I was wondering where I got the original decklist from, as I seem to have had it for ages. I did a bit of digging and it turns out it was Squidzkrieg's version that inspired me back then to tweak Combrei for gauntlet greatness. Credit where credit is due, so thanks, man!
Here is the original list for reference: https://eternalwarcry.com/decks/details/a7nqc-r5V5o/big-combrei-gauntlet-grinder
I love gauntlet, but after the changes at the tail-end of last year, the AI got noticeably more ruthless. I've tried the myriad of decks posted here on Eternal Warcry, but the results were never quite satisfactory. Many times the deck would fold once the AI stabilized or removed their early threats.
So I went back to the drawing board and thought to myself - what's the most resilient deck that will simply win inevitably if unchecked? The answer, of course, was an old Set 1 favorite, Big Combrei.
This isn't a fast deck. It's not as slow as a control deck, of course, but your strength lies in building an unassailable position and just grinding out value until you can completely run the AI over. If you're skilled at reading the AI, you can always bait out removal/combat tricks, leaving the board full of fatties that the opponent won't even dare attack.
Your win cons
Aside from just beating the enemy over the head with overstatted units, once you've got a lockdown, there are three (and a half) win conditions that you should build towards.
+ Sword of Unity
- grow him big enough, slap a sword on him and swing for lethal. If you've got SoU on your mystic, it will also act as a phenomenal wall and speed up the process of drawing to your other win cons.
- not only does he combo very well with Mystic Ascendant, at 15 power, you get to press his IWIN button and, well, win the game. I debated putting Worldbearer Behemoth in its slot, as it arguably has a better ramp function and a fantastic body, but Marshall is a relevant draw even very late in the game, whereas Behemoth just becomes another fatty.
- the biggest addition to Combrei in Set 5. 95% of the time, if you play this, you win. Keep growing your aegis'ed unit with SoU, watch the AI stand there like a doofus and eventually swing for lethal.
- not really a win condition, but getting to 8 with Siraf on board generates an infinite number of beefy chump blockers (or even legit threats) that allow you to dig your way to your real wincons.
The supporting cast Desert Marshal
- a key player in many matchups. To use him to the utmost, you really need to know what the AI deck is bringing. He can shut down breakaway flyers if you have no titan on board; pop aegis before you harsh rule; stop hero of the people shenanigans dead in their tracks; silence deadly units; and redirect weapon swings in Armory matchups.
- perhaps the most flexible slot in the deck, but there just aren't that many good anti-AI two drops in our colors. Trail Maker can help us ramp and fix, but you lose too much tempo if it dies. Teacher has a great body for her cost, but weights aren't that great vs the AI and it becomes a dead card late-game. Temple Scribe is a good chump blocker, can trade with opposing X/1s and - most importantly - isn't a dead draw in the late game, since it replaces itself with a new card.
- I love this card. It was one of the first legendaries I crafted back when I started, and for good reason. It provides a great blocking body and allows you to gum up the board in the late game without committing cards (if you're holding back a harsh rule due to an unfavorable position, for example).
- initially, this was Combrei Healer
, but the latter was phased out due to being a dead draw past the mid-game. Nightfall is amazing, since you're usually better than the AI at using your cards efficiently. It is especially useful to mitigate the effects of power screw. Magus is weaker than Healer when it comes to pure anti-aggro (since it can't survive a 1/1 + torch/finest hour, prompting AI attacks), but it's never a dead draw, even in the late game.
- the original fatty, SST serves three very important roles in the deck. 1) Unless silenced or destroyed, it completely shuts down flying decks; 2) With aegis + SOU, it can sneak in attacks to keep your health total topped up and still deter attacks later; 3) it's an efficient blocker that doesn't fold to permafrost, which is disastrous against certain high-tempo decks.
Tricks and trinkets
Nothing here that's out of the ordinary in any Combrei midrange deck. Vanquish
is best saved for threats that can threaten your stall (like gigantic warcried units, big flyers when you don't have a SST out, Ashara, the Deadshot
) or units that threaten to snowball the game if left unchecked (Navani, Warsinger
; quickdraw units with multiple buffs on them).
hasn't really been performing as well as I hoped. It shuts down reanimator strategies, but only two AI decks really use them and they both can be outvalued anyway. Most of the time it acts as an additional copy of Vanquish. I've been debating about cutting it, but I can't think of a worthy replacement.
Sword of Unity
is one of the best cards in the game, especially VS the AI. It instantly shuts down certain aggro decks, as the combat math no longer works in their favor with lifesteal factored in. Most importantly, it provides aegis, which completely confuses the AI (I believe it starts popping aegis at random instead of trying to remove it from the real threats) and protects your board against Harsh Rule and certain combat tricks like torch.
is there because shit happens. The AI can get nut draws; you may not draw your STT in time vs one of the many flyer decks that infest the gauntlet; or you might just be powerscrewed too long and forced into a losing battle with chump blockers. While not ideal, unlike you, the AI WILL overcommit to the board. Sometimes I plan a Harsh Rule early, committing the bare minimum needed to stem the flow of damage and draw the AI's big guns out.
The market Infinite Hourglass
- you're only gonna grab this in a few games, but when you do, it's completely clutch. One of the deadliest regular AI decks is Deep Freeze, which can completely lock down your board and simply roll over you at leisure. It has no way of dealing with Hourglass. It also helps against permafrost/winter's grasp heavy decks if your key units get shut down.
Sword of Unity
- I've already said why this card is amazing. Since it can be fetched by both merchants, you're effectively running *11* copies of it in your deck.
- I see many gauntlet decks nowadays eschew putting power in the market. I think that's a huge mistake. You want to cast all your guys on or ahead of curve, and a banner in the market effectively gives you 8 more chances to draw the power/influence you need in the game.
- because it's so important to be able to reset the game on demand.
- one of your wincons. If you let this run for a few turns, you win the game.
Your starting hand
Your No1 priority is to stabilize, so your starting hand depends heavily on the deck you face.
Against aggro, you want at least 3 power and something to cast by turn 3, ideally a Lunar Magus (Auralian Merchant can grab Sword, but it won't stop AI attacks).
Against slower decks, you want STT and Sword/Auralian Merchant to gum up the board ASAP. Against flyer decks, STT is the best card, hands down.
Against Deep Freeze and Freezing Touch, you want to mulligan even otherwise great hands if they don't have Auralian Merchant in it.
Sequencing and AI idiocy
The key to not getting overrun is reading AI plays, watching out for key turns and sequencing your threats properly to get max value out of them. If the AI deck runs suffocate or Permafrost, run Merchants/Lunar Magus out before your Sirafs, because they'll get value upon hitting the board. If the AI runs vanquishes/slays/feeding times, sequence your big boys in the way that the least valuable ones will eat removal first.
Unless you're facing aggro or desperately need a blocker, don't run threats on an empty board without a backup. Ironthorn is usually safe to drop on turn 6 for the extra power. Never drop Ascendant without power in hand, unless you already have one protected by aegis and just need a lightningrod (AI will prioritize units without aegis over actual threats).
Your goal is to equip a body with a spellcrafted SOU and control the board until your wincons are in place. Only attack if you can take the crackback OR you're offering the AI a trade (like attacking with Ironthorn into a wall of flyers to relieve the pressure in the air). Bosses
You have a fairly decent match-up against most bosses except for Sudden Death. Sudden Death
is sadly a coinflip even with decks designed to beat it, since so much depends on you going first, them not having Infernus in hand and not curving out to Bandit Queen unmolested. To maximize your chances, look for Temple Scribes/Lunar Maguses, and consider playing SOU on Siraf (the AI runs annihilate) even without spellcraft, just to start getting life back.
You have a decent shot against Defender of the Spire
, since you have many ways to reset the board, plenty of removal and ways to stall out the game until you're ready to win. You have to be aware of Champion of Cunning, because it has aegis and will grow the whole board if unanswered. If you can, save a Desert Marshal/Vanquish to pop aegis and don't hesitate to Harsh Rule if you have to.
Against Power of Progress
, you need to decide what you want to do by turn 2-3. If you have a good hand, you can try racing them, since you benefit from extra power just as much as they do. If your hand is mediocre/downright awful and they're ramping out with students/Order of the Spire, then the best plan is to commit as little as possible to stem the early aggression and drop a harsh rule for the most value. Company of Exiles
would normally be a bad match-up because we're running so few spells, but not all is lost. Your priority is to get an aegis on the board. The AI will aggressively target your Siraf, so equipping her with the sword is not a bad idea. If you can get to 8, Siraf's summons can be suicided into the AI lines to keep the board manageable.
Hourglass can protect you against a Crystallize
alpha strike, but keep in mind that the boss deck runs Decay
, so either pray that you're lucky or aggressively offer trades to the AI to keep the board manageable. Mindless Aggression
can be really annoying if it goes first, but you can generally stall it with your early boys. Again, your opening hand should inform you whether you're going for a Harsh Rule or not. You want to get a stall going, even at the expense of early life points - remember, chumping a Lethrai Ranger may save you 4 damage, but it could lead to a Beastmaster + 2 Direwood beasts next turn.
The other bosses aren't particularly noteworthy. Highly Skilled
might seem to outvalue us, but without Eilyn can't usually break through your stall. Helpful Horns
folds to Harsh Rule, so that's what you're looking for in your opening hand or market. It can also simply be stalled out, unless it has a nut draw with plenty of removal.
That's it. This took way longer than I expected, so I hope you find it useful. I'm open to any suggestions, so let me know if you can help me tune the deck even more.