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Brewer's Minute: Four Steps to Building Combo

Hey, everyone. It's time for another Brewer's Minute. Let's say you've found the next great combo in Magic. You have two (or even three) cards that work together in a potentially game-breaking way. The question is: how do you turn the combo into a playable, powerful, and successful deck? The good news is there are four simple steps that can guide you down the path of building a functional deck around a combo, and for our Brewer's Minute this week, we are going to break them down!

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#1: Have Ways to Find Your Combo

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One of the ways combo decks fail most often is by not drawing their combo pieces, and this is partly because of deck-building errors. While it sounds good to play four of combo piece A and four of combo piece B and hope for the best, in reality, with a 60-card Magic deck, you aren't likely to draw both of your combo pieces together all that often, which defeats the entire purpose of playing a combo deck. As such, playing ways to find your combo pieces is extremely important. What you use for this role mostly depends on your colors, format, and specific deck, and can range from cantrips like Ponder, Preordain, and Serum Visions to general tutors like Diabolic Tutor and Demonic Tutor to card-type-specific tutors like Idyllic Tutor and Fabricate. As you are choosing what cards you will use to find your combo pieces, the main goal is to hit as many of your combo pieces as possible with just one card. For example, let's say you're building around the combo of Heartless Summoning, Myr Retriever, and Impact Tremors. Fabricate would be a pretty lacking option because it only gets one combo piece. Idyllic Tutor would be better because it can get both Heartless Summoning and Fabricate, but Muddle the Mixture would be the best option in all of Modern because it can get all three combo pieces for only three mana!

#2: Protecting the Combo

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Another way combo decks fail is by simply ignoring the opponent (although this can work if your combo is very fast), so the second step to building a successful combo deck is to protect your combo. Ever wonder why a high percentage of combo decks end up playing blue and / or black? The main reason is these colors offer the best ways of protecting your combo. Blue does this with the help of efficient counterspells like Force of Will, Dispel, and Spell Pierce, while black gives you access to discard like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Duress to proactively pull answers from your opponent's hand. Of course, it isn't always possible or practical to run blue or black in your deck, and the other colors do have some answers as well (like Blossoming Defense in green and Silence in white). However, even if you don't run blue or black, the most important thing here is to think through what answers your opponent will have in their deck and have a plan for answering them. If you need a creature for your combo, make sure to have a plan for Path to Exile; if your combo is built around a cheap permanent, make sure to plan for Abrupt Decay

#3: Have a Backup Plan

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While we occasionally see glass-cannon combo decks have success, many of the most competitive combo decks in Magic have a backup plan. Maybe the best example of this is the old Splinter Twin combo decks from Modern. By the end of the deck's life, the Splinter Twin backup plan was so good that players would often sideboard out the combo and just win by beating down with Pestermites and burning the opponent out with Lightning Bolts and Keranos, God of Storms, while the threat of the combo changed how the opponent executed their game plan. We also see this in Standard with Copy Cat decks. The original builds were controlling and pretty much needed to eventually resolve the combo to win. While these decks were fine, the archetype really came into its own once it started playing the four-color value plan, which could win with Chandra, Torch of Defiance or random creatures when it wasn't comboing off. While being a glass-cannon combo can be fine, if you go this route, you want to make your deck as fast as possible, because the faster you win, the less chance your opponent has of finding an answer to disrupt your combo. That said, having some sort of backup plan is usually a good idea when the goal is to build the most competitive combo deck possible. 

#4: Have a Sideboard Plan (For Your Opponent's Sideboard Plan)

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If you build a combo deck, especially in Modern but to a lesser extent in Standard as well, you have to expect that many opponents will have really powerful sideboard hosers that fight against what you are trying to do (think of Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Pithing Needle, Ensnaring Bridge, Authority of the Consuls, et al.). As a result, when you build your combo deck, you need to think through what popular sideboard cards your opponent will bring in against you and figure out how to answer your opponent's answers. If Stony Silence beats your combo, make sure you have a plan for beating Stony Silence! This is also important for game play. If you simply can't beat a Rest in Peace, it's often better to bring in answers to Rest in Peace, even if you're not 100% sure your opponent has it in their deck, because having a couple of bad draws is much better than drawing dead to a surprise sideboard card. Here, the goal is to have the most flexible option possible. Echoing Truth isn't a permanent answer, but it does bounce everything, which makes it a good catch-all, as are Abrupt Decay and Anguished Unmaking, which get just about any hate card in Modern. 


Anyway, that's all for today. Next time you build a combo deck, make sure to think through these steps. If you can hit all of these check marks, you'll have a pretty good chance of building a successful combo deck, regardless of the format or the combo itself! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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