Forgotten Combo Piece Sees Resurgence Thanks to Karlov Manor Phoenix!

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Since the recent ban of Violent Outburst in Modern, players were hoping that the Modern format would become a bit more diverse. Unfortunately, all things considered, this hasn’t exactly been the case. While there are plenty of different archetypes for players to make use of, many of them have overlapping pieces. This is because the combination of Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco has completely taken over the format.

From Tron decks to Goryo’s Vengeance shells, these two cards have been appearing even in the most unexpected of places. Modern has become a bit warped around this combo as a result, and there hasn’t been much room for other forms of innovation. Luckily, one player took it upon themselves to put up a breakout performance with a very unique combo deck.

Cftsoc3, the mastermind behind the 68-card Temur Lands combo deck in Standard, continues to outdo themselves. This time, we have a 68-card four-color control shell featuring a combo finish revolving around Altar of Dementia. This deck made top eight of a Magic Online Modern Challenge this weekend and appears to be the real deal. Altar was popular back when Bridge from Below and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis ruled the streets, but has been extremely quiet for years since then. Let’s start by looking at how the combo works.

Altar of Dementia and Lamplight Phoenix Combo

The main goal of this deck is to play the game like a traditional four-color control deck would in Modern. By using a nice mixture of interaction and card draw, it’s not too difficult to make the game go long. However, you won’t find any copies of Omnath, Locus of Creation in this deck. You also won’t find Kaheera, the Orphanguard as a Companion. Instead, this deck makes use of a neat two-card combo that can effectively mill the opponent out.

The combo focuses on Altar of Dementia and Lamplight Phoenix. Lamplight Phoenix is an interesting Creature in that, with a graveyard filled with high mana value cards, you can pair it with a sacrifice outlet and recur it many times. That’s where Altar of Dementia comes into play. With both cards on the battlefield, you typically start by sacrificing Phoenix and milling yourself for three. From there, you can exile card(s) with total mana value four or greater to return Phoenix to play. You keep doing this, filling your graveyard in the process.

Even though you have to exile cards to meet the Collect Evidence requirement each time, this deck has a high enough density of cards with mana value four or greater to keep the engine rolling. Once you have filled your graveyard enough, you can start repeating the same process, but targeting the opponent to have them mill cards. This obviously isn’t an infinite combo, since you will eventually run out of cards to Collect Evidence with and the Phoenix won’t come back, but it’s often plenty to mill your opponent’s deck.

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High Mana Value Cards

Solitude

The key to making this whole deck tick is to include a decent number of cards that not only help prolong the game, but also cost four or more mana. In this regard, Solitude is a premier inclusion.

Solitude helps you interact early with no mana investment needed. Yet, it still has a mana value of five, helping you enable your Phoenix recursion gameplan. Subtlety and Leyline Binding fill similar roles.

The real MVPs of this deck, though, go to Lorien Revealed and Eagles of the North. Unsurprisingly, these cards can help you hit your Land drops in the early game and can be hard cast later in the game when applicable. You can even pitch them to your Evoke Elementals to help keep the opponent off-balance.

In this deck, though, perhaps the biggest reason these cards are so vital is that they let you lower your actual Land count significantly. This makes it much less likely that you will run out of cards to fuel Collect Evidence and fail to execute your combo. Beyond that, most of the rest of the deck is made up of disruptive elements like Counterspell and The One Ring as an extreme source of card advantage.

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A New Phoenix in Town

Arclight Pheonix

As wild as the deck may look at first glance, it functions quite similarly to traditional four-color control decks in Modern. The inclusion of Lamplight Phoenix simply adds a whole new dimension to the deck. In some games, you won’t even need to find Altar to close things out. Simply casting Phoenix and Solitude can be enough in certain matchups, especially given Phoenix’s recursive nature.

Much like Arclight Phoenix, Lamplight Phoenix is a difficult card to remove profitably unless you can exile it. If you have a stocked graveyard, you can cast Lamplight Phoenix as a nearly “unkillable” threat. Sure, it will come back to play tapped when it dies, so you can theoretically attack past it in a race. Still, against decks like Rakdos Scam or Izzet Murktide, having a recursive threat like this can be extremely difficult to beat.

Where this deck may have a bit of a tougher time is against strategies where the control gameplan isn’t reliable. For instance, against mono-green Tron, you are under a lot of duress to set up your combo quickly. Otherwise, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Karn, the Great Creator could ruin your day. Additionally, the combination of Leyline and Scion can be tough to deal with, since Scion will have Hexproof.

Still, in these spots, having access to the Phoenix+Altar combo can bail you out. The build of this deck is extremely clever. It’ll be interesting to see if players continue to explore and develop this archetype even further. This does not feel like a flash in the pan, so if you’re looking to play Modern in the near future, make sure you’re prepared for some Phoenix shenanigans.

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