The problem with most combo decks these days is that they’re too straightforward. They revolve around two cards that have a clear and easy-to-understand interaction, and don’t always punish you to the maximum when you “fizzle.” The Arena Boys are in the business of solutions, however, so this week we’re playing one of the most convoluted combo decks you’re likely to see.
I’m not sure where the original idea for this deck emerged. I first saw it streamed by Professor Nox, however, and was hooked after seeing how complicated and convoluted the combo is. The central idea is to turn Demonlord Belzenlok’s trigger into a game-winning ability, but there are quite a few hoops you have to jump through to make it possible.
Firstly, the deck can’t have anything that costs three or less, or Belzenlok will stop burning through the deck. Secondly, you need a Jace, Wielder of Secrets out for his Laboratory Maniac ability after you’ve emptied your library. Thirdly, you need either The Wanderer or Sorin out to prevent the damage from Belzenlok from killing you.
Easy enough, right? We backed up this highly questionable combo with the best high-CMC cards we could find in the Esper colors, and this was the result!
4 Watery Grave 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Godless Shrine 1 Island (335) 4 Demonlord Belzenlok 3 Depose/Deploy 3 Warrant/Warden 4 Discovery/Dispersal 2 Command the Dreadhorde 2 The Wanderer 4 Chemister's Insight 4 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries 2 Vraska's Contempt 4 Kaya's Wrath 3 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
As you can see, we kind of “cheat” on the no-cheap-cards rule by including split cards. Even though Discovery costs two, Belzenlok sees Discovery // Dispersal as a seven-drop. These split cards allow you to play a somewhat sensible game by giving you options in the early turns–and the fact that Depose and Kaya’s Wrath can serve as early removal is absolutely critical in staying alive. At the four-drop slot, all the usual suspects emerge. Kaya’s Wrath, Chemister’s Insight, Vraska’s Contempt–these are just good cards. Even the planeswalkers necessary to complete the combo aren’t totally embarrassing, although you’re not guaranteed to get value from The Wanderer and Sorin doesn’t exactly have a lot to return with his second activated ability. Still, Jace is decent.
Removal, card draw, and then some threats. This deck isn’t actually that off-the-wall, once you get past the questionable inclusions that are necessary for the combo. Unfortunately, however, Demonlord Belzenlok is never going to get in there as a 6/6 beater–he’s very much an all-or-nothing card and isn’t a good backup plan if the combo doesn’t come together
Some of the split cards, however, give you a very solid Plan B. Warden and Deploy are technically win conditions. Command the Dreadhorde, however, was a card we missed while building this deck initially (we add it halfway through the video), and it’s a perfect addition. Building in extra redundancy for the combo while also giving you another way to win (with your opponent’s threats) means Command the Dreadhorde fits nicely.
As a bad control deck with a combo finish, this deck is straightforward enough to play. Neutralize their threats, protect your own, keep your life total high, and assemble the combo. Some matchups will be heavily draw-dependent. Against hard aggro you need those early split cards and probably at least one sweeper–but I don’t think this deck auto-loses to anything (even if it’s not the best deck in the format).
There are several ways to assemble the combo in the lategame, once you have 10 mana. With 10 mana you don’t need Jace, just Belzenlok and Sorin or The Wanderer. You can play Belzenlok, which will draw you a Jace (presuming you have one left in your library) with absolute certainty, so you can then cast the Jace and draw a card straight away.
Alternatively, if you’ve already burnt through enough of your library, you can cast Belzenlok onto an empty board, take the huge hit of life, then cast Jace and win. You have 35 nonland cards, so do a quick count of your hand and graveyard to figure out exactly how much damage you’re taking. We didn’t do this properly in the video and were one life short from a miraculous victory!
This also means you generally want to target yourself with Jace. We couldn’t seem to make up our minds in the video, but especially with Command the Dreadhorde (not to mention Chemister’s Insight!), you want to fill up your own bin rather than try to mill out an opponent. Do as we say, not as we do.
Outside of the combo, you can definitely win by ticking along with Jace and removal spells, or by buffering your life total with Sorin and some token creatures. Generally, however, you should aim to wrest the game under your control and clean up with Belzenlok and friends.
We updated this deck halfway through the video with Command the Dreadhorde, as I mentioned, so the deck is already better than it was when we started battling with it. Still, I’m not convinced on some of the numbers in the deck, and while I wouldn’t change any cards, I think we can tweak the numbers to improve things a little.
Belzenlok Combo 2.0
4 Watery Grave 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Godless Shrine 1 Island (335) 4 Demonlord Belzenlok 2 Depose/Deploy 3 Warrant/Warden 4 Discovery/Dispersal 2 Command the Dreadhorde 1 The Wanderer 4 Chemister's Insight 4 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries 3 Vraska's Contempt 4 Kaya's Wrath 4 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
Depose // Deploy never convinced me, and The Wanderer does very little in most board states (obviously it’s excellent in the right situations). Sorin also does very little, but is more resilient with higher loyalty, and pairs well with the backup win conditions of Warden and Deploy, keeping your life total high for Command the Dreadhorde.
An extra Vraska’s Contempt is there to deal with opposing planeswalkers, which are otherwise a little too threatening for my liking, and to adjust for the continued rise of Arclight Phoenix decks. Not to mention it buffers your life total, which once again is important in a deck playing Command the Dreadhorde!
The one card I’m still concerned about is the basic Island. You must play a basic, as Field of Ruin and Assassin’s Trophy are starting to punish those playing all nonbasics, but in a deck with both Jace and Kaya’s Wrath, it’s difficult to say what the basic should be. Triple-blue is more restrictive than WWBB, so we’ll stick with the Island for now.