About the Author
Jax is an Italian Legacy combo mastermind. He began playing MTG in 1995, and joined Legacy right when the format was popularized in 2006. He is a huge inspiration to a lot of players including myself. When I need combo advice, I always message Jax first. He is so incredibly intelligent and understands how to build and play combo decks extremely effectively. Jax wrote this article and has graciously allowed me to edit and publish it here.
What is Turbo Smog?
Turbo Smog is a Sultai 2 card combo deck that uses the interaction between Chain of Smog and Witherbloom Apprentice to win the game on the spot. With Witherbloom Apprentice in play, you cast Chain of Smog targeting yourself. This makes you discard 2 cards, but allows you to copy the spell infinitely. Note that Chain of Smog doesn’t stop copying if you have no cards to discard, as long as you choose to copy it. This combo allows you to infinitely drain your opponent till they lose, and less relevantly; you also gain infinite life in the process.
Due to the fact that to win you need to discard your entire hand to Chain of Smog, this deck cannot play traditionally used reactive protection such as Force of Will, Daze or Flusterstorm to help your combo resolve. Instead, it uses proactive protection spells such as Veil of Summer, Thoughtseize, Duress, and Sylvan Safekeeper to ensure your combo works through various forms of hate.
The 2 card combo of Witherbloom Apprentice and Chain of Smog was discovered pretty immediately when Witherbloom Apprentice was previewed in Strixhaven’s spoiler season. The combo was tested in many forms but quickly dismissed by most players as too weak and vulnerable to any form of interaction. Jax first tested a golgari turbo build, but found it to be too inconsistent. When he thought to add cantrips to improve consistency, he found the deck started to shine.
Smog decks rarely get results because players commonly poorly build their lists. Jax understands well that sticking combos into already existing decks tends to make them worse. The version he created was an entirely new deck. The Turbo part of the name comes from the fast mana the deck plays; 4 Dark Ritual, 4 Lotus Petal, and 2 Elvish spirit guide, and 4 Summoner's Pact which doubles as a tutor and is able to find Elvish spirit guide.
Similar to the rest of Legacy’s top combo decks, Turbo Smog is an all in deck. You don’t play a backup plan cause there is no need for one when beating hate is almost always easier than dodging it. Storm wins by storming, Doomsday wins by casting Thassa's Oracle, Oops wins by reanimating Thassa's Oracle into play, why should Smog play a backup plan? Your deck is designed to win by combo, adding a secondary win condition that doesn’t help your main plan just makes your deck less consistent. Every single spell in your deck is there for a reason; to help you win by combo and be protected in doing so.
Why play Turbo Smog?
All combo decks are weak to different things. Turbo Smog has legs cause it doesn’t care about graveyard hate or artifact hate, and is generally strong vs taxing effects. The combo also only requires 2 cards, and has a total mana cost of 1BBG. This makes it pretty efficient and easy to accomplish. Sometimes you can even spread the combo out over 2 turns by playing out Witherbloom Apprentice (ideally with protection like Veil of Summer or Sylvan Safekeeper) passing, and winning the following turn with Chain of Smog. The deck is also very strong against Chalice of the Void, which is normally fairly good versus most other combo decks. Chain of Smog is copied not cast multiple times so it also beats cards like Deafening Silence or Ethersworn Canonist.
Turbo Smog is very consistent because similar to decks like Omnitell and Doomsday, it plays 12 cantrips to find your combo. You also play 4 Summoner's Pact that tutor Witherbloom Apprentice for free while also doubling up as free fast mana by being able to tutor Elvish spirit guide. This deck also features an old treasure of Legacy with 2 copies of Lim-Dul's Vault to help set up your combo even faster.
Maindeck Card Choices
Jax’s current Turbo Smog list plays 15 lands. 8 of which are fetch lands: 4 Polluted Delta and 4 Misty Rainforest, the other 7 are fetchable lands. 5 of these are dual lands that can be fetched by either of your fetch lands: 2 Underground Sea, 2 Tropical Island, 1 Bayou. Lastly, you play 2 basic lands; 1 Swamp and 1 Island.
In turbo combo decks it is important to keep a low land count, especially when you play this much fast mana. Jax says you could go up to 16 lands by playing a 3rd copy of Underground Sea but he feels more confident on 15. He believes the basic Island is necessary in the list to be to cast cantrips while avoiding Wasteland, even though the Island is not able to cast your combo.
One card choice that is particularly unique and interesting is Sylvan Safekeeper. This card used to be played in Turbo Depths to protect their Marit Lage token. It makes a lot of sense here because you won’t have a hand when your combo resolves, so you need on board protection to beat removal such as Swords to Plowshares or Lightning Bolt. The reason to only play 1 is the card is not useful in multiples and you play 4 Summoner's Pact to easily tutor it when it is needed. This essentially allows you to have 5 copies of it while only taking 1 actual card slot in the deck.
Sideboard Card Choices
Abrupt Decay is versatile removal. You bring it in vs prison and taxing decks as well as control. It is also safe to bring in when you don’t know what permanent based hate your opponent could have against you.
Massacre is specifically for Death and Taxes as a way to beat Sanctum Prelate. Sanctum Prelate names the number 2 versus you, stopping both your combo card Chain of Smog and your other removal spell in Abrupt Decay. Without Massacre, you would be locked out of the game and lose. If Death and Taxes is popular in your meta, you should consider a 2nd copy of Massacre, the card is a free board wipe against them.
Defense Grid and Carpet of Flowers are both dedicated slots to help versus the best and most popular deck in Legacy; UR Delver. Both cards are extremely good at shutting down what UR Delver does best. Carpet of Flowers gives you free mana to play around Daze and Wasteland. Defense Grid stops the opponent from tapping out each turn and holding up free or nearly free spells such as Daze, Force of Will, Force of Negation, and Flusterstorm.
Surgical Extraction is sided in vs graveyard combo decks such as Oops all Spells and Reanimator. While these decks are pretty well equipped to beat it, Surgical Extraction in decks with discard spells can be even more effective. It can also be brought in vs control decks to take out removal or counterspells and peek at their hand.
2 Flusterstorm are played to beat opposing combo decks, especially ones that are faster than you. It is fairly common for combo decks to feature sideboard Flusterstorm like this for the same reason. Doomsday, Omnitell, Sneak and Show are all combo decks that will often do this. It also works well with Witherbloom Apprentice as another card that copies when cast to do additional draining even when not winning by combo.
Other options include: additional copies of Veil of Summer‘s, or trying Xantid Swarm. 1-2 Force of Vigor is also a reasonable consideration. Leyline of the Void is fine too but takes up 4 slots and combo decks that are weak to it have ways to destroy it.
How to play Turbo Smog
While the name suggests Turbo, that doesn’t mean it is an all-in styled deck. Yes, you can win turn 1 and definitely should go for it if given the opportunity, but you also play a lot of cantrips and protection. This allows you to play longer games and find the best window to jam with the most protection possible. It is a very similar playstyle to Omnitell in that way, you can win fast, but you can also find more protection if you wait longer. The deck is vulnerable to both stack based interaction, and removal spells so finding a perfect time to combo is key. Ideally you want to find a way to deploy both combo pieces same turn, and win with at least 1 piece of protection. To do so, you generally want to spend the first few turns constructing your hand by cantripping to find exactly what you need. Most of the time, you only want to play Sylvan Safekeeper the turn you intend to try to win on. Thoughtseize is stronger than Veil of Summer because you get full information of what their hand is and can make decisions accordingly.
Turbo Smog requires a lot of patience and is a lot harder to play than you may initially think. If you are looking for an easy or all-in deck, this is probably the wrong choice for you.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Delver is the most played and best deck in Legacy. Unfortunately, it is also our hardest matchup by far. The matchup is still very enjoyable to play but their entire deck combats ours, making it very difficult for us to win. Wasteland messes with our mana, Lightning Bolt kills our Witherbloom Apprentice and Force of Will, Daze, Force of Negation, and Flusterstorm make it hard for us to resolve our combo. Additionally, they typically play 1-2 Brazen Borrower which further stops us from winning. You don’t want to rush to win this matchup. You basically should never play out Witherbloom Apprentice before your combo turn. Try to set up your hand with as much protection as you can before trying to win.
Our matchup versus Control is very interesting and skill intensive. The inclusion of Dress Down in some of these lists, makes the matchup slightly harder to navigate. Veil of Summer and Sylvan Safekeeper are our best cards against Control decks. Narset, Parter of Veils is fairly good against us since we want to sculpt our hand and play a longer game vs Control but Narset, Parter of Veils stops that. Teferi, Time Reveler turns their Prismatic Endings into instant speed removal by using the +1 ability. Post board, you can expect them to have some number of hate bears such as Meddling Mage and/or Ethersworn Canonist. Luckily, we have access to Abrupt Decay, which is a catch-all answer to any of their problematic cards. If you see many hate bears, it may be worth considering sideboarding in Massacre to clean them all up. It is worth noting that Jeskai will sometimes have sideboard Back to Basics, so it may be worth trying to play around if you can afford to. Take your time versus control, they take awhile to kill you.
8cast is a fine matchup. We have a dedicated sideboard slot for 8cast in Energy Flux. If you resolve it, it is very hard for them to win.
Their most scary card is an early Chalice of the Void on 1. It doesn’t stop our combo but it stops our cantrips and protection spells, making their permission hard to beat. In game 1, they can only interact with Witherbloom Apprentice by using their 1-of Aether Spellbomb or having a Otawara, Soaring City. This makes casting Witherbloom Apprentice and passing the turn a relatively safe play in game 1. Post-board they will bring in 2-3 Dismember, and some number Force Of Negation and/or Flusterstorm. In addition to siding in Energy Flux, we also bring in to deal with Chalice of the Void.
Doomsday is usually very favored against opposing combo decks. They are very fast and have access to both discard spells, and counter spells. Our best cards in the matchup are Witherbloom Apprentice, Duress, and Thoughtseize. We can’t beat an early Doomsday unless we have the combo and they have no interaction. Their discard spells are very strong and do a good job of slowing us down. This is a matchup where an early Witherbloom Apprentice can apply a lot of pressure to their life total. Doomsday typically plays no removal maindeck and rarely any in their sideboard either besides maybe 1 Chain of Vapor. We should try to keep interactive hands with discard spells and an early Witherbloom Apprentice. Don’t be scared to use fast mana to do so, as card advantage doesn’t matter in this matchup. Post board Flusterstorm really helps against early Doomsday plays, they will likely bring in multiple Force Of Negations and possibly their own Flusterstorms but this don’t really matter since our plan is to fill the board with multiple Witherbloom Apprentice, attack and drain them by casting regular spells. Since they are the faster combo deck, our own combo is not a priority in this matchup.
Moon Stompy is a tricky matchup. I would still say it is pretty even since they can’t interact much with Witherbloom Apprentice at instant speed besides Bonecrusher Giant (which not all lists play). Witherbloom Apprentice and pass is not a super safe play because of Fury but I think it is still often the correct play in this matchup since Chalice of the Void on 1 shuts down Dark Ritual and a Blood Moon can mess with our green sources. Our only out to Chalice of the Void on 2 in game 1 is drawing one of our 2 Veil of Summer (this works!). Post-board, we bring in permanent removal and our winning chances get better. Trinisphere is their best lock piece against us because we may never find the third land before they kill us. Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void on 1 are annoying but easier to beat. Overall, this isn’t an ideal matchup, but it isn’t a terrible one either.
There isn’t much to say about this matchup. They are the faster combo deck than us, meaning we need to take the control role in the matchup. We can both win on turn 1 but they are more much consistent at doing so. If they get Griselbrand into play, they will draw a bunch of cards and strip our hand with discard spells. We can buy a bit of time with our own discard spells and Veil of Summer for theirs. Extra Summoner's Pacts can be played into an opening hand Chancellor of the Annex trigger. This is especially useful post-board when we bring in our 3 Surgical Extration. Flusterstorm is also a very good card coming in from the sideboard. Keep in mind that we can also Veil of Summer on turn 0 by pitching an Elvish spirit guide. Cantrip heavy hands are not very good in this matchup. You should aggressively mulligan for a fast combo win or disruption.
GW Depths is a fairly easy matchup for us. In game 1, their only instant speed interaction is 4 Swords to Plowshares. They have a light mana denial plan with wasteland which can slow us but normally isn’t enough. Their best plan vs us is to try to win first by making a 20/20 Marit Lage token and attacking us for lethal. Unfortunately for them, unless it is made turn 2, it is most often going to be way too slow. Post-board, they don’t have very much against us. Their best options are Deafening Silence and Choke, both of which we can easily beat. We can board in Abrupt Decay to deal with those permanents. Don’t bring in Massacre because they often side in Gaddock Teeg which shuts off their Green Sun's Zenith and stops Massacre from being cast. Collector Ouphe is also pretty irrelevant but you should expect them to bring it in because it shuts off our Lotus Petals and is better than a lot of their main-deck options.
This matchup looks like a pain if you stare too long at their list, but it’s fairly decent for us and really fun to navigate. In game 1, their biggest threats to us are: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Sanctum Prelate, Swords to Plowshares, and Solitude. Thalia and Spirit of the Labyrinth each buy time by taxing us, while Solitude and Plow are instant speed combo killers. Some hands can completely ignore Spirit of the Labyrinth if you don’t open many or any cantrips but others can flat out lose to it. Prelate on 2 is a lock vs us in game 1 but we can beat it post-board. Luckily, Prelate is a 0 to 1-of in Dnt, and while it can be tutored, that is a very slow line. The games can get complicated when they have Aether Vial on 3, because it makes Flickerwisp and Skyclave Apparition into instant speed removal to blank our combo. You should ideally mull for a fast hand to try to win before they can begin to tax us. Sylvan Safekeeper is an absolutely house in this matchup. Post-board, we don’t auto-lose to Prelate anymore by bringing in Massacre. Some Dnt lists have some copies of Mindbreak Trap, but we can usually we can play around it. I am still on the fence about whether or not to side in some copies of Abrupt Decay to edge against Deafening Silence. The best trick to beat them is to always have Safekeeper on board before trying to combo.
This matchup is mostly a race. In game 1 they have no interaction with our combo, so we are basically goldfishing. Our Thoughtseizes should be mostly aimed to their Glimpse of Nature and Natural Order. Natural Order for Archon of Valor's Reach naming sorcery is game over, but we can usually race that. An early Witherbloom Apprentice play is free to do in game 1 since they can’t remove it. Post-board I like to bring in Flusterstorm since they are most likely bringing in some discard spells. If they board in spot removal, it is absolutely fine for us since they are forced to leave mana open and they won’t develop their game-plan as fast, giving us plenty of time to find an answer.
Lands is a very good matchup for Turbo Smog. In game 1, their only interaction is Punishing Fire and occasionally they play 1 copy of Pyrite Spellbomb to find off Urza's Saga. Post-board, they sometimes have Lightning Bolt but it isn’t super common. Outside of that, their mana denial plan from Wasteland and Rishadan Port paired with sideboard Sphere of Resistance can be annoying but is very beatable. They usually will try to kill us with a quick Marit Lage while holding open mana for Punishing Fire. It is important for us to assemble the combo with protection before trying to win unless we are dead on board.
Thank you for reading my Turbo Smog primer and sideboard guide. Hopefully it can help you learn and understand this deck better.
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Thanks again, enjoy some quick combo kills!