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. The scene is as follows:

A five-player game between myself (piloting my land-focused Dakkon Blackblade deck), the man affectionately known as “SpikeJohn” and Mike (piloting their Karador, Ghost Chieftan goodstuff builds), Ryan (running a Karametra, God of Harvests deck), and the deck that caused the trouble – Brian’s Oona, Queen of the Fae.

The first four people I mentioned are regular participants in our EDH nights, while Brian used to come a lot more in the past but is now showing only sparingly. The regulars all know Brian (and he’s a fun dude to play with), so we all sit down and prepare ourselves for a game. Once Brian pulled out his Oona build, I was instantly on high alert, as he tends to play some supercharged mill combos in the deck that he can access quickly and end the game in a hurry. It’s not a deck I particularly like playing against due to the combo shenanigans, but I went into the game hopeful that we could keep the deck in check.

The game started out normally, until Brian dropped Basalt Monolith on turn four. Emergency alarms go off in my head, and I can tell we’re moving into combo territory. I attempt to slow down the combo pull with Return to Dust, but Brian quickly counters it. His turn comes next, and he drops Power Artifact, making him infinite mana and putting him dangerously close to being able to exile each player’s library. The table realizes this collectively, but Ryan and SpikeJohn are mana screwed and Mike doesn’t have any removal during his turn to take care of the problem. The Return to Dust was the only piece of removal available, and I reluctantly passed the turn to Brian – knowing that he can take out at least one player on his turn.

Brian’s turn hits, and he declines to knock any player out, instead sitting with infinite mana and stating that he wants to play it out. This is where the game shifts into weird territory.

I don’t know if any of you have played under the condition of a player holding a combo like this and declining to use it, but it warps the game into a strange place. The player with the combo threat sits like a specter, looming over the table with vengeful wrath just waiting to be doled out. The rest of the table has to either work together to eliminate the threat together to continue the game, or else just ignore the combo and wait for it to end them. For us, it marked a dramatic shift in tone of the game, and everyone played as if walking through a room with broken glass on the floor while barefoot. We all played the game generally ignoring Brian for fear of getting knocked out immediately, and Brian continued expanding his board. SpikeJohn, usually great at threat assessment and finding answers for such thing, had the best chance of disrupting his plan with a Harmonic Sliver, but he declined to target either part of the infinite mana generation and basically resigned himself from having any effect on the table.

I was in the best board position after Brian and tried to build to a spot where I could take him out, but it proved futile in the end.  Brian was in complete control of the game and we were all just participating in a Sisyphean task of trying to take him out. Though it was obvious to us all how this was going to eventually end, Brian just did not want the game to end. He had ample oppurtunities to finish us all off, and he refused to do it. We played out the string of the game, but it was just several more turns of going through the motions as we waited for Brian to combo off. Everyone else occupied themselves with the usual staring into tradebinders/looking at cell phones that usually accompanies such a game.

Finally – towards the end where it was becoming increasingly clear that this was going on way too long, I declared to Brian that we had to have a talk after the game ended. The game continued just a little while longer, and Brian ended it with the combo he’d been promising many turns ago.

As we began to shuffle up for another game (with everyone choosing a new deck), I asked Brian about his decision to not end it sooner. I told him that I understood from playing with him before that this deck was a pet favorite of his, but he knows that the metagame that exists at the Atrium where we play is not cutthroat – or that thrilled with combo wins. I spoke for the table in that we were all pretty bummed playing under the shadow of the combo he was holding, and that it wasn’t fun playing knowing that we were all going to just bite the dust to it whenever he chose so.

Brian took the comments in stride, and said that he didn’t realize how his play style was affecting the rest of the table, and he was apologetic for turning the game into what it became. He agreed that he does love to play the deck, and since he doesn’t get the chance to play that often he relishes the chances he does get to play it. He also does play in some different playgroups where the deck is appropriately tuned, and he keeps it intact in order to keep up with the Joneses there. We talked about him changing up some of the more cutthroat tendencies that the deck has, and instituting a sideboard for when he is at the Atrium that corresponds more to the power level that we generally adhere to.

Overall, it was a great talk and was positively constructive for both sides. I’m glad that I was able to have a discussion instead of brooding over how the game went, and I’ll be happy to play against Brian again knowing that we understand each other’s positions. I totally understand his plight of decreased gaming – as we all get busier it gets increasingly more difficult to find the time to play EDH as often as we would like. When we do get the chance to play, we want to play certain decks and we want to find enjoyment personally in the game. That being said, EDH is a format built on shared enjoyment for the table (for the most part), and it is helpful to hear the opinions of the other players in order to remind yourself that your play always has an effect on the other players at the table.

Tapping into your empathic knowledge in order to find a happy medium between you and the people you play against goes a long way in increasing everyone’s enjoyment of the game.

What do you think?  Have you played under the threat of a looming combo like this before? What was your reaction to it? As for the combos players out there, how do you apply your combos? Do you just win immediately, or do you let the game play out like Brian did? I’d love to hear more input to get a read on this from the community at large.

-Jon