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Xantcha Combo-Control

Commander / EDH BR (Rakdos)

mmcgeach

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B/R Combo-Control for Competitive EDH

This is a totally new approach to attacking the Competitive EDH (CEDH) metagame. The idea is to slow down other decks by repeatedly killing all their mana elves - Birds of Paradise , Elvish Mystic , Deathrite Shaman , etc. while also destroying a bunch of mana artifacts. This gives you time to assemble a combo and win with Xantcha's ability. This approach to CEDH is essentially totally new: using creature sweepers and artifact sweepers to survive the early game and progress to the mid-game is new. This has great synergy with Xantcha, Sleeper Agent . She can be cast early and starts hitting your opponents immediately. It's like she has haste since she gets an attack in before it comes around to your turn again. And then all the Pyroclasm s effects kill pretty much everything else while Xantcha is a 5/5, so she survives to attack into an empty board every turn. Meanwhile, pressuring your opponent's fast mana makes it hard for opponents to effectively dump mana into Xantcha. Then you get to run all the good infinite mana combos with no need for separate win conditions, since Xantcha herself is the win-con. There aren't many generals that 1) provide card advantage, 2) are an infinite mana sink, 3) are a win-con with that infinite mana, 4) are only 3 CMC, and 5) deal so much combat damage that killing with 21 points of general damage is a real possibility.

Worldgorger Dragon (WGD) - The combo with a Worldgorger Dragon in the graveyard and an Animate Dead generates infinite mana by removing all your permanents from the game, returning them all untapped, giving you time to tap them, and then repeating this process. This also has a cool interaction with Xantcha, since when one opponent dies with Xantcha in play the control-changing effect ends and Xantcha returns to your control. This would normally be sort of inconvenient, but if the WGD loop is on-going, Xantcha will get exiled along with everything else you control and return, and when she does, she'll enter under someone else's control. This is basically the main combo and it can go off pretty quickly. If Xantcha is in play, this whole combo can go off at instant speed with Necromancy and there's no need to even have another creature in a graveyard to end the WGD loop. You just win at instant-speed. You can even set it up entirely at instant-speed with Entomb and Necromancy .

This combo works by getting Worldgorger Dragon into the graveyard (somehow), then reanimating it with Animate Dead or Necromancy or Dance of the Dead . When the dragon enters the battlefield, all permanents you control leave the battlefield, including Animate Dead . Then since Animate Dead isn't animating Worldgorger Dragon anymore, it dies. This brings all your permanents back into play. They all come into play untapped, so you can tap all your lands / artifacts for mana (unless they're permanents that enter the battlefield tapped). It also brings the Animate Dead back into play, which is required to enchant a creature in a graveyard (without using the stack). So you pick Worldgorger Dragon , and repeat this, generating infinite mana in the process. Assuming you have permanents that tap for mana of both colors without causing you damage, you then can infinite mana and use that to draw a bunch of cards with Xantcha, Sleeper Agent to kill one of your opponents. If you want to end the combo, the final piece is a creature in a graveyard that isn't Worldgorger Dragon , which is animated to end the loop after you have enough mana. If there isn't another creature in a graveyard, then the loop can't be interrupted and the game ends in a draw (by game rule) - unless you can kill all your opponents at instant speed. Killing all your opponents at instant speed is actually sort of trivial to do here; all you need is Xantcha to be already in play. Then during the loop, while you're generating infinite mana, you pause and activate Xantcha enough to kill her controller. Then when that player dies, the control-changing effect that causes Xantcha to be controlled by your opponent ends, and she flips back to your side of the battlefield. Then go back to doing the Worldgorger Dragon combo. All your permanents get exiled, including Xantcha, and when Xantcha comes back into play, she enters the battlefield under the control of an opponent, just like she always does. Then you pause the combo again, and draw enough cards to kill Xantcha's controller. Etc.

One interesting danger with the Worldgorger Dragon combo is that if someone has a way to kill the dragon or destroy the Animate Dead at instant speed, then all your permanents get exiled forever. If your opponent destroys the dragon when the "exile all permanents" trigger is on the stack, then the dragon dies. This causes a "return all exiled permanents" trigger to happen. But, nothing is exiled, so it doesn't do anything. Then the Exile trigger resolves, and everything gets exiled. The dragon is still in your graveyard, so nothing else happens. Just everything is exiled. The end.

So the basic requirements are: Dragon in the graveyard, a reanimation enchantment, lands / rocks that enter untapped and can tap for both colors (and don't require exiles or something like chome mox or gemstone cavern), and a second creature in someone's graveyard, or Xantcha in play. This sounds like a lot, but it actually can happen really fast. Like, turn 1 Entomb the dragon, turn 2 Animate Dead .

Paradox Engine and Experimental Frenzy - Paradox Engine works like it does in a Thrasios, Triton Hero deck : every time you can net 3 mana on a spellcast, you can draw another card with Xantcha, and keep casting stuff to go through your whole deck. This is trivially infinite with Sensei's Divining Top and 4 mana worth of mana artifacts, since you pay 1 for the top, tap the top to draw and put the top back, then pay 3 with Xantcha to draw the top again. You can draw your whole deck this way - except you can really only draw enough to kill the player controlling Xantcha, then Xantcha comes back to you. At this point you want to kill Xantcha and recast her to kill another player. Experimental Frenzy is also very strong here. If you have Xantcha out then you can always pay 3 mana to skip past anything on the top of your library that you can't cast, and then just cast the cheap stuff from the top of the library. In either case you eventually get more and more rocks into play making each spellcast more efficient with the Paradox Engine .

Bonus Round - This card is insane with rituals, tutors, and card draw, which there's a lot of in Red/Black. There's a specific line that starts with 5 mana and Bonus Round and a tutor and a ritual. The tutor can be any 1 of Demonic Tutor , Grim Tutor or Dark Petition and the ritual can be either Dark Ritual or Cabal Ritual . First:

  1. Play Bonus Round .
  2. Then play the ritual (let's say Dark Ritual ), making six mana.
  3. Play the tutor (let's say Demonic Tutor ). Use the tutor and the copy of the tutor to get the other ritual and the other tutor ( Cabal Ritual and Grim Tutor ).
  4. Cast Cabal Ritual making 6 more mana.
  5. Cast Grim Tutor getting Dark Petition and Lion's Eye Diamond .
  6. Cast Dark Petition (making 6 mana) hold priority and crack the Lion's Eye Diamond . Tutor for Seething Song and Past in Flames .
  7. Cast the Seething Song (making 10 red mana).
  8. Cast Past in Flames (6 red mana left)
  9. Then re-cast Bonus Round from the yard (which gets copied once), meaning that three Bonus Round s have resolved and you now get to copy each spell 3 times for a total of 4 casts.
  10. Recast Seething Song (making 20 red mana).
  11. Recast Cabal Ritual (making 20 black mana).
  12. Recast Dark Petition (making 12 mana) and tutor for any win condition.
  13. Kill (A) - The cleanest thing is to get Fiery Confluence , cast it doing 6 damage to each opponent, with 3 more copies it does a total of 24 damage. Then recast Past in Flames from the graveyard to give flashback to Fiery Confluence . Recast Fiery Confluence for another 24 damage to all opponents. If that's not enough you can finish people off with Death Cloud or Rolling Earthquake .
  14. Kill (B) - Get all the pieces of the WGD combo : Entomb and Animate Dead , plus some protection like Pyroblast , and maybe Abrade . Go for the Worldgorger Dragon combo.
  15. Kill (C) - If that gets interrupted you can still cast Demonic Tutor out of the yard with the mana you had made (even if all your permanents get exiled by the Worldgorger Dragon ) and you tutor for Mana Vault , Mana Crypt , Sensei's Divining Top , and Paradox Engine and you just go infinite off the Sensei's Divining Top with Paradox Engine and the mana rocks.

This can also work if you have enough mana to just cast the Bonus Round and a tutor with enough left over to cast a ritual: Bonus Round + Tutor + 1 Black mana. Or you can also do it with Seething Song first to make enough mana to cast Bonus Round plus a tutor.

Waste Not - This card is awesome. Super powerful. But mostly just with Wheel of Fortune and stuff like Sire Of Insanity , Burning Inquiry , and Death Cloud . Also pretty ok with Chains of Mephistopheles . Note that Waste Not is better here with Xantcha in play since if someone discards a land and you get 2 black mana at a bad time, like during someone's end step, you can combine that with 1 more mana to draw a card with Xantcha. And Waste Not plus Chains of Mephistopheles is pretty great too, since you can just pump all the extra mana you get into looting with Xantcha, fill up your yard, and eventually set up a graveyard-based win with Worldgorger Dragon or Past in Flames .

Yawgmoth's Will and Past in Flames - lets you replay stuff out of the yard, particularly all the red and black rituals. And tutors. Which there are a lot of. Past in Flames is a good Entomb target if you can't use the Worldgorger Dragon . If you can fill up the yard you can just go off with rituals and tutors.

Sire Of Insanity - This makes everyone discard everything, which then makes them spend mana on Xantcha, since they have nothing else to do. It is basically asymmetrical since we'd rather play out of the GY with Past in Flames or Animate Dead or off the top with Experimental Frenzy . This is basically Plan B: Make everyone discard everything then play out of the yard and dump mana into Xantcha. If you can Reanimate the Sire Of Insanity on turn 1 or 2, you should definitely do that.

Bloodchief Ascension - This gets turned on pretty trivially by Xantcha's ability, and Xantcha's requirement to attack each turn. It's decent for the extra damage that accumulates with this and Xantcha's ability, which leads to a pretty fast clock. And it also functions as the secondary wincon. Great with Sire Of Insanity and Chains of Mephistopheles .

Also, Ad Nauseam and Necropotence - these cards are staples of the format and still awesome here. Note the average converted mana cost of the deck is a little higher than a lot of Ad Nauseam decks, so you can't usually win with a main-phase Ad Nauseam , or a turn-2 Ad Nauseam .

Opening Hands

The best opening hands are those with some kind of early powerful play. This could be

  1. an early Worldgorger Dragon combo attempt,
  2. a bunch of rocks and Paradox Engine ,
  3. Waste Not and Wheel of Fortune or Burning Inquiry ,
  4. Reanimate and a way to put Sire Of Insanity in the graveyard

There's a lot of tutors so going for one of these options early is typically the strongest plan. After that, hands with a lot of fast mana and a Pyroclasm are pretty good since you can play Xantcha early and start dumping mana to draw cards, while disrupting other players with early creature wipes. After that, you can usually keep hands that have just the disruption, but it works a lot better if you can get Xantcha out turn 2 and then be ready with an artifact/creature wipe turn 3 or 4.

Mid Game

Like, whatever. Try to combo when you think the coast is clear. Otherwise keep Xantcha in play and attacking while you kill all the other utility dorks. If you can get 4-for-1's or 5-for-1's with your artifact wipes and creature wipes, do that. Try to set up one of the Engines.

Winning the Game

The only win condition the deck needs is Xantcha herself. You want to generate a lot of mana by using one of the Engines ( Worldgorger Dragon , Paradox Engine , Bonus Round , or Waste Not ), and then dump that mana into Xantcha to draw cards and kill a player. When that player dies, Xantcha reverts to your side of the board. So then you can draw more cards, but you're killing yourself. So typically you kill Xantcha with something and then replay her under someone else's control. Ways to kill her include Toxic Deluge , Fire Covenant , Rolling Earthquake , Death Cloud , Chaos Warp , and if Bonus Round is active then there's Abrade , Anger of the Gods , and Fiery Confluence . Of course, if you can cast Bonus Round twice you can use Fiery Confluence to deal 24 damage to each opponent, possibly doing that twice with Past in Flames . Once you produce a lot of mana, if you draw about 20 cards with Xantcha you usually you find one of these or a tutor to get one, or Yawgmoth's Will or something to play one out of the yard. You can even use the 20 cards to transition to a more powerful engine (like using Wheel of Fortune + Waste Not to set up Worldgorger Dragon ).

If you actually run out of cards, and you can't deal enough damage using Xantcha without decking yourself, and can't burn them out with Bonus Round + Fiery Confluence , then you want to set up an unbeatable boardstate. Try casting all your mana rocks, blow up everyone else's rocks, cast a big Death Cloud to kill everyone's lands and hands and creatures, then replay Xantcha. Set up Bloodchief Ascension or Leyline of the Void (not both), put down some stax like Chains of Mephistopheles or Sire Of Insanity . You can usually get someone almost dead by drawing yourself really low on cards. Then you wipe everyone's boards and hands, and just beat them to death for a couple turns. If you really need to prevent yourself from decking you can cast Necropotence .

Who Gets Xantcha?

When you cast Xantcha, you have to choose one of your opponents to gain control of her. You want it to go to someone that isn't going to sacrifice her, smash her into lethal blockers, or benefit too much from attacking with a creature. Also if someone might assemble infinite mana themselves, you might want to choose them so they can't kill someone else and then you immediately.

  1. Choose the player who might play the biggest creature. This makes it less likely that Xantcha's controller will be able to suicide attack her into something like The Gitrog Monster or Prossh, Skyraider of Kher or something. Also giving a 5/5 to someone who's going to also play a 6/6 actually has the effect of increasing the pressure put out on the rest of the table.

  2. Don't choose someone playing Tymna the Weaver or Edric, Spymaster of Trest . Giving them big attackers that are hard to block isn't going to help things.

  3. Choose someone not playing Ad Nauseam . This lets Xantcha attack the player with the Ad Nauseam deck, reducing their life total and making it less likely that they can combo off.

  4. Choose the weakest deck. I mean, weakest outside of the Xantcha player. ;)

  5. Choose the person with the most mana. It makes it slightly less attractive for them to dump a bunch of mana into drawing cards with Xantcha.

Doom Whisperer - This is a pretty strong reanimation target, and it can also be cast early with rituals. It sets up reanimation and graveyard strategies pretty well. You can usually set up a Worldgorger Dragon combo two turns after you play Doom Whisperer , but you have to be sort of lucky to set up for the next turn. Can be good, but also a little slow. Out for now.

Harsh Mentor - punishes everyone else for using Xantcha's ability, also stops most combos. Dies to Pyroclasm s, sadly. Out for now.

Neheb, the Eternal - Refunds you 2 mana for every 3 you spend on Xantcha, letting you spend more mana on Xantcha. Also works great with Rolling Earthquake and Pox . Costs 5, however. Also out.

Treasure Nabber - People want to ramp and then spend mana on Xantcha, and if they do that with mana rocks, then this ability kicks in. Dies to pyroclasms, however. Out.

Pyretic Ritual and Desperate Ritual - These cards are bad. It's hard to appreciate how awkward they are until you play them a bit. But when you want to use a ritual, you're frequently sort of pinched on mana, and you probably want to use a powerful black spell like a tutor or Yawgmoth's Will . The problem with these red rituals is they usually use up a valuable black mana, and you're not really gaining much unless you've already cast Bonus Round . Both of Rite of Flame and Seething Song are better. Rite of Flame because it's better without Bonus Round , and Seething Song is strong enough that it's about as good as Cabal Ritual .

Pyroclasm s are super great with Xantcha. First, it's asymmetrical card advantage and ramp-removal. You kill all the little mana dorks and utility creatures, resulting in sometimes 4-for-1 or 5-for-1 or more card advantage. Then, you've cleared the way for Xantcha to attack into your opponents, so it's like doing 5 damage, too. Finally, a lot of decks rely on little utility guys, any deck with green in it uses mana elves (stuff like Llanowar Elves , Elvish Mystic , Deathrite Shaman , Noble Hierarch , Birds of Paradise ) and killing a bunch of these makes it hard for them to accomplish their strategies.

When to Pyroclasm?

Just pull the trigger if you can clear 4 or 5 things, and set someone back. Look for high-value stuff like Tymna the Weaver , Dark Confidant , Aven Mindcensor , etc.

Best Pyroclasms

  1. Toxic Deluge
  2. Pyroclasm
  3. Whipflare
  4. Rolling Earthquake
  5. Fiery Confluence
  6. Anger of the Gods
  7. Fire Covenant
  8. Engineered Explosives
  9. Damnation
  10. Subterranean Tremors
  11. Kozilek's Return
  12. Fiery Cannonade

There's actually sort of a lot to choose from, and you could even think about including something like Pestilence or Pyrohemia . The best ones are the ones that deal X damage to everything for X total CMC. Then you want flexibility from stuff like Fiery Confluence and Rolling Earthquake . Depending on your meta you might want to prioritize stuff that deals more than 2 damage, like if you have a bunch of commanders with 3 toughness you want to be able to kill regularly then also look at Sweltering Suns . I feel like probably the most deal-2-damage spells you'd want is 2. There's enough other flexible spells that deal variable damage that you probably don't want Kozilek's Return and Fiery Cannonade , even though the instant-speed is kind of tempting. I like having a full wrath too in Damnation since it's good for bigger stuff like... dragons or The Gitrog Monster or other over-sized stuff you run into sometimes.

Bad matchups:

Ad Nauseam decks. These are hard to slow down with pyroclasms, although anti-artifact stuff works pretty well. You can also slow them a little with Chains of Mephistopheles or Leyline of the Void but these don't stop all their combo lines, so it's not usually decisive.

Other faster combo decks that don't rely on mana dorks for acceleration or a 2/3-toughness creature combo piece. These sorts of decks can be... flash hulk, or something similar.

Strong matchups:

Najeela, the Blade-Blossom is a hilarious matchup since you can Pyroclasm every turn or two.

Anything with green in it. Just kill the elves repeatedly, and they won't be able to do much.

Tymna and Thrasios. Just pyroclasm every time they cast Tymna the Weaver and you cruise to the mid-game.

Anything else trying to reanimate stuff. We have Leyline of the Void to wreck their plans, plus we can just reanimate whatever it is they're trying to reanimate.

The weakest/most conditional cards in the deck are probably : Rite of Flame , Subterranean Tremors , and Voltaic Key . These could be replaced for things that might help you more. Such as: Dance of the Dead , Sweltering Suns , Stranglehold , Red Elemental Blast , or another reanimation target.

Then there's Death Cloud . This is mostly here as a secondary win card and a way to push home a mana-artifact advantage. Can lead to wins with Bloodchief Ascension or Waste Not , but it's hard to use outside of a combo turn. It's sort of a backup plan if it looks like you can't win in a single turn. You can float a bunch of mana, kill everyone else's artifacts, put out a Chains of Mephistopheles , and maybe a Leyline of the Void or Bloodchief Ascension then Death Cloud away the whole board and maybe Reanimate a Sire Of Insanity and recast Xantcha, Sleeper Agent with floating mana. Then you can just beat your opponents to death over the next 3 turns. It's possible something like Torment of Hailfire or Exsanguinate would be ok here. Or even Aetherflux Reservoir , but I'd sort of like to keep the deck as lean as possible without extra do-nothing win-cards.

The mana base is trying to do a lot of things. First, we want to support and play around Blood Moon , since this is excellent disruption and shuts down entire decks. Blood Moon is also even better in Xantcha, since we’re also playing a lot of Pyroclasm s and artifact destruction to stop the artifact and creature sources of colored mana our opponents use to play around Blood Moon . So, we need a lot of basic swamps. I think 8 is the minimum.

We also have to be able to produce both colors, in high quantities, since cards like Bonus Round and the winning lines with it are very color-intensive. So, we use all the good dual lands that don’t come into play tapped. We also use all the good five-color lands, too. Those can sometimes help with Engineered Explosives setting it to 3 or more.

We’re also using all the available fetchlands, like Arid Mesa and Verdant Catacombs . This means we need dual lands that actually have basic land types like Badlands and Blood Crypt . Since we have 3 fetch lands that can only get mountains, we need to have 2 basic mountains. We can’t go less than 2, otherwise we run out of targets for the red-only fetches. Typically the first card you fetch is a Badlands so this frequently leaves you with 3 mountains in the remaining deck to go along with 3 fetches that only get mountains. As for using the fetches, if you think Blood Moon is a possibility, try to fetch a basic swamp when you can.

There’s room for 1 or 2 colorless utility lands. I think the leading contenders are Inventors' Fair and Geier Reach Sanitarium . The first is a good tutor for Paradox Engine and associated pieces, although needing 3 artifacts in play to activate it makes it pretty narrow. The second is a decent enabler for Waste Not and good with Chains of Mephistopheles . Blast Zone is an awesome new Pyroclasm on a land, really an Engineered Explosives on a land.

The worst land is probably Dragonskull Summit which I guess if you really like Blackcleave Cliffs you could run that instead. I wouldn’t cut Shadowblood Ridge cause it’s so helpful to power out an early Xantcha, Sleeper Agent . Like, turn 1 Mana Crypt + Shadowblood Ridge = Xantcha.

There's a powered-down version which retains the same spirit, and should be ok-ish at your mostly-competitive EDH tables at : Budget Xantcha.

But the plan is this: Chains of Mephistopheles can become Stranglehold . It's another solid disruption piece. Grim Tutor can become Praetor's Grasp . That frequently does almost the same thing. Then expensive mana rocks can become cheaper mana rocks, but ones that tap for more mana: Worn Powerstone , Thran Dynamo , Gilded Lotus , which gives you less early game but stronger late game. You can drop expensive lands for lands that come into play tapped like Smoldering Marsh and Temple of Malice . I guess you can do Magus of the Will for Yawgmoth's Will , although that's really a lot worse; but Magus of the Wheel for Wheel of Fortune is sort of cooler since you can fire off the magus at your opponent's end step, right before you untap. It's just slower.

To discuss this deck and similar Xantcha, Sleeper Agent approaches, join us on Discord! DontchaWannaXantcha : https://discord.gg/GbsfWHN

Suggestions

Updates Add

War of the Spark brings some nice new toys, which should be awesome in Xantcha.

First, Blast Zone is awesome new board wipe on a land. I would have never thought they would print such a card! I think this can go in over Geier Reach Sanitarium .

Second, Bolas's Citadel is like part Ad Nauseam and part Experimental Frenzy , both sweet cards. I think this goes in for Experimental Frenzy ; looks like a direct upgrade.

Finally, Finale of Promise looks like a sweet value and graveyard engine, which also has sort of absurd possibilities with Bonus Round . Probably slot this in over Infernal Tutor which has been inconsistent, to say the least.

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