Good evening, fellow Magic players—and welcome to the Awards Ceremony for the long-awaited Nacatl War-Pride Reader Challenge!
If you may recall, the Nacatl War-Pride Challenge has been the most grueling and troublesome challenge we've ever had here at Serious Fun. First, we had the deadline set too far ahead with a two-week lead time instead of a one-week lead time, so everything got pushed back. Then we had an astounding two hundred and fifty entries, causing me to read several novels' worth of writing, which took some time. Then we had a couple of theme weeks in between to push the winners' ceremony even further out, and the "Most Powerful Multiplayer Card in Future Sight" contest entries to push it out further.
Yessiree, if I'da known it would be two months between announcement and awards ceremony, I certainly would have done something different.
But thank God those troubles are behind us now! It's smooth sailing as we move into the final stages. My faithful assistant Gini will hand me the envelope containing the winner, and—
What's that? Gini, why do you look so pale? Your hands are shaking and I see no envelope. That's—
The laptop crashed?
The only hard drive in the world containing all 250 entries just went into a fatal Blue Screen of Death spiral that it can't recover from?
That's no problem, sweetie! Just restore it from the backup. Thankfully, we run a clean ship here at La Casa Weasel: we make a monthly backup of our emails and store them to a central drive. That's—
The email backup file was corrupted, you say?
A total loss? Those are your exact words?
[NEWS FLASH: The Ferrett, columnist for magicthegathering.com, has suffered a nervous breakdown and has been rushed off to Shady Oaks Recuperation Center, where his head is merrily bouncing off the padded walls. As such, he will not be able to write today's column.
[If you'd like to send the wildly screaming Ferrett your best wishes, you can send him greeting cards in the form of "resubmitting your entry to the Nacatl War-Pride contest" to his new, non-laptop-based email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please resubmit it before Monday, July 9th, in the fervent hope that this contest will end before the end of the millennium.
[In the meantime, please enjoy this submission from our guest columnist, Jeff Foxworthycause.]
(A man steps on-stage. He's wearing a button-down blue shirt and jeans, striding out into the spotlight easily. He grins, his teeth startlingly white underneath his shaggy mustache, and looks around the crowd with evident satisfaction. Then he hollers.)
How y'all doing tonight?
(The crowd cheers.)
Whoo-ee! I see a lotta combos in this audience tonight, a lotta combos. And that's good! Us combos don't get a whole lot of respect when you look at the outside world. "They're so cheap," people say. "That's not a real game."
But you know, we always manage to take 'em by surprise, don't we?
(Hooting and hollering. Jeff hitches up his pants with satisfaction.)
Yessireebob, we combos have a long history of winning multiplayer games, and it's 'cause nobody sees us comin'. We sneak in like dogs creeping into the back of a country picnic, and we steal the deep-fried turkey when nobody's lookin'!
They can sneer, sure, but you know what we got? Mechanics. And stealth. We look so harmless, don't we? (He does a little dance.) "Oh, I'm so helpless, I've just got this wall or this enchantment! Please don't attack me, sir! The guy with the Dragon over there's a bigger threat! Kill him!" And then....
(He punches the air.)
...we open up a can o'good ol'fashioned Whoop Butt on 'em all, don't we?
(The audience goes wild.)
But no, I getcha. I getcha. Some of you folks wanna be combos. Who wouldn't? We know how to party—we go infinite, baby! But there's a lot of people who can't spot a combo before it goes off—they're always caught flat-footed. So I've compiled this little checklist of the signs of a true combo in a little routine I like to call...
You might be a combo.
(The crowd leaps to its feet in enthusiastic glee.)
If you spend your first couple of turns doing nothing but setting up mana...
You might be a combo!
Yessiree, there's nothing that we combos like more than a lot of mana. We're hungry dudes—we need to feed! So we spend our early games settin' up for the bone-crushing hammer-drop by playing tons of spells like Kodama's Reach and Exploration and Lotus Bloom and Grim Monolith and the like to make sure we can cast everything we need to in one turn.
Because boy howdy, multiplayer's a weird place for combos, isn't it? If they see ya comin', they can gang up on ya like nothin' flat. So you can't just put your pieces out one-by-one, like you do in a duel—if anyone sees ya comin' and convinces anyone else, you could be dead afore your next untap phase.
So ya have to lay everything out almost at once. That takes a lot of mana. And if I'm lookin' at a table where it's turn four and someone's going to be two or three mana ahead of me, I go, "Howdy, fellow combo! You're just waitin' t'go off, too, ain'tcha?"
Sure, sometimes he's just some poor mana-screwed schmuck from New York who got unlucky with a coupla Signets. And then I always go, "Ooops! Sorry!" when I kill him.
Serves you right for not playin' anything, though!
But that's not the best way—though boy howdy, it sure helps me when you aggro-ers are gangin' up on the big dawgs and leavin' me along to set up for the kill. But let's try this instead....
If all you've laid in the course of the game is defense and no offense...
You might be a combo!
That's right! We combo players thrive on sending folks in other directions. That's why if we're smart, we put a few walls and defensive enchantments in our decks—a nice Wall of Glare, maybe, or a Propaganda or two to keep people's attention focused elsewhere.
Aw, you see the wanna-be combo players putting down stuff like Ensnaring Bridge—but that stops everybody! That ain't how combos roll, baby! That'll draw the heat, and we want everyone attacking people and staying busy—we just don't want them attacking us!
But again, that's not necessarily the sign of a true combo. I remember, I pulled up in my pickup truck next to some other dude I was playin' with, and he was playin' blue-green and a couple of Carven Caratyids out. I grinned and said, "Howdy, fellow combo player!"
Fort'chnately, I went off first. I ripped into an infinite Millstone combo with Ambassador Laquatus, and just as I dumped everyone's libraries into the graveyard, that sucker tried to Mystic Snake me! Turns out, he wasn't combo—he was control!
But I bet he wanted to be combo after I ripped my ownCounterspell and decked him!
(Laughter. He wipes the sweat off his brow. The lights lower a bit.)
Neither of those are sure signs, ah know. But what is, really? How can you tell a combo player from someone who's just mana-screwed or just hasn't drawn his offense yet?
Ah, that's one of the more difficult things 'bout Magic. Less'n you can see his whole deck with something like Cranial Extraction or Extirpate, ya cain't! There's no way of knowing for sure.
That's why combo's so great in multiplayer, boy! People don't wanna commit to attacking you until they're sure you're a threat—and by the time they find out, it's too late!
But no, I kid. There are some other ways to see the true combo a-comin'. Let's try this one, an old-school favorite.
If nobody can figure out why the heck you would play with that card....
You might be a combo!
Oh, those stuffy "aggro" or "control" players choose cards that are easy to use. Someone lays down an Augur of Skulls, everyone knows why it's there—it's a regenerating blocker! What's not to love? Gleancrawler? A big dude that gets your critters back to your hand? Sure! Or Aether Flash—it kills tiny creatures! Sure, anyone can see the value in that.
But then you lay down something like Eye of the Storm.
Gosh, that's not particularly useful. What the heck would you do with a card like that? That doesn't do anything by itself!
(Slicks back his hair) "It doesn't do much by itself." Aw, yeah, baby, it sure doesn't!
Combo players like playin' with cards that don't do much. You can't go infinite with a Firemane Angel, good as it is. But you can trip something weird like Attunement to dump a lot of cards into your graveyard in preparation for a backbreaking Replenish into Furnace of Rath, Saproling Burst, and Pandemonium!
Remember when I toldja about my "Ambassador Laquatus" play earlier? I was sweatin' bullets when I laid that card down, lemme tellya, because that's a classic combo from back in the day. Somebody coulda Lightning Bolted it before I went active.
Thankfully, I was playin' with a bunch of stuck-ups from up North, and they didn't know how we combos roll. They didn't say, "Hey, if he gets infinite mana, we're all deckless!" They just looked at my ol' pal the Ambassador, and shrugged. "That's weird," they said.
It sure was! Weird in your face, buddy!
So if you see a card and wonder what the heck purpose that could serve... chances are good you're lookin' at a fellow combo!
One last one, and I'm outta here.
If you're playing with a classic combo card....
You're almost certainly a combo!
Here's the sad part: there aren't that many good combos around. You know it. You're all here, aint'cha?
But the fact is, there aren't enough good combo-enablers to go around. Sure, there are things like Staff of Domination, and Intruder Alarm, and Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion for infinite storm, and so forth. There are a core set of classic cards that just scream "combo," from Mirari's Wake to Seedborn Muse to Krark-Clan Ironworks to Blasting Station to Goblin Bombardment to Mephidross Vampire.
Y'cain't compile a complete list, of course. It comes from experience. But if you've paid attention to Extended and Standard for the past couple of years, you'll notice that certain combos tend to pop up over and over again. If you're a good combo player, you notice those cards and say, "Hey—why can't I use that?"
It comes from experience, a'course. Every time you get beaten by a combo, note what cards were in there. Take a look and remember what cards enabled it! Then you can use it—or maybe know that a combo is coming from someone else and head 'em off at the pass!
That's it for me! Good night, and thank you! And stay seated for our next performer, Larry the Combo Guy!