With the printing of Stonecoil Serpent, there now happen to be three different X costing X/X creatures in Standard.
This gives us a critical mass to do funky things. Enter Forever Young.
At first glance this just looks like a cool limited card. But it actually gives us quite a lot of power in stacking the top of our deck. If we've somehow gotten several zero mana creatures into our graveyard, we can put them all on top of our library and immediately draw one of them. So how do we take advantage of this?
Casting a zero mana 0/0 lets us immediately trigger either Midnight Reaper or Beast Whisperer, so we can just chain through the entirety of our Forever Young stack. If we're lucky enough to have two of these creatures in play we can start digging deep through our deck. Moldervine Reclamation is potentially an option as well, though it is pretty slow. Perhaps it could play a role as a sideboard card for slower matchups that makes our combo incredibly consistent if our opponent is not planning to end the game quickly?
Oh, we're already planning to create a bunch of "enters the battlefield" and "dies" triggers? There's two creatures in Standard that let us take even more advantage of casting free creatures that die immediately. Cruel Celebrant and Corpse Knight can both take this combo from simply drawing a ton of cards into one that immediately kills your opponent.
We've talked plenty about the Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar combo in other decks, such as our Orzhov Witch's Oven deck, which plays a somewhat more fair aristocrats-style gameplan. The combo works just as well in the zeros deck, since we're primed to take advantage of lots of creatures entering the battlefield and dying. We also benefit from the life drain of Cauldron Familiar, since it contributes to our gameplan of combo killing our opponent without ever needing to attack.
There's really no shortage of options for things we can be doing with these interactions. Command the Dreadhorde is an extremely powerful card on its own that lets us just put into play all of the zeros in our graveyard for 0 life loss. Liliana, Dreadhorde General is another card that's super powerful on its own but can serve as another combo piece. God-Eternal Oketra is a yet another option to consider that gives us a better "fair" gameplan.
Okay, so we have a ton of cards that we want to jam together. But how do we best configure them to take advantage of these combos? Only playtesting will tell (check back in a few days for our videos with this strategy), but let's examine a few potential lists.
4 Midnight Reaper 4 Forever Young 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Chamber Sentry 4 Ugin's Conjurant 4 Witch's Oven 4 Cauldron Familiar 4 Cruel Celebrant 4 Corpse Knight 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 10 Swamp (339) 4 Plains (331) 2 Witch's Cottage
This is a straightforward list that just plays all of the cheap combo pieces in the Orzhov colors that we listed above. It plays fairly in the early game, sticking combo pieces while curving out random X creatures with the rest of its mana each turn. Stonecoil Serpent is a powerful creature on its own when played fairly. Take a look at some of the multicolored cards it interacts favorably with:
The biggest weakness of this list is its card draw ability. Midnight Reaper is at an absolute premium, but if we don't draw it naturally then we only get to see one new card per turn. It's possible that our perfect-curve plus incremental life drain is a good enough aggressive plan for us to win games even when we don't draw Midnight Reaper, but we may also want to try a list with more raw combo potential. One option would be to substitute two copies of Liliana, Dreadhorde General for two copies of Corpse Knight, but casting six mana spells in a deck that doesn't otherwise have any strong inclination to get this many lands into play is a big ask. Let's take a look at an Abzan version with more drawing power.
4 Midnight Reaper 4 Forever Young 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Chamber Sentry 4 Ugin's Conjurant 4 Witch's Oven 4 Cauldron Familiar 4 Cruel Celebrant 4 Beast Whisperer 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 4 Overgrown Tomb 4 Temple of Malady 4 Temple Garden 4 Swamp (339)
This list simply substitutes in Beast Whisperer for Corpse Knight. Luckily, enemy colors have access to Temples so the mana is not horrible, but double green is still a bit rough as our only green card. With this manabase we do at least have a 75% chance of hitting double green with our fourth land drop on time, but we don't necessarily need access to Beast Whisperer exactly on turn four. We could also try skewing the deck a bit more towards green and playing ramp creatures such as Gilded Goose or Paradise Druid that could both fix our mana and enable us to run some of the powerful five- and six-drops. Gilded Goose can also contribute to the Cauldron Familiar plan and get some more triggers when we are lacking anything else to do.
There's one more way in which to consider building this deck, and that is including a self-mill element. Emry, Lurker of the Loch is a fantastic card, and it is capable of turning four more cards face up while also getting us back Witch's Oven or one of our random X creatures on a turn where we have nothing better to do. It's a shame that outside of Ashiok, blue is the only color with access to quality self-milling capabilities (Glowspore Shaman still exists, but we miss the power level of Stitcher's Supplier), because with only enemy color pairs of Temples being in Standard it's difficult to build a reliable three-color manabase that is skewed towards allied colors. Still, Forever Young gets so much better when we have access to a larger portion of our deck that it's worth testing. Plus, there's so many graveyard strategies with potential in this new format that maybe Ashiok, Dream Render is just a stone cold crusher that you want in your maindeck anyway. We certainly have enough small creatures capable of protecting it.
4 Midnight Reaper 4 Forever Young 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Chamber Sentry 3 Ugin's Conjurant 4 Witch's Oven 3 Cauldron Familiar 3 Cruel Celebrant 4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch 2 Ashiok, Dream Render 1 Mausoleum Secrets 4 Watery Grave 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Fabled Passage 1 Plains (331) 1 Island (335) 2 Swamp (339)
This list actually looks pretty sweet. The combo itself takes up quite a few slots, so we've trimmed the fourth copies of Cauldron Familiar and Cruel Celebrant, for which you're less likely to need multiple copies. Playtesting might reveal that we don't actually need all 12 zeros in order for the Forever Young combo to function, so we could potentially trim some copies of Ugin's Conjurant for more copies of Ashiok, Dream Render and perhaps a copy or two of Revival // Revenge or The Cauldron of Eternity., or even Mausoleum Secrets as a way to find the missing piece between Midnight Reaper, Forever Young, or Cruel Celebrant.
We've gone with a Fabled Passage manabase for this deck, though we do have to be careful to pay attention if we've milled any of our basic lands. Of course, now that we're thinking about it, a lot of our opponents will be playing Fabled Passage as well, making Ashiok even more relevant as an interactive card! Let's drop one more list, going back to the simpler Orzhov version:
Orzhov Zeros with Ashiok, Dream Render
4 Midnight Reaper 4 Forever Young 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Chamber Sentry 4 Ugin's Conjurant 4 Witch's Oven 4 Cauldron Familiar 4 Cruel Celebrant 4 Ashiok, Dream Render 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 11 Swamp (339) 2 Witch's Cottage 3 Plains (331)
Other than the more reliable manabase, the lack of a powerful third-color all-star in this deck is partially recouped by the power of Witch's Cottage. The self-mill of Ashiok in this deck powers up our zeros count and increases our selection with Forever Young and Witch's Cottage. It's possible that this effect is powerful enough in this deck that we want to run more copies, even if we have to accept that it will just be a land that enters the battlefield tapped sometimes in the early turns. It is a Swamp itself though, so we're not too punished for drawing multiples.
We made a video enjoying the Orzhov version of the deck with Ashiok. We also found Mausoleum Secrets to be quite good and plan to further tweak around the toolbox idea.
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