I recently went 5-0 in a League on stream with this deck. After reading this article, you can see the deck in action here.
The deck is truly a tailored tapestry of synergies and combos. It isn’t a single 2-card combo like Grindstone + Painter’s Servant and then a bunch of support. It isn’t a bunch of pieces surrounding 1 key engine card like Aluren or Living End.
List of Synergies/Combos
1) Faithless Looting + Goryo’s Vengeance + Fatty
Griselbrand or Emrakul can be unlocked for the low price of 3 mana (with haste) and that’s perhaps the most obvious combo. The funny thing you’ll notice if you play this deck is that Faithless Looting leaving you a card lighter actually hurts in this deck. The rest of the cards in your hand will offer other synergies and back-up combos. So I use 3 Faithless Looting and I’m closer to cutting the 3rd than I am to adding the 4th.
2) Thoughtseize + Goryo’s Vengeance + Fatty
If you have the Goryo’s and the fatty, even the discard step can be an enabler. But more often, it’s Thoughtseize that steps up and plays the role of world’s worst Faithless Looting. It’s still just 3 mana and often game over.
3) Breaking + Goryo’s Vengeance
For 4 mana, you can Goryo’s any fatty that shows up from your top 8 cards. Notice that if you tried to label each card in the deck as playing one role, you might have labeled Breaking // Entering a reanimation spell, or maybe it’s a fuse card to cheat in? Either way, don’t forget that it’s also “U/B – Mill 8.” In other words, a cheap graveyard combo setup piece.
4) Brain in a Jar + Thoughtseize
Draw-step Thoughtseize gives you something to do while getting the Jar up to 2 counters, but it’s also fun to know what your opponent drew (perfect information) and be able to use Thoughtseize even against someone who is in top deck mode with an empty hand.
5) Brain in a Jar + Beck // Call
It’s a little bit strange to “go off” and only make 4 Birds and draw 4 cards. It’s not like the game is over at that point. But those 4 cards and 4 Birds help you so much in assembling another combo and buying yourself time that I started with only 3 Lauren Bacalls (Beck // Call) in my deck, but I now use 4.
6) Brain in a Jar + Breaking // Entering
The most fun thing about this combo is when someone has Relic of Progenitus out against you in order to stop your graveyard shenanigans. The problem (their problem, not yours) is that Breaking happens, then Entering happens, all without either player getting a chance to activate permanents like Relic or cast spells like Surgical Extraction. 8 cards is a really large number. You don’t hit a fatty every time, but you hit one enough. And sometimes the opponent has a creature in their graveyard to soften the blow. The fact that the creature sticks around (it doesn’t die or get exiled at the end of turn), means you don’t have to go off and then go off again—you just win.
7) Kari Zev’s Expertise + Forbidden Orchard
People asked me a lot when I streamed, “Why are you playing Forbidden Orchard?” The answer is that many opponents in Modern play no creatures or very few. I’d still like to cast Kari Zev’s Expertise against these people, so I decided to try Forbidden Orchard in small doses. It worked like a charm, and I never looked back.
8) Kari Zev’s Expertise + Beck // Call
The redundancy between Brain in a Jar and Kari Zev’s Expertise (and the 1 Yahenni’s) is what makes all these fuse cards playable. When you have more than one way to “sneak in” 8-mana spells for 3 or so mana, the results are fun and effective.
9) Kari Zev’s Expertise + Breaking // Entering
Once again 3 mana is all you have to invest, and you might get a 15-mana creature attacking that turn with annihilator 6. This is a core combo in the deck.
10) Beck // Call + Forbidden Orchard
Don’t forget this little combo. On the turn you use Brain in a Jar or an Expertise to pop off a fused Beck // Call, tapping Forbidden Orchard for a mana will cause a creature to enter the battlefield, which lets you draw a card off of Beck.
The sideboard is much more in flux than the main deck and my confidence in my choices there is much lower. I’ve toyed around with the idea of a somewhat transformational sideboard of 4 Greater Gargadon + 4 Restore Balance. If you activate Brain in a Jar with 0 counters, then sacrifice it in response to Greater Gargadon, it uses last-known information to let you cast a 0 mana spell, namely Restore Balance. Expertise cards also let you cast Restore Balance. These are 3 card combos, but at least they don’t use the graveyard, which is what attracted me to them as sideboard options.
With the sideboard listed, it’s less about transforming and more about tuning. Against opponents who will be trying to use instants to disrupt you, like Grixis Control, Defense Grid can work wonders and Dispel can also help you find windows to go off.
Painful Truths is a tool I’ve liked in the grindy matchups (think Jund, Abzan, Grixis).
Right now I have 1 Echoing Truth as my way out of a Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace jam. In the past I’ve used 3 Through The Breach rather than trying to get rid of an RIP or Leyline, but 5 mana is an awful lot and it rarely worked. I still have 1 Through The Breach, which feels better to me than 2 or 3.
Tinker around with the sideboard. See if transforming into a Gargadon deck works. Try something like Simian Spirit Guides and Through The Breaches with Leyline of Sanctity if you get tired of hand disruption and graveyard hate.
This is a great deck for anyone who enjoys playing combo. Sometimes, 2-card combos don’t fully satisfy that Johnny itch. “Oops I won” isn’t the same as casting Time Spiral with 10 blue floating, for example. In my experience with this deck, there are so many interesting things going on and plan-B synergies that it does scratch the itch. I really recommend it.