DB 101 – Combo-oriented Deck Building
DB 101 – Combo-oriented Deck Building

DB 101 – Combo-oriented Deck Building

Deck building article by Richard Zapp

In the previous Deckbuilding 101 article, we focused specifically on how to build a list emphasizing on the taking one cards and capitalizing on it’s potential. Today, we’ll be expanding on the second approach I take deckbuilding from; one emphasizing on powerful combos and how to get the most mileage from them.

When I am building a deck around a combo, I am referring to playing a combination of 2 or 3 cards that, through synergy create more value than the sum impact of the cards individually. I do note that when I use the term “combo” I generally refer to an interaction that generates a positive game state as soon as the last card in the combo is activated. For example, Opus 1 had the popular Minwu + Prishe combination. While the two cards worked together to create boards that were hard for the opponent to remove, I consider that the foundation for a control-based deck building approach. The difference being that a control deck often tries to make it near-impossible to lose, and then go for a win, combo-oriented decks played cards that directly benefit the player and promote winning the game in a more aggressive manner.

Generally speaking, combos demanding 4 or more cards generally perform better as a control deck than a combo-centric deck.

What makes a combo worth building around?
Synergy. When two cards create a game state that increases the average power of the Forwards higher than their average power cost (3000 for a 1 CP Forward, 6000 2 CP, 7000 3 CP, 8000 4 CP, 9000 5+CP) without costing you any direct advantage, you are creating an advantageous game state. Even if that combo doesn’t create straight card advantage or benefits the player over time in a more incremental way, any combination of cards that create clear advantage should be considered. Let’s look at two great combos, and why one is more worth building around than the other.


The combo here involves Scarmiglione’s ability alongside the burn damage from Phoenix to create an inexpensive board clear. Frequently, the combo would start by blocking an opposing Forward with Scarm, then using Phoenix to resurrect it, dealing Phoenixat least 11000 to a forward. Cards like Enna Kros and Monk help pump Scarmiglione to the ideal 11000 benchmark that would allow the combo to deal 8000 damage to an opposing Forward before considering battle. Of course, Scarmiglione’s Living Dead ability helps with that as well. Serafie works as a great secondary target for Phoenix as well, being able to chump block to deal 8000 to an opposing forward, and picking up another Scarmiglione to repeat the combo later.

The combo acts as a way of dealing with threats in an affordable manner, and clearly progresses the game state by maintaining or improving your board. Opposed to cards like Raubahn or Mustadio that cost 4-5 CP to remove a threat (if certain conditions are met), Scarmiglione + Phoenix tries to accomplish the same end result for only 4 CP, is much less conditional, and can lead to destroying multiple Forwards. While the small CP benefit doesn’t directly translate to card advantage all of the time, if you focus on using these abilities multiple times in the same game, the incremental advantage will start adding up into clear card advantage.

Garnet + Hecatoncheir

When I am building a deck, I feel being able to properly address Backups is essential. Removing hard counters to your deck an opposing matchup may have, cutting off their tempo when they only have a couple backups, interrupting their combos, the list goes on. Hecatoncheir is one of the few options we currently have to do so.

Garnet, one of the newest cards from Opus 3, Garnet is receiving a lot of attention for being a new target for Eiko. What I love most about Garnet is that she enables you to play GarnetSummons that your deck normally couldn’t cast. For example, a Fire Water deck with Garnet could actually tech Cyclops, giving the Garnet player a huge advantage on power, or creating powerful board-clearing effects with Machina.

Being able to splash Hecatoncheir in decks like Fire Water, Lightning Water Knights, and Water Ice control is super attractive because those decks didn’t have reliable answers to opposing Backups. However, Garnet + Hecatoncheir isn’t a combo you build a deck around because the combo doesn’t help you win, it helps you not lose. A similar combo that addresses multiple forwards for cheap is useful because you need to break your opponent’s forwards to win; Hecatoncheir only interrupts opposing plays and falls more so under the category of “help you not lose”. While I think the synergy between these two cards will be one of the most valuable interaction in the Opus 3 meta, this is a combination you add to patch up weaknesses in a deck, not build as a foundation.

Making the List

Step 1: Identify the Combo
One of my favorite cards in Opus 3 is Barbariccia. Six Sages Barbariccia describes here why Barbariccia can prove to bring more momentum than Al-Cid does in the mono-lightning variants. The goal of this deck is to focus on making Barbariccia a reliable form of removal, and I think Dancer is the perfect combination for it.

Being a fellow Wind card, Dancer provides the final 1000 damage needed to kill an opposing Forward after Barb has reduced their power to 1000. Additionally, 3 CP Barbariccia plus Dancer allows players to clear their opponent’s entire board, and we can now reliably resolve Maelstrom because we can run 5-6 cards named Barbariccia! We’ll run 3 CP Barbariccia because drawing the card while we have 4 CP Barbariccia isn’t a good look.

Barabriccia (4) x3
Barbariccia (3) x2

Dancer x3

DancerI believe this combo is worth centralizing a deck around because the ability to constantly apply pressure and remove cards while adding to the field has been a proven strategy for success. Again, I believe the mono-lightning Al-Cid-focused decks have demonstrated this well.

Step 2: Developing Combo Consistency
With a core combo in mind, we can begin developing consistency in how we are going to resolve the combo multiple time per game and build incremental advantage. We improve consistency in up to four ways:

1. Run cards that search for the core pieces of the combo.
2. Play cards that accomplish a similar function to the core combo (and possibly are searchable as well)
3. Play cards that allow you to reuse your combo pieces again later.
4. Run cards that allow you to draw, ideally into your core combo.

I’ve ordered these four measures of consistency based on the order I think they are most helpful. Focusing on cards with similar roles are particularly valuable because they allow you to abuse your core combo without worrying about same-name conflicts killing your momentum. I don’t get as excited about cards that “reuse” your combo pieces because drawing multiple reuse cards, like Zeromus, the Condemner or Sage, tend to lead to cluttered opening hands where you cannot make a lot of plays. while drawing is always great in any card game, drawing and hoping you draw the other piece of the combo has never been my favorite approach.

Unfortunately, Barbaraccia nor Dancer are searchable, but there are plenty of cards we can run that either allow for reusing our combo pieces, or work as substitutes.

Cards that fufill a similar role/reuse Barbariccia:
Barbariccia x3
Moomba x3
Devout x3
Time Mage x2

MoombaCards that fufill a similar role to Dancer:
Cid Raines
Balthier x3
Squall x3

Part 3: After the Combo

When I am building a 2 part combo, this part differs based on if the combo is designed to build advantage in the early/mid game, or try to win the game effectively. As this is a advantage-building combo, I make sure I consider how I’m going to capitalize on the advantage I’m building. If this was a more late-game oriented combo like Minwu + Prishe, I would be focusing on what I’m doing “Before the combo” here.

So with our combo being so focused on building advantage and tempo, we want to look at how we are capitalizing on that momentum shift. As such, we’ll add:

Genesis x2 – to create advantage through slowing down other threats and providing potential discards every turn.

Bartz x2 – To provide a powerful and inexpensive end game body.

Maria x2 – Many of the forwards we are running sit at 7000 power making them vulnerable to many 4 drop and 5 drop forwards. Maria pumping them to 8000 allow them to threaten to trade up with these threats or continue to push for damage.


Part 4: Making a Real Deck
When I say “real deck” here, I want to make sure my deck has all the essentials needed to function. This would include things like:

-Making sure I’m running enough cards I would like to open with, or enablers (check out this article here for more)
– Make sure I have an adequate curve
– Make sure I have sufficient EX Bursts to ward off opponent’s that get the edge on momentum.
– Make sure that my colors are fairly close to even (I usually shoot for at least 17 cards in the same color, this will allow me to consistently have 2 cards of the minority color in hand when opening, so I can play an enabler in that color if need be.

OracleAn evaluation of this suggests that we’re not running nearly enough EX Bursts, and we are not running enough cards that we want to open with. As such, I’ll add the following:
Zidane x2
Laguna x2
Oracle x2
Jhil Nabaat x3
Mateus x3
Shiva (Opus 3) x2
Chaos, Walker of the Wheel x2

And this gives us a complete list, as seen below:

Deck Name Here

Forwards (23)

Backups (17)

Summons (10)

This list is designed to be able to have plays regardless if your board state is behind, on par with, or in front of your opponent, and quickly be able to generate advantage. Looking forward to hearing what you have to think!

1 Comment

  1. Great points! I really haven’t thought about a lot of stuff that this brought up, mainly the stuff at the start to do with what constitutes a combo deck. Keep up the good work!