Essential Magic Articles

Vintage- Analyzing Silver Bullets through Ballistics: Part 1 – Smoking Guns

by Seven

The next engines to analyze are those of combo decks.  Since combo decks try to win as fast as possible, these engines will lean heavily on card tutoring to compliment their card drawing strategies.  To avoid confusion, the main focus of this analysis will be the cards used to bring a combo online, not the 2 or 3 cards combo that wins the game itself.  We'll take a look at a few combo decks, new and old, and compare their combo engines to draw some conclusions on this pillar.  This will aid us in being able to combat this strategy effectively should the need arise.

As an example, let’s take a look the Gifts decks of Vintage 2005. The win condition consisted of either Tinker into Darksteel Colossus, and seven mana to Time Walk twice (with the help of Recoup), or to Gifts into mana acceleration and play Tendrils of Agony with a lethal storm count.  For the deck to win, it needed to hit a resource threshold.  Once that resource threshold has been met, winning would be inevitable.  The resources needed were either a graveyard stocked with spells and mana accelerants (for the Tendrils kill), or 7 mana, Tinker, and Time Walk.  The engine that facilitated this was the Gifts Ungiven and Merchant Scroll.  By running the appropriate number of copies of both spells (usually four of each), the deck would consistently set up a turn 3 Gifts Ungiven and set up for the turn 4 or turn 5 win.  Gifts set up both win conditions very well, as it and pulled broken cards out of your library placing them into your hand or graveyard to achieve the resource threshold it needs to secure a win, through tempo advantage or setting up a lethal Yawgmoth's Will.  The engine that allowed the deck to win was the tutor engine of Merchant Scroll and Gifts Ungiven.  Gifts has since been restricted, but this example will allow us to see combo from a clearer perspective.

Flash is dominant in today's environment and rightfully so.  The deck is insane.  The win condition is resolving Flash while Protean Hulk is sitting in your hand.  That would allow you to combo out using either the Sliver poison kill, or the new Reveillark kill.  The engine that gets this combo online is the cheap card quality/tutor engine of Brainstorm, Ponder, Summoner's Pact, and Merchant Scroll.  These cards usually take up around 12 slots in the typical Flash build, but give the deck an extremely cheap and extremely high goldfish rate.  Not only do they dig for the pieces of the combo, but they also help dig for ways to protect the combo, meaning that these cards are rarely dead cards in your hand.  The most efficient decks have upwards of 12 shuffle effects to ensure Brainstorm and Ponder are never dead draws.

Dredge at first doesn't look like a combo deck.  It's runs lots of creatures and casts no spells.  However any Dredge pilot will tell you the deck plays like a combo deck:  that's because it is.  The win condition is a horde of Zombies to bash your face in.  This deck uses three engines to ensure this happens.  The resource the deck aims to abuse is draw triggers, and Vintage Dredge has created an engine to ensure that happens: Bazaar of Baghdad and Serum Powder.  Essentially, this engine works before the first turn of the game starts.  That's to ensure that you can start dredging as soon as turn 1.  The second engine is the decking engine, the cards used with dredge:Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and  Golgari Thug.  This works in conjunction with the first engine to put the physical cards in the graveyard.  The third engine is actually a discard engine that also functions as a creature engine:  Ichorid and Cabal Therapy.  Ichorid functions as a recursive creature engine that fuels free Cabal Therapies to strip the opponent of countermagic so that your Dread Return will resolve.  If Bridge from Below is in the 'yard, this engine also become a creature generating engine as well.  All in all, this deck is a highly compact deck that utilizes its 3 engines together to function as a highly disruptive strategy with a very aggressive clock.

Last edited 7/17/2008 4:12:18 PM Page 2 of 8  Prev  Next  Go to page:

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