The Dark Ages Of Magic: Why Combo Needs to Return

I haven’t written for Star City in a while, what with my being busy and Type II being as appealing to me as watching paint dry — but with coming out, I thought it appropriate to throw my hat in the ring once again by weighing in on two subjects close to my heart: Combo…

I haven’t written for Star City in a while, what with my being busy and Type II being as appealing to me as watching paint dry — but with Apocalypse coming out, I thought it appropriate to throw my hat in the ring once again by weighing in on two subjects close to my heart: Combo decks and the new set.

I think that very few people out there miss combo decks, those evil implements of destruction where one player simply goes through the steps and methodically quashes all hope of his opponent ever winning. I miss them, though. Was it really so long ago that Academy breathed fresh air into the format, eliminating weenie swarm, counter decks and other archetypes?

Granted, Academy and its parts probably needed banning, but Wizards once again gave us the tools to generate combos in Urza’s Destiny with Replenish and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Despite a hue and cry to ban Bargain (AND Masticore, if those of you who were around then will remember) Bargain decks were around, sometimes dominating, sometimes not. I think Urza’s Block was, in fact, one of the healthiest environments we have seen in a long time, and here’s why.

When both Tempest Block and Urza’s Block were available for Type II play, you had Stompy available, as well as Replenish, Bargain, Tinker, Wildfire, Control with Masticores and Powder Keg, Shadow White Weenie, and probably several other decks I’m forgetting. Now Wizards saw fit to ban most of the combo engines in the format in March of 1999, I believe, putting the entire format into a state of flux. Gone were Academy, Recurring Nightmare, Fluctuator, Time Spiral, and a host of other cards.

When Masques block came out, we were given Rebels and Mercenaries, and later Blastoderms and Saproling Burst. Burst became a part in a combo deck that could go off turn 3 with Ancient Tombs, City of Traitors, and Mox Diamonds with Replenish in Extended. Blastoderms were cool… But I remember being at the pre-release for Nemesis and Prophecy and people going ga-ga over Denying Wind and Avatar of Woe, with Scoria Cat also getting its fair share of attention.

When Invasion Block replaced Saga in Standard, Type II entered what I like to call the Dark Ages of Magic. No sleek, elegant combos here; rather, it was just lands being tapped for creatures, creature-enhancing enchantments, creatures that remove attack phases, creatures, creatures creatures. It was enough to make you feel like a caveman:

"Grok, what you playing?"

"Thok! Good to see you! I playing Blastoderm, you?"

"Oh me playing Nether Spirit, or maybe Rebels!"

"HO HO HO Thok! Those not strong enough! My tribe will surely win!"

Type II around here is pretty much not played anymore — it’s just TOO BORING. I think Wizards needs to stop being afraid of printing combo cards, and print at least one per block. The problem with creatures is, while they are an efficient and solid way of winning games, there really isn’t much of a thought process behind "Tap Blastoderm 90 degrees, attack, repeat until game ends." What makes Magic different from say, Pokemon, is that there are different avenues of victory. You can use creatures, countermagic, combo decks, et cetera et cetera. By making players use only one kind of avenue, Wizards is not only making our decks for us, they are also stunting the playing skills of the Type 2 community. While combo decks may be viewed as unpleasant and cheesy by a section of the community, they require a deep concentration to play, force the metagame to adapt and usually shift toward a more controlling environment — and best of all, they don’t force you to use creatures. And anything that adds variety, can’t be a bad thing…


Apocalypse Preview:

Well, I’m not going to go through every card, but instead will focus on the ones I think will see serious play, in one way or another.

Pernicious Deed. 1GB Enchantment X: Sacrifice Pernicious deed, destroy all Artifacts, Creatures and Enchantments with converted mana cost = to X or less.

What’s not to like? It’s a Keg you can work around. I love this card already.

Spiritmonger: 3GB Creature- Beast 6/6 B: Regenerate Spiritmonger G:Change Spiritmonger’s color. Whenever Spiritmonger deals or receives (combat?) damage, it gets a +1+1 counter.

Well, he’s fat and he doesn’t die, and he gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Clear a path for him and win.

Phyrexian Arena. 1BB Enchantment At the beginning of your draw step, lose 1 life and draw 1 card.

*Sighs contentedly* Finally a playable, abusive card. It’s about time. Ritual out an Arena and see if drawing an extra card every turn will swing the game. Will see play.

Gerrard’s Verdict. Sorcery WB Target Player discards two cards from his or her hand. You gain 3 life for every land card discarded in this fashion.

"Hymn to Gerrard!" is what I’ll be saying every time I cast this. Great, balanced, and a pain in the neck for control decks. They lose two good cards or give you three to six life. What’s not to like?

Opposite colour pain lands:

A friend of mine doubted their existence, but they are here, and they are playable. It’s good that we have so many alternate mana sources.

Goblin Legionnaire: RW Creature – Goblin 2/2 R:Sacrifice Goblin Legionnaire, Goblin Legionnaire Deals 2 Damage to target creature or player. W:Sacrifice Goblin Legionnaire, Prevent the next 2 Damage to target creature or player.

He’s good, very good in Limited — playable in Constructed, though I haven’t seen the White ability used yet.

Vindicate: 1BW Sorcery Destroy Target Permanent.

Okay, it’s amazing, but it also has a Tie Fighter on it. If that doesn’t make you want to play it, what will?

Death Grasp: XBW Sorcery Death Grasp deals X damage to target creature or player, you gain X life.

What makes this so much better than other Drain Life variants is the life gain is NOT capped by the creature’s toughness. So you can overkill something if you need to, and still gain lots of life. A fine card.

Legacy Weapon: 7 Legendary Artifact WBRGU: Remove target permanent from the game. If Legacy Weapon would go to the graveyard from any play area, return it to owner’s library instead.

Okay… It’s not great, but it DOES stop Millstone from killing you, much as Gaea’s Blessing and Serra Avatar did. That’s good enough for me. 🙂

I’m sure I’m missing a lot of good cards, such as Desolation Angel, Lightning Angel, and other cards. Apocalypse looks great so far — now let’s open those packs folks! And hey, this article may see print without an aside from Ferrett! 😉 (Must… restrain… urge… — The Ferrett)


Pierre DuPont

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