The Five Fundamental Deck Types: The Combo

This is the last in a week-long series by WanderingWinder.  For the introduction and links to the other posts, click here.

King's Court

What characterizes the Combo?
A combo deck is a one that revolves entirely around a particular specific combo of 2+ different cards, generally getting 5-20 copies of the required cards in total. Once the combo is in place, if this has happened quickly enough, the deck should basically just win. This archetype does not deal with cards that work well together – i.e. it’s not just decks that have combos in them, a la Horse Traders-Duke, which is a Slog, or Warehouse-Treasure map, which works together well but isn’t an entire deck, but rather deals with combos that are self-contained, the-entire-deck-and-gameplan-is-this strategies. Typically, these combos are fairly resistant to adding other cards in with them.

Usually, with more than two distinct cards, you are really talking about an engine, which is a bunch of good cards that work well together and draw a lot, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Even things like Hunting Party stacks and Minion decks aren’t combos – they’re engines – that’s just (strong) cards being used to cycle you through, which can sometimes be extremely powerful with few cards, but isn’t a combo – there needs to also be some particular synergy, a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts, but particularly in such a way that goes beyond the normal functionality of a cards.

For instance, something like Worker’s Village and Rabble pair really nice together, as they give you actions, attack, buys, and draw – everything you need for an engine except money – but this is clearly not a combo, it is an engine, and part of how you can tell is that the parts are really modular – you might lose a little bit of efficiency by switching to another kind of Village or Smithy variant, but generally those roles can be filled by a number of other cards.

Something like Native Village/Bridge, on the other hand is very much a combo – it plays quite differently than other decks featuring these cards, and more important, you can’t get the same kind of functionality out of any other cards.

Some examples of Combo Decks include (not an exhaustive list!):

  • The Native Village/Bridge deck
    • Buy nothing but Native Villages and Bridges.  Use Native Village at every opportunity to put every card on the Native Village mat.  When the time is right, empty your giant Native Village mat and mega-turn out with all your Bridges.
  • The Chancellor(or Scavenger)/Stash deck
    • Buy 4 Stashes and multiple Chancellors.  Every turn, play your Chancellor, put 4 Stashes on top of your deck, and get a Province.  Repeat as soon as you draw another Chancellor.
    • Scavenger makes this even more powerful, since it allows you to guarantee putting a Scavenger in your hand every turn.  Plus you only need 3 Stashes.
  • The Golden Deck (video)
    • Bishop/Chapel into a 5 card deck of Gold/Gold/Silver/Bishop/Province (or Gold/Silver/Silver/Bishop/Province).  Bishop the Province, buy a Province.  Earn 5VP every turn while rushing the game end.
  • The Counting House/Golem deck
    • Your deck is nothing but Copper, Golems, and one Counting House.  Every Golem puts your whole deck in the discard and plays the Counting House, which draws all your Copper.
  • The Apothecary/Native Village deck
    • Have 8 Copper, 1 Native Village, and tons of Apothecaries.  Never use Native Village blindly; only use it to filter out green cards that your Apothecaries leave on top of the deck.  Once you start humming and your Apothecaries draw $8 or $11, your sole Native Village sucks up the new green card every turn, while your Apothecary leaves an Apothecary on top of the deck, essentially guaranteeing that it can keep going indefinitely.
  • Various forms of the Deck Deletion Pin deck
    • The crux is that you use Masquerade to “trash” your opponent’s deck into nothing.  This combo has the nice property that since your opponent starts every turn with 0 cards and ends the game with 0 cards in his deck, you can usually take your time setting it up.
  • King’s Court/King’s Court/Scheme/Scheme + just about anything guarantees $8 or $11 every turn thereafter
  • Philosopher’s Stone/Herbalist
    • With every buy you bloat your deck as much as possible.  You buy nothing but Coppers, Philosopher’s Stones, and Herbalists.  You use the Herbalist to repeatedly buy, then play, the PStone.
  • Tactician/Vault
    • Tactician gives you 10 cards.  Vault draws you 2, to a total of 11, and you can discard up to 9 of them for $9.  The remaining two cards are a Tactician and something you discard to the Tactician to repeat this process.
  • Black Market/Tactician
    • Tactician gives you 10 cards.  Black Market plays all your Treasures.  Another Tactician discards your last card and gets you back to 10 cards next turn.  Black Market saves all your Treasures from being discarded, so it’s basically like playing Dominion with 10 cards every turn.

What’s Good For Combos?

Combo pieces.

Again, this is all dependent on what combo you’re playing, but there are some general tips. Usually, there is some weakness of the combo.

This is most commonly an attack – i.e. the Golden Deck is vulnerable to junkers and discarders.  Chancellor/Stash or Scavenger/Stash is very vulnerable to discard.  Scheme combos are vulnerable to Minion, and if it’s a large enough Scheme chain, Fortune Teller.

There are also other kinds of holes – for instance, combos which eventually attack the opponent into submission can be vulnerable to reactions.  Most forms of the Deck Deletion pin can be blocked by Moat or Horse Traders. All deck deletion pins can get into a stalemate (or lose) if there is a massive lead for the opponent, in VP chips or on a mat somewhere, or there are drawing duration cards available. Native Village-based combos are extremely vulnerable to possession. So watch out for these things, know when they counter you, if they can be fast enough, etc. And know how to use them to counter combo decks if you are on the other side.

Combo decks are also in general vulnerable to not getting up and running in enough time. What ‘enough time’ is depends on the combo – a deck deletion pin is in time if it ever gets in before buying out the Curses (or rarely, Coppers).  Others need enough expensive VP on the board, or at least 50% in many cases, to be available.

The biggest threat to making this happen is generally a strong, fast engine, as they can certainly outrace Combos, most normally if they have strong trashing to kick-start them. Rush decks also pose a serious threat in being able to finish things off too quickly for the combo to get in place.

Mirrors become strange things. Either it is a race to get the combo up first, which is a combination of 1st turn and luck, generally, with some skill on the order of the build, or very often it will end up in a 3-pile ending, where you want to build as long as you can so that you can cash out, but if you DO cash out too early, then this gives them a lot of time to build up for a bigger turn, and if you build too long, you run the risk of them three pile ending you. So the timing of when you pull the trigger, particularly if your combo is one that can go off as a matter of scale, is a huge skill in this kind of matchup. If the three pile ending is very likely, you need to watch out for defensive greening. Sometimes, a seemingly random Duchy can be VERY good – it gives you the lead, will be good in the long run, and most importantly, it can stop your opponent from being able to buy more engine components, by utilizing the threat of that three pile ending.

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14 Responses to The Five Fundamental Deck Types: The Combo

  1. GwinnR says:

    Just to be totally correct: In the Counting House/Golem deck, you may have other cards in your deck (if they aren’t action-cards).

    • WanderingWinder says:

      Right. You can also have a scheme.

      • Anonymous says:

        Are you sure about that Scheme? If the first two cards turned up by Golem are Scheme and Counting House, then there are still cards in the draw pile.
        Am I missing something here?

        • WanderingWinder says:

          No, you’re right. But it’s not very good – I’ve never actually played it.

        • yariv says:

          You are right, but it might be worth it. The main problem with Counting House – Golem (apart from setting it up) is getting the Golem(s) in hand. A single scheme gives you that. In that case you will want more coppers, typically more than 12 (as you get 2/3 of them on average). Unless you have many Golems, it seems to be more reliable. Also, improving the reliability of this requires more coppers, not more Golems, and so can be done on bad turns (without scheme you normally can do nothing in a turn with no action in hand). It might also be easier to set up, though I’m not so sure about that (using the scheme with the CH before getting the first Golem).

          Another thing about reliability is this: the basic deck breaks in 2 cases – no golem in hand, or the CH in hand. The probability for neither of them to happen depends on the number of Golems and number of cards, but for 2 Golems in 15 cards deck it’s [2(4C12)+(3C12)]/(5C15) ~ 40%. 15 cards is actually very low, and it gets worse as the numbers rise. You probably need more than 2 Golems, it might be difficult to get them. The reliability also declines on greening.

          On the other hand, with Scheme. A more precise estimate of the number of coppers you need is this. With X coppers the probability of getting 8 is 1-[8/(X+1)]^2. (since each action is in a uniform place along the coppers, and you’re fine if any of them is after 8 coppers, including those in hand. There is some connection between every 2 turns, it’s not high). some numbers based on it:
          12 coppers – 62% for 8$, 28% for 11$.
          14 coppers – 71% for 8$, 46% for 11$
          16 coppers – 78% for 8$, 58% for 11$
          18 coppers – 82% for 8$, 66% for 11$
          20 coppers – 85% for 8$, 72% for 11$
          The reason I go for those high copper numbers is I believe you should do the following: open scheme/potion, then buy a single Golem and count house on a hand with no estates, buy coppers on other turns. Once you did this, you find your golem, you always start with a golem in hand. having the scheme as well is not a problem (actually, it’s better, guarantees getting all the coppers), having the CH is (you’ll play golem->scheme, have nothing in discard). However, the probability is quite low, and on next round you are guaranteed (almost) all the coppers.

          So, I didn’t run a simulation, but I believe that adding a scheme to Golem/CH is a major improvement.

          Disclaimer: I don’t think I ever played it, it’s just unfounded theoretical analysis here.

          • yariv says:

            Just ran some simulations on this, in colony games against BMU (Col).
            BMU beats Golem/CH 54-43 (25.8 turns average)
            Golem/CH/Scheme beats Golem/CH 56-41 (22.8 turns average)
            Golem/CH/Scheme beats BMU 59-39 (24.2 turns average)
            all simulations on 100,000 games.

            BTW, Geronimoo’s simulator is really nice, though I wonder what are the action playing rules (which I guess work fine here), and how can one change them.

      • Antistone says:

        If we dip into Dark Ages, adding a Scavenger seems like it would work well. Scavenger discards your deck, so you still get all your Copper, and then you can place a Golem from your discard on top of your deck for next turn.

        • yariv says:

          The downside compared to scheme: you need 2 golems. The main benefit is getting all the coppers, so you don’t need to buy new ones (you need to buy 2 coppers for colonies, which is probably a requirement for this combo to be competitive).

          • yariv says:

            I should have said, this is probably slightly stronger than the scheme variation, because scavenger gives you money and so it accelerates the set-up phase, possibly even with the requirement for another Golem. The time for setting it up is the big thingwith this combo, as is usually in combos.

            • George Locke says:

              Scavenger has the advantage of putting your deck in the discard as well, which scheme won’t do. (Perhaps this is obvious to when you think about the way Golem/CH works, but while it would be nice if you could get a few of them, you can’t because you need your golems to hit a CH.)

  2. ... The Card says:

    A huge improvement to Tactician/Vault is Tactician/Storeroom (dark ages). It needs caravan or lab to get enough cards for provinces, but the storeroom lets you cycle through the whole deck to get the cards you need so you can’t choke on green.

    • WanderingWinder says:

      A)The series doesn’t deal with Dark Ages, as noted in the intro.
      2)Tactician/Vault doesn’t choke on green very much anyway
      3 and/or C) It’s not a huge improvement – it’s not even an improvement at all. First of all, this splits you from a 2 card combo to a 3 card combo. Not only does this make it rarer (I realize that you can use Caravan OR lab OR Stables OR maybe something like wishing well), but it makes it a LOT slower to set up, because you need more pieces, which means you have to waste time buying them, and then after all of that, you HAVE to get the non-terminal-draw BEFORE you play the storeroom, which means that you aren’t actually any less likely to choke in the first place! If you’re looking for a 3-card combo like this, might as well stick in cellar or warehouse or something – they improve the combo as is.

  3. manthos88 says:

    I would like to add that the Apothecary – Nativ Village combo does not exactly guarantee that you can do that every turn, simply because the Province/Colony you buy may be in your hand next turn, so u wont be able to put it on ur Native Village mat.
    So, imo, u should buy 2 Native Villages instead of 1, so that when this happens u will be able to add 2 green cards on ur NV mat on one of u next turns…

  4. Anonymous says:

    bishop/chapel won’t work because there will be colonies along with the bishop.

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