A few weeks before GP Geneva, a friend showed me a deck he was excited about. It had the shell of a Temur combo list – packed with mana acceleration and card selection – and it killed with Savage Congregation. We played a few games. His deck was powerful when it went off, but it was fragile. It struggled against disruption, and couldn’t always beat aggro in a race. I had never encountered Savage Congregation before. But the card intrigued me, and I felt that in the right shell I could find massive untapped potential.
As I browsed through low power creatures for potential combo pieces, my main thought was that it was more important for the deck to be strong without Savage Congregation than it was for it to go infinite with it. I’m not wild about glass cannons lists that dilute themselves with dead cards because they need copies in their library when they go off. Both the combo pieces and the ferocious enablers needed to be strong on their own.
Two other decks inspired the decklist I ran at GP Geneva. One was a Jund midrange deck I had been brewing to handle tournaments where nearly everyone was on an aggro variant. It used Blessed Spellroot and Master Chef to stay afloat while you tore apart your opponent’s hand until Roll could seal the game. The other was a list piloted by Sylphoid at GP Dubai. It was an Orzhov lifegain-control variant that used Amass Wealth alongside Cunning Cephalomancer to draw through its deck, with False Savior as one of the win conditions. Both the Cephalomancer and the plants played well with Dark Rite Cultist, a card I had been looking into as a 0-power creature that could turn on Ferocious. And False Savior could be fetched along with Master Chef and a few Spellroots to end the game on the spot.
I tested the list in a few matches and it impressed me. Master Chef and Cunning Cephalomancer paired up beautifully, and Dark Bargain and fetchlands rounded out a sacrifice suite that kept me ahead on cards. Even without Ferocious, resolving Savage Congregation put me far ahead, filling my hand with Spellroots and Cultists and my graveyard with Mana Ascetics. It did have a few weak points. I needed more ferocious enablers than Dark Rite Cultist, and the best option I could find was Ronin of Broken Vows. I was also vulnerable to instant speed removal taking out my False Savior mid-combo.
Then the February release rolled around, and everything went my way. Snowfield Mother was exactly the card I had been waiting for. It turned on Ferocious, it gained life, and it could end games against aggro and control decks alike. Meanwhile, a single copy of Thorn protected my combo, with zero power making her a free addition to the Savage Congregation package. Twelve maindeck lifegain spells gave me a strong aggro matchup, the Cephalomancer draw engine provided resiliency against control, and a combo kill as early as turn four gave me an edge over other midrange lists.
The tournament went well for me and luck was on my side, the deck didn’t drop a match. I used my flex slots on Duress and Soul Leak, but Pierce through the Heart or even a mainboard Antithesis might have been equally useful. While I kept a true infinite Savage Congregation package in my sideboard for matches where 30 life drained might not always be enough, I never brought it in, and those spots might be better used shoring up the worse matchups – opponents on control or tempo. There’s definitely still room to improve the list, especially as new sets are released.
If you face up against a deck like The Rock, don’t underestimate Cunning Cephalomancer. I definitely feel like I won games because my opponent saved their removal for demons and bears, rather than killing the Cephalomancer that kept my hand stocked with those powerful threats. It’s incremental but strong, and the deck can always afford to pay the life.
If you decide to play a variant of The Rock, my best advice is to learn when you need to play it safe with your creatures and wait for the combo kill, and when you need to seal out the game through combat as soon as possible. Some decks will drop their hands and kill you if you don’t have blockers ready, while others will gain late-game inevitability if you let them live too long. And don’t be afraid to cast Savage Congregation without Ferocious – a hand of Spellroots, Cultists and Cephalomancers, plus a graveyard stocked with Mana Ascetics, will take you a whole lot further than waiting for the combo.
Thank you all and good games,