Francis Law's picture
By: Francis Law, Frankie Law
Feb 13 2014 1:00pm
Login to post comments

Unlike Legacy, which benefits from the free spells Force Of Will and Daze, Modern can only deal with a certainly level of combo degeneracy while remaining a well-balanced format with aggro, midrange and control being viable strategies. To this end, Wizards of the Coast have created a ban list with the intent of disallowing consistent turn-three or faster combo kills.

But where has this left us?

If we look at some of the top decks in the current format,

  • UR Splinter Twin
  • UR Tempo Twin
  • Kiki-Pod
  • Melira Pod
  • Scapeshift

It is clear that combo has become merely supplementary to otherwise respectable proactive strategies. Pod variants have won many games off the back of a solid curve of value creatures, and, as the name suggests, the primary plan of "Tempo Twin" is completely separate from the Pestermite/ Splinter Twin combo.

It would seem then, that for a combo deck to be viable in the current metagame, instead of relying on traditional "resilience" (such as Pact Of Negation, Spell Snare etc.) to overcome interaction, it's preferable to present another resilient line of attack?

Enter Polymorph:



Like Splinter Twin, Polymorph is a four mana "I win" card, that perhaps even represents a smaller opportunity cost. Now it's worth noting, while putting an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play on the fourth turn isn't strictly a win, in a format that is slow enough to not punish playing Dark Confidant, it's pretty darn close.

What are the Restrictions?

If we want to be hitting our one or two-of fatty consistently, we don't want to be hitting critters along the way. This means that we have to find some way of ensuring there's no creatures in our library when we pull the trigger on polymorph. There are two main ways to do this:

  • Play no creatures
  • Play a small number of easily tutorable targets

 Play No Creatures

If we're playing no creature cards, we're going to need to find a way to make tokens to sacrifice to Polymorph that represent the smallest opportunity-cost to our deck. The best options are:





Ok, so there's a couple of directions we can go down here. Let's take a look at a BW tokens shell, splashing for Polymorph.


Liliana, as well as being a cross format all-star in "good stuff" decks, has the well documented interaction with Lingering Souls as well as more importantly allowing you to shuffle Emrakul, the Aeons Torn back into your library when he's stranded in your hand. In the clutch, Thoughtseize can even be used to target yourself for the same purpose- he then turned the 'seize on himself...

Another more wacky approach is incorporating Polymorph into a green ramp shell with the intent of casting its fatties as a consistent plan B. Of course, this will probably end up being a little slow and easy to interact with.


The lack of another one mana  non-creature accelerant bar Utopia Sprawl is the problem here. Proteus Staff functions as Polymorphs 5-6 as hitting 6 to cast and activate on  the same turn is very doable in this deck. Saying that, it seems modern  doesn't quite have the tools to support such a deck at this time.

Play a Small Number of Easily Tutorable Targets

If we're going to play creatures, they better be consistently drawable and efficient to justify the chance of failing to assemble the combo.

Travis Woo's attempt at Polymorph combo was an example of this ethos, tutoring up Dryad Arbor with his suite of fetch lands for a consistent, all in approach.


This list has a couple of interesting takeaways. Firstly, Gitaxian Probe is an interesting addition that allows the player to make an informed choice on when to pull the Polymorph trigger and well as make the deck "smaller". Thirst for Knowledge is also a cute way to reshuffle Emrakul, the Aeons Torn if he becomes stranded in your hand, though it may be a touch slow.


As this is a tradition combo approach, Travis has included Disrupting Shoal as a means to protect the combo, which works well in a deck with representatives up the curve until four. 


However, we're trying to build a deck with a solid plan B, and hard-casting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn off Dreadship Reef isn't going to cut it! This gives us the luxury to not play clunky cards like the second Emrakul and inefficient cards such as Sleight of Hand, Thirst for Knowledge, Disrupting Shoal and Condescend.


After playing around with variants of a Dryad Arbor RUG control Polymorph shell featuring Izzet Charm, I eventually came to the conclusion that Verdant Catacombs, a necessary evil to tutor for the Dryad, put too much strain on a manabase that wanted to play Serum Visions and Lightning Bolt on turn one. I began to look elsewhere for tutor targets, and stumbled upon a little card that dominated its standard environment, but has never quite made the jump to modern.



Now is probably as good a time as any to clarify that the decklists included in this article are as much a list of possible inclusions as they are rock solid 60s- sideboards are not included for the same reason. If tested, the one-ofs would most likely be smoothed out, but having variation is productive for the early-stages of playtesting.

The basic idea is to use dig spells such as Serum Visions, Izzet Charm, Thirst For Knowledge and Condescend to find Squadron Hawk and Polymorph. Squadron Hawk can then find his three friends and empty the maindeck of creatures, making Emrakul, the Aeons Torn a sure fire hit off Polymorph. Failing this, the rest of the deck presents multiple additional lines to victory- a control plan with powerful finishers and a "Caw Blade" tempo route, combining Squadron Hawk and (Elspeth, Knight Errant) with Sword of Feast and Famine to apply pressure whilst holding up counter magic.

I realise the hypocrisy of including Condescend and Thirst For Knowledge, but they do play well with Sword Of Feast And Famine and Izzet Charm. Of course, it may be preferable to just play the more efficient Mana Leak as a replacement and drop the Thirsts.

One of the neat one-ofs included is the RUG delver sideboard favourite Rough// Tumble to avoid a "nonbo" with Squadron Hawk, while providing some cheap board control.

Batterskull and Elspeth, Knight-Errant provide back-up tokens to Polymorph if the hawks don't get there, as well as being respectable win conditions in more traditional UWR midrange shells. For the rub-ins Threads of Disloyalty allows you to even Polymorph their stuff.

The two copies of Halimar Depths are a nod to the combo nature of the deck, playing well with the fetch lands, but quite possibly should be the extra two Celestial Colonnade, which can be polymorphed for the cheap, cheap cost of 9 mana!

Polymorph's Lesser Known Brother

The UWR midrange approach may have some legs- it has four Izzet Charm which perfectly straddles the line between serviceable midrange card and combo finder; it even shuffles Emrakul back in. Elspeth, Knight-Errant is similarly an elegant compromise between the combo and "fair" plans of the deck.

However, I have the nagging feeling that we can do better. If we're looking for a measly four hawks in our maindeck to Polymorph off-of, perhaps there is a better way.

These cards might be that better way.

Shape Anew

Blade Splicer

This way we can "Polymorph" of a creature with modern pedigree, and we can even play creatures! Let's have a look where this route might take us.


This deck owes a lot more to the value, midrange UWR decks that have been popping up of late. The combination of value creatures and Restoration Angel has made its way over for last standard season to Modern, and Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage and Blade Splicer all perform very relevant functions in this deck on their own.

Unlike some of the previous versions, this deck play more cantrip effect to combo with Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas, and are necessary as there are less options for back-up plans for Shape Anew- it's Blade Splicer or bust save from the one-of Blinkmoth Nexus in a pinch.

Possible changes include a swap of Blightsteel Colossus for a Path to Exile proof threat such as Inkwell Leviathan, and adding a miser Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to combo with the three Restoration Angel. Vendilion Clique is another option for extra dig, and synergy with bounce effects.


Another Shape Anew target by smack8001 at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 17:33
smack8001's picture

Another Shape Anew target could be to play with 4 Trinket mages and 1 Darksteel relic, that way they can't destroy it in response to the shape anew. Every combo up here folds to spot removal, but Darksteel Relic is pretty hard to spot remove.

Though Spellskite, which most people sideboard, also shuts down the combo.