The Kitchen Table #148: The Casual Metagame #5

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Hello and welcome back to the next installment of Magic Taxonomy 201: The Casual Player’s Framework. I’m Professor Abe and today we’ll investigate the fourth Archetype of the Framework — Crazy Combo Man.

Hello and welcome back to the next installment of Magic Taxonomy 201: The Casual Player’s Framework. I’m Professor Abe and today we’ll investigate the fourth Archetype of the Framework – Crazy Combo Man.

At the beginning of this series, I laid out the basic framework, and now I’m spending a week on each Archetype with more detailed information on the various Subtypes, and a sample decklist for each Subtype so you can see a deck in action.

Today I am focusing on the CCM Archetype and its five Subtypes. A Crazy Combo Man deck seeks to win by playing a combination of cards that creates a winning condition. Some Crazy Combo Man decks will “go off,” killing in one monumental turn. Others will create a condition under which willing is virtually unavoidable. We’ll take a closer look at this Archetype in a second.

Before we do, however, I want to briefly speak on the CCM Archetype and the nature of the Framework. I specifically chose terms to name the Archetypes that were reminiscent of the old Aggro-Combo-Control Trichotomy. These terms (No-Holds-Barred Aggro, Controlling the Board, Crazy Combo Man) remind you of that trichotomy, which is good because the large number of decks in NHBAggro, for example, would be classified by most as an Aggro deck according to the old system. However, there are issues with these terms and their application, and I wanted to get away from them.

The combo term is the worst. A lot of players just think of decks that “go off” as combo decks. However, a proper Taxonomy of Magic sees that there are a lot of decks that use cards in combination as a key component, without ever going off. Therefore, there needs to be a place in the Framework for these combination decks. His is the main reason why I used new terms for these Archetypes.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the CCM Archetype:

Archetype #4 – Crazy Combo Man – Seeks to delay opponent until combo can win the game.

Synergy Deck – Creates a synergy that supports the deck’s route to victory
Interaction Deck – Creates a combination that immediately wins *
Mana Glutton Deck – Creates a horde of mana in order win immediately
Silver Bullet Deck – Creates an antithesis to common decks that allows it to win.
Impossible Combo Deck – Creates a large combo that allows it to have fun, and maybe win too.

*The Interaction Deck has its name changed from Permanent Interaction when I realized that many Interaction Decks do not rely solely on Permanents and had no other home in the Framework.

The Synergy Deck (Creates Synergy)

Of all of the CCM Subtypes, the Synergy Deck might be one of the hardest to pin down. Lots of decks use synergies. The Synergy Deck specifically uses synergies to create a dominating position from which it is very likely to win. The combination of these cards creates a powerful game condition.

In my original article, I list Burning Bridge as an example of a synergy deck. This deck combines Ensnaring Bridge with Grafted Skullcap to draw two cards a turn and prevent any creatures from attacking. That’s a very powerful synergy created by those two cards. The deck relies on it and tries to get it out as soon as possible.

Now, compare the Burning Bridge deck with a deck mentioned in the forums – Ravager Affinity. There are certainly synergies amongst the various cards in RAffinity, from the artifact lands to the Arcbound Ravager and the Disciple of the Vault. With all of this synergy, one might think the Synergy Deck would want RAffinity in it. However, RAffinity is an aggro deck with synergetic elements, but not a Synergy deck.

Let me explain. If a No-Holds-Barred Aggro Archetype included Swords to Plowshares as emergency removal, you’d still want to call that deck an NHBAggro deck. It can include controlling elements without sliding into the Controlling the Board Archetype. Likewise, a CTB Archetype can have creatures and not be NHBAggro. The mere presence of an element does not mean that the deck in question is designed to win around that element.

Burning Bridge has a difficult time winning without the Bridge or the Skullcap. It is built around those two cards. RAffinity, on the other hand, can easily win without a Disciple or a Ravager showing up. In fact, I will assign RAffinity to a Hybrid Subtype in a later article, but for now, I just want to point out what the distinction is between a deck that uses synergies and a deck built around synergies.

The focus synergy can be defensive, such as the Bridge/Skullcap synergy of the Burning Bridge deck, or it can be offensive. The point that matters is that the synergy created has to be designed to create a tremendously favorable game state and be the focus of the deck. Burning Bridge wins with Bridge and Skullcap down. Other decks in the Synergy Subtype are similarly reliant on their particular combination of cards.

Since I used it as an example, I might as well build a Burning Bridge deck real quick to illustrate the Subtype.

This is your basic Burning Bridge deck. If you’ve never seen one before, it plays very simply. You want to play a Bridge and Skullcap as soon as possible. If you have a Bridge in your opening hand, play it and burn your hand down as quickly as possible in order to keep bigger creatures from attacking. This way you can protect yourself while burning your opponent.

If you have a Skullcap in your hand, but no Bridge, burn your hand as quickly as possible, targeting creatures as needed, and then drop the Skullcap in order to draw two cards a turn and find a Bridge faster.

The deck is packed with cheap removal. You always want to throw your burn out as fast as possible as long as you have either a Skullcap or a Bridge to back you up. Otherwise, mulligan or use a Gamble to try and get one of your pieces.

You can always throw burn at an opponent’s creatures if they are capable of attacking. Zero power creatures that pump or deal damage (Guiltfeeder, Vampire Bats, Frozen Shade, etc) can always attack through a Bridge so you’ll need to off these.

Ivory Mask or Circle of Protection: Red result in autolosses, because you can’t take them out. Worship is usually an autoloss but if you can burn out all of the creatures, you’ll be fine. This makes White opponents very dangerous.

I tossed in Seismic Assault to play when you have the time. Now you can throw your Mountains at your opponent’s head once you have enough mana (around five). It’s not essential to the deck, but it is important.

As you can see, the Synergy Deck is designed with a combination of cards in mind. Does it “go off” and win? No. But it does create a game state that makes it significantly more likely that the player will win.

The Interaction Deck (Creates Victory)

The Interaction Deck is any deck that has an interaction between two or more cards that immediately wins the game. An example I gave in my first article is Pandemonium and Saproling Burst – a combo that can immediately deal 21 damage to someone, thereby killing them. Another example I always liked from Extended was Erratic Explosion and Draco.

This is one of the two Subtypes that I think most people envision when they think of a “Combo” deck. (The next Subtype is the other one). There are tons of Interaction Decks that people play, and discovering a new Interaction deck is a lot of fun for players. Feel free to play Phage and Endless Whispers to kill off players by brining back Phage under their control, which triggers the Phage death clause and kills them.

At first, I was wondering if I should include delayed death decks here. If the interaction will kill an opponent but not for a few turns, is it is an Interaction Deck or something else? The classic example is Donate and Illusions of Grandeur. Give the Illusions to someone after you gain twenty life and when they can’t pay the upkeep, they die from the loss of 20 life. Only life gain, Donate, or killing you before it goes off will save them.

After consideration, I have decided that this delayed death still counts as an Interaction Deck. Donate and Illusions is still a combination of two cards, the interaction of which will result in an opponent’s death. It meets all of the rules, it just won’t “go off” in one turn unless you add a third card to the mix (for example, you could pop a Seal of Cleansing to take out the Illusions after you Donate it).

Some of these decks have done very well in tournaments, and they will be familiar to you. Of course, there are tons more of these decks around the kitchen table of various effectiveness.

Let’s take a look at one of these decks:

I thought I had built an Ire deck in a previous article but I couldn’t find it. Maybe you can. I built it in real life just a few minutes after Betrayers was released, because it was a fun idea. The deck is simple. You need Oath of Druids.

You can find Oath through the judicious use of Ideas Unbound, Sift Through Sands, or Reach Through Mists. You need Oath. Get an Oath out, and you’re liable to win. Virtually all casual decks play creatures, as well as most tournament decks. Get out your Oath. Once you’ve done that, get ready to win.

You want to Oath. Flip cards until you reveal your Eternal Witness. Between the mad card drawing, your initial hand, the Witness and the Reclamation, you should be able to get an Ire of Kaminari. Once you do this, play it and win.

Here is the ideal turn:

Turn 1 – Nothing. Maybe a Reach.
Turn 2 – Search for an Oath or play an Oath.
Turn 3 – Nothing or play the Oath you just found with Ideas Unbound or something.
Turn 4 – Activate the Oath. Witness targets an Ire. Draw. Play a land. Play Ire for the win

Here are the roadblocks to victory –

If your opponent does not play a creature, use the Forbidden Orchard to give them one.

If you do not flip enough arcane spells to win with when you Oath, don’t panic. Just Oath again on the following turn and run out your library. Use the Reclamation to restock and then Ire away.

If you didn’t draw an Ire, couldn’t find an Ire, Witness something else back. Oath again and use Reclamation to put two Ires back so your library has just two Ires in it. Now you’ll draw an Ire for sure and win the game.

Other arcane cards in the deck are included so that you have something to do in the early game against various strategies. There’s some burn, artifact and enchantment removal, land search, and more.

This is a classic interaction deck that wins now. The interaction between Ire, Oath and Witness creates a winning situation. Enjoy!

The Mana Glutton Deck (Creates Cornucopia of Mana)

If the Crazy Combo Man Archetype is all about finding the combination of cards, then the Mana Glutton Subtype is all about using that combination to create a massive amount of mana, and then win right there.

This Subtype has been very popular in tournament decks in Standard right now, often including cards like Heartbeat of Spring or Early Harvest or the Urzatron. Popular and winning Standard decks show that this Subtype can be very powerful in tournaments as well as casual play.

Once you have your plethora of mana, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you win. Remember the Controlling the Board Archetype? It won by getting control, and then it could use anything to actually win with, and it didn’t matter, because the deck was still CTB. The same is true of the Mana Glutton deck in terms of mana. Get a lot of mana, and you are good to go. After that, you can use Ambassador Laquatus or a Fireball as the kill… as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter.

Although you might rightfully think of Green as the color of the Mana Glutton, other non-White colors have something to offer. Black has Cabal Coffers and other cards like Spoils of War. Red has a large number of recent cards plus the old Mana Flare. Blue’s major mana production is notorious for being banned, restricted, and taking down other cards with it. Tolarian Academy, Turnabout, and High Tide have been trouble for years.

That should demonstrate the potency of the Mana Glutton. Even an old school deck like ProsBloom was a Mana Glutton with cards like Natural Balance and Cadaverous Bloom.

Let’s take a look at one Mana Glutton deck:

This deck wins by using Gilded Lotus and unlimited untapping to make a bunch of mana.

The combo is very simple, play a Lotus. Then drop either an Alchemist or an artificer, either will work. Now drop either Pemmin’s Aura or a Freed from the Real on the creature; again, either will work. Tap the Lotus for three Blue mana, then tap the creature to untap the Lotus. Now use the enchantment to untap the creature, and continue ad nauseam.

Once you have a bunch of mana, play or use Ambassador Laquatus to mill any and all opponents.

This deck has a lot of redundancy built in, so let’s take a look:

There’s not just one creature that can be used to untap the Lotus, there’s two. There’s not just one creature enchantment that can be used top untap said creature, there’s two. Drift of Phantasms can get several combo pieces, including Laquatus, the creature enchantments, or an Artificer. Every combo piece can be retrieved by a Drift, except for the Lotus itself.

There’s a lot of digging in this deck. The dig spells are cheap because you can begin setting up on the second turn with an Alchemist, so I didn’t want to play expensive diggers. I chose Portent over Brainstorm because, although Brainstorm is an instant, Portent can shuffle your library if the card you are looking for is not there, essentially digging four in an emergency, not three.

This is a relatively simple decklist. Here’s how an ideal turn structure goes:

Turn 1 – Nothing. Maybe a Portent or a Sleight of Hand.
Turn 2 – Play an Alchemist. Maybe an Impulse.
Turn 3 – Play a Freed from the Real or a Pemmin’s Aura. Transmute if you need it. Play an Artificer if you didn’t play an Alchemist last turn.
Turn 4 – Play the transmuted card, probably an enchantment. Play an enchantment if you played the Artificer last turn.
Turn 5 – Drop a Lotus. Win.

As you can see, there are several routes your deck can take to get to a fifth turn win. Good luck with it!

The Silver Bullet Deck (Creates Antithesis)

This is a very simple Subtype, and it won’t take long to explore here. Any Silver Bullet plays by having several cards that decimate a whole strategy or color in the deck, usually as one-ofs. Then the Silver Bullet deck uses a tutoring mechanism to find the right Silver Bullet for an opponent and drops it to create a dominant position.

You’ll see the Silver Bullet strategy creeping in tournaments when the tutor level is cheap and frequent. When Vampiric Tutor was Standard legal, Silver Bullet decks were not uncommon with a variety of answers and four Vampiric Tutors to get the one that was good in that matchup. The first way to build the SB Subtype is through heavy tutoring.

An example of a Silver Bullet is Karma. Playing Karma against a mono-Black deck is usually game over by winning in several turns, and of course the enchantment is unable to be removed. There are other silver bullets, including color hosers like Gloom through strategy hosers like Cursed Totem – which turns Morphling into a Hill Giant, Masticore into a bad creature, and Psychatog into an expensive Squire.

Another way to build an SB deck is through the recent advent of transmute. This helps the Silver Bullet deck as long as said bullets are all of the same casting cost. For example, with a suite of Draft of Phantasms, you could get Gloom, Hibernation, and Story Circle among other cards. You could not get Flashfires, Tsunami, Acid Rain, Stench of Evil, and others.

In casual Magic, a third way to play an SB deck is to play the Wishes from Judgment (or Ring of Ma’Ruf from Arabian Nights) to create a Silver Bullet experience. Play a Burning Wish and go get your Anarchy against a Mono-White deck. Get a Pyroclasm against a weenie deck. Select a Persecute to hit your opponent’s hand against any mono-colored deck.

Sometimes a Silver Bullet deck is confused with a simple toolbox deck. A deck with a toolbox has a variety of cards that are useful in different situations, whereas the SB Subtype packs single cards that win the game on their own but aren’t useful against the field. For example, a Survival of the Fittest deck may pack one Uktabi Orangutan to pop an artifact, one Cloudchaser eagle to pop an enchantment, and so forth. An SB deck, on the other hand, would run something to destroy or shut down all artifacts or enchantments.

The goal of this deck is to be maximally prepared against the major villains by packing these silver bullets. Just one can take down very good decks. Let’s see a sample Silver Bullet deck:

This deck packs nine silver bullets, although only eight are actually silver bullets (Befoul is added as a toolbox addition). After that, the deck has sixteen basic Black creatures, from the Vampire of old, Specter, the new Crusader, and the Wretch.

The deck also includes four Dimir House Guards, which can be creatures when you need them to be or they can transmute into a bullet. Let’s take a look at the bullets:

Stench of Evil – This obviously hoses any White strategy by blowing all of the Plains off the board, and may do some damage too.

Filth – Against a Black deck, giving all of your creature swampwalk will likely give you the game.

Seize the Soul – Good against decks with a strong Green, Blue, or Red elements and running creatures. This is great against big Green beef, Dragon decks, and so forth.

Eastern Paladin – Not only a solid 3/3 creature but also a hoser against Green.

Persecute – This can hose any mono-colored strategy.

Massacre – Great against weenie decks

No Mercy – Great against any creature-based deck, especially those that have creatures that get past your defenses. Now any shadow, protection from Black, swamplkwalking enemies get just one hit in and that’s it. Other than Edicts that require a specific circumstance to work, this is typically one of the few Akroma killers in straight Black

Braids – This is good against any deck where you have extra permanents, like lands and creatures and whatnot. Grab Braids against a control deck that needs its lands and start trading creatures for lands in order to get the opponent down.

Well, that gives you an idea of a Silver Bullet deck. If you decide to try one out, I wish you luck.

The Impossible Combo Deck (Creates Huge Combo – For Fun)

This is the Johnniest of all of the Subtypes. This Subtype is all about playing a fun combination of cards. If the combo goes off once, the player is happy and the deck is often retired. The player doesn’t remember the twelve loses, but that one time they beat Abe with that crazy combo deck.

I could list all of the possible ways to build an Impossible Combo deck, but to be honest, this isn’t a Subtype that needs a lot of exposition. You build a deck, and then you play it a bit. That’s all there is to it.

A lot of these decks use cards in ways you might not have thought about. An example of a deck which is borderline Impossible Combo is my first Justice deck from yesterday’s Daily, when I changed Justice to affect White permanents, made it a creature, Donated it, and then used a White source to deal direct damage to the opponent. It used Justice is a very different (fun!) way.

This is the sort of deck that is an Impossible Combo deck. Instead of building another deck for you, I’ll just link to yesterday’s article so you can browse it at your leisure.

Once you’ve taken a look at the Justice deck, let’s wrap things up here.

As you can see, Crazy Combo Man ideas are a bit more “out there” than the other Archetypes. It can take a while to consolidate ideas from CCM decks as well, and building the decks was harder for me because of that.

Tons of people love CCM decks, and over the years, tournament level CCM decks have stolen the luster of CCM decks by being boring to play against. Most CCM decks are fun to play against, especially around the kitchen table. I wish you joy in all of your deck building, especially with your combo decks.

Until later,

Abe Sargent