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Kraum's MANly Combo

Commander / EDH*

Lilbrudder


“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

-Mike Tyson

Welcome to Kraum's Manly Combo, featuring Cursed Totem , Rest in Peace , Rhystic Study , Mystic Remora , Smothering Tithe , Aven Mindcensor , Grafdigger's Cage , and Notion Thief .

This deck is the personification of the Midrange Ad Nauseam (MAN) Model, which kind of began as a meme, but has become much more. This deck in particular has evolved into an explosive and resilient midrange combo deck capable of winning in a wide range of metas.

In some ways Thrasios is certainly better. Green has a superior card pool to red or white, and he offers a clear outlet to infinite mana, and is an overcosted card advantage engine on a 2 drop 1/3 body.

However, green and creature based activated abilities can quickly become a liability. Given how good Tymna the Weaver is as a partner and how many creature based combo decks depend on activated abilities to function, one drop mana dorks have become meta and a single cursed totem makes Thrasios and all his mana dorks vanilla creatures. A single pyroclasm or fire covenant strips him of most of his ramp and takes away his Tymna blanket that he depends upon to fix his hands. Many of the combos Thrasios' color identity allows (and by extension the majority of green combos) require a lot of iffy slots that immediately become dead cards once someone plays a Grafdigger's Cage , Aven Mindcensor , or Rest in Peace .

The truth of the matter is that Thrasios' perch at the summit of this format is somewhat precarious. When everyone is on creatures, the anticreature deck has a a big advantage. When everyone relies upon activated abilities and the graveyard to win, the deck that functions without those resources can take over the game in a hurry with a single card.

Kraum is a five drop (already lost some of you...), which is often too expensive to cast early without assistance from Grim Monolith , Mana Vault , or Dark Ritual .  However, in a slower game (that we can frequently manufacture) he is pure value. He is a powerful play post wipe or as a way to enchance a draw engine or hate piece. "Good" (careful) players will treat him as a Rule of Law effect and play around him, "Bad" (reckless) players will ignore him and draw us cards each turn cycle. He is a 4/4 hasted flyer which means he will always draw cards off Tymna the turn he comes into play and he can block most threats in cEDH which limits the amount of aggro we will see. We can wipe the board free of bears and he will still be around after the dust settles. 

While Thrasios requires considerable mana investment to draw cards (6 mana the first time and 4 for each activation after that), Kraum will passively draw us multiple cards a turn cycle for free (as two spells per turn is very hard for many decks to avoid, particularly if we are shutting off graveyards and activated abilities).  Kraum also offers protection to labman combos. Kraum+open mana+vamp/mystical tutor is a wincondition or answer on command the moment someone gets greedy and casts that second spell.

Aside from what he brings to the table, Red shockingly offers a fair bit.  Wheel of Fortune and Winds of Change allows us to properly support Notion Thief without settling for bad wheels. Gamble is far more useful to us than the tutors green provides.  Red can also provide answers to decks that share our ramp if the meta dictates this is necessary (by force, vandalblast, abrade etc.). Fire Covenant is the best creature wipe in cEDH and we can have plenty of other options if the meta requires more board wipes (i.e pyroclasm).

We also get a truly great removal option in Wear / Tear and red counterspells in the form of Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast .  The latter two are fantastic in counterspell wars and as a way to counter/destroy opponents value engines (Jin, nessie, drake, sphinx, thief, Rhystic; remora; baral, zur, kess, Jellybean, rashmi etc).  They also provide us with a higher concentration of efficient protection to our primary wincondition since blue countermagic is the only GOOD way to interact with Ad Naus.

While losing turn one ramp sounds bad on paper, the deck design rewards aggressive ramping by using early tutors on crypt/sol ring. This can allow T&K to make game changing plays before the green combo decks can assemble A+B.

With double engines in the command zone and powerful stax pieces we completely break parity on we have plenty of tools to be in an advantageous position once we get to the midgame.

This the best way we can get what we need to win. I used to run Angel's Grace , but the card proved to be too useless outside its combo with Ad Naus and I found that I almost never went for the combo. Look at the Science of Main Phase Ad Nauseams section for details.

Laboratory Maniac + Tainted Pact +draw is one of our most flexible combos.  We can pact during our upkeep and win at draw step.  We can also win off a Tymna or Kraum trigger.  It is an easy combo to pull off the turn after an endstep ad naus ir after a couple turns of an active remora.  It can win through the vast majority of stax effects in cEDH and we can even imprint Tainted Pact onto Isochron Scepter to slowly but steadily tutor for labman then nuke the rest of our library (which is only really relevant in a Rule of Law heavy meta).  The primary weakness of labman combos is how risky they are to pull off (i.e If you dont win you autofold).  However, our deck design keeps that from being much of an issue since we have a higher concentration of cheap counterspells (Red Counters Matter!) than most decks, can Silence the table beforehand to ensure we win unapposed, can use the triggers off Kraum, Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study to win a counterspell war, can cast or activate an instant speed draw ( Brainstorm , Sensei's Divining Top , & Opt ) in response to removal like Abrupt Decay . In short, we are really good at labman combo. You may wonder why I am not using Demonic Consultation then, which makes for a more efficient labman combo? Beyond the obvious "I am a unique snowflake syndrome" I just don't think the card is very good here. The more I tested the deck, the more I found consultation to be relatively useless outside the combo (T&K lacks the command zone factors or combos to properly make good use of consultation as a tutor). Sure you can get lucky from time to time, but the percentage of successful searches outside decks like Tazri, Najeela, and Kess is too low to pin your hopes and dreams on when there are MUCH safer and significantly easier paths to victory within the shell (Namely Ad naus, Thief+Winds, & Paradox Engine with a full hand).

While this combo does not technically win, it will almost always give us an insurmountable advantage over the table (mindtwist everyone and draw Up to 28 cards).  Like PACT-MAN this combo gets around most hate and is easy to protect given that we can spread the costs over two turns. A recent addition to the deck is Smothering Tithe which produces ridiculous amounts of mana when you cast a wheel with it in play. While this doesn't win the game on it's own, literally any tutor or gas spell will get there. Even something like Mystical Tutor leaves you plenty of mana to cast both Tymna and Kraum and swing with Kraum to draw into Ad Nauseam or any other card you topdeck to win the game. Tithe+Wheel has proven to be a pretty reliable way to get to an insurmountable advantage and you just win approximately 80% of the time that turn. Winds of Change allows us to more easily assemble these combos all during our main phase early in the game and also makes it easier to protect these combos with countermagic.

Dramatic Reversal + Isochron Scepter with Sensei's Divining Top / Copy Artifact +any outlet or Paradox Engine with scepter+any outlet: Unlike Thrasios, these are not our go to combos. Rather the purpose of these cards is to give us tools to strengthen our Ad Nauseams and backup in case labman gets exiled. Nonetheless, these combos do win the game for us fairly frequently because by the time we play these cards we usually will have the means to draw our deck in hand as well as a critical mass of rocks. Also notably the third card of the combo is almost always found or searched for after we go infinite or it comes together naturally.

We have a relatively large number of scepter outlets in the 98 besides top. These include Tainted Pact , Brainstorm , Impulse , Plunge into Darkness , Opt , Winds of Rebuke , and Swan Song . Once we have drawn our deck we can also imprint Swords to Plowshares or Plunge into Darkness to generate infinite life (by recasting and saccing/exiling our commanders) and then kill the table with a large Rolling Earthquake (assuming you feel the need for such a clean win behind labman).

Due to this being a backup combo, we can safely put the outlet or control spell (i.e Mana Drain ) on scepter to use it like a mediocre control/stax piece or value engine in a pinch.  If scepter gets removed or exiled that is fine as we still have various other ways to win the game.

Paradox Engine on its own is a powerful mana engine that will usually function like a time walk copied 2-4 times+Infinite Mana if we don't just win after resolving it, and Dramatic Reversal is literally the main reason we can main phase Ad Nauseam in this deck (which makes the deck capable of racing less interactive decks if the situation requires). Given the utility of these combo pieces to our overall gameplan, the opportunity cost for these combos is lower than one may think at first glance.

Aside from jamming Ad Nauseam, wheel combo, or PE/DS+gas+rocks the vast majority of our wins will come from value grinding. This can be as simple as playing an early Mystic Remora or Rhystic Study then continuing to advance our board while holding open mana and interaction in hand and literally allowing opponents to draw us into our wins. It can also be dropping a couple stax pieces on the table or playing an early wipe then going to value town with our command zone for a few turns. Once this deck goes into value mode, it becomes stronger by the turn cycle, whereas the majority of the other decks at the table become weaker. This is truly the most satisfying way to win with a MAN deck and you havent lived till you have Remora, Rhystic, and Kraum in play all at once.

To get you into the right mindset, here is a classic montage which I may or may not sing with my son before bed...

As this video shows, being a MAN does not happen overnight. These decks have a steep learning curve. This is even true for T&K, which can break parity completely on powerful stax pieces. The reason for this difficulty is the same as why the deck is strong. Simply put, flexibility. We can usually adapt to most board states, but it is often difficult to know the optimal play. For instance, do we value grind or go for the win? Do we drop a stax piece or engine? Do we progress our board and only have enough mana for one interaction spell for the turn cycle or do we say "draw go" and trust in our ability to say no? Do we play our board wipe early to keep opponents from hitting that critical mass or do we jebait the table just a little longer in the hopes of maximizing value?

Such decisions are required at numerous junctions during the game and we are often going to make the wrong play (At least in the first 10 or so games). It is also easy to miss the many beneficial triggers cards like Kraum, Study, and Remora produce. Honestly, this is ok. Our card advantage engines are good enough, and our average card quality is high enough, that we can make a missplay or two and still win a lot of games.

I have also slowly, but surely made the deck less like a control deck and more like a layered combo deck (without the high concentration of combo slots (Why I cut Consultation & Grace)) to reduce the number of critical decisions we have to make. There are now numerous ways to win as early as turn 2-3, so we can sometimes be the fastest or second fastest deck at the table.

The main phase Ad Nauseam is a difficult play to pull of without considerable knowledge of the deck and the possible lines available to us. While I cannot provide every path to victory in every situation, here are the most common paths to victory:

  • Laboratory maniac+Tainted Pact+draw trigger= 5-6 mana

  • Dramatic Reversal+Isochron Scepter and then Outlet (Top or second Scepter)=4 mana

  • Notion thief/ Smothering Tithe+Wheel= 5-7mana (doesn't technically win on it own but it will all but assure it).

  • Paradox Engine+a cast trigger which often gets us to Scepter with an outlet spell imprinted on it= 5-6 mana. In most cases this line is 2-3 mana as you topdeck+free draw trigger or Gamble/Demonic Tutor or just cast Dramatic Reversal. From there you almost always have the mana to tutor for, then cast, then untap with Engine. After that winning is eaay. I go for this line around 80% of the time off Ad Nauseam because it is the most efficient path to victory and it needs the least number of cards.

We generally want at least two floating mana post Ad nauseam, but one mana is sometimes enough to get there.  If we are lucky we will get a handful of net positive spells and our A+B combo pieces and we can just win. However, we will often need to do a bit more.  Here are the key cards to getting there:

Cheap tutors

  • Gamble: Where this card shines.  Almost all the risk is mitigated by our 25+ cards in hand.

  • Demonic Tutor: More expensive but a sure thing.

  • Tainted Pact: Is best utilized once we have infinite mana to get to a safer tutor or an outlet card.

  • Winds of Change: This is a frequent winner for us as it can either produce a critical mass of mana+fresh 20+ cards with smothering tithe or it steals all the cards with notion thief.  It also gives us another 20+ cards on its own to find our win for the low low price of R.

  • All the Topdeck tutors.  Lim Dul's is the worst of the bunch because of life concerns and because colored mana is often the gate to victory.  The rest pair quite nicely with our free draw triggers and top.

Mana producers

  • Dramatic Reversal: The most important card in the deck as goes infinite with Scepter or it can produce large amounts of mana on its own to get us to one of the other lines.  The addition of engine frees me to maximize its potential as a ritual since we don't need it and scepter to produce infinite mana. You usually will want to drop as many rocks as possible before you cast it.  So if you have your A+B combo, a free draw trigger (gitaxian probe/Top already in play/Attack step with Tymna or Thada in play) and a top deck tutor (or just a gamble) you can tutor for a card like mana vault or mana crypt use that to cast a 2 cmc rock and then cast reversal when you have just 1U left.  This extra boost can make the difference between getting there and falling short.

  • Chain of vapor: Is cheaper, but ultimately less effective than reversal.  It can still net several mana by bouncing our net positive rocks. Don’t be afraid to sac all your lands as if you are in this position it is now or never.

  • Net positive rocks and Dark Ritual: Before you go for the main phase Ad Nauseam it is important to realize how many of these you have in your library.  If you already played a bunch of net positives prior to Naus, you will be much less likely to get the mana you need to win.

  • Mana Drain:  This a great card to set up these plays the turn before.  If you use it to protect your Ad Nauseam from interaction the ritual can also be used on the second main phase.  So for many reasons (Tymna Draw Triggers) casting Ad Nauseam in your first main phase is preferable.

Obviously if we can get to 4 mana and have scepter and reversal this is the the go combo.  It's very likely at this point you can tutor and/or draw your way to an outlet. However if you lack that as an option or are just short of mana Dramatic Reversal, Winds of Change, and/or Chain of Vapor can usually get you to a different payout.

As mentioned before the gate is usually colored mana so spend it sparingly and the more mana you have the better your chances.  It's also good to accumulate cards that are powerful on ad naus turns (Reversal, Gamble, Gitaxian Probe, Paradox Engine, Moxes, Chain of Vapor etc) and save them for the combo turn.  Also playing Tymna the turn before can make a big difference. In short, if you can build up more resources without losing life to incidental damage then do it. It's also generally preferable to go for the end step (or in response) Naus as it is much more of a sure thing, but don't be afraid of going for glory if the table has spent its resources prior to your turn and the coast is relatively clear.

One last thing, I wouldn't attempt a Main phase Naus south of 30 life unless you have a ton of extra mana or most the enablers in hand already. Main Phase Nauses are merely a tool for speeding us up a turn (when needed). Endstep or "In Response" Ad Nauseams is the most sure way to win in the deck.

Before I wrap things up, I feel I must explain something. Once we survive the initial combo salvo we have a gear that many fast combo decks do not have. We have the ability to grind card advantage as well as anyone. This is largely due to having double card advantage in the commamd zone and plenty of gas in the 98. However, to get to that state of overwhelming advantage that we ultimately desire we have to take one principle seriously.

Anyone but us is getting value is a terrible insult to our honor that must be dealt with brutally and efficiently

There are only two exceptions to this mandate

  • 1) We have relevant stax in play to keep combo in check as well as open mana with answers in hand and we are actively farming the table for a lot of cards ourselves.

  • 2) There is a deck at the table threatening to win this turn cycle.

One advantage of having compact wincons and playing a MAN deck is that if we draw 10 cards and a fast combo deck draws 10 cards we are winning the resource battle. The primary reason for this is that our one sided stax lets us make our opponents cards bad while ours stay good. We are also much more likely to draw into a relevant card than a fast combo deck since they may topdeck garbage combo only cards (ex. Fatestitcher ), soft answers (i.e Spell Pierce ), and cards our stax makes useless (ex. Reanimate ); whereas we will get a high concentration of quality cards. Due to this we are usually more afraid of slower decks drawing a bunch of cards than a deck that is locked out of its lines.

While I cannot cover the intricacies of mulligans and playing this deck I do feel like there are a few things I can offer. For instance, there are various types of keepable hands and the gameplan will be different based on which one you get.  These include:

  • Nut draws: Turn 2-3 wheel combo; Engine/Dramatic Scepter with gas and rocks; Ad Naus and lots of ramp; Labman+Pact with crypt and interaction:  These are the most straightforward hands and really come down to timing and reading the table. I have had a good amount of success with the turn 2 wins given that most opponents don't usually expect a win coming from us that early and are usually ramping or setting up their own board state. However, if your opponents have open mana and are reasonably interactive it's sometimes better to sandbag a bit.  Cards like Ad Nauseam and Notion thief in particular reward patience. Responding to a counter war with an Ad Naus feels good man.

  • Stax With Either a CA Engine or Ramp:  These are pod dependent to a degree (i.e you wouldn't usually want to keep an opener with cursed totem in a pod with Kess and Zur), but this is our bread and butter.  We neutralize the fast decks right out of the gate, drop an engine and play from a position of power. Ideally you want to get a relevant stax effect (one that slows at least 2 of the 3 opponents by turn two at the latest and then start tutoring for win conditions and/or setting up engines.  If you have an early topdeck tutor it's often correct to go for remora as it the best card in the deck and hampers most decks. Similarly, a turn one or two Rhystic Study is almost always a keeper. When taking a slower hand, you need to ensure that you will be able to net more cards within the first few turns without tapping out past turn 2 (ideally you have open mana this turn too but one cannot have everything).  

  • Interaction Heavy Hand With No Ramp or Just A 2 Mana Rock: These are my least favorite hands as you are playing from a disadvantage for the first few turns, but I have won a fair number of games with these types of hands.  The big thing is to ensure that your interaction is relevant for the pod and you MUST hit your land drops. With good threat assessment, patience, and a little luck you often can be in a position to win after the table has expended its resources.  

  • Lots of Ramp, But Not Much Else: These are not exactly the types of hands one dreams of, however, one of the advantages of a deck that utilizes draw 7 wheels and double engines in the CZ is that you can take these types of hands and have success.  A turn one wheel is a very strong play, and a turn two wheel is decent if we dump most our hand on the table. Dropping both commanders by turn 3 with free counters in hand or one mana open can also allow us to run away with the game even without any stax. There are hands where you play reactive, these are not those hands.  Instead we aggressively try to draw into something better.

There are other types of hands that dont fit a category but are nonetheless relevant. Usually a hand that can play a turn one Dark Confidant or Stormscape Familiar is a keeper.  Similarly a turn 2 Grand Arbiter Augustine IV or Aven Mindcensor or Fire Covenant is nothing to scoff at.

You basically want to guarantee that you can get your first 3 land drops and a hand with 2-4 lands is ok assuming the rest of your hand isn't labman, scepter, PE, and Dramatic Reversal.  There are also some rare 0-1 landers that work (usually in conjunction with a Wheel or Ad Naus).

The biggest thing is make sure you can make high impact plays by turn 2-3. This deck is designed to frequently explode out of the gates in a number of ways so we can direct the flow of the game to one that we have the advantage.  Going down to 6 is totally fine. 5 is a bit iffy, but don't settle for a pedestrian hand on your first 7.

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The deck is fully updated to move on from Engine. Dockside Extortionist is an upgrade anyways and double labman combos are the future of this build. The deck has much higher card quality more interaction is just as explosive and is more focused. I'm a fan of the new tech.

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