You’ve read about the top 8 combo cards in EDH and now you know the best ways to dispatch an entire table of players. But there are defenses against the dark arts I presented there. It didn’t seem fair to give you that horrible power and leave you helpless to defend yourself against it. So today’s topic reviews the best types of cards to combat those diabolic combo players at your table. How do you not suffer the fate of destruction from a harsh and cruel world? How do you disrupt powerful, game-ending combos from taking you down on the spot? The suspense ends now.
Honorable Mention: Discard Spells
Discard spells would earn a higher place on this list if it wasn’t for the multiplayer aspect of EDH. In 1v1 Commander, discard spells are one of the best ways to interact with your single opponent because they preemptively answer any type of card before it becomes an issue. Assuming the players at your table are playing decks of similar power level, it becomes difficult to effectively use discard spells to interact with the whole game in a meaningful way. Sure, you may slow down or stop one player in their tracks, but that leaves two others with the chance to take the game into their hands.
Discard also comes with the slight downside of taking cards before they are cast, so they leave the opponent with options for what to do with their mana instead.
8. Pinpoint Card Hosers
If there is a problematic card giving you trouble, one of the best ways to prevent this is by making it so that your opponents can’t cast said card. Easy enough, right? This is a great way to get around enters-the-battlefield triggers, uncounterable or hexproof cards, or instants and sorceries without needing to pack permission.
The biggest drawback to these types of cards is that they’re narrow. If you have Nevermore in play naming Doomsday, but they decide to use Ad Nauseam to draw their deck and beat you, you will feel pretty silly. Similarly, if you use Extract to grab a Tendrils of Agony out of a library that also has access to Aetherflux Reservoir, you aren’t really preventing much. For this reason, I only place this type of effect at number 8 on the list. When they work, they are back-breaking, but when they don’t they leave all feel-bads.
7. Search Prevention
99 cards is a lot to go through if you want to assemble a combo. For this reason, most optimized combo decks employ numerous tutors to do their bidding. You don’t need 5 or 6 copies of a card that combos well with another—just one with a bunch of tutors. As a result, cards that prevent players from searching libraries are great combo breakers since they significantly reduce a combo deck’s redundancy. They can even have the benefit of turning off fetchland mana bases or “search for x land” ramp. Some of the format’s most powerful cards like Demonic Tutor, Entomb, Vampiric Tutor, and Protean Hulk are all neutered by a well timed Shadow of Doubt.
6. Graveyard Hate
Many of the most powerful combos in EDH involve the graveyard in some way or another. Combos that revolve around Hermit Druid, Protean Hulk, Necrotic Ooze, The Gitrog Monster, and Auriok Salvagers are all kept in check by graveyard hate. The biggest issue is that many players simply don’t want to add dedicated graveyard hate to their decks. Cards like Faerie Macabre and Relic of Progenitus aren’t the types of cards a player envisions drawing and telling sweet stories about in EDH. Those tales are reserved for awesome Doubling Season or Warp World stories. Because of this mentality, you will not see the amount of dedicated graveyard hate necessary in most EDH decks.
Cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void are great because they demand immediate answers fast from anyone trying to do some graveyard shenanigans, but leaving them on the table against a group of angry opponents can make them vulnerable. That’s just one of the many aspects that makes the waters of EDH quite trying.
5. Bounce Effects
Bounce effects are limited to blue decks primarily, although you do see the occasional card like Unexpectedly Absent in white. Bounce effects are wonderful because their rate is generally acceptable and their targets are many. Because the effect doesn’t actually remove a card permanently, you will often see some of the best bounce effects in Commander cost only a single mana or two. Permanently removing a threat may not always be necessary. Just bouncing a Laboratory Maniac to their hand in response to their lethal Gitaxian Probe might be enough.
Be careful though—these bounce effects are often wielded by those aiming to push their combos through. If you have a piece of graveyard hate such as a Yixlid Jailer on the battlefield it is possible that a prepared opponent can simply wait to Chain of Vapor it away before they untap and unleash chaos on the world.
4. Taxing Effects
No matter how lean or efficient your combo is, if it involves going infinite, chances are good that taxing effects will help prevent them from taking off. Sure, it’s true that some combos like Rings of Brighthearth plus Basalt Monolith don’t care much about taxing effects, but even the all-powerful Omniscience has a hard time with cards like Thorn of Amethyst.
These taxing effects generally slow the pace of the game down, and while by themselves they can often be overcome, they buy you the most important thing against combo decks—time. With time, you have the window to deploy further combo breakers and cards that can be used to defend yourself. Taxing effects by nature should be cheap and efficient on your mana, and luckily there are a fair number to choose from.
3. Artifact/Enchantment Removal
Many of the most potent combos in EDH involve artifacts and enchantments. Paradox Engine, Isochron Scepter, Rings of Brighthearth, Basalt Monolith, The Chain Veil, Doubling Season, and the list goes on and on. Naturally, it makes sense to include removal for these cards in your decks so as not to find yourself a victim of their ruthlessness. Red cards specialize in removing artifacts while green and white have the ability to hit either. I see many EDH decks contain proper amounts of creature removal, but tend to lack in the artifact or enchantment removal department. Combo players will take advantage of this, and hope that each player simply relies on their table mates to save them from impending doom. Don’t be the one hoping—be the proactive player packing plenty of cheap interaction.
2. Creature Removal
Commander may have hundreds of powerful spells, but every deck also has access to creatures. There should always be targets for creature removal because there’s one built in to your command zone. The most important factor here to consider is the price of your removal. If you are relying on expensive spells like Austere Command or Vraska’s Contempt, you may find yourself losing to cheap combos that get under such expensive spells. Make sure that your creature removal is cheap, efficient, and contains the ability to hit a wide range of targets.
Don’t be afraid to hold your removal spells. You don’t need to go for the first creature you see with that Go for the Throat. You can always wait until the opportune moment to hit a powerful creature that could swing a game. Proper threat assessment is all the more important when you are sitting at a table with a combo deck, since the game could be over at a moment’s notice. Save your trap card, and banish your opponents to the shadow realm.
Well if you couldn’t guess it by now, I have arrived at my number one spot on the list: counterspells. One of the many reasons why blue holds the top spot in EDH is because of its monopoly on counterspells. Being able to say “no” to any type of spell on the stack is an insanely powerful ability. So much so that cards like Abrupt Decay and Cavern of Souls are top cards in the format because of their ability to dodge this interaction. Counterspells, like discard spells, preemptively answer any card type before it makes its impact on the board. This prevents enters-the-battlefield triggers from happening and is one of the few ways to remove powerful instants and sorceries from the stack.
Counterspells come with the drawback of only being able to interact with one player at a time, but if everyone at the table comes equipped with interaction, surely the combos will be difficult to assemble. Similar to bounce effects, counterspells will also be used by combo decks to help push through their combos. Usually this will come in the form of cards like Flusterstorm and Pact of Negation.
Whew, we made it to the end! There are my top 8 combo breakers in Commander. Surely there are some great types of interaction I missed, so feel free to let me know in the comments what some of your favorites are. Spend less time as a victim of combos and more time as a slayer of the wicked and you may also find other members of your playgroup tune their decks to include more answers. Thanks so much for reading and until next time, pack your Pacts.