A SEMBLANCE of hope for Modern Combo?

What’s brewing guys?

So before anything else, let me preface this article by narrating my gnawing frustration with WotC’s recent decision to once again shake up the modern format by banning the king of solitary combo, Krak-Clan Ironworks.

Clickitty clack…

Just kidding. I’ll have you relish that memory of quietly smirking in delight when you first saw that news — for as long as you can, at least. *winks*

Personally, that was the first time that a banning which directly affected one of the core decks I pilot, where I felt little to no remorse for.

If anything, what I was regretful of was that I hadn’t capitalized more on the opportunity to play this deck to a greater extent, which obviously had quite the dominant showing in all tiers of competitive play, particularly during the last few weeks of its life cycle where more proficient hands decided to sleeve it up.

Perhaps it was out of acceptance that at some point in time, a strategy displaying this level of consistency would disrupt the format’s drive to maintain a balance between skill & luck — comprising the fundamentals of gameplay for all TCGs. And “KCI” was definitely provoking this fine line to an obnoxiously dangerous point, where the ban hammer was the only reasonable way out.

It’s either that, or probably I’ve grown immune to getting my decks axed, time and time again. From Birthing Pod, Second Sunrise, Splinter Twin, Summer Bloom, Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Gitaxian Probe, and Golgari Grave-Troll.

*segues to a daydream sequence*

plays “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys

I’ve played all of these cards in copious occasions up until their final days.

Well, it’s not my fault that not only did these cards turn out to be oppressive elements of the archetypes they belong in, but were also coincidentally fun to cast.

Having identified as a hybrid of a “Spike” and a “Johnny”, I always gravitate towards the best possible proactive deck available to me. Unluckily for me, as the pattern of banning would illustrate, these were all cornerstones of primarily “Combo” strategies, where I mostly thrive in comfort.       

To emphasize further on the ludicrousness of KCI; among all of the names that wielded this deck to success — Matt Nass was the most notorious of them all, and for good reason.

Matt Nass decimated the field to end up winning GP Las Vegas 2018

I remember stumbling through his consolidated performance with the deck, and it showed that out of the (3) Grand Prix events that he joined with this in hand, he posed an absurd win-rate of 91% — getting Top 4 in his first run at GP Phoenix (1,334 Players), placing 1st in GP Las Vegas (2,776 Players – the biggest GP attendance to date), and again, at 1st place in GP Hartford (1,819 Players).

To say that he ran well, would clearly be the biggest understatement of the decade.

But it was no other than himself who ended up to be the biggest advocate for the banning, to quite valid points that I was in agreement with — all referenced well in the B&R rationale.

And with the blessing of the man-God himself, on January 21, the deck gasped its final breath.

Read more about it here:
https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/january-21-2019-banned-and-restricted-announcement


However, as the plot of many fantasy novels would suggest — in the untimely death of the Master, the legacy lives on through the silent Apprentice — who now realizes his destiny and is ultimately revealed to be the true protagonist of the tale.

“Pass on what you have learned.”

As they say, (well, no one actually did.) — In forging the hero’s blade, the weapon’s mission is only as important as the blacksmith at work. While the blacksmith is said to be only as good as its tools. And as with the strike of any hammer, the force needs to be cushioned by a surface in order for it to derive purpose — often in the form of an Anvil.

Establishing that analogy took the wind out of me. I tried guys. I really did.


So today, without further ado, I have come to preach the second coming of KCI. This is in the shell of Semblance Anvil + Grinding Station combo, dubbed — “Slot Machine”.

DING! — DING! — DING!

Earlier this week, Magic Pro League member, Piotr Glogowski, tweeted his first foray with this brew that led him to a 5-0 run on a Modern Competitive League.

A more detailed view of the decklist can be found here:

https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/visual/1667480

This quickly made waves on social media, thus resulting to a crazy 546% spike with Semblance Anvil, from $ 2.56 to a high point of $17 overnight.

For those unaware, Piotr or as he is more commonly known via his MTGO handle, kanister, is a Platinum Level Pro who hails from Poland and has one Pro Tour Top 8 (Rivals of Ixalan), a World Magic Cup finalist, and (2) Grand Prix Top 8s all under his belt — more importantly, one of these GP finishes was a finals appearance with no other than, KCI.

He is no doubt one of the most influential people to have contributed in refining not only KCI, but has also largely been considered to be a major figure that spearheaded Lantern Control and recently Whir Prison, among the array of decks that he has picked up over the years. A potent master of the game to say the least.

However, the idea for the combo has existed prior to the said tweet. Given that this was already a semi-popular engine being utilized in most artifact-based EDH decks, and has been frequently revisited as an alternative in the KCI forums in anticipation of the banning.


Oh and in case everyone forgot, the combination of the best fast mana option there is, Mox Opal, and the insane card selection value off of Ancient Stirrings are still legal and exploitable, last time I checked.

To briefly outline how the combo works, the steps are as follows:

1. Get Semblance Anvil into play, imprinting an Artifact, alongside Grinding Station.

Both the Semblance Anvil and the Grinding Station, provide you both halves of what Krark-Clan Ironworks’ effect was. First netting you the mana required to cast your spells, allowing you to virtually cast most of these for free. And the latter, being the replacement “sac outlet”, albeit providing more value as shown in its other lines of text.

Off the bat, a clear disadvantage is seen as compared to the previous shell, which now requires you (2) separate cards for the engine to get going, opposed to having KCI as the lone piece you simply have to start with. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the combo is potentially available a turn earlier, given the advantage with a reduced casting cost, from (4) to now, (3).

2. Start sacrificing artifacts via Grinding Station, at each instance targeting yourself, until you both get a Myr Retriever in hand/play, and another one in the graveyard.

As you have seen, the deck is a mostly a collection of artifacts which have “draw a card” abilities stapled on them, either when they hit play or when they go to the graveyard. These are primarily found in Terrarion, Chromatic Star, Ichor Wellspring, Scrap Trawler, and even Myr Retriever. All of these allow you to replace themselves as you sacrifice them, enabling you to continue churning through your library as you try to work on the second objective.

In relation to this, another key difference from the former shell, is that this is not as reliant with the card Scrap Trawler, which used to be the linchpin of the engine, and the absence of it makes the combo unable to fire.

Instead, “Trawler” is here simply as a safety valve to ensure that you have inevitability in digging for the necessary pieces, especially if you don’t have the “Retriever” in hand or have possibly “mill-ed” all copies.

3. Once you have both Myr Retriever assembled, target the opponent with Grinding Station to “mill” them out.

How this happens is that you first cast the Myr Retriever in hand, triggering the “Untap” ability of Grinding Station. You then sacrifice the said Retriever and targeting the other Retriever in the graveyard, with its own ability, to get it back. You may loop these as many times required until your opponent’s deck is depleted which will result in him losing the game, the next time he draws a card from an empty library.  

It’s important to note that you are not required to mechanically play out this loop for as long as your opponent forfeits the ability to disrupt it and you are able to demonstrate that these specific actions are not only legal but can be repeated indefinitely, as per Magic: the Gathering Comprehensive Rules, sec. 720 — Taking Shortcuts.  

So conserve your much-needed energy if you can, and save it for another salty opponent in the rounds to follow, as there will be no shortage of those.

“YES! YES!”

In the event that milling your opponent does not guarantee the win — in most cases where the graveyard is disrupted by an effect that allows a card to be shuffled back into the library (i.e. Emrakul the Aeons Torn, Nexus of Fate.), or if you do not have Tormod’s Crypt in the main, where you can respond to these triggers on the stack by exiling the card — there is an alternate win-condition as backup in the form of the following loop:

First assemble, Semblance Anvil + Grinding Station + (1st) Myr Retriever + Scrap Trawler in play, with (2nd) Myr Retriever + Pyrite Spellbomb + Mox Opal in the graveyard.

  1. Sacrifice the Myr Retriever in play, getting back the other Myr Retriever from the graveyard using its own ability, and the Mox Opal off of the Scrap Trawler’s ability.
  2. Play Myr Retriever and Mox Opal, then tap for (Red) Mana, sacrifice it. (You can generate “infinite” mana also with this.)
  3. Execute the Myr Retriever loop, however this time, bring back the Pyrite Spellbomb using the Scrap Trawler.
  4. Play Pyrite Spellbomb, use the mana generated, and sacrifice it with its own ability, dealing the opponent (2) damage — triggering the Scrap Trawler, getting the Mox Opal back.
  5. Repeat Steps B to D, until opponent’s life total is 0.

*Note that there are other variations to this depending on the board state, and I have only outlined the simplest possible route to take.

As for the other inclusions in the deck — Welding Jar is there as your key source of protection from artifact destruction effects; the Engineered Explosives are for problematic permanents which you need to clear out prior to combo-ing; the “spell lands”, Buried Ruin and Inventor’s Fair, as ways to recur or tutor missing pieces; Sai, Master Thopterist can also function as a win-con in itself where you can flood the field with Thoptersfor a massive alpha strike or provide some early game to gum up the board as you dig for pieces, all the while drawing cards.


I won’t mask the fact that it it’s as easily susceptible to the similar types of “hate” as its predecessor, mainly Rest In Peace and Stony Silence, among the top cards to pack against this strategy.

Also, the difference with KCI being a “mana ability” — making it more convenient to play around hate since this does not use the stack, as compared to Grinding Station’s “activated ability”, giving the opponent more opportunities to disrupt the combo — is a very significant downgrade.

Nevertheless, it does employ a pretty compelling transformational sideboard strategy where you can take out the bulk of your combo engine, and replace them with cards that attack on another angle and negate most post-board plans against you — such as Karn, Scion of Urza and Ghirapur Aether Grid.

Since his first showing with Slot Machine, kanister has then experimented with some build variations, including the package of Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek, to shore up on challenging match-ups.

You may check his previous streams via Twitch to get a deeper look at its game-play, using this link:

https://www.twitch.tv/kanister_mtg


In summary, I feel like this is only a preview or the foundation of a much more streamlined build to come in the future. Let’s leave that to the collective hive mind of the internet to propel us forward from here.

After all, KCI had its fair share of iterations up until it reached its “final form”. To be specific, it evolved from (4) major deck-building transformations leading to the accepted list we saw in action.

I know this because I painstakingly went through each one myself.

RIP Wallets.

With modern being so vast in card choices and information being transmitted effortlessly across channels, it should be no time until we see this new archetype advance.

Who knows, a new artifact printing that will improve this dramatically, might be waiting in the next sets ahead of us, igniting the Spark once again.


Thanks to everyone for reading through this and I’ll try to update it at some point with insights I might have after I run this personally in tournaments ahead.

Hope you stay tuned for the next deck coverage I write on. Though, I’m currently torn on either featuring Amulet Titan or Whir Prison, so leave a comment below as to what you want to see!

*Big shoutout to Jeremiah Chua, Ariel Pundamiera, and Randy Semana, for the deals and consenting me to build this on paper.

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