Combos have always existed in Magic: The Gathering. From the very first one, Channel + Fireball, to very complex decks that abuse the cleanup step as part of their combo, we have seen it all. At least that is what we think every time until something new comes up and makes us question everything. Today we are going to draw our entire deck and win the game with
Niambi, Beloved Protector is a new commander from Alchemy: Dominaria. The card might seem underwhelming and as a fair commander she is probably suboptimal, at least when we consider the current cards available to us in Historic Brawl.
She has two very relevant things going for her however: She is a cheap Flash creature, meaning we are able to sneak her into play very easily during the opponent’s end step while still holding up interaction and she is part of an infinite combo that allows us to draw the deck. Apart from that we are rarely going to put her into play unless we have to block an incoming attack that would represent lethal.
The first part of the combo is to get our commander into play, which is pretty easy to do. The second part involves having one of our six Clone effects in hand, for example Mirror Image. We copy our commander and before the “enter the battlefield” ability triggers, we have to choose which copy of Niambi we want to keep due to the legend rule. We choose to keep our commander and send the clone to the graveyard.
The ability from the clone is put onto the stack, allowing it to return itself with its own ability. Now we are in the exact same position again and can stack the draw effect on our clone. To stop the combo, just choose to keep the clone in play and send the commander to the command zone.
Breaking the Game
In theory, you have to repeat the combo as many times as you have cards in your deck, target your creature with basically anything and win with Thassa's Oracle In practice you will not be able to do that because the client will display the message “Warning: Please take a different action or the game will end in a draw.” after repeating moves 25 times. This means that you are unable to win instantly in a bunch of spots you would normally not mind. There are also some tricky spots you can find yourself in where you don’t want to copy for the max amount.
Here is an example: You have 39 cards left in your deck and ready to draw with copy effects. You want to target with a non-destructive effect, draw exactly 19 cards, and do the exact same thing next turn. This leaves you with exactly 0 cards in your library to win the game. If you had copied the text more often you would die from overdrawing.
Draw, stall, combo. The deck is a combo deck after all, you are taking a control role most of the time because you are unable to guarantee a quick win due to the limitations of the client. Cheap cantrips help us search for clone effects, efficient card draw keeps our hand full and counterspells and board wipes keep the opponent at bay.
There are not too many surprises here, but I think it is worth mentioning that the commander is essential to our gameplan, so much so that I wouldn’t just play her in the end step even if we have mana available unless we intend to go for the combo. There are plenty of times where you are wiping the board and we don’t want to unnecessarily tax our commander.
You also want to be very careful how you play out your lands. There are some lands in this deck that tap for colorless but are essential for certain lines, so you really need to know how you tap out and what lands you are going to need in the future. There are also some cards in your deck that allow you to surpass the maximum hand size, so make sure you keep that in mind before drawing 25 cards and realize that you are unable to play
One big difference between this deck and traditional control decks is that we are trading card quality for efficiency a lot of the time. We have no big draw spells and would rather discard a couple of cards with things like Thirst for Knowledge in order to dig through the deck faster.
We are also not playing any of the traditional big finishers since those slots are dedicated to our clones, six in total. This gives us a 36.3% chance to see at least one in any given hand of seven, so remember not to mulligan too aggressively.
The curve realistically stops at four mana, but the deck can still be very mana hungry in order to drop clones, target and play Thassa's Oraclein the same turn with protection up. As a backup win condition we have Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, although we would prefer not to use it most of the time as it is more expensive and can get removed in response to the draw trigger.
The removal is split into three different categories: Countermagic, board wipes and spot removal. The first two are usually the most efficient choices available, but the spot removal has to be able to target our own creatures in order to trigger the draw effect. Also remember that the opponent cards trigger that effect if they try to get rid of a clone on the field, very few things apart from board wipes can prevent you from getting the draw if you tap out for a combo.
Lastly we have the mana base: With 41 lands and 3 mdfc’s we are technically running too many with this low of a curve, but we also have 4 utility lands that tap for colorless in a deck that can be very hungry on colored mana in the early turns.
Tech Choices and Notable Exclusions
Reliquary Tower, Choice of Fortunes, Sea Gate Restoration and A-Wizard Class allow you to bypass the maximum hand size limit. The only reason these cards make the cut is because we are unable to draw our whole deck in one go. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have one of these effects ready by the time you draw 25 as your best seven cards are likely to win the game as well, but having access to them is still nice.
While this card is not very useful outside of the combo it is very useful inside of it. The ability to draw the deck and have one additional mana available to protect Thassa's Oracleis quite valuable. It is usually one of the first cards you discard to your various draw/discard effects in case you draw it naturally.
Ephemerate and similar blink effects did not make the cut as they are too one-dimensional. Yes, they allow you to easily set up a second draw 25 but we don’t want too many useless cards outside of the combo. I would much rather have a card like Unsummon that is able to keep us alive against aggressive decks.
I have seen a few versions that use cards other than Thassa's Oracleas a payoff but I think that there is no actual reason to do so. The challenging part is to get the combo into play in the first place, once we have achieved that I would rather have something to target and draw cards in hand instead.
Matchups, Matchmaking and Mulligans
The deck is usually paired against lower power commanders, so you will likely go for your linear combo gameplan most of the time and try to interact only when necessary. There are some control decks you are going to run into, but nothing extreme like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or
Playing Against Aggro
This matchup is the big reason why we are running board wipes. Those should buy you time while you are digging for your combo and keep you alive. This is also the matchup where you are most likely to flash in your commander to block a creature, especially to protect a planeswalker like Jace for continuous value. Just don’t keep a greedy hand just to be run over before you can do something.
Playing Against Combo
You are likely slower than other combo decks but you have a ton of countermagic available, giving you the upper hand most of the time. Make sure you do not give them any openings to sneak under you and you should be fine. Your own combo should not be the focus of the match as long as you keep your hand full, so don’t worry about that too much.
Playing Against Control
Really not a great matchup as the deck is very light on threats apart from the combo. Try to create an opening and resolve either the combo or an important threat like Jace or A-Teferi, Time Raveler and then work from there. You can also get into a scenario where you ride a single Tyrite Sanctum to victory if they are not equipped to deal with an indestructible creature.
Example Opening Hands
Let’s look at a couple of different opening hands to see what we are dealing with.
Hand Number 1
This hand is very solid in most matchups. Swords to Plowshares can keep pretty much any combo or aggro deck in check while you can discard the Mox Amber to
Hand Number 2
A tricky hand that has legs in certain scenarios. If you find yourself in a matchup where board wipes are relevant you will likely keep this hand. If not, Seek New Knowledge can send one back into the deck. The only downside is that your current lands are not great if you want to cast Jace in the near future. Mull to 6 drop either Jace or a wipe, depending what you will need more, on 5 a wipe.
Hand Number 3
I would keep this hand either against a control matchup or if the opponent has little interaction and not too fast of a clock. There is a lot of value here but you are going to get run over if your cantrips are unable to provide you with the tools necessary. If this hand is a mull to 6 I suggest sending Thirst for Knowledge to the bottom, on 5 against control the Mirrorhall Mimic as you are likely to find another clone before you actually combo off, otherwise the Plains.
Playing Against the Deck
Instant speed interaction is able to stop the combo, so try and keep as much of it as you can in your hand. The deck is not much of a threat outside of the combo, so make sure you are not getting cheesed out.
Other than that, you should treat your mulligan and gameplay decisions as if you are playing against good old Azorius Control, apply just enough pressure to make them sweat and don’t overextend into a board wipe.
If the opponent is flashing in Niambi in your end step with open mana try and kill her in response to the clone on the stack instead of removing her immediately. This way the opponent is not able to use their mana efficiently and has a harder time going off.
Random Tips and Interactions
- If you end the combo by copying an opponent’s creature since some clones are able to copy anything on the field make sure you are not relying on Tyrite Sanctum to trigger the card draw.
- When you go to discard I highly recommend dragging seven cards to one side of your hand and clicking through the rest, otherwise it can get very messy.
- If you hold a card on your cursor while drawing your 25 cards the animation will speed up quite a lot. I don’t know why, it just does.
- Passing the turn and holding the target spell in hand instead of drawing immediately allows you to skip discarding for one turn as you only have to discard to hand size at the end of your own turn.
Playing the Deck on a Budget
- Not having all of the clones obviously hurts the consistency, but cutting one or two should be fine.
- Try to play around 4 to 5 board wipes. The current choices are optimal in my opinion, but you don’t have to craft them if you have other options.
- If you don’t have the complete mana base I recommend going down on the colorless lands as they become quite hard to justify at that point.
- I can’t recommend playing the deck if you only rely on Jace as your win condition. Oracle is extremely important as it is way harder to interact with and significantly cheaper to cast.
Niambi is an extremely fun deck that ultimately gets destroyed by MTG Arena’s limitations. It is still very viable in the current queue however and I have a personal win rate of 82% right now. Take this with a grain of salt though because the deck is very new and not a lot of people are prepared to face it right now.
We also have to take into consideration that the commander might get nerfed or changed in the future if this playstyle becomes a problem in Alchemy as those nerfs will carry over to Historic Brawl as well. So abuse it while you still can, but you might want to hold off if you are short on wildcards.