Aluren is a midrange control deck that uses a select group of creatures and their interaction with the namesake card Aluren to pull a combo finish seemingly out of nowhere.

The first competitive list was created for the Extended format in 2002 and revolved around Cavern Harpy and her ability to bounce both herself and another creature for the cost of 1 life. This allowed the deck to exploit enter-the-battlefield triggers almost indefinitely. The deck used Cavern Harpy to bounce Man-o'-War, which in turn would bounce Spike Feeder; each loop included removing one counter from it to gain 2 life, which surpassed the life loss from Cavern Harpy and resulted in infinite life. Then, Spike Feeder would be replaced by Wall of Roots to generate infinite green mana, and last, Spike Feeder would use that mana to move the +1/+1 counters onto other creatures.

14 years later new creatures with stronger effects have been printed, but nothing so far has replaced Cavern Harpy, so the core of the deck is still the same: forced into at least colors and reliant on going infinite to ensure the opposing strategy doesn't take advantage of its creatures being suddenly free to cast. This kind of restricts the deck from fully upgrading to today's standards so it belongs mostly to the tier 2 department, and both the surprise factor and the opponents' lack of knowledge about the deck are as important as one's own knowledge and experience to win games.

Other than Cavern Harpy, the creatures this deck needs aren't set in stone. The general requisites are the converted mana cost being 3 at most, and a sensible analysis on what the creature in question contributes to the deck both without and with Aluren on the battlefield. The best creatures are relevant in both cases, and those that only shine in one of them should be cut to a bare minimum, and kept in the deck only if the metagame strongly demands their inclusion.

Deck Analysis

Aluren lists have a number of necessary roles covered by certain cards that only recently can start finding substitutes. Typical lists cover the following roles:

  • Some form of mana acceleration to keep up with the format's speed
  • Some form of protection and removal to defend against the opposing strategy or clear the way to resolve Aluren
  • Some library manipulation to smooth the first turns or sculpt the hand to get the combo pieces
  • A variable number of creatures that help against the dominant strategies thanks to their stats and abilities
  • Some tutors to hold everything together

Typical lists played in the past included Wall of Roots as mana acceleration. The stack and board control were achieved with Force of Will, Man-o'-War and Chain of Vapor, the latter two acting as removal when combined with Cabal Therapy. Library manipulation and tutoring were left to Brainstorm, Raven Familiar and Vampiric Tutor, with Intuition replacing the last one after rotations. And the aggressive nature of the format favored the combination of Wall of Roots and Wall of Blossoms as the primary way to buy turns to assemble the combo.

Current tendencies still include Brainstorm and Force of Will, since they're as fundamental to the format as ever, and most present lists keep them as core cards alongside Cabal Therapy and a variable number of Abrupt Decays. Lim-Dul's Vault sees occasional play as a tutor, and Baleful Strix is the new adaptation to the format's main threats, played either as a complement or as a replacement for Coiling Oracle. And up until its banning, Deathrite Shaman has been a popular accelerator that doubled as a win condition.

The list presented here diverges from others in how to get extra mana and how to manipulate the library. Veteran Explorer is the accelerator, and his mechanics favor Diabolic Intent over other tutors.Selkie Hedge-Mage acts as the substitute of Baleful Strix by bouncing creatures Abrupt Decay can't destroy and allowing Cabal Therapy to discard them later; she also doubles as a win condition by combining with Cavern Harpy to gain infinite life under Aluren.

Combo and Optimal Performance

The combo in its most basic form is the following:

Cavern Harpy herself is unkillable in 99% of the games because there's always the possibility to pay 1 life in response to any removal spell or ability. So in the process above, if the opponent wants to stop the combo, they will have to kill Parasitic Strix, but will need two removal spells for that:

  • The first one before the blue/black trigger resolves

  • In response to said removal spell, pay 1 life and return Cavern Harpy

  • Still in response to the removal spell, cast Cavern Harpy again

  • The moment Cavern Harpy is on the stack is when the opponent should cast the second removal spell on Parasitic Strix, if they have any. Otherwise, Cavern Harpy will enter again and trigger another blue/black bounce

Casting the creatures in this order is mandatory for Parasitic Strix to trigger, since Cavern Harpy is usually the only black permanent card in Aluren lists. However, this order is also the only one that forces opponents to use more than one removal spell to stop the combo, so it's advisable to always use it.

If Parasitic Strix isn't yet available, the combo with any creature that isn't Veteran Explorer helps find it, and with Selkie Hedge-Mage the combo is equally game-winning in most cases.


Ideally, Aluren should be a pure combo deck, but a 4-mana enchantment with a double colored cost and the need for specific creatures to be accessible doesn't allow that. Instead the deck adopts a midrange control shell to contain opposing decks long enough to assemble everything and combo off. This makes the following matchups unfavourable:

  • Faster combo decks. They usually don't interact with the opposition, and the cards that slow or stop them don't work against non-combo strategies. Decks without a heavy base disruption suite must often choose between filling the sideboard with specific anti-combo cards or forfeiting the match altogether.

Aluren has some base discard and can complement it with more discard from the sideboard, making it a versatile answer against both combo and control strategies. It also runs blue and therefore has access to a variety of counterspells. But even then, the deck still needs to both stop the opposition and advance its own plan in a reasonable time, and that often implies drawing the right cards at the right moment.

  • Prison decks. They consist of permanents that increase mana costs, disable certain spells or abilities, or restrict what type or amount of mana can be used. Trinisphere, Phyrexian Revoker and Blood Moon are prime examples. They win by attacking with somewhat big creatures after rendering the opposing deck unable to play their cards.

In almost all cases Aluren can't combo without removing those permanents first. In its favor, most prison decks can't take advantage of Aluren because their most important creatures cost 4 or more mana, making it feasible and safe to resolve Aluren and pass the turn if needed; on the other hand, said creatures usually include taxing effects and most have high attacking power. Board sweepers should always be considered when deciding how to confront this archetype.

The top priorities for Aluren are getting access to mana and removing the opposition's creatures. Veteran Explorer and Abrupt Decay are therefore essential, and notably increase the value of Brainstorm and Shardless Agent. Cabal Therapy is also important during the first 3 turns to minimize enemy pressure and protects Veteran Explorer from opposing Stifles. If the initial blow is stopped, both decks will have to improvise with what they draw; generally Aluren has more library manipulation, but some lists can compensate that with raw card advantage from Ancestral Vision or Shardless Agent cascading into it.

These decks show that what Aluren needs most is time to get everything in its favor, and that decks that deny that time by having a faster non-interactive win condition or by attacking its resources while applying pressure to its life total are bound to be bad matchups. On the other hand, decks without some or all of these features range from good matchups to 50-50 depending on their raw speed and burst damage if they are aggro, or how protected their win conditions are if they are control. Aggro-control decks without black allow some more space to breathe, but their tools are equally effective, so they hover around the 50-50.

Potential Cards (Maybeboard Analysis)

The sideboard is a matter of personal tastes and adaptation to a given metagame, and the maindeck is very customizable. As a result, rather than providing a sample sideboard or considering the proposed list the be all and end all of the Aluren archetype, a single big maybeboard section attempts to gather the most interesting options for both. Cards that fit several categories will be described only in the one they're strongest at.

[*]One of the possible questions about the deck is whether a finisher (Parasitic Strix in this case) is actually necessary if infinite life is already at hand, but there are no definite answers. Its main selling point for tournaments is the time it cuts short from the rounds, and having an instant kill wins against decks based on milling libraries or that can go infinite themselves, which would be difficult or impossible matchups otherwise; aside from these situations, having a dedicated finisher is often redundant. That said, Kalastria Healer is an alternative who can be cascaded into by Shardless Agent and bypasses targetting requirements, at the cost of not blocking evasive beaters like Insectile Aberration   and the possibility to cascade into it at the wrong time (that is, when Aluren isn't yet there).

[*]Chain of Vapor is a reminiscence of Old Extended lists and some Legacy lists from several years ago whose power hasn't diminished at all. Apart from bouncing something before naming it with Cabal Therapy, Chain of Vapor also offers a way to trigger several effects from cantrip creatures under Aluren when searching for Cavern Harpy or when life numbers are too low to keep using her. To put an example from old lists, suppose there are a Raven Familiar and a Wall of Blossoms:

[*]Baleful Strix is a powerful standalone that can easily replace Coiling Oracle in metagames with abundant flying threats. It makes for a powerful wall in the sense that while easy to remove, it must be removed or it takes an important threat down with it. It's better in games where Aluren is difficult or impossible to resolve, though without as much synergy with other cards.

[*]Old Raven Familiar is a possible substitute for Shardless Agent if a given list includes many important cards that can't be cascaded into or shouldn't be cast for free. An example of the latter is Genesis Hydra.

[*]About Genesis Hydra, the main reason to consider its inclusion is its ability to slip Aluren onto the battlefield without passing it through the stack, the whole process being immune to normal counterspells. For this reason, X should always be considered as (at least) 4, except in desperate cases, though Veteran Explorer helps a lot to get the necessary mana. Genesis Hydra also provides value by being at least a 4/4 (much greater if the game goes late) and providing card advantage even if it "fizzles" and doesn't find Aluren. Its synergy with Selkie Hedge-Mage is also very remarkable.

[*]Eternal Witness is situational in the sense that while her utility seems always useful, she's actually not fit for every metagame. Heavy graveyard disruption and aggro-centered decks are better answered with no graveyard recursion at all and a more streamlined list with redundancy of cards. When the metagame allows Eternal Witness to work, though, she can singlehandedly win what are apparently lost games. Replicating her ability with multiple Chain of Vapor copies under Aluren is probably her strongest contribution.

[*]Sylvan Library is a good filtering card with the possibility to refill your hand in a pinch; although sometimes it may feel like a desperate measure, it may be just the boost needed to win or stabilize the game. The synergy with Brainstorm is noteworthy: cast it during your upkeep and keep a clear track of the cards you've drawn. They'll be between 1 and 3 (depends on how many of them you return), plus the card from the draw step = 2-4, plus the cards from Sylvan Library = 4-6. This gives you a lot of cards to choose what to return.

[*]Sidisi's Faithful is a sacrifice outlet for Veteran Explorer for matchups where Cabal Therapy would be subpar, mostly aggressive decks. The mixture between a very low mana cost, a 0/4 body, the sacrifice being optional, and the capability to reuse herself by sacrificing multiple creatures or sacrifice herself in a pinch to bounce without any further assistance makes her a very versatile card.

[*]Glint-Nest Crane might not seem a sound choice for Aluren, but the deck can run a surprising amount of artifacts to make this card a good maindeck pseudo-tutor. An example would be 4 Shardless Agent, 4 Baleful Strix, 1 Parasitic Strix, and sideboard metagame answers like Tormod's Crypt, Meekstone, Engineered Explosives, and so on.

[*]Nissa, Steward of Elements is a planeswalker with a lot of potential for Aluren. The scry allows Brainstorm to sculpt the hand better by sending unwanted cards to the bottom of the library, and helps Shardless Agent hit or avoid cards through cascade at convenience. The way Aluren is built also makes it easy to cast and maintain Nissa, since it can be cast for 3 mana (X = 1), scry once, and as long she sits at 3 loyalty counters, any creature she reveals goes straight to the battlefield. Her ultimate is also a good alternative if the combo route isn't feasible. The bad part is that Nissa and Shardless Agent can't interact directly with each other.

[*]Merfolk Trickster could be seen as a worse version of Man-o'-War or Sidisi's Faithful, but the potential saving grace is the inbuilt Flash. It can save you from a fatal blow from the likes of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and survive a crucial turn, or disable a hoser like Eidolon of the Great Revel that prevents you from comboing.

[*]Carpet of Flowers is tailored to fight blue decks and can be maindecked if there are enough of them in the metagame. The full playset isn't really necessary, but it's listed as such as a potential sideboard replacement for all Veteran Explorers against blue control decks with many basic Islands, which are their weak point.

[*]Force of Will is great for metagames full of control and combo decks where the stack matters more than the battlefield. It would replace or complement Abrupt Decay, or stay as a sideboard card, as needed.

[*]Tarmogoyf has been popular since its original printing, and it can be added to Aluren to buy time against aggro decks or against creatures no one else in the deck would kill or even resist in combat. It also doubles as a threat and opens another angle of attack for the deck by going aggressive, with a bonus synergy with Shardless Agent. The price of this versatility is the lack of synergy with most other creatures (especially Cavern Harpy) and its utter uselessness when going off.

[*]Leovold, Emissary of Trest is a notable maindeck bomb with a disruptive role similar to Tarmogoyf's. Most metagames are heavy with blue decks, and these usually run a variety of cantrip spells (Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain, etc.), which are all nullified by Leovold's presence. This usually forces those decks to use removal spells on him, but they can't trade even thanks to the card draw trigger. Worst case scenario they don't naturally draw beyond the draw step, so they don't feel compelled to kill Leovold; in that case the 3/3 body for 3 mana makes a decent combat element.

[*]Prowling Serpopard is one of the latest additions against blue decks to secure the combo. Thanks to its 4/3 body for 3 mana, it could even be potentially maindeckable just to serve as a Tarmogoyf of sorts that trades some resistance for its collective uncounterability.

[*]Duress is meant to enter against combo decks as a complement to Cabal Therapy. Since very few combo decks are creature-based, Thoughtseize would largely be a Duress with life loss. Creatures are vulnerable to Cabal Therapy and removal spells anyway.

[*]Extirpate is an option against graveyard-based decks regardless of their game plan. It can also complement discard against blue control decks if the matchup is based on attrition; removing key cards to prevent their copies from having effect can decide the game.

[*]Usually, the most important assets for removal spells are their versatility and their mana cost, and if possible, uncounterability. Abrupt Decay has all of them and it's why the deck can run the full playset if needed, but sometimes a second option (that is, more than 4 copies) is required. Nature's Claim is versatile by hitting both artifacts and enchantments, has the lowest mana cost currently available to spells of its kind, and its drawback is negligible in Aluren thanks to the infinite combo. Thus, Nature's Claim is the most optimal reinforcement for Abrupt Decay if the metagame demands it, although if a metagame is so rampant with counterspells that uncounterability is necessary, Krosan Grip could be a better answer.

[*]Pernicious Deed has been a staple of Aluren sideboards for years. Up to this day the card is still effective and can solve board-centered matchups by itself. Toxic Deluge is a faster alternative if the problematic decks are centered on very fast creatures or if they can somehow nullify Pernicious Deed's activation. Crypt Rats and Plague Mare are alternatives to Toxic Deluge with instant and/or cheaper properties under Aluren. Plague Mare may require bouncers in most cases to be effective, but with the upside of leaving its own battlefield unaffected.

[*]Fatal Push is a very remarkable removal spell, almost on par with Swords to Plowshares. By default, it can kill many of the format's most popular creatures, but meeting the condition to extend the valid converted mana cost is also easily met thanks to the high number of fetchlands and to Cabal Therapy. It can replace Abrupt Decay in creature-centric metagames where counterspells aren't that abundant, or just complement it.

[*]Diabolic Intent is a respectable tutor without Veteran Explorer, but it loses an important part of its power. This can favor other tutors, like the old Intuition. If it's the case, the most common targets are three copies of Aluren, of Cabal Therapy, or of a missing creature to combo off. Intuition also increases Eternal Witness's intrinsic usefulness, and if both are included, then Volrath's Stronghold and Life from the Loam can be added as singletons. Intuition into these three cards is deceptively one of the most effective answers to decks that prey on lands or make resolving Aluren impossible; it allows the deck to transition deeper into its control shell by finding all its mana sources and reusing its graveyard indefinitely. Life from the Loam only needs to be dredged to secure land drops.

[*]Lim-Dul's Vault is an alternative to Intuition and Diabolic Intent, more akin to Vampiric Tutor. The main difference is that the final result on top of the library can rival that of Doomsday, though reaching that level usually requires paying a heavy amount of life.

The idea is to look at piles until one has the one needed card or a combination of 2+ needed cards and stop there, and that's usually how it goes. But since each pile contains 5 cards, if the number of cards in the library is not a multiple of 5, paying enough life to cycle through the entire library will start combining previous piles with each other.

By arranging unwanted piles in a way that one has its best cards at the bottom and the next has its best on the top, piles of 10 cards where the best stuff is in the middle will start appearing. This has the potential to end up creating the perfect pile with all the cards required to deal with the situation at hand, ideal for attrition scenarios where each player has to start practically from zero. Life totals will dictate how far this can go.

[*]Chord of Calling can be considered in Aluren because it's usually free to cast, which added to its instant type and the searched creature going directly to the battlefield is a very important advantage in general and against counterspells in particular; one counterspell on Chord of Calling is one less counterspell on the deck's creatures. Also, Wall of Roots has a special synergy with it by counting as during the opponent's turn.

[*]Weird Harvest is a card whose purpose is to solve a particular game state: neither usual nor exceptionally rare, there's a scenario where Aluren itself can be resolved and trusted to stay on the battlefield, but most (if not all) creatures drawn have been discarded, countered or destroyed, and now the combo must start completely from scratch. Old lists mostly resorted to finding a Raven Familiar, but that's a gamble placed on the top three cards. Weird Harvest solves this problem with X equal to 2 to find Cavern Harpy and whichever win condition the deck is running, be it Raven Familiar to old lists, or Parasitic Strix or Kalastria Healer to more modern ones. There's the problem, however, that Weird Harvest is symmetrical, so the opponent can take advantage of it to search for hate creatures like Meddling Mage or Ethersworn Canonist, which would force X to be greater to search for solutions, or keep Aluren in hand to see what they search for and name it with Cabal Therapy before dropping Aluren.

For lists with Imperial Recruiter or Recruiter of the Guard, they perform Weird Harvest's task so it's not needed, but this is further discussed below.


Since the legalization of Portal Three Kingdoms, many people have thought for years and still think of Imperial Recruiter as an essential card in Aluren, although for many it was being held back by its price; with the release of Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Recruiter of the Guard is seen mostly as a functional reprint without the economic barriers. The idea behind this configuration is that Aluren + Recruiter (two cards) is enough to combo, while other lists need Aluren + Cavern Harpy + another creature (three cards).

Bear in mind that the following is purely personal opinion.

While it's true that Recruiter (at this point this name refers to both) can find all creatures in any Aluren list, and it's true that Aluren + Recruiter alone equals winning the game for that reason, people are letting this excite them to the point they don't see (or don't want to see) the disadvantages. As mentioned at the beginning of the deck's description, creatures to consider for the deck must be useful when Aluren both is and isn't present on the battlefield. When a creature is good in only one of those situations, its inclusion has to be extremely justified.

  • If one thinks too much about surviving without Aluren and fills the deck with cards like, for example, 4 Tarmogoyf + 3 True-Name Nemesis + 2 Snapcaster Mage + 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, then it's pointless to have Aluren in the deck. The card and the few creatures associated with it could be removed, and the deck could transition to control and get better results as such.

  • If one thinks too much about Aluren and the combos it enables and includes, for example, 1 Rishadan Cutpurse to wipe the opponent's table + 1 Ravenous Rats to discard his/her hand + 1 Merrow Witsniper to mill his/her library + 1 Offalsnout to exile his/her graveyard, then the deck has four cards that don't do absolutely anything useful by themselves. Filling the deck with chaff like this not only doesn't contribute to survival, it can throw games by drawing those cards at crucial moments.

In my opinion, Recruiter falls into the second category - excellent with Aluren, subpar without. Reasoning:

  • Both Recruiters force a fourth color, with at least one dual land for them and adding to the vulnerability to nonbasic hate

  • Both Recruiters force the inclusion of a blue or black creature that bounces other creatures because Cavern Harpy can't bounce them directly, and this creature must also bounce without requiring any targets, otherwise the opponent can just kill the targeted Recruiter in response and stop the combo in its tracks. The most common options are Dream Stalker and Arctic Merfolk, though there are others. All of them fall into the same category, though - essential with Aluren and useless without it; not being able to bounce opposing creatures in a pinch is a huge drawback

  • Both Recruiters are tutors, but they only find creatures. Intuition, Lim-Dul's Vault, Diabolic Intent, all of them are way more versatile and game-winning as tutors. Recruiter can only be as good if there are appropiate creature versions for cards like Aluren or Cabal Therapy, which currently don't exist. Even Chord of Calling surpasses him in the current conditions

  • Both Recruiters cost three mana, put the searched card into the hand, and leave a 1/1 body without any further impact. Combined with the restrictions on what can be searched, the result is a noticeable tempo loss without much quality to compensate. Prior acceleration is almost mandatory

Does being the best possible creature for the archetype after resolving Aluren compensate for all this? After having played Aluren with Imperial Recruiter for years and trying every list I could think of, my personal answer is "no". Both cards themselves are superb, but neither has enough value in Aluren because both Aluren and Cavern Harpy impose too many restrictions. Many creatures would be great but must be disregarded due to mana costs being too high or colors being wrong. Including such creatures either force even more dual lands if they're the wrong colors, or defeat the purpose of playing Aluren if costs are too high.

If Recruiter of the Guard was blue or black, the problem of the off-color dual lands would be solved, as well as the untargeted bouncers one since Cavern Harpy would interact with them directly, allowing them to be more on par with Weird Harvest and fill its niche. This would also allow any list to cut their numbers down to 2, which would minimize the impact of their slowness without Aluren and their searching restrictions. Similarly, a new Cavern Harpy with different if not less restrictions would open a myriad of new ways for the archetype to flourish and compete with today's decks in more even grounds; the colors of both Recruiters would probably not matter in such a scenario.

But until a new Cavern Harpy appears, my experience tells me the current Recruiters have no place in Aluren despite how good they look on paper. And until a new, on-color Recruiter is printed, current Aluren will do better with other tutors.


August 2016: Created.

April 2017: Removed all references to Sensei's Divining Top since it's been banned from Legacy. Added some new cards to the maybeboard.

July 2018: Removed the main references to Deathrite Shaman since it's been banned from Legacy. Added more cards to the maybeboard.

August 2018: Corrected some spelling and grammar mistakes. Added more cards to the maybeboard. Expanded on some previous explanations.


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