(Editor’s note-

Andrew is a regular player at Worlds Apart.  He’s the guy who ruined my undefeated record in the Sunday Gatecrash Prerelease…not that I’m keeping track or anything.

Andrew is a solid player with a good grasp of EDH concepts, and he’s constantly trying to analyze his play to improve his skills.  He’s also one of the people intgerested in driving some changes to our Wednesday Night EDH League at the shop, and he has been a part of many of our conversations on what makes a game good or bad. 

He sent me this a few weeks back after a conversation we had regarding combos and how they effect our metagame.  It’s a good read on the subject.  I’m certainly asking myself some of these questions, and I’ll admit that I’m occasionally the guy he’s referring to that rains on combo parades.  I’m trying to get better at not doing that, and I think this is a great topic to really think about.

Enjoy, folks.

—>Cass)

Scenario one:

You’re in a game with five other players, and so far your G/R tokens deck has flailed about, miserably stumbling on its mana while you watch a Doran player get beats on everyone with his Treefolk, the control mage counters the wrong things, the reanimator player stocks her yard, and the Niv-Mizzet player stares quizzically at his hand of 14 cards wondering why his deck hasn’t drawn a win-con yet. The control mage gets to his turn and casts a kicked Rite of Replication on the Chancellor of the Spires he had sitting in play the turn before. He looks at people’s graveyards and spots a Regrowth in one, a Time Warp in the other, a Fact or Fiction in the third and irrelevant cards for additional targets. At some point someone realizes that the control mage goes infinite, and the mage realizes the ridiculousness of what he managed to pull off. RANDOM COMBO FOR THEE WIN!!!

Scenario two:

You’re in an intense game of back and forth with a mono-green ramp player, a stereotypical Savra deck, a mono-white Darien, King of Kjeldor deck, and you, sporting your spiffy new mono-blue beebles joke deck. Your beebles steal things, counter stuff, and draw all the cards. You’re doing stuff this game! Unfortunately, so is everyone else. Darien gets out a painland and a Soul’s Attendant. Savra gets a sac outlet and Bloodghast. The ramp player untaps and siphons a massive amount of mana into a Genesis Wave. You stare at the Draining Whelk you had sitting in your hand and the lack of mana to cast it on your board. The ramp player proceeds to dump several large creatures and dozens of mana dorks, a Craterhoof Behemoth, and an Akroma’s Memorial to seal the deal.

Quick – what’s the difference between these two situations? Is it that one player won through an infinite loop, whereas the other won with a single card? Is it that one was a convoluted play that involved taking infinite turns while the other won on the spot? Is it that one required skill and serendipity while the other just involved building up resources for the optimal moment?

Answer?

One was random, a chance happening that no one could’ve accounted for. The other was premeditated – the deck is designed to do that very thing. The potential ramifications of running Rite of Replication and Chancellor of the Spires are that powerful things can – and do – happen. Genesis Wave, on the other hand, is either game-ending or swings things hugely in the favor of the caster.
That said, do these differences matter?

You want to know the truth? They don’t.

They’re both considered “combo wins”, and when completed people greet the play with a mix of reactions; most are along the lines of dissatisfaction, complaint and contemplation of why you bother playing this format to begin with, or why that particular card isn’t banned, and so on.
Let’s examine why this is: it’s possible that you might dislike losing in that fashion because –
a) It negates everything that you did up to that point
b) It required no skill to cast Rite on Chancellor or run out a massive Genesis Wave
c) There was nothing you could do to stop it at that time, either because you didn’t have the answer in hand or you don’t even run an answer to that potential situation at all in your pile of 99 cards
d) You’re hard-wired to hate combo plays, to believe to the core that it’s alien to the social nature of the format, and that you think everyone was denied a satisfying game with an uninteresting win.

The fact of the matter is that there will always be a winner and a loser. Sometimes the wins happen through a huge splashy play, and sometimes the wins come before the game ever really got started. Sometimes the ramp player spirals out of control, and sometimes people have the right answers at the right time to thwart that player. Sometimes the blue mage missteps and you capitalize, and other times you feel like you just sat there the entire game doing nothing but watching as one player turns things into a game of solitaire.
Then, sometimes, a random confluence of things come together to result in a spectacular fireworks-display of a win. ALL of these types of wins are typically regarded with a negative attitude, despite the nuances between them.

A part of the social contract of EDH is to promote fun, and yet lots of people tend to frown upon a player when he or she goes for the win, or casts a card that ends the game, or simply does something that’s uninspired and worn and “boring”. I accept that these things do happen.
I can also accept when a player capitalizes on a situation that, while involving a convoluted turn, results in a crazy win from nowhere. I feel like I should reward that player for the bomb sequence of plays they made simply because it was awesome. It wasn’t awesome for me personally, or the rest of the table who also lost, but realistically that’s the nature of ending a game – someone wins and everyone else loses.

Everyone wants that epic game of back and forth, of people putting up a fight on all corners and trumping everyone else’s plays with a bigger play or an answer or a board reset, but sometimes you just don’t get that experience. Sometimes your deck sputters out and you never really put up a fight, while the guy to your right combos your socks off. Accept that it happens, move on to the next game, and most importantly, keep a good attitude about it.
A corollary to keeping things fun in a social format is to conduct yourself in a manner that’s conducive to fun. Don’t be that negative guy who glosses over and says, “Oh you got your Squirrel Nest/Earthcraft combo off? How original,” and then proceed to guilt-trip the player and make them feel bad for ending the game. The only thing you manage to accomplish is to cloud your table with negative emotions and promote the idea that no one had fun with that win. In all honesty, someone could’ve had fun, but your attitude probably killed that. Nice work.

I think we should reward players who pull off unexpected combos. We should reward players who manage to assemble the pieces of a Rube Goldberg machine and actually get it working. We should celebrate when someone finally ends a grindy, long-winding game that seemed to have no end in sight. We should stop begrudging games that never took off and games that ended abruptly.
Why? Because these things happen. It doesn’t matter what metagame you have – whether hard locks, prison combo, and mass land-destruction are the order of the day, or whether people are only allowed to play limited fodder in their janky theme decks made purely for laughs. At the end of the day, it’s your attitude that counts, the way you conduct yourself, and the atmosphere your group promotes that affects whether your game was truly an hour or two of utter garbage, or whether it’s merely an occasion to brush some dirt off your shoulder and try for another game. Sure, there are moments where your deck performed like a giant steaming pile, and there are times where you wonder what happened to threat assessment when someone points an Identity Crisis at the player next to the guy with twenty-seven cards in hand and a combo-win likely ready to go.  Chances are you’ll feel less annoyed by the end of that game if you just shrug it off and realize exactly that – this is just a game.

So tell me…am I wrong for siding with combo players instead of the players that make you feel like your game sucked? I urge you – dare you to convince me that combos are as bad as they seem. Enlighten me – what do you think truly makes combo unpalatable? Is it when the deck is designed to consistently win with that combo? Does it actually matter to you at all? Or are you just hard wired to process a combo-win as anti-social?
Tell me – why do we casual EDH players hate combos?
àAndrew