January 19, 2017

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Evaluating Combos For Competitive Play

With Aether Revolt releasing in a few days there is a ton of hype for all the new combos the set creates. People are excited for all the wacky possibilities. But how can you tell if a combo is actually good for competitive play? I have seen a lot of people getting excited about cards and decks with dubious prospects for competitive play so I've decided to write out a short list of criteria that can be used to evaluate whether or not a combo is worth investigating for a competitive deck. These three criteria are: Lethality, Durability, and Consistency. Let's begin.

Lethality is how likely you are to win a game once your combo is assembled.  The more likely you are to win, the more powerful the combo is. Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian produces an arbitrarily large army of hasty ¼’s. You still have to get through combat but barring a Fog effect, the game is effectively over. Less powerful is the Crackdown Construct and Wandering Fumarole combo. Although it produces as much power as the Saheeli combo, it’s all concentrated on one creature. A single blocker ruins your combo. Think about what the game state looks like after you finish combing. If your opponent isn't immediately dead, you should make sure your combo has advantages in the other two categories.

Durability is how difficult your combo is to disrupt. This depends a great deal on the format your combo exists in. Aetherworks Marvel is a good example of this. It's very hard to interact with using removal or discard but it is quite soft to counter-magic. The power of Marvel combo therefore varies a lot depending on what the metagame looks like. The Saheeli combo can be disrupted with most removal spells in standard, but since both pieces can be played on the same turn and win instantly, it's a lot more durable than it seems. Just wait for a good time and go for it. Think about what pieces your combo plays and then consider what cards can be used to disrupt those pieces and how often you are likely to face that disruption. Glass-cannon combos can still be very effective, but you need to get a good read on the metagame before bringing it to a tournament.

Lastly, Consistency is exactly what it says: how quickly you can put all the pieces together. The fewer pieces you need, the stronger your combo will be. If you can play multiple interchangeable pieces, even better. Card draw and card filtering effects are also very useful to increase your consistency. In standard you will find your options for strong card draw and card filtering limited, and combos with interchangeable pieces are also very rare. This makes two-card combos much more powerful than three-card combos, since you will often be reliant on drawing your pieces naturally. Where strong filtering and draw options don't exist, think about what alternate paths to victory you can incorporate into your deck.  Aetherworks Marvel decks have seen a ton of success by hybridizing with the Delirium decks which allows them to stall with Ishkanah, Grafwidow and eventually hard-cast Emrakul, the Promised End if Marvel is countered or if they just don't draw one. Similarly, the Saheeli combo is powerful because it can play a solid value-midrange plan with lots of enter the battlefield effects to stall until they draw their combo.

There are other factors that can impact a combo deck’s success, but these three should give you a solid framework for brewing. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and if you have ideas for other topics please suggest away!

Thanks for reading,

Peter Tosello