Pioneer Amalia Combo In-Depth Guide
18/01/2024 · 22 min read
Amalia Combo has been my go-to deck—I've been tinkering with it ever since its release. I successfully navigated the first iteration of the deck including return to the ranks qualifying to the Pro Tour with it
Additionally, I've achieved solid performances with the deck on both MTGO and MTGA. Today, I'll delve into this fresh iteration, discuss some specific card selections, and provide a sideboard guide tailored to combat the various tiers of the current Pioneer and Explorer metagame.
|4 Gilded Goose
|4 Wildgrowth Walker
|4 Prosperous Innkeeper
|4 Lunarch Veteran
|1 Skyclave Apparition
|1 Cenote Scout
|1 Extraction Specialist
|1 Dina, Soul Steeper
|4 Amalia Benavides Aguirre
|1 Selfless Savior
|2 Voice of Resurgence
|4 Collected Company
|4 Chord of Calling
|3 Return to the Ranks
|3 Overgrown Tomb
|4 Temple Garden
|3 Blooming Marsh
|1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
|1 Boseiju, Who Endures
|4 Mana Confluence
|4 Razorverge Thicket
|1 Godless Shrine
|1 Reidane, God of the Worthy
|1 Knight of Dusk's Shadow
|1 Skyclave Apparition
|1 Boseiju, Who Endures
|1 Aetherflux Reservoir
|2 Voice of Resurgence
|1 Drannith Magistrate
|1 Banewhip Punisher
|3 Leyline of the Void
Gameplay: General Tips
The idea is to swarm your opponent with cheap creatures and filter your deck with Amalia+lifegain to search for the high impact cards, which are Collected Company, Return to the Ranks and Chord of Calling (or whatever combo piece you are missing).
It’s not that common to win by going off and attacking the following turn, but after you combo for the first time and fill your graveyard with creatures, you leave a Return to the Ranks on top of your deck to repeat the process. Eventually, you either combo with Dina, Soul Steeper or just win by attacking.
A Few Things to Bear in Mind
Don’t be afraid to mulligan. The deck has many ways to come back to the game through powerful cards. It’s better to go down to 5 than risk color screwing yourself by keeping a hand with no white source.
Always remember than Amalia destroys all creatures ONLY when she gets to 20 power. If she’s already at 20+ then she won’t, which might result in a draw.
You aren't a beat down deck, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be attacking at every chance you get. Amalia's ward stacks a lot and if you get your opponent down to 3, Amalia has hexproof.
Dina alone can also help you finish a game in some spots. Remember you can bring the backside of Lunarch Veteran and start sacrificing creatures with Dina to gain extra life and do extra damage.
The Flex Slots
I wouldn't touch the core of this deck, neither its mana base, so let’s discuss its flex slots:
Voice of Resurgence
I like it a lot in this meta full of interaction. It's great against both UW Control and Phoenix, but honestly it's just fine against anything else. It started like a good sideboard card and I decided to try it maindeck. I was impressed.
I kinda feel like it’s more part of the core of the deck at this point than a flex slot. The dog is great in the deck for multiple reasons, it's one of the best cards to have in your graveyard when you Return to the Ranks, since it demands a second source of interaction to stop the combo. You can also Chord it in response to your opponent's removal to protect whatever they are targeting as long as it’s not an exile effect.
Same as Voice, this card is so good that it deserves a slot in the maindeck. It has targets in almost every matchup and even if you don’t Chord it very often during game 1 it’s still a good topdeck, or a card I’m happy leaving on top after exploring early game.
I used to play two (then I decided to cut one for Apparition), and the main reason was to strengthen Collected Company plays, but it's a perfectly fine card to play on its own.
The card having lifelink is also relevant for the deck since it triggers Amalia. Later, I'll be talking about Collected Company and how it's a necessary evil in the deck, but pulling 3 creatures instead of 2 is no joke. You can even combo out with an end-of-turn Collected Company if your opponent has no interaction left. It's useful in other niche situations too, like when you mill all your Amalias very fast and need to combo through a Chord of Calling.
Other Cards Worth Discussing
The cards I'm about to discuss aren't part of the flexible slots in the deck, but I believe it's important to address them.
I've seen many lists that cut geese, but I don't agree. This card is very good in the deck. It ramps up Collected Company, provides food tokens which are crucial for multiple reasons, and it's also a good card for stalling and avoiding chump blocks.
I had to cut something for all the flex slots in the main deck, and Cenote was without a doubt the weakest card. I left 1 copy because sometimes you have an Amalia and a Walker on board and need to Chord a way to start the combo. Cenote achieves that way cheaper than Goose.
Dina, Soul Steeper
I'd never ever play without Dina. This card is the main wincon of the deck (you don't win by attacking with Amalia that often, to be honest) but I wanted to discuss it because I used to play 2 copies. Sometimes you can build a board that may let you win without comboing, by doing some cheap damage early in the game and then draining your opponent for like 10 or something. This wouldn't happen that often so I decided to stick with the main plan and free that slot.
If you ever played some amount of Amalia you probably have experienced this feeling –this card sucks. The number of times you cast a Collected Company and do absolutely nothing is worth discussing. The main problem with this card is how synergistic the deck is. You could be missing one piece to go off and pulling 1 Veteran and 1 Goose would do absolutely nothing to help you with that.
But It is a Key Piece
That being said, the card is a must in the deck. I've tried, trust me, but you just can’t cut it out. Sometimes you have no board at all and pulling 2 random creatures actually helps you get closer to the combo. Sometimes you pull the exact two pieces you were missing and combo at instant speed. Sometimes you get your board swept and put some creatures in play right after that. And the list goes on.
This card is also a key piece in your opening hand. I rarely mulligan a hand that can cast Collected Company on turn three. What I believe I hate the most about this card is its randomness in these types of decks. Many times, you are missing a piece, and then you whiff on a Collected Company, causing everything to go south.
Postboard It Also Matters
It's also worth mentioning that in post-board games, the card needs to be respected. You can't bring in 3 Thoughtseizes, 2 Fatal Pushes, and 4 Leylines of the Void and expect to play 4 Collected Companies. So yes, Collected Company also interferes with your sideboard. God, I hate this card.
So yes, Collected Company also messes with your sideboard. God I hate this card.
Self-explanatory card. Not sure about the right number of copies though. I don’t think you can play all 4, so 2/3 are probably correct. You bring it in against other combo decks, Enigmatic, Niv., Spirits or UW Control.
Boseiju, Who Endures
A land that’s also a piece of interaction? Yes, please. You can draw it through Amalia and deal with problematic cards like Temporary Lockdown at instant speed without being easily countered. You bring it in against decks with relevant enchantments (Lockdown, Enigmatic, Leyline binding, etc.) and against decks with lots of manlands like BR Midrange.
Voice of Resurgence
Like with Seize, I’m not sure about the right number of copies, since I already play 2 maindeck. I would see myself trimming 1 for a total of 3 copies, but at the same time the card shines in two of the most popular matchups, UW Control and Phoenix.
Knight of Dusk’s Shadow
Tech for the mirror. I don't think 2 copies are necessary. It's also good against Angels if someone still plays that deck.
Players are adapting against Amalia and one new piece of hate that can’t be answered with Skyclave Apparition is Quakebringer. This card has foretell, so even if it's a 5drop it can be played on T4, which is a massive difference. Banewhip Punisher comes as an answer to the big giant with a little more flexibility than Chupacabra, mainly since it's cheaper to Chord.
Leyline of the Void
It's mainly used against Phoenix. I personally don’t like other pieces of graveyard hate, since most of the time you need to Chord them and I don’t care about exiling Phoenixes. The card I want to stop is Treasure Cruise. Without Cruise, Phoenix usually runs out of gas since we have too many ways to keep bringing creatures into play. I'm currently running 3 copies because I've been testing some other sideboard cards, but I feel 4 might be the right amount even if it takes several slots from the sideboard. Phoenix is highly popular and far from an easy matchup. You bring Leyline also against Greasefang, Gearhulk Creativity or other tier3 decks you may face (Neoform, Soulflayer, etc.)
Even if it dies to Carnosaur, the fact that it's chaper to Chord than Eidolon of Rethoric makes the difference for me. It neither dies to Boseiju against Lotus Combo. You bring it in against any deck that tries to play stuff from exile, like Lotus Combo, Quint Combo or 5c piles that play Bring to Light.
This card is so good I play one in the main deck. It's very flexible and can answer almost every piece of hate our opponents might bring. We bring in the second copy if we know our opponents are loaded with hate or if they're a creature heavy deck, like in the mirror, Mono-White, Mono-Red, Gruul Vehicles, etc.
Reidane, God of the Worthy
Interesting card, worth discussing. Definitely one of the cards I could see myself cutting from the sideboard. It's fine against UW Control, but you never Chord it. It's even better against combo decks, but rarely superior to Drannith, so you never Chord it either. Where it really shines is against Rakdos Sacrifice, thanks to its backside, Valkmira, Protector’s Shield. The shield completely nullifies Mayhem Devil. The problem is you can’t Chord Valkmira, so it ends up being a decent card in some matchups and a silver bullet against Sacrifice. You bring it in against Lotus and Quint Combo, UW Control, Rakdos Sacrifice and other piles that play expensive spells like Enigmatic, Niv to Light, etc.
If your opponent doesn't play counter magic or ways to shuffle your deck, this is the card that will win you the game. Just combo any chance you get, gain as many lifepoints as you can and leave it on top after exploring. Some players even run it on the maindeck and, honestly, I don’t think it's wrong. The problem with this card is that it's either the best card in your deck or a brick in your hand. You can't mill it either, because there is no way to bring it back. Sometimes you explore turn 2 and you see it on top and you have to either lose a draw step (and have a dead card for the rest of the game until you combo) or mill it and assume you aren't going to win that way. You bring it in mainly against decks that are loaded with removal like Rakdos Mid, Sacrifice, Enigmatic, Niv to light, Quint Combo, etc. You also bring it in against UW Control even if it has counters AND ways to shuffle the top of your deck. The matchup is so bad that it works like some kind of silver bullet forcing an answer. Another weird case is the mirror. Since you can activate the Reservoir multiple times, you can try to combo with 2 Walkers to double your opponent's life total and win that way.
Other Sideboard Cards Worth Discussing:
I think 1 or 2 copies should be considered. This one is effective against annoying cards like Ledger Shredders, it can counteract some hate pieces like Rampaging Ferocidon, and it's generally strong against any creature-based deck since enabling revolt is not that difficult in this deck. The main issue, however, is that it weakens your Collected Companies because it is not a creature.
I love this card, but I feel comparing it to Thoughtseize is a mistake. Deep-Cavern Bat shines against low removal decks like Boros Convoke, Lotus Combo, Spirits, or even in the mirror, whereas Thoughtseize is good against decks like UW Control, which not only have removals but also mass removal effects. There is nothing worse than getting your board swept and giving a piece of interaction back to your opponent. You can make many arguments in favor of the bat. For example, the fact that you can activate Chord or Collected Company on your opponent's draw step. But in reality, those scenarios rarely occur. I still think the bat is good, but not in the current meta swarmed by Phoenixes and BR piles.
I just think Boseiju is better, even if you can’t Chord or Collected Company it.
I didn’t even try this one. I get that some people want to free space from the sideboard by playing a single piece of graveyard hate that can be Chorded, but as I explained before, this does not stop Cruise, at least not for many turns.
Sentinel of the Nameless City
If there's something this deck is missing is a solid B plan. For example, it's not rare for other creature-based combo decks like Greasefang to go all in on the midrange plan post side and win by hardcasting Charriots and Sheoldreds. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Amalia. I've tried lists with Sentinel and Kellan, Daring Traveler maindeck, and I wasn't impressed.
Yasharn, Implacable Earth
Tech almost exclusively for the Rakdos Sacrifice matchup. Not really needed in my opinion. It’s also expensive to Chord and can be easily killed by sacrificing something and pushing it after it resolves.
Archon of Emeria
Good card, but there is just not enough room for it. It overlaps too much with Drannith Magistrate and Reidane.
Guardian of Faith
Good against sweepers. Unfortunately, it's very expensive to Chord and plays somewhat weird, since the moment you can Chord it you could probably combo instead.
Cheaper version of Guardian of Faith, but this one does not protect you from Meathook Massacre, Languish, Extinction Event, Temporary Lockdown, Farewell, Shadow Veredict, etc.
This card is great against BR Mid, Sacrifice and Phoenix. The main problem is you want it on your starting hand to be effective, which means you need room for multiple copies in the sideboard. Probably 2 or even 3 slots required.
Matchups & Sideboard Guide
Rakdos Midrange (slightly favored)
A deck that relies heavily on one-for-one trades should struggle against a deck like Amalia, which can bring back multiple creatures with Return to the Ranks or cast Collected Company at instant speed. That being said, there's a reason why BR Midrange has remained at the top of the food chain for such a long time.
Thoughtseize is very annoying since we have few high impact cards, and they have a lot of removal to stop our combo. The thing is killing Amalia is not for free, and trading blows is not something your opponents can often do while they are bolting themselves every time they target Amalia. Therefore, they kind of have to play defense until they can set up a Trespasser or Sheoldred and start gaining some life back, which gives us time to topdeck one of those high impact cards and turn the game around.
The match is kinda grindy and is not weird at all to be 5-6 turns topdecking while holding on with the life gain from food tokens and chump blockers. Postside, the game is somewhat similar but opponents will add some hate techs, some ways to exile the graveyard and maybe some wraths.
UW Control (highly unfavored)
They have counters for our big spells, removal to stop the combo, and wrath effects preventing us to swarm the board. The match is a nightmare, and it’s the only deck really holding Amalia back from being the uncontested best deck of the format.
The gameplay is extremely complicated and we will have to take many risks. Try to start as aggressive as possible and force an answer. When they do, rebuild while they are tapped out. Try to combo at instant speed to force them to have two answers. This match is against the clock and we depend on how good their draws are on the first couple of turns. Once they are drawing 2 cards a turn with Teferi, the game is pretty much over.
Key turns on this matchup are T4 if they tap out for Deluge/Wandering, and T5 if they tap out for Teferi. Those are the most common windows we need to capitalize if the opportunity presents itself. Be careful not to attack into Shark Typhoon tokens with your small creatures and remember they can shuffle the top of your deck with Field of Ruin.
Boseiju is your best card in this matchup. Destroying an EoT Lockdown could be lethal. If presented the opportunity, draw game 1 to get a rematch with sideboard.
Postside, the gameplay is still the same, but now we have discard spells to help us. UW players will usually add Rest in Peace and sometimes Hallowed Moonlight.
Izzet Phoenix (even):
They have some counterspells and a lot of single target removal to stop our combo. If the game goes long and they start drawing cards from Treasure Cruise while pressuring with Ledger Shredders, there's no way you win that game.
On the other hand, if you combo once, there's no way you lose, since all the removal they have is damage based, so good luck dealing with a 21/21 Amalia. The idea is to run them out of interaction and capitalize when they need to tap out or have only 1 open mana. Respect Spell Pierce if possible, but if you can't, force them to have it. They usually run only 2.
Postside, it gets a lot better for you, especially if you start the game with Leyline of the Void. Beware of Brotherhood’s End/Anger of the Gods.
Amalia Combo (Mirror):
Try to combo faster by mulliganing aggressively for combo pieces, but have in mind that even if you do combo first they can keep blocking Amalia until they either run out of blockers or find their own combo. If you combo first, try to mill Dina and leave Return to the Ranks on top. If they don’t have mana to Chord Skyclave Apparition you can go infinite damage with the 21/21 Amalia by comboing again. Postside, you can win with Aetherflux Reservoir without risking a draw by winning more life than your opponent, although in my experience it hardly comes down to Reservoir damage. Both of you will be adding removals, hate techs to prevent life gain and discard effects.
Lotus Combo (slightly favored):
G1 is a race. Whoever combos first,wins. And we can usually combo faster. Post sideboard is still a race, but it gets a little trickier. They will bring some amount of sweepers (Path of Peril and Temporary Lockdown being the most commonly played) and some bounce effects. We, on the other hand, will bring hate techs and discard spells. It gets harder but it's still winnable.
Rakdos Sacrifice (slightly unfavored):
G1 revolves around how fast they can Mayhem Devil us out of the game. If they don’t find it soon enough, we can combo and easily win with Dina or by simply attacking in case they don’t have the cat+oven set up. Post sideboard, it gets better for us since we can bring in Aetherflux Reservoir. They will probably add ways to mess with our graveyard and some extra removal, but nothing too hard to handle. It’s a matter of finding a window to combo and leave the Reservoir on top. Reidane backside is also a key card in the matchup.
5c Enigmatic (favored):
They are a slow deck with tons of tap lands and very little instant speed interaction. Try to combo and draw Boseiju from Amalia to answer either Enigmatic or Leyline Binding. You can also Chord Skyclave Apparition to deal with Enigmatic. Post side, they will add more instant speed interaction, and maybe some countermagic. We, on the other hand, will add more relevant cards like hand disruption. If the game goes long we will usually win, so I would prioritize taking Enigmatic out of their hand over Rending Volley for example.
Mono-Red Aggro (even)
If it’s the burn version, we are very favored. We just gain a lot of life and eventually combo. If it’s the Ojer version, that’s a very different story. They have 4 ways to prevent us from gaining life maindeck and we are running only one card that can deal with Rampage Ferocidon G1, Skyclave Apparition. If the game goes long you could eventualy Takenuma back the Skyclave, but it’s not common, since their deck is designed to play Ojer and pretty much win the following turn. On the bright side, this version has not many removal spells (between 4 and 6) so we might be able to combo fast or in response to them tapping out for a Ferocidon. Post sideboard, they will add a lot more removal and Roiling Vortex, which is another way to prevent us from gaining life. To be clear, as long as we answer every card that prevents us from gaining life, we should be OK.
Quintorius Combo (favored)
There are 2 versions of Quint Combo, the one with Gyruda/Gearhulk that runs no interaction maindeck, and the one with Leyline Binding/the domain package. The only way to lose G1 against the Gyruda version is if they combo on T4 before us, which would be rather unlikely since it's much easier for us to combo. On the other hand, G1 is a lot more complicated when facing the Leyline Binding version. They run 10 pieces of interaction mainboard, which allows them to play a slower game and to eventually combo. Against either version, if we get to combo, we win on the spot. The maximum amount of damage Quintorius can do is not near the amount of life we gain. Post sideboard, we will have to deal against Quakebringer from the Gyruda version.
Gruul Aggro/Mono-White/Greasefang/Other tier2 Piles (very favored):
We must focus on combo pieces during G1 since they don’t have many removal spells. If we combo, we win on the spot. They will have to tap out at some point. Seize the opportunity. Post side, they will bring some interaction, but nothing to worry about. Their matchup against Amalia is so bad that these decks got pushed out of the meta.
Extra: Amalia Combo in Explorer BO1-BO3
A Smaller Meta
Explorer metagame is smaller than Pioneer. We have to be prepared to mainly face the following decks:
- Rakdos Midrange
- Rakdos Sacrifice
- UW Control
Even if you face a Mono-Red or an Enigmatic from time to time, these 5 archetypes are the most commonly played ones. Explorer metagame doesn't deviate much from Pioneer but the absence of decks like Lotus Combo and cards like Bring to Light give us no reason to play Drannith Magistrate. Punisher is not available in Explorer, so you either play a Chupacabra or just do as I do and play a couple of Fatal Pushes to help you against Rakdos Sacrifice, Phoenix and Amalia.
Amalia is a very strong BO1 deck, so if you decide to go that route I'd recommend playing Reservoir maindeck to help you against Rakdos Sacrifice and UW Control.