The New Two Card Combo in Modern and Pioneer

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By Byron King
@DoneTheMath

 

Theros Beyond Death spoilers are in full swing, giving us a ton of powerful cards.  Underworld Breach, Thirst for Meaning, Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, and more are posed to make their mark on Magic, simply waiting for players to find them a home.  One card doesn’t need too much digging to find the potential.

 

Combine this new god with an old favorite

 

Activate the ability on Heliod, Sun-Crowned to give Walking Ballista lifelink, then repeatedly ping the opponent for a point of damage.  Heliod, Sun-Crowned refreshes the +1/+1 counter with another of his abilities, creating an unbound amount of damage.

This isn’t quite Splinter Twin, where Card A + Card B wins the game immediately.  This combo needs a little bit of extra work.  The two big things are the mana cost to activate Heliod and the need for a Walking Ballista that has two counters on it.  When I first saw the combo, I assumed a Ballista with a single counter would be good enough, but you need it to not die to state-based effects with Heliod’s counter refreshing ability on the stack.  These aren’t big hurdles, but you aren’t curving out a win on Turn 4 without some help.

I was prepared to build some sweet decks for Heliod, but I don’t think I need to reinvent the wheel. Walking Ballista has already cemented itself as a staple in Modern.

The current version of the Devoted Druid combo deck looks like this

SCG Player’s Championship
Collens Mullen

4 Noble Hierarch
4 Giver of Runes
2 Gilded Goose
4 Devoted Druid
3 Vizier of Remedies
2 Duskwatch Recruiter
2 Eternal Witness
1 Deputy of Detention
1 Ranger-Captain of Eos
1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
1 Walking Ballista
4 Eldamari’s Call
4nOnce Upon a Time
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
4 Finale of Devastation

1 Breeding Pool
1 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Horizon Canopy
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Razorverge Thicket
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath

 

This list uses the Devoted Druid + Vizier of Remedies combo to generate infinite mana to search the deck with Duskwatch Recruiter or a tutor to find Walking Ballista for a million counters.  Oko’s reign on Magic is present here, with the deck warped around fitting the powerful planeswalker into the deck.  I want to look further back.

 

Not too long after War of the Spark was released, Karn, the Great Creator was tearing up Modern.  Every deck that could reasonably generate piles of mana were trying to lock people out with Mycosynth Lattice.  There was an SCG event where several players showed up with Devoted Druid combo that used Karn in the win condition slot.  Those lists looked something like this.

 

4 Arbor Elf
4 Devoted Druid
4 Vizier of Remedies
1 Walking Ballista
4 Oath of Nissa
4 Utopia Sprawl
4 Eldamari’s Call
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Karn, the Great Creator
4 Finale of Devastation
2 Postmortem Lunge

1 Breeding Pool
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Forest
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
3 Temple Garden
1 Waterlogged Grove
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills

 

This list is rough, but it highlights the deckbuilding aspect I want to look at. Karn, the Great Creator does a couple things with the Walking Ballista combo.  It provides a win condition on its own with a sideboard Mycosynth Lattice.  Beyond that, it artificially inflates the number of Walking Ballistas in the deck.  That is excellent if the deck doesn’t always want a full set.

 

4 Noble Hierarch
4 Giver of Runes
4 Devoted Druid
3 Vizier of Remedies
1 Eternal Witness
1 Walking Ballista
4 Eldamari’s Call
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Finale of Devastation

19 Lands

 

Taking a wrecking ball to the Oko list for Devoted Druid, I’m down to these cards.  Cutting blue entirely is quite possibly the wrong approach, but I want to start by pushing the combo to see if it’s worth the effort at all.

After Oko, Deputy of Detention goes since we aren’t planning to support blue mana anymore. Gilded Goose follows shortly after, since we don’t really want to mess with Food tokens.  Ranger-Captain of Eos was in the list as a tutor for Walking Ballista, a role that Karn, the Great Creator will be filling.  Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a mana sink, another role that Karn will be filling.  Duskwatch Recruiter is another card that Karn essentially covers.  Lastly, we can skip the second Eternal Witness in the first round of construction.

That gives us 12 slots to work with.  We want a set of Karn, the Great Creator and some copies of Heliod, Sun-Crowned.  There should be another couple copies of Walking Ballista in the list too.

4 Noble Hierarch
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Giver of Runes
4 Devoted Druid
4 Vizier of Remedies
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
1 Eternal Witness
3 Walking Ballista
4 Eldamari’s Call
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Karn, the Great Creator
4 Finale of Devastation

4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Horizon Canopy
2 Temple Garden
1 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Windswept Heath
2 Misty Rainforest

Sideboard
1 Walking Ballista
1 Mycosynth Lattice
13 other cards

 

I would start here to see how well Heliod, Sun-Crowned fits into this deck.  It shouldn’t take too many games to get a feel for how well the combos work together.  Karn might not belong at all, but it feels worth testing with Walking Ballista as a combo piece instead of incidentally winning the game with infinite mana.

The other way I’d look at splicing these two combos together is with Collected Company.  I’m going to start from scratch with this list, since Collected Company means drastically reducing the number of non-creatures in the deck.

 

4 Noble Hierarch
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Giver of Runes
4 Devoted Druid
4 Vizier of Remedies
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
4 Ranger-Captain of Eos
2 Eternal Witness
2 Spike Feeder
2 Walking Ballista

4 Once Upon a Time
4 Collected Company

 

I haven’t touched on Spike Feeder yet, but it is another combo with Heliod, Sun-Crowned.  It doesn’t deal damage, but it does gain an unbound amount of life.

This list is a little bit faster than my Karn, the Great Creator list.  However, interaction will be much more difficult to win through, since the deck has minimal ways to reload.

Hardened Scales is another place to look in Modern.  I’m going to pass on that deck for now, as that deck is already a complicated mess that I haven’t played with much yet.  The manabase is a fundamental part of that deck, and wedging white into the deck is going to drastically impact the deck’s ability to curve out for fast, aggressive wins.
That said, Hardened Scales does cut down on the work needed to pump Walking Ballista for a lethal combo.

One last thought is Leyline of Vitality.  It allows Hangarback Walker to come in with X equaling zero, and it gains a life for Heliod, Sun-Crowned to give an initial counter.

 

Pioneer

Pioneer lacks the prebuilt shells to work with the Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista, but the combo has so much more potential in a smaller card pool.  Currently, Pioneer combo decks look like Twiddlestorm or Kethis combo.  These decks are full to the brim with cards necessary to make the combo work, and the cards are wildly underpowered on their own.  Walking Ballista and Heliod, Sun-Crowned don’t need a dedicated shell to work, so there is a lot of freedom to customize the deck.

I’ll start with the preexisting Hardened Scales shell for Pioneer

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Llanowar Elves

4 Winding Constrictor
2 Verdurous Gearhulk
4 Walking Ballista
4 Stonecoil Serpent
4 Voracious Hydra
4 Hardened Scales
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
4 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger
3 Blooming Marsh
6 Forest
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Woodland Cemetery

 

The first version I want to make is cutting the Nykthos and Vivien angle of going over the top of the opponent.  The Heliod angle already covers that nicely.  Instead, lets look at Venerated Loxodon

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Winding Constrictor
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
3 Venerated Loxodon
4 Walking Ballista
4 Stonecoil Serpent
4 Voracious Hydra
4 Hardened Scales
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Temple Garden
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Blooming Marsh
5 other lands

 

This list might not look too bad until you get to the mana base.  Three colors in an aggressive deck feels awful.  I’m pretty sure this deck needs Sandsteppe Citadel, and I’m not excited to put a tapped land into the deck just to hit my colors.  Let’s move away from Winding Constrictor and try again.

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Llanowar Elves
1 Huatli’s Raptor
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
4 Venerated Loxodon
2 Hangarback Walker
4 Walking Ballista
4 Stonecoil Serpent
4 Voracious Hydra
4 Hardened Scales
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Fortified Village
7 Forest
3 Plains

The mana looks better, but testing is needed to see if the combo is worth the downgrade in power that comes from Winding Constrictor leaving.  Huatli’s Raptor isn’t nearly as good, but it might fill the Winding Constrictor hole.

 

Up to this point, I’ve ignored Heliod, Sun-Crowned as an actual creature.  There are plenty of ways to maximize the card as a aggressive three drop, and that might be the best way to include the combo in a deck.  Maybe something like this

4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
3 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Walking Ballista
3 Heart of Kiran
3 Gideon Blackblade
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Spire of Industry
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Castle Ardenvale
15 Plains

There are several decent Devotion cards that didn’t make my initial list.  Precinct Captain, Consul’s Lieutenant, Boros Reckoner, History of Benalia, Benalish Marshal, Linden, the Steadfast Queen, and Archangel of Thune all build up Devotion quickly.  Brave the Elements is a huge angle to exploit with white decks, but that pulls us away from the artifact theme.  I think Toolcraft Exemplar and Thraben Inspector are strong enough to keep the artifact theme, but that could be wrong.

Declaration in Stone might be the best removal spell we have access to, outside of Walking Ballista.  I’m not excited about that, but it probably deserves a couple slots somewhere in the deck.

 

Lastly, I expect there is a solid midrange deck that uses the Walking Ballista + Heliod, Sun-Crowned in an Azorius shell with Teferi, Time Raveler.  I’m not sure exactly where I want to start with that deck, since Teferi, Heliod, Reflector Mage, and Spell Queller are all appealing at the three mana slot.  I do think Teferi, Time Raveler does a marvelous job protecting the combo and buying time, I’m just not sure what else to add to the deck.

 

I’m getting a little burnt out on ideas for decks at this point.  I’ve certainly dug into a few shells that I think show significant promise.  I’m particularly interested in a white aggressive deck that incidentally combos in Pioneer.  I’m not sure if that deck should be focused on artifacts or Brave the Elements, or if it can run both.  In Modern, I’m starting to get intrigued with Leyline of Vitality.  Realistically, I think fitting the combo in the Devoted Druid shell is the easiest home for Heliod, Sun-Crowned.

Even if all my decks flop, I’m confidant that Heliod, Sun-Crowned will show up in Pioneer and Modern.  I’m just not sure where yet.

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