Today I'm going to talk about some specific Modern-legal uses for cards from Ravnica Allegiance. I call them "combos" not in the sense that the card-combination is lethal – though in the case of Prime Speaker Vannifar it is – but rather in the sense that the combination of cards creates something very powerful together. In some cases, it is a specific two-card combo whereas in others it is a handful of cards that work together to further an overall strategy. The goal of the article is to get you thinking about some of the possibilities for all the new cards and to see that their applications reach far beyond just Standard.
The key to making Incubation Druid good is (obviously) to get a +1/+1 counter on it as quickly as possible so you can start tapping it for a Black Lotus worth of mana each turn. In Standard you have Hedana's Climb as an efficient follow-up on turn three that pays for itself when you move into combat. You don't have to attack with the Druid for it to get the counter, so most of the time you'll just move into your second main phase and tap the Druid for three mana to cast another spell. Then whenever a third counter is placed on the Druid (or on another creature), then the enchantment transforms into a land that produces any color, which means you can then tap the druid for three mana of any color.
In Modern, this effect is not quite as powerful relative to all the other powerful things going on, but you get more options as far as turning on the druid's Black Lotus ability. Llanowar Reborn is the cleanest solution as you can play it on the first turn and then graft the counter onto the Druid on the second turn. You can do a similar thing with a first turn Simic Initiate. This would get you enough mana for a third-turn Primeval Titan or whatever other six-mana play you want. Dromoka's Command also turns on the Druid and is a playable card in Modern, so it would likely fit into the deck.
At face value, this is a useful card albeit a costly one to cast if the goal is to burn out an opposing creature unless you are killing a one-toughness creature for three mana (which is still a lot but less unreasonable). The real use for this card, however, has little to do with its face value functionality and everything to do with its capacity to cheat-cast spells without mana costs.
Living End is probably the one that will win out for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that you need to dig for a copy of Electrodominance and a copy of Living End, which likely requires playing cards like Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion. This allows us to not only bring back cycling creatures but also unbeatable monsters in their own right. The downside is that you can't really go the whole cascade route anymore, which limits you to just the four copies of Electrodominance instead of potentially eight or more cascade enablers to resolve Living End. Saving a mana on resolving the spell while also being able to play way better enablers, including spells costing less than three mana, rather than just a bunch of cyclers, will likely prove superior. You can also go the route of Ancestral Vision, Restore Balance, and/or Wheel of Fate. The deck will likely play out less like a cascade-into-Living-End deck and more like a Goryo's Vengeance deck, perhaps including Goryo's Vengeance and/or Through the Breach.
The name on this one is cute because the effect is that of Angel's Grace. This one has the potential to disrupt an opposing combo deck from going off or to Stave Off a lethal attack. Then if you have Eldrazi Displacer you can blink it indefinitely to give yourself a functional Worship without actually having to play Worship. You can't use Restoration Angel to blink it because it's an angel, but I suspect we may see this combo crop up in a few Modern lists.
Five-Color Humans would have to incorporate a few more multicolor creatures in order to make good use of this card, but the cost may prove worthwhile because the effect of this card is very powerful.
Consider first-turn Champion of the Parish followed by second-turn Hero of Precinct One, attack for two with Champion. Third-turn Mantis Rider, triggering the Hero to make a 1/1 token. Champion gets a counter for the token and for the Mantis Rider, so it's a 4/4. This allows us to attack for nine damage between the hasty Mantis Rider, the Hero and The Champion. Then on the next turn play Thalia's Lieutenant and make Champion a 6/6, Mantis Rider a 4/4, Hero 3/3, and token 2/2. That's a 15-point attack already!
Reflector Mage and Meddling Mage also trigger it, as do many other viable Modern Human creatures that were already borderline inclusions in the deck. The deck would have to take on a slightly different form to incorporate the Hero, but my inclination is that it is worth the effort.
There are versions of Scapeshift that run blue and also versions that run Explore. Now that we have Growth Spiral, we have two explores to help power out a lethal Scapeshift finding Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six to seven mountains. This will allow Scapeshift decks the ability to "go off" faster by being able to functionally play extra copies of Explore.
Lava Spike has a new best friend. Between these and Lightning Bolt and Rift Bolt, Burn decks are basically the combo deck of Modern that has the most interchangeable pieces. Converting one mana and one card into three damage has become elementary. This means turn one you Lava Spike. Turn two Rift Bolt + Lightning Bolt. Turn three Bump in the Night, Skewer the Critics, and whatever duplicate copy you drew of any of the above cards. That is 18 damage by the third turn, which is enough to kill anyone who took damage from a Shock Land or a pair of fetches, or it's enough to set up lethal the following turn from any burn spell. I suspect Burn decks will adopt this card quite enthusiastically.
Snapcaster Mage isn't exactly a combo with anything. Or rather, it's a combo with everything. Absorb in particular plays an important role in Snapcaster Mage decks. By gaining three life and then threatening to gain another three life when flashed back, it puts opponents in a very precarious position when trying to kill you. And given the expected uptick in Burn strategies due to Skewer the Critics, I suspect Absorb may play an important part in Jeskai decks adjusting to the metagame. Between Lightning Helix and Absorb and the threat of snapping back either, aggro and burn strategies are going to have a tough time getting Jeskai decks down to zero life.
Drogskol Captain is the card I think benefits most from Tithe Taker and works best in conjunction with it. Tithe Taker makes opposing spells cost more on our turn, so it forces opponents to act on their own turn. This plays perfectly into the spirits flash Game Plan of Spell Quellers and such. This then opens the door to resolving Drogskol Captain with protection. And if they use a Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt to get rid of the Human, then the 1/1 Spirit Token is still quite useful as it gets pumped by the Captain as well as by the Phantasm. So really the opponent is stuck between two losing propositions when it comes to facing down Tithe Taker in a Spirits deck.
Training Grounds has been a pet card for years and now we have essentially a second copy to work with. Some of the Leveler creatures were an early favorite use for the card. Then Pack Rat got printed and took the concept to a whole new level. Now that we have twice as many mana enablers, perhaps this deck will evolve enough to be viable.
I saved what I believe to be the best for last. The combo with Prime Speaker Vannifar is basically turning any creature into a lethal combination. The options are nearly endless and it's quite the puzzle figuring out the optimal build and toolbox configuration for this card. Birthing Pod now has summoning sickness, but it's easier to protect and doesn't require the payment of life or mana to activate. Here is one chain that turns into lethal, starting with just a Birds of Paradise:
You sacrifice the Bird to search out Scryb Ranger. You then use the Ranger's ability to return a Forest to untap the Prime Speaker. You then activate the Prime Speaker again, sacrificing Scryb Ranger to get Renegade Rallier, getting back Scryb Ranger. Since it's a new Scryb Ranger, you can return another Forest to untap Prime Speaker again. Sacrifice Scryb Ranger to get Deceiver Exarch, untapping Prime Speaker. Activate Prime Speaker, sacrificing Renegade Rallier to get Breaching Hippocamp to untap the Prime Speaker. Then activate the Prime Speaker, sacrificing the Hippocamp to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Then you activate Kiki-Jiki targeting Deceiver Exarch, using the copy to untap Kiki-Jiki and repeating an infinite number of times. Then attack for lethal with a million Deceiver Exarch copies.
The other really cool thing about Prime Speaker Vannifar is that you can play a toolbox as diverse as you desire. And since our combo card is a creature instead of a Birthing Pod, we can use cards like Chord of Calling to search out the Prime Speaker. So I suspect that Prime Speaker combo decks will want to also be Chord of Calling decks. This also means that the other creature combos that are built into Chord of Calling decks can also be incorporated into the Prime Speaker strategies. So you can have Devoted Druid combo kills, Viscera Seer combo kills, and Kiki-Jiki combo kills all wrapped up into your Prime Speaker toolbox deck.
I predict an uptick in Sam Pardee's performance in Modern events and a potential return to glory of Canadian Birthing Pod legend Josh McClain.
Skewer the Critics has the most obvious home and will very likely be a four-of in that home. Burn is already a Tier 1 strategy and this makes it even better. I believe this will force decks to incorporate some of the newer cards such as Knight of Autumn and Absorb to maintain their life total in the face of such high quantity of quality burn spells.
Prime Speaker Vannifar is the most obviously good build-around-me card that will undoubtedly find its way into Modern as a new archetype. I say "new" but really it will be a revived incarnation of Birthing Pod decks before their namesake card got banned for being too powerful. I anticipate this being a Tier 1 or at least Tier 2 strategy in Modern and I'm excited to see how the puzzle gets solved as far as how to build the deck optimally.
Some cards are role-players such as Tithe Taker and Growth Spiral while others are question marks as to whether they will revolutionize old archetypes or inspire new ones. For instance, Biomancer's Familiar and Electrodominance have the potential to create new archetypes, but only time will tell if someone figures out a competitive build. Perhaps if no one else decides to pick up the torch I'll revisit some of these concepts myself for a future article.
Overall there is a lot to be excited about with Ravnica Allegiance, especially if you're a Modern player.