The Brewer's Advantage: Xyris, the Writhing Storm
Hello and welcome to The Brewers Advantage, an article series where I create strange or off-meta cEDH decklists and go over my philosophy and the process. My name is Josh LeBlanc and I’m an aspiring cEDH Grinder and established meta deckbuilder. Mostly, though, I like to brew weird shit.
A few months ago I entered the Battle for the Tundra event over at Rip N Ship gaming. The tournament was incredibly fun and the competition was fierce despite it being a pseudo-local event. I brought Tana Malcolm and did pretty okay, but the Temur deck that got my mind racing that day wasn’t my own. It was a Xyris the Writhing Storm list that I went up against in round 1.
The deck wasn’t doing anything crazy that game. It locked out a Shorokai player with a Trigon Predator, but the game didn’t go terribly long and I was able to execute my Glint Horn combo before Xyris could hit the board. Something one of the players had mentioned in that match, though, really got me thinking. If Xyris was on the board during my combo turn he would have made a buttload of snakes. Hmm.
I went to bed early that night since I had another online tournament the next day, but I just couldn’t stop thinking of him....
The myth goes that Paul Mcartney came up with the melody for Yesterday in a Dream. He woke up and wrote the song on the spot, right there in his bed. Now, I’m not exactly calling myself the Paul Mcartney of cEDH (I identify as more of a Ringo) but I am saying that this decklist came to me in a dream. I woke up three hours before the player meeting and started brewing without thinking like my hands were being guided by the whims of the great Xyris himself. I swear, I didn’t even use the “add staples” button. I was receiving inspiration from above. (probably because Xyris has flying)
Two hours later and I had a decklist to show to my practice group. After the initial deluge of “Josh, you’re insane” and “You already have a good Temur deck” we worked together to fine-tune some cuts and changes. Most notably, I jammed in a Purphoros I had missed. I hurriedly joined the call for the players meeting a minute late, my head full of dreams of casting Chord of Calling for free with all my cute little snake friends. I was ironically sure that this deck had legs.
The philosophy of my Xyris deck was very simple. The previous day, at Rip n Ship, had Xyris been out earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to execute my draw-based combo as easily. Xyris being on the board would have made for a critical mass of snakes which could have been used to leverage a parasitic victory off of mine. If I could build a deck that got Xyris out early every game I could punish opponents when they draw excessively. In this event, I was expecting a lot of Blue Farm and Rog Silas. Both these decks focus on drawing a lot of cards. Both decks aim to turbo out Mystic Remoras and Rhystic Studies. Tymna Kraum has its commanders to draw more as well, and Rog Silas leans heavily on wheels. If either of these decks are present in the pod Xyris will be able to ride their wake to victory.
I also tried to take a “no bad cards” approach to the deck. If I was tuning this deck to beat Blue Farm and RogSi, the two best decks in the format, then it needed to have card quality that could compete with theirs. I couldn’t afford any dead draws. As such I ditched most of the “Xyris" cards that you see in many lists in favor of more good stuff. I cut Shared Animosity for Ponder. I do not regret it.
I reasoned that I want to win the turn I get the snakes instead of having to untap with them. If I cast a wheel on my turn, or if I spam cast a bunch of spells into a Mystic Remora, I want to be able to win with my snakes the turn I get them. I did not want to pass the turn while threatening a win after giving my opponents more cards. That just seemed bad. So cards like Shared Animosity, Impact Tremors, Witty Roastmaster, Altar of the Brood, Ohran Frostfang, and Toski were left out in favor of leaning harder into Gaea’s Cradle abuse or other more immediately gratifying outlets such as Skullclamp and Phyrexian Altar (I have since cut the altar). The only card from this vein that I retained was big daddy Purphoros as him plus a wheel was lethal for the table which I still felt was good enough.
So we cut Shared Animosity, Impact Tremors, and all our other ways to win? How do we win now? The same way the good decks do. Breach.
The other thing that caught my eye for Xyris was the fact that he makes for a really strong Breach deck. Wheel synergies have always been great with fueling breach, and since we are designed to shark out Blue Farm and RogSi, winning on the same axis that they do means that when they do stuff to forward their gameplan (such as removing a stax piece or casting a wheel) it will simultaneously help ours. They say if you can’t beat them, join them. I was pretty sure I could beat them but wanted to join them anyways.
Finale of Devastation, Noxious Revival, and Eternal Witness being present in the deck mean we have a powerful and versatile Intuition pile to find Breach and Brain Freeze. Being a Cradle/Altar/Earthcraft/ deck means we have ample mana to breach with too.
Being a creature tutor-focused build means easy Docksides and having access to creature tutor → Spellseeker → Muddle the Mixture → Breach tutor chains makes up for not being able to tutor Breach directly like we could in black or white. Lion’s Eye Diamond is strong with draw effects too, we can crack it for mana with a big draw on the stack, and Xyris being a draw synergy commander means we can get away with cards like Burning Inquiry to disruptively fuel our Breach in the early game too.
We even have a super clean breach line with it where we Brain Freeze everyone’s deck away, Noxiously Revive 3 of our spells, and cast Burning Inquiry to finish everyone off without having to pass the turn around. Green also gives us access to Endurance if we mess up, but true snakes don’t make mistakes so we don’t normally need it. In the event I entered, I won with Breach for the most part, with Purphoros as my secondary wincon.
The other way we can win is with various Twinflame lines. Dualcaster Twinflame is a tried and true classic that we get off of tutors but we also have an easier to assemble Twinflame line that works with just Spellseeker. It's a little complicated so buckle in.
Cast Spellseeker, and find Twinflame. Cast Twinflame and copy Seeker. Off your new Seeker find Finale of Devastation. Cast for X=3 and get Eternal Witness. Return Twinflame. Now strive Twinflame and copy Seeker and Ewit. From Ewit get Twinflame back. From Seeker get Crop Rotation to find Cradle or Muddle the Mixture to find Dockside. Get your mana source into play and use it to fuel the rest of this combo.
If you found Cradle, strive Twinflame again on Ewit and Seeker. Return Twinflame and find Snap. Now use Snap on Ewit. Return Ewit and untap Cradle and some other land. Recast Ewit with crade mana and return Snap. Repeat this process until you have enough mana to return Finale of Devastation and win with infinite damage.
If you found Dockside strive Twinflame on Ewit and Dockity Wockity making at least 5 treasures. Return Twinflame and repeat this process making infinite hasty creatures. Attack for lethal.
Note that if you do this in your second main phase you can simply strive Twinflame onto Spellseeker and go find Lightning Bolt and then loop Bolt using the Twinflame combo with Ewit after you have infinite mana. Strive Twinflame onto Ewit and an Ewit copy to get back Twinflame and Bolt every loop. This also works somewhat with Twinflame and Frantic Search with Cradle and two lands that make red. There are a million ways to win with Spellseeker, Eternal Witness and Twinflame.
Now before you tweet at me and say “Cool self-assembling combo, loser, too bad I don’t have ten bazillion mana every turn to execute it” consider this. You can start this combo from any step in the line and it works just fine. You could slow roll this out over a few turns or you could hold it back until you can find Dockside Extortionist, or Gaea’s Cradle, or 21 snakes and an Earthcraft/Altar, or whatever. It is a very versatile line. Also due to it being recursion based it can only be disrupted via exile. If you kill one of the combo pieces the other combo pieces can just bring it back. We even have Final Fortune if you need to split the line up between two turns.
And, of course, it's usually better just to go for our main self-assembling one-card combo. Breach. You can win with this monstrosity off of Breach too, if it tickles your pickle.
There are some other wincons I have considered as well that aren’t currently in the build. I briefly flirted with Hermit Druid as Xyris attacking is enough to crack a Turn the Earth pile to return Thoracle and Druid also plays nicely with Breach. I am currently testing out Earthcraft so I’m off of Druid in my paper list, but it remains to be seen which card is better for here. If you think you know best I would appreciate the feedback.
I am off of all the combat wincons too. I think giving your opponents free cards and then hoping to either win off an extra turn or untap with your snakes is unlikely. I understand that Shared Animosity is cheap and busted but I don’t want to have to play around creating situations where I can use it. I think the play patterns required to enable such a card make the deck worse. Purphoros and Finale can both buff the snakes and that is good enough for me if I need the backup plan.
I’m also off cute stuff like Consecrated Sphinx or Niv Mizzet. Xyris neoforming/podding into these haymakers is pretty strong but it doesn't win outright. Xyris on his own is already a powerful card to have on the field and is similar to the abovementioned cards already. I don’t think running other cards to enable Con Sphinx or Niv is worth it. Maybe when I finish testing Earthcraft I will add this package but I have a suspicion that it is too clunky and doesn’t make enough snakes.
Besides hangups over wincons the deck has one major weakness that makes me apprehensive about running it in events in the future. If we run out of gas the way we get back into the game is giving an opponent 3 free cards. That hurts. That sucks. That just feels terrible. I would so much rather give all 3 opponents 3 free cards because at least then one opponent isn’t pulling massively ahead. Giving a 0 mana Ancestral Recall to someone because I got some unlucky draws just feels like handing the game away. I am attempting to brew a solution to this problem by adding more cantrips and draw to the 99.
As for the event I brewed this deck for, I got eliminated in top 16 after placing third overall in the Swiss. Pretty good considering I only goldfished it for ten minutes while pairings were being made. That’s the Brewer’s Advantage for you. Bracket Link Here
If you want to see a more detailed account of the event I entered this deck into, I have a video tournament report on my YouTube channel that I recorded live during the event. If you have ideas for more weird decks like this one, tweet at me or find me on my other socials. Until next time, keep brewing!