Over the past few days, a repeated and often hotly debated subject has been the existence of the latest combo discovered in Destiny, the Running Interference hard-lock.
Both Architect Gaming and The Hyperloops team published decklists and guides for how to perform the combo in exhaustive detail but for those who don’t know, the short version of the hard-lock is as follows:
1.) Have both copies of Running Interference out, Battlefield Control, an ambush weapon in your discard or on the looping char, an ambush weapon in hand, and thermal paint on Sabine.
2.) Play ambush weapon on Sabine, exhausting one RI and preventing opponent from playing a card.
3.) Activate Sabine, overwriting the ambush weapon on her with an ambush weapon from the discard, exhausting the second RI and preventing opponent from activating while they are forced to take one damage from thermal paint.
4.) Claim with your extra action from Sabine’s ability, using Starship Graveyard to move an ambush weapon to the top of the deck.
5.) Opponent can’t do anything but use a card action, must pass, and move on to the next round where the loop continues.
There are many many ways to reach and hold the initial conditions, and both Rey or Sabine can be used to achieve the hard-lock.
After a decent amount of testing I’m here to calm your fears and talk everyone back from the ledge. This is going to be a somewhat circuitous article, and all the information has to be taken into consideration at one time so bear with me as I go through all of it. For the impatient there is a TLDR summary at the bottom if you trust my analysis sight-unseen (which you shouldn’t).
How likely is it to achieve the lock in the first place?
Since every other condition is trivial to achieve, I’ll limit the conditions purely to the chances of getting both copies of RI out on the field at once.
With the generous mulligan rule, and both copies of Scavenge being played, and by dumping the entire contents of their hand at the end of round 1, the combo player can see 21 cards total at the start of round two. The odds of both copies of RI being included in those 21 cards is ~48%. With both copies of Don’t Get Cocky also played, the combo player gets to see 25 cards with a success rate of ~69%.
Why does round two matter? Because Sabine only has 11HP, and not being able to lock the game at the start of round three at the latest both gives the opponent really good odds of both killing Sabine outright by that point (making the combo more difficult to perform) and drawing disruption for the combo itself. While there are ways to get the combo online at the start of round 2 through the use of infamous or by being luckier than average in their draws during round 1, and the threat of the combo doesn’t disappear on Sabine death the odds are significantly decreased (though still possible).
Meanwhile, the opponent has the following odds of drawing at least one method of disruption by the same time frame. Our savvy opponent is assumed to be aware of the combo’s existence and will hard-mull and pitch all cards in an attempt to find an out.
With 2 ways to disrupt: ~75% without Don’t Get Cocky played, ~91% with both Don’t Get Cockys played.
With 4 ways to disrupt: ~95% without Don’t Get Cocky played, ~99% with both Don’t Get Cockys played.
As demonstrated, it is easier to disrupt the combo than it is to set it up, and the odds of the combo being in play while simultaeneously being completely free from disruption are ~12% at their most generous. It skews away from the combo player even more when you consider realistic scenarios IE: I am unlikely to mull away DL-44 or Night Sniper if playing Sabine, but incredibly likely to pitch all five to find an out if playing against the combo.
Not all methods of disruption are made equal however, and there are methods by which the combo player can instantly recover from the set-back involving some combination of the following: the BF is Starship Graveyard already, if Infamous is in play, Cheat, or if the combo player has a copy of Scavenge yet to be played. Generally speaking though, judicious timing of even the weakest form of disruption will buy one additional turn of not being locked out, with certain cards providing you with permanent immunity to the combo.
How effective is the combo?
I know what you’re thinking. “You already said it’s 100% effective when it gets on the field, and you gave two links to people showing me how to get it done!”
Well… Yes. But that isn’t exactly the measure I’m going by here. When I want to know how effective the combo is, I want to know how many EXTRA games the combo will win me vice just playing Sabine/Whoever and letting Sabine do Sabine things to win. By way of example, before its errata the Hyperspace jump combo was nearly infinitely more effective than a baseline Poe/HG/HG deck. “Hyperloop” was the best Poe/HG/HG deck you could play by a wide margin.
With Sabine? I’m not convinced. If you check out the lists posted above, there is an INCREDIBLY low amount of removal. Even with my slightly modified Sabine/Ezra and Sabine/Rey to up the removal count, the room simply isn’t there if the main focus of the deck is to both get the combo out, and protect it while it is being constructed. Something gives way. Even if we assume that RI would make any Sabine list by itself (which I agree with), there are anywhere from 6-10 cards being taken up just to support the concept. If the combo falters, your hopes of winning are almost entirely on the luck of the two player’s dice-rolling.
And that’s the rub. Sabine is pretty good in general! The meta is still too new to really say if she is squarely in the T1 category, but my impression is that she is. So again, the question isn’t how often the combo can win, but how many extra games you will win because of it.
I’ve played a total of 18 games this week with the combo, both TTS and in-person. I told my opponents consisting of the full range of skill levels about the combo before-hand, but did not allow deck alterations. I pursued victory to the best of my ability. Without bogging anyone down with an 18-match blow-by-blow, I won 11 games total with 4 of them being combo-victories, only one of which was achieved when I felt I was in a neutral or losing position before hand.
To me, the combo felt very much like a win-more thing. And in the games I lost it was due to opponent disruption of my combo combined with my total lack of ways to meaningfully interact with their turn. DL-44 looping is super good though, and Hyperspace Jump does still save the day. 18 games is a small sample, and I am not the paragon of Destiny play that I would like to be, so I will freely admit that as skill level increases the odds of winning through combo will go up. The same applies to your opponent and their ability to evade the lock-down however.
But if my opponent doesn’t have a way to mess with it, I’m almost guarunteed to win!
Well how likely is that to be the case?
All of these cards are seeing very wide play at the moment, and are playable turn 1 (save Quadjumper). While most of them are temporary relief from being locked-down (as if Night Sniper needed another reason to be good) we don’t have to reach too far to find total immunity and even more options to buy a turn.
If a deck cannot take two different disruption methods from the previous list or is not naturally immune, none of these are bad cards in and of themselves, with all but Stolen Cache providing repeatable immunity.
Playing with these characters makes you immune from the combo so long as they remain alive. Of course it would be punishing to have Ciena as your only way out of the lock, but even then just spending two resources every other turn would provide ample opportunity to accomplish your goals. Cad Bane is especially popular online and locally at the moment.
Of course with those chars, the combo player’s first priority will be killing them but as I said before the lack of removal gives the opponent a decent chance.
Once we start looking deeper down the rabbit hole our options get worse and worse but they are still there.
Well infinite combos are bad for the game!
Full disclosure, I am a fan of combo decks. I really enjoy twisting cards for nefarious ends in unexpected ways. From a design perspective, I think they also provide a creative outlet for players to balance out Aggro and Control decks.
So my response here is no, but sometimes yes. Infinite combo oppressiveness is directly tied to its ease of use. If someone can only successfully perform a combo half of the time against similarly skilled players playing T1 decks, then I don’t see a problem. When we start trying to figure out how much MORE a deck can win through the addition of a combo, and how oppressive that is things get quite a bit murkier. If the combo is too easy, and too effective then it can certainly be a problem.
Simply put, I don’t think this hard-lock even approaches that level of oppressiveness and if I end up losing to it because my draws were bad, or because I didn’t take it into consideration when deck-building it’s not worse than losing a game because my rolls were bad or if I played a sub-optimal deck regardless. I feel way worse playing against Thrawn/Unkar than I do against RI, win or lose.
The other two infinite loops have been errataed away already though, this one should be!
Outer Rim Smuggler is the easiest to explain, so I’ll tackle it first. Due to the nature of the tournament rules, all a player had to do was get ahead on damage by one point then loop Return of the Jedi into and out of an empty hand for the remainder of the round to secure a win. Also, the existence of this would lead to unknown future repercussions for hero resource dumps (cards similar to Buy Out in use).
Hyperspace jump. Whoo boy. Were going back in time a bit on this one. On the surface, the Poe/HG/HG “Hyperloop” was never a serious contender. It required being ahead on damage, paying for or resolving a Poe special to get a Millenium Falcon, being on Emperor’s Throne Room (usually through the use of Hyperspace Jump) and having a copy of Hyperspace Jump in the discard pile.
Once all that was accomplished, the combo player needed to roll out the Falcon, avoid that die being removed by the opponent, then claim the BF to endlessly reiterate Hyperspace Jump until the end of the round.
Even with the help that Cunning and all the best Hero mitigation cards provided, it was simply too hard to pull off consistently. I don’t recall anyone running the deck at the World Championship which took place without the errata implemented, but let me know if I am wrong. I do know it didn’t breach the top 16 at least.
And yet it was still errataed! Why?
Two reasons. Number one, it was the very definition of infuriating to play against. Every game HAD to go to time and be resolved via tie-breakers or concession. There was no reasonably swift path to victory for either player, and like the Smuggler it abused the tournament rules document to achieve its means. In contrast, one Thermal Paint will kill you and a second will give you a swift end to misery.
These cards were all waiting in the wings to play a role in making the combo immediately stronger, particularly Planetary Uprising which would have removed the major condition of being ahead on damage prior to endless looping from the equation.
And of course if SoR wouldn’t be enough to force an errata (which it was), the additional vehicular support EaW provided certainly would have pushed it over the top.
MAYBE we exist in a similar situation now, where future cards will push Running Interference through the roof. If so, I would support an errata of some sort but we are months away from that at a minimum. Until I can either peer into the future or identify a currently playable decklist which shoots combo reliability through the roof, I don’t think Running Interference is good ENOUGH to be errataed.
Giving the Devil his Due.
Getting hard-locked feels bad. It feels really bad. TTS table-flips and looks of dejection from my IRL opponents were had even after being forewarned.
While completely legal, the combo delves further into the “what is an action and what is a pass” rabbit hole than a casual or even semi-casual player can reasonably be expected to navigate. If you play this against a new player without warning, you’re a prick and you should stop driving people away from the game.
The rules issues don’t end at the players either. There is an incredibly high knowledge burden for any neutral arbiter to make the correct judge-call in every situation that will arise from this. While not an issue in high-level play the smaller local tournaments are guaranteed to make the wrong call at some point, and in high numbers. Ease of application is an important function for rules, especially in a newer game.
Maybe these are reasons enough to deserve an errata. I don’t personally think so, but any readers opinion is just as valid as my own.
TLDR of why Running Interference isn’t a big deal IMO:
1.) The combo isn’t reliable enough to lean on as a decks primary win condition.
2.) It does not take significant effort to disrupt with current decklists, and all decks have options to make minor adjustments to further secure themselves from lock-out.
3.) It is win-more, and carries a significant opportunity cost due to the space it takes up in a deck.
4.) There are popular decks in the meta which are naturally immune to the combo.
5.) Previous combo erratas are materially different than what is currently represented.
6.) It is the only combo deck in the meta right now, and fills a niche that appeals to many.
If you play with or against this combo, do an honest assessment at the end. Was it really the combo itself that won from a losing or at least neutral position? Or did Sabine just do Sabine things?
A thank-you is in order to both ArchitectGaming and The Hyperloops regardless of whether or not an errata happens, publishing the combo helps prevent people from getting blown out unnecessarily, and increases the collective skill level of the entire community.