Some time ago, I mentioned that I'd be doing a new project that takes some elements from Abe Sargent's Next 100 series and doing my own version of it. As many of you may know, I've recently completed The Chromatic Project, focused on building at least one deck in each of the 27 possible color combinations (colorless being one of them) in Magic. With the final deck, Children of a Lesser God, in the books, I'm ready to tackle something new. Enter the Do Over Project.
Before we get there, I want to answer a question that Matias Rochaix asked me via Twitter: "My playgroup encourages non-combo decks, but we have many problems trying to define combo, is there a canonical definition?"
The short answer is that there isn't a canonical definition. I can shed some light on what I think. Before we define a combo deck, we have to define combo itself-and the waters are a little muddy. Cards doing what they're supposed to do isn't generally considered combo. Glorious Anthem buffing up your creatures is just a card doing what it does. Cards interacting together isn't really a combo, it's just cards interacting. It's not a combo if you play Intruder Alarm and I play Merieke Ri Berit. A combo is two or more cards intentionally inserted into a deck for the purposes of getting a higher level of synergistic effect-like if I put that Intruder Alarm in my own Merieke deck. Still, the combination of those two cards isn't going to directly kill anyone, so that's not what people are talking about when they say combo. They're talking about Combo with a big C; let's call it a Killer Combo just to keep our nomenclature from being confusing. Wound Reflection plus Sorin Markov is a Killer Combo. Although it doesn't work in cases where the player's life total is less than 20, we'll call it close enough. Likewise, I'd probably call Purphoros, God of the Forge and Storm Herd a Killer Combo. Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond plus some damage to them or lifegain for you is a Killer Combo. Killer Combos can have more than just two moving pieces as well, like the old Enduring Renewal, Goblin Bombardment, and Ornithopter trick, or something extremely sophisticated like everything that goes into Eggs.
Where do infinite combos fit in? It depends. Palinchron plus seven lands, one of which produces at least one more mana than normal (or something that makes Palinchron cheaper to cast), is an infinite combo. Again, that doesn't kill anyone. Doing something with the infinite mana, whether it's drawing someone out with Stroke of Genius or casting the mother of all disasters with Comet Storm, is a Killer Combo. That's not to say infinite combos are harmless, because they're almost always used to fuel a Killer Combo. They can certainly be an element of a combo deck.
So what is a combo deck? It is a deck specifically focused on assembling the pieces for a Killer Combo. If you have Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond in your vampire tribal deck, that's not a combo deck, it's a deck that happens to have a Killer Combo in it. If the deck is full of tutors and card draw in order to get those two cards onto the battlefield as quickly as possible, then it becomes a combo deck. Eggs is an extreme example, because every card is focused on a single end. Someone is no doubt going to want to split hairs and ask if their vampire deck that has two tutors in it is it a combo deck or not. There's certainly a point where you cross over the line, but I don't think it's 100% definable. Seven is okay, but eight is bad? It's like pornography vs. art; you know it when you see it. The bottom line for me is that if all or most of what a deck does is in service to setting up and executing the Killer Combo, then it's a combo deck.
I say all this with no judgment regarding combo decks as a playstyle. If your whole group thinks it's cool to see who can combo out fastest, then I'm happy that you're having fun. If your group thinks it's fun to see if they can keep the one combo player from assembling his pieces, I'm similarly happy. Like I've said so many times before, it's when the streams cross that problems crop up. Personally, I'm not a fan of watching someone play Magic by themselves for long periods of time-but I don't think that I have the kind of problem solving mind that some folks do. I'm fully aware that there are those who like to watch a complicated combo go off. I'd much prefer a game in which all the players are involved as more than just spectators (by the way, all anti-combo deck sentiments go out the window for me in 2-player formats; in 2-player, if you got 'em, combo 'em). Does the RC hate combo? As a group, not at all. Individually, like all groups of Magic players, we have our own opinions. There's no morality when it comes to playing combo decks, it's just a matter of personal taste. I hope that's enough of an answer for Matias.
The Do Over Project will take the commanders from all of my existing decks and build a new deck with that commander. I believe wholeheartedly that restrictions breed creativity, which is why I'm going to add some additional rules. When I first brought this up, I said I was only going to use cards from the giant box of random foils I have laying around. When I thought more about it, I realized it's not feasible since that box has maybe 2000 cards in it and 32 decks times roughly 80 cards each (assuming around 20 basic lands in each) is closer to the neighborhood of 2500. It'd be a fun puzzle to pull out all the cards and try to make some decks with them, but I just can't make it work (although I still intend to make as much use of that box of cards as possible). One of the restrictions I'm going to give myself is that I can't acquire any new cards for any of the decks. The Do Over decks simply aren't going to be as pimptastic as the originals. It means that there are simply cards that won't go into the decks since I don't have any more of them laying around (dual lands are a good example, since all that I had have already been crammed into the first 32), but there are enough cards in Magic to make things work. Part of the idea is to get away from the staples and onto cards outside the box (sorry for the unintentional pun). The other major part of the plan is that if original deck is tribal, the Do Over deck can't be the same tribe or another tribe that I've already done. I wouldn't take the exact same dragon tribal deck as Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund and have Adun Oakenshield pilot it. I'm also going to restrict myself in that the deck simply can't be of the same style as the original. While this should be relatively easy with some generals, it's going to be a little tougher than others. Let's take a look at how I see each of them now, which is certainly subject to the changes that will happen in Magic over the time it takes me to complete.
Since Adun's ability is a little narrow, it's going to be tough to not regrow creatures, but the possibilities are wide open since it's currently a toolbox deck. The first thing that comes to mind is having creatures with bloodrush and getting multiple attack steps. Pitching Rubblehulk twice seems like it could make nearly anything lethal. Maybe call it Adun's Battle Box.
There are too many possibilities for Animar to think about. The number of ways that people have taken what can sometimes can just get silly are legion. Since it has protection from black and white, making an Animar Voltron could be interesting. Proliferate might also work. It might be fun and interesting to come up with ways to get counters on Animar by doing things other than casting creatures.
Aurelia is sufficiently narrow that I'm going to have to put some significant thought into what to do with her. She might also be capable of a Voltron build. Once she has double strike, it could be over quickly.
While Child of Alara's ability leads you in certain directions, the fact that it's five color leaves it open to doing nearly anything. I might try something crazy like having the first letters of the names of the cards be a giant anagram for something.
I've played my Kaalia deck twice, and I'm not a big fan of it. Like other Kaalia decks, it's heavily dependent on the commander. Also like other Kaalia decks, it either dictates the pace of the game or falls on its face. I doubt that the Mardu clan has much that Kaalia would be good with, but we can hold out hope. Unfortunately, I already have dragon tribal and angel tribal, so we're just going to have to find a new angle.
Mono-black control is the only thing that presents itself at the moment, but the original deck already has most of the good board sweepers in it. Although I imagine some card matriculation out of decks to make room for new cards, I'm not going to give into "gamers gonna game" and start taking stuff out of existing decks in order to put it into new ones.
Glissa kind of only does one thing, so the question is how to make it different than the toolbox it currently is and still make it interesting. I don't want to keep going back to the Voltron answer. Maybe an all first strike or all deathtouch deck is in order.
Cleric tribal, baby! There are 193 mono white clerics. Thirty to forty of them are worth playing, right?
Temur is the wedge that I think opens itself to the most possibilities. Although this already has a few copy cards in it, the copy/control/threaten angle occurs to me, but that's probably because I really wish this had been a Riku deck all along.
Believe it or not, I don't have a goblin tribal deck. Patrick Jarrett will be so happy.
Karn will be another tough nut to crack. Old-schooling it with mono brown control might be a possibility. Killing with commander damage from Karn would also be quite a thing since he has an aversion to attacking.
I might challenge myself to do exactly the same thing with Karador but to see if I could do it with 80 different cards. There have been so many cards in and out of the deck since I first built it that I might be able to do Karador's Benchwarmers and still have a deck (here's to you, Doomgape!).
Karrthus not leading dragons or raining fire from the sky seems inconceivable. Perhaps I could play a bunch of non-dragons, somehow make them into dragons and give them away, then steal them back. Karrthus reanimator? Minion tribal.
I'd like to bring Kresh back to a deck where Kresh himself is the focus. The deck has evolved into something that does a bunch of other stuff and he's almost become a "win more" card. Since he's in Jund colors, warrior tribal is a thing because everyone knows that cowards can't block warriors.
The clear path here is a color matters deck with all the Sleight of Mind tricks available.
It would be interesting to play Lazav without effects specifically designed to make use of him and see how good he is nonetheless. I see a simple Dimir style deck that might do a little killing and a little controlling, and just let Lazav copy whatever happens to die instead of using a bunch of mill effects to find the fattest creatures.
It obviously won't be zombies, but it will still have to be something which takes advantage of the commander's drawback. I actually don't cast him much in the current deck, so I'd like to find a way to do it more often. Battling with a 10/4 general is pretty good.
The current deck really needs to add black and become Nekusar, but I like doing it the old-fashioned way. There are probably enough spells that Threaten and create token copies of things to make it into a kind of wacky copy deck.
Obviously Intruder Alarm is making an appearance. Too bad Aluren is green. Maybe since Merieke likes to borrow things, it could also donate stuff as kind of a payback. It'd be fun to play all the exchange control cards like Juxtapose. There has to be some silly thing possible where I activate Merieke targeting my own creature, then activate Avarice Totem so I end up with my own creature back. Only now, it dies if Merieke untaps. When I say it out loud, it sounds way worse than it sounded in my brain.
Like with Lazav, I'd like to see if The Mimeoplasm might be good just in the course of the way normal games play out. I also don't have a dredge deck, so that might be interesting (supposing that I could cast Riftsweeper a bunch of times).
Dark Elf tribal. Play all the nasty elves and mean black cards and boom, there's a deck. Or somehow read up on all the dark elf lore from Skyrim and make a theme deck. That sounds way cooler.
Could also be Elf tribal. Or maybe go insane and play Living Plane.
The current Obzedat build is about killing all the creatures on other players' turns, so I'd want to go to more of a creature-based deck. Black/white clerics could be a thing if I don't make Heliod into mono-white clerics. Play with Angelic Chorus and Cathar's Crusade, which will trigger every time Obzedat comes back.
I want to make Phelddagrif into the anti-hug deck-be able to activate its three abilities, giving other players cards, life, and creatures, and then punishing them for it. "At end of turn, activate the card draw ability a bunch. Untap, Storm Seeker." Foolishness like that.
Taking tribal to the next extreme, this will become a merfolk wizard deck.
I already have a working title: Rakdos, The Lost Weekend in Las Vegas. Seems perfect.
Rith really wants to be able to keep making tokens, so we have to think about what different things to do with them. Obviously what I'm thinking about is how to convert those tokens into spore counters and kill people with Thorn Thallid. Don't pretend you didn't have the same idea.
Ruhan is tired of sitting back and having people do it to themselves. He's ready to get active and come calling. Ruhan's Battalion will take some of those cool creatures with the ability of that same name, like Firemane Avenger, and get some combat in. Maybe also run an Opposition/inspired sub-theme. I think we'll have some fun with that one.
Too bad there's not the opposite of Rule of Law where people have to cast more than one spell per turn. In red/green. Giving Ruric Thar infect is a possibility, maybe creating a whole wither/infect sub-theme. One would really love for Ruric Thar to have lifelink, but currently only three cards in the color identity do it: Basilisk Collar, Batterskull, and Loxodon Warhammer.
People generally only block out of desperation in this format, so we're going to have to make sure that not blocking is extra painful. In mono-blue, that's not the easiest thing to do, but we'll manage.
Like with Karador, I think I could make a deck out of the cards that used to be in this deck, since it's one of the oldest I have. Getting away from the sacrifice angle will be tough, but there are enough cards with morbid to take advantage of and Grixis knows how to kill stuff.
This is a project which is going to take some time. Even at two a month, which is ambitious since there's so much other stuff in Commander to talk about, that's nearly a year and a half. I look forward to your suggestions along the way and having you all come along for what will be an exciting ride.
This week's Deck Without Comment is The Altar of Thraximundar:
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Bloodfire Colossus
- 1 Bone Shredder
- 1 Champion of Stray Souls
- 1 Clone
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Draining Whelk
- 1 Dross Harvester
- 1 Fleshbag Marauder
- 1 Fulminator Mage
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Greater Gargadon
- 1 Ingot Chewer
- 1 Kheru Bloodsucker
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Merciless Executioner
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Nezumi Graverobber
- 1 Overseer of the Damned
- 1 Phyrexian Plaguelord
- 1 Profaner of the Dead
- 1 Puppeteer Clique
- 1 Ruthless Deathfang
- 1 Sepulchral Primordial
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Sifter of Skulls
- 1 Smothering Abomination
- 1 Withered Wretch
- 1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 7 Island
- 5 Mountain
- 8 Swamp
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Cascade Bluffs
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Crumbling Necropolis
- 1 Diamond Valley
- 1 Dragonskull Summit
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Graven Cairns
- 1 High Market
- 1 Izzet Boilerworks
- 1 Shivan Reef
- 1 Spinerock Knoll
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Gem of Becoming
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Minion Reflector
- 1 Nevinyrral's Disk
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Attrition
- 1 Dawn of the Dead
- 1 Grave Betrayal
- 1 Oversold Cemetery
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Sneak Attack
- 1 Backlash
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Far
- 1 Grab the Reins
- 1 Hibernation
- 1 Rakdos Charm
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Infernal Offering
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."