Tag Archives: mtg

The Art of the Expensive Combo

In Magic: the Gathering, I gravitate toward late-game awesomeness. Forget quick and easy combos–I want something that takes several turns to set up, so that I can savor the win when it becomes unstoppable. The idea of building an invincible combo one unassuming card at a time is so much fun.

This tendency certainly hasn’t dimmed or vanished in recent years. One of the recent decks I’ve been working on is basically a combo deck involving Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection.

The epic–and expensive at 10 mana–combo

I LOVE This Idea…

These two card effects blend beautifully, making my opponents lose double life every time I gain life. I’ve actually been able to use two Whitesun’s Passages to defeat somebody in one turn with that combo on the table.

With Boon Reflection on the table, you gain 10 life instead of 5. Two of these played while Sanguine Bond’s out, and you’ve just made your opponent lose 20 life… 😀

…But It Took a Lot of Work to Get Here

However, just because a combo works beautifully in your head doesn’t mean that it will ever come to fruition. I worked on my Sanguine Boon deck (as I’ve come to call this particular combo deck) for almost a year before it really got off the ground, because I couldn’t draw enough mana to play all the combo pieces when I needed to play them. Either that, or I couldn’t even draw the combo pieces at the right time. Since it’s a deck that involves enemy colors working together, I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t expect it to be impossible.

So, I ended up chatting with one of my friends about this conundrum I was having, forgetting momentarily that he was quite knowledgeable about many of the cards and strategies available to Black. I was (admittedly) venting about my frustration with the deck, and after a few thoughtful moments, he said, “Hey, you ever tried Dark Ritual or Demonic Tutor in that deck?”

These cards solve two problems: having enough mana and getting the card you need at the right time.

I hadn’t. Truth be told, I kinda knew the cards existed, but I hadn’t really paid attention. Black has never really been “my color” in M:TG, so I didn’t know the color inside and out like I know White and Green. His question made me ask myself: why am I not using Black’s support cards to get my combo, anyway?

Making This Expensive Combo Run Right at Last!

I realized then that I had been relying completely on the luck of the draw with this deck. I had built the deck with only Sanguine Bond as the main Black card, and had not used Black’s wealth of searching cards (also called “tutor cards”) to get the cards I needed into my hand. When you have an expensive combo like Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection, you need both the actual cards to play AND the available mana to play it, fast!

The addition of Demonic Tutor and Dark Ritual has helped Sanguine Boon become a truly winning deck in the games since then. The Black components (deck-searching and mana generation) helps all the White components be able to gain their life and defend life points long enough to get the combo in play. Once Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection are both in play, White takes over and begins to kick butt by gaining life (a LOVELY strategy if I’ve ever heard of one!).

Moral of the Story

Don’t put aside the idea of a combo just because it takes too much mana to pull off. There are plenty of cards in M:TG to support even the most expensive of combos, if you’re willing to look outside your comfort zone!

Competitive Magic is for Plagiarists

I might be kicking a hornet’s nest with this post, but I feel this ought to be said. Competitive Magic: the Gathering, the kind played in tournaments, is usually a bunch of players copying and winning with strategies that someone else thought up, commonly called “netdecking.” When you go to tournaments, you can just about expect to see the same 5 decks over and over again. And it really makes me angry, to be honest.

Netdecking: Plagiarism by Another Name

Considering my background in English literature and composition, the idea of stealing an idea from someone else and claiming personal winnings from it is anathema. Where I come from, that kind of thing gets you kicked out of college, not 1st place in a Magic tournament. Any idiot can steal a term paper off the Internet, or copy from Wikipedia and the like; it doesn’t necessarily mean that they themselves have gotten any wiser from the copying. The same goes for Magic decks–just because you can copy a deck doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a star player.

I view each of my Magic decks as an original work of art. Maybe it’s not an optimized game-winning machine, but I thought of it and it’s mine–it represents my creativity and my thoughts. Running someone else’s deck feels wrong somehow, as if I’m trying to take credit for the work they did in putting the original concept together. I would rather lose with a deck I created than win with something I didn’t have the slightest hand in shaping.

Yet most tournament players these days win with decks they pulled off the internet, just like the player next to them did. Instead of introducing new ideas to the Magic: the Gathering community, they’re content to just take a “deck that wins” and profit from it. How does that express individuality and creativity? How does that prove anybody’s smarts? IT DOESN’T!

This is why I get angry when I’m in a tournament full of nothing but copycat decks. I resent it when my playing skill and deckcrafting ability is judged to be of poorer quality because my lovingly crafted strategy didn’t win against a netdeck. And I hate it when these punks act so smug about winning with their netdecks, as if their win proves they’re somehow “smarter” than I am, when all they did was search Google for a few minutes. I feel like shouting, “Go home and build your own blasted deck instead of copying from everyone else, and then we’ll see who wins!”


I’d like to have fun again in Magic. And right now, the competitive tournament mentality is absolutely WRECKING the Casual Magic scene that I used to enjoy so much. Most people just bring in their netdecks now for CASUAL games, instead of working on deck ideas they actually thought of and want to test out. And you just can’t test a new deck against a netdeck that’s designed to win in 5 turns or less–it’s not even a contest, just a foregone conclusion.

Maybe for everyone else, “fun” equals “beating the crap out of someone’s copied Tier 1 deck with your copied Tier 1 deck,” but it’s not fun for me, and it’s not fun for most of the Casual Magic players I’ve talked to, either. Competitive Magic definitely has its place, but I don’t want it in my living room, and I don’t want it in my casual games. Just for once, can we all just build our OWN strategies and actually have FUN?

Magic: the Gathering

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible, fantasy-based card game, involving decks of at least 60 cards that you construct yourself. The basic premise is that you and your opponent are each given 20 life points to start. In a two-player game, the one who runs out of those 20 life points first loses. The game is about finding ways to protect your own life points while devising ways to take down the other player’s life points.

To Start: Find Your Preferred Way to Win

There are five basic “colors” of cards you can use to build your deck: White, Red, Green, Blue, and Black. Each color has a different philosophy of how to win:

There are also Artifact cards (which can be used with any color) and Hybrid/Multicolor (blends of two or more colors). Some philosophies of winning work well together (Blue and Black, for instance, or White and Green), and some philosophies have a harder time working together (like Red and Blue, or White and Black).

Literally endless strategies are available to be explored–there’s something for every personality. If you like to win by simply blocking anything your opponent tries to do, there’s a strategy for you (Blue and sometimes White). If you like to steamroll your opponent with huge creatures that trample across the field, there’s a strategy for you, too (Green all the way). And if you just like to blow your opponent’s stuff up, there’s a strategy for you, too (Red and sometimes Black).

Modes of Play: It’s Not Just a Two-Player Duel!

Magic: the Gathering does involve one-on-one games, but that’s not the only way you can play. Multiplayer (three or more players) games are allowed–in these situations, the last player left standing wins. Also, there’s alternative forms of the game as well, generally meant for casual play:

  • Two-Headed Giant (teams of two playing off against each other)
  • Archenemy (one player is the “villain” while a team of three players are the “heroes”)
  • Vanguard (special large-size cards with various characters from Magic lore are used to change up the rules of the game slightly)
  • Elder Dragon Highlander/Commander (choose a Legendary creature as your “general” and build a deck around him/her)
  • Mental Magic (pick up a card off a stack of random cards. You cannot play the card as itself–rather, you must play it as another card with the exact same cost. Requires lots of knowledge of various cards!)

For More Information

Visit MagicTheGathering.com for official product updates and informative articles; MTGSalvation.com also has lots of information on the history and lore of the game. I also have a website called The Gamer’s Repose, which has a fairly large Magic: the Gathering section featuring tips for beginners, and gameplay advice.