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Gone Infinite by Gabriel Showers

In Magic, there are decks built specifically to repeat a near-infinite series of actions in order to win the game. No series of actions in magic can be truly infinite, but a couple hundred billion stated repetitions will be close enough most times. The action in question is often the act of adding a mana to the mana pool, resulting in near-infinite mana, but not always.

At first, infinite combo decks were overpowered, and overwhelmed the tournament scene during the late 90's. Many players felt as though the 'Combo Winter' had broken the game, had ruined magic forever for people who liked to attack with creatures and actually interact with their opponent.

Magic the Gathering wasn't ruined, and while it's true that most infinite combo decks don't do much besides "go off", it still takes skill to assemble any game-winning combo in a game of magic, and the race to have the combo "go off" before an opponent kills you can involve very intense and interactive

Let's start off with a classic combo- Palinchron and High Tide with 7 Islands. You'll need the first Island to start the combo by playing High Tide. After High Tide has resolved, you'll have 12 blue mana at your fingertips when you tap out those other 6 Islands. Then you use 7 of those mana to play Palinchron. When Palinchron comes into play, you untap up to 7 lands, so all those 7 Islands become untapped. You still have 5 mana floating in you mana pool at this point, without having to tap your lands again. Use 4 mana to activate Palinchron's ability and return it to your hand. 7+4=11, but you had 12 mana in your pool before you first cast Palinchron, so you still have that oh-so-important single mana floating. Palinchron is back in your hand, you have 7 Islands untapped, each of which produces 2 blue mana whenever tapped. Now you can tap them all, get 14 mana, play Palinchron again (down to 7 mana), untap all 7 Islands again, activate the Palinchron's Ability (down to 3 mana) and return it to your hand. Each repetition at this point will give you 3 blue mana. Repeat until the desired near-infinite number of mana is in your mana pool, then use the finisher spell- in this case, its usually Stroke of Genius or Braingeyser targeting your opponent, milling their library in one fell swoop and causing a game loss when they cannot draw on their turn. This combo is the finishing combo for many mono-blue control decks.
Here's another classic combo- Grim Monolith and Power Artifact. This combo was so powerful (it was the basis of a World Champion deck) that Grim Monolith became restricted in the Vintage format as a result. Grim Monolith taps for 3 colorless mana, but only untaps for 4. Power Artifact enchanting Grim Monolith reduces the untap cost by 2, so it produces 1 more than it costs to untap. You tap Grim Monolith, add 3 mana to your pool, use 2 to untap it, and then you have one mana in your pool with the Grim Monolith untapped. Since this makes colorless mana, you'll need an additional blue mana for Braingeyser or Stroke of Genius, red mana for Fireball or Disintegrate (or the new Demonfire), or you can forgo the necessity of
colored mana and use Rocket Launcher or Goblin Cannon to stack infinite damage. I believe that enchanting the unrestricted Basalt Monolith with Power Artifact works very similarly.

Here's another combo for near-infinite mana that does not use expensive or restricted cards. Ashnod's Altar is an artifact that produces two colorless mana whenever you sacrifice a creature to it. Iridescent Drake is a creature that has a triggered ability-when it comes into play it returns an Aura card (or Enchant Creature) from your graveyard to play enchanting it. False Demise is an Aura that causes the enchanted creature to return from a graveyard to play under your control when it dies. Once you have the Iridescent Drake enchanted with False Demise, you sacrifice it to Ashnod's Altar for 2 mana. The False Demise ability triggers, returning the Iridescent Drake from your graveyard back into play. Then the Iridescent Drake's comes-into-play ability triggers, re-enchanting it with False Demise. You now have your Drake back, enchanted with False Demise, with 2 colorless mana in your mana pool, ready to be sacrificed to the Altar again and again. For a while, this combo did not work (the Drake had errata which made it so that it's triggered ability only happened when you played it from your hand), but due to a recent rescinding of the Drake's errata, it works again.

Now lets look at a combo that does not create near-infinite mana, but can create a near-infinite series of actions that can cause your opponent to lose the game. 2 Myr Retrievers and an Ashnod's Altar. Sacrifice the first Myr Retriever to the Altar to get 2 colorless mana. Use that mana to play the second Myr Retriever. Then sacrifice that second Myr Retriever to get 2 colorless mana. When the second Myr dies, it's triggered ability allows you to return the first Myr from your graveyard to your hand. Now you have a Myr in your hand, a Myr in your graveyard, and 2 colorless mana floating. Cast the Myr in hand with the 2 mana, and then sacrifice it for 2 more and to return the Myr in the graveyard. Repeating this process does not make near-infinite mana, but it does get you a near-infinite amount of artifacts going to the graveyard. If you have a Disciple of the Vault in play, its ability triggers each time a Myr gets sacrificed to the Altar, and so you can cause your opponent to lose near-infinite life. If you have a Moriok Rigger in play, you can make yourself a creature with near-infinite power and toughness to swing with (I recommend having the Rigger equipped with Whispersilk Cloak to make sure it does not get removed or blocked). If you are unable to keep a Disciple or a Rigger on the board, you can play Tendrils of Agony after you've played a near-infinite amount of Myr Retrievers and kill your opponent with copies of Tendrils created by its storm ability.

Getting back to near-infinite mana, lets see what happens when I enchant a Thran Dynamo or Gilded Lotus with Animate Artifact and have a Voltaic Construct in play. I tap the mana-producing artifact for 3 mana. Because the artifact in question is also a creature (this can be accomplished with other cards besides Animate Artifact, such as Karn's Touch, Xenic Poltergeist, or Karn, Silver Golem), it can be untapped using 2 mana by activating the ability the Voltaic Construct. The artifact becomes untapped with a mana floating. You know what happens from here- repeat the process as many times as you like, then use the mana to power an X-damage spell or some other X-mana spell, activated ability or effect to kill or mill your opponent.

Another combo that was previously legal in the Standard format is Tidewater Minion enchanted with Freed From the Real, with Dimir Aqueduct in play. Tap the Aqueduct for 1 blue and 1 black mana, and then tap the Tidewater Minion to untap the Aqueduct, and then use the 1 blue mana to untap the Tidewater. Everything is untapped, rinse and repeat for that crazy amount of black mana. When this combo was standard legal I used Swallowing Plague to gain near-infinite life or used Psychic Drain to gain near-infinite life and deck my opponent at the same time. For a short window, Dark Depths was also in this standard-legal deck, although I haven't got my Merrit-Lage token into play yet I still have the deck together so one day I will.

Freed From the Real enabled my friend to figure out another near-infinite combo, which seems like it always comes together to fast to react to. By enchanting Freed From the Real on Ley Druid or Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, he can then near-infinitely untap Simic Growth Chamber or a Forest enchanted by Utopia Sprawl (set to make blue mana) and make near-infinite green mana. His win conditions of choice? Either Gruul Guildmage to give all his creatures a near-infinite power and toughness boost, or the new Wurmcalling, which is just ridiculous with near-infinite mana at hand.

Here's one last infinite combo that is a bit more complex. Remember, the more complex a near-infinite combo is, the more likely it is that your opponent will find a way to disrupt it and keep it from causing them to lose the game, but the more interchangeable combo pieces you have, the more likely you'll get the right combination of cards before you opponent can react. Lets consider what happens with the following cards. suppose you have the cards Fecundity and Mortuary on the table. Mortuary makes it so that whenever a creature dies, you must put that creature on top of your library. Fecundity makes it so that whenever a creature dies you may choose to draw a card. If you control both of these enchantments, you may choose how to stack the effects, and so whenever a creature dies, you put that creature on top of your library, and then you can choose to draw that creature card. Now consider creatures that can sacrifice themselves for the same exact mana that could be used to pay for their casting cost- Skirk Prospector, Blood Pet, and Wild Cantor. Whenever one of these creatures dies, you can sacrifice it in response to add mana to your mana pool. If it is during one of your main phases, you can play creature spells, and so you sacrifice the creature for mana, stack the Mortuary and Fecundity triggers, get the creature back in hand, and use the mana it originally created to replay it. You can sacrifice it again for the same mana and repeat the process as many times as you like. Again, spells with the storm ability (like Tendrils of Agony or Grapeshot) can win the game here.

What if you need infinite mana for an X spell or a spell with the replicate ability, like Pyromatics? This is the time to mention Wild Cantor's combination with Tinder Wall, which is a creature that can sacrifice itself for more mana than it costs, although there is an issue with the mana's color. With the Mortuary/Fecundity combo, you can sacrifice the Tinder Wall for 2 red mana. Thanks to Mortuary/Fecundity (M/F), the Wall goes back to your hand. Then with 1 red mana, play Wild Cantor. Sacrifice the Wild Cantor for 1 green mana, and the Cantor goes back to your hand, again courtesy of the M/F combo. With the green mana, you can replay the Tinder Wall with the green mana from the Cantor, while having one red mana still floating in your mana pool from when you first sacrificed the Wall. Repeat the process for as much red mana as you need for whatever finishing spells you have in mind.

Often times, infinite combos require a very specific set of cards to occur. This makes 'tutor' cards, which search out particular cards, and card-drawing effects very important, as they put the essential pieces of the combo into hand. Also, time is necessary to put the combo pieces into place, and if your opponent is playing an aggressive deck against your combo deck, you may need control/removal cards and effects to buy yourself enough time for the combo to 'go off'. If your combo involves playing a creature card a near-infinite amount of times, you may want to consider Glimpse of Nature or Primordial Sage to draw into your win condition, and a similar statement can be made with artifacts and Vedalken Archmage, or with enchantments and Argothian Enchantress, Verduran Enchantress or Enchantress's Presence. Another thing to remember is that the more you play your near-infinite combo deck, the more your opponents/friends will recognize what you are attempting to accomplish and attempt to disrupt your combo. This is especially true in group games, where you may find yourself ganged-up-upon by multiple opponents at once while you are practically defenseless- the threat of a combo like the ones mentioned above is often times enough to draw unwanted attention in multiplayer. Then again, combos like the ones mentioned above often have the capability to win a multiplayer game by killing all opponents in a single turn, so you can't really blame them for not wanting you to outright win just a few turns into what they thought was going to be an epic battle.

I hope you've enjoyed this intro to near-infinite combos, and that it will inspire you to go out and build a deck that your friends will hate you for playing (hey, even the best of friends can be jealous sore-losers on occasion).

For the Love of the Game, From the Casual Fringe,
Gabriel Showers

This article was published on Monday March 26, 2007.
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