This is part 3 of my 3 part series on Epic Deck Archetypes. Due to issues with my internet connection at my new place, I have placeholder card links instead of some images. *Fixed*
If you combine cards a, b, c, and d with specific game state x, you essentially win.
The “purest” form of combo works by surviving until it assembles multiple key cards and crafts an acceptable Game State to use them. (Game State refers to exactly what is happening at a specific time: such as champions in play, cards in discard piles, players’ current health, etc). Then, the combo deck uses those key cards with the crafted Game State to immediately win, usually by reducing an opponent directly from their full starting health (30) to 0.
For example, you survive until you draw Zombie Apocalypse, Drinker of Blood, and Wither. In addition, you wait until both discard piles have a combined champion count of at least 15. Then, on your opponent’s turn you play Zombie Apocalypse, putting 15 zombie tokens into play. On your turn, you play Drinker of Blood followed immediately by Wither. This breaks all 15 zombies, creates 15 Drinker of Blood triggers, deals 30 damage to your opponent, and wins you the game.
While flashy One-Turn-Kills (OTKs) are the hallmark of combo decks, any deck that combines 3+ cards for one incredibly powerful effect can be considered to have a combo aspect. Combo decks are generally built around supporting/enabling one (or more) of those combination(s). Due to this, combo decks vary widely in how they are constructed and when/how they try to win.
Below are a few examples of card types that work particularly well in Combo. In this section, I am going to stay relatively high level for anyone that wants to figure these combo decks out on their own. For more detailed examples, check out the section after this one.
These are a few of the cards that, when built around, can win the game in a single turn. One way to identify these cards is by their “unbounded” effects.
- Drinker of Blood triggers every time a champion breaks
- How many champions could you possibly break with this in play?
- What ways can you break multiple champions, while not breaking Drinker?
- Army of the Apocalypse brings back all champions in discard piles
- How many champions could you get back by playing this card?
- Can you get more value than your opponent when you play this?
- Are there any champions that work well if brought back together?
- Time Walker returns any number of champions in play to hand
- Can you use the champions you returned to hand for anything?
- Can you benefit from filling your hand past 7?
- Secret Legion puts 6 blitz attackers in play and gives all humans (not just human tokens) blitz
- Is there a way to make 6 small attackers better than 1 big attacker?
- Are there other human champions that benefit from gaining blitz?
These cards are powerful in combo because they help you draw into your combo pieces quickly.
These cards are powerful in combo because they buy time until you can assemble your combo. Some of these cards are combo pieces themselves.
Discard Pile Recursion
These cards are powerful in combo because they let you
- get back combo pieces used earlier to stay alive
- refill to launch a second/third combo if the first doesn’t win outright
However, discard pile recursion is much weaker if you don’t draw your combo pieces in the first place.
Combo’s main weakness in Epic is its inconsistency. If you are an aggressive combo deck that doesn’t draw its combo pieces early, you can get run over by more consistent aggro decks. If you are a control combo deck that doesn’t draw its combo pieces early, you can get pressured out by midrange. Control decks can also heal over a combo decks lethal range if given enough time.
The second major weakness of combo is targeted counterplay. If an opponent knows what you are trying to do, they are more likely to be able to disrupt it. In our Drinker of Blood example, a knowledgeable opponent could make sure they always hold onto a Flash Fire/Wither to use after you Zombie Apocalypse, before you can go to your turn and spend another gold to play Drinker.
The surprise factor can make combo particularly strong in the first game of a match, especially if the combo is brand new, but that strength fades in later games. However, if your opponent doesn’t have cards that can counter your combo, it can be difficult to stop. (Many of these combo “counters” [ex. Amnesia and Wither] are strong enough that decks want to include them anyway.)
Each combo deck has its own specific counter cards based on what it is trying to accomplish.
Discard Pile Removal
Discard Pile Removal is strong against combo because
- multiple combo decks rely on their discard directly for the combo
- it slows down recycling
- it prevents combo pieces from being returned from the discard pile
Example Combo Decks
Below are some combo decks. The first four have seen high-level competitive play (at least a top 8 at a qualifier and/or played at Worlds).
Drinker of Blood Combo
The most popular combo deck features the Drinker of Blood combo.
Example: James Moreland’s – Control Drinker Combo
These decks utilize off-turn Zombie Apocalypse into on-turn Drinker followed immediately by Flash Fire/Wither to win the game. Drinker decks are frequently control decks that try to stave off the opponent until it can go off. If the first combo doesn’t win the game, the health gain can be enough to let it stabilize for long enough to go off again.
This version is heavily dependent on Drinker combo to win. Therefore, mass discard pile removal shutting down Zombie Apocalypse (and Necrovirus) can be nasty. Flash Fire and Wither are particularly strong counters if saved until immediately after Zombie Apoc, before the combo deck gets the gold on its turn to play Drinker.
Time Walker Combo
Time Walker decks attempt to make destructive use of the board clear bounce effect. A common way to achieve this is to play and attack with a bunch of 0-cost blitzers (Guilt Demon, Dark Knight, etc.), followed by Time Walker, and ending by replaying the 0-cost blitzers to attack again on the same turn.
Example: Gabriel Costa-Giomi’s – Value Time Walker Combo
Gabe’s specific deck has the 0-cost blitz combo package in it, but it also includes a lot of powerful tribute/loyalty champions and powerful recursion.
This specific version seems weak to 0-cost removal such as Spike Trap and Lightning Strike. One sided damage based removal effects seem like a problem as well: Hurricane and Draka’s Fire. The deck is low on draw effects, so if you can prevent value gained by Time Walker bouncing powerful loyalty champions like Medusa, you can run them out of cards, in theory. Discard effects, Thought Plucker specifically, seem quite potent too.
Fire Shaman + Brachiosaurus Combo
Example: Hampus Eriksson’s – Combo Burn
This is an aggro combo deck. Hampus combines significant card draw with a lot of burn to setup for this combo. Even just 1 Fire Shaman + 1 Brachiosaurus + 1 burn card can do significant finishing damage.
Health gain is essential for surviving and ultimately beating this deck. Big champions are also hard for this deck to deal with if it doesn’t draw Erase (big untargetable champions basically can’t be removed at all).
Example: Nashville’s – Off-turn Overdraw Kark
In addition to 0-cost health gain cards, Overdraw Kark can utilize Ancient Chant + Lesson Learned/Frantic Digging to overdraw to 10+ cards at the end of its opponent’s turn (since you only discard at the end of your turn). Then, when Kark is played next turn, ally-recall cards like Inner Peace and Bodyguard can swell the handsize even further for a massive Loyalty X reveal.
Many iterations of Kark are vulnerable to discard pile removal because they rely on recycling a lot. In addition, removing Ancient Chants prevents the Lesson Learned combo and decreases the number of cards that can be drawn for a big Kark reveal described above. Consistent pressure is essential for defeating Kark. Champions like Strafing Dragon and Pyrosaur can slow down the turbo, combo Kark openings as you ramp up your consistent pressure.
Army of the Apocalypse Combo
Army of the Apocalypse decks are frequently built around the idea of champions with inherent blitz. Fill your discard pile with these champions (Juggernaut, Citadel Raven, Winged Death, Avenging Angel, etc), play this, attack. Amnesia beforehand means your opponent gets nothing. Crystal Golem provides card draw to minimize the risk of a blowout, if played when your opponent’s gold is up (since you can break Crystal Golem to draw 2 immediately after playing Army, before your opponent can play something).
Example: Derek Arnold’s – Core-Only Army Drinker Hybrid
Derek’s deck focuses more on bringing back cards that synergize particularly well over pure blitz power. Check out his explanation of the deck on his blog in the link above for more information.
Human Token Combo
Insurgency/Secret Legion + Revolt/Paros, Rebel Leader/Courageous Soul = 20+ blitz damage. I was terrified of human token decks when the game came out, but they have yet to have a successful competitive showing.
Blind Faith and Ceasefire were particularly strong against combo tokens, but Wither, Flash Fire, etc. remain strong post full-constructed ban. Targeted discard pile removal can prevent multiple small combo assaults by preventing Lesson Learned/Reusable Knowledge -> Insurgency assaults. Aggro is particularly nasty (at least against my iterations) because if you don’t start going-off turn 1, you’re in trouble.