From time to time, we get combo decks storming the meta out of the blue, for example the Three-Axis Dragon Link or when World Chalice won YCS Bochum in 2018. As powerful as they can be, combo decks are full of options to chose from in the game state, and knowledge of where each choice can lead is what separates the winners from the losers. That is why extensive testing is required before you decide to pilot a combo deck, not only to test how the cards interact with each other but also because basic knowledge of the combos is not enough. You need to learn how to adapt to each situation that may come up in a game.
That said, there's a myriad of combo decks in the game right now. So what makes the difference between a fun combo deck and a meta-crushing combo deck? That is what I want to discuss in this article.
Consistency is the most important factor for a successful combo deck. The ability to gain access to your key cards consistently is why players decide to play combo decks in the first place. We have seen combo decks like Eldlich Synchro, which—through one card—could cascade into multiple-negate boards easily. With the addition of The Phantom Knights of Torn Scales to the Phantom Knights archetype, the deck could go into its main win condition with a consistency that is scary for the players who have to face it. So, how often and easily a deck can get to its main win condition is ultimately what decides the competitiveness of the combo deck.
Back when Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring was first printed, combo players were always on the edge because one card could end their turn. However, since then combo decks have evolved. Iin today's metagame Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring is not considered a one-card combo stopper anymore as much as it is forcing players to use more resources to go into their end board. Another card is what combo players try to play around in today's metagame, and that card is Nibiru, the Primal Being. We have three types of combo decks when it comes to interacting with Nibiru: decks that can do nothing about it, decks that can play through it, and decks that can stop it within their fourth summon.
Players try to play around Nibiru by setting up a negate on the fifth summon, usually either Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess or Number 75: Bamboozling Gossip Shadow. Decks that can do this are incredibly powerful as they can continue playing even after setting up their Nibiru protection. Decks that play through Nibiru continue summoning even after their negate-free fifth summon, and when Nibiru activates its effect, they press on by using the token as a resource. For example, Phantom Knights players use Red-Eyes Dark Dragoon as a last resort play even when they get hit with Nibiru.
Recurrence is the ability for a deck to bounce back. Sometimes, when playing a combo deck, the opponent might break your board. Can your deck still set up plays next turn? Some combo strategies can, and that is an important factor when deciding what deck to pilot. Though it is not the most important factor considering the fast pace of the current metagame. Usually if an opponent breaks your board, you will not get an extra turn anyway. It's more like the price combo players have to pay for playing combo decks. You get a high ceiling but with the risk that if your board gets broken, or your opponents stop you from setting up your board, you lose the game.
Arguably the most discussed and controversial topic in Yu-Gi-Oh! discourse is luck. Is luck the deciding factor in winning games? Is the game purely based on skill? We cannot answer these two questions in absolute terms, but when it comes to combo decks, luck definitely is a factor. Combo decks often need to go first to realize their full potential. However, even the randomness of chance can somehow be influenced by careful deck building. One of the most important aspects of skill in the game, if not the most important, is deck building. Do you blindly go first? Do you sacrifice some consistency for more interaction in case you lose the die roll and go second? How do you decide the ratios?
All of these are questions a player needs to answer when building their combo deck and ultimately decide to which degree luck will be a factor in the deck's performance. Successful strategies don't always have luck on their side, of course. (Although it may feel that way.) Rather they offer players and deck designers the tools to make their own luck.
In conclusion, combo decks can be a lot of fun and it is always nice when you see players put new twists on a strategy. In the end, whether someone decides to play a combo deck or not comes down to the preferred playstyle of each player.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.