Combo

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A ‘combo’ refers to a combination of cards (usually two or three) whose abilities complement each other in such a way that they produce game-ending scenarios. These combos often allow a player to repeat the same actions an unlimited number of times, often referred to as a ‘loop’. Decks that prioritize these combinations and interactions as their primary goals or win condition are naturally called ‘combo decks’.

Combos are not restricted to any specific color or color identity, though some colors may contain a higher density of specific types of combos.

Types of Combos

Below is a breakdown of the various types of combos that may occur in Commander games. Note that some combos belong to more than one of these categories.

Infinite Mana

When put together, these combos will provide a player with an infinite supply of mana. These combos do not usually outright win the game, but often require an outlet to use that mana, such as casting a large spell or repeatedly activating abilities. Infinite mana combos will often (but not exclusively) produce infinite mana of a single color or type.
Examples:

Infinite Damage/Life Loss

These combinations are popular for their ability to end the game by repeatedly reducing enemy life totals until they reach 0.
Examples:

Infinite Life

Unlike infinite damage or life loss, some combos instead allow a player to increase their own life total as high as they would like it to be. A player’s life total cannot be set to ‘infinity’; once a player has demonstrated a loop that will increase their life total, they must choose a number that their life total will become. This allows a player to choose a number so high that their opponents may find it almost impossible to defeat them via combat damage.
Examples:

Infinite Draw

Infinite Draw combos allow a player to draw as many cards as they wish. Because a player’s library total is capped out, these combos do not necessarily draw an ‘infinite’ number of cards, but are still colloquially referred to as ‘infinite’ due to their potential and repeatability. These may be used simply for the purposes of card draw, or to win the game through the use of cards like Laboratory Maniac
Examples:

Infinite ETB/Death Triggers

These combo loops can be repeated to cause creatures to enter the battlefield or to leave the battlefield as many times as their controller requires. When paired with other cards that produce positive benefits when creatures enter the battlefield (for instance, Cathars’ Crusade) or cards that trigger when creatures die (For example, Blood Artist these combos can grant you overwhelming value, or flat-out defeat opponents.
Examples:

Infinite Power

Some combos allow a player to produce as many creatures as they please, creating an insurmountable number of creatures so that they may deal as much damage as they wish during combat. Other combos may be used to cause one or several creatures to increase their power and toughness as high as the player desires.
Examples:

Infinite Spells

These combos allow a player to cast an infinite number of spells, most commonly by copying one spell multiple times. These may combine with effects that trigger when spells are cast or copied (for instance, Ral, Storm Conduit to create a game-winning interaction for the combo player.
Examples:

Infinite Mill

These combos seek to eliminate all cards from one or all opponents’ libraries, causing them to lose the game when they attempt to draw from an empty library on their turn.
Examples:

Infinite Combat

When combined, these cards provide a player with the ability to repeat combat steps as many times as they like.
Examples:

Non-Infinite Combos

These combinations do not lead to an infinite number of interactions, but they do still combine two effects powerfully enough to produce a game-winning event, or sometimes to lock enemies out of participating in the game entirely, so that the combo player alone may take actions, thus ensuring their inevitable victory.
Examples:

Combos with Commanders

Many infinite or game-ending combos include legendary creatures as one of their key pieces. Because of the Commander format’s constant access to a legendary creature in the Command Zone, this can drastically improve a combo deck’s consistency, as they are guaranteed to obtain one half of a combo in every game. Some commanders may be appealing to players specifically because of their involvement in such combos.

Because of their potential to be a participant in so many combos, commanders may earn a reputation as being combo-heavy decks. Not all commanders that may be part of a combo need be played with those combos, and commanders that are not a piece of any combo may also feature many combos within their decks.

Popular commanders that have a reputation for being combo-heavy include (but are not limited to):

Uncontrollable Combos

Some card combinations produce an infinite loop of mandatory actions, which their controller may not opt out of. These may sometimes be to a player’s detriment, rather than their benefit; for instance, the combination of The Locust God + Kindred Discovery will create many Insect tokens but also force the player to draw infinite cards, resulting in them losing the game by attempting to draw from an empty library.

In other cases, a combo may provide no stopping point. The combo Life and Limb + Sporemound, for instance, will continue to create in infinite number of creature tokens, regardless of input from any player. When these situations arise, the game will end in accordance with rules 104.4b and 104.4f:

  • 104.4b If a game that's not using the limited range of influence option (including a two-player game) somehow enters a “loop” of mandatory actions, repeating a sequence of events with no way to stop, the game is a draw.
  • 104.4f In a multiplayer game using the limited range of influence option, if the game somehow enters a “loop” of mandatory actions, repeating a sequence of events with no way to stop, the game is a draw for each player who controls an object that’s involved in that loop, as well as for each player within the range of influence of any of those players. Only those players leave the game; the game continues for all other players.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

  • Combos are an exceptionally compact method of victory, relying upon a small number of cards to produce a game-ending event. They also do not involve the combat step, which makes them much harder for enemies to defend against. This efficiency allows a player to produce impactful plays for minimal card investment. This can be especially true if the combos in question have multiple interchangeable cards that may fulfill the role in a combo.
  • Combos can be assembled very quickly, especially if the combo player uses tutors to locate them within the deck. Combos are a hallmark of cEDH because of this speed and efficiency.
  • Combo decks often do not pose a visible threat to opponents, as they require minimal setup and often have an immediate impact once both or all pieces are assembled on the battlefield. This may allow a combo player to appear non-threatening, hiding their plans from their enemies, then achieving victory over their enemies swiftly and unexpectedly.

Weaknesses

  • Combo decks may rely very heavily on individual combo pieces to achieve victory. If opponents are able to prevent or remove individual combo pieces to prevent the combo from occurring, the combo player may have little other impact on the board.
  • Because of the singleton nature of the Commander format, combos with few interchangeable combo pieces can be difficult to locate and assemble. Dedicated combo decks almost always must rely upon tutors and devote multiple cards toward the location of combo pieces
  • Combo decks, like Land Destruction, occasionally carries a negative reputation amongst playgroups because of their immediate or sometimes non-interactive ability to end games. Players who enjoy combos will often benefit from communicating their deck’s combo potential to opponents during a pre-game discussion, to ensure it will be an enjoyable experience for all.

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