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The Archetypes of Artifact: Combo

April 12th, 2019 | jscaliseok


The archetype series speeds along. Though we’ve gone over the big three (aggro, midrange, control) those are not the only options you have when building a deck in Artifact. In fact, there are two other main archetypes worth discussing when fully breaking down the game’s inner workings. The first of those, and the main course of today’s meal, is combo.

Combo decks are lists that rely on one incredibly strong interaction to win or close out games. They are often linear (though not always) and mainly focus on pushing their own plans rather than interrupting their opponent’s. At first glance, they are similar to control decks. However, rather than relying on a big finisher or simple attrition to take over game, they want to end things on the spot.

Comboing in Artifact

Combos take many forms across many different card games. Even so, the term “combo” refers to a card or cards that work together in an extremely powerful way. Something like Drow Ranger’s interaction with wide boards is a perfect example of a combo. However, that is more of a mini-combo. Just because you have strong interactions in your deck does not mean it is a combo list. Rather, combo decks need to solely rely on their combo to win.

The biggest combo card in Artifact is Incarnation of Selemene. That is because the creep breaks the fundamental rules of the game by making it so you can play as many cards as you want in a turn. Though you can use an ability like that for value, something that powerful (and that expensive) needs to be used to maximum effect.

The expensive unit is a perfect example of a combo finisher. Not only does it break the rules of the game (most combos do) but it also almost always wins on the spot. Combo decks have no interest in grinding away turn after turn or chipping down their opponent’s resources. You get the right cards, you win. Nothing more to it than that.

It is important to note that, due to Artifact’s nature, combo decks do not always operate exactly on that scale. While combos always win as soon as they go off in other card games, with Artifact a combo means putting yourself into an overwhelming position that your opponent cannot answer. They may have not actually lost, but there is no escape.

The lane system creates a lot of scenarios where, even if you haven’t won right away, you will next turn or the turn after. This is something to always keep in mind when looking at combo plays. Cards like Red Mist Pillager or Emissary of the Quorum need time to get ready, but if you build your deck in a way where they can’t be interacted with, that won’t matter.

Combo vs. Control

To further analyze combo as an archetype, we need to discuss how it differs from control. It is easy to see both archetypes as inherently the same. They each want to stall the game, work the board, keep off early pushes, and slam down a finisher their opponent cannot deal with. Even so, they split apart in how they execute their game plan.

The biggest difference between control and combo is that control has outs. That is to say, there is some versatility in the way they play. Maybe they get to their finisher, maybe they run their opponent out of resources, or maybe they allow their heroes to push through enough uncontested damage. All of those routes differ, and they all can lead to victory for a slow control deck.

In contrast, combo has a very one-track mind. There is no alternative win condition. Yes, your heroes may get there from time to time, but that is nothing to bank on. Rather, you pack in a set of extremely powerful cards and build everything else to those cards. That may seem a bit vulnerable, but a well-constructed deck can push through with little worry.

Another big difference between combo and control is the amount of interaction they run. Control, as a rule, loves to interact with the opponent. They pack in a range of sweepers and removal spells to ensure their opponent cannot get a foothold on the board or put on too much pressure. Though there is some of that in combo, the archetype mostly plays out their own game and ignores the opponent. Rather than spending slots on that removal, combo packs in a lot of card draw.

The Sum of the Parts

There are two key elements to every combo deck. The first is the combo itself (which we’ll get to below), and the second is the support around that combo. Those cards can take a few forms, but they generally focus on either removing units from the board or drawing cards.

As you might imagine, you cannot win with a combo deck without your combo cards. That is why this archetype depends so heavily on card draw. You want to tear through your list as quickly as possible to make sure that when the time comes you can pull the trigger. Even one turn off can be the difference between winning and losing.

However, sitting back and drawing cards comes with risks. Though it is a fine strategy against slow decks, you will get run over by aggro and midrange. That is where your strong removal comes in.

Combo walks a tightrope between removal and draw. You never want to lean too heavily to one side if you can help it, but you need a healthy dose of both. Certain creeps can also help gum up the board or push you to the top, but, as they can be interacted with, they are not as strong as the two above aspects.

Remember, the goal with this archetype is to ignore your opponent as much as possible. You never want to give them ways to interact with you if you can avoid it.

The Heroes of Combo

One of the best things about building a combo deck in Artifact is the amount of heroes you can choose. While certain archetypes only lend themselves to certain choices, there are many, many bodies you can pick to lead your army.

As long as your hero actively supports what your combo wants to do, it can go into the deck. For instance, a gold-based combo deck has to run Bounty Hunter, while a Time of Triumph list almost always wants Axe and Legion Commander to gum up the early board. Drow Ranger is a perfect choice for go-wide creep builds, Sorla Khan is excellent at one-hit board kills, and Treant Protector is a must-have for fast ramp. Lich is also fantastic because of his built-in card drawn, and Luna gives you great AOE.

Do not pigeonhole yourself into thinking there are only one or two heroes for your deck. Always experiment with different options and analyze what each one brings to the table in terms of your combo. It is easy to throw in a good card because it is good, but how does it specifically help your deck win the game? That is the most important question here, and one you must stay on top of when picking out the final roster.

As long as your five heroes all further your end-game plan, you will be fine. Just note that if something isn’t working, throw it out. No matter how good a hero seems in a vacuum, if it isn’t directly getting you to your win condition there are other ones that will.

Building Out a Combo

Building a combo deck can be intimidating for people new to card games, but it is not as daunting as it might first seem. All you need to do is pick a combo, and then play cards that support that combo through the ways covered above. In fact, picking out the combo is perhaps the trickiest part of the entire process.

When looking at combo decks in Artifact, there aren’t too many options with the current card pool. You have fast ramp (which we’ll get into next week), one-shot creep builds, big gold, and infinite mana. All of those routes bring something unique to the table, and they all can win when piloted in the correct way.

Infinite mana is the most popular choice as of right now because of how effectively it overwhelms the opponent. However, as with heroes, you never want to get caught up in thinking there is only one way to do things. Never be afraid to run with different combo builds and figure out the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Just because a deck works for one person or in one regard, does not mean it will work that way for you. The only requirement for this archetype is that you have a combo at the center of the list. That’s it.


Combo decks are incredibly controversial, and incredibly dangerous. Many people dislike their non-interactive style, but they can also be a ton of fun to pilot. In that same vein, though they tend to be weak in aggressive metas, the lists can become almost too powerful against slow builds. Either way, no matter if you love or hate them, there is no doubt they are one of the largest archetypes in any card game. That alone makes them worth talking about, and makes them more than deserving of their own article.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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