can take a turn off to kill it instead. Enough suspense, here's the deck!
Anyway, that's all for today. Kaladesh is looking to be another great brewing set, with tons of unique and potentially powerful cards, and we haven't even seen half of the set yet! As a result, we'll have tons of sweet brews to come, not only in article form but on Budget Magic and Against the Odds as well. So, what do you think? Are there other ways to build around Aetherflux Reservoir in Standard? What about in Modern? Is there a better finisher for going infinite with Saheeli Rai? Should Sun Titan be part of the deck? Let me know in the comments! As always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.