Deck Rarity Breakdown
19 Rare Non-Lands
9 Uncommon Non-Lands
8 Common Non-Lands
20 Rare Lands
4 Basic Lands
I could not be more excited about today’s deck. War of the Spark hit Arena and immediately I knew exactly what deck I was going to build. The card I was hands-down the most excited for from the set was Ral, Storm Conduit.
In my eyes, Ral is an incredible planeswalker. He comes out with 4 loyalty and a +2 ability, which means he’s effectively at 6 loyalty on turn 1. This makes him pretty tough to remove with anything but hard removal. The main reason he’s an all-star though is his triggered ability. It says whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, Ral, Storm Conduit deals 1 damage to target opponent or planeswalker. As was often-discussed in the spoiler threads about Ral, if you use Expansion to copy itself repeatedly you create an infinite combo, killing the opponent with infinite pings. This is the deck I wanted to make.
This is the way that the combo works.
1) Have Ral, Storm Conduit on the battlefield
2) Hold Full Control
3) Cast any spell with converted mana cost 4 or less. (Ral triggers)
4) Cast Expansion copying that spell (Ral triggers)
5) Cast a second Expansion, copying the first. (Ral triggers)
5a) You can release full control here.
6) Let the second Expansion resolve, making a copy of the first Expansion (Ral triggers)
7) Repeat step 6 an arbitrarily large number of times, being sure to target the first copy of Expansion with each successive copy, generating infinite Ral triggers and killing the opponent.
This combo has some pros and cons, so let’s start with the good:
- It’s totally doable in just Blue/Red
- It operates at Instant Speed
- You can use an opponent’s spell as the spell in step 3
Now the bad:
- It uses two copies of the same spell, which hurts consistency
- If your second copy of Expansion is countered you basically just emptied your hand for nothing.
To mitigate one of the negatives of the combo I include two copies of Doublecast in the deck. Just one copy of Doublecast plus one copy of Expansion with no third spell is sufficient to pull off the same combo, but the flow changes a bit. To perform the combo with Doublecast you follow these steps:
1) Use Ral’s -2 Ability.
2) Hold Full Control
3) Cast Doublecast. (Ral triggers)
4) Ral’s -2 puts a copy of Doublecast on the stack (Ral triggers)
5) Let only the copy of Doublecast Resolve
6) Cast Expansion targeting the original Doublecast still on the stack (Ral triggers)
7) The resolved copy of Doublecast triggers, copying Expansion (Ral triggers)
8) Make the copy of Expansion target the first Expansion
8a) You can release full control here.
9) Let the top copy of Expansion resolve, making a copy of the first Expansion (Ral triggers)
10) Repeat step 9 an arbitrarily large number of times, making sure to target the first copy of Expansion with each new copy, generating an infinite number of Ral triggers and killing the opponent.
This version of the combo has two advantages.
- It doesn’t require a third card to copy
- It uses at least 1 less mana
It also has two disadvantages.
- Doublecast is a sorcery
- You need Ral on at least 3 loyalty to pull it off so he doesn’t die when you -2.
It looks and sounds like a lot, but in practice the combo is surprisingly easy and consistent to pull off. The hardest part about pulling off the combo is staying alive long enough to find all of the cards. That brings us to the control.
Though the combo is doable in two colors, the manabase in standard really encourages using three. For this particular deck I dipped into Jeskai because that color combination has access to one very good tool for staving off early aggro, really shoring up our Mono-Red matchup: Deafening Clarion.
Deafening Clarion is so much better than Fiery Cannonade that it’s worth splashing a third color. 3 damage is a lot more than 2 damage. 3 Damage kills Jadelight Ranger after 2 +1/+1’s, it kills Goblin Chainwhirler, Benalish Marshal, and Wildgrowth Walker before an explore, in addition to everything Cannonade kills. Being able to cast this on turn 3 is the key to beating aggro decks and often times buys us enough time to find all of the combo pieces we need, plus it clears the board so you can drop Ral safely. All of this means it gets 4 slots in the deck.
The next card was almost an afterthought when I put it in. It’s a new card that I wanted to try out and get a feel for, but it ended up being a vital part of the strategy against a variety of decks. The deck contains 3 copies of Dovin, Hand of Control.
Dovin was a huge surprise to me. I figured when I put it in that it would be a gimmick, but it was super easy to cast with the Jeskai mana in the deck and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was super excellent in her standard so I figured I’d give it a shot. Turns out he has a ton of practical applications. In my testing games I turned off Tempest Djinn, Aggressive Mammoth and God-Eternal Bontu, plus there’s likely at least a few more I’m not remembering.
He makes counterspells cost more and turns off big creatures long enough to get the combo together. Seeing Dovin in the starting hand now makes me substantially more likely to keep.
The rest of the control in the deck comes in the form of burn. The deck runs 4 copies of Lightning Strike,
4 copies of Shock,
and 3 copies of Banefire, which also serves as an alternate win condition with all of the copy effects in the deck.
The Card Draw
Obviously all of the combo and control cards in the world won’t win us the game if we can’t find the pieces we need to close it out. The remaining slots in the deck are dedicated to actually finding the pieces of the combo, or the control cards we need to get there.
My first pick is going to be a little controversial. The card itself is fantastic, but the quantity sometimes causes a problem. Nevertheless, having the card on the battlefield noticeably affects the win rate so I run 4 copies of Search for Azcanta.
Four copies of Azcanta is a lot. The fact that it’s a legendary permanent makes extra copies of it redundant, and most Tier 1 decks only run 2, 3 at most. What I found during playtesting when I was brewing this final list is that often times my one Azcanta would be destroyed by Mortify, or taken by Thought Erasure, or countered by Spell Pierce, then I wouldn’t have one. Ultimately, I’d rather have 2 than 0 in this deck so I opted for the full 4. The number of games where this has caused a significant problem could be counted on one hand I’m sure, especially since a second Azcanta does end up being useful after the first one has flipped.
Our last slot is taken up by 4 copies of Opt to filter through the deck. In addition, it serves as a 1-mana instant speed starter for the deck’s combo.
And that’s the deck! Here’s the decklist in its final form:
So how’d it do? Shockingly well! The deck has surprising game. The combo is ridiculously easy to pull off and can even be done in one turn with 8 or 9 mana, depending on the version. It could just be because of the “wild west” meta that I tested it in, but it went 13-7, and there were definitely games it could have won with one decent draw or just one more turn to pull off the combo. Here’s the data dump.
The deck had its ups and downs, but there were noticeably more ups than downs! The combo won the game half the time! The other three wins were all with regular burn against Dreadhorde Invasion, which means we just have incredible game against that deck. Ral’s -2 into a Banefire for 6 or 7 was usually enough to finish them off.
One thing to note is that the deck didn’t face any real control decks to speak of. Out of the three control games I played I won two, but one had Dreadhorde Invasion as the win condition (which is more of a lose condition against burn). It will be interesting to see how the deck performs against control decks once the meta shapes up.
Against aggro the deck did really well. 11 burn spells maindeck plus 3 Clarions means we’re pretty good at slowing aggro down and since those decks (except Mono-U) run no counters to speak of, if you can get Ral down on an empty or almost-empty board, you just win the game next turn.
Some notes about the meta and Best of 3
I loved this deck. Playing it was a blast and it did better than I ever imagined it would, but as it turns out the whole deck tech comes with a caveat: the meta definitely hasn’t settled yet. As of this writing, War of the Spark hit MtGA yesterday and the amount of variety and weirdness in the casual queue is incredible. Who knows how this deck will actually turn out against the field at large? It could easily be tuned to be more effective against aggro or control, and the addition of a sideboard to shore up weak matchups or include an alternate win condition.
With that said, I will be looking to revisit this deck when everything settles a bit, potentially in ranked and almost definitely in Best of 3.
So how janky is it?
I’m not sure! It certainly doesn’t look that janky, and it put up good showings against Mono-U and Mono-R, which were both basically the T1 lists from RNA standard so I’m optimistic. On the other hand, a lot of what it faced was jank for sure. It will take a revisit in a few weeks to really figure out how good this deck can be, but I have high hopes. At the very least it was an absolutely treat to play.
So that’s it for my Ral, Storm Conduit combo deck. As always, I love playing terrible jank decks and have plenty of wildcards so if you have any feedback or suggestions send me an email at Mike@Pileofcards.com