The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has been available on Magic Online for roughly a week, and it appears that a handful of new cards have completely warped the Pioneer metagame. Before release, there was a ton of talk about a handful of unique additions to the format. Cavern of Souls seemed like a major upgrade for decks like mono-white Humans, while Get Lost would help Azorius control decks answer problematic permanents that slip through counter magic.
Beyond some upgrades to well-established archetypes, players were also excited to test the new Amalia Benavides Aguirre Explore combo deck. This deck was designed to use Amalia alongside and any way to gain life or Explore, causing a chain reaction eventually resulting in Amalia getting to 20 power. While this combo has certainly popped up, it’s no longer the combo deck players are most interested in.
As it turns out, an archetype that was low on our radar has completely taken over Pioneer and Historic on MTG Arena. This archetype relies on new cards with the powerful “Discover” mechanic. Up to this point, there seems to be two different versions of Discover combo. One variant uses [tooltips]Quintorius Kand and Spark Double as win conditions, while the other uses Geological Appraiser and Eldritch Evolution.
Both versions are extremely strong. In fact, the finals of the Magic Online Pioneer Showcase Challenge with over 400 players featured both decks going head-to-head. It’s clear that this strategy is extremely powerful. The question is, though, is Discover a “broken” mechanic or are there reasonable ways to fight against it? To answer this question, we first need to look at what makes Discover such an absurd mechanic in the first place.
Whether you are playing the Discover combo version with Quintorius or Geological Appraiser, your goals are quite similar. Once you are able to resolve one of your Discover win conditions, if the opponent cannot interact with you, winning the game is typically trivial. With Quintoirus, you simply use the Planeswalker’s -3 ability to find Clone effects to copy Quintorius, while draining your opponent’s life total in the process thanks to Quintorius’s static ability.
With Geological Appraiser, you will either hit Glasspool Mimic or Eldritch Evolution off of the trigger. Once Evolution is cast, you find Trumpeting Carnosaur, keep the Discover train rolling until you have a big board, then finally grab Doomskar Titan with the last copy of Evolution and attack for the win. Both variants of the archetype are strong, and each have different things going for them.
For the Geological Appraiser deck, executing the combo can be done as early as turn three. This is a turn faster than Quintorius combo. The Geological Appraiser version, therefore, relies a bit more on speed, using cards like Magma Opus to make Treasures to accelerate your gameplan. In the case of the Quintorius deck, the deck utilizes more interactive cards like Leyline Binding and Virtue of Persistence, as well as pure ramp cards like Beanstalk Giant, to bridge the gap until Quintorius can be cast.
Both Pioneer decks essentially have eight primary win conditions: four copies of Trumpeting Carnosaur and four copies of either Appraiser or Quintorius (in Historic, players get to add Pantlaza, Sun-Favored as well). As a result, these decks do require mulliganing some to find these cards. Additionally, to maximize Carnosaur, both decks have to fill the remaining non-Land slots with cards that cost six or more mana, ensuring that Carnosaur’s Discover 5 ability will hit combo pieces. This opens the door for some disruptive elements to be quite strong against these decks.
The first type of disruption that can be quite effective against these strategies is counter magic. One major difference between Discover and Cascade as that Discover is not a cast trigger. This means that, as long as you counter the original Discover spell, your opponent won’t get any Discover triggers. Counterspells like Disdainful Stroke are particularly strong because they can’t be answered by specific removal from the opponent.
For instance, running Creature-based interaction may sound reasonable in theory, but is much easier for either Discover combo deck to answer. Cards like Strict Proctor can stop Carnosaur or Appraiser from letting your opponent Discover in the first place. Similarly, because they are ultimately casting the cards they Discover into from exile, cards like Archon of Emeria can be effective. The issue is that there are a multitude of answers to these cards available for Discover combo players.
Trumpeting Carnosaur alone can be discarded to deal three damage to a Creature. Sure, Eidolon of Rhetoric has four-toughness but is not immune to Leyline Binding or Consign//Oblivion. Neither are non-Creature pieces of interaction, such as Damping Sphere. Counterspells get around all of these cards, and because of the mana value restrictions associated with Discover combo, there’s no need to fear something cheap like Mystical Dispute that could help push the combo through.
The concern with only relying on Counterspells, though, is that in games two and three, your opponent will almost certainly be prepared. Many Discover combo decklists are already jamming Thought Distortion and Chandra, Awakened Inferno as backbreaking, uncounterable cards. This is a big problem for decks like Azorius control that would normally try to sit back on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and simply try to counter any relevant Discover card played.
This doesn’t mean that counter spells aren’t solid pieces of disruption, though. It just means that you may need to back them up with pressure. For decks like Azorius control, if you know your Discover opponent will be packing these uncounterable six-mana cards, consider jamming extra threats in your sideboard that could help win the game in short order. Cards like Brimaz, King of Orsekos can close the game surprisingly quickly and don’t die to Carnosaur. You just have to be careful not to tap too low on mana and risk losing to the combo. Otherwise, Narset’s Reversal can send a Thought Distortion right back at your opponent.
Flash threats like The Wandering Emperor are even better, because they allow you to hold up counter magic, then add unexpected pressure to the board if the opponent doesn’t play anything problematic. This is a big reason why Azorius Spirits is kind of a nightmare matchup for Discover combo. Spirits is full of efficient interaction, Flash threats, and a rather quick clock.
If you lean even heavier on pressure, you may be able to race these Discover combo decks with less specific hate pieces. Decks like mono-red aggro, for example, can put immense pressure on the opponent in short order. This pressure, combined with cheap burn spells like Play with Fire that can remove Appraiser or Quintorius and delay the combo, can be enough to cross the finish line. Add in Roiling Vortex that punishes the opponent for playing cards for free and you’ve got a gameplan.
What makes Discover combo so threatening, though, is that many decks simply can’t commit this level of pressure and interaction without hindering their overall gameplan. Decks like Lotus Field combo, for example, can have trouble disrupting the Discover deck while also developing their mana. While decks like Rakdos midrange do have Thoughtseize as a solid tool, the lack of pressure to back it up can be a bit concerning.
Discover combo is simply too fast and too consistent for most archetypes to fight without lots of specific interaction for the matchup. Some decks may have to give up a lot of sideboard slots just to help fight the Discover matchup, which can make other matchups worse.
Azorius Spirits, which has a naturally solid advantage against Discover combo, has a pretty tough time against Izzet Phoenix and Boros Convoke, which are still quite popular. In this sense, simply playing a deck entirely geared towards beating Discover combo isn’t foolproof. For an archetype predicated on resolving somewhat clunky cards, this strategy is significantly more resilient than we initially thought. If you want to beat it, you definitely need to come prepared.