A Nice Hot CoCo

There’s a new craze sweeping the magical world. And its catchy name will be sung from kitchen tables to gaming store dungeons, from the top eights of Grand Prix to PackWars. The new word in ubiquity – it’s Collected Company!

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Now I’m not normally one for ironic nicknames (#lie #falsehood  #taytay4hottest100) but here, I think the card may turn out to justify the hype. CoCo has proved to be a great card in Standard and is starting to make waves in Modern. But how, and why?

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). CoCo gives you two semi-random creatures at instant speed for four mana. If you’re getting 2/2s, you have a decent rate on the card that would make it pretty solid for limited play. So how do we make it constructed worthy? We need to play cards better than Grizzly Bear. That’s not so hard!

Once you start hitting a Fleecemane Lion and a Courser of Kruphix, you get card advantage, instant speed and a mana discount. But we can go deeper, as Yohan Dudognon showed us at GP Paris. Why not hit Savage Knuckleblade and Mantis Rider for 7 power? Or a pair of Goblin Rabblemasters that will swing in for 12? Now our four mana spell looks pretty absurd. The general goal is to get at least four CMC of creatures you’re happy to be playing anyway, with an upside of sometimes hitting multiple three-drops.

The drawbacks are real – whilst Frank Karsten says you need 22ish creatures to reliably hit two off CoCo, I prefer a little more redundancy. I tend to try to get 23-24 two and three drops, plus a set of Elvish Mystics. This means that whilst I usually hit two creatures, there’s a good chance that they will not be 1/1s, because instant speed Elvish Mystic is exciting no one. However, once land and CoCo itself is factored in, you only have 4-6 extra cards left, which means removal and bigger creatures will be luxuries, few and far between.

In Standard, to maximise the power of CoCo we want to pair Green with either White, Blue or Red. White gives us Fleecemane Lion, Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Dromoka’s Command, whilst Red gives us Goblin Rabblemaster, and maybe Savage Knuckleblade. Blue adds Thassa, God of the Sea and Shorecrasher Elemental. Green-based strategies with Reverent Hunter can go really big, and value cards like Courser of Kruphix can also increase the power level of potential hits. Dudognon’s deck also used haste creatures to push CoCo even further, making it a reasonable main phase play. If  your opponent is on a low life total or not holding up instant speed interaction, getting to cast it and attack with the creatures it hits in the same turn is big. Like, Kanye big.

This is how the card works, and you didn’t need me to explain that. The tricky part is evaluating how a Collected Company strategy can work, and I think that successful Modern decks illustrate this. The two Modern decks most frequently using Collected Company are Elves and an Abzan deck reminiscent of the Birthing Pod decks of old (#unbanplease #myheartwillgoon #willneverletgo).

Neither of these are really interested in playing the highest power level of cards. Whilst you can certainly build a deck hitting Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Knight of the Reliquary and Loxodon Smiter, playing CoCo for raw power level in Modern is fraught with danger because by turn four, you might just be dead to a flurry of Pestermites or a handful of Mutagenic Growths. Goyf and friends are good because they benefit from lots of disruption (think Jund) but CoCo doesn’t leave you with the space for more than a handful of interactive spells.

What these Modern decks do is build up a mass of relevant creatures. Getting two dudes, and seeing more cards to choose from, is important to these decks because they need a critical mass of creatures to either combo or overwhelm their opponent’s board. In this way, they operate very differently to the Abzan and Jund decks that tend to typify Green creature-based decks in Modern. Instead of relying on individual power level, CoCo gives Modern green mages a chance to utilise creature synergy as it elevates the consistency with which they see the necessary pieces more cheaply than Chord of Calling (though both decks can and do also play Chord).

Hitting Anafenza and Viscera Seer from Company seems really bad (two Grizzly Bears) until you untap, play Kitchen Finks and gain infinite life. Hitting Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel seems bad, until they tap some friends to make a bunch of mana and over-run with Ezuri. Previously, a Lightning Bolt and a Remand would disrupt the synergy, but CoCo helps fight through that sort of interaction.

Mono-blue decks in Standard now splash green for CoCo – it follows the same principle in helping them see enough cards to get sufficient devotion into play. The synergy principle also suggests playing Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector – they’re not exciting hits by themselves but the more you see, the better each gets. Merfolk in Modern might want to explore this direction too, as hitting a couple of lords off one Company likely represents upwards of 7 power for 4 mana – Advent of the Wurm eat your heart out! But using CoCo to increase creature synergy also affects individual card viability.

Silumgar Sorceror and Merciless Executioner are spell effects on creatures that cost you a creature to play them. Collected Company helps you find not only these creatures, but also things to sacrifice. Minister of Pain is a good sideboard card here for the same reason, though overshadowed by Orzhov Pontiff in Modern. Things like Blood Artist and Goblin Chieftain that are better in multiples also benefit as you see more copies of these, and more copies of the creatures with which they interact profitably.

Collected Company has already significantly affected Standard and Modern. Green Sun’s Zenith and Birthing Pod were not banned because they win the game by themselves – they are busted because they increase the consistency of decks doing unfair things with creatures. CoCo may not be in the same company (lololol) as those effects, but, in principle, operates on a similar axis. I think that the best way to abuse it is as a device to increase the consistency of synergy-based creature decks.

The innovation with Collected Company is well and truly underway. We don’t yet know the best shell for it. Tribal strategies, cheap creature combos and powerful cheap threats all benefit from it, but decks as a whole have to make a big tradeoff to access that power. Now I’m off to try to pair CoCo with Channel…

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Card Name: Birthing Pod
Mana Cost: 3 Phyrexian Green
Converted Mana Cost: 4
Types: Artifact
Card Text: (Phyrexian Green can be paid with either Green or 2 life.)
1 Phyrexian Green, Tap, Sacrifice a creature: Search your library for a creature card with converted mana cost equal to 1 plus the sacrificed creature’s converted mana cost, put that card onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.