I hope that you managed to scoop your playset of Semblance Anvil last week for two dollars or you have missed the boat. While many Modern players rejoiced at the banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks, the faithful pilots were not ready to let it die. They have been toiling in the Post-Ban Krark Clan Brewhouse group. Today we will look at the fruits of their labor and figure out why exactly Semblance Anvil has exploded in price.
It may surprise some people to hear that the core of this deck actually existed long before Matt Nass destroyed the Modern format with the deck we all came to know and love. In the hand of Benito Peña Vargas, the deck began as far more combo-centric than the current iteration, even going so far as to play four Faithless Looting. It has undergone countless iterations thanks to many of the people in the aforementioned group; who have tried including Thoughtcast, Fabricate, Mishra’s Bauble, and even Experimental Frenzy. With some very insightful tips from Magic Pro League player and KCI expert Piotr Glogowski, aka Kanister, and significant time in the pilot’s seat, I have come to my own conclusions about the way the deck should function.
At face value this may appear to be a strange little brother of the Krark-Clan Ironworks deck. It simply splits the function of KCI into two cards: Semblance Anvil and Grinding Station. Semblance Anvil provides the mana advantage, while Grinding Station provides a repeatable free sacrifice outlet for all of our eggs. We will cover how the deck wins via infinite loops. But first is the non-infinite baseline combo that helps us to assemble our wins:
Grinding Station + Myr Retriever + Scrap Trawler + Semblance Anvil
Resolve a Semblance Anvil reducing the cost of artifacts or creatures. Use Grinding Station to sacrifice the Myr Retriever to return the Scrap Trawler to your hand, then cast the Scrap Trawler for one mana. Sacrifice the Trawler to return the Retriever to your hand. This is similar to looping Myr Retrievers but costs one mana for each loop. The result is that you may convert one mana into two Grinding Station activations any number of times. It is possible to use this to mill an opponent out six cards for each mana spent, but usually you will be doing this to mill yourself into a missing piece for the following combos.
Grinding Station + Semblance Anvil + 2 Myr Retriever
This makes Myr Retriever cost 0 mana. Play a Myr Retriever, putting a Grinding Station trigger on the stack. With the trigger on the stack, sacrifice Myr Retriever and mill the opponent for three cards. When the Myr dies it will return the other Myr to our hand. The Grinding Station then untaps. Repeat this process until the opponent’s deck is gone.
Grinding Station + Scrap Trawler + Semblance Anvil + 2 Myr Retriever
Anti-mill cards such as Eldrazi titans can negate the mill condition though. In this case we must employ our old friend Scrap Trawler. Utilize the loop listed above but target yourself with the mill until you have Mox Opal and Pyrite Spellbomb in your graveyard. Each time a Myr is sacrificed, Scrap Trawler triggers and we may return an artifact with cmc one or fewer from our graveyard to to our hand. Use these triggers to return a Mox Opal. Tap the Mox for one mana and sacrifice it with Grinding Station. Repeating this will generate an arbitrary amount of mana. You may then turn the recursion engine on Pyrite Spellbomb. Repeat this process until the opponent’s life is at zero.
Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry
While this combo is not infinite and does not win the game on the spot it is still effective. You pay one mana and sacrifice the Sword to the Foundry to generate a 1/1 flyer and gain one life. This token triggers the return of the Sword. If you have another artifact to sacrifice you can begin the combo with Sword in the graveyard. Either way the result is that you may pay one mana as many times as desired to generate a token and gain one life.
Grinding Station + Mox Opal + Scrap Trawler + Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry
The Mox Opal generates a mana and then is sacrificed to the Grinding Station. With the mana, sacrifice the Sword to the Foundry for life and a token. The Scrap Trawler trigger returns the Mox Opal to hand and the token returns the Sword to the battlefield, which untaps the Grinding Station. Repeat this process until the opponent’s deck is gone; while generating arbitrary amounts of life and tokens.
Grinding Station + Sai, Master Thopterist + Scrap Trawler + Sword of the Meek + 0 Cost Artifact
The 0 cost artifact will usually be Mox Opal but EE works too. Play an artifact to put a Grinding Station trigger on the stack. Sacrifice your 0 cost artifact and allow the Grinding Station to untap before sacrificing the Sword. Return the 0 cost artifact to hand with the Scrap Trawler trigger. Recast the 0 cost artifact to trigger Sai, creating a token. The token is a 1/1 so it returns the Sword to the battlefield. The 0 cost artifact resolves and untaps the Grinding Station. Repeat this process to generate an arbitrary number of tokens.
2 Mox Opal + Scrap Trawler + Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry
Play both Mox and sacrifice one to the legendary rule. Tap the remaining Mox for mana to pay to sacrifice the Sword to the Foundry. As usual this nets a token and life while returning the Sword. The Scrap Trawler triggers as a result and returns the other Mox to your hand. You may then play it to sacrifice the tapped Mox to the legend rule. Repeat this process to generate arbitrary amounts of life and tokens.
There are a multitude of other loops that can be assembled by combining these cards but these loops provide the baseline combinations that allow the deck to win.
It is important to understand that Grinding Station is not just a combo piece, but a draw engine for the deck. In the early turns Grinding Station is used to mill yourself to find key pieces more quickly. For this reason, graveyard recursion is even more important in this deck than it was in KCI; so we run three Buried Ruin. Since the deck “sees” more cards on average than KCI Inventor’s Fair was trimmed to a singleton to make room.
It is also important to note that Grinding Station will trigger itself when it enters the battlefield. This allows for a free activation while still keeping it untapped. It is often wise to keep Grinding Station untapped if you are not comboing so that you can protect key combo pieces. In particular, we want to protect Myr Retriever or Scrap Trawler from exile effects like Path to Exile. It is much better to have these cards in the graveyard to be recurred later. This also allows us to respond to cards like Surgical Extraction or Scavenging Ooze with Myr Retriever or Scrap Trawler triggers.
It is not recommended to keep hands that lack a sacrifice outlet. Grinding Station is the best for combos but Sai and Thopter Foundry do a fine job of sacrificing eggs to churn through the deck and assemble a winning combination. They are also fantastic at slowing the game down when the hand does not provide a quick combo.
Comparison to KCI
This is the part where we have to look at the deck as a somewhat different animal from poor, sweet KCI. It is true that reaching a deterministic win is more difficult with this deck than with KCI. Even worse, Semblance Anvil is extremely vulnerable to artifact destruction. It cannot generate immense value as soon as it hits the board, as KCI would, and the imprint mechanic comes with built in card disadvantage. This increases the effectiveness of opposing artifact destruction and targeted discard. This is where it becomes useful to look at the deck with the lens of a Splinter Twin player rather than a KCI player. This is a deck that can threaten to end the game very quickly if the opponent does not interact in meaningful ways. In fact, it has a slightly faster average goldfish than KCI. However, the deck can also play a very strong Plan B of sitting back and accruing value and board presence via Sai or the Thopter Sword combo. Scrap Trawlers and Myr Retrievers not only recur combo pieces but act as awkward roadblocks for any aggressive strategy by recurring one another. While the opponent is struggling to deal with these value engines, we sneak in a Semblance Anvil and “go off” out of nowhere
The deck is still in developmental stages, so it would not be very useful to provide a matchup-by-matchup sideboard guide. Rather, I will simply provide some general guidelines and motivations for the sideboard choices. When sideboarding, keep in mind the two critical differences between this deck and KCI. First, the combo strategy is much less resilient to hate than that of KCI. Second, the artifact-midrange-value strategy is stronger than that of KCI. This led to the development of a somewhat transformational sideboard with the inclusion of Karn, Scion of Urza. Karn is yet another value engine that can provide a very quick clock or simply draw towards other value engines, and it can be found off of Ancient Stirrings. Most importantly, it fights on an axis that does not suffer from artifact destruction, graveyard hate, or Stony Silence. The list still includes Nature’s Claim as the best anti-hate card but with Karn, Sai, and Ghirapur Aether Grid it is not terribly difficult to win through hate cards. It is not uncommon to board out all of the Semblance Anvils and two to three Grinding Stations to become more devoted to the artifact value plan.
This deck is very new to the competitive modern scene, so it will likely undergo many changes in the future. Even as I wrote this primer, the Facebook group was hard at work trying to improve the list:
The new list uses Arcbound Ravager, a recommendation from Zach Sweat, as another free sacrifice outlet and an alternate win condition. With the addition of Ravager, Walking Ballista becomes the preferred damage-based win condition over Pyrite Spellbomb. Benito is testing a version with Inkmoth Nexus as another route to victory. There is also a fourth copy of Myr Retriever, an addition that Benito swears by and that I believe to be correct. This version of the deck appears to be far more potent than the previous one, and we will be testing it going into the future. All this being said, anyone can pick up any version of these lists and play around to their heart’s content. Nobody yet knows the ideal list, so just have fun with it and enjoy looping people like we once did back in the good ol’ days!
I understand that this was quite a bit to take in so if you have any questions please come join us in the Post-Ban Krark Clan Brewhouse group. It may be just a flash in the pan, or it may be the next broken artifact combo deck. My only hope is that Matt Nass takes his time so we can all play with our Semblance Anvils for just a little while longer. Come tomorrow, our articles will be moving away from the Modern format for a couple days. Until then my friends.