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Shadow Era TCG  »  Articles  »  SE Strategy: Combos and Booster Cards
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(This is a guest article by He-Man.)

Combos

Some cards simply work well together. If you look at the warrior class for instance, you see Blood Frenzy and Enrage. These cards were made for each other, and I would therefore say that they have good synergy. Many of these couples exist in SE, and many people refer to such couples as combos.

Every now and then, however, you come across a combination of cards that creates effects that either card would not be able to create on its own. This is what I refer to as a true combo. Not many of these true combos exist in SE, most interactions fall into the "good synergy" category. Two examples of combos in SE are:

  • Lance Shadowstalker and Birgitte Skullborn - Birgitte makes sure your opponent cannot attack any of your other allies; Lance makes sure your opponent cannot attack Birgitte. The effect: you allies are untouchable for a turn, which is an effect neither card could have caused on its own.

  • Earthen Protector and Aeon Stormcaller - Your opponent can only attack Aeon; when he kills Aeon, it is automatically brought back by Earthen. The effect: Your opponent cannot touch any of your allies before he has removed Aeon twice (and a bigger one too the second time around). Again, an effect that neither card could have caused on its own.

Combos with more than two cards are of course also possible.

Good and bad sides to combos

Let's start with the bad news today: combos have disadvantages.

One is the fact that they take multiple cards. The odds of drawing both cards are significantly smaller than the odds of drawing just one of them. Assume you have the same number in your deck of both combo pieces, and that you have not drawn any yet. If at a point in the game the probability of drawing one of these is 50%, your probability of drawing both right after each other are 25% (1/2 * 1/2). If the probability of drawing one is 20%, drawing both consecutively will happen in only 4% of the cases (1/5 * 1/5).

Besides the drawing chances, you have to bear in mind that a combo actually costs two cards to play, and also is quite an investment of resources. This usually means that while you are trying to get your combo out, you will have far less or no opportunity to respond to the things your opponent is doing. Furthermore, if you play one combo piece first, your opponent has a chance to take it out before you can play the second combo piece on your next turn. So, getting your combo on the board is far from trivial in many cases.

Of course, combos have a good side too: you get a very strong effect that your opponent will have tremendous trouble dealing with. (And then there is the joy of hitting your opponent with a combo.) All the above also applies to synergistic card couples, of course, as there you are also trying to combine multiple cards.

Deck building advice

  • Consider all the factors listed above when building combos into your deck.

  • If you build your entire deck around a combo (in other words, the deck's sole purpose is to get that combo out), that combo needs to win you the game when you get it on the table. Otherwise, it is not worth it. These will be combos that you will usually not be able to get out until late in the game, and your deck therefore needs to be very resilient to rush decks.

  • Combos of 3 or more cards are very hard to get (and keep) on the table, and generally only worth it if they win you the game. Cards that have good synergy but that also function well on their own are of course okay to put in your deck, since playing only 1 or 2 instead of all 3 or more will still work nicely for you.

  • It is smart to build a deck that has some combos built into it, but that does not need those to win the game. The combos, if you happen to get them out, are a shortcut to winning the game basically. These are usually 2-card combos.

  • Lastly, probably the most important bit of advice: Try to come up with multiple synergies / combos with the same cards. To get back to the examples above, you could for instance play Lance, Birgitte, Aeon, and Earthen Protector in a single deck. This way you can use the same pieces in multiple combos, and your chances of coming up with at least one of them are significantly higher than when there is only one combo in your deck.

Booster cards

Now we are going to change gears and talk about cards that boost other cards. (No, I was not going to talk about booster packs.) SE has a good collection of cards that add something to your hero, your allies, or your weapons. Examples range from Campfire Stories to Sorcerous Poison and Into the Forest to War Banner. I am not including cards that have deleterious effects on your opponent's belongings, e.g., Crippling Blow, as I feel these fall into the category of removal cards. Some of the things below do however apply to that category as well.

All booster cards share a common disadvantage: they cannot be played on their own. Sorcerous Poison and Speedstrike are dead cards if you don’t have weapons, Energy Discharge and Inner Strength are useless if you don't have allies on the board. From a different perspective, you could say that these cards inherently have a lot of synergy with other cards, and hence the deck building advice for combos and synergystic cards above also applies to booster cards. A deck full of booster cards will never win you the game, and so they have to be blended in your deck with some care.

Why play booster cards?

So with this big inherent short-coming, why would we even consider putting booster cards in our deck? First off, some of these cards actually have pretty strong effects on the board, and so even with that disadvantage it is still worth it to play those cards. For instance, War Banner is a good addition to warrior decks that use a lot of allies. It sticks around when there are temporarily no allies, it is usually not removed as quickly as an Aldon the Brave, and the +1 attack is a nice advantage in many scenarios. The same is true for Rapid Fire, Speedstrike and Dual Wield.

Secondly, some booster cards can give you "the surprise factor", and adding surprise to your play repertoire is of course a great way to distract your opponent. Holy Shield or Healing Touch on your Aeon will not be the number one play your opponent is expecting. And if he was one turn away from killing your Aeon after chipping away on it for a while, they will be unpleasantly surprised by such a play. Before making such plays however, you have to consider whether or not they are actually worth the investment and what the alternatives are. If I had simply let the Aeon die and played a Jasmine Rosecult instead of the Holy Shield, what would have happened?

To discuss this in some more detail, here is an example, using Extra Sharp. Say you have a Blake Windrunner in play, and a Puwen Bloodhelm in your hand. Your opponent has a Keldor on the board. It is your turn now. First you play Puwen. And then you start thinking. If you attack Keldor with your Blake, the Keldor will drop to 1 health and your Blake dies in the attack. Likely, on his turn your opponent will pump Keldor and also take out Puwen. Alternatively, you can use Blake to hit the hero, and leave the Keldor be. On your next turn your opponent may take out either Blake or Puwen, and take out who is left on the turn after.

If you were holding an Extra Sharp instead of Puwen, you could have simply boosted your Blake to 5 attack, and smack the Keldor to another world, with your Blake alive to fight again next turn.

Although the above scenario is probably not that uncommon, it may be clear that it can be very situational whether you can put those booster cards to good use. In many more scenarios, you would have been better off holding another ally instead. There, Extra Sharp does not much more than simply 2 damage for 2 resources which is not that good a deal.

Several other booster cards have an additional shortcoming that I mentioned in a previous article when discussing intrinsic card strength. That short-coming is that they do not directly impact the board, and in a sense will be a wasted card and wasted resources the moment you play them. Healing Touch is an example. Sure it is nice, gain 4 life, get rid of that pesky Poison Gas, but right then and there that card does absolutely nothing to further your cause. You and your opponent still have the same stuff on the board as before you played Healing Touch, and if you were in trouble you still are. In many cases, you would have been happier if you drew something more useful at that point.

Deck building advice

  • As stated earlier, some of the advice for combos also applies to booster cards.

  • When adding booster cards to your deck, keep in mind that they are support cards. You don't want too many, as on their own they will not win you the game.

  • Booster cards have inherent disadvantages, as outlined above, and so take an especially critical look at the intrinsic strength of these cards. They have to really give you a big advantage to be worth being put in your deck. Always consider non-booster card alternatives.

  • That said, there are several really powerful booster cards in SE, so don't be afraid to use those.

As a side note, the more limited the card pool is, the relatively stronger booster cards are. SE currently has a very small card pool, and therefore even cards like Healing Touch find their use from time to time. As with the release of future card sets the amount of strong non-booster alternatives increases, you will see less of these cards included in tier-1 decks. However, in limited formats such as booster drafts, if these will be implemented in the future, booster cards play a much more prominent role.

As always, I invite you to leave questions or comments, if you have any.


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