Once upon a time, new sets didn't impact Eternal formats all that much. Only a few cards here and there ended up making the cut. In recent years, however, due to power creep, both Legacy and Vintage have suffered tremendous shake-ups at the hands of cards like Wrenn and Six or Oko, Thief of Crowns, to name a few. Luckily, that's not the case for Strixhaven. We get to discuss one of the best scenarios: a new card combines with one old card to kill in one turn. Without further ado, here's Smog Combo in Legacy!
In case you don't know how the interaction works: On one side, we have the new card from Strixhaven, Witherbloom Apprentice. A two-mana 2/2 "value bear," it doesn't look very impressive at first glance, but it showcases a new mechanic from the set in magecraft.
On the other side, there's a blast from the past. Chain of Smog, a completely unplayable discard effect, way worse than Hymn to Tourach, belongs to a five-card cycle from Onslaught, all able to copy themselves at the behest of the targeted player. Until this year, only Chain of Vapor ever made it into Constructed, mostly as a sideboard option for combo strategies. But Chain of Smog is the only one that doesn't require the investment of a finite resource to do the copying.
Put together, with Apprentice in play, you proceed to target yourself with Chain of Smog and copy it enough times to drain the opponent's life until the game is over. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, let's summarize the pros and cons of the deadly interaction:
Cheap cost: both cards are easy to cast (only two mana each) meaning you can go off as early as turn three even without any acceleration. Apprentice can ping opponents to death by itself and is synergistic with cheap spells and cantrips that will look for the other piece of the combo in the meantime.
Magecraft doesn't target: as it hits each opponent, the combo works against Leyline of Sanctity or other protection shenanigans.
Splashable: unlike other two-card combos that need a ton of support like Show and Tell or Doomsday, the Smog-Apprentice one only takes between six to eight slots total to function. It can fit into several strategies. For certain combo strategies it can even act as a sideboard plan that no one expects!
All in: just like the poker move, there's no more bluffing when you go for the kill here, as you will be discarding your whole hand in the process. An opponent only needs to wait until you are empty-handed to kill the Apprentice or counter the Chain, wrecking the plan and leaving you with no resources.
Easy to play around: as Magic evolves rapidly, players learn new combos and synergies faster than ever. Back in the days without netdecking, that process took a little longer, but nowadays everyone knows what a Witherbloom Apprentice in the battlefield means. However, you can also use that to your advantage, as opponents need to play around the combo even when you don't have the second piece.
As simplistic as it sounds, the first archetype that always comes to mind when thinking about Legacy is Delver, so it feels natural to introduce the combo. By making a few cuts like leaving Leovold, Emissary of Trest on the bench and reducing the number of Tarmogoyf we get enough room for the six slots required.
|Sultai Delver by PhReSHTinGZ, Legacy League, April 24|
Nothing fancy here. It's just the best blue one-drop in the format combined with a lot of cantrips and permission spells. Adding Witherbloom Apprentice offers a bunch of upsides even outside of the combo: Force of Will suddenly costs no life, Thoughtseize is half as painful, and combined with the early pressure Delver applies, you can sometimes end games by "magecrafting" your opponent to death, just like Deathrite Shaman used to do before it was banned.
However, the Sultai colors provide more options than just Delver. Here is another way to build around the combo, with a toolbox shell packing a lot of sweet silver bullets.
|BUG by btraut, 8th Place at Legacy Challenge, May 9|
This is exactly my kind of deck! Access to Green Sun's Zenith means you can tutor for Apprentice but also ramp in the early game by searching for Dryad Arbor and at the same time protect the combo with Sylvan Safekeeper. As previously mentioned, Spellseeker is here to find the Chain or alternatively, if it is already in your hand, search some discard spell to check if the coast is clear. Last but not least, another new card, originally from Mystical Archive and included in Modern Horizons 2, shows up in Abundant Harvest, a nice addition that fixes our hand off green mana.
There is only one thing better than having one two-card combo in your deck: having two! Earlier we mentioned how one of the main appeals of the Smog-Apprentice duo is how easy it is to add into an existing archetype. Well, this is a good proof of the concept, a well-known strategy like Dark Depths embraces a second path to victory in the Golgari ór Witherbloom colors. Either you find the two lands to summon Marit Lage or have your opponents dead by chaining one Smog after another. No blue means no countermagic, thus, relying on more discard spells.
|Golgari Dark Depths by kanican, 28th Place at Legacy Challenge, May 9|
There is also the possibility of bringing the combo in for sideboard games as a surprising plan nobody expects. In fact, with the amount of cantrips Ad Nauseam runs, a singleton copy of Chain will do the trick, since you can either find it via Infernal Tutor or, if it gets discarded or countered, cast it back via Past in Flames.
|Ad Nauseam Tendrils by Kuranari-Jackpa, 4th Place at Legacy Challenge, April 24|
So far we have seen the new interaction added to pre-existing lists, most of them competitive mainstays, but there is also room for janky brews that are not Legacy regulars. First, I want to mention the Buried Phoenix strategy here, since the red bird is one of my favorite cards of all time.
|Buried Phoenix by musasabi, 7th Place at Legacy Challenge, April 25|
What I like the most about this list is the fact that Chain of Smog can profitably target yourself if needed, since you can discard some Phoenixes in the process as well as the singleton copy of Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger to later escape it from the graveyard.
Prior to Strixhaven, Young Pyromancer was the token producer of choice to fuel up Cabal Therapy, but now it has been replaced by another magecraft outlet, Sedgemoor Witch, which can be slammed on turn one thanks to Dark Ritual. Don't expect this deck to be at the top of the meta in the coming months; however, personally I consider it the most attractive choice to play with the new combo in it.
Before we go, here's one final piece of art. Nic Fit is an old contender in Legacy, relying on Veteran Explorer and sacrifice outlets to ramp via basic lands. It has become a pet deck over the years, with some unique iconic cards no other deck in the format runs, like Phyrexian Tower or some Commander allstars like Arena Rector.
|Smog Fit by osmanozguney|
This is by far the least competitive list in this article, and yet, it seems like a lot of fun. It even gets to showcase Professor Onyx, as the main magecraft outlet to combo off, tutored via Rector. Indeed, you can assemble the whole combo by sacrificing Arena Rector to Diabolic Intent, putting the planeswalker into play and Chain of Smog into your hand at the same time.
That's all for today. Frankly, I'm quite happy when these synergies between old and new cards emerge, making Eternal formats more diverse. As usual, thanks for reading. Until next time!
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