Or Here Comes Combo Spring
There were two Challenges this past weekend and in both the April 24 and April 25 events combo did quite well, taking down a combined 5 Top 8 slots (and two wins). There were also four dedicated combo decks in this week’s League results. These results don’t take into account decks like Affinity and Elves, both of which have “combo elements, or Tron and Familiars, which have combo locks. Pauper is primed for a season where combo decks could dominate. I want to take some time to explore why.
Combo has been a tricky archetype for Pauper. When combo decks are good they tend to be overpowering. Traditional Storm combo with Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot proved to be too strong for the format. Cloudpost powered Temporal Fissure decks were too strong for the format. Cloud of Faeries, Frantic Search, Peregrine Drake – all too good in their respective combo decks. Most recently Gush was banned which neutered Izzet Blitz and Tireless Tribe (although both still pop up from time to time).
All of these combo decks were heavily spell based. While some utilized creatures as components or spouts, they all tended to primarily win through casting cheap instants and sorceries and leveraging their ability to control the stack and defend their victory condition. They were also all blue, which made defending their wins that much easier.
The problem with these decks is that Pauper lacked the tools to effectively constrain them. There are no Arcane Laboratory or Rule of Law effects. There are no Mindbreak Traps. No Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize; no Meddling Mage or Damping Sphere or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
And given the nature of Pauper there never will be.
So why do I think we are poised to enter a time when combo decks will not only be viable but will be actively good? It all has to do with their composition. These decks are largely creature based but they all operate on different axes of attack. The result is that while the format might be able to answer one at any given time another combo deck can rise for that weekend and do well.
Additionally, the best color against creature based combo is black and black is not exactly heavily played at the moment. Mono-Black Control is living on borrowed time and Gray Merchant curve draws. Other black midrange decks have moved away from heavy hand disruption and instead lean on black for removal and occasionally Blightning.
There are some common pinch points in many of these decks and being prepared for them can help you mitigate some otherwise tough matchups. Elves, Goblins, and Walls all lean heavily on one toughness creatures (Quirion Ranger and Skirk Propspector). Cards like Mogg Fanatic, Fume Spitter, Granger Guildmage, Gut Shot, and others can act as a check on these. Goblins and Cycling Songs both lean on their graveyard so Crypt Incursion or Tormod’s Crypt can come in handy. Having access to pinpoint discard either main or side can help as well. While Duress will whiff, cards like Castigate, Divest, or Memory Leak can help (even if that last one is a tad expensive). And finally, I would try to find a good home for Pestilence, but one where you can get it out a turn earlier.
Pestilence is a fantastic card for controlling the board. The ability to consistently keep the battlefield clear of small creatures makes it a potent option for combating creature based combo decks. The issue is having it out before their fundamental turn – turn 4. Pestilence needs to be active on turn 4 to matter in these matchups. This means having access to ramp, whether it be Sakura-Tribe Elder or Charcoal Diamond or an appropriate Signet. All of these can help you stick the Enchantment on the third turn putting your adversary in a bind. This is a small edge of course but these edges can add up over a large enough sample size.
But with any of these checks you have to accept a few truths. First is that sometimes the combo deck is just going to have it and there’s nothing you can do. Second, you have to accept that sometimes you’re going to have the wrong hate and you’ll just have to take your lumps. That’s why it is so important to find answers that can act as guards against multiple archetypes and not load up on Trespasser’s Curse as your only anti-combo card (although tutoring it up with Heliod’s Pilgrim seems fun).
So that’s where we are. Combo is on the rise and that’s a good thing. It makes the format more dynamic and rewards correctly anticipating shifts in the metagame. So what does that mean for next week? With both WonderWalls and Goblin Combo on the rise I would expect a decent amount of decks to be loading up on Snuff Out and Gut Shot next weekend. I don’t think that will be enough to hold these decks back but it might be enough of a window for Stompy or Bogles to make a big swing at things. So where does that put me? On desperately trying to find a good Pestilence deck.
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