Project X was one of my favorite decks to play during Ravnica/Time Spiral Standard. I don't remember why the deck took the name Project X, but I do remember enjoying it for that entire Standard season.
@MTGatTCGplayer I do. Geoffrey Siron was looking for a name, and couldnt figure out any. That's the 1st thing he came up with— Raphael Levy (@hahamoud) January 30, 2016
Project X was an Abzan deck (referred to as Junk at the time) and it played a variety of strong cards, as Abzan typically does. Green gave it creatures, black provided discard spells and removal, and white gave the deck the support cards it needed. It was a lot like Abzan decks today. What was different about Project X from other Junk decks was that it had a combo finish.
Project X's combo, for those curious, involved Saffi Eriksdotter, Crypt Champion and Essence Warden. Cast Crypt Champion without paying red and return Saffi Eriksdotter to the battlefield. Before it dies, sacrifice Saffi targeting Crypt Champion so it comes right back. When it returns to the battlefield, sacrifice Saffi Eriksdotter targeting Crypt Champion again. With an Essence Warden in play, this loop will result in infinite life.
While you could win a game by controlling the board and attacking with green creatures, there was always that threat of drawing your combo and winning out of nowhere. Think of it like Abzan Company decks in Modern. You can attack your opponent to death with Kitchen Finks and Eternal Witnesses, but if you draw your Murderous Redcap and Viscera Seer, you can just win the game on the spot.
While a three-card combo can be hard to pull off, Project X certainly had a lot of consistency. First, it had hand disruption so that you could stop your opponent from stopping you. Next, it had ways to search up your combo pieces in Chord of Calling, Summoner's Pact, and Glittering Wish. It also had creature removal and lifegain to prevent you from getting run over.
Why am I talking about a nine-year old deck? Well, the deck I'm going to be discussing today is a take on Project X in today's Standard environment. It's an Abzan shell with all of the same qualities as Project X: hand disruption, removal, good creatures, and a three-card instant win combo!
When I first saw Eldrazi Displacer, I knew that an infinite combo could exist in Standard. Brood Monitor is the enabler and Zulaport Cutthroat is the kill card. It's a hard combo to pull off, but if you can get all three of these creatures onto the battlefield, it results in an instant win. All you have to do is sacrifice the three Eldrazi Scion tokens for mana and then activate Eldrazi Displacer's ability targeting Brood Monitor. Once that resolves, Brood Monitor will return to play and create three more Eldrazi Scions. You can then repeat this process as many times as you want. With Zulaport Cutthroat, each time you sacrifice a Scion you will drain your opponent for one. In no time, your opponent will be dead to these triggers.
A three card combo is hard to execute, especially in a format with much less tutoring and library manipulation than a format like Modern or Legacy. As I was thinking about how to best build this deck, I took a look at the old Project X decks and realized that we have many of the same tools in today's Standard as we did back then.
Castigate → Transgress the Mind
Loxodon Hierarch→ Siege Rhino
Chord of Calling → Evolutionary Leap
Glittering Wish → Oath of Nissa
Putrefy → Abzan Charm/Silkwrap
Some of these comparisons are a stretch, but Standard these days is much different than it was in 2007. We don't have the tutoring effects anymore so we'll never be able to combo off as consistently as you would if you had Chord of Calling and Summoner's Pact, but we have to work with what we're given.
Here is the decklist.
An explanation of the card choices:
Eldrazi Displacer: Let's begin with the card this deck is built around. Eldrazi Displacer, on its own, is a 3/3 creature for 2W, which is a pretty decent rate for a vanilla creature. In our deck we are using the activated ability to combo off, but Eldrazi Displacer can do a lot more than that. It can blink opponent's blockers and return them tapped if we need to get in for extra damage. It can also permanently kill tokens. It also resets creatures that may have been buffed earlier like Warden of the First Tree.
Zulaport Cutthroat and Brood Monitor: These are our combo pieces. Zulaport Cutthroat does very little on its own and needs lots of support from the rest of the deck. If you've ever played a Rally deck and had only Zulaport Cutthroats and other low-impact creatures on the battlefield but didn't draw your Collected Company, you'll know the feeling. Brood Monitor is another card that is just not very exciting on its own. At least it does something, unlike Zulaport Cutthroat. The tokens it makes are somewhat useful and it has good synergy with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Evolutionary Leap. One interaction that Brood Monitor has is if you have an Eldrazi Displacer but are missing Zulaport Cutthroat, you can block with your tokens and Brood Monitor and then sac the tokens for mana to blink out the Brood Monitor. This will give you four blockers that will never die, which should buy you the time you need to find Zulaport Cutthroat.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar: Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a very strong three-mana Planeswalker, and I expect to see her make an appearance in a variety of green decks. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is at her best in a token deck because her -2 ability is incredibly strong. In this deck her main purpose is to use her +1. We are trying to buy time while setting up the combo and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar does a great job of that. Believe it or not, she does work her way up to her ultimate very quickly. If your opponent only has one creature and not much else going on, your 0/1 plants will serve as nice chump blockers. Your opponent will be forced to commit more to the board to deal with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and that entire time, they won't be attacking you. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar also provides fodder for Evolutionary Leap.
Evolutionary Leap: Sadly, this is as good as we're going to get as far as tutoring goes. Our deck only plays four different creatures, so if you sacrifice a creature to Evolutionary Leap, chances are you will be getting something you need. Sometimes this can backfire. If you have Brood Monitor and Eldrazi Displacer but are missing Zulaport Cutthroat, you may just end up with a second Eldrazi Displacer. However, this card is the reason why we're not playing mana ramp creatures like Rattleclaw Mystic or Leaf Gilder. All of our creatures need to be relevant to find with Evolutionary Leap.
Siege Rhino: You can't play an Abzan deck in Standard and not play Siege Rhino. This card just wins games on its own. Sometimes you will get a triple Siege Rhino draw and your opponent won't be able to deal. This is a card that is too good not to play and you're always happy to draw multiples. I'd play eight Siege Rhinos if I could. A second reason why this card is here (as if you needed one) is it works great with Eldrazi Displacer. Sometimes you can blink a Siege Rhino a few times and your opponent will just die.
Oath of Nissa: Many players are calling this the green Ponder. While it's not quite that, it's pretty close. It can find most of the cards in our deck, at least the relevant ones. Oath of Nissa is great in this deck because it can find lands. The manabase in this deck is not perfect the way it is in a deck like Abzan Aggro; we need to play eight painlands, so we can't afford to play the full fetchland/battle-land manabase. There will be times where we will be missing a color, and Oath of Nissa can help find it. More importantly, it can find us a colorless source. We aren't playing that many (eight is a surprisingly low number) so we need to play ways to help find them. Oath of Nissa also makes our combo more consistent because it helps find our missing creature. Even if we miss on Oath of Nissa's enters the battlefield trigger, we are now three cards closer to finding it.
Silkwrap: This deck is pretty slow and doesn't have a lot of interaction. It just does its thing and hopes that the opponent doesn't have many ways to stop us. That said, an active Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is really bad news for us. We desperately need to get Jace, Vryn's Prodigy off the board when it hits, and Silkwrap is the most efficient way to do that. Silkwrap also doubles as creature removal for creatures that are trying to kill us like Anafenza, the Foremost or Mantis Rider, but what really matters here is nixing card advantage gained from opposing Jaces.
Transgress the Mind: Transgress the Mind was selected over Duress for two reasons. One, the manabase has a hard time supporting a turn-one black source. Our turn-one plays will usually be a tapped land or Oath of Nissa. Transgress the Mind is a much better fit in our curve. The second reason is that exiling a card is very relevant. Transgress the Mind, along with Silkwrap, allows us to play a card like Wasteland Strangler in our sideboard. It couldn't really fit in the maindeck but should definitely be somewhere in the 75 because of its great synergy with Eldrazi Displacer.
Abzan Charm: While Abzan Charm doesn't get us closer to our combo, like Siege Rhino, it's too good not to play. It can exile opposing Siege Rhinos, Anafenza, the Foremost, or Hangarback Walkers, can draw some extra cards against attrition decks, and it can even help you win combat. It's just a well-rounded Magic card and we should try to fit it in when we can.
Lands: Our most important lands are the eight painlands. They not only fix mana but also give us colorless lands for our Eldrazi Displacer. Besides the painlands, we are playing a very light fetchland manabase. Most three color decks will play twelve fetchlands. We are playing seven. It's not exactly where we want to be but the mana is still good regardless. Wooded Foothills is our most important land because it can fetch all three colors. Windswept Heath can only find us white and green so we are only playing three copies. Windswept Heath can get us basic Forest which is really important on turn one for Oath of Nissa. We round out the manabase with Hissing Quagmires. I chose these over Shambling Vents because in our deck, we are probably going to be behind more often than we are ahead, so we'll need deathtouch creatures as blockers. Lifelink on Shambling Vent is also great when behind, but we will rarely be in a position where we'll be able to profitable attack with it. Hissing Quagmire can block and be sacrificed to Evolutionary Leap if it's your only untapped land while Shambling Vent cannot.
That's it for Project X. It's a pretty cool deck and really fun to play. This shell is a great start for a deck like this but the list is still untuned. I could see this deck going in a direction of Abzan Control with less combo pieces and more Planeswalkers and removal, but for now I'm trying the list as straight combo to see where it's at. The theory behind this deck is sweet and I'd love to hear suggestions on how to improve it. Feel free to leave a comment.
On another note, for the last three weeks I've showed you quite a few rogue decks, which are much different than the competitive lists I was writing about last year. How are you enjoying the different approach? Would you like to see more tier one lists or are you more interested in the rogue decks? I'm definitely interested in hearing your feedback!
As always, thanks for reading!