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Reid’s Guide to Legacy: Combo Decks

My goal with this guide over the coming weeks is to paint a picture of the Legacy format, and today we are going to focus on graveyard-based decks, which are a prominent part of the metagame.

Table of Contents

Part I: An Introduction to Legacy
Part II: The Defining Cards of Legacy
Part III: Choosing Your Deck
Part IV: Using Cantrips Properly
Part V: Graveyard Decks
Part VI: Combo Decks

Legacy Guide Part VI: Combo Decks

Today we continue the discussion of Legacy’s most unusual and most unfair strategies. Part V will focus on the traditional combo decks, which do not rely heavily on the graveyard.

Storm Combo

Storm Combo is an example of a deck that uses the graveyard peripherally. Cabal Ritual and Past in Flames are important weapons for Storm players, but you cannot shut them down with graveyard hate alone. About two anti-graveyard cards will be nice tools for the matchup, but oversideboarding can be counterproductive if the Storm player is prepared for it.

In my mind, Storm is the purest type of combo deck. Instead of trying to combine two or three particular cards, the whole deck contributes to the combo. The goal is to make a bunch of mana, chain together a handful of spells, and cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Often, Past in Flames or Ad Nauseam are the engine cards that allow them to reach this critical mass.

Storm can win on the first turn of the game, but wins on the second or third turn much more often.

One of the great strengths of the Storm deck is that it’s very effective at beating permission spells. You want Force of Will to protect yourself from its fast kills, but if you sit on your haunches for too long, they’ll simply take their time to set up a perfect hand, and dismantle you using Duress and Thoughtseize.

To really have a good Storm matchup, you’ll have to combine a variety of disruption and attack them from as many angles as possible. Permission spells won’t do the job on their own, but they are still good tools. The same goes for discard spells, graveyard hate, and permanent sources of disruption like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Combine as many of these forms of disruption as possible with a fast clock and you’ll be as prepared as possible for beating Storm. And watch out for Empty the Warrens after sideboarding!

Show and Tell

Show and Tell players tend to be my most feared combo opponents. Their combo is simply so fast, direct, and consistent that it’s difficult to protect yourself.

Sneak and Show is basically a deck of one-card combos. Resolve either a Show and Tell or a Sneak Attack and your Griselbrands and Emrakuls will do the rest. The remainder of the deck can be devoted to fast mana, permission spells, and card filtering.

Unlike some combo decks, against Sneak and Show in particular, you may have a glimmer of hope of trying to win a fair game. For example, Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker to shut down Sneak Attack or Griselbrand can be helpful. Karakas or Oko, Thief of Crowns can make it harder for Emrakul to attack you.

But don’t be fooled, there are other ways to win with Show and Tell! Some players will put Omniscience into play, which can help them win immediately via Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or draw their entire library with Enter the Infinite.

You’ll need a healthy amount of all-purpose disruption like Thoughtseize and Flusterstorm if you want to beat Show and Tell decks.

Doomsday

Doomsday is an archetype that’s been given new life by the printing of Thassa’s Oracle. Resolving the namesake spell will leave you with a five-card library featuring Thassa’s Oracle. In a deck full of cheap cyclers and cantrips, it’s trivially easy from there to deplete your remaining cards and win the game.

Doomsday is effectively a one-card combo, and the triple-black manacost is exceptionally easy in a format with Dark Ritual. This deck is still a relative newcomer to Legacy, but it’s one that’s worth keeping an eye on.

Dark Depths

Perhaps the most important two-card combination in Legacy is that of Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage. That’s because it can slot into a wide variety of shells, for players who want the ability to steal games out of nowhere. Two common homes for the combo are Lands and Maverick (or 4-Color Loam). However, it should be on your radar any time you see Crop Rotation, Life From the Loam, Knight of the Reliquary, or Vampire Hexmage.

Sample decklist

Golgari Depths is an archetype that’s laser-focused on creating Marit Lage and protecting her. Mox Diamond, Elvish Spirit Guide, and Vampire Hexmage speed up the combo. Crop Rotation, Elvish Reclaimer, and Once Upon a Time help to assemble it reliably. Thoughtseize, Sylvan Safekeeper, Veil of Summer, and Sejiri Steppe protect the combo from anything the opponent might do to stop it.

The rest of the deck is nicely rounded out by high-quality cards that you might find in a Golgari Midrange deck. Discard spells and removal are effective in a wide variety of matchups, while Dark Confidant is at its best in a deck that can deploy it on turn 1.

Golgari Depths is well-rounded, packs a fast clock and disruption against opposing combo decks, and is particularly terrifying due to its ability to win the game without resolving a single spell! Force of Will and Thoughtseize can sometimes be useful, but you can’t lean too heavily on them. I find the best way to beat Golgari Depths is to choose a deck with either Swords to Plowshares or Wasteland, and supplement that with other disruption and effective sideboard cards like Pithing Needle, Karakas, or Brazen Borrower.

Some combo decks appear to play a slightly more “fair” game by casting creatures. This increases the range of spells that are effective against them, since simple removal spells can now help to disrupt their combo.

However, if you think you can beat a combo deck like Elves with a couple removal spells and a Tarmogoyf, you’re in for a rude awakening. These decks can be remarkably powerful and resilient.

Elves in particular is a predator of creature strategies, and shines against everything other than opposing combo decks and decks with board sweepers. It can use Glimpse of Nature combined with mana generated off of its creatures to draw its whole library, or it can use Natural Order for Craterhoof Behemoth to kill you much more directly.

Other examples of creature-based combo decks are Infect, Food Chain, Painter’s Servant, and Aluren.

Conclusion

Legacy is home to dozens and dozens of combo decks, each with different strategies, speeds, and configurations. You’ll need a wide range of disruption in order to handle them all. Look for sideboard cards that can overlap and be effective against as many of these strategies as possible.

But remember, the one thing that will improve your chances of winning against all of these combo decks is a fast clock. By applying pressure, you give them less time to set up, and make all of your disruption that much more effective.

Here’s my ordering of the most important combo decks to gun for in 2020:

  1. Storm Combo
  2. Hogaak
  3. Sneak and Show
  4. Dark Depths
  5. Reanimator
  6. Elves
  7. Dredge
  8. Infect
  9. Doomsday
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