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Woo Brews – Modern Negative Life Combo

We have something on our hands here people.

Today’s deck is a negative life combo deck.

Our main strategy is to survive for a turn with Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife.

Go deep into negative life with Spoils of the Vault or Ad Nauseam.

And consume the opponent with a giant Death’s Shadow.

We abuse the best black shell in Modern with Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant.

And we fuel it with the best fast mana available in Modern with Simian Spirit Guide and Pentad Prism.

With such a dark and twisted deck we have the power to consume one opponent on the third turn, consume two opponents on the fourth turn, or consume many opponents on the fifth turn.

I’m rocking a pricy version with mostly rares that I would be excited to take into a big Modern tournament from now until forever. But we can also budget it for you to terrorize your local playgroup or bully kids at your school.

Here’s my current main deck:

I can’t resist turn 1 Dark Confidant. Otherwise I would cut old Bob because he’s a lightning rod in our deck that makes us weaker against the fair and interactive decks like UWR and Jund.

Against everybody else though, Dark Confidant is crazy, and untapping with him in play releases lots of dopamine.

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Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam is a crazy Magic card.

It’s a combo with starting the game at 20 life. In this deck it draws about 1 card per life for five mana.

If an opponent doesn’t pressure our life total we can end-of-turn Ad Nauseam for 15 cards, untap and win.

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Ad Nauseam gets crazy with Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife. With either of these we can pick up our whole deck right then and dive to -50.

With our deck in our hands we can use Simian Spirit Guides to start making mana. We can filter red into black and white through Manamorphose and Pentad Prism if we need to Thoughtseize first, but from here a Death’s Shadow and Fling to the face ends it.

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Here’s a massive, game-ending drain on the fifth turn through multiple discard spells.

Spoils of the Vault

Spoils of the Vault is a crazy random and dangerous Magic card. It can be a tutor, but at the risk of our life.

Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife take the risk out of the card and we can safely use it to exile our whole deck or find any card that we want.

The card is extremely tricky to play though… there are the easy times where we don’t need anything and can name a card we don’t have. But there are times where we want to name something and live through it.

And there are times where we want to find something but need to lose the maximum amount of life. When needing to bleed out, we can tutor for 1 copy of Fling, 1 of land, 1 of Duress, or Spoils for more Spoils before finding Death’s Shadow.

The cost is high, the risk is high, but the power and upside are through the roof.

In this situation we can Angel’s Grace to clear the way, Spoils of the Vault for a 1 of land, and Rite of Consumption to the face. But if the opponent doesn’t block this happens:

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This is a bad man.

Phyrexian Unlife

Phyrexian Unlife is an extremely powerful Magic card.

This is a great combo card with anything that trades life for more cards.

But it also makes it extremely difficult for the opponent to win.

At 1 life, we can take a 20-point hit from a Merfolk opponent and live through it at -19. They’ll have to poison us out from there.

Against a Burn opponent, 10 damage usually requires 4 spells. Phyrexian Unlife can buy 4 or more draws steps against Burn.

The card can be removed by the popular Abrupt Decay, but whatever. It’s an insane card. If nobody had an answer for it that would be a problem for the format.

Abrupt Decay doesn’t necessarily hose us anyway. We have other juicy targets, we have our own discard, and we have Angel’s Grace.

Death’s Shadow

Death’s Shadow is a bizarre Magic card. It totally flips the game on its head because it creates an incentive to be at less than 13 life.

The less life we have the greater the payoff, the payoff being a huge beatdown creature.

A lot of the forms we’ve seen Death’s Shadow decks take is to try to dive down to a low life total immediately to make a big beater fast.

I’m not interested in doing that. I’m okay with using life as a resource, but I don’t want to throw it away either. We can use extra life to get more cards, more board presence, and more information. I’m interested in trading life in for a good rate… I’m not interested in throwing it away for nothing.

This has led me away from cards like Spellskite, Plunge into Darkness, Gitaxian Probe, and Street Wraith. These cards throw your life away for nothing and don’t let you go negative. I’m not very interested.

It’s true that Death’s Shadow is great when you’re at 1 life. It’s a 12 /12. But we don’t need to rush down there. We’ll get down there… with the help of our opponent.

Most opponents are going to kill us through damagecombat or burn, so we will naturally have a big Death’s Shadow eventually most of the time.

From here, if the opponent is careless with their life or takes incremental damage we can reach across and kill them out of nowhere.

A main strategy of this deck is just to play slow, play dead. Take damage. Get low. Death’s Shadow + Fling could be the only spells you play all game.

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Here we have a Pod player that wanted to race us with disregard for their own life.

Beating Leyline of Sanctity

One of the most common and effective sideboard cards against us is Leyline of Sanctity. Generally we want to reach across and target our opponent directly for the kill. Leyline of Sanctity stops us.

Against any white deck, we should prepare by bringing in a Wear // Tear or a Patrician’s Scorn.

Here is a battle against a white enchantment control player who used Leyline of the Void as defense. Ad Nauseam picking up the deck found Tear for the Leyline and the opponent was dead on the spot.

It’s still possible to win without removing Leyline. Normally you will always pick up all but one card with Ad Nauseam, draw the last one off Manamorphose, and kill right then.

But if you have a Phyrexian Unlife, you can dump your Death’s Shadows and keep the game going.

Here’s an image of another player facing Leyline of Sanctity out of a black/white deck. The player picked up the deck, made giant monsters, and cleared the board. That can be good enough.

From a position like this we could kill tons of opponent in a multiplayer game.

Playing with Leyline of Sanctity

Leyline of Sanctity also happens to be one of the best cards for our 75.

If we are patient with our Death’s Shadow we aren’t vulnerable to creature removal. With discard we aren’t so vulnerable to countermagic. But we are vulnerable to discard.

Discard and a fast clock can be pretty terrifying for this deck, and Leyline is a huge trump against that. I remember watching Stanislav Cifka take down Yuuya Watanabe in the finals of the Modern Pro tour because the hand of Stan’s Eggs deck was untouchable by Yuuya’s Jund discard deck.

Leyline also has implications against Burn:

Leyline of Sanctity protects our face from Lightning Bolts, which is good for free wins, like here, against true Burn. But this can also be nice against the Burn of the UWR decks, which is another popular deck.

With all things considered, Leyline of Sanctity might be a better maindeck card than Dark Confidant. Leyline of Sanctity protects our weaknesses while Dark Confidant plays into common decks’ strengths.

But I just can’t get away from turn 1 Bob.

It reminds me of Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage or Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek decks. The Thopter Depths deck might be the most complete popular best deck everit spliced two of the best combo options together in a Thoughtseize Confidant shell with fast mana.

This is a deck from a different time that plays different cards, but it evokes a nostalgia and feeling of that time, a feeling of the Dark Depths deck.

This is an extremely powerful, fast, disruptive, bizarre deck, and it just doesn’t feel right to me without the random turn 1 Bobs.

But Leyline is a hell of a card.

Phyrexian Arena

Phyrexian Arena and Phyrexian Unlife play well together. Two cards a turn for forever. This is a good approach to fighting any long matchup.

Arena can still be killed by Abrupt Decay, but it’s untouchable by all the creature removal of UWR.

Over any kind of a longer game, the extra cards from Phyrexian Arena are game-winning.

Negative Life Mana Base

We already know we are playing 4 Pentad Prism and 4 Simian Spirit Guide for fast combo kills. With 20 lands, that gets us up to a healthy 28 mana sources.

When deciding which 20 lands to play with, the first thing I look at is our curve. Most of our spells costs 1 or 2 mana, but the only ones we actually want to play early are Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Pentad Prism.

This leaves a big hole at 1 and 2 mana.

To give us some way to take advantage of not having many turn 1 plays, I like Temple of Silence.

Temple of Silence is really nice for digging one card deeper, although it does suck to topdeck it when you need an untapped land for the kill.

Since we are looking for more second turn plays, this seems like the perfect deck for Molten Slagheap and Orzhov Basilica.

The storage lands have been low-key busted for foreverthe nastiest Hypergenesis and Mind’s Desire decks played by the likes of Tomoharu Saito and Luis Scott-Vargas abused these cards, and the finger was always pointed at the sorcery and not the lands.

But Molten Slagheap is crazy. It allows us to build our own ritual in a shorter game, and ramp massive mana against control decks while staying outside of Tectonic Edge range.

Orzhov Basilica is similar. It gives us more power, makes our mana base more robust, but at the cost of mid-game tempo. I think this deck could use extra resources and doesn’t have a problem giving up a play turn 2 or 3 for this card.

Bounce lands can match up poorly with Ghost Quarter, Cryptic Command, and Deceiver Exarch, but I’m willing to live with it. Orzhov Basilica reminds me of those Dark Depths decks. By the end, people were maindecking Dimir Aqueducts.

We’re also in the market for untapped lands to search for off Spoils of the Vault that don’t require life payment. We want 1-ofs to find so that we can dive into deep negatives off Spoils of the Vault.

We have Plains, Swamp, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and City of Brass. This gives us lots of options.

The rest of our lands are shocks and fetches which can be used to manipulate our life downward if we need to. Sometimes adjusting down to 1 for a 12-damage Death’s Shadow Fling is the game-winning play.

Negative Life Sideboard

I’m not at all sure how to sideboard with this deck. On the one hand I want to emulate old Dark Depths sideboard strategies and board into a control deck.

On the other hand we are not that deck. We have too many combo pieces. Everything is a combo piece. We only have Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant that aren’t combo. So unless we want to cut combo, we don’t really have too many options.

The main thing I’ve been doing is to sideboard out Dark Confidant in matchups where they can kill it easily. If they are especially disruptive and interactive, maybe we can trim combo pieces.

The main things I want to board in are Leyline of Sanctity vs. discard and extra discard plus Phyrexian Arena vs. control decks.

Timely Reinforcements is a throwback to Caw Blade. This card can be invaluable in grindy matchups. It gives us board presence and life vs. Snapcaster Mage or Goblin Guide.

Lightning Storm is the conventional Ad Nauseam kill card after picking the deck up. We can kill without it and most of the time I don’t want it in the deck. I don’t want to draw a dead card. I would much rather draw Manamorphose which we can at least cycle off.

The advantage of Lightning Storm is that it’s an instant. Against most players we don’t care… we’re just going to kill as a sorcery.

But against slow blue counterspell decks, we want to be able to blast them out at instant speed. To win they might need to tap out for a Sphinx’s Revelation, and Lightning Storm kills on the spot.

Budget Negative Life Combo

I personally like playing with Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant, but these cards are totally unnecessary to the core plan. We’ve already talked about how much of a lightning rod he is.

If we cut Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant we end up with a budget-friendly deck. The deck is still mostly rares, but none of those rares are chase cards or too popular.

We also have a lot of wiggle room for the mana basesince we don’t care too much about taking damage from lands we can live off of fixers like City of Brass or Caves of Koilos. I personally like a fetch/shock mana base, but it isn’t essential.

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Budget Negative Life Combo

This “budget” version might even be better than the Confidant version. It has Arenas, extra discard, and extra Consumes.

Totally crazy deck, potentially available for cheap scraps and time.

Why this Deck is “Better” than Conventional Ad Nauseam

I know there are a lot of Ad Nauseam players out there who are skeptical as to why this version is better than the conventional Ad Nauseam lists. I won’t say this deck is “better” but it is different in ways that compelled me to build this version when I was never interested in the other versions.

This deck does not need to cast Ad Nauseam to win. It doesn’t need to get to 5 mana to win. It doesn’t need to get to 4 mana to win.

We can disrupt and kill turn 4 drawing only a Swamp, Godless Shrine, and Simian Spirit Guide.

We can disrupt and kill turn 5 drawing only a Swamp and Orzhov Basillica.

Our deck has a curve much more akin to a Legacy deck. Most of our combo pieces cost 1 and 2 mana. We can customize and configure our turns. We have a lot of options based on our mana resources. We aren’t clunky. We are versatile.

All those things make me like this deck a lot. Like it enough to put it together, obsess over and tune this.

So if you are interested in playing Ad Nausuem, or have already played it and are interested in this version, I highly recommend it.

Go deep negative.

 

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