Introduction to Combo
Combo's are a combination of cards that provide a specific effect that can not be achieved alone. Some examples of what combo's can do are: do 20 damage, do an "infinite" amount of damage, cause the opponent to draw 60 or more cards, or prevent your opponent from doing anything. It is impossible to do an "infinite" amount of anything in magic, as you do have to choose a specific number. However you can choose an incredibly high number (such as 100,000,000 damage) so the effect is the same. A combo usually wins you the game. History
The first combo deck to be played competitively was based on the interactions between Lich
and Mirror Universe
. The combo works by putting your life total at 0, and then switching your life totals, resulting in your opponent having 0 life, and therefore losing.
The first truly successful combo deck appeared in Mirage block. This deck was called "Prosperous Bloom," or "Pros-Bloom", after its' two main combo components, Cadaverous Bloom
. The deck worked by removing cards from your hand from the game to get mana to fuel the combo. Then you would play Prosperity
, draw cards to refill your hand, and then remove cards from the game again, and continue this cycle. This would eventually give you enough mana to play a Drain Life
to win the game.
Pros-Bloom was so good, that its' spectacular success led to the banning of Squandered Resources
. This prevented Pros-Bloom from being the powerhouse it used to be. Innovations and Progress
As years passed, players began to understand the game better, and the card pool of Magic was expanded, more and more combo's naturally were created. These combo's also started to become more and more efficient. Gone were the days of 7cc 4/4's attacking and blocking each other. Combo had pushed the game forward, and other styles of play had to compensate to keep up. With each discovery and each new revision, Magic players had come to understand how to best play and design combo decks.
In 1998, combo demonstrated its' incredible potential. Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy, and Urza's Destiny comprised the Urza set. This block ushered in what is now referred to as "Combo Winter". This block had more banned cards in Standard and in it's Block Constructed than any other set. It also has cards banned in Legacy, and restricted in Vintage. While it was legal it also had banned cards in Extended. This set is also home to the first "emergency-banned" card. Memory Jar
was set to be printed and allowed to play; however, last minute Wizards of the Coast realized this mistake, and banned it before it could completely and single handedly change the game.
There was a saying that came of this set, that games were decided by the flip of a coin. This was to illustrate that who ever went first won, because they could create a turn one combo win. While this is slightly exaggerated, the point is nevertheless quite obvious. Combo reigned supreme, and players were frustrated by the sheer dominance and interactiveness of it. R&D does promote combos, because it creates an entirely new and exciting flair to the game. They are now much more aware and careful about creating too powerful a combo, largely in part of the Urza set.
In 2003 a new mechanic was released into the Magic world, and reinvented how combo was played. A card with the storm mechanic was copied for each spell that was played before it that turn. This mechanic was abused by playing many spells before it, and achieving an exaggerated effect from the storm mechanic. The majority of spells played beforehand were and are mana acceleration cards that simultaneously add another storm copy and provide mana to fuel it and other spells. The five storm cards printed in this set were Mind's Desire
, Tendrils of Agony
, Brain Freeze
, Wing Shards
, and Hunting Pack
. The only reactive card of those five is Wing Shards
. It also can not win on it's own, and consequently saw the least amount of play.
Storm has made a major impact in all formats. Combo was drastically changed with the printing of storm. Some decks that were spawned out of Storm include, Burning Desire, Meandeck Tendrils, Dragonstorm, Solidarity, TES, TPS, Grimlong, Desire. These all had success ranging from moderate to dominating a format.
Storm led to the most powerful deck ever created. This deck was called Burning Desire, or more commonly named Long. Burning Desire was named for how the deck abused Burning Wish
and Mind's Desire
. Long was a reference to Mike Long, and while he did not design the deck, he was one of the first players to really advertise it. Long has long been known as one of the best deck designers in the game, and thus it was coined Long.
Burning Desire was only vintage legal, and once it started to show signs of being truly degenerate, Wizards did some intense testing of the deck. Through these tests they discovered the deck wins at least 60% of the time on turn one. Not only was it extremely consistent on turn one and two, it was extremely consistent through disruption. Many variations have been derived from this deck post-restriction in an attempt to restore it to the decks' former power.
Meandeck Tendrils is known as the fastest deck ever created. It was named after Team Meandeck, a group of players who worked cooperatively as a team, and Tendrils, after Tendrils of Agony
, its' win piece. Played correctly, it wins nearly every time on turn one. However it is also known for being one of the most complicated decks ever. Even the creator, and one of, if not the best combo player ever could not play it correctly every time. It required absolute focus, and to calculate the correct order and sequence of spells took too long for sanctioned play. In a sense, the deck was so good that no one could correctly play it.
In Time Spiral, Wizards reprinted Dragonstorm
and printed Empty the Warrens
became a dominate deck in standard and Empty the Warrens
became one of the best alternate win conditions in the game. What Makes a Bad Combo, Bad? It is too Complicated
With the vast array of effects in Magic, there are ways to list chains upon chains of cards to create a unique effect. However if it takes an abundance of cards to create that effect, it makes it difficult to assemble all those cards. The deck will also lose space for other useful cards, such as disruption and draw, because you are tied down by these combo pieces. If a combo is complicated and diluted, it also becomes much easier to disrupt. It is too Slow
Magic is an interactive game. While you are preparing to complete your combo, your opponent(s) are not going to just sit around and patiently wait. They are going to attempt to either stop you, kill you before you finish it, or complete a combo of their own before you can. If your deck is too slow, you are never going to be able to do your combo before you die. The deck could be too slow because of several reasons. Here is a brief checklist to see what your problem is. The Slow Combo Checklist:
The Combo Pieces are too Dependent
- Centerpiece(s) are too expensive: Never have enough mana to play it?
- Not enough draw or tutors: Can never seem to find the right cards?
- Too many filler cards: Always seem to draw cards that do nothing?
- Too many lands: Always seem to be manaflooded?
- Not enough mana: Can never seem to have enough lands, or other mana sources?
Combo decks are different from other decks in that they have cards that are especially important over others. While every card in the deck should be effective and beneficial to the deck, these combo pieces are the cards that you build decks around. If a card in the deck relies on another to be great, it is synergy. If a card in the deck is terrible unless coupled with another card, that is being too dependent. There are exceptions to the rule, but generally every card in the deck should be able to carry its' own weight. The Combo is Ineffective
What is the point in a combo if it doesn't do anything? Unless you are aiming for a wacky or spectacular effect, or simply just trying to do something, so you can say you did, if your deck is dedicated to achieving a combo you want that combo to win you the game in one form or another. One common mistake of newer players is to try to do an effect that doesn't always win you the game. Megrim
is a common example. Many players see the face value of it and dedicate their decks to Megrim
and various forms of discard. They fail to realize that you can only discard so many cards from an opponents hand and nearly every good discard card costs three or less. This makes it is very difficult to win by using Megrim
. The Combo is Unreliable
Sometimes a combo is dependent on what your opponent does or does not do. You want your combo to always achieve what you want it to, and be affected by little to nothing. If you can't rely on your combo to work, then you're going to have some games where it is simply impossible to succeed. What Makes a Good Combo Deck, Good?
"What Makes a Good Combo Deck, Good?" you ask? Well there are several elements. While it is not required to have all of these present to have it succeed, the more you can include, the better.
Let us compare your deck to a cruise liner. The cruise liner needs a powerful engine to push such a massive vehicle. In this case power is loosely defined as how effective the combo is, and how dominate is the overall deck. Without enough power, the deck flounders and does nothing. When determining this there are several things to ask yourself.
- Does it work?
- Will it win, set me up to win, or prevent my opponent from winning?
- Is there any chance the opponent can prevent this?
- How well does this fare against a wide variety of decks?
Consistency is how reliable your deck is. If your cruise liner turned left only 50% the time you wanted to turn left, it isn't very reliable. If you can only accomplish your combo and win 1 out of 100 times, then it is not very reliable. You want to be able to play out your combo as often as you can and be set up to maintain your combo pieces as quickly and often as you can. You need to be able to steer the ship whenever you want, just as you need to build the deck to perform whenever you want and as often as possible. The two main ways to make a deck more redundant and consistent is to have tutors and draw spells in your deck. This allows you to get the necessary cards as soon as possible. Speed
For combo decks, the goal is to fully complete the combo. The faster you can do it, the more likely you are to outrace your opponent. If your cruise liner takes ten years to progress 10 miles, not many people are going to want to get on the ship. If your deck takes 30 turns to complete, then you will never win. Speed is often attained through mana accelerators and a consistent deck. Mana accelerators give you more mana than you would otherwise have by playing one land a turn. This allows you to play spells ahead of schedule, thus speeding up your deck. Resiliency
Now your cruise liner has all the power, speed, and reliability in the world. Now say that if a wave were to hit it, the ship instantaneously explodes. This kind of durability needs are the same needs for a good magic deck. You want your deck to be able to withstand as much trauma as possible and still be able to win. The more your combo and deck can endure, the more often it will work and you will succeed. Protection
While Resiliency is a key ingredient to a good combo deck, sometimes it is best to help your cruise liner. Your cruise liner has been upgraded so it can sustain the impact of common waves, but is unable to deal with larger waves from storms. If you have a weather tracker and GPS on the ship, you can steer clear and stay unharmed. In your deck, this can be achieved by adding disruption. This will either allow you to prevent them from stopping you, or prevent them for winning as you set up your combo. There are many forms of disruption, but the most prevalent in combo decks are discard and counters. Relevant Links and Sources:
- Burning Through Type One With The Fastest Deck In Magic: