Brewing in a Top Hat: Historic Sphinx Alliance with Zendikar Rising

Hey guys, welcome back to Brewing in a Top Hat.  Today I have a really fun list that I have been perfecting since Jumpstart came out. As soon as Scholar of the Lost Trove was spoiled, I fell in love.  Spell and artifact reanimation?  On a body?  Yes, please!  So without further ado, the decklist:

Historic Sphinx Alliance by MonkeyinaTopHat

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The general strategy of the deck is to get tokens into play with Improbable Alliance and Forbidden Friendship, then use Lukka and Transmogrify to cheat out your Sphinxes and The Locust God.  Use your draw and discard effects to put Inspired Ultimatum and Akroma’s Memorial into the graveyard, then pull them back with Scholar of the Lost Trove.

The Card Choices

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast Showcase Art by Kieran Yanner
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast Showcase Art by Kieran Yanner

Transmogrify/Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast These are the core of your deck. Lukka is only for pulling out your big guys; his plus doesn’t do anything.  Remember, in a pinch Transmogrify can target your opponent’s creatures.  It can be hilarious to turn their Ulamog into a Gilded Goose.

Improbable Alliance/Forbidden Friendship Generating tokens is not only important for cheating out creatures, but also for blocking early.  They can also function as an alternate win condition.  Improbable Alliance is the most important card to have in your opening hand.

Scholar of the Lost Trove Sometimes you can OTK, but others it’s the smart move just to pull one of these out in order to draw more cards by repeating a draw spell.  Remember, you can replay the Transmogrify that pulled him out in the first place.

The Locust God The tokens he spawns can be transmogrified into more sphinxes!  The deck needed a resilient creature for facing control decks that don’t rely on black and red. 1-of.

Akroma’s Memorial Protect your big boys from removal spells, and let them attack as soon as they come out!  Discard this early so that you can reanimate it with your second Sphinx.  The sequence is Transmogrify > Sphinx > Replay Transmogrify > Second Sphinx > Akroma’s Memorial.

Inspired Ultimatum This is our other payoff card at the end of the Sphinx chain I just mentioned.  We technically can cast this because of our Triomes, but don’t keep it in hand for that.  Discard it and cheat it out.

The Royal Scions With Improbable Alliance out, this can be a threat to win the game all by itself.  Generate your massive token army while throwing your reanimation targets into the graveyard.  It also allows our Sphinxes to trample over any chump blockers.

Cathartic Reunion/Chart a Course/Opt Cycle through our deck to get the right cards and set up our graveyard for Sphinx to reanimate stuff.  Also trigger Improbable Alliance to make tokens.  Remember to play Opt on your turn so that you get a token.

Thrill of Possibility This card gets a special mention because it is the only draw spell you have that triggers Improbable Alliance on your opponent’s turn.

Fire Prophecy This is your way of tucking the Sphinxes that you draw back to the bottom of the deck so that you can pull them out with Transmogrify.  Try not to discard them.  Remember, you want to reanimate spells and artifacts, not creatures!

Commit // Memory A nice little reset button in case you run through all your sphinxes and need to try again.  Plus Commit is catch-all removal for anything pesky that you don’t want to see (Like Grafdigger’s Cage or Virulent Plague, both of which shut you down).

Sideboard Guide

Yes, we bring in Abrade for every matchup.  No, it shouldn’t be in the mainboard because it is for removing the Grafdigger’s Cage, which literally everyone will side in against us in games two and three.

Jund/Rakdos Sacrifice

InOut
+3 Abrade
+2 Ruinous Ultimatum
-1 Cathartic Reunion
-2 Opt
-2 Inspired Ultimatum

Abrades come in to kill their Witch’s Ovens, Mayhem Devils, and Bolas’s Citadels, which are their biggest threats to us.  Beware their removal spells targeting your tokens when you attempt to combo.  Try to transmogrify when they are tapped out, so that they cannot kill your target.  Ruinous Ultimatums are better against this deck because they tend to want to build up a giant board state to overwhelm you with.

Ramp

InOut
+3 Abrade
+2 Narset, Parter of Veils
+2 Negate
-2 Fire Prophecy
-2 Opt
-2 Chart a Course
-1 Cathartic Reunion

Narsets can really stifle their Explores and Growth Spirals, while pushing us way ahead with her minus ability.  Negate their early ramp cards rather than holding it for their payoff.

Goblins

InOut
+3 Abrade
+1 Ruinous Ultimatum
-1 Opt
-1 Chart a Course
-1 Commit // Memory
-1 Inspired Ultimatum

Remove their Skirk Prospectors early.  They won’t be using artifacts so Abrade is a removal spell in this match up.

Auras

+4 Claim the Firstborn
+3 Abrade
+2 Ruinous Ultimatum
-2 Opt
-2 Chart a Course
-2 Inspired Ultimatum
-1 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Commit // Memory
-1 Lukka, Copperhall Outcast

Steal their guys and transmogrify them, and use your removal spells on their Alseid of Life’s Bountys so they can’t stop you from doing it.

Mono Blue Tempo

InOut
+2 Negate
+3 Mystical Dispute
+3 Abrade
-4 Thrill of Possibility
-1 Cathartic Reunion
-2 Akroma’s Memorial

Try and keep mana open for your counterspells so that they can’t throw a wrench in your Transmogrifys.  This is a very tough matchup for you, but if you can get out an early Improbable Alliance to block their flyers, it is much more winnable.  You side out your cards that require discard as a cost, because getting those countered is back breaking.

Control

InOut
+2 Negate
+3 Abrade
+2 Ruinous Ultimatum
+2 Narset, Parter of Veils
-4 Thrill of Possibility
-2 Inspired Ultimatum
-1 Lukka, Copperhall Outcast
-1 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Opt

Similar concept to mono blue tempo, but you’re not facing a clock.  They take a lot longer to beat us, but they are better defended against us.  Azorius/Esper Control is a worse matchup than Grixis or Sultai Control because they have white-based, wide removal which Akroma’s Memorial does nothing to protect us against. In niche cases you can get your Narset out and play Memory to completely devastate them.

Tips and Tricks

Improbable Alliance is the most important card in your deck for several reasons.  It gives you blockers, it applies pressure, and most importantly, it lets you get your win conditions.  So when it isn’t out by turn two or three you might start to sweat.  Don’t; you are still perfectly capable of going off.

For starters, DO NOT hold your draw spells until you find it.  Continue cycling through your deck as normal, because you not only need to find it, but you want to have your graveyard set up to reanimate asap once you do.  If you have Forbidden Friendship, use it as a set up card.  Play it the turn before you want to transmogrify, and do not put your tokens in harm’s way by attacking with the haste token.  You want both out so you can double transmogrify.  Do nothing to jeopardize that, like attacking with the haste dinosaur token, or taking a favorable trade with a blocker.  You need those tokens alive.

If you have several copies of Transmogrify piling up but no outlet, remember they can be used on your opponent’s creatures.  Sometimes it is the right move to get rid of a threat for a turn, plus, that transmogrify will still be in the graveyard to reanimate.

So your board is set up and ready to go, your graveyard is full, but you just can’t seem to get that combo card off.  Maybe they have too many counterspells or maybe you just aren’t drawing them.  Whatever the reason, all is not lost.  Improbable Alliance can be a win condition all its own, especially if paired with a Locust God. 

If you are facing Aggro, try to trade your tokens, not just chump-block to prevent damage.  For example, if you are being attacked by two 2/2s and you have two tokens out, it is better to put both as blockers on one of them and kill it while taking two damage than putting one token on each.

If you are facing control and they aren’t letting you cast your Transmogrifys you have a couple of options.  Option one is to discard them and try to make your gameplan all about your Improbable Alliance and Locust God.  This is better against removal-heavy control decks, since they can struggle to ever truly kill off the Locust God.

Option B is better: if you are facing a counterspell-heavy control deck you need to wait for them to tap out, like when they play their planeswalker, or you need to get to six or seven mana and have a negate ready for protection.

  • I drew all my threats and there’s nothing left in my deck to transmog.  Now what?

Reloading your deck is the best option.  Fire Prophecy is obviously what you want to do, but you can’t always rely on that.  If this is the case, start discarding them to draw more, but keep one in hand.  Eventually you will either have enough mana to hard cast them, or you will find Memory and can reload your deck that way.  Or you’ll die, but try to do one of the other options.

  • Attacking, blocking, and/or saving tokens to combo

This decision is going to depend on what deck you are facing, but there are some key points that will always be true in the decision making process.  You always want to use your tokens to generate card advantage.  If you can block a creature card with one toughness, you almost always want to do it.  If you can attack and kill an enemy planeswalker, you should do that too.

The next thing to remember is life total, and how fast your opponent can kill you. Do they have the reach to do 10 damage on a single turn?  You probably want to block more early.  Or maybe they are a slower threat like Approach of the Second Sun.  Don’t need to save your life at all, spend away! 

  • Playing around board wipes

If you face a lot of board wipe, you want to hold a draw spell in hand in case they wipe you so you can recover your board state.  Over-extending against a board wipe can cost you matches, so remember what turn they come out on.  If you are facing white and it is turn three and you have a few tokens already, maybe don’t cast that cathartic reunion until next turn after they have played wrath of god.

  • Playing against hand disruption

Let’s just get this out of the way: there is no playing around turn one Thoughtseize.  It is going to happen.  It is going to hurt.  But we don’t roll over and lose to it.  Once your hand is revealed, you usually want to dump as much of it as possible, either by playing it or by discarding or reloading it to your cycling effects.  Don’t hang on to your combos hoping to play them.  That will turn into a standoff with them just keeping their answers for when you try to combo off.  Instead cycle them.  Make your opponent worry about the unknown, because that is when they will misplay.  Get them to counter the wrong thing or tap out at the wrong time, then take advantage of it.

Zendikar Rising

With the release of the new set right around the corner, here are a few cards that I have been eyeing and evaluating, that I am most excited to test with!

Valakut Awakening This is the card I am most excited about from the new set for this deck.  Enabling us to throw back as many dead draws as we want is what the deck is missing from the current iteration.  It should minimize those games where you draw too many of your Sphinxes and can’t get them all back into your deck, since a single copy of this lets you put them all back on the bottom.  The best part is we can cut a few lands for it and not suffer too much, though I would not outright cut four Mountains.  I’ll probably test out 22 and 23 land variants with four copies of this.

Cleansing Wildfire This is a sideboard card most likely.  Normally I haven’t bothered with land disruption in the side since Field of the Dead was banned, but this has those three little words that trigger Improbable Alliance.  Cantripping is really good for us.

Confounding Conundrum This is another sideboard card that I think fits into the deck.  The fact that it cantrips to trigger Improbable Alliance makes it a tempting choice against ramp strategies.

Shatterskull Smashing It’s hard to find a reason not to include this since it should always be either removal or a land.  Just an all-around solid card.

Lithoform Engine This is probably not very good in this deck, but I know it will be a lot of fun.  There are so many neat things it can do.  Here are a few off the top of my head.  Copy your Sphinx’s triggered ability to bring back two things.  Copy your Transmogrify to grab multiple Sphinxes.  Copy your Lukka ability to double grab.  Copy your Improbable Alliance that you drew late then flood them with fairies.  Reanimate it if you need to discard it early, but it is cheap enough to hard cast too.  Copy your Locust God so you always have that backup in hand (Okay, that’s bad, but who cares!  Flex on em’).  Copy a hard casted sphinx for 11 mana because you got really flooded (how are you even still alive?).

Thanks for reading!

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