Before we begin I want to wish the happiest of birthdays to my favorite fan, my eleven year old buddy Mia! Happy birthday!
When I decided on today's deck, I was actually surprised that I hadn't played it before. I'm not sure the reason, but it might have something to do with the "all in" nature of the combo. I'm often not a big fan of decks that have to take a bunch of turns to sculpt their hand before making a big play that requires a ton of repeated iterations that eventually win the game. For one thing these long series of events make games very one-sided, which is something I tend to avoid. While I love playing cards that allow me to cheat things like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play, often when I do so it only takes a single turn for me to win. This deck also only takes a turn to win, but similar to eggs, the turns seem like they can take quite a while to resolve.
What deck am I even talking about, you might ask yourself. Well, let's take a look.
While the Phyrexian Unlife / Ad Nauseam deck has been around in some form or another almost since Modern was a thing, I was never really sure if it was a legitimate contender. I guess the better question, however, is when that was ever a limitation on what deck I chose to showcase in my column.
Magic Online user Lollipop_Man took this list to a 4-0 finish on Magic Online, which was good enough for me! After seeing it I figured it was about time to try it out and see how it fared against the field. Keep in mind the bannings aren't going into effect until January 28th, which is this Wednesday, a few days from when I play these matches, but I don't imagine it will affect things too much.
Ad Nauseam Unlife vs. Dredge
Ad Nauseam Unlife vs. BW Life Gain
Ad Nauseam Unlife vs. Monored Burn
Ad Nauseam Unlife vs. Monogreen Infect
So that's that! This deck was fairly fun to play and I can definitely see the appeal of playing a combo deck like this. It felt like I was putting a puzzle together and I had a specific time limit to complete it in. One thing my friends and I used to do when testing decks like this was, back during old Extended, we would assume the Zoo deck of the format could win within four or five turns. So basically a combo deck had to win within the first four or five turns or it was presumed dead. Sometimes we would throw in a faux Counterspell or discard spell, just to give it a challenge. Playing this deck was almost identical to that experience and it brought back some memories, as this is a combo deck in the truest sense. I think this deck can win in the aforementioned five turns, but it's very close
One thing that was nice about the deck was that there was a certain amount of redundancy in having both Phyrexian Unlife and Angels Grace. In this way you only needed one or the other to go off. You also had a fifth Ad Nauseam in the form of Mystical Teachings, but unfortunately the Modern format is a little too fast to actually let us exploit the tutor very often; you have to remember that, being a combo deck, we have very little room for defenses against the more aggressive decks. Specifically one Slaughter Pact to be exact. But that's combo decks: excruciatingly tight and refined.
While the mana base was mostly fine, I couldn't help but wonder why we didn't have a single Godless Shrine in the deck. There were a couple times where I needed a second black for not only Ad Nauseam, but also Drown in Sorrow and being able to fetch up a white and a black source would have been somewhat helpful.
There were two main problems with the deck that I experienced: the first was very susceptible discard (as all combo decks are) and Abrupt Decay, both of which are played en masse in Modern. With a deck like this, every card in your hand if often relevant, and losing any one or two means, at the very least, several more turns of searching. Meanwhile Abrupt Decay can destroy things like Pentad Prism, Phyrexian Unlife, and even Lotus Bloom is they manage to kill it at a point when we're not immediately ready to go off. There are some tricks to get around these things – such as Pact of Negation'ing a discard spell, untapping, and playing an Angel's Grace with the Pact trigger on the stack (planning on winning that turn is an added bonus, of course), but mostly the more we can dodge the discard and Abrupt Decay decks (often one in the same), the better.
The second problem was that the decks is very linear. In a game two, after seeing no creatures relevant to my strategy, I boarded out the single Slaughter Pact. My opponent then played a Spellskite and it became very hard to win. While this might be a lesson on never to board out the single Slaughter Pact, I definitely learned it the hard way. In a game three my opponent brought in Leyline of Sanctity and I had no answer for it! Literal none! I could not win at that point because I didn't bring in the Echoing Truth. This told me that perhaps there should be a couple of cards that are in the maindeck that simply don't get boarded out unless you know you won't see the cards they are meant for.
As I said, this deck was pretty fun. I could definitely see myself piloting something similar again at some point, and the wins didn't take as long as I would have though. That's about all I have for today, but if you want some more Magic action, make sure to check out my daily stream on Twitch TV, Monday through Friday, from 2 pm to 6:30 pm, Pacific Time! In addition, this week on Wednesday, January 28th, I'll be streaming an exclusive Fate Reforged Preview Draft at 6 pm Pacific Time, so be sure and tune in! Thanks for reading and I hope to see ya there!
Frank Lepore@FrankLepore on TwitterFrankLepore on TwitchTV, streaming Monday - Friday, from 2 pm - 6:30 pm PST.