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Thread: The definition of "Combo" - Do Storm decks count?

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    I was thinking a bit about the current "combo" decks played in the format. What would constitute a list?

    Vial Goblins (kinda)
    Solidarity
    Spring Tide
    Belcher
    Tendrils (Nausea, TJS, etc.)
    The Game
    Welder Survival (debateable)

    I came to the following conclusions about the hate that makes them lose, or at least have to work harder to get the win.

    Rule of Law(Not so much goblins/Welder/Game/belcher)
    Pyrostatic Pillar(most of them)
    In the Eye of Chaos (Solidarity/spring tide/nausea/TJS)
    Gaea's Blessing (spring tide/Solidarity)
    Null Rod (belcher, Nausea)
    Pithing Needle(Welder/Belcher/gobs?)
    Ground Seal (WeldSur)
    Humility (Welder/Gobbos/Game)

    [/irrelevance]

    Here's what I'm asking: Are storm based combo decks actually combo decks at all, or are they merely grouped with them for lack of a better term? The way I see it, combo decks are based around like 2 to 4 cards that work together to make something broken happen. Things like Dragon, Severance/2land Belcher, Desire, Life, Cephalid Breakfast, Trix, etc. are straight up combo. The storm based decks, on the other hand, are much much different, in the sense that all the pieces are meant to feed off of each other in order for the whole picture to take shape. Goblins is much the same way. FCG was a combo deck. Vial is not. What are these decks then, if not combo? It seems to me that they're a separate form from the rest. Maybe I'm talking out of my ass here, and I know that it doesn't actually mean anything important, but I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on this as well.

  2. #2

    I debated writing an article about this a while ago, but I'm terribly lazy and never did it.

    There are very few true combo decks left. Solidarity is not a combo deck. The Game is not a combo deck. Stasis is not a combo deck. Belcher is not a combo deck.

    A combo deck is a deck that uses two+ cards to do something they couldn't do seperately. The best (and, I think, first) example of this is Trix.

    The aforementioned games are just decks of card interactions. Storm-combo decks are decks based around the interaction of cheap card draw and a Storm card. The Game is just a top-down deck based around Gamekeeper's ability. Same with Belcher, and Stasis. They're called combo decks because they aren't aggro or control.
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    Well the Vial Goblins question is nice and easy, it's an aggro/aggro-control deck. It has no "combo" about it except maybe the awesome interaction between Lackey and your opponent not having an answer??
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    Quote Originally Posted by CavernNinja
    Well the Vial Goblins question is nice and easy, it's an aggro/aggro-control deck. It has no "combo" about it except maybe the awesome interaction between Lackey and your opponent not having an answer??
    Or Vials interaction with Matron and Ringleader.... It can emulate the effect of Food Chain, but obviously not as well nor does it "Chain" Ringleaders like FCG did. But I wouldn't so much consider that a Combo more than it is an Engine. An Engine that keeps you from not just losing to a well timed Wrath/Pyroclasm that puts you in Top Deck mode.
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    A combo deck is basically any deck where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They can usually be identified by large amounts of "fluff"; cards that don't really do much on their own. Mana accel and cantriping fit into this category. Tooth and Nail, for instance, is a combo deck, even though you really only cast one spell; because the rest of the deck revolves entirely around that spell.

    This is signifigantly different than control, which is full of spot answers, sweepers and draw, none of which need each other, and aggro, which is simply full of independent threats, which sometimes work better in conjunction(ie Piledriver), but are still threats on their own.
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    This is an interesting debate. I got a feeling this won't go anywhere though; it's a lot like catagorizing music.

    Combo decks, I feel, are decks where the biggest percent of the deck is geared towards breaking an end piece. All pieces work together to make another piece break. Dragon, for example, was geared to get enough mana to mill/toast your opponent. Storm based decks are pretty self explanatory, as is Belcher. Decks may contain a very good combo, but they may not be combo decks. I don't think The Game is a combo deck, nor Food Chain Goblins. I don't expect my definition to make sense to all of you, or even be accepted, but this is what I think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SpatulaOfTheAges
    A combo deck is basically any deck where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They can usually be identified by large amounts of "fluff"; cards that don't really do much on their own. Mana accel and cantriping fit into this category. Tooth and Nail, for instance, is a combo deck, even though you really only cast one spell; because the rest of the deck revolves entirely around that spell.

    This is signifigantly different than control, which is full of spot answers, sweepers and draw, none of which need each other, and aggro, which is simply full of independent threats, which sometimes work better in conjunction(ie Piledriver), but are still threats on their own.
    See, Tooth and Nail and The Game are on the same level in my eyes. Not really quite Combo, but more a top-down deck design, like GRAH said. The storm decks are based on a way to break a mechanic, which is pretty simple when that mechanic is storm.

    Your definition of combo makes every deck combo. "The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts." To exemplify - Landstill. Faerie Conclave is not the best card ever. In fact, in most situations, its pretty bad. However, teamed up with a deck that uses it to apply pressure under Standstill, clears the way for it with removal, and stops opposing removal with counters, the card is a lot better. Is this a combo deck? I wouldn't even suggest it as one. How about a deck that utilizes cheap draw spells and untap effects to basically cycle through its whole deck, winning with the resolution of a single spell which rewards the caster for spells cast before it this turn. Is that a combo? Only if you consider the combination cards:
    1) High Tide
    2) reset
    3) Meditate
    4) Cunning Wish
    5) Words of Wisdom (or another card to make your opponent draw)
    6) Brain Freeze
    7-X) The whole rest of the deck to up the spell count enough to make it work.

    This is why I think it's a misnomer to call Storm decks Combo.

    As for Vial Goblins, the interaction between the parts is combo-esque, with the acute possibility of a turn 3 win (it happenned to me twice at Big Arse, once with 3 Piledrivers, once with Pyromancer). While I would agree it is an aggro deck, I grouped it with the Combos for this reason. That said, I think the same logic I'm applying to Storm can be applied to Gobbos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Nightmare
    See, Tooth and Nail and The Game are on the same level in my eyes. Not really quite Combo, but more a top-down deck design, like GRAH said. The storm decks are based on a way to break a mechanic, which is pretty simple when that mechanic is storm.

    Your definition of combo makes every deck combo. "The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts." To exemplify - Landstill. Faerie Conclave is not the best card ever. In fact, in most situations, its pretty bad. However, teamed up with a deck that uses it to apply pressure under Standstill, clears the way for it with removal, and stops opposing removal with counters, the card is a lot better. Is this a combo deck? I wouldn't even suggest it as one. How about a deck that utilizes cheap draw spells and untap effects to basically cycle through its whole deck, winning with the resolution of a single spell which rewards the caster for spells cast before it this turn. Is that a combo? Only if you consider the combination cards:
    1) High Tide
    2) reset
    3) Meditate
    4) Cunning Wish
    5) Words of Wisdom (or another card to make your opponent draw)
    6) Brain Freeze
    7-X) The whole rest of the deck to up the spell count enough to make it work.

    This is why I think it's a misnomer to call Storm decks Combo.

    As for Vial Goblins, the interaction between the parts is combo-esque, with the acute possibility of a turn 3 win (it happenned to me twice at Big Arse, once with 3 Piledrivers, once with Pyromancer). While I would agree it is an aggro deck, I grouped it with the Combos for this reason. That said, I think the same logic I'm applying to Storm can be applied to Gobbos.
    The definition that combo HAS to be "Card A + Card B + Card C" is needlessly narrow. A combo deck is any deck that contains all or mostly cards that are specifically designed to interact with each other in a certain way.

    Landstill, while utilizing synergy between man-lands and Standstill, doesn't fit this definition because the vast majority of the deck is composed of cards that are extremely strong in top-deck mode; a Wrath of God is not made inherently stronger by the Fact or Fiction in your hand. There's no synergy there, just two very strong cards.

    Goblins is composed of threats that make each other stronger threats; even Matron beats, though it's the closest thing to a combo element. While there's obvious synergy between Lackeys, Piledrivers and Warchiefs, each of the cards is still a self-substained threat.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SpatulaOfTheAges
    The definition that combo HAS to be "Card A + Card B + Card C" is needlessly narrow. A combo deck is any deck that contains all or mostly cards that are specifically designed to interact with each other in a certain way.
    So Ravager Affinity is now a combo deck? Each piece interacts with the others to lessen the cost of the next, and boost the attack power of creatures. When you decide the time is right, you insert the final piece of the puzzle (DotV) and "Just Win." Again, your definition.

    At some level, I agree with you, that the definition I'm using is narrow. I counter that your definition is needlessly general. The difference is, my definition is hard pressed to include decks that don't fit, while yours leaves room to include decks that inherantly disprove your theory.

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    In some sense, Affinity IS a combo deck. Winning by Disciple + Ravager can be seen as a combo. The deck also packs a lot of cards that are fairly weak by themselves. So in some ways it is like a combo deck. I think you could argue, however, that the deck packs enough self-substained threats, like Worker, Ravager, Disciple, Frogmite, etc, or threats that require only your lands to support them, as is pretty standard.

    I'm not suggesting my definition is perfect, I agree it's a big too vague; but I think it's closer than any other suggested on this thread.
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    Raffinity is Aggro-Combo in the same sense that FoodChainGoblins was and Darwin's Revenge is; it has a straight-forward beatdown down plan, and then an alternate way to overwhelm the opponent through a specific card interaction. Storm decks are without a doubt combo; using card draw + mana production to get to a lethal count off of their Storm card of choice.

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    If Ravager + Disciple is a combo, i don't see how Standstill + manlands is not a combo. Both are inherently weak by themselves, but when combined together win you the game, or draw you three cards, which wins you the game. Each piece makes the other piece extremely playable or necessary, depending on your viewpoint. How does that not fall under your definition of combo?

    What your definition fails to do is distinguish between combos, engines, and combo engines(Enchantress, etc.) Squee + Bazaar is an engine. Anger + Rofellos + Survival is an engine. These generate things which may fuel combos, but what seperates them from pure combos such as Illusions + Donate is a few things:

    1) They don't have other uses. This part of your definition I agree with you. This is part of the reason why Argothian Enchantress can't not be considered a combo piece, as it can't fetch utility cards as a strategy. The opposite goes for Survival, even if it gets Titan -> Anger -> Welder -> Win, it still gets Viridian Zealot.

    2) A combo has to be capable of doing something profoundly unfair very quickly. The key here is the word 'profoundly', because any deck with an engine can do something unfair. But getting a 11/11 hasty indestructible trampler out of nowhere, Tendrilsing for big, Brainfreezing out the whole deck, putting 28 2/2 bears into play, or getting 6 hasty goblins into play on a single turn, all of these absolutely ream the opponent's chance of winning the game. The difference between 'unfair' and 'profoundly unfair' can be seen in the ATS vs Belcher game. The ATS player may have gotten double hasty Tradewinds and is bouncing all the Belcher player's stuff to his hand. This is quite unfair. However, when the Belcher player unloads 7 mana and a Belcher in a turn, it doesn't matter how unfair the Tradewinds were.

    3) A pure combo sacrifices disruption elements(note: not resiliency) for speed. This can be seen best in Belcher, where a first-turn kill can be ruined by a Force, but a first-turn kill is available, preventing the possible second-turn kill from being reamed by a Counterspell or a Force.

    I'd have to say that these three definitions get us a lot closer to finding and identifying pure combo decks and pure combo elements in decks that may splash other strategies. Overall, I feel like that to be a combo-x deck, you only really need to have point 2. The rest just seperate the pure combo decks from the other nonpure combo decks.
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    EDIT: My point 2 seems to apply to Raffinity, but not really, since they don't especially play tons of spells for the sake of playing them, but rather to abuse one of 12 artifact-related cards. In it I feel it is as much a combo decks as U/G Threshold or Gro is.
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    I think I would have to agree with SoTA and IBA on this one. You can't say that Ravager + Disciple of the Vault is not a combo. It has the potential to kill you in a single turn, sometimes without attacking. But what makes Raffinity not combo is that the deck is not geared specifically toward this interaction. The deck can win easily without either of those cards.

    Standstill and Faerie Conclave is not a combo. They are synergistic cards. If Standstill said "Players may not play spells for the rest of the game," then it would be a combo. As it stands, Standstill is a very good card drawer, and Conclave is a way to abuse it. Drawing 3 cards will not guarantee a victory. In the same respect having Disciple and Ravager will not guarantee a victory. That is why neither deck is categorized as combo.

    Storm on the other hand should be considered combo. The point of the deck is to kill you in one big fundamental turn. All of the cards in the deck are geared toward that one turn. If you could find a way for Solidarity to win without using a COMBINATION of cards, then I would applaud you. Almost evey other deck can win without using a Combo. Ravager can beat with one creature the entire game, as can gobbos, The Game, and Landstill. They are not combo decks, they may have combos in them, but are not combo decks. I believe that a combo deck is a deck that has a win condition that must be supported by several cards.

    This brings me to The Game. The Game is not necessarily combo, I would say it is moreso than Ravager, but not as much as Solidarity. There is a combo in Gamekeeper, DSC, and Dragon Breath, but the deck can win without it. The deck can beat down with Gamekeeper or manlands. I would classify it as control with an alternate win condition (most of the time alternate win conditions are combos). I do the same with Bob the Belcher. They both play the control game for the first few turns, then kill you. If they have to they can play the control game the whole time and kill you slowly.

    Here is my question to you Mr. Nightmare and Slay, if they aren't combo, then what are they?

    @Mr. Nightmare: Is my burn deck now Combo because of the interaction between Fork, Fireblast, and PoP giving me a turn 3 win? What about Garv.dec Berserking his 2/2 4 times? Is that a combo because he can do it on turn 3? (I've seen it done, T1 birds, T2 cast ESG, turn 3 tap 2 lands & birds, Berserk 3 times, remove ESG for the 4th.)
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    That's easy. Ravager + Disciple is synergistic. This synergy could become a combo, if it wins the game, or it could beat for 6. The difference is that Ravager + Disciple Affinity is not capable of consistently accumulating for a Ravager + Disciple kill, where it could just beat with free creatures in funny hats. If you built a deck capable of consistently accumulating 20+ artifacts for the kill(hint: Skullclamp + Genesis Chamber), that's a combo deck.

    This differs from Vial Goblins as a combo deck most likely because of haste. Playing a bunch of 2/2s and 4/4s doesn't matter because they can get Wrathed next turn. Playing 6 Goblins and a Piledriver with a Warchief on the field is(as pertains to my definition) profoundly unfair. Big, undercosted creatures are nothing new, and decks have answers to them.

    Ravager Affinity, much like many decks, can combo out. But in all but very specific decklists, I have seen the aggro element play into the deck far mroe than the combo element.

    Garv.dec is the most combo-oriented of all the aggro-combo decks. Because most of the time(vs. non-control) you win through casting a bunch of spells and winning the game riding on one or two creatures. That covers #2 and #3 of my three points. of course, it can also play a small game, which is the part that makes it so great.
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    Matt, I think you missed my point. I was saying that Storm decks, ravager, goblins etc. are NOT combo decks. Therefore, neither is your burn deck. When I mentioned ravager, I did so because it fit into the mold that Spat made up, not my own. I'm not going to answer the question of "If not combo, then what?" because that was my original question, and I don't know.

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    A combo deck is a deck that effectively ends the game on one big turn. Storm combo, Academy, High Tide, Trix, Life, Pros. Bloom, Prosperity, etc. all followed this rule. Vial Goblins typically builds up to that or wins little by little. Vial Goblins -can- win on one big turn (Usually with Kiki-Jiki), but it was usually a huge build-up to that point. Goblin Bidding w/ Clamp and Food Chain Goblins are far closer to actual combo decks. Ravager decks were typically classified aggro-combo, because as others have siad, you could use Ravager + Disciple to deal a large amount of damage in one shot. Same with the versions that used Atog + Fling and such. It's capable of dealing so much damage in a single turn with a few spells that work togheter, it can imitate combo.

    Standstill + Manlands is never going to end the game in one turn.
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    I think you could define it as, Combo decks are decks designed specifically to win with ONE card or card interaction. Belcher, for example, you could call combo because the entire deck is built around getting the Belcher in play and activating it. Solidarity and Storm decks are combo because the entire deck is designed to kill with one storm card. Vial Goblins and Raffinity are not combo decks because while Kiki-Jiki Piledriver Warchief Lackey etc etc barf is an amazing combination, the deck is not built to get that specific combination into play. While DotV and Ravager is amazing together, the other 52 cards in the deck aren't designed solely to get that combination in play.

    Basically, if the deck relies on getting one set of cards into play and winning with those, possibly in one huge turn, then it's a combo deck. If the majority of the deck relies on getting a certain piece into play, it's combo. If most of the pieces can bash face by themselves but happen to work well together, as long as the deck can reasonably win without them, it's not a combo deck.

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    First of all every deck wins in one single huge or not so huge turn. That's the very definition of the game. Because "huge" cannot exactly be defined in game terms (I'll play Siege Gang Commander, Warchief and Piledriver, attack for the win. Was this huge? or I'll play Belcher and activate it for 20, win. Was this huger than the example before?) we have to look at the turns that came before. I'd say a deck that hasn't put real pressure on the opponent (by attacking or otherwise reducing the life total [or in rare cases milling]) before the turn it wins is a combodeck. Remember, that by this definition no controldeck has a 1 turn clock. Otherwise it'd be considered combo.
    So now let's look at the hybrids, the aggro/control - combo decks. These are decks that can play the combo role (win without having to put pressure on the opponent for more than one turn) and also the aggro role (put pressure on all the time) or control role (put pressure on whenever it suits best [I know this is not the best definition for control but it seems right]).
    For example Bob.dec: It can win out of nowhere by playing and activating belcher, but it can also slowly pound away with manlands so the combo is just an additional plan to the control plan.
    or Foodchain Gobbos: It can win with Foodchain even if it hasn't attacked once. But it can also win by just attacking with Goblins.
    Another not so easy example is Affinity: Here the combo is Ravager + Disciple but for it to be able to kill without having you attack once before you need a very demanding setup. Nonetheless if you get Ravager, Disciple and 19 other artifacts it's gameover.
    It's obvious that this is all theoretical because we don't look at what the opponent does.
    Finally let's look at Combodecks that don't win even if the "combo" is assembled. These are for example Trix or Life.
    Trix is easy again because it can remove Illusions with a Boomerang or whatever for an instant kill or just wait until the opponent can't pay the upkeep and dies. Here we have 1 fundametal turn in which Trix "puts the pressure on" (when it donates the Enchantment) and 1 turn in which the opponent just dies. So Trix needs a maximum of 2 turns in which it puts pressure on the opponent.
    Life on the other hand can be a hybrid or a 2 turn combo like Trix depending on the build. It should be obvious that if it runs a win condition like Serras Avatar that wins in one turn it is a 2 turn combo with the second turn that it puts pressure on being the turn in which the opponent will get decked (because you shuffled your Avatar back in) or hit by the Avatar (if he has chumpblockers remember, that even if you go beatdown you don't necessarily put pressure on the opponent because he might know that he has enough creatures to chumpblock for the rest of the game).
    For explanation I used the term "put pressure on" because I didn't want to use Flores term of "being the beatdown". I think putting pressure on the opponent fits more because it has more of a "stop it or you loose" mindset behind it. If you go beatdown the opponent can go beatdown too and outrace you, but it's always only one who puts the pressure on.
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    Give me a broad all defining definition of a moderate liberal as opposed to a Green Party liberal. You're not going to find a simple definition that applies to all combo decks as opposed to control decks and combo-control decks and what have you. It's kind of an intuitive thing. I consider storm-based combo decks to be combo, and I don't think it necessarily means forgoing disruption for speed, combo doesn't have to be particularly fast, look at some of the older combo decks like Trix and Prosbloom, they were not fast at all by today's standards. Combo simply needs to be as fast or faster than the deck it's trying to beat. Any disruption you can pack in while maintaining that rate of kill is frosting on the cake. There are a couple of turn 1 combo decks in Legacy, all of which suck, and the best combo in the format has a turn 4 kill. Yeah, it *can* kill turn 3, hell, on a god hand, it can kill turn 2. It doesn't have to kill turn 2 consistantly though, because the pressure isn't there to force it to.

    When I look at combo decks, and I group them intuitively, I don't try and set a definition of rules for what makes a deck a combo deck, I look at how many cards the combo is. Something like ProsBloom would be a 3 card combo, Squandered Resources, Cadaverous Bloom, and Prosperity. Dragon is a 2 card combo, Bazaar and Animate Dead. Solidarity is a 1 card combo. While there are cards that are useful in going off, that accelerate the combo, but no one type of card that is indispensable except Brain Freeze. Now granted, there are instances where you don't need Freeze, you can just wish for Stroke instead, but these are rare. It's merely a secondary kill condition, not a normal kill condition.

    You can win a game with Solidarity without ever using High Tide. You can also win without ever casting an untap effect. You cannot win with Trix without first playing an Illusions of Grandeur and then Donating it to an opponent. Single card combos are, as a general rule, the only combo decks that are still viable in any format where they exist, because they lack the necessity of packing 2-3 combo pieces, leaving more room for draw/dig and disruption.
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    @Mikey - First and foremost, your combos are flawed. Pros/Bloom was a 4 card combo. The fourth card was either Drain Life or a second Prosperity to draw your opponent out. Dragon was a 3 card combo. Animate dead was useless if there was no dragon to animate. Solidarity is BY NO MEANS a one card combo. If it were so, then you would have to play it out until your opponent had 12 or less cards in the library, and you had a handful of counters to force through 4 Brainfreezes with no Storm. In which case, it would still be a four card combo, with the 4 cards being the 4 Brain Freezes. I'm sorry, but to hit lethal storm on the 4th turn, the Solidarity player needs between 12 - 15 spells, without interferance from the opponent. Sure, he can win without High Tide. He can win without untap spells too. But he can't win without one or the other. And he sure as hell can't win as soon.

    Second - With the aforementioned assumption that Storm does NOT count as a one card combo, I defy you to name one other 1 card combo that exists, let alone is viable in the current environment. (Belcher is not a 1 card combo.)

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