Philosophy of Combo

Discussion in 'General CPA Stuff' started by Melkor, Aug 4, 2017.

  1. Melkor Active Member

    The play design group released an article on combo on the mothership:

    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/play-design/philosophy-combo-2017-08-04

    Main take away, we think it's good to have combo in Standard so long is it's no good. I also did a nice double take on the idea that combo should not be faster than aggro, given that the old saying was that aggro beats control, control beats combo and combo beats aggro (which of course has been an obsolete saying for a while now but still). But if it can't beat aggro, then what is combo supposed to beat? I guess I'm still stuck in my mind of a combo deck being a glass cannon with search and just a little disruption/protection. Seems that combo nowadays isn't an archetype so much as it is just a win condition, in order to see play it has to be compact enough to fit into another archetype shell.
    Psarketos and Oversoul like this.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yikes. Well, it's probably obvious that I've got a lot to say about this, and that I don't agree with it. Part of the thesis of my Comboist Manifesto articles was that there's been too much derision and misunderstanding of combo decks and their role in a healthy game. I've seen a lot of misleading, dubious, or outright incorrect statements made about combo, and in many cases I've tried to counterbalance the anti-combo rhetoric. I've encountered the same wrongheaded talking points on the purported issues of combo that I could probably design Anti-Combo Rhetoric Bingo. And if I did that, and you combed through Melissa DeTora's article, you could use it to play Anti-Combo Rhetoric Bingo and you'd probably win!

    During "announcement week" when Play Design was first introduced, I was generally optimistic. I don't think I said anything here at the CPA that was particularly supportive of it, just because I'd intended to review the whole week of announcements and note my own thoughts on them, and I never got around to it. But I was genuinely glad that this was a thing. Now, I wasn't very invested in my positive attitude toward the new development, because it was primarily geared toward Standard, a format I don't pay much attention to. But still, I thought it could be good for the game overall. Well, this soured me on "Play Design" about as quickly as anything could. I haven't been so disappointed in content from the mothership in a long time.

    Well, I'll tackle this in-depth once I mull it over, but yeah, definitely disappointed with this.
  3. turgy22 Nothing Special

    I didn't read the article, but I completely disagree with everything they said.

    Having said that, based on Melkor and Oversoul's reactions, I get the impression that the actual game designers are actively trying to nerf combo decks. One of the things I always thought about combo decks was that they were born more organically and the interactions maybe weren't so obvious to the designers. Players found cards that maybe were designed with something else in mind and figured a way to work them together to do something ridiculous. Certain cards you see immediately and can see it's an aggro card or a control card, but combo cards, I feel, start out more subtle. The designers just want to try something different and unique that's never been done in the game and make a crappy card with a narrow focus, but then the combo players get their hands on it and discover that one other card that interacts with it in a crazy way.

    So, I guess the point that I'm making is that screw the designers and their stupid philosophies. It's up to combo players to keep breaking their cards and making stupid combo decks. Make Combo Great Again.
    Oversoul likes this.
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I appreciate Turgy's flip remarks, as I think dry wit is probably the appropriate response to this sort of thing. WotC are going to do what they will, and things will probably work out, as they have so far. So even if we think they're wrong, it's best to just have a little fun with it.

    Of course, when it comes to this topic, I have trouble doing that. I sort of fell into the role of being an advocate for combos and combo decks, here and elsewhere, so I've talked about these things a lot. If it had been about some other subject...

    Oh well. Guess I'll be going into rant mode...
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, here we go. From the top...

    I didn't initially think I'd have anything to say about the first paragraph, but since I'll be nitpicking everything, I want to note that while this doesn't sound like a false or wrong statement, it is actually pretty weird. "We don't have hard and fast rules for combo decks." Well, they don't have hard and fast rules for any particular archetypes or strategies! WotC does publish tournament rules and the rules of the game, but those govern all decks. Once a deck, any deck, is legal under the rules of whatever tournament/format/event/whatever it is in, it's legal and that's all there is to say on the matter. No one from WotC, let alone R&D, is going to go, "Um, excuse me, but your deck is a control deck and it has too many three-drops for a control deck under our hard and fast rules for control decks." The default assumption is that the same rules that apply to all other decks apply to combo decks, and that no other special rules are added just for combo decks. So yeah, it's a very minor quibble, but the whole thing starts off down a strange path. Anyway...

    Sure. If we're being technical, then "significantly stronger" is left undefined, and providing a single example of a combo is insufficient to describe the philosophy of combo. But I assume that this is written for a general audience, and exhaustive attempts at classification might be uncalled for. I have no objection to the point that Pestermite + Splinter Twin constitutes an example of a combo.

    Ooh, this one is a bit trickier than it looks. I suspect that when most people think of "Goblin Tribal" they think of aggro decks. In reality, in Legacy tournaments, Goblins decks have also been combo decks and control decks, and have passed through some of the territory in between all three at various points. Until recently, the niche Goblins had in Legacy was that of a control deck, getting many of its wins by grinding out Miracles, the most dominant control archetype in the format.

    I think Melissa DeTora's reasoning here is sound, but it's a bad example. There's nothing precluding Goblins from being a combo deck, as there are so many goblins with strong abilities that some synergies even go infinite.

    Here's where it starts to get bad. Longtime Magic players (of which Melissa DeTora is one) should know that the reason combo decks are healthy to have in Magic isn't because they "make deckbuilding fun." Rather, they help balance competitive play. For example, in an environment devoid of combo decks, if I have a control deck, I need defensive measures to keep aggro decks from taking me out, mostly protecting myself from overwhelming creature swarms in some way. If those same defensive measures are also effective against more midrange and hybrid archetypes as well, then all I need to do is use them, get to late game, and win. If I can do this well enough, I have a dominant deck. But if combo decks are in the environment too, then they present a different type of threat. My defensive measures might not work against them, and even if I can stall and reach a late game in which I could have an effective wall against aggro, a combo deck might have some tool that gets past my deck. Like they might have one of those cards that makes it so I can't play spells this turn or whatever. It's likely that I can't bank on the notion that if I survive the first few turns intact, I can establish control of the board and remain secure in my position. A control deck might even have the tools available to stop the combo deck, but in order to use those tools, it has to diminish its usage of tools that make it dominant over aggro decks. And even if it can find a balance to shore up both, is it really still going to be strong against other control decks too? In that world, it's a whole lot harder for one deck to achieve dominance.

    Melkor already covered this one. If combo decks are too slow to beat aggro decks, then why would anyone ever want to play a combo deck? As far as the old rock-paper-scissors idea, it was always more complicated than that, but as a generalization, there was some truth to it. It's not as though it's a 100% thing. Combo doesn't always outrace aggro. But it provides that threat. If you go all-in, full-force pure aggression with an aggro deck, well then, shouldn't you lose to combo? Why not?

    Time for a bit of a history lesson. Combo used to be pretty bad in Legacy, because the original Banned list curtailed all the best known combo options at the time, and it took a few years for enough card to be added to the pool for combo to become a real threat. There was the occasional Belcher deck or Doomsday deck or a bad storm deck fueled by Ill-Gotten Gains (called IGG-y Pop). But they were inconsistent and easily disrupted by control decks. Eventually, the best combo deck became "Solidarity" High Tide decks, but it was slow and kind of tricky to play. Aggro decks were diverse in the early years of the format, but after Alara Block came out, white/red/green decks running cheap, efficient beatdown that mostly happened to look like animals (hence "Zoo") was fast enough that it rose to the top. It had access to burn spells for clearing blockers or finishing opponents off, and it could run all manner of cheap disruption to deal with whatever bombs the slower decks in the metagame would try to use to stop it. But better still, it consisted of monetarily inexpensive cards and was very easy to play, so it became extremely popular as well as powerful.

    Zoo had its reign as the most popular deck for several years, and for a small window of time it might even have been the actual best deck (probably not), but its performance gradually dipped as its simple strategy encountered increasingly vicious predators. Goblins, Fish, The Epic Storm, Survival, and so on. Other decks just kept getting better, but because Zoo was so affordable and established, it kept showing up at tournaments in large numbers. After it finally died off, there'd be a lot of discussion of what killed Zoo, and the real answer is probably that it wasn't just one thing, but a bunch of factors. The important point, though, is that it wasn't Storm specifically. Storm wasn't anywhere near as prevalent as some other decks that beat the crap out of Zoo, such as Vengevival.

    Combo could be completely excised from the Legacy and people wouldn't be moved to swap out their Delver of Secrets for Wild Nacatl. If your thesis is that fast combo is pushing aggro out of the metagame, then what has to happen for that to be true is that when aggro is employed, its bad matchups are all combo. That isn't the case.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    You know what? Fine. Take Storm. Go ahead, just take it back. Take it out of the game if you hate it so damn much. It's my favorite mechanic ever, but if it'll permanently stick a cork in the mouth of every bloviating WotC employee who wants to use the existence of Storm as a sounding board to warn of the dangers of degenerate combo, then fine, get rid of the mechanic and shut up about it. You had one instance, in Vintage at that, in which Lion's Eye Diamond was somehow still unrestricted and players finally figured out how good the card was, so it put Storm on top until the restriction. Ever since then, Storm hasn't been a problem in any tournament format, and has made for a whole lot of second tier decks. And yet somehow, it's the canonical example of how combo decks are a problem. Because of "interactivity."

    I think I get it. So for a combo to be palatable, it must...

    A: Use creatures.
    and
    B: Be a three-card combo.

    Sounds "healthy."

    Oh, I'm delighted to learn that not every acceptable combo must use creatures.

    Then, OK, my question is, I guess...

    Why the hell would anyone ever want to play a combo deck? If a combo deck has to be both slow and easily disrupted, what possible reason could any tournament player have for playing the combo deck?

    Does this thing that is now suddenly a problem apply to all decks, or are combo decks the only ones that shouldn't be consistent anymore? I'm wondering what the rationale would be that another deck could run two cards with similar functionality, but that it suddenly would become a problem in combo decks.

    This is why I think Melkor said, "we think it's good to have combo in Standard so long is it's no good." She specifically chooses speed, "interactivity" (opponents being able to stop the combo), and consistency as the problems that combo decks present, but if you take all three of those away, combo decks will be utter garbage and won't be "fun and healthy."
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Uh huh. We're not talking about the reign of Tolarian Academy decks in 1998 or the Memory Jar fiasco the following year. Those Aetherworks Marvel decks are/were hot trash and maybe someday, if they can be bothered to rub a few neurons together, WotC will notice that when a slow, clunky artifact-based combo deck dominates a format that lacks artifact-removal, the problem probably isn't that the combo deck is just so gosh darn fast and consistent.

    So, to be comprehensive, combo decks are not allowed to be fast, are not allowed to be difficult to disrupt, are not allowed to be consistent, and are not allowed to be versatile enough to have some alternative win condition other than their dedicated combo finish. I know I'm repeating myself, but yeah, no one wants to play such a deck.

    Well, at least that's confirmation that "fun and healthy" means "not actually played." None of those are first or second tier Standard decks.

    But if a boring midrange deck dominates the format, since it isn't a combo deck, that's also presumably healthy. :rolleyes:
  8. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I haven't read the article (yet), but I think you ought to try to correspond with Melissa (the author, right?).
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    On the one hand, it would be overly pessimistic to assume that it's not worth it to leave them feedback when multiple people in R&D have emphasized that they do pay attention to player feedback. On the other hand, if I'm honest, which I feel like I have to be, it's a weird position to be coming from to tell a professional who is working on balancing Standard tournament competition something along the lines that "I think that you are wrong about this on several levels and even though I don't play in tournaments and you're a former Pro, you should listen to me anyway."
  10. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I think that the exchange of ideas would be good. Assuming she replies back, you can see where she's coming from because presumably she has access to data and feedback that you don't, and she can see where you're coming from as a player with years of experience. One or both of you could modify your positions as a result, who knows?

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