Building Combo, Part 1: Spotting a combo

[UPDATE: I’m getting a large number of google hits to this post, for people looking for thopter foundry decklists.  If it’s the list you’re looking for, it’s at the end of the next post.]

After seeing my extended combo deck go off, people often ask me how I found the combo.  The answer is pretty complicated, and I thought it’d make a great blog post.  I’m going to attack this from a more general approach, but with the specific example of building my combo deck.

The first thing you need to make a combo deck from scratch is to know what sort of interactions to look for.  There are a number of interactions that have been abused often throughout magic’s history.  Reading about classic magic decks is a great way to learn to spot such things.

It’s not in my skill level or patience to give an exhaustive list, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of such abilities: Cards that untap other cards, especially multiple other cards, or do so without themselves tapping.  Cards that produce more than one mana by tapping.  Cards that have powerful abilities with no mana or tapping cost.  Cards with drawbacks you can use to your advantage, or drawbacks you can negate.  Cards that return permanents to your hand, cards that reduce the cost of other spells, and cards with just plain strange or unique abilities.

These are the kinds of things you should just keep an eye out for.  Whenever you’re looking at cards, put a mental flag on a card if it strikes you as having something abusable or just weird.  The best process is to write such things down, but I’m rarely that organized.

So it’s with this in mind that I noticed the card Sword of the Meek was pretty interesting.  It returns itself from the graveyard for free.  Now, I couldn’t come up with a way to churn out 1/1s, but I know being able to get a card, any card, for free, from your graveyard over and over again was powerful.  However, this isn’t the type of card that gets to the graveyard on its own.  The most obvious solution, is to sacrifice it for profit.

This brings us to the second thing you need to do when building a combo deck.  You need to have a familiarity with the cards available to you.  This will help you come up with synergies, and think of cards that pair well.  Reading articles, decklists, drafting, and just playing magic are perhaps the best way to do this.  I have a coworker who plays as much magic as me, so the result is we talk about it *lots*.

The most obvious sacrifice an artifact card was time sieve, a card with a powerful and unusual ability with a severe drawback.  It occurs to me that I might be able to use the sword to help make the drawback less severe.

This pairing is synergistic, but certainly not gamebreaking.  And if I want to make an extended deck, I need something gamebreaking.  Still, I keep the idea in my head of “artifacts that are good to sacrifice” and keep an eye out for such things.  Eventually I started mentally putting together a time sieve deck with such cards.  I then realized I needed another sacrifice engine for this deck to be at all viable.

This brings us to the third thing one needs to do when combo hunting.  You need to look at the cards, see them again, refresh them in your mind.  Some people scour the cardlist in gatherer or other webpages.  I find scouring my unsorted boxes of cards a great way of achieving this.

When looking for cards that sacrifice artifacts, I noticed thopter foundry.  Thopter foundry is a new card, one I’d explored possibilities with before, but that was before sword of the meek was on my radar.

Woah.

Those two cards went WELL together.  They basically added up to “1: Gain one life and put a 1/1 thopter with flying into play, equip sword of the meek to it”.  That’s GOOD.  Add a time sieve to that, and you can easily lock your opponent out of TURNS.  Three card combos are generally bad news, but when it’s a two card combo that’s incredibly powerful, and the third  is effectively a game win, this bears exploring.

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