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We were playing a game of commander the other day. Player 1 already controlled Niv-Mizzet, Parun going into their turn. On their turn, they cast Curiosity, targeting Niv-Mizzet. I warn the table that this is potentially a game ending combo, but we thought there was still a window to prevent it. Curiosity resolved, and then the game played out like this:

  1. Player 1 casts Isochron Scepter
  2. In response, Player 2 casts Doom Blade, targeting Niv-Mizzet.
  3. An instance of Niv-Mizzet's "Draw a card" ability goes on the stack.
  4. In response, Player 1 casts Negate, targeting Doom Blade.
  5. Another instance of Niv-Mizzet's "Draw a card" ability goes on the stack.
  6. In response to the Negate, Player 3 casts Bant Charm, choosing the tuck mode.
  7. Another instance of Niv-Mizzet's "Draw a card" ability goes on the stack.

No one else has any responses, so we resolve the last Draw a Card, first. This then triggers Niv-Mizzet's ping ability, which triggers Curiosity, which triggers Niv-Mizzet, etc etc. Player 1 puts ~70 instances of this on the stack, drawing their whole deck and killing Player 3 and Player 4. (Player 3's Bant Charm was then removed from the stack as its controller was out of the game).

How else could we have sequenced this to prevent Niv-Mizzet's combo from going off? Should Player 2 and/or 3 waited until Player 1 had put all their draws/pings on the stack, and then destroyed/tucked Niv-Mizzet in response to that?

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    Is there a good reason Players 2 and 3 didn't use their removal on Niv-Mizzet while Curiosity was still on the stack? ("They didn't know they had to" is a valid answer) – Philip Kendall Jun 13 at 7:51
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    Yeah, basically we didn't know. I'm the "rules expert" in my playgroup (and obviously not that much of an expert). I knew the combo was pretty dangerous, but didn't know the exact timing window to disrupt it. – convoke Jun 13 at 15:43
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    Fair enough, I've edited that into the question as it's obviously a fairly important decision point. – Philip Kendall Jun 13 at 16:14
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Your last opportunity to cast an instant to prevent the Niv-Mizzet combo was in response to the Curiosity spell. Of course, Niv-Mizzet only triggers on instants and sorceries, so abilities and permanent spells with Flash can always be used to break the combo.

Your description of how the final combo plays out is a little wrong: drawing a card triggers Niv-Mizzet's first triggered ability. The resolution of that ability deals damage, which triggers Curiosity's ability, and the resolution of Curiosity's ability draws a card, which triggers Niv-Mizzet's first triggered ability. The stack never piles up with those triggered abilities; while the combo is going off, the top of the stack has one of them, and they alternate. If you respond to either one at any point by casting an instant, Niv-Mizzet's last ability will trigger again, starting a new loop of the combo.

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  • You're right. I did sort of handwave the actual combo part. But that said, since the combo requires cards from the Library, there's only a finite number of times it can be activated, right? I think player 1 had 74 cards. So couldn't we wait for him to loop Niv Mizzet's ability 74 times and run out of cards, and then respond with removal? I guess at that point, either player 3 or 4 would have been dead, so it doesn't really prevent the combo.... hrm. – convoke Jun 12 at 22:47
  • @convoke Indeed, the moment curiosity triggers and player 1's library is empty, the combo necessarily stops on its own. – Arthur Jun 14 at 7:03
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I've edited this answer in view of OP's comment to the question.

The most straightforward answer to the question is to use removal in response to the Curiosity. This would stop Curiosity from resolving. The Niv Mizzet's owner would still draw a card (from Niv Mizzet's ability), but it would be only one card since Curiosity isn't enchanting Niv Mizzet yet.

However (and I believe this is more important than the above), it was a major error to allow the Niv Mizzet player to untap in the first place. Once the Niv player untaps, they have much more mana available that they can use to defend their Niv (with Negate as in the question) or simply to play instants in response to the removal (which are converted into fresh cards by Niv). The fact that Bant Charm and Doom Blade are instants does not mean you have to cast them as instants. They can be played on your turn, and they absolutely should have been used to kill the Niv before the Niv player ever gets an untap step. For the record, Niv is threatening enough that untapping with it is often an effective win.

Given that Curiosity is already enchanting Niv Mizzet, your best chance is to let the owner draw their entire deck and then kill them with an instant. Niv will trigger, and since the card draw is mandatory, they might end up killing themselves. Of course, at this point, the chances of you winning are low - assuming the Niv player built their deck properly, once they draw their deck, they are very likely to win. But it's still your best chance. For example, if opponent relies on Thassa's Oracle to win, and Thassa's Oracle happens to be the last card in their library, you might still squeak out a win.

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