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The Comboist Manifesto: Deckbuilding Elements
By Stephen Bahl
The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 3: Combo Elements in Deckbuilding

In my previous article, I explained that, while dedicated combo decks are generally my favorite way to play Magic, my focus in The Comboist Manifesto is broader than that. Some decks are built entirely around a combo finish. There are also decks that, while being more than just combo decks, do make use of combo elements, either for acceleration, for card advantage, or as a means of finishing opponents off. And to illustrate these concepts, for this article, I employ a novel technique I call using examples. It might seem like a crazy idea, but bear with me. I think you'll like it.

I forget where, but I once saw a simple description for the three major classes of decks. It went something like, “In Aggro, your cards are pointed at your opponent, in Control your cards are pointed at your opponent's cards, in Combo, your cards are pointed at your cards.” That gives a good general picture of the differences between these types of decks. Pretty cool, right? Now then, on with the advanced science of using examples!

It's a slang abbreviation for “Aggression.” Aggro decks are really just that: aggressive decks. They seek to apply pressure quickly, dealing heavy damage before opponents can defend against it. Aggro decks win by either outracing opponents or by hurting them so badly that by the time they can do anything about it, they are already badly hurt and there are too many incoming threats to stop them all. Aggro decks often rely on creatures as their primary threat, with noncreature spells being used to thwart opposing attempt to stop one's creatures, such as direct damage spells to kill potential blockers. An alternative is to use spells directly on one's opponent. Really, any cards that can be played quickly and that are expected to deal considerable damage to opponents could be considered aggro elements. Some such cards serve other purposes as well, but they're still aggro elements. The first article about Magic that I ever wrote, which is also probably the worst one and, for reasons that are unknown to me, the one that has seen the most commentary, is about Burn, a mono-red archetype that aims to win by a rapid barrage of direct damage spells. Much has changed since I wrote that article. But I still have a Burn deck. In fact, even though it isn't a combo deck, Burn has been my longest-running deck ever. I first constructed a red deck based on direct damage back in 1999, I think. It was last updated in 2010 or so, and not by me, and there are some cards in it that desperately need replacing. But since I'm not writing a second article about Burn, I won't go into those details. Burn is, sort of, a viable deck for Legacy tournaments. My example Burn decklist (which varies a bit from the physical Burn deck I currently have), is:

4x Fireblast
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Price of Progress
2x Shard Volley
2x Thunderous Wrath
2x Cave-In
4x Chain Lightning
4x Flame Rift
4x Lava Spike
4x Rift Bolt
2x Barbarian Ring
2x Bloodstained Mire
6x Mountain
4x Snow-Covered Mountain
2x Scalding Tarn
2x Wooded Foothills
4x Goblin Guide
4x Vexing Devil

Some great damage spells have been printed over the years, but not quite enough to make this a completely creatureless deck. However, creatures like Goblin Guide, which are likely to deal damage comparable to that of a direct damage spell, are acceptable for bringing the decklist up to 60 cards.

A common trap that newer players, and even some experienced players, fall into is to include way too many lands in highly aggressive decks. This decklist, because of the Barbarian Rings (which could easily be cut for something else), has 18 lands. The physical version of the deck I currently have only runs 15 lands, and still works pretty well. It's a very consistent deck and rarely has to mulligan. At 18 lands in a 60-card deck, one can expect to draw, on average, 3 lands by turn 4. And that's plenty. I even run fetchlands, which thin lands out of the deck and make drawing lands even less likely, despite running spells (Fireblast and Shard Volley) that require lands to be sacrificed in order to cast them. That's because, even though two mountains are necessary for tempo and a third would be ideal, beyond that, drawing lands is detrimental. Perhaps too-high land counts are such a trap because it is so frustrating to only draw one land. It's the dreaded “mana screw.” With fewer lands in a deck, this can happen. Aggro decks that experience this will almost certainly lose the game. And that's bad. The consequences of having too many lands, which can mean nearly finishing an opponent off only to lose by one turn on account of poor topdecking, aren't as immediately obvious, but in the long run, it's a very important point. Well, that's a tangent. I had not intended to turn this into an aggro deckbuilding guide, but I do consider it to be an important point.

Burn isn't really a typical aggro deck (most aggro decks rely on creatures to do the majority of their damage and complement that with spells, whereas Burn does things the other way around), but it applies the principles behind the archetype, playing cards quickly in order to kill opponents before they can stop all of the threats) in an undiluted manner, making it a good showcase for what aggro is all about. Historically more prominent aggro decks have included Sligh, Suicide Black, White Weenie, Stompy, and R/G Beatdown.

Simultaneously the most loved and the most hated. Control decks, as the name suggests, attempt to take control of the game. Players love control because it means being in control, and people like to be in control of things, which can be accomplished by playing a control deck and using that control deck to take control of the game. Players hate control decks because control decks stop them from being able to do what they want to do. Spells that counter opposing spells, destroy permanents, force opponents to discard cards, or add constraints to opponents are all control elements. This does not mean that only control decks use these cards or that these are the only cards that control decks use. Aggro decks might use control elements, such as removal spells, to leave an already damaged opponent vulnerable before going for the kill. Combo decks might use control elements to protect their combos. And control decks do use kill conditions, which can be more or less aggressive, and other cards that don't directly disrupt opponents (spells that draw cards, retrieve cards from graveyards, or provide tempo advantages). A hallmark of dedicated control decks is that, against less controlling decks, they tend to have time on their side: the longer the game drags on, even if the control player seems to be only barely surviving, the more faster decks lose their advantages. Control decks need to be able to survive long enough to make the game drag on, but once they do, they can use card advantage to completely take over. While it's very old, and not really competitive by today's standards, a great example of control is The Weissman Deck, used in Type I tournaments back in 1996.

4x City of Brass
4x Island
1x Library of Alexandria
3x Plains
3x Strip Mine
4x Tundra
2x Volcanic Island
1x Black Lotus
2x Disrupting Scepter
1x Jayemdae Tome
1x Mirror Universe
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Pearl
1x Mox Ruby
1x Mox Sapphire
1x Sol Ring
2x Serra Angel
2x Moat
1x Ancestral Recall
2x Counterspell
4x Mana Drain
2x Red Elemental Blast
4x Disenchant
4x Swords to Plowshares
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Amnesia
1x Braingeyser
1x Timetwister
1x Time Walk
1x Recall
1x Regrowth

2x Red Elemental Blast
2x Circle of Protection: Red
2x Dust to Dust
1x Zuran Orb
1x Balance
2x Blood Moon
1x Tormod's Crypt
2x Mana Short
1x Amnesia
1x Feldon's Cane

The Weissman Deck, also known as “Keeper” and “The Deck” is a specific sort of control deck, but it is very controlling. There are very few aggressive elements at all. Serra Angel can attack and kill an opponent, but the deck isn't really built around Serra Angel. The idea that made this archetype so distinctive, even among control decks, was that it was built to keep itself alive, rather than worrying about killing opponents. The cards in the deck can remove threats opponents have, by countering them with Mana Drain, by discarding them with Disrupting Scepter, by killing them with Swords to Plowshares, or by rendering them harmless with Moat. As the game drags on, opponents run out of threats.

When playing pure control decks, it's important to have answers to what opponents are actually going to be playing. A single, serious threat that can't be answered is potentially lethal. That's why the original version of “The Deck” would face major problems against today's decks. In order to beat aggro decks, control decks must slow the game down. They can't outrace aggro, so disrupting the capability of aggro decks to hurt them, either proactively, reactively, or both, is necessary. A control deck that can do this most successfully might not necessarily be best at beating other control decks. This, even without combo, can lead to a crude sort of metagame. The control decks that are best at beating aggro decks are probably not the best at beating other control decks, while the aggro decks that are best at fighting through control decks might lose to other aggro decks.

An abbreviation for “combination” of course. Specifically, the term refers to card combinations: when two or more cards are used together in such a way that the effect is more powerful than the cards themselves. In order to be competitive, pure combo decks must not only be fast, but be the fastest decks in their formats. For tournament play, combo decks are the ones most likely to be targeted for DCI bans if they are successful. And, to an extent, there is a good reason for that: when combo elements are strong enough, they can remove interactivity entirely, which takes the fun out of the game. At the CPA, I was made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how that is my ideal for Magic: “I play Magic like it's a kind of solitaire. Opponents just get in the way of combos.” But for dedicated combo decks, that can actually be pretty accurate. And it's why I have mixed feelings about combo in casual play. It's problematic. Combo can be fun, but it needs to be balanced. And there's no universal way to go about accomplishing that.

Combo decks are all about interactions between one's own cards. Control decks seek interactions between their own cards and their opponents' cards. But one can't usually determine, in advance, what cards one's opponent will be playing. Combo cuts out the middleman. You bring your own cards to interact with, hence my remark about “solitaire.”

I could list so many different examples for combo decks. They are my specialty, after all. To keep things simple and to use another example from the CPA, I dug through my old posts. Here's a Belcher decklist I made back in 2004. This was for the Legacy format, back when it was so new that it didn't have a name yet. It was simply the format that was replacing the old Type 1.5 (and I had this convoluted running joke on the CPA message boards that totally made sense at the time, in which I declared the name of the new format to be “Raisin”). Like the previous decklist, this one is historical, and not a recommendation for a current deck. It's outdated. I'm not showcasing the decks that I think are the most powerful or that I think people should play. I've done a whole lot of Belcher testing since I made this list, and some great cards have been printed, which didn't exist back in the Fall of 2004, that are staples of Belcher decks in Legacy. Anyway, this is the version of the deck that I posted at the CPA.

4x Seething Song
4x Eladamri's Vineyard
4x Living Wish
4x Cabal Ritual
4x Urza's Bauble
4x Enlightened Tutor
2x Conjurer's Bauble
1x Taiga
1x Bayou
4x Tinder Wall
4x Lion's Eye Diamond
4x Lotus Petal
4x Chrome Mox
4x Elvish Spirit Guide
4x Dark Ritual
4x Land Grant
4x Goblin Charbelcher

The entire deck was built around finding, casting, and activating Goblin Charbelcher. When that happens, the number of lands in the library is probably either one or zero, so the activation of Goblin Charbelcher does lethal damage. I like this as an example because it's so very straightforward. The combo decks that I actually play tend to be more elaborate. Charbelcher decks tend to run Empty the Warrens (or sometimes Tendrils of Agony) as a backup kill condition, and use better spells, such as Manamorphose. Sideboards make use of Xantid Swarm and other cheap spells that can protect the engine, but the basic principle is the same. By running almost no lands (some Belcher decks now run absolutely no land), but using several mana accelerants, it is possible to get Goblin Charbelcher out quickly. Aggro decks are more consistent, and control decks can use disruption to stop Belcher from going off, so it's a risky proposition, but the sheer speed makes Belcher a viable option.

Most successful combo decks do a bit more to protect themselves, which often comes at the expense of some speed. A combo deck that can win very quickly but usually doesn't win until turn three or four, but can protect itself while doing so, is usually preferred to a combo deck that has a better chance of a first or second turn kill, but doesn't protect itself or maintain consistency.

Combo decks, including the example Belcher list I've provided, rely on things like mana acceleration, card-drawing, and tutoring to find the cards they need to win. Some decks use actual combos, not to finish opponents off, but to generate even more acceleration. If that happens in a deck that isn't primarily a combo deck, I designate those cards “combo elements” in control or aggro decks. And of course control elements or combo elements can be used in combo decks. But there are also decks that are fully-fledged hybrids.

While by aggro/control/combo elements I do mean certain types of cards, note that it is possible for a card to be used in different ways. Lightning Bolt could use used in an aggro deck to get rid of a blocker, or to finish off a weakened opponent. In a control deck, it could be used to destroy a threatening creature. Draco could be used in a domain-based control deck as a finisher. In a combo deck, it could be used with Erratic Explosion for massive damage. A deck isn't necessarily a hybrid just because it uses elements from two different classes, or even all three.

Many of the most successful tournament decks are aggro-control. Aggro-control is versatile. Against aggro, aggro-control can use its control elements to slow its opponent down, like a control deck, while applying its own pressure. Against control, aggro-control can play threats and protect them, establishing a stronger position. Again, these are just generalizations. They don't apply to all matchups, but they are informative. However, aggro-control is less likely to be able to outrace combo than pure aggro is, and less likely to disrupt combo to death than pure control is. Because of this, aggro-control tends to be very strong in environments where combo is weak or underplayed. But that doesn't rule aggro-control out completely in environments where combo is prevalent, it just informs the relative proportions of aggro and control elements in aggro-control decks: a very balanced aggro-control deck might be worse in a metagame that favors combo, whereas an aggro-control deck that is built with more control elements (or alternatively, one that is faster) might be better.

Even though aggro-control is, by definition, a hybridization of aggro and control, these decks usually do employ combo elements. Combo elements in aggro-control are typically means of enhancing tempo or generating card advantage. Cards like Dark Confidant, very popular in aggro-control decks, can simultaneously act as threats (by attacking) and facilitate further threats (by drawing more cards).

Aggro-control is often where combo elements are least emphasized. I have had aggro-control decks in the past, but I can't recall having any saved decklists for them. So let's just go crazy and use a real tournament decklist as an example of aggro-control: Owen Turtenwald's tournament-winning Delver deck from Grand Prix Washington D.C.

4x Stoneforge Mystic
4x Delver of Secrets
2x True-Name Nemesis
4x Daze
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Spell Pierce
4x Force of Will
4x Swords to Plowshares
4x Brainstorm
4x Ponder
4x Polluted Delta
4x Arid Mesa
4x Wasteland
1x Flooded Strand
3x Volcanic Island
4x Tundra
1x Batterskull
1x Umezawa's Jitte

1x Grafdigger's Cage
1x Sword of Feast and Famine
2x Grim Lavamancer
4x Meddling Mage
2x Rest in Peace
1x Wear // Tear
2x Pyroblast
1x Red Elemental Blast

Delver decks emphasize control elements, but combine them with very efficient aggro elements. Many of the cards in this decklist are very versatile. They can be used to secure victory against an opponent that is struggling against the creatures or to stop opposing threats. Most of the cards here stand on their own as useful, either dealing damage, drawing cards, or acting as removal. The interaction that does give this deck a sort of combo element is Stoneforge Mystic's synergy with Batterskull and Umezawa's Jitte, and this combo element is mostly just a way to generate more aggro.

Compared to dedicated aggro decks, aggro-combo decks are a bit lower in threat density, and not quite as consistent in applying offensive pressure to opponents. Compared to dedicated combo decks, aggro-combo decks do not go off quite as reliably and their combos are not necessarily as lethal. Making up for these drawbacks, aggro-combo decks take the two fastest, most threatening ways to play Magic, and combine them. Aggro-combo can be useful to aggro players because it can be more explosive than pure aggro. Aggro-combo can be useful to combo players because there are powerful combos that do not lend themselves to pure combo decks, but work well when used in decks loaded with aggro elements.

Synergies are key to making aggro-combo work. Haphazardly mixing combo elements and aggro elements just results in a bad aggro deck with unreliable combos. Viable aggro-combo decks exploit useful abilities of cards that are, even if the combos themselves are disrupted, threatening enough to make for a passable aggro deck. Aggro-combo is most frequently seen in “ramp” decks that use synergies to play huge creatures, lots of creatures, or lots of huge creatures. Cards that work well in aggro-combo include Berserk, Hatred, Ichorid, and Arcbound Ravager. Not long ago (at the time that I originally wrote this article anyway—it won't have been published until later), I played goblins in a variant tribal format at the CPA. I killed everyone. This was my decklist.

4x Goblin Lackey
2x Goblin King
4x Goblin Piledriver
4x Goblin Chieftan
4x Goblin Sharpshooter
4x Goblin Warchief
2x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker
2x Siege-Gang Commander
1x Skirk Prospector
4x Goblin Matron
2x Krenko, Mob Boss
2x Lightning Crafter
1x Æther Vial
1x Patriarch's Bidding
1x Oversold Cemetery
1x Mana Echoes
1x Goblin Warrens
1x Braid of Fire
1x Bloodstained Mire
1x Wooded Foothills
1x Cavern of Souls
1x Badlands
1x Dragonskull Summit
1x Blood Crypt
4x Snow-Covered Mountain
6x Mountain
3x Swamp

Most of these goblins are suitable attackers, but they become even better when used together. Cards like Goblin Lackey, Æther Vial, and Goblin Warchief accelerate tempo, allowing the deck to ramp into bigger goblins, and more of them. I made this list specifically for the “tribal lowlander” format, but most of it is pretty similar to what a goblin deck might look. In an even more extreme case, in formats that allow Goblin Recruiter, Food Chain Goblins is an even more explosive goblin-based aggro-combo deck. By playing Goblin Recruiter with Food Chain in play, one can stack all of the goblins in one's deck in an order such that Goblin Ringleaders and Food Chain put enough of them onto the battlefield to attack for lethal damage in a single turn.

Aggro-combo decks can even work infinite combos in. Actually, the example I gave does this. Accidentally. I mean, I built the deck without infinite combos in mind. We frown on them for our tribal games. I didn't use an infinite combo to win, and if I had known it was in the deck, I'd have modified the deck, just on principle. But there you go, everyone that is cataloging my sins. My tribal deck had an infinite combo, on account of Skirk Prospector. I'd used Skirk Prospector in Legacy goblin decks in the past, and even though this deck didn't emphasize the card, I left in one copy as utility to fetch with Goblin Matron. Skirk Prospector is especially useful with tokens, which this deck could make a lot of, and has a combo with Goblin Sharpshooter that can destroy opposing creatures or finish off opponents. There's another interaction, which I have never personally used, although I did see it a few years ago—I forget where. To go infinite with this deck, I'd need some mana, and I'd probably use Goblin Matron to fetch the goblins required for the combo. Fetching Kiki-Jiki first, I could even copy the Goblin Matron to find all the goblins I'd need to go infinite. I'd need Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Skirk Prospector both in play. I would then play Lightning Crafter, championing some other goblin (probably the aforementioned Goblin Matron). Next, I'd use Kiki-Jiki to copy Lightning Crafter. The copy of Lightning Crafter would champion Kiki, Jiki, Mirror-Breaker. Finally, I'd activate the hasty token copy of Lightning Crafter to damage an opponent, sacrifice it to Skirk Prospector, bring Kiki-Jiki back untapped, and repeat the process for infinite damage. All of that can pretty reasonably be added to what's otherwise an aggressive deck, based on attacking with creatures.

Elves are also good for aggro-combo. Maybe even better than goblins.

There are two different kinds of control-combo, and they are actually very different from one another. In discussions I've seen in the past on classifying Magic decks, this hasn't really been noted. Or perhaps I just didn't like the way in which it was noted. Anyway, I'm dividing this part into two subcategories.

Control-Combo Category 1: Control elements first, followed by combo elements
If players think of a deck described as being “control-combo” they probably have something from this category in mind. There are many combos in Magic, which despite being good, work better in slower decks than in ones that try to be as fast possible. Or in some cases, the combos themselves may not kill quickly enough to be viable in pure combo decks. Most of these decks act like control decks, but also set up combos as gameplay progresses. In environments where cards that make pure combo decks strong are not available, control-combo can still be very effective. The general efficacy of control-combo against other decks depends on how much speed is traded for control: a control-combo deck that is too slow might be unable to set up a winning combo or seize control of the game against an aggro-control deck.

As an example of a control-combo deck that starts out playing control elements while setting up combos, I present Bob Maher's famous tournament-winning Oath deck from 1999.

1x Faerie Conclave
3x Flood Plain
1x Reflecting Pool
1x Savannah
3x Treetop Village
4x Tropical Island
4x Tundra
2x Volcanic Island
4x Wasteland
1x Morphling
1x Shard Phoenix
1x Spike Feeder
1x Abundance
1x Aura of Silence
4x Brainstorm
4x Counterspell
1x Disrupt
4x Enlightened Tutor
1x Forbid
4x Force of Will
2x Gaea's Blessing
3x Impulse
1x Ivory Mask
1x Null Rod
2x Oath of Druids
1x Powder Keg
2x Swords to Plowshares
1x Sylvan Library
1x Trade Routes

1x Aura of Silence
1x Circle of Protection: Red
1x Compost
1x Crater Hellion
1x Gaea's Blessing
1x Light of Day
2x Mana Short
2x Oath of Druids
1x Peacekeeper
1x Phyrexian Furnace
1x Powder Keg
1x Sacred Ground
1x Swords to Plowshares

Most of this deck either proactively or reactively disrupts opponents. Since most opponents play creatures, Oath of Druids allows the control-combo player to respond to a single opposing creature with Morphling, which was widely considered the best creature in the game back when this deck was played. It was also possible to use Forbid and Shard Phoenix, also fetched by Oath of Druids, to keep opponents from casting spells. Against opponents that didn't play creatures, Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave could apply pressure.

Oath of Druids decks have evolved considerably over the years, but they've mostly still been control-combo decks, with Oath of Druids fetching some big, game-winning creature. Morphling, used for its versatility, was replaced as an Oath target by Cognivore, used for sheer power, and Battlefield Scrounger, for an infinite turn combo using Time Warp. For a while Darksteel Colossus was a fashionable creature in Oath decks. Oath of Druids has been illegal in tournament formats other than Vintage for a long time. In Vintage, Tidespout Tyrant, used to enable a storm combo finish, was the most popular creature in Oath decks for years, eventually being overthrown by Griselbrand (also used to enable a storm combo finish).

Control-Combo Category 2: Combo elements first, followed by, or concurrent with, control elements
My description is vague. I'm really talking about “prison” decks. Many control decks do eventually lock opponents down, preventing them from being able to cast any spells or even preventing them from ever being able to draw another card. Often they even use combos to do that. These decks, prison decks, are different. They don't start out trying to build up a controlling strategy, gradually accumulating a tighter hold on the game. These decks lead with their combos. They use combo elements to obtain and play control elements.

The traditional control-combo decks, the ones I'm calling “Category 1” here, play like control decks, but devote some resources along the way to setting up combos. They might play control elements, countering opposing spells and such, then set up a combo with Academy Ruins and Mindslaver to win outright. The “Category 2” decks, prison decks, use combo elements that either allow control elements to be played very rapidly or that, through their synergies, establish control themselves. The distinction is that these decks, unlike other control-combo decks, do not play like control decks, even from the beginning. They want to set up interactions between cards in order to lock opponents down, and they want to do it from the start.

Control-combo decks that tend to lead with combo elements and then use them to control the game have long been prevalent in Vintage tournaments, due to the acceleration Mishra's Workshop provides for cards like Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Trinisphere, and Sphere of Resistance.

In one of the tribal games at the CPA (under different rules from the one in which I played goblins), I used an imprisoning spirit deck that narrowly won the game by accelerating out a lockdown with Tradewind Rider while I was at 3 life. This was a few years ago, but I believe my decklist looked like this.

1x Plains
2x Island
2x Forest
4x Tundra
4x Savannah
4x Tropical Island
1x Sol Ring
4x Fertile Ground
4x Birds of Paradise
1x Squee, Goblin Nabob
4x Mirari's Wake
2x Seedborn Muse
2x Karmic Guide
4x Tradewind Rider
4x Windborn Muse
4x Phantom Nantuko
4x Petalmane Baku
2x Phantom Nishoba
3x Kami of Ancient Law

My deck was neither the fastest nor the most disruptive in the multiplayer game that it won, but it was able to use mana acceleration with the combo of Survival of the Fittest and Squee, Goblin Nabob to churn out spirits that could take control of the game, mostly Windborn Muse and Tradewind Rider. In another deck, Tradewind Rider could be a useful piece of control. By using combo engines to quickly play multiple Tradewind Riders and all of my permanents multiple times, utility transforms into total domination.

Prison isn't as consistent as pure control, but it has the advantage of accomplishing some of the same things more quickly. Card advantage is good, but instead of settling for a little bit, why not take all of it?

Broadly defining elements of aggro, control, and combo, many decks do employ all three. But most of them fit into one of the above categories. Just because an aggro-control deck has some interaction that gives it card advantage doesn't mean it's also a combo deck. Just because some control-combo deck has a few efficient creatures doesn't mean it's also an aggro deck. To be effective, decks must place emphasis somewhere. Usually, it is more practical to have a deck that focuses on one element of gameplay (aggro, control, or combo) or hybridizes two of them to get the advantages of both. Magic doesn't have enough cards that accomplish all three at once for a deck to take all three approaches simultaneously without being bad at them. However, where broken cards are involved, sometimes a deck that would be aggro-control also has room for a combo so powerful that it becomes integral to the deck. For such decks, it is reasonable to label them aggro-control-combo. The first example that came to mind, is an old deck that a friend of mine once had. He called it Death From Above. He used to post at the CPA, as Al0ysiusHWWW, and posted his decklist there. So this gives me the opportunity to include one more CPA decklist in this article.

4x Phyrexian Dreadnought
4x Illusionary Mask
3x Phyrexian Negator
3x Hypnotic Specter
4x Duress
4x Hymn to Tourach
4x Unmask
4x Necropotence
2x Demonic Tutor
2x Demonic Consultation
2x Vampiric Tutor
2x Sink Hole
4x Dark Ritual
4x Strip Mine
2x Peat Bog
6x Swamp
6x Snow-Covered Swamp

The discussion in the thread in which this decklist was posted was rather silly, and that's beyond the scope of this analysis. Also, I should mention that this is another old, outdated deck. It's from 2004. Al0ysiusHWWW envisioned it as a sort of last hurrah: a deck he could hold onto after getting rid of the rest of his collection, and break out to play on occasion for a casual game or two, figuring it would still be just as good as it had been when he put it together. That ended up not being the case, on several counts. He did eventually revisit Magic, building different decks. He didn't hang onto this deck: I have the Illusionary Masks sitting right next to me (I always keep old rares on my desk whenever I write articles about Magic—for inspiration). And this decklist wouldn't have aged well: Illusionary Mask's erratum no longer lets it have a face-down Phyrexian Negator die without flipping (the bizarre erratum that it had at the time did allow for that interaction), some better cards have been printed that would work in a deck like this, better cards have been printed that would compete against this deck, and the redaction of the power-level erratum on Phyrexian Dreadnought allows it to be used in combination with cards that are more versatile than Illusionary Mask (Stifle costs less, has more uses, and most of the good Masknought decks were already running blue anyway).

Monoblack Masknought was weird and not really long-lived or important in Magic's history, but this list is definitely a good example of aggro-control-combo. The deck plays like an aggro-control deck. It disrupts opponents with removal spells and can kill with beatdown by Phyrexian Negator and Hypnotic Specter. But it also uses a two-card combo to get a 12/12 trampler for three mana, and it has ten slots that can help find the combo components. It can even get a 12/12 trampler, then pay some life to refill its hand and do it again, just in case one 12/12 trampler wasn't enough. It's a little too aggressive not to be an aggro deck, a little too disruptive not to be a control deck, and combo is simply integral to its existence.

This is, by no means, the only classification scheme for deckbuilding. It's probably not even the only one I'll present in the Comboist Manifesto, and others have been discussing these issues long before I arrived. But this should serve to elucidate the different approaches to using combos.

And hey, if nothing else, at least you got to see some old, mostly unusable decklists.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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