There’s many reasons you’d pick up an EDH deck with combat damage as the primary win condition. You could want to make a point to a friend who thinks winning with combat damage is impossible. Maybe you’re exploiting a weakness in your metagame, where life total is used as a resource too often. You might even come from Standard and find the concept of infinite combos perplexing. Whatever your reason, turning creatures sideways is a perfectly legitimate win condition in competitive EDH, despite what people will tell you.
In this article, I’ll go over four competitive EDH decks whose primary win-condition is combat damage. I’ll also cover the kinds of metas that they perform well in. Some of these decks do have alternate win conditions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are combat based decks.
Let’s begin with the well-known Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Edric is perhaps the last true tempo deck in Commander, meaning that its primary game plan is to take control of the battlefield early and never let go. If you can play a manadork on turn one, your commander on turn two, and spend the rest of the game with a counterspell in hand and putting more guys onto the table, you’ve got your ideal game plan.
Edric’s primary strength is that his early game entry turns into late game card advantage. In the mid to late game, Edric takes advantage of Time Warp effects to generate extra combat steps and massive resource advantage, and can close out the game with Craterhoof Behemoth.
Edric can also exploit metas where many of its opponents rely on a specific card resolving to win, like Food Chain Prossh or Doomsday decks. The main reason is that the deck plays plays plenty of counterspells. Another benefit is the deck is notoriously cheap to build for such a high-tier deck.
The next deck I will highlight is Maelstrom Wanderer. Wanderer is a highly versatile commander because his ability is generic enough that you can put him at the helm of any RUG goodstuff deck. In my experience, however, the best way to play Wanderer is to try to cascade into some sort of spell that resets the board, like Jokulhaups. From that point, you can resolve your Maelstrom Wanderer and beat face for a few turns until your opponents are dead.
To setup up the top of your library, you can use cards like Personal Tutor, Brainstorm, or Scroll Rack for favorable cascades. You can also just play Wanderer to cascade into fatties and turn them sideways.
In this list, we also play a Splinter Twin combo package, but more often than not we’re still killing via traditional combat damage.
Maelstrom Wanderer is well-positioned in metagames with few counterspells and against decks that try to create board advantage. Using your ‘reset buttons’ will put you far ahead against these decks, especially when you can prepare properly.
Maelstrom Wanderer can punish your opponents for committing to board position. However, he does poorly against decks with quick wins and that require counterspells for efficient disruption.
Yisan plays many combos, some of which are entirely tutorable with the commander. Still, the easiest way to win is just to quickly build up to eight counters and put Craterhoof Behemoth into play. Your general gameplan will be to play Yisan on turn two, then activate him every turn cycle following that. Ideally even more than once per turn cycle, thanks to friends like Wirewood Symbiote and Seedborn Muse. Take note, you’re gonna play literally every manadork that you can for that turn-two Yisan consistency.
Yisan is well-positioned in metas that are light on sweepers and board control. Yisan also has great matchups against decks that lean on counterspells. After resolving your commander, it’s entirely plausible that you don’t cast another spell for the entire game and just use your engine. Yisan is also well-positioned against decks that rely heavily on graveyard or on artifacts, since you can tutor things like Bane of Progress and Scavenging Ooze easily and quickly.
The final deck I’ll talk about today is Krenko. I know what you’re thinking. “Finally, a deck without green!” Well, when your engine grows your board state at an exponential rate, you learn to live without manadorks.
Krenko’s power is derived from his one card combo. With a haste outlet like Fervor, you can use Skirk Prospector to sacrifice Krenko, recast him, and tap him for more Goblins (and thus more mana), than he costs the next iteration. In other words, if I have six tokens, Krenko, and Skirk Prospector in play, I can tap Krenko to get eight more tokens, sacrifice him, sacrifice five tokens (leaving nine in play), and tap him for eleven tokens. You can use this combo to force your opponents to “play fair,” since they have to save some of their interaction for the Prospector which could come down at any time.
Red has a number of goblin tutors, such as Goblin Matron or Goblin Recruiter. However, Krenko has a powerful aggro plan too, using lords like Goblin Chieftain and other tribal effects like Coat of Arms to win in the red zone.
Krenko is great against other combat-damage decks since you’ll always have a chump blocker, and is also good against control since it has very high inevitability. He beats decks that try to “play fair” themselves but can’t race it, like reanimator or any kind of tempo deck.
On the other hand, Krenko can’t really race the fastest decks in the format, and can’t really interact with them either, so if your meta is full of storm and one card combo decks, stay away.
Hope you have some fun and win some games at your next Commander night!