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Top Ten Combo Decks of All Time

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Ah yes, the combo deck. Both a major fear, and a major route to victory for players everywhere. It’s also arguably the most misunderstood angle of Magic-dom as well. Underappreciated.

There have been some truly dominant combo decks down through the years. What are they?

I used to play in a lot of tournaments, and I’ve played Magic for a long time. As someone who played against a lot of the decks on this list as they were printed and developed, I can tell you that a lot of them were very dominant.

I created all of these decklists myself, although I used decks at the time that won as my inspiration.

10. Thopter Depths

Dark Depths
Thopter Foundry

Two major combos saw play for a while in formats like Extended with the Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths combo (giving you a 20/20 indestructible, flying Marit Lage beater on the turn you played Vampire Hexmage) or the Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry combo engine that made a ton of 1/1 blue Thopters. (You sacrifice the Sword of the Meek, and then when the 1/1 hits, it returns to play). And it was easy to play them both in the same deck. That way you had two combos in the deck to use to pull out, which makes it pretty unique for dominant combo decks. In fact, it was hard to fight, because the cards that were often good at the Hexmage / Depths half were pretty weak at the Sword / Thopter half. And you even had the Muddle the Mixture here to transmute for any of the key combo pieces other than the Dark Depths. Here’s a sample deck:


9. Kiki and More

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Pestermite
Splinter Twin

Recently axed in Modern this year, this long standing combo was around for a while. You know it. Splinter Twin. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Pestermite. Deceiver Exarch. You know this thing. Call it out while I build it!


8. Storm

Tendrils of Agony
Ad Nauseam
Mind's Desire

Storm has been powerful in a ton of formats. Storm Legacy. Storm Modern. Storm Pauper. Storm Vintage. I actually played a storm combo in Vintage as soon as Scourge was released and did some nasty stuff with Mind's Desire until it was restricted. Storm has been a powerful fabric since then as it’s hard to stop. Even if you counter stuff, it just adds to the Storm count. And then it’s really hard to counter the Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens or whatever is your kill card of choice. Every format is sickened by the power of Storm. Let’s do an Ad Nauseam deck for you, as it’s both different from your normal Storm and arguably more powerful.


7. Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest

Recurring Nightmare
Survival of the Fittest

This Standard-era deck worked powerfully by using Survival of the Fittest on the 2nd turn to start trading creatures for perfect fits, filling up the graveyard. Then you’d play Recurring Nightmare, sacrifice a creature immediately to swap it with the big nasty creature card in your graveyard, and then swing with it for game. The two top-end creatures were Spirit of the Night and Verdant Force. The deck included a lot of one-ofs, and some two-ofs, in order to search and grab the best card for the situation. So you could play a Wall of Blossoms, draw a card, and then sacrifice it to Recurring Nightmare. You could run something like Man-o'-War or Nekrataal to deal with problems your foe tosses out. Spike Feeder for like, Spike Weaver for keeping yourself alive, and so forth. This deck was serious.


6. Illusions-Donate

Illusions of Grandeur
Donate

This Extended Deck was pretty easy to win with. Play Illusions of Grandeur and gain 20 life. Now it doesn’t matter how much damage you took in those first few turns to burn or creatures or whatever; a 20 life gain cushion is going to keep you alive. Then you just cast Donate to send it to your foe. Now, they have to keep it alive for a few turns, investing cumulative upkeep. Eventually they can’t pay, and then they die. Notice that they will die when the Illusions “leaves play” so I tossed in a full set of Capsize to bounce it in order to get the life loss that should kill them out a little sooner. So there you are, a fully legal, powerful combo deck across just a few blocks. It’s so good that it moved to Legacy as well.


5. Fruity Pebbles

Goblin Bombardment
Enduring Renewal
Phyrexian Walker

This was a deck that was made legal as soon as Tempest hit. It was a powerful intoxicating deck. In fact, this deck is actually Type Two (now Standard) legal for a bit, and dominated Extended later. It works by playing a Goblin Bombardment and Enduring Renewal. Then slap down a Zero Cost creature, like Shield Sphere or Phyrexian Walker. Sacrifice it for a damage, return it to your hand, replay it for no mana, and then repeat until everyone has died. You have cards like Enlightened Tutor combined with stuff like Force of Will to get the combo down and win.


4. Dredge Bridge

Bridge from Below
Bazaar of Baghdad

As soon as Bridge from Below was printed, it became a major player across many formats. It combined with dredge and other graveyard mechanics in very powerful and often unfortunate ways. Modern. Legacy. And . . . Vintage. Vintage saw very powerful and hard-to-beat decks around this shell smash things very quickly. This deck plays nastily. You are aiming to get Bazaar of Baghdad, and you’ll use Serum Powder to make sure. Then you play Bazaar, and win. You tap it, draw two and discard three. Repeat over and over again until you have a stocked graveyard, with dredge goodness, and with a Bridge there. And you’ll win. And Vintage Bridge Dredge is using none of the powerful expensive cards you think of when you consider the format. There’s no Black Lotus or Mox Jet or anything else. Just Bazaar. But that’s enough of an engine to total change the deck (I’m even running Petrified Field to grab a dead Bazaar in case someone gets into a “Destroy on Sight” state of mind).


3. The Emergency Ban

Memory Jar

No card taught players that life doesn’t matter as much as Necropotence. But I played against Necropotence during the Black Summer days and it wasn’t a combo deck. Necro was later added to combo decks to make them more viable, but it wasn’t there. But there was a combo that was about to be released on Standard that was so offensive that the card was emergency banned before it was legal. That seems like a good entry for the Top Ten Combo Decks of All Time, and it featured Memory Jar. Fresh off a bunch of bans and a combo-heavy few months where some folks took some time away from the game, the promise of another major combo piece was too much.


5th Edition was legal and it included Mana Vault and Brainstorm. Mystical Tutor was about to be reprinted in 6th Edition so you could add this. So this was a sick set of timing. You could tap a Grim Monolith or Mana Vault for a Tinker, sacrifice the tapped artifact for a Jar, and then go off. In fact, this deck had a 1st turn Jar potential with Tinker and accelerated mana. Lotus Petal, Mox Diamond, and more are nasty here. You could blow up with Mox Diamond, Ancient Tomb, Mana Vault, tap it all, play Megrim, and then Tinker the Vault into a Memory Jar, sac it, and force everyone to play more cards, drop more stuff, and then kill with Megrims and Jars. Note that since this deck was never actually played, I am just creating my own (at-the-time) Standard Legal edition of the deck.

2. High Tide

High Tide

Ah yes, the era of the High Tide. When this little Blue common from a set that a lot of people “pooh-poohed” just broke stuff. It took a while for High Tide to make the grade in decks, and that came on the back of Urza’s Block, which gave you untap cards (especially Time Spiral) and stuff like Turnabout. It was a powerful deck that was very hard to disrupt, as there were few key cards in the matchup. The goal is to use High Tide and Islands to make a ton of Blue mana, and then win with a giant Stroke of Genius. (That was really good because you could Stroke yourself to find the stuff you needed early).


1. ProsBloom

Cadaverous Bloom
Prosperity

Arguably the first “combo deck” that made it in tournaments, this deck was extremely hard to beat. I can remember going up against it for the first time and just having this sense of dread. I can’t beat this. It used a bunch of cards printed in Mirage Block to win. You exiled cards in your hand for mana with Cadaverous Bloom. You sacrificed lands to Squandered Resources to make mana. You played Natural Balance to get five more lands, untapped and ready to tap for mana and sacrifice for more mana. You used this mana to fuel a Prosperity to get everyone to draw cards. And then you discarded those cards to play Drain Life, with enough Black mana made to win.

This deck changed the way we looked at combos. It informed all of the later stuff out there that we dropped. It was legal in every format, like Type Two and just used cards from Mirage and Ice Age Blocks. In fact this deck is almost a Mirage Block only deck. (Even Drain Life and Power Sink are in the Block).


And there you have it folks. 10 deadly decks that ruled and dominated during their era. From Pros Bloom to Pebbles to Dredge, we’ve seen a lot of powerful combos at the table. Enjoy the blast from the past. And be glad we aren’t in the era of combo Standard anymore.


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