Making the Cut - Friendly Neighborhood Infinite Mana Combos
(Phelddagrif | Art by Amy Weber)
I Finally Broke Down and Got a Copy of Maze of Ith
...Now what do we cut for it?
Hello, and welcome to Making the Cut, where we love the agonizing decisions it takes to get you down to 100 cards. This week, I have acquired a copy of the staple Maze of Ith. I want to use it in my Phelddagrif Group Hug deck, as part of the ever-growing pillow fort the deck requires. As soon as I went to add this card, I figured, why stop there? I also have a bunch of bulk left over from buying a box of Battlebond hunting for cheap Commander Duals? Let's go ahead and throw in a full win condition and infinite mana combo, just to keep people on their toes when it comes to hippo hugs.
Ley Weaver is just another version of the old Urza's Saga Argothian Elder, and with this much time under their belt, Wizards of the Coast is well aware that these abilities can lead to all sorts of infinite mana combos.
To go over the general idea quickly, if you manage to get Argothian Elder into play and survive the round (or perhaps give it haste), then mix in something like Pemmin's Aura to untap it repeatedly, then you can net extra mana by untapping two lands over and over again. Luckily for us, Wizards didn't shy away from this particularly well-known combo machine when making a functional reprint in Battlebond. Ley Weaver does exactly what Argothian Elder does for the exact same price, but also goes ahead and searches for its partner Lore Weaver when it enters the battlefield (and vice versa). This means that not only can you get the infinite mana, but you also have something you can immediately use it with to win the game by forcing the rest of the table to draw their entire decks.
Now all of that sounds a little hostile and direct for a Group Hug deck, especially one that has gone out of its way to appear as nice as possible. So instead of putting in an obvious combo in the form of Pemmin's Aura or Freed from the Real, why not make the win condition interact with a card that no one would blink an eye at in a Group Hug deck?
Enter Maze of Ith. We can attack with Ley Weaver, then untap it and protect it with the Maze, which doesn't remove the Weaver from combat. Now, with our untapped Weaver, we can use its ability to untap the Maze and another land, and Maze can again untap the Weaver, which can untap the Maze and another land, over and over, many, many times. This is a clunkier version of the combo, as it only works during our attack step and our mana pool will empty if we move to the next phase, which means we can only use that mana for spells or effects at instant speed.
Luckily, Lore Weaver's "Target player draws two cards" ability works at instant speed, so that's one card that can win us the game. To see what else works at that pace, let's go ahead and look at the full decklist to see all the ways we can use infinite mana during our attack step.
Hippo Hugs!View on Archidekt
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When building and refining this deck over the years, I've had one simple rule to attempt to counteract the "Kill the Hugs Deck First" mentality: nothing, and I mean nothing, is threatening. All of the removal gives the owner something in return, all of the pillow fort elements only dissuade you from attacking me, rather than making rules stipulations for the entire board. Nothing except the win conditions themselves raise an eyebrow at the table. What you can't buy with goodwill from handing out cards, lands, Hippos, and life to those in need, you can at least hope to acquire by appearing less dangerous than your local Sliver player.
That said, there are still a couple of tools outside of Suture Priest that are still in the deck to help us win without Lore Weaver.
Helix Pinnacle will often sit out on the table turn after turn without anyone feeling that they need to do anything about it, provided the counters stay at a low number. While it can draw some hate (it is a card that says "win" on it, after all), I'm always astounded by how often it doesn't. As for Walking Archive, the fact that you draw cards during upkeep instead of the draw step already makes it useful in all sorts of ways, but if you put 7,777,777 counters on him, you get to watch with satisfaction as everyone draws their whole deck one at a time, dying with each pass of the turn. Even better, no one is alarmed when the Archive hits the table. After all, it's just another Howling Mine in a deck full of Howling Mines, right?
Lastly, there is our commander, the lovable purple hippo itself. While it won't win you the game without the scary Suture Priest, it can still create board states that will help assail whoever is winning the game, given enough mana. With infinite white mana, you can make a deal with the player sitting at 10 life to jump right up to 666 life, provided they directs their ire at the player who's the "real problem" for a turn or two. With infinite green mana, you can give out Hippo tokens to the players who aren't the "problem," knowing that they'd have to pay a fortune in mana to get through your Propaganda. While it's not winning the game, and it might backfire, it might also keep everyone in the game long enough for you to find a win condition!
So, with three cards that can win the game outright with our infinite mana, the combo is definitely worth including. Only now, what do we cut from the deck for them?
While it is tempting to try and keep every card in the deck that can go find Maze of Ith for us, I try not to lean too heavily on tutors in my decks, especially if they're only tutoring for win conditions. With that in mind, and given the fact that both Pir's Whim and Tempt with Discovery fill similar roles and are the same mana cost as Ley Weaver, let's go ahead and see which we'd rather get rid of.
Tempt with Discovery has been a favorite of Group Hug and Ramp decks for a long time, giving you the possibility of searching up several nonbasic lands from your deck for just four mana if there is a little cooperation or greed among your opponents. This gives you the opportunity to do everything from basic mana fixing to setting up hard-to-deal-with board states by fetching Thespian's Stage and Glacial Chasm or Maze of Ith. Or perhaps you just want to have a huge mana advantage by assembling Urza-Tron. All of that is well, fine, and strategical. But what if you don't have opponents willing to hand you an advantage?
In that case, you might look for a bit more subtlety. Something that will be guaranteed to grant you an advantage if you need it, while giving you some room for political machinations as well. If that is the case, then Pir's Whim might be what you're looking for. In the same vein as Tempt with Discovery, it does allow you to search for any land and put it onto the battlefield (although tapped in this case). You can also allow your opponents who are struggling (or whom you've made deals with) to search for a land of their choice. However, if no one takes you up on a deal, or there's a clear person ahead in the game, or if you're just plain feeling nasty, you also have the choice to have one or more of your opponents (or even yourself) sacrifice an artifact or enchantment. This means that, unlike Tempt, Pir's Whim guarantees card advantage if you are not in a situation where you can afford to let the whole table partake.
So... Which is Better?
According to the numbers, deckbuilders overwhelmingly prefer Tempt with Discovery, despite its higher price tag than Pir's Whim. While some of that discrepancy may be due to Pir's Whim being a relatively new printing from Battlebond, it could also be because of the tendency of a lot of tables to let the Tempt player get away with the Tempting Offer. I know on more than one occasion I have been allowed to lock up a board with Glacial Chasm, then search for a copy land to further that advantage, and then had enough graciousness left among the table to throw in a Lotus Vale as well. However, for every table I've played at that let me take them for everything they had, there's also been tables that let me grab a Reliquary Tower and... that's it. No other Tempting Offer takers. In that situation, Pir's Whim would have done the same, while also disrupting opponents for not playing along.
So, both cards allow politics of one sort or another. One allows you to be the negotiator in those discussions, punishing those who don't agree and rewarding those who do. The other simply asks whether people would like to play along, which can be its own kind of olive branch that may end in a better result. Which will work better for your deck will simply depend on a combination of your commander, your strategy, your play style, and your charisma modifier.
So which would you cut to include our other four mana green card with a bit more combo potential?
Given that Mill is one of the possible win conditions of the deck, it's possible that Lore Weaver may be used to have players draw cards, or even go digging a little deeper into our own deck. In all likelihood, however, her seven-cost activated ability will probably go mostly unused unless it's winning us the game. So with that in mind, for the purposes of cutting, we'll keep her in the category of "win condition" and proceed accordingly by looking at our other win conditions:
Only having four win conditions in the entire deck is a bit risky, although if you keep in mind that it's possible to mill opponents out through card draw while you survive with a Words of Wind or a Wheel of Sun and Moon if the game goes on long enough. In a similar vein, Approach of the Second Sun and Crumbling Sanctuary are both heavily aided by the amount of Howling Mine effects we're playing as well. Indeed, when looking through the deck, Approach is probably the most consistent win condition, often coming out on the first cast and then immediately being drawn again the next turn to cast for the win.
Crumbling Sanctuary is much slower, and can draw some hate over that time if you're not careful with how you frame it. It's hard for some players to watch their cards get exiled, even if it means they're living longer. The archenemy at the table will come after you when you play it, every time. Still, in combination with Elixir of Immortality or Wheel of Sun and Moon, it's very possible that in the war of attrition that comes with transferring everyone's life total to their library total, you might just have the longevity needed. Crumbling Sanctuary does come with the downside of possibly milling your other win conditions, however, so it's probably in real contention to be on the chopping block.
Helix Pinnacle and Azor's Elocutors can also draw some hate in the long term, to varying degrees. Pinnacle is difficult to remove, both as an enchantment and a permanent with shroud. Often opponents who decide it's a problem will try to remove target player if they cannot remove target enchantment.
Elocutors, on the other hand, have almost exactly the opposite problem. Being a creature and an easily disruptable win condition, they may draw some hate at a low boil, just enough to get the counters off of them or destroy them entirely. This means that you won't necessarily be out of the game as sometimes happens with Helix Pinnacle, Approach of the Second Sun, or Crumbling Sanctuary, but it also means you aren't winning the game, either. Every once in a while you'll happen upon the perfect pillow fort in the form of a [elSolitary Confinement[/el] or an Energy Field and Wheel of Sun and Moon, then have it last five turns in a row, but that is a long time in a game of Commander.
So... Which is the Worst?
According to the numbers, Crumbling Sanctuary is by far the least played of all of these cards, only showing up in a mere 179 decks here on EDHREC. It is probably on the less consistent end of win conditions in this deck. The most popular of the four - and the one I would call the deck's best win condition - is Approach of the Second Sun, coming in at 3,296 decks. Given how many cards this deck can draw and how much mana it makes, it's just too easy to play and too hard to disrupt to not keep in the deck. In the middle of the pack, despite its hefty price tag and immense resource requirement, is Helix Pinnacle at 2,467 decks. Lastly is Azor's Elocutors, getting a recent bump up to 1,634 decks in the aftermath of the printing of Persistent Petitioners.
So which of these win conditions would you cut to include the Lore Weaver portion of the puzzle?
Just Cut a Land?
Lastly, it's time to make room for Maze of Ith. Unlike most lands, Maze doesn't actually make any mana, so we can't just swap it out for another land like we usually would. That said, it is free to play at some point throughout the game, if you don't mind "missing" a land drop. So with that, and the fact that you can never have too much pillow fort, let's look at our mana acceleration package and see if there's anything there that stands out:
Gotta go fast?View on Archidekt
Given the amount of cards and the "yeah, I'm not cutting that" nature of a lot of them, let's just blaze through the pros and cons of each card line by line and give them a quick "seat of the pants" score.
- Selvala, Explorer Returned: This one just checks too many boxes to let go. It lets players draw, gives you mana, and gives you a little extra life to get you through, all while being a blocker. 4/5
- Solemn Simulacrum: The quintessential staple does it all, but is that really enough? Given my nature to try and play fewer staples in my decks, and the fact that this guy doesn't do anything for our opponents or to help keep us alive, it's tempting to just cut this value powerhouse. 2/5
- Chromatic Lantern: While I normally would shy away from putting Lantern in a three-color deck, the idea here was that it would allow you to make more of whatever resource you needed from your commander at any given time. All Hippos or all life, so to speak. Still, three-cost rocks feel pretty bad, and it's not like you're looking for excuses to give away more stuff all that often. 1/5
- Ghirapur Orrery: More lands and more cards for everyone. You don't get to say it often, but this is a card that has caused other players to keep me alive so they can keep it on the board. Definitely worth keeping in. 4/5
- Sol Ring: Move along, citizen. 5/5
- Eladamri's Vineyard: Two Hippos every (precombat) main phase is a lot, and you'll be shocked at how often you're the only one that actually takes advantage of this extra mana. Heck of a deal for one green mana. 3/5
- Oath of Lieges: Oh good, another chance to rant about how Mass Land Destruction isn't the answer to Ramp decks in Boros and Mono-white! People should play this card in more decks. It lets the person who's land screwed actually play, and it helps keep the decks at the table on a more level playing field. In other words, play this and Balancing Act in your Boros decks, people! Oh, and also in your hug decks, obviously. 4/5
- New Frontiers: This card is really hit and miss. For each time you cast it and catapult the whole game forward so you can cast win conditions before people can kill you, there are just as many times where you do the same thing and another deck untaps and wins on the spot. Definitely a kingmaker gamble here. 2/5
- Harrow: It's better than every other three-mana ramp spell, and I will fight you on that. 5/5
I'd like to take a moment here and really stress how useful these "seat of the pants" ratings are when you're making cuts. I talked about this some in my "Taking on the Dump" article, but it's worth going over again. Often your initial impressions are the best ones, and I always stress to people to make piles accordingly. If you're going through a stack of cards thinking of cuts, don't just stack them all on top of each other! Make piles based on how strongly you feel about the cards. Anything you can do to cut down the options you must consider will make it easier on yourself in the long run.
So, with that said, which of the "worst" cards from my seat-of-the-pants rankings would you cut to make room for the best land in EDH?
What do you think about "fair" infinite combos and giving opponents time to deal with your win conditions? For all the 'feel bads' that can result from a game suddenly ending without warning, does plopping a big spell or effect down on the table that says "deal with me or you lose" and then saying 'go' avoid a lot of those social issues?
Finally, what do you do to make cuts in your decks? What cards do you have roaming around unsleeved in the side of your deckboxes? What decks are you having trouble finding room for new cards in?
Let me know in the comments, and maybe next time we'll go over your deck to help you get to your best 99!
Next time: No, seriously. Send me your decks and dumps and cards that you're having trouble adding or dropping, people. @DougYnerd on Twitter, here in the comments, however you'd like! Let's do this.