Hello again gentlemen and gentlewomen, orcs and dwarves,
I hope you have had a great November month, on HS and IRL and that December month will be even better. Well obviously if you are celebrating Christmas, then you’re probably having a blast in about twenty days, if not, you will still enjoy the winter holidays, I hope.
I have my own ideas about holidays and their impact on HS, and I can say that December ladder will present a lot of interesting features all at the same time:
- As summing up by Nuba in his article First season worth points, we will be playing for 2016 season for the first time;
- People will be on winter holidays so we might see more plays and more different decks;
- We will be getting new cards from the adventurer’s league. You probably have seen how much cards such as Reno Jacksonor Unearthed Raptor(to cite just two, but lot of cards from the league are concerned also) have brutally impacted the format… We have as many cards incoming in December, so there is space for new decks here.
So whatever you goal is, you’ll probably be able to have fun in December playing H.S. I sure hope you do and I will also do. For myself, I’ll try to make a top 100 legend finish at least, and hopefully test some classes I hadn’t had the chance to play before (before this week, my number of ranked victories playing rogue class was … 1. Lol. Now it is a little more with the very funny death rattle deck that you might have seen playing in rank 15 to 10 with)
While I was looking over the Unearthed Raptor
What’s funny about combo decks is that they can be weak, strong, even broken, based on a 2 card or a 10-cards combo, but they have the common feature of driving your opponent crazy. I think it is a way of playing that you might like or dislike, but that you need to know about in order to reach a nice HS level.
Despite numerous combo decks around, I often see people, even good players, legend or close, make awful plays because they failed to comprehend what a combo deck is about. Mostly because when playing against combo decks, you need to
- Know the match-up very well of course
- But also, in addition, learn how to determine what is going on and what will be going on next turn.
A simple example I have seen all too often, people throwing their Sludge Belcher
Today, we will be reviewing together, in the same way I have offered you in my previous article
Playing the terrible games
how to play combo decks, how to counter them, but, I hope, above all, why they are here, why they are cool or uncool, which characteristics they have in common and how to build you own combo deck as a practical tool.
0 A brief history of combo decks, and myself, in TCG’s (not only HS) – what to think about combo decks?
For those who are not reading flavor texts, don’t care with the who is who of TCG, it’s no use looking this section, you can go directly to the section I that would focus on more technical business and help you win games right away.
But I believe that if you want to be a great player, you need to like playing, because you’re bound to play lots and lots. Every time I won a national, European or world championship, I had to play 10, 20, even 30 hours. That’s an awful lot of time, with a lot of pressure over the shoulders, and to stay focused, the best solution is to like what you’re doing and having fun, focusing on games as you get to play them.
So I think that if you want to improve on the long-term, you need to read other things that technical parts of the article, do something else that jumping through the decklist directly, learn about the players, who they are, what their choices were, the background, and so on.
Let’s go back to the subject.
Combos are part of every TCG (or LCG) I can think of. Whether they have been wanted by the designers and escalated into crazyness with the flow of time, or mistakes corrected more or less fast, you‘re bound to encounter them.
Combo is not a fixed concept. It’s not something exact. It’s a wide variation of synergies that goes from the 2-card synergy that is so powerful that it becomes a combo straight on (don’t look at me as if I insulted you, Force of Nature
Wikipedia magic Magic combo decks shows clearly how vast combo decks can become, as they are growing as the pool of cards is growing. The funny stuff with them is that one useless lousy card can become a powerhouse if another card comes in a future expansion. That’s why avid deck builders like combo decks so much, they know that it emphasizes their abilities of finding synergies everywhere. For example, the Warsong Commander
On the other side of the spectrum are the players that absolutely dislike combo decks because it is not fun to play against. I can understand that. Here is a video of me winning the French Championship of Agot LCG: Video of the Agot LCG 2014 French championship finals
Well as you can see, I would totally understand that the other player was pissed with such a stupid final. Not because he did not have any chance to win but because he simply could not play interactively with me. I was lucky enough to be paired with a nice guy so that was OK but people are not always that nice.
On the ladder, I think it’s different though, in opposite to a tournament where combos will often surprise, the best decks on the ladder win on consistency. I think that’s the reason why we see more combo decks in tournaments than in legend rank. Maybe I am wrong on this, feel free to correct me.
That’s why the history of combo decks is a history of love and hate, people who love to let their imagination fly by and consider that deckbuilding can be more important that playing, people who hate sitting there knowing that T8 will be Alexstrasza
End of the little history, let’s now talk technical stuff, I hope you are not too bored by now. Hopefully if you are, you’ll probably get more interested by what’s coming up next.
I – How to play combo decks
As I already stated in my previous article, I don’t do guides or match-ups, for a good reason. I think that they should be entirely disconnected from the strategy of the deck, as people tend to rely on them too much and not think a little bit more before playing.
Now, it probably does not have too big consequences when playing against classical decks because it can be either a wise decision not to over expand to a Brawl
You can try, look over the game, imagine what’s going to happen, use stats, but at the end each game is different. What is in opposite certain is that playing too much by the book your combo decks (or against combo decks, see part II) will always be a very big source of losing games.
That’s why I don’t advise you to read too many guides before you’re already mastering your deck pretty well and know what has to be done on the field. Guides are helpful to determine what’s going to happen next, not what to do now. Or so I believe. Great guides await you when you know about the deck a little more and have played several games with it so you understand which card does what in which game. Read Stonekeep HSP guides, for example, they are full of options offered rather than decisions taken for you. That’s great to be able to write stuff like this and as a TCG player who often plays out of nowhere with no content available, I can affirm you how strong it is to have so many data and guides available.
For combo decks, it’s even more important as it is very rare to come across a by-the-book situation, as any skilled opponent will try to prevent you from coming into that kind of situation. A simple example: all players know that no matter what happen 14HP is a critical level of health against druid.
But it does not mean you should sacrifice everything to stay 15HP, we’ll discuss that in part II, when we will be defending against the aggressor. For now, let’s focus on that aggressor.
I’ll be providing you with lists later on but here is what you generally need for a combo deck:
- A finishing move (that’s the most important as you can’t win games without it)
- Stalling parts to earn time to create a situation where you can finish
- Cards that prevent your opponent’s obstacles
I hope this is obvious as you need a way to kill, a way to be able to kill and a way to survive, if we want to sum things up roughly.
- A finishing move: well most of the time (like 90%) the combo itself is the finishing move. But it is not a given as sometimes your combo can provide you with infinite card draw, infinite life points, so on, so on.
It seems, to me at least, obvious as to why you need to be able to finish your opponent. You’re not playing the long game here, when you have hit your combo, you cannot do a better job later, so you get to play it as fast as possible and finish the game as your opponent can get value of any card he draws.
In HS, the most common finish is to create an insanely strong charge minion (because opponent cannot interact) or several small one and go face once or twice with it to finish. Generally you do it in one row, since once the minion dead; you’ll have to find all pieces again to combo another time.
For this reason, most of the combos decks want to go lethal when set up. A notable exception was Grim Patron
How to play your finishing move well? Some legend tips really easy to set up:
- Always calculate lethal every turn and think several turns head. (very simple example: playing against rogue with no heals, or at least from what you know, if he has 21 health, you could very well go face for 14 if you have a Fireballin hand to finish it later)
- On the opposite, always calculate if you are dead on board, or easily killed with an additional damage or two. In the same situation, if the rogue has 12 damages on the table and you are at 15, you might play the Fireballto kill a big attack minion, and save the combo for later.
- When calculations are getting difficult, try to speak in term of probabilities and look what has happened in the game. If the mage had had Archmage Antonidasin hand, would he have played it before? That doesn’t mean he cannot go topdecking sometimes, but thinking smartly will give you more games than it will cost you victories, especially on the ladder, and even more when you are above rank 5, thus still benefiting from the star bonuses. On a side note, knowing if you did the right choice and got topdecked, or did the wrong choice, is very important. Thus I recommand using a tracker to check on this.
- If you are not playing a kill-or-die situation, think what you can do to prepare yourself: drawing cards with an Arcane Intellect, silencing a protector with your Keeper of the Grove, or just go wild with your Shade of Naxxramasto start piling some damages.
- You can bluff a lot if you are in a bad position. Don’t forget that the better your opponent is, the more he is concerned with what you do in relation to the future of the game. For example, putting your opponent at 14 H.P with a reckless move is a very strong play for a druid player as you will achieve two things at once: put opponent under your finishing move range when you draw it later, force opponent to play solutions when he in fact does not need them. So try to think and play as if you had the combo in hand, as long as you can!
- Stalling parts are equally important in my opinion as the finishing move. You can possess the best finishing move ever, if you cannot go where you want with it, it is no use. You need to earn yourself time to prepare your action.
- It’s for example one of the strengths of Druid of the Claworin Combo druid: in addition to being a finisher with its 4ATK and charge, it’s a possible 4/6 protector that will prevent you, for example, from dying during one turn of aggression of the face hunter, and then combo into win (one might say it is the opposite, a possible 4ATK charge minion in addition to a great 4/6 protector… well they are right).
- Stalling for stalling is good, but extending as you do so is even better. You always have the decision to take between: making an efficient stall, or making a less efficient stall that allows you to develop. A common occurrence of that situation is in the freeze mage T6: should you Frost Novathe table + draw two cards, or Blizzardthe table. It can be a highly challenging decision but very important decision as a wrongly-timed stall can simply make you lose the game later.
- The reason behind this is that with combo decks you need to find your road to the combo most of the time. So when you’re playing your T5, you need to think of the best way to be able to combo on T10 for example. That’s what makes the combo decks difficult to play as soon as your opponent has solutions to your combo pieces.
- Don’t forget that Loathebcan hit any time on the table, delaying you for one turn. You need to have way to stall the game during that turn.
- Choosing your stalling parts in a deck will be highly metagame-dependent. The more aggressive decks you think you’re facing, the more damages you will be packing. It’s always nice to play bigger cards that take less slots because it gives you space for your finishing move, your obstacle removers, or other stuff, but if that means you die to felsteel reaver every time he hits the table, it might not be a good choice on the ladder. You cannot have infinite Ice Blockunfortunately (well, if somebody has managed that, I am interested lol).
- Now that you have managed to stall your opponent enough to gather your finishing move, you will need to clear yourself a path to play it. In that category we will find a lot of different cards, but you need to understand that they have the same goal: clearing your path to kill your opponent
- The best solution I can come up as a counter to combo decks is to keep lot of health and most of them are prepared to deal 15 to 30 damages in a turn. Now that Grim Patronis dead (in its primordial form), I don’t think there are too many possibilities except with incredible hands to make 60 damages out of a clear board. If we make some math with druid: 2 Force of Nature+ 2 Savage Roar(with the help of Emperor Thaurissanand double Innervatewhich is already insane) is probably the best you can do and it will make “only” 40 damages. Combo decks to counter that play either the aggressive clearing path which means doing damages every turn before the combo hits, or Alexstraszato diminish the life total by 15 (which doesn’t prevent control warrior to be a nightmare for most freeze mages deck)
- Another good solution to prevent a bad situation to happen is managing to have a key minion on board, like a Sludge Belcheragainst druid, or a 7 ATK minion against mage. But possibilities are enormous and highly vary with the match-ups.
- As a result, combos decks that rely on the board often play silencing cards (Keeper of the Grove), AOE (Hellfire), to have versatile answers to any cards they might encounter.
- In the opposite, combo decks which rely on the hand and the damage bursts generally pack stuff to draw cards to draw many different solutions and be able to play the combos as soon as possible (Arcane Intellect)
- Freezing mage is a good example. For a long time, before Emperor Thaurissanwas released, the combo part was too expensive to do it in one turn correctly so it was simply impossible to rely on Malygosas realistic finishing move. But now that we have stalling parts available and Emperor Thaurissanis here, we can have it. The deck has been able to overcome an obstacle that was: never be able to clear the board and play Malygoseven if not winning the game instantly, eventually, on the same turn.
In conclusion, if we try to generalize, which is awfully difficult as some cards can have dual use (and the more the better), you will play:
- 2 to 6 pure finishing move cards (Arcane Golemor similar agressive cards)
- 6 to 10 stalling cards (Shield Blockor other purely defensive cards)
- 6 to 10 cards to overcome various obstacles (Sapand other cards against your opponent’s servitors)
- The rest of cards played are too good to pass or too versatile to enter one of those categories (Ice Block, Dark Peddler…)
You would probably start your deckbuilding by finding the finishing move and try to build around. There are many great finishing moves around that can win on the spot more or less, so find yours and try to find how to survive until it arrives and how to win regularly with it.
For example, you could play Zombie Chow
I think it’s good to be structured when you’re building a new deck, which would help you in order to not lose too much time in the first games by losing poorly because you forgot to structure the deck correctly. With that, I think you’re set to make your very first combo decks, you can help yourself with the examples on section III.
II – How to counter combo decks
For you, who clicked here looking for knowledge (thanks a lot) but is not interested at all in my history and in combo decks because it’s boring to play, no problem, I would like to help you as much as I can.
First thing you need to know against combo decks are the match-ups, which mean:
- Recognize them as soon as possible
- How they kill you
- How many damages can they do with how many cards and in how many turns
And with experience
- Which cards disrupt them the best at which moment
- What solutions do they probably know you’re packing and what card don’t they know about so you can surprise them with it.
- Recognize if their plays is optimal or if it can indicate they are not in good position.
- Most important YOU NEED TO ADAPT using all those facts above.
A very simple example: lot (and I mean looooooooooooooooot) of people think 14H.P is like the godly barrier against druid. It might be in a generic situation but not every time – and I really mean ANY WAY – should you think that is a given.
Well it is not a given AT ALL.
For example, here are various situations where things can change, I’ll try to order them from the most unusual thing to the most usual so you get to understand better what I mean:
- Both Force of Naturehaven been played before => It means that now he cannot combo you at all so he will be playing the board control game, try to have several minions and play both force of nature together, probably
- Your opponent has no cards in hand start of turn. => Obviously he cannot combo you directly, can he? That does not mean he won’t be able next turn, but that might be a good time to play your Dr. Boomand put some pressure
- We are reaching T9 and he has not played any Innervateyet. => It means that now if he has enough cards in hand, we are talking about at least 18 damages frontier now because he could add a second Savage Roaror a 2/1 charge Druid of the Saberto the combo.
- You’re not packing any healing cards => Well if your opponent knows that, you don’t care about 14H.P because even 18 or 20 H.P mean you might be combo-ed to lower your health left, and then killed later. It is a very strong move against secret paladin to combo them before they can play and then finish them with a Swipe
- You’re packing so many healing cards => Play not to be killed, because if he does not kill you, then you Reno Jacksonhim into a new game.
and so on …
My point is, you get to understand what’s going on, what’s your opponent goal in the game and ultimately, why is he playing like that. Reading guides is a good start, then you need to play games to get it… probably even lose games to get it.
With that in mind, we can still underline several patterns that you can follow depending on the type of decks you are playing and the weapons offered to you, staying really general with some examples.
- Aggressive decks: your best weapon is to kill them before they kill you. Generally in HS it is highly possible. Always decide by calculating if you should kill an opposite servitor with your hero or with your own servitor. It’s a race so you need to go fast but you don’t want to take any risk. Be also careful about the alternate ways of dying since you don’t have many defensive cards. For example, against freeze mage, T4 Frostbolt+ double Ice Lancefor 11 damages, T5 Fireball, T6 Fireball+ power is 24 damages already. So be warry of those side scenarios that can happen and learn to detect them.
- Mid-range decks: it’s probably the most difficult decks to play well against combos, but the reward can be insane if you master that kind of games because often the combo deck player does not know that match-up particularly well. You really need to know which answer is great at what time here. Play your protectors where needed, not before, clear the board where needed, not before. Easier said than done, right? But I sure hope you can find your way, guides can be pretty useful to reach next level with this kind of decks.
- Control decks: pretty simple, kill the board when you estimate it is threatening enough, keep 30 HP + armor at any time, and you are safe. It’s seriously that, except if you’re playing against the few very great combo players in the world, you will just win doing that because the combo decks pack too many useless cards against you and will be forced to play time at some time. So keep the pressure on his board, keep the HP high, and go to fatigue when needed.
III Combo decks – discussion about three decklists
So far, we have spoken a lot of theory. I think it’s the most important matter when speaking about generic articles because you already have guides and in-depth-strategy for specific decks.
But I also feel that, in the light of what we have seen before, that would be very useful to everybody if we discuss about three decklists of combo decks that I like, and see if they respect what we have said so far, also so that you can understand that many combo decks work the same way, but have differences with the plan made in general.
THE REAL COMBO: COMBO LOCK
As it happens, there was a very interesting new article by Hangdown on the deck:
It is a deck I like very much and I have always been impressed by people playing it for a long time (the finishing move exists since the first edition of HS).
If you compare my list on top of this article to Hangdown’s one, it’s interesting because we have two slightly different approaches of how to play the deck. While I have focused my few free slots of getting the combo more consistently by playing 2 of each of the finishing moves part, because I like to be able to play one if I draw it in the early game, Hangdown has chosen to add more defensive combos to be able to stay in the game longer.
As a result, it would probably seem that I kill early more often, but that he can survive longer in case of problems. What’s funny is that I read the comments that it is a funny deck. Well it can really win consistently if you master it but that takes time, time, time. I have seen guys perform very well at legend level but totally goofy decks and that’s one like that, but you need to play perfectly, get the surprise effect and know the match-up in advance.
Now, let’s appreciate what we have learned so far in the light of this decklist:
Finishing move cards: Power Overwhelming
Stalling parts: Darkbomb
Pure removing -> Ironbeak Owl
Getting a strong board presence and damages if possible: Dark Peddler
Too good to pass: Lord Jaraxxus
We are pretty much in the standards we had estimated before. That being said, the big strength of the deck is the versatility of the warlock cards. I see two big advantages to that:
- You can be flexible with your game plan
- You can bluff your opponent into thinking you are a mid-range/control warlock that missed his game. It’s still true because the deck is not overplayed on the ladder, and it’s even truer with the Reno Jacksonversion that it really difficult to detect in advance.
As you can see, the other minions are just the best one at their costs, simply that. If things go wrong, you have cards to empty the board, and that’s pretty much it. It’s a deck that probably cannot win without the combo, but cards like
So we can say we are here presented with a really classical combo decks: stall, stall, stall and kill with a huge huge burst. That’s pretty simple in theory at least. The deck is quite easy to pilot in most of the cases but it can become more tricky against specific match-ups like handlock for example.
As you can imagine, you have a complicated match-up against handlock (as most decks have in fact) because he can wildly go down, play big guys that you don’t have an answer too. They key here is to decide which pieces of the combo you can sacrifice or not in order to survive to finish him… all the more important as Reno Jackson
THE IMMORTAL COMBO: COMBO DRUID
It feels like every time I give an example in this article, I am referring to combo druid. Indeed, it is a deck I chose as a basis because it is very heavily played on the ladder, it’s pretty strong, but it’s in the same time very easy to understand. Damage, damage, damage, gain board control if possible burst, thank you. Which does not mean we cannot learn from it?
The best guide in my opinion under the name “mid-range druid” (which basically is combo druid linked playing good creatures, because there is a lot of synergy between the combo and any that manages to stay on the board because of the central use of Savage Roar
I must admit I have not looked guides concerning druids for a long time as it’s a class I like to play with my own personal brew but feel free to compare with Thorsmash’s list if you like.
Well in fact the biggest difference between the two lists is that I do not run Wrath
- It is a great tempo play, a card that asks to be killed and if good from T3 to T7 without question for Savage Combatant, a great versatile creature for Druid of the Saber.
- It is not often seen in combo decks so its presence along with some cards you might have played before can entice your opponent to think he is paired against a ramp druid or agro druid for example. This means he might go into trouble, something I like very much.
Let’s again do a small exercise. Now you know how to count cards in a deck. The question is: how many do I need change to go from that combo druid to a ramp druid.
Thus we could say that about five cards change is the maximum to do: most of the cards in the list are big spoilers that could be played in any druid deck: Innervate
Cards to win the board battle which is essential in HS: Living Roots
Cards that are so good when ramped that you play them as soon as you pack Wild Growth
It leaves us with the following cards that could be a little under par: Druid of the Saber
The conclusion here when we study combo druid: the combo is not the major part here as it “only” does 14 to 20 damages on a solid basis, and a mere protector can heavily disturb it. But the most important part is that druid possesses all the means to prevent the other players to defend the combo: silence as a packed ability for a really good minion, big protectors, health gain and card draw. That’s the versatility of cards such as Ancient of Lore
THE FALSE COMBO: FREEZE MAGE CONTROL/COMBO
I have given an indication in the title. I don’t think that freeze mage is a real combo deck. Yet it is probably the most powerful combo deck around.
This discrepancy comes from what you consider a combo deck is/should be. If you think the most important thing about a combo deck is its ability to kill you without doing anything from 9 turns before, well, we have a combo deck here. I don’t think you ever felt more powerless than when playing against freeze mage. It is probably the most annoying deck to play against as you perfectly know the match-up and the game plan but more than ever cannot do anything to prevent your lethal death around T9.
But with that in mind, the deck does not really enter our definition of combo decks because of its structure. The reason is that you’re packing 28 good cards and completing with a finishing move by itself: Archmage Antonidas
It’s a tenuous situation because some cards, like Ice Block
Yet, it is often referred as the most powerful combo deck so we might as well have a look at the list at the right, I stole it from Joseph on his guide Weekly legends Freeze Malygos deck because it is a recent one, it features Malygos
Well that deck is really straightforward: handle the board for cheap with Mad Scientist
Hum, you get what I mean, I suppose.
We really have a 1-card combo deck here, as you can see. All cards are here to play Malygos
Pick your man!
The finishing move in this case is the simplest one can think about, but since it is one card only you need to put it as powerful as the handlock finishing move. Look at the guide if you want to play this, be prepared for boredom… but you can accept to be bored if it means winning more matches than ever.
Adopting the vast world of combos is not something you have to do to have a better win rate (but it can certainly help) but
1/ you could do that if you are brave enough.
2/ knowing to play against combos is needed.
I hope that this read has been interesting for you, and that reading the articles has given you the will to try some of the decks, read guides on it and go play it on the ladder or with friends who won’t be your friends any more should you play that freeze mage deck too much.
I could have spoken about milling rogue, combo warrior worgen, the aviana OTK (for those who wonder, it’s basically Innervate
As I stated in the article, you could use some combos not to kill but to draw an awful amount of cards, gets big health but what you need to remember, what I wanted to convey in this article is that it is not a small part of the deck that determines if it is good or not, but how you can find synergies or completions with the other cards available in your class.
So If you like it, just go through the deck builder and make me a nice crazy combo deck that lets you threaten the old granny in unranked games! If you don’t want to play combos, still read some guides about how your favorite deck works against combo decks.
Have a blast in December!
Thanks for reading this humble fellow
Bisous, je rigole