August 26, 2016

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Going Rogue: Sprout Swarm Combo

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.

Actually, the goal is making our opponents rage quit/table flip because they got beaten by a billion Saprolings.

                   

Intruder Alarm and Sprout Swarm has been around as a funny combo since before Modern existed, but it never had an adequate shell that could compete since it can be slow to assemble, uninteractive with opposing strategies, and vulnerable to commonly played interaction like Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, or any sweeper or countermagic. Even though it’s possible to execute as easy as turn three by spewing out a bunch of Birds of Paradise into an tap-untap party, it falls apart equally quickly to any of the above.

How It Works

It’s relatively straightforward in that in plays a lot like Village Bell-Ringer in the oddball White-Red Splinter Twin decks of days past. Once you have four bodies on board and an Intruder Alarm, Sprout Swarm will give you your fifth, untap everything, and by using its Buyback ability, you can continually recast it without any actual mana input until you’re satisfied with your numbers.

Mana dorks are therefore very strong in the deck, as they not only help get the pieces online faster, but even with just Intruder Alarm in play, you can create an awful lot of excess mana by simply piling small creatures on top of each other.

The problem was that previously, there wasn’t much to do with either that glut of mana or that array of small creatures. Thankfully, in the last few years, things have changed on that front.

                   

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar hasn’t quite found her home in Modern, but as a three-mana token-generator/army-grower in green, it seems to be only a matter of time. In this build, she not only plays wonderfully with our one-drop mana dorks by coming down on turn two and gradually helping make an army, but also because once an Intruder Alarm is on the board, she untaps all your creatures without any mana investment by using her +1. It may not seem like it without testing the deck, but that’s a really big deal.

Meanwhile Eldrazi Displacer is just a broken card. Its ability lets us play the deck without removal, because of the interaction option it offers, and there are not shortage of ways to abuse its ability for combo purposes, especially since we’re playing Chord of Calling with an array of different creatures with effects to abuse:

Without a Training Grounds in play, there’s simply value to be had with flickering any of these. But with Intruder Alarm in play, things get a little silly – no Sprout Swarm required.

Birds of Paradise + Eyeless Watcher + Eldrazi Displacer + Intruder Alarm gives you infinite mana and/or 1/1 Scions and/or infinite mill if you also have access to Thought-Knot Seer. The same is true if you have two Birds and replace the Eyeless Watcher with Nest Invader.

Plus, the deck also runs a single Sidisi, Undead Vizier to help assemble any of its combos via Chord of Calling. Thanks to the Displacer, the single Sidisi can grab both Intruder Alarm and Sprout Swarm to go off the old fashioned way.

More Mana and Creature Sink
Eldrazi Displacer may be the most versatile mana sink in the deck, but we’ve also recently gained some funky cards that reward us for dumping surplus resources into them:

  • An early Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is very tough to beat, makes our Intruder Alarms ring for days, and offers a potent alternate win condition.
  • Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is a surprise all-star, offering some much-needed defense, an interesting way to make your own mana dorks more meaningful with her -2, and an ultimate that strangely offers a different way to abuse Sprout Swarm, should the opportunity arise.
  • Westvale Abbey turns excess mana into width, and excess width into game-ending height. Seems good.
  • When you’ve got two many Planeswalkers and little creatures with +1/+1 counters on them, Tezzeret’s Gambit shines pretty bright.
  • And finally, Selfless Spirit is a very welcome addition to a deck with some pretty major Sweeper problems.

In terms of mana, the deck has some strange requirements that puts constraints on its supply base. Sidisi, Undead Vizier could wind up in your hand, and needing two Birds of Paradise isn’t wise, so a single Overgrown Tomb goes into help hedge that bet, with five fetches to go find either it or a 1-of Dryad Arbor for a cheeky Intruder Alarm untap.

We also need to consider casting Thought-Knot Seer and Eldrazi Displacer‘s activated ability, though, so colorless mana needs to also be made a priority. Thankfully this can be met to some extent by Eldrazi Spawn and Scions, and to another by painlands like Yavimaya Coast and utility lands like Gavony Township and the previously-mentioned Westvale Abbey.

All in all, we wind up with a deck that looks like a bit of a pile, but has a large array of strange ways to go off out of nowhere. Most of them do require an Intruder Alarm, but it’s not that hard to find, and fortunately our go-wide-and-pump game is well-suited to grinding out a game the old fashioned way.

The List:

Alex’s Sprout Swarm Combo

Creatures: (19)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Nest Invader
Selfless Spirit
Eldrazi Displacer
Eternal Witness
Eyeless Watcher
Thought-Knot Seer
Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Spells: (11)
Serum Visions
Sprout Swarm
Chord of Calling
Tezzeret’s Gambit

Enchantments: (4)
Intruder Alarm

Planeswalkers: (5)
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Land: (21)
Breeding Pool
Brushland
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Gavony Township
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Misty Rainforest
Overgrown Tomb
Plains
Temple Garden
Westvale Abbey
Windswept Heath
Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard: (15)
Grafdigger’s Cage
Soul Warden
Meddling Mage
Spellskite
Stony Silence
Aven Mindcensor
Venser, Shaper Savant
Sigarda, Host of Herons

Get no illusions about it, this is a very silly deck, but it can very quickly do some fundamentally broken things. Its sideboard is therefore built to account for other fundamentally broken tactics, including the addition of a one-of Soul Warden for opportunities to get easily out of range of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Lightning Storm effects, or even go straight up infinite in cases where our loop doesn’t produce any extra mana or bodies. (One dork + Nest Invader + Displacer + Intruder Alarm, for example.)

Add in a pair of Meddling Mages to hold off Pyroclasms and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (among others), and you have yourself a bona fide frustration to play against.

Other Considerations

With so many combo options on the line, there were certainly a wide range of other ideas to consider implementing.

  • Tamiyo, Field Researcher is an extremely cool card, and probably a reason to experiment in Modern with Bant. Unfortunately she didn’t quite fit, since our windfall of 0/1s work against her +1 ability, and her ultimate doesn’t live up to its fullest potential since Buyback costs still need to be paid.
  • Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is another way to go crazy with Intruder Alarm, is equally as value-driven as Eldrazi Displacer, and could replace Sidisi as the extra splash. The issue here is that RRR is one mana tougher than BB, and that many other end-stage elements of our combo are not Lightning Bolt-vulnerable.
  • Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is so close to being ideal. If only his second +1 could find any Enchantments, instead of just Auras. Without that option, his first +1 is likely to be weaker than either of our Gavony Township effects, and his ultimate is funny but useless.
  • The list could actually go one for a while about other walkers that didn’t make it. Two other Ajanis offer Gavony effects, Garruk Wildspeaker is a mini-Elspeth, and Garruk Relentless is a tokenmaker with a built-in Sidisi-tutor effect, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a beefier Nissa, Kiora, Master of the Depths combines further ramp with card advantage and a game-ending ultimate, and then there’s always Nahiri, the Harbinger if we went red instead for the fantastic trifecta she offers, as it wouldn’t be hard to imagine adding something like Craterhoof Behemoth as a target for her that otherwise fits the deck.

I will test each of these out eventually, but there is enough reason to stick with the current list as it is. It’s been through dozens of iterations over the last few months, and this seems to produce the most reliable results. So far I’ve been able to dominate a lot of powerful opposing strategies, most notably Breachscape, Dredge, and Affinity, which has more than made up for the predictable crushing losses I’ve experience in the hands of Jund and Nahiri Control.

But anyways, that brings today’s silliness to an end. I hope you enjoyed this walk down janky lane!

Until next time, have fun, and may the force be with brew.