Command of Etiquette—The Social Cost of Combo

Combo has a place in the Commander meta. Many games will drag on forever, and it’s not a terrible thing if a deck has a means of just winning the game from time to time. But there is such a thing as a bad combo deck in EDH. Bad combo is unfriendly. Bad combo just wants to win.

In my last article, I mentioned one of my friends getting blown out on turn two by a Tooth and Nail package that killed all the other players at the table. This would be an example of an unfriendly combo. I forget the specifics, but every card in his hand was there for the sole purpose of storming out a victory condition as quickly as possible. And that doesn’t make for a fun game.

It’s important to remember that Commander, more than any other Magic format, is a game of social contracts. When you break out the 100-card decks, usually you’re playing a friendly game with several other people. That experience frays when you focus on winning at the expense of game play. This is complicated, because in addition to the many combos that exist in the card pool, the ability to access your Commander at any point in the game gives other avenues for combo. For example, prior to the banning of Emrakul, I had a Jhoira of the Ghitu deck that could win by hitting five mana, casting Jhoira and immediately suspending Emrakul. Four turns later, Emrakul would come off suspend, I would cast it for free, trigger an extra turn, and then attack with haste … because suspend is bonkers. I was new to Commander then, and it only took a few times triggering this combo for me to realize I needed to disassemble that deck.

But sometimes a deck is too much fun to dismantle, even if it is combo-based. Here’s my most degenerate deck that’s currently sleeved up. See if you can catch the combo—and see why I only bring it out on special occasions:

Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Creatures (35): Arcanis the Omnipotent; Archaeomancer; Barrin, Master Wizard; Beguiler of Wills; Captain of the Mists; Cosi’s Trickster; Courtly Provocateur; Cytoplast Manipulator; Descendant of Soramaro; Echo Mage; Fatespinner; Fatestitcher; Galvanic Alchemist; Glen Elendra Archmage; Graceful Adept; Heidar, Rimewind Master; Inspired Sprite; Jace’s Archivist; Jushi Apprentice; Magus of the Future; Magus of the Jar; Meloku the Clouded Mirror; Memnarch; Palinchron; Reiptide Director; Sage of Fables; Scrivener; Sea Gate Oracle; Sigil Tracer; Sower of Temptation; Supreme Inquisitor; Surgespanner; Temporal Adept; Vigean Graftmage; Voidmage Prodigy

Instant/Sorcery (10): Blue Sun’s Zenith; Capsize; Commandeer; Counterlash; Dream Fracture; Frantic Search; High Tide; Hinder; Merchant Scroll; Turnabout

Artifact/Enchantment (15): Caged Sun; Darksteel Plate; Diviner’s Wand; Empyrial Plate; Extraplanar Lens; Faces of the Past; Gauntlet of Power; Lightning Greaves; Meishin, the Mind Cage; Omniscience; Swiftfoot Boots; Thought Refelction; Treachery; Umbral Mantle; Vedalken Shackles

Lands (39): Coral Atoll; Reliquary Tower; Riptide Laboratory; Scrying Sheets; Snow-Covered Island x34; Soldevi Excavations

I play this deck once every six months or so. I generally drag it out when Dana has beaten me in a one on one Commander game many times in a row. Once, I played it on my birthday. I have lost few games with it—and no one has ever played a second game with me afterwards. The central combo is Palinchron and a mana doubler. Just to be extra un-fun, the deck runs a suite of Snow-Covered Islands so that Extraplanar Lens only doubles my mana. Even if it’s not combo-ing off, the three pieces of equipment to protect Azami means she tends to spend more time on the board than she should, and lets me draw a tremendous number of cards for value.

But this deck isn’t fun for my friends. Her countermagic suite means that I generally can protect my plan, and in the end stages I can make infinite mana, draw my library, and then point a lethal Blue Sun’s Zenith at my opponent. It borrows elements of High Tide, one of the most irritating combo decks in Legacy, and transposes them into a friendly environment where they seem even more incongruous.

So, tread carefully when considering combo for Commander. While it can feel like a blast when you’re winning, the play experience for your opponents drops off drastically as your turns get longer, or their games get shorter. Sure, sometimes an incidental combo can be a good way to provide closure to a lengthy gaming session, but decks like Azami, that have combo at their core, will garner you no good will in a static play group.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Command of Etiquette—The Social Cost of Combo”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    Your featured image art is unexpected and kinda great.

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