Why Combo Is Good

I had hoped to have an article on what I thought was a really good deck I was working on. Really, really good. In what free time I’d managed to hoard lately, I’d thought I’d tuned it to a fair degree of nastiness, in between bouts of fighting off The Asian Death Flu That Ate…

I had hoped to have an article on what I thought was a really good deck I was working on. Really, really good. In what free time I’d managed to hoard lately, I’d thought I’d tuned it to a fair degree of nastiness, in between bouts of fighting off The Asian Death Flu That Ate Dave’s Brain and its sequel, The Hacking Cough That Would Not Go Away.

Alas, in my latest round of playtesting, I made a startling discovery:

The deck just ain’t that good.

It’s got potential, but it folds to anything with more than eight Urza’s block cards in it. For now, sadly, I can only hang my head in shame.

So, in lieu of talking about my new creation, let’s talk about combo decks.

No doubt, you’re double-checking the title and asking yourself, “Dave, that death flu has clearly addled your brain, because you hate combo decks.” True, true, I’m no fan of combo decks. Every time a combo deck rears its ugly head to become top of the Standard or Extended heap, the calls of bannings rise from the masses like an angry beast, and I’m usually among their number, like the villagers running to storm Frankenstein’s castle.

Lately, though, as I’ve given it more thought, I see combo as a good thing in Magic, and if you’ll kindly point those pitchforks in a different direction, I’ll be more than happy to explain why.

First off, let me point out that I’m talking about tournament play only. If you’re playing combo in a fun deck, you oughta be slapped (unless it fulfills the infamous Retarded Monkey Rule) and if you’re playing it for multiplayer, we’ll send Anthony Alongi over to your house to take away all your cards. No, I’m talking tournament only.

Now then; Lord knows that there’s nothing I hate more than playing a combo deck in a tournament. Hate it with a vengeance. “You just sit there for twenty minutes while I shuffle my deck repeatedly as I kill you. Take a nap, this could be a while.” I used to think that combo would kill Magic.

But the more I think about it, the more I see that combo is in and of itself not a bad thing. Yes, it’s no fun to play against. But if your deck just rolls over and dies against combo, how is that different from a beatdown deck that folds against Draw-Go or a control deck that can’t handle Stompy? Combo is simply another deck style, and if you can’t handle it, you simply better not run into it.

For the sake of argument, I’ll say that, tournament-wise, there are three effective ways to win the game: reduce your opponent to zero life using creatures and spells, run them out of cards using Millstone or Statis locks or combos. While they technically fall under one of the first two conditions above, combo can accurately be described as “decks designed to ignore an opponent and attempt to end the game using several ‘pieces’ to either produce an unbreakable lock or create a winning condition in one turn.”

Some people are good at playing control, some people are good at playing beatdown. Some people like to play combo. Why is that so wrong?

What is the point of playing tournaments? Having fun is an important part, but the ultimate reason is to win. If combo is the way to do it, then combo it is. We, as players, have whined when Cursed Scroll was the number one avenue to victory. We whined when control decks were crushing everything in their path. And we whine long and loud whenever a combo deck is the superior Standard offering.

As the saying goes, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.”

I freely admit that I am not a combo player, not just by preference, but simply by ability. Remember PT-Rome from a few years back, when Academy-Stroke decks were far and away the superior deck in Standard? When playing Academy-Stroke, you as a player had to make several calculations. Do have enough mana for the game-ending Stroke? Do I need to cast more artifacts? How much mana can I generate if I cast Time Spiral? There’s a lot of math and calculation involved in playing a combo deck of that nature. Just trying that for one game is taxing. Multiply that by seven or fourteen games, and I have the greatest respect for a player who can marshal that kind of concentration necessary to win a major tournament using combo.

I lack that kind of concentration or mathematical ability. Heck, I have enough trouble keeping my checkbook balanced.

If any deck becomes overly powerful, then, yes, there should be bannings to level the playing field. The DCI has been pretty good about that. Right now, two combo decks are considered dominant in Standard: Bargain and Replenish. Bargain is very, very good, but it can be beaten. Almost every non-combo archetype has defense against Bargain. Replenish is technically a combo deck, but it’s a mutant variety (kind of like Hatred). And there are defenses against it; graveyard depletion, landkill, heavy counters.

(Side rant here: June 1st is rapidly coming up. Replenish has been shown to be the one of if not the dominant deck in Standard. Will Replenish or Opalescence be banned? Odds are, yes, probably Replenish will be added to the banned list. Personally, I think Attunement should be the card to be banned, as it’s the card that really makes the engine run. Ban Attunement, and the deck remains powerful but not overly so. That probably won’t happen, and you probably start selling your Replenishes while you still can get a few dollars for them. Just my own humble opinion; mind you.)

Should combo players be vilified for playing decks that give them the best chance to win? Certainly not. Well, not excessively, although a few dirty looks are acceptable. If you don’t like playing combo decks, then make sure you play decks that have combo defense or find the cards that will defeat combo. Teach the combo-loving miscreants the error of their ways!

Or learn the patience and calculating skills necessary to truly play combo decks to their finest.

‘Cause whining about the problem isn’t going to do anything.

Dave Meddish