What Makes a Combo Great?

Doug Zeeff

9/12/2016 11:00:00 AM
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Over the past six months I've become obsessed with powerful two, three, and four card combos. I swear, I'm constantly messaging Jason weird combos sprung from obscure interactions I stumble upon. Many of the decks I've written about this past summer have been built with a specific combo in mind, creating a list to use it effectively.

But not all combos are created equal. That seems pretty obvious, but I wanted to spend an article analyzing three distinct attributes that great combos tend to share: consistency, resiliency, and versatility. Having two or more of those characteristics lets specific combos make more of an impact on competition, so as I explain each one I'll be using concrete examples of decks that played them.

One big factor that won't be getting its own heading is that all great combos are more powerful than a sum of their parts. That's a cliché, but it's important to remember when you're building a combo: the end result has to be worth the hassle in the first place. Combining cards to make bigger plays really shouldn't leave you with a worse result than the individual pieces would if played alone.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get started with the first trait!

Consistency
The first thing I take into account when I'm creating a combo is consistency. I'm sure we all know that one guy at locals that brags about incredible fields with triple Shooting Quasar Dragon, Vanity's Fiend, and Jinzo. He'll rave about how it's only a five card combo, four of which are Limited – he's a big fan of Soul Charge, One for One, and Foolish Burial. But no matter how hard you try, building an entire deck around combos using unsearchable, Limited cards isn't going to get you anywhere.

As a rule of thumb, whenever I post a combo on my Youtube channel it'll never require a card that on the F&L List. While it's good to know all the possible interactions your deck can produce, since sometimes you will actually open with “the nuts,” it's a waste of your time to invest all your learning into those kinds of plays. I want two, three, or four card combos with cards that are Unlimited…Or better yet, searchable.

For example, think about the Djinn lock in Nekroz last year. All you needed was Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands, Nekroz of Unicore, and Nekroz of Clausolas. Or, Manju could be exchanged for Senju of the Thousand Hands. And Unicore or Clausolas could be Nekroz of Brionac. Or you could have two Clausolas, or Nekroz Kaleidoscope instead of either Nekroz. There's an insane number of combinations that could get you to the setup you needed, which was what made the Djinn lock so scary. Every single playable hand in Nekroz could totally lock your opponent out of Special Summoning too, creating a consistent combo that warped the format.

 Shiranui Solitaire
$11.95
$6.59
$4.99
Shiranui Solitaire121288
Set The Dark Illusion
Number TDIL-EN031
Level 4
Type Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute FIRE 
A / D 500 / 0
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

You can Tribute 1 Zombie-Type monster; Special Summon 1 Zombie-Type Tuner with 0 DEF from your Deck. If this card is banished: You can target 1 of your banished "Shiranui" monsters, except "Shiranui Solitaire", or up to 2 instead if "Shiranui Style Synthesis" is on the field; Special Summon them. You can only use each effect of "Shiranui Solitaire" once per turn.


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On that note, it's also good when you can swap out cards for others without affecting the end result. For example, if you have Shiranui Solitiare, Mezuki, Brilliant Fusion, and Speedroid Terrortop you can end with Leviair the Sea Dragon and triple PSY-Framelord Omega. But the Mezuki could be Foolish Burial, and the Terrortop could be any 1-card Rank 3 like Tour Guide From the Underworld or Madolche Hootcake. As long as a core set of cards stays the same, having outlier options lets you put similar combos into different decks, often boosting consistency.

Resiliency
Last format was really tough for combos. Generally speaking, combos that you can execute going first are better than combos you need to go second to play, because going second leaves you open to disruption if your opponent has a chance to set up their board. Over the past couple months you've been staring down Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal, Ehther the Heavenly Monarch, and Kozmo Dark Destroyer: all cards that made it near impossible to go off when you went second.

While all of those cards are technically legal right now, they're slowly becoming less and less popular. That means there's lower emphasis on resiliency, but it's still something to think about. At most, you're only going to play three Turn 1's in a single match, and that's usually going to be rare. So having combos that work at all stages of the game is a lot more important.

When I think about resiliency, I like to divide a combo into each of its component steps, and ask myself what happens if I'm forced to stop right there. It could happen due to something like Maxx “C”, Effect Veiler, Solemn Strike, or Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit. And I want to play combos that still leave me with a solid field, even if they're stopped halfway through.

Looking at all of the triple Quasar combos that people like to show off online, almost all of them lose to any single piece of disruption. One Solemn Strike or Effect Veiler and you're left with a field full of mismatched Levels and no big Synchro Summon. That's one of the reasons those decks have historically failed to top major events on a consistent basis: over the course of eight or more rounds of Swiss, you're bound to run into some disruption.

Fire King Kozmos are at the opposite end of the spectrum; a deck that can combo off with the right set of cards, but also ends with a threatening board if you stop them halfway through. Unless you stop the very first summon in the combo sequence, they're still likely to end with a Kozmo spaceship in hand and a Kozmoll Dark Lady on field. The aforementioned Nekroz combos were another prime example of that, because the Nekroz monsters were nothing to scoff at even without preventing Special Summons.

Resiliency's always going to be important, that's for sure. If you sit in your room and test Turn 1 hands over and over again you might think your deck's great, but you'll quickly realize that at a real event you're going to get demolished. That could be because you weren't thinking about playing through opposing cards to accomplish your end goal. Most of my favorite Hieratic combos suffer from that problem. It's cool that Hieratic Dragon of Tefnuit, Hieratic Dragon of Su, and Destiny Hero - Malicious makes Beatrice and double PSY-Framelord Omega, but that's only if your opponent doesn't stop any of the steps.

Versatility
Some of the interactions I mentioned before are pretty linear. Hieratic Dragon of Tefnuit and Hieratic Dragon of Su are going to land you Ultimaya Tzolkin or a Rank 6, nothing more or less. Tour Guide of the Underworld is going to make a Rank 3. Discarding Mermail Abyssgunde and Mermail Abyssmegalo for a second Abyssmegalo's going to leave you with two Level 7's or a Rank 7. That doesn't necessarily make the combos bad, but it does mean they have less longevity.

While most combos have a desired end result, it's better to have a bunch of potential options that can combat a variety of dynamic situations you might come across. That's one of the reasons I love Brilliant Fusion: there's so many different things you can do with it. You can use it to OTK in Madolches with Madolche Magiliene; to set up a huge board with Prediction Princess Tarotrei, Subterror Behemoth Stalagmo, and Pot of The Forbidden in Subterrors; to unbrick hands in Monarchs, by sending Dark Witch and Gem-Knight Lazuli to the graveyard; or to help summon Great Magnus in Super Quantums.

 Brilliant Fusion
$4.99
$4.00
$3.00
Brilliant Fusion122379
Set 2016 Mega-Tins Mega Pack
Number MP16-EN082
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

When this card is activated: Fusion Summon 1 "Gem-Knight" Fusion Monster from your Extra Deck, using monsters from your Deck as Fusion Materials, but change its ATK and DEF to 0. If this card leaves the field, destroy that monster. Once per turn: You can discard 1 Spell Card; the monster Special Summoned by this card's effect gains ATK and DEF equal to its original ATK and DEF, until the end of your opponent's turn. You can only activate 1 "Brilliant Fusion" per turn.


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I'm often asked why I'm constantly throwing Brilliant Fusion into decks, and those dynamic end results are the answer. There aren't many cards with that sort of versatility, and that makes Brilliant Fusion a great pick for many combo decks. When you look at strategies like Shaddolls, Mermails, or Wind-Ups you can see they can make a ridiculous number of boards off of the same cards. Those were some of the most popular combo decks in their time and versatility played a large factor in their successes.

Of course, Yu-Gi-Oh! isn't black and white, and there are going to be metagame defining combos that perhaps don't have all of those characteristics. Regardless, I still think all three are important, and I strive to make decks that leverage them to their fullest potential. If you've been struggling to build strategies with the combos you want to run, maybe you should try addressing these three traits; it'll help you win more games.

-Doug Zeeff


Doug Zeeff hails from Michigan and is currently an English major in college. When he's not found emailing Konami about why there's not a single walrus card in all of Yu-Gi-Oh! you can find him regularly posting unorthodox, unfiltered semi-Yu-Gi-Oh! related content on his Youtube channel, Dzeeff. In his spare time he enjoys eating cheese, Overwatch, and, of course, playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Click here to follow him and his adventures on Facebook!


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