A recent announcement of a couple unbannings affecting Modern and Legacy left Pioneer with no changes. Many players were unhappy with this decision, especially given the prevalence of mono-green Devotion and Rakdos decks featuring Fable of the Mirror-Breaker that have dominated the format for a long period of time. That being said, there are plenty of unique archetypes that have been popping up for players wanting to think outside the box.
Last week, we covered an interesting Transmogrify deck that won a Magic Online Pioneer Challenge utilizing Tribute to Horobi and Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Over the weekend, there was an intriguing Legends deck that blended the Standard Esper Legends archetype with the Pioneer Abzan Greasefang, Okiba Boss archetype to a successful finish at the NRG series $5k. Today, we are focusing on another unique Atraxa deck that dominated a large Japanese event, which also happens to mash two combo archetypes together.
On the surface, this deck appears to be a rather standard Sultai Rona, Herald of Invasion combo deck. After all, the deck plays Rona alongside Mox Amber and Retraction Helix, allowing you to generate infinite mana. By targeting Rona (without summoning sickness) with Helix, you can cast Mox Amber, float mana, return Mox Amber to your hand with Rona, cast Mox Amber to trigger Rona to untap, and repeat.
From there, you can cast Karn, the Great Creator, untapping Rona, search for The Stone Brain and use the Stone Brain to exile four cards from the opponent’s library. With Rona untapped again, you can return Karn to your hand and replay it, searching for the exiled copy of the Stone Brain. By repeating this process, you can exile your opponent’s library and win via decking.
This deck also runs some of the traditional support cards that help give the combo additional consistency. One of the most important cards in this camp is Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler. Tyvar can return Rona from your graveyard to play, and thanks to Tyvar’s static ability, you can utilize Rona’s looting ability and ability from Retraction Helix even though Rona entered that turn. None of this seems too out of the ordinary for this style of deck, but there’s yet another element to the deck we need to take a look at.
Alongside Rona, this deck plays a large number of mana dorks to help with mana acceleration. The most important of these Creatures is definitely Sylvan Caryatid. While Caryatid does help cast Karn and Tyvar, its primary purpose is that it synergizes exceptionally well with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast.
That’s right, this deck has a LOT going on. Lukka specifically lets you exile a Creature, then reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal one with higher mana value and put it into play. Caryatid not only helps cast Lukka, but because of Hexproof, Lukka’s ability targeting Caryatid can’t be broken up by basic removal spells.
Given that every Creature in the deck besides Atraxa has mana value two or less, Lukka is guaranteed to put Atraxa into play as long as you exile a two-mana Creature. With all of the mana dorks in this deck, simply casting Atraxa is not off the table either. This deck even plays Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy which not only helps cast Atraxa, but can also dig for Atraxa thanks to its activated ability. From Transmogrify to Indomitable Creativity, we’ve seen various shells built around cheating Atraxa into play have success, but why is this strategy featured alongside Rona combo? What benefits does the Rona combo deck gain by running Lukka and Atraxa?
A Strange Symbiotic Relationship
Rona combo is a relatively streamlined strategy, but it does require a decent number of things to go right. First, you need to stick a Rona. Then, you need access to both Mox Amber and Retraction Helix to generate infinite mana. From there, you still need to have a payoff for all that mana. Because of this, the deck can take a long time to assemble all of the requisite combo pieces and can still be broken up by Instant speed removal targeting Rona.
Having access to the Lukka combo gives this deck another avenue to win the game that is not dependent on Rona. Lukka has a plus-one ability that can help you dig for Rona in a pinch. While a resolved Atraxa is often good enough to win on its own, it also helps you find missing combo pieces that can help you win quicker. Atraxa even acts as a win condition when you can generate infinite mana but don’t have immediate access to Karn. While it may seem like a strange combination, forcing your opponent to play around two different combos has its value. Of course, it also has its flaws.
The biggest issue a deck like this has is with consistency. While a deck that is hyper-focused on the Rona combo might play cards like Consider and Dig Through Time to help find combo pieces and Thoughtseize to make sure the coast is clear, this deck is using those extra slots for Lukka, Atraxa, and mana dorks. While this gives you the opportunity to win via Lukka or via Rona, it’s quite possible to get stuck with awkward hands with Retraction Helix and Mox Amber without a Rona in sight.
Notably, this deck does play Oath of Nissa, which helps find Rona and Lukka and also makes casting Lukka a bit easier. That being said, without Oath of Nissa or Sylvan Caryatid, actually casting Lukka can be very problematic. The rest of the deck is Sultai-based, so reliably casting Lukka forces this deck to play a playset of Mana Confluence, which is very dangerous against aggressive decks.
Still, the Lukka combo is strong, and Caryatid helps a lot against aggressive decks. Rona’s looting ability also helps pitch cards like Lukka or excess mana dorks when necessary and convert them into new cards, which helps a lot with the deck’s consistency issues. For anyone who loves out-of-the-ordinary combo strategies, definitely consider giving this deck a whirl.