Four Horseman Combo and Stalling

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This was mentioned several times on Twitter about a deck featured during StarCityGames.com Legacy Open yesterday.  The deck was built around Mesmeric Orb, Basalt Monolith, Narcomoeba, Dread Return and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.  The way the combo works is that you get Orb and Monolith on board, tap Monolith for mana, which you spend to untap Monolith.  This allows you to mill yourself at will.  You use this to get the Narcos into play, and once you have enough of them, you Dread Return your win condition (I don't rember what it is, and it never happened in the coverage).

All that sounds great, but the problem comes with Emrakul.  Since whenever you mill Emrakul, you have to shuffle everything back in, you're not able to create an actual infinite loop to complete your combo.  You can't say "I'm going to repeat this Monolith loop X times, and the final state of the board/graveyard is X" because you don't when you'll hit Emrakul.  What happened on the coverage is the player took 15-20 minutes in the first game (moving very quickly) to finally get enough Nacros in play, a Dread Return in the yard with a fatty without hitting an Emrakul.  The Return got countered, the loop was repeated, so the player took another 5-10 minutes to repeat the loop, and scooped to a second counter.  Game two, the opponent started wtih a lot of graveyard hate, and the player scooped within minutes.  The total match time was only like 40 minutes, but all of that was a single turn with tons of shuffling.

I (and others on Twitter) thought there was a new ruling on stalling that stated that if a player continues a loop without being able to provide the exact number of iterations and the expected game state at the end of those iterations, they were stalling.

So my questions is this:  Is the Four Horseman deck in fact illegal because in order to execute the combo, the player is stalling even if they are progressing their combo extremely quickly?  How would you handle a situation where a player shows up with this deck at a tournament if you're the judge?  If the deck is legal, how much of the combo can be legally shortcut?

EDIT:  Just thought that this might actually go better in Rules Theory & Templating.  If that's the case, mods feel free to move it there.
The four horseman deck doesn't really involve a loop - it's just a combo deck that takes a lot of actions to execute its combo.
All Generalizations are Bad
How is it not a loop?  You can clearly say "I'm doing this 1,000 times".  You just can't say "I'm doing this 1,000 times, AND having all the Narcos in play with X cards in my graveyard".  I think it's clearly a loop, just not an infinite one or one that cannot be disrupted.
This came up in a judge group on Facebook and they have been discussing it.  There is nothing illegal about the deck itself, however, if they are unable to answer the questions required for a loop (how many times do you want to do it and what is the board going to look like afterwards) then it is slow play.

Unfortunately, the opponent has to call a judge and know enough to call a judge if he is playing against the combo because not everyone will know that it is considered slow play. I would be very mindful of watching the matches that were being played with this and put a very quick stop to any repetitive actions without a definitive ending.  This would result in the combo being completely unplayable and likely a scoop from the combo player because he will be likely to receive multiple slow play warnings for attempting this throughout the day.
It's not a loop because taking a shortcut would make it impossible to determine how many times the library had been shuffled.
That's the other part that kind of bugs me.  Let's say that I'm the Horseman player.  I'm completing 2 actions per second (i.e. I'm milling like crazy), and mash shuffling 7 times in 30 seconds when required.  I'm clearly not playing slowly, just Emrakul keeps showing up in the top of my deck due to bad luck.  If what I'm doing is still considered "slow play" because I cannot provide a definite end, how can the deck ever be played without being "slow play"?

Thus, assuming you can never play the deck without it being "slow play", why is the deck legal?  If it literally cannot be played without getting "slow play" warnings (and thus, game/match losses and potentially a DQ), then it shouldn't be allowed to be registered at all.

@Bowshewicz:  No, it's still a loop.  It's just not a definite one.  For example, if you have 50 cards in the library, you can say "I'm going to run this 50 times, and continue in response to Emrakul's shuffle trigger".  That would end up with the deck being shuffled once per Emrakul and no cards left in the graveyard.  At that point it's a definite loop (you can provide a number of iterations, the ending state and the number of other relevant interactions).  Adding in the part where you want to put the Nacros in play makes it no longer defininte, but it is still a loop.  The fact you don't know how many shuffles take place means adds to making it an indefinite loop.  That does not mean it is not a loop.
Playing this deck is not considered slow play. It's just a deck that does a lot of things for which there is no acceptable shortcut.
It's not a loop because taking a shortcut would make it impossible to determine how many times the library had been shuffled.

First, let me make it clear that I 100% agree a shortcut cannot be taken. There's no predictable result from the sequence of choices.

But does that really mean there is no loop? If there is no loop if you can't take a shortcut, when would the rulling the OP mentioned ever apply?

I (and others on Twitter) thought there was a new ruling on stalling that stated that if a player continues a loop without being able to provide the exact number of iterations and the expected game state at the end of those iterations, they were stalling.

What else but lack of predictable result from the sequence of choices would result in someone not being able to provide the outcome of the loop? Or did the OP misrepresent the ruling?
You're right, it is a loop. However, a shortcut would not be acceptable as that requires the results to be predictable.

I did find this is the IPG: 4.3: Attempting to perform a loop with an indeterminate end point is now Slow Play.

This loop has an indeterminate end point. (The IPG cannot be cognizant of the fact that you are assured to ever hit a specific card, and even the players don't know that the wincon will ever happen.)

Based on that clarification in the IPG, and the fact that this is a "loop with an indeterminate endpoint," I'm actually going to turn around and say that this would count as slow play.
It is not so much as not being able to provide the desired outcome of the loop.  Clearly, the combo wants to end up with 3 or 4 Narcos in play, a Return in the yard, a target in the yard and Emrakul(s) in the library (so everything does not get shuffled).  Given that you can continue the loop forever, you will eventually hit this situation.  However, because of Emrakul's shuffle trigger, you cannot provide all the necessary information about the loop.  Specifically, you cannot say it's going to take X activations or X shuffles.

The issue I was asking about was not if the loop being shortcut, as it clearly cannot be because of it's indefinite nature, but why the deck is even considered legal if it can be assured of receiving enough "slow play" penalties over the course of a longer tournament to eventually receive a DQ.
Oddly enough, it'd be legal to bring the deck to a tournament, but attempting to execute the actual combo could get you a slow play warning.

For example, it is perfectly legal (though you may find yourself disappointed) to bring this deck to a tournament and attempt to use the monoliths to ramp into hardcasting Emrakul.
Actually, that's easy to answer: The deck is not illegal, if only because you don't have to use the combo.
What else but lack of predictable result from the sequence of choices would result in someone not being able to provide the outcome of the loop? Or did the OP misrepresent the ruling?


A person could be able to provide a final outcome but choose to continue playing out the loop instead.  The slow section mostly exists to deal with cases were people are taking legal actions or making legal choices but are taking more time then is reasonably required.
What else but lack of predictable result from the sequence of choices would result in someone not being able to provide the outcome of the loop? Or did the OP misrepresent the ruling?


A person could be able to provide a final outcome but choose to continue playing out the loop instead.  The slow section mostly exists to deal with cases were people are taking legal actions or making legal choices but are taking more time then is reasonably required.


Choosing not to create a shortcut is different than "[continuing] a loop without being able to provide the exact number of iterations and the expected game state at the end of those iterations".
You can't provide a final outcome because there is always the chance that Emrakul will be in the deck before the 'moebas so there is no definitive outcome within a set time limit.
Thus, assuming you can never play the deck without it being "slow play", why is the deck legal?  If it literally cannot be played without getting "slow play" warnings (and thus, game/match losses and potentially a DQ), then it shouldn't be allowed to be registered at all.


It's not reasonable to expect a judge or T.O.  to look at a decklist of 60+ cards and to identify the strategy of the deck and then to identify that some of the cards could be used to perform an indeterminate loop.


Does it really take that long? You can put all your Narcomoeba onto the battlefield and only need to shuffle once. If you get Emrakul, you can just continue to mill in response to the trigger. Then you need to get Dread Return and your finisher before you get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but that seems fairly likely, because you probably have three or four Dread Return and only one Emrakul.
That's a good point with the narcomoebas - the guy on camera wasn't doing that.

However, he needed to get dread return, sharuum and blasting station all in his graveyard at the same time before he hit an emrakul. He only had 1 dread return, sharruum and blasting station, but two emrakuls.

starcitygames.com/events/coverage/deck_t...
All Generalizations are Bad
Except that it's as simple as we're making it.  Going off seems pretty easy, but you also have to worry about disruption, so you really have to stop when you hit Cabal Therapy (and a Narco) so you can get rid of protection.  Then, you have to repeat the milling process to get back the Narcos.  All without a shortcut because the shortcut can't be used for reasons we've already discussed.

Also, the example I was using assumed an extremely fast player.  Just go ahead and try milling yourself 1 card at a time at a rate of 2 per second.  Then try shuffling sufficiently in 30 seconds.  Now, don't forget your opponent also has to shuffle.  If you Therapy their hand away (let's assume you need all 4), you'll have had to shuffle at least 5 times (4 to get a Narco/Therapy, 1 to get all the Narcos back).  There's at least 5 minutes just shuffling and likely 5-6 minutes revealing cards, assuming both you and your opponent are very fast shufflers.  Add in any time the opponent need to read a milled card.

And that's just to get to the point where you have to find a Return and the combo.  Looking it up, it's actually Sharuum the Hegemon and Blasting Station.  So there's 3 cards you have to hit before Emrakul.

Also, the deck list ran 1-of Return, Sharuun and Blasting Station and 2x Emrakul.
It's not reasonable to expect a judge or T.O.  to look at a decklist of 60+ cards and to identify the strategy of the deck and then to identify that some of the cards could be used to perform an indeterminate loop.


But is it any more reasonable to claim that even though a player can give a correct and exhaustive proof that the current game state evaluates to a 100% Win Probability in their favor even against best defense, they should be denied any legal way of performing the only set of actions that's responsible for that evaluation of the Win Probability?
The issue is that the player can't prove they are 100% to win a game, given that there is a time limit (50 minutes) for the game.  While the combo might be 100% to win from a given state (i.e. opponent has no cards, completely tapped out and no relevant ability on the field and the player has 4 Narcos in play and no graveyard), it cannot be proven that the winning state can be acheived before the time limit for the match.  And since the ending game state after X iterations cannot be provided, you can't just "jump" the game to that point and continue with the game (bypassing the time required to complete the combo).  Thus, since the actions must be taken to reach a desired point, the player is constantly stalling the game by taking actions that produce the exact same effect over and over again, which apparantly IS "slow play".

The question is not about the deck actually being able to win or a way to shortcut the process because the deck clearly has a win condition in mind and there is no legal way to shortcut the interactions.  This has already been established and clearly correct.  The question becomes "how much leeway does the player get with this deck?"
Quick off-topic question: How is the Blasting Station recursed?
Quick ott-topic question: How is the Blasting Station recursed?

Dread Return gets Sharuum the Hegemon, which gets Blasting Station. Then you mill until you get Narcomoeba, use Blasting Station to deal damage, mill until you get Emrakul, shuffle your Narcomoebas back into your library, and do it again.

I did not realize it was a ridiculous three-piece Blasting Station combo. That would take forever.
I did. Isn't that how the Blasting Station is fetched?

3 or 4 Narcomoeba in play, stack empty, Dread Return is flashbacked getting Sharuum the Hegemon, which gets Blasting Station, so you're left with:


  • Sharuum the Hegemon

  • Blasting Station

  • Nacromoeba (sometimes)


What's next?


[Nevermind, PirateAmmo just answered. Oh wow, that's crazy!!!!!!!]

At least you can mill all 60 cards when in the blasting loop by responding to Emraku's trigger, so it's actually quite fast once the blaster is out.
Yeah, the start and end are easy to shortcut, but the fact that the middle takes forever really kills it.  I wish the deck could be playable because I think it's a really cool idea.
How did the judges at the tournament handle this deck?
From the link I posted earlier:

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"During Round 3 of the tournament, I was made aware of a Four Horsemen player on the feature match table. I went over to watch the match, knowing that I was likely to see a problematic line of play according to the IPG. When the player started to flip cards from the Basalt Monolith/Mesmeric Orb combination, he quickly ran into Emrakul, and was forced to shuffle his library. After doing this again, he was left in an identical game state: An empty graveyard and no other change to the game state. By performing the same loop of actions without changing the game, he was violating the shortcut policy outlined in the Magic Tournament Rules and the Slow Play policy in the Infraction Procedure Guide. These state:


MTR 4.2 – Tournament Shortcuts


'A tournament shortcut is an action taken by players to skip parts of the technical play sequence without explicitly announcing them. Tournament shortcuts are essential for the smooth play of a game, as they allow players to play in a clear fashion without getting bogged down in the minutia of the rules. Most tournament shortcuts involve skipping one or more priority passes to the mutual understanding of all players; if a player wishes to demonstrate or use a new tournament shortcut entailing any number of priority passes, he or she must be clear where the game state will end up as part of the request.'


The shortcut to loop Monolith/Orb until you reach a game state with a specific graveyard composition does not qualify as a being 'clear where the game state will end up as part of the request.' You are looking for a random configuration of cards that includes three specific cards in any order: 



Dread+Return



Buy This Card!

" tooltip="Dread%2BReturn">Dread Return, Sharuum, and 


Blasting+Station



Buy This Card!

" tooltip="Blasting%2BStation">Blasting Station.

IPG 4.3 – Tournament Error – Slow Play


'It is also slow play if a player continues to execute a loop without being able to provide an exact number of iterations and the expected resulting game state.'


This is where we run into a problem. The player is executing a loop (Monolith/Orb until Emrakul flips, shuffle, repeat, any unknown number of times until the magic graveyard exists). To attempt to repeat this loop constitutes Slow Play, and that upgrades from a warning to a game loss on the second infraction.


In the end, I instructed the player to make a different game choice to advance the game state. Manually tapping/untapping instead of shortcutting doesn’t fit the bill.


The game ended shortly after I made this ruling, and I was not called to any of his other matches.

Josh Stansfield
Los Angeles Legacy Open Head Judge"


 
All Generalizations are Bad
Basically, the judge did nothing.  By the time a ruling was made, the game in question was over (Dread Return was eating a Force of Will).  The second game didn't matter because the opponent had so much hate for the original combo (Leyline of the Void with no bounce for it) and the transformative sideboard (Show and Tell vs. a Show and Tell deck, Painter's Stone vs. Emrakul).  The judge never followed up and didn't track the player for the rest of the tournament.
Note that it is theoretically possible (if vanishingly unlikely) that any build of the Four Horseman deck never encounters its win condition.
Nitpick...

Actually, that is not correct.  The odds of having the one or two Emrakuls as the last two cards in the library is not 0% (or at least having them further down than Return, Sharuum and Station), therefore it will always  get its win condition.  Saying it never can is simply stating that if you give it an infinite amount of time, it will not find the win condition, which means it can never win, as the probability of finding the win condition is 0%.  Even if a win condition required you to have an exact pile of 53 cards and an exact sequence of cards in your hand, it will always win at some point.  It'll just take a really, really long time to get there. Saying that a deck will never encounter it's win condition is the same as saying it has no win condition, which IS actually impossible (don't ask me to explain it).

I believe what you mean to say is that its possible that the deck doesn't compile its win condition given a certain finite amount of time, in this case 50 minutes.
Fair enough. I guess theoretically may have been a poor word choice.

I simply meant to point out that, if we were to graph "Chance that Four Horseman hits wincon" against time (or against number of Emrakul triggers), the chance would only approach 100% -- it would never actually reach it.
I think it's less a problem with the deck as the comp rules exploding whenever you try to perform an action with a nondeterministic outcome an arbitrarily large number of times for a legitimate reason. For another example, if you have Frenetic Efreet and Chance Encounter, obviously you want to win, but you could theoretically flip a coin a million times and lose every flip, and once you resolve one the efreet will be gone.

Personally I propose tournaments let the judges invoke the "common sense" rule. namely that in situations like this, the opponent of the player running the combo is allowed to flip a coin. If it lands on its edge, the combo fails, otherwise it achieves the desired game state barring disruption.

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144543765 wrote:
195392035 wrote:
Hi guys! So, I'm a sort of returning player to Magic. I say sort of because as a child I had two main TCG's I liked. Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon. Some of my friends branched off in to Magic, and I bought two pre-made decks just to kind of fit in. Like I said, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon were what I really knew how to play. I have a extensive knowledge of deck building in those two TCG's. However, as far as Magic is concerned, I only ever used those two pre made decks. I know how the game is played, and I know general things, but now I want to get in the game for real. I want to begin playing it as a regular. My question is, are all cards ever released from the time of the inception of this game until present day fair game in a deck? Or are there special rules? Are some cards forbidden or restricted? Thanks guys, and I will gladly accept ANY help lol.
I have the same problem with women.
117639611 wrote:
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Oh I have a standing rule. If someone plays a Planeswalker I concede the game. I refuse to play with or against people who play Planeswalkers. They really did ruin the game.
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57461258 wrote:
Not only was that an obligatory joke, it was an on-topic post that still managed to be off-topic due to thread derailment. RP Jesus does it again folks.
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I think I'm gonna' start praying to Jesus... That's right, RPJesus, I'm gonna' be praying to you, right now. O' Jesus Please continue to make my time here on the forums fun and cause me to chuckle. Amen.
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56957928 wrote:
It was wonderful. Us Johnnies had a field day. That Timmy with the Grizzly bears would actually have to think about swinging into your Mogg Fanatic, giving you time to set up your silly combo. Nowadays it's all DERPSWING! with thier blue jeans and their MP3 players and their EM EM OH AR PEE JEES and their "Dewmocracy" and their children's card games and their Jersey Shores and their Tattooed Tenaged Vampire Hunters from Beverly Hills
Seriously, that was amazing. I laughed my *ss off. Made my day, and I just woke up.
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.....would it be a bit blasphemous if I said, "PRAYSE RPJAYSUS!" like an Evangelical preacher?
Perhaps, but who doesn't like to blaspheme every now and again? Especially when Mr. RPJesus is completely right.
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I don't say this often, but ... LOL
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You... You... Evil something... I actualy made the damn char once I saw the poster... Now you made me see it again and I gained resolve to put it into my campaign. Shell be high standing oficial of Cyrix order. Uterly mad and only slightly evil. And it'll be bad. Evil even. And ill blame you and Lizard for it :P.
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I'm trying to work out if you're being sarcastic here. ...
Am going to stop you right there... it's RPJesus... he's always sarcastic
58335208 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
112114441 wrote:
we can only hope it gets the jace treatment...it could have at least been legendary
So that even the decks that don't run it run it to deal with it? Isn't that like the definition of format warping?
I lol'd.
56287226 wrote:
98088088 wrote:
Uktabi Orangutan What the heck's going on with those monkeys?
The most common answer is that they are what RPJesus would call "[Debutantes avert your eyes]ing."
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...Am I the only one that thinks this is reaching the point of downright Kafkaesque insanity?
I condone the use of the word Kafkaesque. However, I'm presentely ambivalent. I mean, that can't be serious, right? We're April 1st, right? They didn't mod RPJesus for off-topic discussion when the WHOLE THREAD IS OFF-TOPIC, right? Right.
57545908 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
Save or die. If you disagree with this, you're wrong (Not because of any points or arguements that have been made, but I just rolled a d20 for you and got a 1, so you lose).
58397368 wrote:
58222628 wrote:
This just won the argument, AFAIC.
That's just awesome.
57471038 wrote:
57718868 wrote:
HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BEAR PRODUCING WORDS OF WILDING?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
That's what RPJesus tends to do. That's why I don't think he's a real person, but some Magic Card Archive Server sort of machine, that is programmed to react to other posters' comments with obscure cards that do in fact exist, but somehow missed by even the most experienced Magic players. And then come up with strange combos with said cards. All of that is impossible for a normal human to do given the amount of time he does it and how often he does it. He/It got me with Light of Sanction, which prompted me to go to RQ&A to try and find if it was even possible to do combat damage to a creature I control (in light that Mark of Asylum exists).
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+10
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heaven or hell.
Round 1. Lets rock.
GG quotes! RPJesus just made this thread win!
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Blue players get all the overpowerered cards like JTMS. I think it's time that wizards gave something to people who remember what magic is really about: creatures.
Initially yes, Wizards was married to blue. However, about a decade ago they had a nasty divorce, and a few years after that they began courting the attention of Green. Then in Worldwake they had a nasty affair with their ex, but as of Innistrad, things seem to have gotten back on track, and Wizards has even proposed.
You are my favorite. Yes you. And moments like this make it so. Thank you RPJesus for just being you.
On what flavor text fits me:
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Surely RPJesus gets Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius?
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First: I STILL can't take you seriously with that avatar. And I can take RPJesus seriously, so that's saying something.
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I'd offer you a cookie for making me laugh but it has an Upkeep Cost that has been known to cause people to quit eating.
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I <3 you loads
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56957928 wrote:
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10/10. Amazing.
I really think, unless a shuffle matters effect is in play, I think you should be able to cut to the chase and just dump the appropriate cards into play with a proper explanation of HOW it happened.


If a "shuffle matters" is in play........ why are Cosi's Trickster and Psychic Surgery being played in (competitive) legacy?

Unlike RPJesus's example, it will happen eventually, just rather slow due to mandatory shuffling. So I think shortcutting here would be just fine (concerning 4 hoursemen).
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I currently run a deck for Standard, Modern, Commander and Legacy. For standard, I have a typical, horribly budget Rakdos Deck Wins. For Modern, I have a B/G/U/W Draw-go Reanimator featuring my favorite creature, Wurmcoil Engine. For Legacy, I'm trying too hard to break Pyromancer Ascension. I also run a Naya Zoo with all the oldies. For Commander/EDH, I'm running The Mimeoplasm. A little morals thing about me, I like winning through combos, but not infinitely. However quiet, I am a Christian, so feel free to tell me you are too, it's always a relief.
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How are you going to know which cards to put into the graveyard?  [Upd: I guess you could end with: "Then I continue to mill myself until I mill an Emrakul."]

But you can't just ignore the rules, which say you can't make your shortcut conditional on game state, which this requires.

Four Horsemen is almost certainly why the current loop rules exist as they are. As a judge I've watched it play out in a Competitive Legacy tournament before those rules were changed to their current form. It was excruciating to watch and held up the rest of the tournament; time was called in the round and every other match's five turns were finished, but this game hadn't even started their first. It took several minutes after that before the Station finally hit the table and the game's outcome became truly deterministic.

There was a lot of discussion about the current loop rules when they first came out, and yes, it was suggested that Judges simply allow players to shortcut through these types of "probability says it'll happen eventually" combos. But there's a problem with that: it relies on the Judge knowing probability mathematics well enough to be able to figure out exactly what is and is not inevitable given an arbitrarily large number of attempts. Also, the number of attempts made or what happens during those attempts may matter in some way, and with these kinds of loops it's impossible to know that information without actually playing them out.

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Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

I think that this is a legitamate combo, it just takes longer than we are used to. Rather than complaining about how long it is going to take to lose when you know you clearly know you have no answers and trying to ban decks I think it would be better to announce "I will sit here until a) b) and c) happen and the combo is resilient to removal". The only difference between a deck like the four horsemen going off and any other combo is the amount of actions when you assemble it, it's far less overpowered than painters servant grindstone or other legacy combos. Just accept that you lost and move on with your life but sideboarding against it properly. If properly explained players should just concede in the interest of time, sideboard and try to win rather than time the other person out.
I think it would be better to announce "I will sit here until a) b) and c) happen and the combo is resilient to removal"

Resilient, but not immune. As such, another player may want to shorten the shortcut. In order for another player to shorten the shortcut, the game state must be knowable each step of the way, and this decks combo does not permit that. As such, no shortcut can be taken.

If the other player doesn't announce that they have a stop it they should just say so, it has been announced and assuming that the judge is present the combo player has clearly committed to the combo and isn't just fishing to see if they have removal.
"I will sit here until a) b) and c) happen and the combo is resilient to removal, the only way you would win is if you had ____"
"Do you have ____? If not concede"
How would you work out the complications with Stalling and Shortcuts needing to know the exact state of the game at any point in time if the opponent chooses not to concede?  Getting rid of one/both of those rules will have a much bigger impact on the game than not allowing Four Horseman Decks.
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