Amulet of Vigor is a scary Magic card. Anyone who’s played against this seemingly innocent artifact in Modern Amulet Titan knows just how powerful it can be. Amulet of Vigor, especially when stacked, can create lopsided situations where lands intended to function as a slower way to consolidate resources end up becoming absurd ramp pieces that generate a ton of mana quickly. Simic Growth Chamber without Amulet of Vigor bounces your land and ensures you have a land to play the next turn. Simic Growth Chamber with Amulet of Vigor immediately generates two mana. With two Amulets, it generates four.
Cards that change the way that intended resource systems function with other effects have historically been devastating in MTG. Fast mana like Black Lotus and Sol Ring that completely undermined the land resource system remain some of the best cards in MTG’s history.
Spelunking is no Black Lotus. It’s not even as good as Amulet of Vigor. Regardless, a lot of MTG players are freaking out about this card’s potential in the Pioneer format, and that’s because Pioneer has never had something like Spelunking before. The set has not even released yet, and players are already beginning to try and break Pioneer with a new turn three land combo.
Spelunking immediately started ringing alarm bells for any player who is even somewhat familiar with the Amulet Titan archetype. For three mana, Spelunking cantrips and allows you to play another land. You gain four life if that land happens to be a Cave.
The real line of text that players care about, however, is rather simple: your Lands enter play untapped. This has led to a lot of brewing from the MTG community. While this exact list doesn’t quite work, it’s not difficult to iron it out.
This simple line of text allows Spelunking to absolutely break some existing cards in the Pioneer format that did not have previous homes. Scapeshift is the biggest feature here since, instead of finding a bunch of lands that enter tapped, Spelunking will allow those lands to enter untapped. Combine that with lands that generate a ton of mana, and you have an incredible ramp engine. You can turn four lands with Scapeshift into 12 mana by finding four untapped Lotus Field!
Of course, the issue with this plan is your Lotus Fields will sacrifice themselves thanks to their ETB ability. The whole reason why Lotus Field Combo decks in Pioneer utilize Thespian’s Stage in the first place is to avoid having to sacrifice four lands to get two Lotus Fields into play.
What if I told you that, for this Spelunking Scapeshift strategy, the sacrificial ETB on Lotus Field is actually an upside?
The Other Pieces
Spelunking not only happens to break Scapeshift, but it also happens to break Splendid Reclamation. Instead of reanimating all of your lands tapped, you get to reanimate them untapped instead. This happens to synergize extremely well with Scapeshift. One dumps a bunch of lands into your graveyard for new ones, and the other reanimates all of the lands the other sacrificed. With Spelunking, all of these actions generate a ton of mana.
All that’s left is to find a win condition. Since we’re searching and reanimating lands, it would be best to do that with lands, and lands alone. As you may imagine, there is a way to win the game with just Scapeshift, Splendid Reclamation and Spelunking.
Mystic Sanctuary is a Pioneer legal land from Throne of Eldraine that has been banned in Modern. The ability to Fetch for this card and return an instant or sorcery to the top of your library created counterspell loops that would lock players out indefinitely. Mystic Sanctuary is powerful, and it can be used here to devastating effect.
When combined with a land that draws cards, like Roadside Reliquary or Cryptic Caves, you can draw your entire library. By resetting Scapeshift and Splendid Reclamation with Mystic Sanctuary, you can search your library for every single land, get them into play, and reanimate them repetitively to repeat ETB effects. Don’t worry about running out of lands, either. Lotus Field’s sacrificial ability can function as a way to repeat your ETBs via another Splendid Reclamation.
Here’s how the combo can work, step by step:
- Start with Spelunking and four lands on your board.
- Cast Scapeshift, sacrificing your lands for two Lotus Fields, a Roadside Reliquary and Mystic Sanctuary. the Sanctuary will trigger (doesn’t matter if you have four Islands since Spelunking makes it enter untapped). Return Scapeshift to the top of your deck.
- You should have eight mana. Use your Reliquary to draw Scapeshift and cast it. This should leave you with two floating mana. You can find any lands you want at this point, as long as you find a second copy of Roadside Reliquary.
- Use Splendid Reclamation to bring all your lands back. Use Mystic Sanctuary to put Splendid Reclamation on top of your deck. Make sure you Sacrifice your Lotus Fields and your Mystic Sanctuary to the Lotus ETB triggers so Splendid Reclamation can bring them back again.
- Use your two Roadside Reliquaries to redraw Splendid Reclamation and an additional card. Cast Splendid Reclamation to repeat the loop. You should be generating enough mana that this allows you to draw your entire deck.
Ah, and to make this turn three, start your game off with an Arboreal Grazer and get that Spelunking out on turn two.
Why Play Spelunking Combo?
There is notably already a very powerful land-based combo deck in the Pioneer format: Lotus Field Combo. Many top players claim that this is the best deck in the format. I am incredibly biased because this is, by far, my favorite MTG deck period, but I am inclined to agree.
Lotus Field Combo’s deck construction, however, is very rigid. Unless you completely reinvent the wheel and change how the combo works at a fundamental level, the deck has very little room for flex slots. There’s also a ton of hate for the deck in the metagame. Damping Sphere is everywhere, and it completely shuts Lotus Field Combo down.
Spelunking has its own issues, but there is a lot more room to play disruption. Instead of playing various moving pieces to your combo, you can play Thoughtsieze to clear troublesome cards from opponent’s hands.
Similarly, removal like Fatal Push is a much more reasonable addition. Of course, you need to balance these pieces with how quickly you’re going off consistently. Thanks to the presence of Lotus Field combo in the format, you should either ideally be winning the game consistently by turn four, or have enough disruption to slow Lotus Field Combo down.
Because of the nature of the deck, you’ll keep a lot of strengths that Lotus Field combo has – the biggest of which is that it is very difficult to interact with. Creature removal does little against this archetype. There is no reason why Spelunking cannot be the same.
Notably, Damping Sphere does stop the Spelunking deck from drawing its entire library, but you can play through it better than Lotus Field Combo can.
The biggest weakness to the Spelunking combo is that Thoughtseize is way better against it than it is against Lotus Field Combo. You need a resolved Spelunking to win the game, and Thoughtseize can snap that out of your hand. On a similar note, searching for Spelunking a bit more difficult than Lotus Field.
This also makes cards like Boseiju, Who Endures much stronger against Spelunking. While the damage won’t be devastating, it does stop your combo in its tracks until you find another one.
Finally, while the current iteration of Lotus Field Combo does become hampered by graveyard hate, Spelunking gets completely shut down by it. This combo simply doesn’t beat Rest in Piece or similar cards until they get removed. Izzet Phoenix, Rakdos Sacrifice and Greasefang Combo are all somewhat popular options in Pioneer that have a lot of graveyard synergies, so graveyard hate should be somewhat frequent.
Of course, there’s always the option of somehow taking the existing Lotus Field Combo shell and using this Spelunking combo to make it even faster. That, however, is a story for another time.