Despite having a target on its head as the breakout deck from the weekend prior, not to mention Lotus Breach's incredible performance, Dimir Inverter won the Players Tour in Phoenix.
Theros Beyond Death's Thassa's Oracle turned Inverter of Truth from a junk rare into one of the scariest cards in Pioneer, and I see little chance of it sticking around for long. Such an effective two-card combo simply isn't likely to be tolerated given the precedent of the Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai combo being squashed so quickly. The Players Tours and MagicFests of the past two weekends were the first ever professional-level Pioneer events, and they acted as a great guage of the metagame's development since the format's inception in October. From the perspective of Wizards of the Coast, they serve as a logical capstone to Pioneer's probationary period and its numerous bannings, so more bannings in their wake have always been a possibility.
But my focus today is not on Pioneer, because regardless of what happens to Inverter of Truth in that format, its legacy, along with that of Thassa's Oracle, is only just beginning to be built. It's only a matter of time before their combo that has proven to be so effective in Pioneer makes the leap to Modern—and beyond.
In a format where Splinter Twin is held as the quintessential broken two-card combo deck, too good to be legal, there's a place for another two-card combo that's arguably even better.
The biggest strength of the Inverter of Truth combo is that it's so difficult to disrupt. It can win through creature removal, which was always the downside of Splinter Twin combo and is what holds back the Felidar Guardian / Saheeli Rai combo (that's still legal). Inverter of Truth and Thassa's Oracle both have enters-the-battlefield triggers, the bane of creature removal and a hallmark trait shared by many of the game's best creatures.
As sorcery-speed cards, they are a bit clunky compared to the instant-speed Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch that made the Splinter Twin combo so scary. They don't offer the utility that Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian create with the value creature in their deck. And the combo requires a bit of setup and careful play managing the graveyard. Even so, the Thassa's Oracle and Inverter of Truth combo is reliable. Other combo decks are often forced to great lengths to protect their combo, or to find the perfect timing to execute it, but the Inverter combo just... happens, and there is little the opponent can do about it.
This combo is backed by discard, countermagic and creature removal to fight against whatever countermeasures opponents do muster—or to disrupt the opposing game plan long enough for the combo to win. The fact that Inverter of Truth is black and thus gives access to Thoughtseize has played a huge part in its success, and will be a major asset in the transition to Modern. To the point, Thoughtseize is so useful in combo decks that there's a history of splashing it into Grixis Splinter Twin decks.
The leap up from Pioneer to Modern is a major one in terms of the power level of the competition, but it also opens access to a wealth of new tools.
One major upgrade is Inquisition of Kozilek, replacing Thought Erasure. It's a card the deck will likely want in high numbers, taking a page from decks like Death's Shadow and Jund that routinely play seven discard spells. Serum Visions is another major addition and one that significantly helps the consistency of the deck.
A major obstacle for Dimir Inverter to overcome in Modern is the loss of Dig Through Time, which it leaned on not only as card selection but as a way to manage the graveyard to help expedite its combo kill. Having some way to shrink the graveyard will be critical for the success of the strategy in Modern, and while none of its options are as strong as the broken Dig Through Time, it does have many solutions.
Adding alternative delve spells will help, like the Murderous Cut that sees minor play in Pioneer, but I'm especially interested in Logic Knot. With no limit on the number of spells it can delve away, it's a great way to control the size of the graveyard, and as countermagic it's more versatile than creature removal.
A unique tool in Modern are the transmute spells, which are really just fixed tutors hidden in a weak spell, and they could be a useful tool for Dimir Inverter. Muddle the Mixture has a rich history in combo decks because it's a useful piece of countermagic, and it could help this deck find Thassa's Oracle, but another transmute spell seems even better.
Clutch of the Undercity does not have the same successful pedigree, but its ability to find four-mana cards is particularly appealing in this strategy because it can find either half of the combo in Inverter of Truth or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. It also offers its own utility as a catch-all bounce spell, so it seems like a nice card to try here.
In porting the Pioneer deck to Modern the sideboard must be reconfigured for the realities of its own unique metagame, but the same concepts apply. Beyond disruption for other strategies, the deck will want access to some form of alternate win conditions to juke opponents who focus too heavily on stopping the combo.
The move to Modern also greatly opens up the deck to the possibility of a splash, which players are already trying in Pioneer with its inferior manabase options. The most popular and successful of these has been Sultai, which in Modern could also provide things like mana acceleration or the digging power of cards like Grisly Salvage or Traverse the Ulvenwald.
There are plenty of options, but I see no strong incentive to play three colors when two will do. I'm more interested in Dimir decks that approach the combo from a unique perspective, perhaps by surrounding it with a different shell entirely. It's a precedent set at Players Tour Nagoya, where a Leyline of Anticipation-powered build with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and 24 creatures reached the Top 4. It's possible something like this could work in Modern too, and it has inspired me to further explore my own radical idea for re-housing the combo.
Thassa's Oracle is a Merfolk, and this affiliation would be a major benefit in a tribal deck fused with the Inverter of Truth combo. Removing tribal elements from a tribal deck comes with a steep cost, but the specifics of the combo make it a very attractive addition. Tribal decks tend to suffer the most against decks full of removal spells that can disrupt tribal synergies, and because the combo resists removal spells so well, it adds an incredibly valuable element to the deck. Where typical Merfolk decks eventually sputter out and lose a war of attrition to decks that can generate more card advantage over a longer game, the combo provides a powerful form of inevitability that will win the game no matter how much removal the opponent has.
Also consider that Merfolk decks play Aether Vial, which is a natural fit in a combo deck based around two creatures. It acts like part Leyline of Anticipation that gives the ability to play at instant speed, and part Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx that ramps mana. Thassa's Oracle would synergize with other Merfolk, and while its ability is not particularly impressive for an aggressive deck, its ability to help smooth draws as something like a very weak Silvergill Adept is at least functional. On the plus side, it will benefit greatly from the deck's high blue devotion count and will offer powerful card selection as the game progresses, compared to the traditional combo builds with few other blue cards to improve it.
Inverter of Truth will also be much better on its own in a Merfolk deck than in the traditional combo builds. Merfolk decks are really just glorified stompy decks that are almost solely focused on beating down, so an efficient 6/6 flyer is a welcome addition. While Merfolk may not have many spells to fill the graveyard and buy time before decking, it won't often have to, because a hit or two will be all it needs to end the game.
The deck is further able to shift away from a single-minded aggressive plan by supporting the combo with disruption. Merfolk decks operate in Legacy with Force of Will, often with even more disruption like Daze or even Chalice of the Void, and this has become typical in Modern too after the printing of Force of Negation. Replacing it with alternative disruption in Thoughtseize that's better suited for protecting the combo, along the option for removal like Fatal Push and more diverse sideboard options than mono-blue should make for an effective and well-rounded deck.
The biggest obstacle I see is that the deck is a weak home for the delve spells that the combo often needs to control the size of the graveyard. Thassa's Oracle powered by extra blue devotion can get around this sometimes, but it will require some help in the most grindy games where the graveyard will be the biggest and where the combo will be the most important. Luckily it's a problem solved pretty well by Relic of Progenitus, which even has a history of seeing occasional maindeck play in decks such as Merfolk. Fitting some into this deck goes a long way toward making its combo more consistent.
Thassa's Oracle also has applications in Legacy, where Inverter of Truth can be replaced by the more efficient Paradigm Shift.
Not only does it make the combo much faster, it also makes it much more blue, opening up the option to pick what other color it plays, or to simply stay mono-blue, like the list that has already earned a 5-0 finish in a Magic Online League.
Underworld Breach and its great engine with Lion's Eye Diamond and Brain Freeze has been the big Theros Beyond Death story for Legacy, but an efficient two-card combo where both sides pitch to Force of Will is more appealing to me. Legacy even provides a backup way to exile the library in Thought Lash, which unlike Inverter of Truth can sit in play ahead of time and then exile the library on demand. Along with Laboratory Maniac for another win condition, it looks like a very consistent and effective combo deck. It's possible the deck does not even require such redundancy and would be better off playing a more versatile game plan, but it sure looks like a promising start.
A more fitting Legacy comparison to Inverter of Truth is Doomsday, which combines Inverter of Truth's ability to remove a library with the power of a tutor, meaning it can single-handedly find and set up Thassa's Oracle.
Doomsday strategies have always been on the fringes of the format, but Thassa's Oracle is the best decking win condition yet because it doesn't require drawing a card like Laboratory Maniac and is immune to removal. It's those kind of incremental improvements that could bring a deck to the next level.
Like it or not, Inverter of Truth, and especially Thassa's Oracle, are just getting started.
Write the words "you win the game" on a Magic card and players will quickly figure out the best way to do so. We've come a long way from gimmick cards like Coalition Victory and Mortal Combat, but even compared to more accessible and tournament-proven cards like Laboratory Maniac, Thassa's Oracle stands above in a class of its own. Its success in Pioneer has surely stoked interest in its applications in other formats, as witnessed in things like the 5-0 Legacy list or the ever-increasing price of Paradigm Shift.
With the Modern metagame still very fresh after the banning of Mox Opal and Oko, Thief of Crowns, and with the attention of pros currently turned to Pioneer, it's only a matter of time before Inverter of Truth and Thassa's Oracle are winning games there too.
Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He writes about Modern, Pioneer, and Eternal formats, and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.