GeneralDamageControl.Com

Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Combo-crafting

The Thing That Should Not Be – Part 5

Some people like their fried eggs sunny-side up and nice and runny. Some people prefer theirs over easy and solid. Some people like their boiled eggs all runny and googly (yeah I called them ‘googly eggs’ as a kid when I dipped my toast soldiers in them), while others like them hard boiled.

Similarly, some people rave on about watching a sunset, seeing the colours play across the sky as the photons are bent and diffracted through the atmosphere. Personally, I prefer a sunrise – the calm and peace before the cacophony as the world rises (truly best with an Irish coffee in hand).

Here’s the best thing about a sunset, though – I know a sunrise is coming.

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The Thing That Should Not Be Part 4 – 50 Shades of Eggs

Editor’s Note: After a brief hiatus that had nothing to do with GDC going down for a few weeks, Lord Krazy Kaka is back with the next chapter in his multi-part series discussing how to build an eggs deck in Commander, and what his favorite breakfast food can really do.

 I recall many years ago watching a fishing and travel documentary called “A River Somewhere.” It was an entertaining tale of two blokes travelling to different locations and fly fishing for whatever was there. While travelling around they would have a bit of a chat about the local town or some other amusing anecdote. One particular episode they were fascinated at one restaurant offering 50 different ways to fry an egg. While I don’t know 50 ways, I do often employ several methods depending on whom I am cooking for and my mood. As I become more sophisticated and adventurous in the kitchen, I find myself trying and employing new and different techniques on my eggy dishes.

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The Thing That Should Not Be – Part 3

An interesting fact about eggs: not only can they be cooked and used in many dishes, but they also come in a large number of edible varieties. Not only bird eggs, but fish eggs (caviar/roe), frog eggs, and even snail eggs can all be consumed. Furthermore, there are many types of edible bird eggs. Most folks would be familiar with chicken eggs, but maybe you’ve tried duck, quail or pheasant, and perhaps even goose or turkey eggs. For the adventurous perhaps even ostrich, pigeon or even emu eggs.

If you wanted to have eggs every day, you could go almost two weeks without duplication, simply through the types of eggs I’ve listed above. With a little research and a slightly wider view of thought on the matter, I’m sure you could go even longer without repetition, as long as the common denominator is not too restrictive.

The point is that they are all eggs.

The 7 to 9 Rule of Consistent Combo

This is a little something I learnt when I was first getting into playing Vintage Long Storm decks. This rule states that in a 60-card format, if you want to have access to something in your opening hand, you need seven to nine copies of the effect in your deck. To look at the probability of actually having something in your opening hand in EDH, you need to look at several factors:

  1. The number of cards in the deck.
  2. The number of copies of the effect in the deck.
  3. The number of cards you are going to see.

We can use this kind of information to calculate the probability of finding any card or copy of an effect in a deck at any given time (providing you can do the math quickly enough). For the purpose of the conversation today, let’s look at the odds of finding a given card or effect in your opening hand.

In a 60-card deck, the 7-9 rule states that we need seven to nine copies of an effect to reliably see one in your opening hand. Specifically having seven copies gives 86% probability, eight copies leads to an over 98% chance and nine copies is 110%. Therefore if I want to guarantee access to an effect in my opener, I’ll play nine copies of it. If we’re less desperate for the effect, ie able to wait a draw or two, then we can reach a degree of certainty that we could expect 100% access to an effect with fewer instances of it in our pile of 60 cards.

60 card opener probability

This is in essence the 7-9 rule. In Cifkas’ Second Breakfast list, the rule is applied heavily to allow the deck to reliably recur its namesake effect. It featured four copies of Second Sunrise and four of Faith’s Reward, totalling eight copies of the mass recursion effect. Following this rule is fairly straightforward for deck design in 60-card formats, as you are able to include up to four copies of the same card. EDH throws two mighty spanners into the works – we’re playing a singleton format and we need to fill 99 slots as opposed to 60.

Extrapolating the Math to the Big House

As with any probability equation, the 7-9 rule can be adapted to fit the different scenario that EDH presents. The first problem is recalculating what density of an effect is required in order to find it reliably. As for the 60-card format, I’ve produced some data that we can use to extrapolate this. How this is calculated: the probability of finding a copy of the desired effect, calculated as the sum of the probabilities of finding the effect on each drawn card, based upon how many cards are left in the deck (assuming that the previous draw failed to find). Here is a big table and graph of said data.

99 card opener probability

Editor’s note: The chart goes up to 30 copies, but that image wouldn’t fit. Here’s the file if you want to play with it, including both 60- and 99-card calculations.

Suffice to say, the closest probability of finding a card in a commander deck should use the 12 to 14 range as a minimum.12 copies of the effect offers as close to similar opening hand probability as seven in a 60-card format. This offers a range of high 80’s to just over 100% on an opening hand of seven. Obviously you can also increase the density of the required effect as far as needed, under the constraint of being able to find sufficient functional copies of said effect.

As a personal preference, both for explaining the extrapolation behind the maths and for meeting my preference for a slightly higher density probability, I generally recommend in the range of 13 to 15 copies, preferencing 15 copies where possible for a necessary effect. Why 15? When you look at a 60 card deck, you can roughly divide 60 cards by seven cards to get nine groups of cards (in actual fact 7 x 9 = 63, so we’re talking six-and-a-bit worth of opening hands in a 60-card deck). So if we want to make a given effect highly likely to show up in an opening hand, then we need one copy per opening hand. Nine hands of cards means nine copies of the effect. To equate this to EDH, our favourite 99 card format, a rough comparison of 99 to 60 cards is an increase of exactly 65% .This is roughly equal to an additional six opening hands in the deck, which means we would be looking to add an extra six copies of our target effect on top of the nine you need in the 60 card format.

Editor’s note: The previous section is dense, and was tough for me on the first read, but it is actually a great way to think about the math, and all the numbers and logic are there. Please give it a few reads before firing off in the comments, if you’re struggling to follow Kaka at first (unless I’m a moron and you’re all mega brains).

Multirole Madness

Combo in a non-highlander format is easy. You can find the optimal card (or two), grab a playset of four, and jam them in the pile. In singleton formats (and sometimes Vintage and Legacy), it’s not that simple. When you can only have a single copy of a card in the deck, you have to look for different cards with the same effect. As an example, say I wanted to be able to reliably exile an opponent’s graveyard. As a classical Vintage player, my mind immediately jumps to Tormod’s Crypt. In EDH however I can only have one Tormod’s Crypt, so as I want to reliably access this exile effect, I need to find 14 more functional Tormod’s Crypts. The modern players out there are probably confused as to why I didn’t immediately start with Relic of Progenitus (heh easy one, Crypt is free), which is a great example of a functional approximation of Tormod’s Crypt despite being overcosted (HAH).

We still need 13 more. Okay well how about everyone’s favourite card – Leyline of the Void? Great card, but if you weren’t in black you may well be now. Black also adds Ravenous Trap for some surprise (and often free) action. This brings us to four functional approximations off the top of my head. A quick rummage through the Gatherer database turns up a surprisingly large selection of graveyard hate, including some odd coloured gems like Bazaar of Wonders in blue. Depending on your deck design restrictions (only spells, all creatures, death by enchantments, mono blue, whatever), I’m pretty sure you could fill out 15 cards fairly easily.

What if however you were trying to find 15 copies of something much narrower, An effect that is so bizarre that it has only ever been printed once? What if you needed to find 15 functional copies of Leeches? There are plenty of ways to get poison counters, and a prolific number of ways (literally…. prolific) to proliferate more poison counters, yet only one card has ever been printed that removes poison counters. There is no Blood Drinker Worm card, nor an Anti-Coagulation Supper Slug card, and definitely no BYO Blood Drinkin’ Swamp Varmint card to clear off your toxic tokens. As such one has to consider the question:

“I need this card. There is only one copy of this card that I can put in this deck. How can I make this deck behave as if it had 15 ways to get this effect?”

I’ll bet most of you by now are taking bets on where I’m going to mention that fateful word “tutors”. You’re probably nodding along there chuckling and thinking “yep, I got fifty bucks on at the bookies that he’s about to do this.” Well, sorry gang, but look again at the last sentence – I guess I win this one.

Yes, the answer is in part tutors, and I know that a lot of people out there choose not to use them or just despise them as ruining the randomness of the 100 card deck. I can totally respect that and I do recommend using as few tutors as possible to fill the gaps, as using a tutor to fish up your target card functionally removes two copies of the effect from the deck. In the case of Leeches, this is dangerous, as there is only one copy of that effect in existence. Hence if you needed to use it again, no matter how good Demonic Tutor is, you cannot use a DT to grab the Leeches out of your graveyard. Demonic Tutor however could find a Regrowth, which could be used to bring Leeches back to your hand. In that sense you have a slightly convoluted and fairly expensive copy of Leeches relatively on tap.

My point here is that a card can best be defined by how you look at them. When I look at a Demonic Tutor, I see literally every other card that is still in my deck, from a basic land through to a Black Lotus. When I see a Regrowth, I see literally every card in my graveyard. Sometimes you have to look sideways, but looking at what things could be, what they could do for you, will often allow you to fill in those blanks.

Parting Thoughts

I hope that has got you all thinking about cards in a different light. Until next time I’d like to leave you with this quote from H.P. Lovecraft as food for thought.

“Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.”
― H.P. Lovecraft

Love and Velociraptors
Kaka
@TheKakaStorm

The Thing That Should Not Be – Part 2 – Applied Thermodynamics and Delicious Breakfast Options

The nature of eggs is that they are such a versatile food – a staple component in cakes and desserts, as well as in meatloaf and salads. They also make a fantastic component of sandwich fillings; from a delicious curried egg to a fried egg and bacon buttie, or scrambled eggs on toast. Pigtail and I have a bit of an ongoing kitchen battle in terms of preference for our scrambled eggs; she prefers hers on the creamier side, while I prefer mine on the firmer side.

The two aspects that control the final product when scrambling eggs are the mixture of eggs and dairy and the physical action of cooking. Finding that golden balance between allowing enough heat time to cook the eggs with balancing the type of dairy additive (milk vs. cream vs. cream cheese) can determine if you get a soggy mess or a deliciously creamy and firm covering for your toast.

What does all this have to do with Magic (apart from being a clever red herring about eggs)?

The Golden Ratio

Before you all start going and looking for Fibonacci spirals and 1.61803, I’d like to clarify that we’re not talking about the mathematical Golden Ratio , and while what I am going to talk about will enter the realms of some basic mathematics, it will focus on leads to the concepts of perpetual motion machines.

I enjoyed playing Cifka’s Second Breakfast list – once it is wound up to speed, the deck is a functional perpetual motion machine, meaning that application of the correct sequence of operations leads to a recursion of the sequence ad-infinitum, up until the point where the sequence is broken to direct the energy to apply to work outside of the recursion loop.

The Problem With Perpetual Motion

If you’ve ever studied science, you’re likely familiar with the laws of thermodynamics. For those of you who are not, or who have forgotten, here is a quick refresher:

-The first law of thermodynamics is a variation on the laws of conservation of energy. What this means is that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, but simply converted or changed into other forms. In Magic, this can be seen in Squirrel Nest. This card allows you to tap a land which would normally produce mana or energy and instead put a creature token into play; hence, this is an example of converting energy into mass.

The second law requires that the entropy (chaos or randomness) of an isolated system (a deck) should not decrease without being worked on by outside forces. It should increase or at the least stay the same. This is referring to inefficiency in converting input energy to an output of work. Essentially, friction kills perpetual motion machines.

Finally, the third law of thermodynamics postulates that the entropy (chaos or randomness) of a perfect crystal at absolute zero degrees should be zero. Therefore, in a perfectly ordered system with no addition of energy, there should be perfect order: no chaos, no surprises.

Magic is interesting in this way – it is an environment whereby we design decks to lower the entropy (aka the chaos) of the system; we specifically manipulate our card choices and design of our deck so that our weapons of choice can perform predictably to our desired end states. Second Breakfast is a working example of a deck that is designed to approach the third law of thermodynamics – each iteration of the deck cycles towards an increasingly perfected ordered state, culminating to form the perfect crystal; you will always draw the exact card you need and produce the perfect combination of mana to fuel the engine.

The first law applies to Magic in the sense that it involved converting card potential from the deck, through your hand, and into play. Once in play, it can convert to energy – back into more potential cards, or to resources. In a perpetual motion machine, this conversion requires that the work produced by each payment of a cost will act as the payment of the next cost ad-infinitum. Conceptually, a properly structured Magic deck containing the right combination of cards could possibly fit with the first law of thermodynamics to engender perpetual motion – a chain reaction (or, essentially, an ‘infinite combo’.)

The problem with the current card pool is that we encounter the second law of thermodynamics – efficiency.

The Friction Fraction

We all know friction – it’s a love/hate relationship. We love that the brakes work on our cars, but we hate the cost of the constant battle with it in our mechanical devices. Friction exists in Magic as well: it manifests in the form of cost exceeding the value of an effect. A relevant and fantastic example of this are the namesake cards for the Eggs archetype.

311 309 308 304 299

The Odyssey eggs are an example of mana (or energy) friction. They cost one mana and one card from hand to cast, then they cost two mana to activate. This nets a return of two mana to your mana pool and a card to hand -a net loss of one mana to friction. This wasted energy could be considered to be “converted” to potential storm count or graveyard resources if you are playing a graveyard-oriented deck, but for now, let us ignore virtual energy and resources and focus on the nature of our perpetual motion machine.

In the battle with Magical friction, a term I have adopted from Vintage cardboard slinging colleagues (who have also been known to play synergy combos) is the “Golden Ratio”. This is a ratio between the input cost of an effect and the work it produces to generate more resources for you to continue the chain. In a frictionless environment, an Odyssey egg would need a zero-mana cost to play, hence costing just the card, followed by tapping and sacrificing itself for two generic mana to produce a single card drawn to hand and two mana back to your pool.

In other words, an efficiency ratio of 1:1.

Energy is converted to matter and then matter converted back to energy – meeting the requirements of the first law of thermodynamics. This meets the requirements of the second law too, as there is no wasted energy in the conversion.  In reality, however, the design of the Odyssey eggs in an isolated system falls short of the golden ratio.

This means that with each card we play, and with every resource we spend in popping Odyssey eggs, we increase the entropy of the play state. The further below the efficiency threshold of the golden ratio, the greater our probability of failure to have the resources to proceed to the next link in the chain. Given also that Wizards of the Coast are yet to (and unlikely to ever) print a card with a converted mana cost of one that reads, “Deal 1 damage to target creature or player, add 1 mana to your pool and draw a card”, we also need to add inefficiencies into our decklists to enable a way to actually finish off the opponent. This is the nature of having to shoehorn deliberate spots of friction into the perpetual motion machine – we simply cannot reach the golden ratio of efficiency.  We can reduce natural friction by playing with the fewest artificial friction points, and we can also reduce natural friction by playing with the most optimal selection of toys, i.e. the cards that most closely skim along the edge of the golden ratio.

Let me ask you however – What would happen if we could beat the golden ratio? What if we could be more efficient than 1:1?

2 + 2 = 5

We’ve over twenty years of card design mistakes to draw upon from Wizards of the Coast. Many of the cards that are now considered mistakes were perfectly reasonable when on the drawing board. Others have since found new and surprising applications in tandem with later printings; these synergies allow the efficiency of many of our Eggs to approach the golden ratio. Imagine casting Mossfire Egg for zero mana, then paying two mana  to sacrifice it for a return of two mana and a card. You’ve pushed the Mossfire Egg into the golden ratio. Imagine now that you had Thought Reflection in play: you would now have broken the golden ratio for the Egg, as you’d be netting two cards to replace the one spent for no change in available mana.

Multiple synergies can attack on multiple axes of resource output, or they can stack to attack a single resource requirement. As an example, if you had Helm of Awakening and Etherium Sculptor in play simultaneously, then Etherium Flask becomes zero mana – play a card, then draw a card.

The Golden Ratio can be attacked on several axes – reduction in mana expenditure, increasing mana output, increasing card advantage and recursion force multiplication. The examples provided above in Helm of Awakening and Thought Reflection are great examples of static mana reduction and card advantage creation when popping an Odyssey Egg; however, while reduction in mana expenditure and increasing card advantage can get us close to the golden ratio, the only way to truly surpass it is to enhance the synergy with a force multiplier. Second Sunrise, the namesake card of Second Breakfast is an excellent force multiplier; popping only a few “eggs” in combination with a synergy enhancer allows for a massive magnification of the output of our eggs. Where before we may have played and popped three or four eggs for neutral value, now we could pop those same eggs for a greater output of cards than we invested. In that scenario, we have now broken past the golden ratio. We’ve now made perpetual motion (in cardboard form at least) possible.

Next Time

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this little segue into mechanical theory. I’ll be following up next time with the other important theory that needs to be applied to make Second Breakfast plausible in Commander. Please stay tuned, and as always, feel free to hit me up in the comments or on Twitter. For now I’ll leave you with these parting words:

“When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Kaka
@thekakastorm

The Thing That Should Not Be – Part 1 – What Makes Me Tick

It’s been a little while gang, so I hope y’all are anticipating something fun. Many of you know me well enough by now to know that I usually have many projects on the burner. Hopefully, you also know me well enough to be aware that I like what I call “real combo” decks: cerebral magic that rewards skill and heuristic mathematics applied on the fly. Decks where you have to earn the right to take the win.

Editor’s Note: KAKA takes his time in this piece, but we promise, it’s worth it. The payoff in future parts is a doozy. 

The little project that I would like to introduce today is an ocean of shenanigans that I first began working on conceptually about 2 years ago. Coincidentally, it happened when one of the players at my LGS said the fateful words, “Kaka, you can’t build that. It’s not possible in EDH.” If there is one thing you can say to me to get my hackles up, it’s to tell me something cannot be done.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of my new deck, a little something that I like to call “Full Metal Pavlova.”

The Thing That Should Not Be

If you’ve been paying attention and know what a Pavlova is then you might have an inkling about what I am about discuss. However, before that, I’m going to take you all on a bit of a ride, a magical journey through time and space, to the land of delicious treats.

The Pavlova is something that Australia and New Zealand have been fighting over for about a hundred years, each claiming to be the originating nation for this delicious dessert (of course the Kiwis are wrong, as usual). Essentially, a Pavlova is meringue based dessert, which is topped with fruit and cream. For those of you who know your desserts, I can hear your brains all clicking into gear. For those who do not…meringues are formed from beaten egg whites and sugar. It takes skill and knowledge to get them to the perfect consistency. The forming of the meringue takes patience, but the baking requires exquisite timing to execute, timing so that it resolves in the perfect crispy outside with the soft gooey inside. If you haven’t had a Pav, then I hope you take a quick peek at Google as there are some great recipes out there – passion fruit and kiwi fruit are to die for on one.

No, not this egg.

So now that I have you all up to speed, yes, we’re talking about Eggs in EDH.

A Historical Interlude

I first encountered the concept of “Eggs” after returning to Magic from one of my many hiatuses over the years. I’d just moved states to live with Pigtail (aka “Wifey”), and I’d been scouting around for a new geek family to assimilate into. My old cards had been gathering dust until I found a Vintage group playing monthly at a comics and games store called Games Quest. At the time, I was playing a little, sodding awful monster of a deck that I’d been tinkering around with back when the original Mirrodin was in Type 2, menacing board states with indestructible Nevinyrral’s Disks and Tinkering out and going sideways with Darksteel Collossus. This was where I first encountered Vintage Storm and fell in love with combo. Specifically, it was my first encounter with Long.dec. If you’re not familiar with the archetype, then I would highly recommend reading some of Stephen Menendian’s work from over the years, especially this.

The concept evolved into a list again developed by Steven Menendian and his team which they called “Meandeck Tendrils.” The list tried to make plays in a cohesive sequence that created a situation where the “golden ratio” was exceeded. The golden ratio is a topic that I’ve spoken about in the past, but not one I’ll be elaborating today. Notably, the list featured several “eggs” in the form of Darkwater Egg and Chromatic Sphere, and later versions featured Chromatic Star.

In more recent years, a similar deck gained popularity in Modern when Stanislav Cifka dominated a pro tour event with a list called “Second Breakfast.” Sadly for me, this deck was banned, one of the reasons I find little to interest in Modern (I told y’all I’m a dirty combo player in competitive formats). I found a mechanical and mathematical beauty in these lists, in that they have multiple viable paths to victory. The lists reward both the play skill and ability to apply heuristic mathematics on the fly to make the right decisions. They are decks that for me, if I win a game with them, then I have had to earn my victory.

Adventure Awaits

Where to from here? Well I hope you’ll enjoy coming on this journey with me. When I first postulated the idea of building Eggs in EDH, I was told it had been done. When I said I was going to build Second Breakfast in EDH, I was told that it could not be done. How could a deck that relies on manipulation of the probable contents of its cards, drawn through density of effects, to sequence its plays, be viable in a singleton card format? How does this monstrosity work? What demon did Kaka summon and listen to the gibbering tongues of? These are all questions I hope to answer for you all in an entertaining as possible way.

This is the thing that should not be.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Kaka R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
Kaka
@thekakastorm

To Combo or Not To Combo, That is Thy Question

If William Shakespeare had been a Magic player instead of the legendary playwright that we know and love today, I daresay we would have heard him utter the fateful words around the Commander table:

“To combo or not to combo, that is thy question”

 

Recently I have been involved in a few discussions about the nature of and the use of combo decks in our beloved format. Combo decks and the use of combos are a difficult and a touchy subject with most players, and often create quite divisive arguments. Here at General Damage Control, we generally advocate several things. I’d like to highlight two of them:

 

  1.  We believe that games are best played where there is an agreed social contract between the participants.
  2.  We believe that the fun is in the journey of the game, not shortcutting immediately to the destination.

 

There are many points and positions that we take and discuss; however, the above two are our universal and fundamental positions as a group.

Fun

What is fun? Fun is a tricky thing to really define, but I’ll take a crack.

Fun is the derivation of a sense of pleasure and/or satisfaction from performing an activity.

 

I’ll let that sink in for a few minutes.  Go on, take a break, have a coffee and absorb that one.

Good!  Now that I have all of your attention again, let’s continue. This definition of fun allows that my sense of fun can be derived differently from yours; we could still be deriving that fun from the same activity, even though what we find fun can be very different. Part of the nature of the Social Contract is to find the balance in what you and the people you’re playing with find fun. We play our games of Commander to generate that fun, and we choose the people we choose to play with in the hopes of generating a situation where we can have that fun.

For some people, fun is simply ‘winning the most’ or ‘winning the fastest’. For others, it is ‘making cool things happen’ or feeling like their plays in the game mattered. For some, it is going to be the table talk. I’ve looked in the past at finding a mutual dynamic that allows your group to derive the maximum fun from a game, so I don’t feel the need to dredge that discussion up today; what I really want to talk about is a particularly divisive topic – combo decks – and how they relate to fun.

I hear all the time lines such as:

“Oh yay, the same boring combo again”

 

“Well if I knew I was going to play combo all night, I’d have brought a degenerate pile of cheese too”

 

Funnily enough, I don’t hear that with every combo deck. I do, however, hear this with one specific subset of combo decks. “A specific subset of combo decks?”, I hear you all exclaim in confusion?

Yes, a specific subset. There is much more to playing combo than meets the eye.

Takes One to Know One

I’ve outed myself on several occasions before: I’m a combo tragic. When I go to play Vintage, anyone who knows me counts another Storm deck in the room. I like working for my kills, and playing games where I have to choose the right sequencing of spells and abilities to chain together a path to victory.

Simply put, I love the adrenaline of playing a combo deck well.

However, when people make the statements I outlined above, often these decks are nowhere in sight. As such, I’d like to outline my categorization of combo decks:

 

The Monte: The Monte is a combo deck that engineers a repeatable and often infinite loop of events utilizing a discrete pool of cards.  For example, one could combine Sensei’s Divining Top with Future Sight and Helm of Awakening to create a loop of draw triggers from the Top, and then replay it for free due to Future Sight and Helm of Awakening, thus giving you a discrete loop enabling you to draw your deck and produce an absurd amount of storm.

A Monte deck has at least one Monte combo; however, it is often packing several. A particularly canny Monte player will run synergistic Monte combos that allow the discrete puzzle pieces to interact with several other puzzle pieces; this allows for a degree of protection from offensive strategies like Sadistic Sacrament and other similar avenues of attacking resources. The Monte deck, however, will almost always have a linear game plan – one where the strategy is always to run out the Monte sequence and finish the game.

 

The Synergy Engine: The Engine is different from the Monte in that it does not rely on specific puzzle pieces locking together. In a Synergy Engine, the whole deck is one giant combo; each piece ideally should be able to softly perform in many roles, with each one played helping the progression of the deck to the next game milestone, and each milestone is yet another progression of the deck towards the endgame. The Synergy Engine is most commonly seen in competitive formats as decks like Eggs in Modern, Ad Nauseam Tendrils in Legacy, or (my preferred deck) Long in Vintage. These decks are all examples of where the deck plays sequences of cards to reach a critical mass before unleashing a killer card that is somehow fuelled by the previous stages of play. A familiar example of a Synergy Engine is my Riku of Two Reflections deck that I have recently been discussing.

The other side of the coin is a very different animal both in construction and execution.  There is no room in a Synergy Engine for dead weight. Every card, more so than in a Monte deck, has to fill one or more roles. Unlike a Monte weapon, the Synergy Engine doesn’t need to rely on finding or tutoring up specific puzzle pieces.  The Synergy Engine is a cardboard version of a big ball of putty; you can mold it and shape it depending on the situation. The play of a Synergy Engine deck may have a focused game plan with an overall linear strategy, but the deck will handle very differently depending on the nature of the pilot and what the game state is asking of it.

The Meat in the Sandwich

Why am I rambling on here about the structural and play difference between the different types of combo decks? Synergy Engines cannot just be randomly jammed into the shell of another deck, unlike a Monte. The puzzle pieces of a Monte only need to take up one or two slots, and often one of those slots is a tool that the deck would otherwise be running. This means that a Monte combo loop can be retrofitted into almost any deck with minimal design disruption or alteration to the core play of the deck. Think of it as a loop that can likely have constituent components tutored up with the existing tutor package in the deck. This makes for easy, ready access to finding and assembling the Monte combo. I don’t personally feel that this is a good or skillful way to play EDH, but on the flip-side, if your group likes and accepts this, by all means go have fun. All too often however, I hear the line “I’ve got an infinite combo in my deck for [insert reasons]”. These reasons range from ‘needing to police a situation’ to ‘needing to be able to end a game’ to ‘needing to be able to remove an unfun player’ right through to “I have this cool combo” and “it’s just what my deck does”.

To that end, I’d like to pose you all a few questions.  Please think about your answers as if you were in game. You’ve added an instant-speed infinite combo to your deck that you can readily tutor up.

 

  1. You’re playing a fun game, it’s about turn 3 and you draw the combo. Do you play it?
  2. The game has been going on for an hour or so, there have been plenty of back and forth twists and turns and you get access to the combo. How about now – do you play it?

Okay…now, let’s try this:

 

  1.  You’re staring down the barrel of an impending alpha strike by the biggest asshole at your LGS. Do you pull the pin and lob the grenade?
  2. Say it isn’t the biggest scumbag in the store…say it’s just an everyday alpha strike and you’re about to be on the receiving end. What about now?
I’ll bet someone answered ‘yes’ to at least one of those.

If you didn’t, are you running a Monte instead of a Synergy Engine? If so, why?

Closing Time

Now, I’m not trying to make anyone feel judged…I just want to get you all thinking. I want you all to think about combo decks, what you run, and why. I personally feel that running a combo deck is a choice – as much of a choice as playing aggro or control. It’s a deck choice that suits your style of play and sense of fun. I prefer to run Synergy Engine combos over Montes, but do not get me wrong – I do run Montes in decks where the engine or the market I target them to is appropriate. However, I prefer to not run a Monte in most of my decks, no matter how easy it is to shoehorn in, and no matter how easily it would fit with existing tools in the deck. Why? Because I know I can’t resist that temptation. I know that I am going to reach for that nuke button. I know I’m going to respond to that threat with apocalyptic might, and I no longer find it fun to be on the giving or receiving end of a Monte (at least not all the time).

It all comes down to the social contract. If your group dynamic likes sudden game detonations? Sure, by all means. If they don’t and you’re packing that kind of heat…do you actually know why?

I’d love to hear from you guys, so can of worms…open: Go.

Kaka

The Specter of A Combo

We’re past the awesomeness that was GenCon 2015, and though I did not get to go this time around, I still had the pleasure of a small GDC meet up in the form of Kaka and his wife Penelope swinging by EDH night here in NYC on their way to the ‘Con in Indiana. It was great to meet them and hang out, and we even got to play a game which allowed me to see Kaka’s ‘super secret tech’ deck. Hopefully next time around I can fully join in on the festivities and be a part of all the shenanigans in Indiana.

Here on the homefront, I was still able to get some games in the day after the ‘Con ended to alleviate some of the fun I missed out on. It was during this time that I ran into a curious phenomena during one of my games: the harbinger of combo death.

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Mental Cesspool 3 – Omniscience or Infinity

Welcome back punters. Today I bring you part 3 of Mental Cesspool. If this is your first time reading the vile madness that oozes like phyrexian goo from my brain, you might want to check out part 1 and part 2 of our journey. We’re exploring what tools we have to enjoy playing combo-oriented and spell-oriented decks while not being a two-card-monte douchebag. We’re looking at alternative deck options that will allow you to play and win with decks that don’t just drop value tubbies in the red zone.

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Mental Cesspool 2 – The Storm Is Brewing

Welcome back, folks!  Picking up from last time, hopefully you all remember I started talking on the subject of non-creature, non-two-card-monte kills. We talked about different types of non-redzone kills available, which included X-CMC spells, Rube Goldberg engines and Storm-like effects.

What I would like to do today is to delve deeper into what actual viable kill cards we have available.

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Killing It Softly (With Psionic Blast)

Like many people, I suspect I have my best deviant ideas in a nice hot morning shower. And about twelve months ago, a real doozy hit me.

Before I explain, let me first ask you all a question. Stick your hands in the air if you remember Psionic Blast. Go on…stick them up there.  Now, take them down if you just looked at the mouse over image or checked Gatherer.

Yeah…I thought so.

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