A Bear of a Combo

Posted in Latest Developments on September 20, 2002

By Randy Buehler

Last week I regaled you with stories of Disruptive Pitmages flying around R&D and then asked you what you thought of morph:

What are your first impressions of morph?
Awesome 5280 43.9%
Kind of neat 2911 24.2%
Don't really know 2382 19.8%
Don't like it 750 6.2%
Hate it 708 5.9%
Total 12031 100.0%

Cool! I am glad you like it … and I hope it lives up to your expectations next week (and I tend to think it will).

This week I have another development story to tell which, conveniently enough, gives me a chance to show off another Onslaught card.

Our story starts way back in Odyssey when Mike Elliot submitted a card he called Endless Bears:

Endless Bears

Whenever you would draw a card, you may instead put a 2/2 green Bear token into play.

It seemed like a cool card, but it was too similar to another green rare from OdysseyBearscape. (I don’t remember what Bearscape was called at the time, but check today's Arcana to see some of the possibilities.) Since Bearscape used the graveyard, it seemed obvious to everyone that Bearscape belonged in Odyssey and we should push Endless Bears off to some future set. At first thought that set would be Torment, but there wasn’t exactly a lot of room for green cards there and by the time Judgment rolled around we were starting to think of Endless Bears as more than just one card so we held it back until Onslaught.

Early on in Onslaught development Elaine Chase pointed out a really cute combo with Endless Bears. If you have Endless Bears in play along with Coat of Arms and Kavu Lair all you need to do is skip a couple of draw phases and your combo explodes. You get to watch with glee as your bears come into play bigger and bigger and each one lets you draw a card (via Kavu Lair), which lets you skip another draw, etc. Suddenly you not only have an infinite number of creatures in play, but each of them has infinite power and infinite toughness!

Our first inclination was to let that combo exist. It required three different cards plus you had to wait a turn or two for your bears to build up to 4/4. What Elaine’s insight did cause us to do, however, was to pause and think about the combo potential of all the Endless cards. There were five of them we had to worry about and it’s not that hard to build a deck designed to create a bunch of skippable draw effects. After a flurry of deckbuilding the FFL was populated with “Endless Burn” decks that killed a bit too quickly and “Endless Bounce” that could lock you up on turn 4 and we knew we had some more development work to do before we printed these cards.

The real nail in the coffin, though, was when Brian Schneider remembered that Necrologia was in Seventh Edition. When Endless Life in play (; Enchantment; Whenever you would draw a card, you may instead gain 5 life.), you would cast Necrologia and pay life in order to gain life.

Endless Bears shows up in Onslaught as Words of Wilding.

Anybody see anything wrong with that? The first Necrologia would send you rocketing up to a life total that gave you all the time you could possibly need to find whatever kill condition you wanted to use. Turn 2 Charcoal Diamond, turn 3 Endless Life, turn 4 end-step Necrologia meant you’d still have at least, say, 10 life to pay, which meant all of a sudden you were at 50. (Our casual friends out there know that this is a fairly convenient number for a certain alternate victory condition card that was a handy part of this deck.) If you hadn’t already pulled off a win with Test of Endurance, then a second Necrologia gave you the choice of either being at two hundred and something or, if you prefer, drawing 40 cards. It was just nutty!

Needless to say, something had to change. We briefly thought about just changing Endless Life to be something other than life-gaining, but then Brian just put green in his Necrologia deck and started making 14 bears during the endstep of his fourth turn. It was obvious that the real problem was the Endless mechanic – they were such good engines for combo decks that we had to put the brakes on.

In the end, I think all we did was give the brake petal a gentle tap. Now it costs you one mana each time you want to replace a draw and the Words are still plenty good in most of their applications. Want to draw a 2/2 creature every turn for the rest of the game? Or how about a Shock? Ok, have fun. Want to activate your Merfolk Looter while your hand is empty? Wheee … free money. And heaven forbid it’s a Cephalid Broker. Even the combo-engines still work if you can generate a mana each time through your loop. And hey, what’s a little infinite mana among friends, right? If it gives you an infinite number of ∞/∞ bear tokens I’d say that’s mana well spent!

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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