Legacy Guide Part IV: Combo Decks

Update: There’s a new version of this guide, here:
Part I: An Introduction to Legacy

Table of Contents

In parts 1, 2, and 3 of my Legacy Guide, I offered a broad outline of the format. I gave advice for those diving into Legacy for the first time, and offered suggestions for preparing for a Legacy tournament. Now we’ll delve into the finer details and cover a small handful of individual decks. (Mind you, the number of possible decks in Legacy is virtually limitless, and I can’t cover them all.) More importantly, I’ll go over how to approach beating each of the broad categories of decks that you might face.

I’ll start with a category of decks that helps make Legacy Legacy: Combo decks.

What to Expect From Combo Decks

If you’re a long-time Standard player, you might remember a few combo decks springing up over recent years. We had Rally the Ancestors, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, and even mana ramp decks have qualities in common with combo decks. Today, Aetherworks Marvel is effectively a 1-card combo deck and is one of the best decks in Standard.

These are uncomparable to Legacy combo decks.

The tools exist in Legacy to build extremely fast, consistent, and foolproof combo decks. If there’s a combo in your deck, it’s likely that your entire game plan is based around that combo, and you have no Plan B.

The faster combo decks in Legacy will “go off” on the first turn between 10% and 50% of the time. They are designed to go off on the second turn with incredible consistency, even through a single piece of disruption. This means that if your anti-combo cards are primarily spells that cost 1 or more mana—like Thoughtseize or Spell Pierce—you’ll be dead in the water when the combo player has a good hand on the play. If possible, you should combine these cards with “free” disruption like Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, Surgical Extraction, and Daze (although Daze might not save you when you’re on the draw).

Graveyard Combo Decks

Oops, All Spells!

“Oops, All Spells!” (along with Charbelcher combo and Tin Fins) has one of the fastest wins of any deck in Magic. Since it plays with no lands, a Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer will mill the entire deck into the graveyard, facilitating Narcomebas to flashback Dread Return on Angel of Glory’s Rise, which brings back Laboratory Maniac and Azami, Lady of Scrolls for an immediate win.

In order to maximize speed, this deck sacrifices versatility, and any ability to win a game fair and square. It will pose the question: “Do you have Force of Will in your opening hand?” and if the answer is “No,” then it will win the game.

Graveyard hate cards will be very effective against “Oops, All Spells!” but watch out for a transformational sideboard into Charbelcher combo, which can beat you without using the graveyard.


Of the graveyard-based combo decks, Reanimator is the one you’re most likely to face. Last week, I featured R/B Reanimator as an explosive and effective budget deck. But the more traditional U/B Reanimator deck—like the one seen above—is also popular and successful. Based on my recent experience, I’d say you’re about equally likely to face the U/B version or the R/B version.

The goal is to get a giant creature in the graveyard via Entomb, or simply by discarding it. Griselbrand is the most common target, but Entomb can allow for a small toolbox featuring Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Iona, Shield of Emeria, Sire of Insanity, and a handful of other options.

Reanimator has one of the highest game-1 win rates of all the decks in Legacy. It’s fast, simple, and consistent, being able to produce a giant creature by the second turn in the vast majority of games. Graveyard hate is excellent after sideboarding, but sometimes Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus can even be too slow!


Just like Reanimator, there are two main flavors of Dredge, and “Manaless Dredge” was featured last week. The version featured above is slightly less consistent, but more explosive. The main difference is in the flexibility to sideboard cards like Wear // Tear and Firestorm, as well as the ability to mulligan bad hands. (Manaless Dredge wants to choose to draw, keep 7 cards, and discard to hand size in order to get going.)

Dredge is a familiar archetype that also appears in Modern and Vintage. In all formats, it’s a deadly adversary that is usually only beaten through raw speed or dedicated graveyard hate.

As a general rule, graveyard-based combo decks are exceptionally hard to beat before sideboarding. But for games 2 and 3, they have to contend with both the generic disruption in their opponents’ sideboards and potent graveyard hate cards like Surgical Extraction and Nihil Spellbomb.

Choosing Your Graveyard Hate

Surgical Extraction is the overall best graveyard hate card for today’s metagame, in part because it can help you fight a battle right from turn 1. If you have Snapcaster Mage or are packing a lot of discard spells to pair with Extraction, it should be your go-to.

Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus are effective and versatile, but might be too slow to help you if your Reanimator opponent has a good draw on the play. Feel free to sideboard these cards, but I recommend diversifying your anti-graveyard suite if you do.

Tormod’s Crypt is a nice middle-ground since it’s free to cast, but packs a bigger punch against Dredge and Storm Combo than Surgical Extraction does. I’m a big fan of Nihil Spellbomb in decks with access to black mana, since it replaces itself and can therefore be boarded in a wider variety of matchups.

Leyline of the Void loses value in a format with card selection because the 7 cards in your opening hand only make up a relatively small portion of the cards you see over the course of the game. But if you’re not playing with Brainstorm and Ponder, then Leyline of the Void remains an extremely potent option. For example, decks like Jund or Abzan can consider sideboarding Leyline of the Void.

How many graveyard hate cards should you put in your sideboard? Well… as many as you can fit! It’s acceptable to take the calculated risk of playing with zero graveyard hate cards if you want to use your sideboard slots elsewhere. (Personally, I’m strongly considering this option for the upcoming Legacy Grand Prix in Louisville, Kentucky.) But the first couple of anti-graveyard cards do have a lot of value. Playing 4 or more dedicated sideboard cards is probably past the point of diminishing returns, but there will definitely be matchups where you’re glad to have them. Realistically, 2 or 3 is probably a good number of graveyard hate cards in your sideboard.

Storm Combo

Storm Combo uses the graveyard peripherally, but you cannot shut it down with graveyard hate alone. About two anti-graveyard cards will be nice tools for the matchup, but part of the reason I’m less excited about graveyard hate cards number 4, 5, and 6 is because you really wouldn’t want to bring in that many against Storm.

In my mind, Storm is the purest type of combo deck. Instead of trying to combine 2 or 3 particular cards, the whole deck contributes to the combo. The goal is to make a bunch of mana, chain together a bunch of spells, and cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Often, Past in Flames or Ad Nauseam are the engine cards that allow them to reach this critical mass.

Storm can win on the first turn of the game, but wins on the second turn much more often.

One of the great strengths of the Storm deck is that it’s very good at beating permission spells. You want Force of Will to protect yourself from its fast kills, but if you sit on your haunches for too long, they’ll simply take their time to set up a perfect hand, and dismantle you using Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy.

To really have a good Storm matchup, you’ll have to combine a variety of disruption and attack them from as many angles as possible. Permission spells won’t do the job on their own, but they are still good tools. The same goes for discard spells, graveyard hate, and permanent sources of disruption like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Combine as many of these forms of disruption as possible with a fast clock and you’ll be as prepared as you can be to beat Storm.

Show and Tell

Show and Tell players tend to be my most feared combo opponents. Their combo is simply so fast, direct, and consistent that it’s difficult to protect yourself.

Sneak and Show is basically a deck of two 1-card combos. Resolve either a Show and Tell or a Sneak Attack, and your Griselbrands and Emrakuls will do the rest. The remainder of the deck can be devoted to fast mana, permission spells, and card filtering.

Against Sneak and Show in particular, you may have a glimmer of hope of trying to win a fair game. A Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker to shut down Sneak Attack or Griselbrand can be helpful. A Karakas to make it harder for Emrakul to attack you is another good weapon.

But don’t be fooled—there are other ways to win with Show and Tell! Some players will put Omniscience into play, which can help them win immediately via Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or by drawing their entire library with Enter the Infinite.

You’ll need a healthy amount of all-purpose disruption like Thoughtseize and Flusterstorm if you want to beat Show and Tell decks.

Creature-Based Combo Decks


Akira Honma, 7th place at Grand Prix Chiba

Some combo decks appear to play a slightly more “fair” game by casting creatures. This increases the range of spells that are effective against them, since simple removal spells can now help to disrupt their combo.

But if you think you can beat a combo deck like Elves with a couple removal spells and a Tarmogoyf, you’re in for a rude awakening. These decks can be remarkably powerful and resilient.

Elves in particular is a predator of opposing creature strategies, and shines against everything other than opposing combo decks and control decks with lots of board sweepers. It can use Glimpse of Nature combined with mana generated by its creatures to draw its whole library, or it can use Natural Order for Craterhoof Behemoth to kill you much more directly.

In addition to Infect, Food Chain, Painter’s Servant, and a handful of others, there’s one more creature-based combo deck that’s been picking up steam recently.


If you haven’t seen Aluren before, you might get fooled into thinking that this is a normal Sultai midrange deck. It packs removal spells like Abrupt Decay and value creatures like Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix. But while it distracts you with these “fair” cards, it can land Aluren, which combines these value creatures with Cavern Harpy in order to draw the whole deck, and then Parasitic Strix to drain your life down to 0.


Legacy is home to dozens and dozens of combo decks, each with different strategies, speeds, and configurations. You’ll need a wide range of disruption in order to handle them all. Look for sideboard cards that can overlap and be effective against as many of these strategies as possible.

But remember, the one thing that will improve your chances of winning against all of these combo decks is a fast clock. By applying pressure, you give them less time to set up and make all of your disruption that much more effective.

Here’s my ordering of the 6 most important combo decks to gun for in January of 2017:

  • Show and Tell decks (mostly Sneak and Show)
  • Storm Combo
  • Elves
  • Reanimator
  • Infect
  • Aluren
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