We have traveled a long journey, from the fierce landscapes of Jund Midrange, into the law Controlling Azorius senate and the fires of Boros Aggro decks. It has been an amazing road to travel with all of you, and now we have just one step left. Today, we are going to the mystical land of Tolaria and will go off with Combo! I will cover the history of Combo, different flavors of Combo decks from Magic's history and even cover my current iteration of Storm in Highlander. This is the post I've been looking forward to the most, so hop in!
Remember to also check out the previous Highlander Archetypes article from here: Highlander Archetypes part 3: Aggro/Affinity with Benjamin Muller
What is Combo?
Combo aims to put together certain combination (henche the name) of cards, that will result in victory. Over the years we've seen whole loads of different Combos, anything from good old Channel + Fireball, Tolarian Academy, Storm Combos, Scapeshift or even Splinter Twin.
Generally Combo decks build their deck differently than "fair" decks in Magic. While Midrange, Contol and Aggro focus more on different interaction and Creatures, Combo plays the key cards which they need to win, and some card-draw a.k.a "Cantrips" to dig for their missing pieces thus making their game-plan more consistent. Depending on the flavor of Combo, some decks can also fit some interaction, usually discard spells to knock opposing counterspells off the opponents hand, or own counterspells to have the ability to defend their Combo.
The main strengths of Combo is that you play and attack from a completely different angle then most decks in Magic. For example some Combos don't play Creatures at all, thus your opponents Creature removal is completely blank. So your opponent needs very specific cards in order to counter your plan.
Other important aspect is speed, Combo decks can win at blazing speed. Of course this varies from deck to deck, and what format we are talking about. But on a general note, Combos don't intent the game to go very long if possible. But they certainly can grind and play longer game if the situation so requires.
I would say the biggest weakness of Combo is that you don't get to play very interactive game, and you really don't have any "Plan B" if your Combo is somehow prevented. So you are really relying on your Combo and speed to get there before your opponent does. Sometimes you just don't find the pieces you need, even with many cantrips to help you find them.
Best way to combat Combos is via discard spells to strip their key pieces away, and cheap efficient counterspells to hit their Combo cards. For example Cryptic Command and such are slow and easily beatable, but Spell Pierce is very good and efficient.
Combo can mean quite many decks, so I've gathered some of the best and most busted Combo decks from Magic's history:
First Combo deck ever. It was very simple, cast Channel to get loads of colorless mana, and then cast Fireball for lethal. It was super simple, yet effective. And shall forever be remembered for basically creating the idea of Combo.
One of the oldest Combos for sure, piloted by Mike Long. The idea is to generate tons of mana with Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom. Then draw cards with Infernal Contract and Prosperity. Once you have enough mana, fire off Drain Life for lethal. It was pretty effective back in the days.
I didn't have the pleasure of playing this deck. The name is not the most leading one, so I'll try to cover it the best I can. Plan here is to use different 0 mana Creatures like Phyrexian Walker and Ornithopter alongside Goblin Bombardment and Enduring Renewal. This lets you keep casting those 0 costing creatures, shooting with Goblin Bombardment and getting the creatures back. Rinse and repeat until opponent is dead.
I would say the most busted Combo ever. The days of Urza block were pretty powerful for sure. The key card is the namesake card, Tolarian Academy. Combine this with many different artifacts like Grim Monolith, Lotus Petal and Mana Vault to generate obsolete amounts of mana. Time Spiral and Windfall allowed you to keep untapping your lands and drawing cards and eventually you would Stroke of Genius your opponent out of the game. This deck dominated the Standard/Extended formats, and eventually caused tons of bans too. Also worth mentioning that Tommi Hovi, former Finnish professional player and a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame won Pro Tour Rome in 1998 with this deck.
Another really broken deck in Extended. It was fairly simple, use fast-mana and artifacts to cast Tinker, get your Memory Jars and kill them with Megrim. Since Memory Jar forces you to discard, that was how the opponent ended up dead. No wonder that Memory Jar got emergency banned very quickly upon it's release.
I remember the days of Splinter Twin in Modern. It was very good, Twin also has the rare ability to play a normal game outside of it's Combo. Since the Combo itself only takes so few slots, you have space to play interaction and operate almost like a Blue Moon style Control deck. This aspect is called "Combo-Control".
Against opposing Combo decks you just played your Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin.
Against interactive decks you could play a reactive and Controlling strategy. So the deck could adapt to different situations very well. Obviously it's been many years since Splinter Twin got banned from Modern, maybe we'll see it coming back one day? One can hope at least.
Highlander Storm (UBgw)
Now then, it's time for the main course. And that is Highlander Storm! This deck is a real monster to cover, but I'll try my best.
Here is my current list:
This deck can look very complex, and trust me it is. But the basic idea is to cast at least 9 spells + Tendrils of Agony to drain the opponent for 20 life.
For this time, I decided to interview myself since I have a decent understanding of this deck. Without further ado, let's hear my words, coming out of my mouth!
When and why did you pickup Storm in Highlander?
It was few years ago when I got interested in Highlander. I immediately knew that I wanted to play Storm since that is my pet deck, and with such a large card pool I was sure that it is playable.
Storm is my go-to deck in any format it's legal. So the deck choice came pretty naturally for me.
Tell us about Storm, what type of deck it is, and what game plan does it have?
Storm is a Combo deck at heart. It's very deep and complex deck, but the basic idea is to cast bunch of spells, generate mana and draw cards until you cast a Storm spell for the kill. In this case we use the classic Tendrils of Agony for our kill condition.
The deck consist of mana, card-draw, tutors, some protection and engine cards. The engines are: Oath of Druids, Angel's Grace/ Phyrexian Unlife + Ad Nauseam, Yawgmoth's Will, Necropotence and Doomsday. They are your main ways of going off. The challenge is finding the right line for different situations and matchups.
Generally your optimal starting hand would be 3-4 lands, a cantrip or two and some form of action like the cards above. One thing to note is that this deck needs quite a lot of mana in many games. It's not like Legacy/Vintage Storm where you can go off with 1 or even at 0 lands sometimes. So definitely try to hit those land-drops.
To who would you recommend Storm?
Anyone who likes puzzles and really tough, complicated decks. That's what Storm essentially is, like solving a giant puzzle. And that's what got me hooked on Storm decks in the first place. You really feel like the game is yours to win, as long as you can figure out the lines. So the learning curve is tremendously high.
What strengths does Storm have? How about weakness?
The biggest strength is that you don't play any Creatures. Thus your opponent has a lot of dead cards in their deck. Especially since Highlander doesn't use sideboards, they can't side them out.
Other thing is that Storm is not a frequently seen deck, so some opponents don't exactly know what's going on, and this opens them up to make mistakes.
As for weakness, the deck is bit inconsistent. Since Storm is that type of deck that wants to maximize the number of cards. What I mean by that, is that for example you want 4 Dark Rituals always. But you can't do that in Highlander, so that is a challenge for sure.
You rely on your tutors very heavily, so anything that can prevent that is super rough. So Aven Mindcensor and such effects hamper you a lot. Also discard hits you hard, especially since you only have 1 offs of each card so that aspect is even more important.
Against what decks is Storm good against?
I would say that any Green based durdly Midrange decks are pretty good. They can't pressure you quickly enough, and don't have enough disruption to stop you.
Aggro decks are good in the sense that they can't interact, but sometimes the inconsistency hits, and you don't get there before they do. I do still think you are favored against Aggro overall.
What decks are good against Storm? Any specific cards you don’t want to see on the other side of the table?
Any sort of Blue/Black based Control decks are pretty bad. The combination of discard and counterspells is a tough recipe. Quick clock like Delver of Secrets is bad too. As long as you aren't pressured, you can sculpt your hand to push through disruption.
Also U/R Control is tough. Not only do they play tons of counterspells, but Blood Moon and Back to Basics hits you real bad. But you have to play a greedy mana base to support all the colors and cards.
As for specific cards which I hate, I have a damn long list let me tell you. But if I would have to choose just few then here are my top choices: Ashiok, Dream Render, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Eidolon of the Great Revel and Blood Moon/ Back to Basics. Anything that makes your spells cost more, prevents you from tutoring or hits your mana base is annoying.
Name your favorite card from your deck?
Ugh, this is a tough one. I like them all honestly! But I guess if I have just one to choose, it would have to be Doomsday! Such a complex card, even after all this practice, it still gives me serious headaches. Play it right and win, make a single mistake and lose. I just love it.
Other card worth mentioning is Oath of Druids. It's the single, fastest and easiest way to win the game. Since you just mill your deck, flashback Memory's Journey putting back Yawgmoth's Will, Lotus Petal and Dark Ritual. Draw whatever, Flashback Deep Analysis to draw the rest. Lotus Petal into Dark Ritual, cast Yawgmoth's Will. I'm sure you can figure out the rest when you can cast your entire deck.
Any advice for someone who would like to pick up the deck?
One sentence, practice like crazy! This is a super complex and difficult deck to play. Even the basic lines can be hard, and it only goes harder from there. But it's super rewarding, the feeling of outplaying the opponent and who wouldn't enjoy casting tons of spells and doing all these busted things!
You will make tons of mistakes in the beginning, heck I still make mistakes with this deck. So don't beat yourself up for them, try to learn and enjoy while you're at it!
Whoah, this has been a nice and long journey that we've taken together. I must say I'm exhausted, yet grateful. Writing these articles was deep, rewarding and I got to know you, awesome members of the Highlander Community too.
I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed these articles and got some ideas how different archetypes of Magic work, and Highlander in general too. This is the end of Highlander for now, but if any of you have any wishes/ideas on what you would love to read, just message me! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Discord, I'll try to make your wishes come true by the best of my abilities!
So thank you, and happy Storming!