Too-Specific Top 10 - Don't Go Cascading Combos

(Abaddon the Despoiler | Art by Johan Grenier)

Or, You Know, Do

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Reset and Nivix Guildmage can give you infinite colored mana and infinite looting, but only during an opponent's turn?)

Combos can be a fun machine to put together at higher-powered tables, but the peskiness of finding them means stacking an entire deck full of tutors.

Or does it?

Abaddon the Despoiler might not look like your average Sidisi, Undead Vizier, but in fact he might be even better at finding combo pieces, with some very interesting deck construction.

3 2 1 Blastoff

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Commander (1)
Instants (17)
Planeswalkers (5)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (7)
Enchantments (3)
Creatures (23)
Lands (33)

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Close observers will note that this "deck" only has 98 cards in it. Less close observers probably still picked up on the fact that almost everything in the deck costs three mana, and nothing costs under three mana. No, I'm not playing Keruga (although I would be if I could), I'm abusing Cascade!

You see, if your deck only has one or two spells that costs two mana or less in it, and then you cast a three-mana spell with Cascade, then voila! You go get those specific cards. Obviously, if we do this, we'd want those specific cards to help us end the game.

So, why don't we check out which cards will win us the game this way?

Top 10 Grixis Two-Mana, Two-Card Combos

Criteria: Two-card combos whose constituent parts each cost two mana or less, fall within the Grixis color identity, and work if both cards are cast (sorry, Dramatic Scepter combo!), with only the most popular representative featuring a given card being counted (otherwise the whole list is just Thassa's Oracle variants). As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score. This week, we'll be going by EDHREC score of the combos, as listed by Commander Spellbook!

Why the non-repetition clause, you ask? Because I have another beef with playing combos: they're boring. Sure, the lead-up to actually getting them to go off can be exciting, but even that lead up gets to be a bit run-of-the-mill at times, with games feeling like the exact same over and over again.

So I figure, why not play a deck that plays ten different combos, just to keep things fresh? You can roll a die before each game to randomly pick which two-card combo you're going to go with this go-around, or you could pick the specific combo out to try and match your deck's power level to the table! You won't ever get down to Battlecruiser level, but there's such a thing as a bad two-card combo, believe it or not!

10. Nivix Guildmage and Dramatic Reversal

(320 Inclusions, Infinite Colored Mana)

Let's start with the worst we'll see in the deck, the combo we'll pick out when we want the thing to operate a little more slowly. It's not quite as bad as the featured set of Nivix Guildmage and Reset, but it essentially does the same thing: gets Nivix Guildmage out, then casts Dramatic Reversal, then copy Reversal while it's on the stack with the Guildmage's ability. You then let the copy resolve and untap all your stuff, then copy the original again with the untapped mana.

The only problem? Everything I just described costs six mana, and the combo only works if you have nonland permanents that can tap for five mana, as those are the only things Dramatic Reversal untaps. In this deck, that's going to be beyond difficult, even playing eight different three-mana rocks. It's not impossible, mind you, but it is going to be extremely difficult without getting down a ton of mana rocks, at least one of which is a kicked Skyclave Relic. Of course, we could make life easier with a Gilded Lotus and a few Worn Powerstone equivalents, but it turns out when you try to make a deck work with ten different combos, you're a little strapped for space!

9. Mesmeric Orb and Aphetto Alchemist

(519 Inclusions, Infinite Self-Mill)

If you were wondering why the deck was playing both Laboratory Maniac and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries when it was already going to be guaranteed to have Thassa's Oracle as one of its win-cons, then look no further than Mesmeric Orb and Aphetto Alchemist! This one is a little simpler to map out, as far as the combo goes, with you only having to have both cards in play, at which point you can tap Aphetto Alchemist targeting itself, which triggers Mesmeric Orb. Alchemist's ability then resolves, untapping itself, so you can do it all again, as many times as you'd like!

Again, though, there's a wrinkle here, and it's that you aren't drawing all these cards, you're milling them. In other words, you're likely to mill your win condition, at which point you're going to need to find a way to get it back. I did find room for a Dread Return you could Flashback to grab Laboratory Maniac, if you have enough creatures, but otherwise you're in for a rough time until you get all the proper pieces into your hand or onto the battlefield. Don't worry, though: if you pull the trigger and things don't work out, there's also an Echo of Eons sitting there in your graveyard as a reset button!

8. Benthic Biomancer and Wizard Class

(541 Inclusions, Infinite Looting, Infinite Draw Triggers, Infinite Self-Discard Triggers, Near-Infinite +1/+1 Counters)

Hey, our first and only all one-mana combo! Sort of. You see, while you can Cascade both Benthic Biomancer and Wizard Class down to the battlefield, you are still going to need to turn Wizard Class all the way on to make the combo work, which is an extra eight mana. After all that, it also doesn't necessarily win you the game without help, although your typical Lab Maniacs can aid you with that, along with the more sexy pick of Glint-Horn Buccaneer. So, you know, you only need 12 extra mana once you get both pieces of the combo on board. Not bad.

7. Cephalid Illusionist and Lightning Greaves

(1,130 Inclusions, Infinite Self-Mill)

No extra mana needed for Lightning Greaves to keep on targeting Cephalid Illusionist, however! You do need an extra creature in play to switch the Boots back and forth between the two, but given that you're gonna want a Laboratory Maniac out anyhow, that's no problem!

6. Goblin Welder and Thornbite Staff

(1,606 Inclusions, Infinite ETB, Infinite LTB, Infinite Death Triggers, Infinite Sacrifice Triggers)

Goblin Welder has been one of the best one-mana creatures ever printed since, well, it was printed. Its interaction with Thornbite Staff is a bit confusing at first, until you realize that the artifact he's sacrificing can be an artifact creature, which would have Thornbite Staff untap him.

This does put us in the awkward position of having to include quite a number of artifact creatures in our already-full "make this work with 10 different combos" deck, but luckily there's a couple mana dork Myr for three mana, a mana sink win condition in the form of Cogwork Assembler, and a backup plan for when our combo gets countered in the form of Salvager of Ruin.

5. Painter's Servant and Grindstone

(2,627 Inclusions, Infinite Mill of Target Player)

The two-card combo that had Painter's Servant (probably unfairly) banned for a decade, the general gist is that you name a color when it enters, then activate Grindstone, milling all of a player's deck now that the cards contained therein all now share a color. Ironically, I think the main reason for the banning was actually the bad part of this combo, as well: it only kills one player at a time. This means that, often, the combo player will play this down, take someone out, and pass the turn, only to have the combo removed and the player who they kicked out of the game sitting across the table glaring for the next hour as the game continues without them. But hey, that's what Junk Diver is for, right?

4. Power Artifact and Grim Monolith

(2,885 Inclusions, Infinite Colorless Mana)

The most expensive combo on the list would be infinitely easier to pull off with Basalt Monolith, but nonetheless works with its more expensive reserved list cousin, Grim Monolith, which is good because we can Cascade into the two-mana version reliably. If it needs to be spelled out, Power Artifact makes the Monolith's untap ability only cost two, and it taps for three mana, making you infinite mana. Just be careful, because enchantment recursion is hard to come by in Grixis, meaning that if Power Artifact gets countered, you're pretty much looking at Salvager of Ruin or Ill-Gotten Gains to get it back, and that's it!

3. Duskmantle Guildmage and Maddening Cacophony

(4,525 Inclusions, Near Infinite Lifeloss, Near Infinite Mill, Each Opponent Loses the Game)

If you ever played this nonsense pile of a Johnny dream deck, then you may consider blindly selecting the combos before a game. Unfortunately, I would suggest against doing that, and the reason why is Duskmantle Guildmage and Maddening Cacophony. It's all fun and games Cascading into a random two-card combo until you realize that you have to pay the Kicker on half of it when it gets Cascaded for the combo to work, and have Duskmantle Guildmage already in play with another three mana available to activate its life loss ability. In other words, mana availability and sequencing are both things you're going to have to keep track of here, with a real possibility of having to play a three mana-spell to Cascade, wait for your coinflip to go wrong and put Maddening Cacophony on the stack, and then play a three-mana instant in response to go get the Guildmage. Just a casual 13 mana you'll need to pull this off, what could go wrong?

2. Bloodchief Ascension and Mindcrank

(7,850 Inclusions, Infinite Lifeloss, Infinite Mill)

Luckily, Bloodchief Ascension and Mindcrank is a combo that's a lot easier to pull off. In fact, despite not getting the #1 spot on the list, it's probably easily the best combo that you could play with Abaddon if you were building this deck for real. It's a true two-card combo with no sequencing issues that can easily be Cascaded into by simply casting two three-mana spells that doesn't require any other cards to kill all of your opponents (okay, okay, you do still have to deal damage, but it's not like a third of the deck isn't already doing that).

1. Demonic Consultation and Thassa's Oracle

(33,250 Inclusions, Exile Your Library, Win the Game)

Alas, we all knew what the top of this list was going to be. The quintessential Competitive EDH combo, Demonic Consultation and Thassa's Oracle also provides a true two-card combo that will win you the game immediately. However, sequencing is just abysmal no matter how you look at it: if you get Demonic Consultation off of your first Cascade, then you're resolving it to either get your Thassa's Oracle in your hand or to possibly exile your win condition while looking for an Ill-Gotten Gains to be able to cast the Thassa's Oracle at your own speed. If instead you Cascade into Thassa's Oracle, you then probably end up wasting your game-winning trigger because you still have a library.

In other words, the only guaranteed way to sequence this correctly is to always play your first Cascade with a three-mana instant in your hand, so no matter what you get first you can get the other card in response. Which isn't the worst thing in the world, but it does make your two-card combo into a three-card combo.

Honorable Mentions

Combing through the list of combos to find all of the various two-mana, two-card options was more than a little time-consuming, so rather than keep going through to find out if there's anything else out there, I figured looking at what combos didn't get selected for various reasons would be a better use of time.

The classic Dramatic Scepter combo would've been first on this list, if it weren't for the fact that it just plain doesn't work with Cascade.

Three-card combos would've been a bridge too far under many conditions, but there's no doubt that this little ditty is extremely good with the deck. At first, sequencing appears to be an issue, but it turns out thanks to Underworld Breach that's not really a problem. Even if you get Brain Freeze first, you can just cast it from your graveyard again once you've acquired Lion's Eye Diamond and Breach. I even considered adding Underworld Breach to the deck for combo redundancy all on its own, but I don't think it's worth it to Cascade into something that isn't your combo, just so you can maybe cast your combo again.

There were actually quite a few combos that featured cards that already made the list, but only Mindcrank and Duskmantle Guildmage were entirely made up of cards that appeared on the list in other more popular versions.

Perhaps even better than the Underworld Breach/Lion's Eye Diamond combo in this version of Abaddon, this little three-card combo has pieces that all do excellent things in the deck on their own: Etherium Sculptor provides some badly needed ramp for all of our artifacts, and Sensei's Divining Top and The Reality Chip both stack our deck for our non-three-mana Cascades. The only huge issue is that the combo itself doesn't win the game, and needs a Guttersnipe or some other kind of cast trigger or Storm spell to close things out.

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge Commander Spellbook tenacity! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Commander Spellbook search (please, Commander Spellbook, let us use the "mv"/"cmc" commands someday soon!)

What Do You Think?

I've beat this dead horse before, but I do wonder if minds have changed over the last few years...

Finally, what is your favorite two-card combo? Can you Cascade into it? Have you ever built a Cascade combo deck, or a deck that has multiple combos you switch out to keep things fresh?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the couch-coffee table combination I acquired special for a more "casual" feel in my Commander games.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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