Modern Meta Deck Choice: GW Combo Town

There are quite a few Modern players who stick to a single deck, tune it as the meta changes, and find quite a bit of success with their tried and true archetype.  Caleb Scherer is a great example.  Recently, he’s had some very strong finishes with this deck despite it being, according to some, poorly positioned.  As a deck gains popularity and rises to the top of the Modern meta, the sideboard cards and archetypes that are strongest against it become more numerous.  As a result, Modern continues to fluctuate and the meta seems to constantly cycle through responses to the previous weekend’s most consistent finishes.  As a contrast to Caleb’s consistent choice in Storm, some players put more stock in the importance of “reading the meta” and making a deck choice that best fits their current expected needs.  I’ve been posting quite a bit about Control lately and still love the archetype dearly, but the rise of Jeskai has brought some Control nemesis back in droves.  Given the large amount of Control being played, I would expect to a rise in Tron, a deck that is particularly strong against it.  For that reason, I’ve shifted my focus a bit to return to another deck that is near and dear to my heart that stands a good chance against Jeskai and Tron as well as many of the other top tier decks in the format.

Corey’s GW Combo Town (June 2018)

Spells (8)
Chord of Calling
Collected Company

Creatures (30)
Courser of Kruphix
Devoted Druid
Duskwatch Recruiter
Qasali Pridemage
Eternal Witness
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Renegade Rallier
Rhonas the Indomitable
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Vizier of Remedies
Walking Ballista
Knight of the Reliquary
Voice of Resurgence
Tireless Tracker
Scavenging Ooze
Lands (22)
Field of Ruin
Ghost Quarter
Kessig Wolf Run
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Horizon Canopy
Stirring Wildwood

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Reclamation Sage
Path to Exile
Archangel Avacyn
Kataki, War’s Wage
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Selfless Spirit
Tireless Tracker
Phyrexian Revoker
Lightning Greaves
Stony Silence

Typically, a deck like Vizier Company struggles against a Control deck like Jeskai.  While I wouldn’t say this deck is heavily favored in the match-up, the value package, as well as a few unusual side-boarding schematics I’ve chosen to include have made our odds quite a bit better against Lightning Bolt/Path to Exile decks.  As far as Tron goes, in the six matches I’ve played against it, I have lost just one.  This deck’s ability to disrupt big mana set-ups and apply pressure/assemble a combo make this match-up very favorable.  Of course, natural Tron draws into Ugin. the Spirit Dragon are still difficult to beat.

While this screen capture makes my Lightning Greaves look a little foolish, I wanted to share it to demonstrate our ability to stand up to Tron, even in a longer game.  Regarding the Greaves, I’ll touch on that a bit later…

Considerations During Deck Selection

When determining which deck to play at any point in time, I always consider the following (in order of importance):

  1. Is this a deck I enjoy playing?  (If not, why play it?  Its a game after all.)
  2. Is the current meta a harsh environment for my deck? (I certainly don’t want to be banging my head against a wall.)
  3. Is the deck skill-intensive and rewarding?  Does it present a lot of decision-making moments that allow me to feel like I am in some control of my results?
  4. Does the deck pack a versatile main deck and sideboard to address a variety of situations?  (I’d always prefer to play interactive Magic)

While your preferences may differ, there are a few things we should all recognize as important despite our differences in styles.  The most important one being #2, “Is the meta harsh to my deck?”  We’ll start here since the most competitive players are likely to bypass #1 if it improves their chances to win games.

Magic is calculated gambling.  If we play 12 rounds at a tournament, there are twelve chances that we will see a good, bad, or even match-up.  If we know that ten percent of the metagame is Humans, we may plan on losing at least one of those games with a deck that has a poor Humans match-up.  That’s not too bad and an 11-1 record is typically good enough for the top eight.  The problem with that logic is that Modern is incredibly vast and the 12 decks you will actually be paired against don’t represent a large enough sample size to follow suite with the ‘expected meta’ based on MTG Goldfish percentages, especially on day one.

Beyond that, many players will prioritize point #1, “Is this a deck I enjoy playing?” over anything else.  This means that there are a few decks that you should ALWAYS be prepared for, regardless of their current strength.  Control decks, for one, tend to have a die hard following.  This is immediately evident in the way that Control players will be the first to foil out their decks and play artist-signed and promo alternatives for their cards.  When Control is in a good place in Modern, expect a ton of it.  It’s fun to play planeswalkers, deny spells, and generally drown your opponent in resource advantage.  Who could blame them?

I would also consider Tron and Affinity to be staples of Modern.  While each deck has its specific weaknesses that are commonly exploited by sideboards, both decks pack a unique game plan that is enjoyable (for the pilot) and rewarding.  Additionally, the most valuable cards in these decks are seldom useful in other Modern archetypes.  This makes it difficult to sleeve up a second Modern deck without making another significant investment in its chase cards.  Let’s face it, while Magic players are readily willing to shell out for their cardboard, Modern is expensive and price IS a limitation.  In the first seven to eight rounds of a large event, you’re likely to face quite a few players that aren’t willing to spend hundreds of dollars to change decks each week.  With that in mind, expect to see quite a bit of Burn, too, as it tends to be one of the most affordable decks to build for a player new to the format, and again, is a deck that has garnished a following of devoted pilots.

Risk vs. Reward

The hardest decision to make is whether you’d like your deck to be strong to a majority of the field, giving you some game against even your hardest match-ups, or just merely accepting its weaknesses and sure up your even to favorable match-ups.  I often tend towards packing as much utility in my deck and board as I possibly can in order to give me a chance in every game.  A creature toolbox deck that includes playsets of Chord of Calling, Collected Company, and Knight of the Reliquary often has the ability to do that because a single copy of a sideboard card is functionally duplicated by the numerous cards in your deck that allow you to find it.  While this doesn’t necessarily hold true for cards like Damping Sphere and Stony Silence due to the deck’s inability to tutor for one of these cards, running a split of such things shifts a few percentage points from a match-up to another for the sake of diversity.

Beyond the choices that are made in building a 15-card sideboard, the generalized plan for your deck is likely a more significant decision-making point.  What do you want to do with your list and what weakness does this plan pose?

I love playing the GW Valuetown decks (for reference: Zach Goldman’s GW Valuetown Primer) for their ability to crush greedy manabases, but when it comes to difficult match-ups like Storm, four Collected Company does a mediocre job of finding a silver bullet like Eidolon of Rhetoric.  In match-ups where the Vizier Company combo is bad (such as UW Control), I long for the value package that is present in Valuetown.  The whole idea behind GW Combo Town is that we are a “jack of all trades”.  How does the rest of that go?  “A master of none”?  Not quite…

The Value of Diversity

While I recognize the downsides of limiting one game plan to include another, I can also recognize the upside of such diversity.  Take a look at this capture from a game against Humans…

My opponent has recognized the Vizier of Remedies/Devoted Druid combo at this point and has done everything he could to stop me from doing it.  After I resolved my Druid on turn two, my opponent follows with a Meddling Mage naming its counterpart, Vizier.  I cast Knight of the Reliquary intentionally leaving up a fetch land to find a Stomping Grounds at my opponent’s end step.  When my opponent resolves a Kitesail Freebooter on the next turn, I fear that my Chord of Calling will be stolen but the Path to Exile that I am holding seemed like a better target at the time as I would just be able to exile his Freebooter to recoup my Chord of Calling.

On the next turn, I am able to play a land, tap Druid for two mana to Chord for Vizier, leaving Stomping Ground and Knight of the Reliquary untapped so that I can find Kessig Wolf Run and dump my infinite mana into pumping my Devoted Druid into a lethal attacker.

My opponent thought he knew what he was up against, expected to be safe given the disruption he posted, and lost to an unexpected overlap between two plans.  Had this not gone down in this way, what is the alternative?

To disrupt a combo deck, my Humans opponent had to devote a lot of his early plays to creatures like Meddling Mage and Freebooter.  This left him very susceptible to my Knight of the Reliquary teaming up with Renegade Rallier to go to ‘Valuetown’ by using Ghost Quarter twice on my next turn.  My opponent had to make a decision on how he wanted to approach this match-up.  Should he mount an aggressive attack to race my value package or play a longer game to disrupt my combo and take over?  Both plans, which seem to pull the game in two very different directions have quite a bit of overlap centered around the deck’s key pieces, Chord of Calling and Collected Company. Both cards allow the pilot of such a deck to make informed decisions about how they would like the game to go.  That is the beauty of it.

Card Choices

I hope I’ve made it clear by this point that I value utility and variety in my deck choices.  There are a few unusual inclusions that contribute to these options.

Archangel Avacyn


As far as I know, the credit for this idea is due to Todd Stevens who has packed not one, but two copies of Avacyn in his GW Valuetown decks.  This card is the epitome of utility and has been included in my deck for two contrasting reasons.  The initial ETB trigger on Avacyn provides security against Wrath spells and non-exile removals (redundant with Selfless Spirit who’s already in the 75).  This supports both the combo and value plan as keeping your creatures around is obviously something a creature deck is interested in.  That said, flipping Avacyn into a Sweltering Suns-type of effect is admittedly not great for a gang of Druids, Birds, Hierarchs, however, may be a valuable function against an army of opposing merfolk, humans, elves, or tokens.  I liked this plan when I tested it in Valuetown but struggled to find opportunities to flip Avacyn when I needed it most.  There are a number of ways to do this with greater consistency in Combo Town:

The last option is seemingly convoluted but surprisingly easy to set up with Knight of the Reliquary fronting the land toolbox portion of our deck.  This should bin plenty of lands to increase Knights stats out of range of the impending three damage as well.

Beyond all of these functions, Avacyn is a fantastic beater in the air (works great with the numerous exalted triggers on Hierarchs and Pridemage) and provides a much-needed blocker against many of the flying creatures that are typically out of reach of this deck.  Not to mention, flash and flying are very useful in dealing with planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil, given the decks they see play in tend to deal with our other attackers rather well.

Kessig Wolf Run / Stomping Ground


I’ve heard the argument that this package dilutes your manabase too much.  I don’t buy it.  At the cost of the occasional two life to shock in a Stomping Ground when green mana is needed, I find the risk well-worth it as Kessig Wolf Run tends to be the most common sink for infinite mana in this deck.  As explained above in my Humans match-up example, this package blends the Knight of the Reliquary plan well with the combo plan.  Best of all, my opponents seldom see this coming as a Duskwatch Recruiter to find Walking Ballista is the typical route to victory for this combo.

When I opt to attack my opponent and win the good old fashioned way, trample is a valuable asset to an otherwise dopey 8/8 Knight or innocuous 0/1 Birds of Paradise and can pose a rather aggressive clock.

Lightning Greaves

There are a number of creatures in this deck who would benefit from haste.  The two main most valuable targets include Devoted Druid and Knight of the Reliquary.  When Druid isn’t cast via Chord or CoCo, you are basically broadcasting your combo a turn before it is usable.  Greaves gives you an opportunity to play your combo in the opposite order and protects its pieces so long as your opponent doesn’t have a removal spell waiting when you attempt to attach them.

Keep in mind that shroud will prevent you from targeting your equipped creature as well.  While it may be appealing to send in your Kessig Wolf Run target with the security boots attached, remember that you won’t be able to target it once its wearing them. 

The window for removal between the you’ve cast the creature and the moment the boots are attached is the number one point of criticism for this inclusion.  I recognize the risk.  All I can say is don’t play into this if its going to be a blow-out.  If it is, a removal spell on your combo creature was going to hurt all the same without the Greaves.  In fact, not having them may require you to commit further to your combo (potentially casting Vizier) before that disruption is revealed.  The benefits of Greaves in removal-heavy match-ups far outweigh the risks.  At worst, turning your top decked creatures into hasty threats to an opponent’s planeswalkers or life total may be enough to consider them without the combo in mind.

Other advantages to Greaves in the 75 include the following:

I tend to bring this in for Control match-ups, but also where I feel that my combo is my best chance to win.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty

I like Shalai in the main despite being the only creature that cannot be played off of a Collected Company because it seems to do just about everything this deck needs most.  It’s a flying blocker/attacker, an infinite mana sink, protection, and anti-Scapeshift, Storm, and Burn technology.  Use Chord to put this into play at instant speed when 20 copies of Grapeshot are already targeting you for best results.

Eidolon of Rhetoric

Ok, this one’s not so obscure but I just wanted to take a moment to gush about this card.  It does so much more for this deck than one can gleam from a cursory “It’s good against storm decks” assessment.  I bring this in against Burn, Control, Infect, and any deck that I generally want to slow down.  It’s stats provide advantages against common removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push but if you’re silly enough to make a predictable block with it, you can expect it to be dealt the remaining points of damage to be killed, especially in the Storm match-up, as it is that much of a nuisance for your opponent.  Eidolon is one of those cards that you don’t exactly see its benefits.  Similar to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, where the problems it causes may only be apparent in your opponent’s disgruntled expression as they fail to draw a fifth land when they wish to cast a Supreme Verdict, an Eidolon left unchecked, can single-handedly shut down certain strategies.  Like everything else, though, this isn’t an end-all-be-all for these matches.  You’ll need to present a clock in order to actually win the game as most decks will have some kind of out to this problem.  Once they find it, they’ve likely accumulated enough resources to do what they need to win.


This deck manages to pack creatures that do impressions of all of the things I want in Modern.  Whether it be Avacyn’s Wrath-effect, Tireless Tracker‘s card draw, or Qasali Pridemage‘s Disenchant-effect, your Chord of Callings begin to read much like a charm with twenty plus options.  For that reason, don’t expect stellar results without putting some time in.  These decks reward experience and tuning to suite your preferences.

Since the deck can pack two diverse plans of attack, it becomes very difficult for your opponent to board effectively against it.  Likewise, this gives a pilot of this deck plenty of ways to board into and out of different portions of these strategies in order to focus efforts on what works best in any given match-up.  I generally like a pro-active plan at this point in Modern and think that this deck would be a fantastic choice for anyone looking to plan for an event.

For more on this style, I’ve written quite a bit about a very similar deck that I merely referred to as GW Counters Company.  This is basically an older version of the same deck but I’ve decided that Combo Town is a better reflection of this hybrid of two known archetypes.