Building Shadowfist Decks Without Rare Cards

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Home > Strategy > No-Rares Deck Design
[updated 1 Apr 2003]

Note: this article was originally written in 1997 for Bryant Durrell's Innocence website. It's very much out of date, but the general theory here is applicable to any deck, so it might still have some use. I will eventually update it, but I don't expect to find time for that for many moons...

Who Needs Rares?

To me, the mark of a good collectible card game is that I can play competitively without using any rare cards. I donít necessarily mean that I can make a deck that will crush all of my opponents, just one that has a reasonable shot at winning in most circumstances. Iíve had mixed success with Shadowfist so far...

No-Rares Deck Construction for Shadowfist

How do you put together a reasonable deck that doesnít rely on rares? For the most part, the advice here is applicable to any deck, but itís aimed at the person who doesnít have or doesnít want to use rare cards in their decks. After a little experimentation, youíll realize that most of your no-rares decks will be relying on combos - two cards to do the work of one big rare - so you need to be cycling through your cards to get those combos into play. Ideally, youíd like to be in a position to win faster than your opponents, since more time for them means youíre more likely to be outclassed by their rares. But speed isnít everything; there are slower ways to win as well...

A Quick Note About Multiplayer vs. Dueling Decks

In some ways itís easier to make a dueling deck than a multiplayer deck. Youíre not worried about doing 5 points of damage to your opponentís Proving Ground, for example, since youíll be the only one following up on it next turn. For a no-rares deck, speed is definitely the key in dueling - get your characters out early and hit as fast as you can. The drawback of dueling is that your opponent has no one else to pay attention to, and will of course be doing the same thing to you. Knowing that your opponent will be coming after you and only you also influences your choice of cards, making some cards more useful in dueling than in multiplayer (like Heroic Conversion, for instance).

What Do I Lose Without Rares?

The two primary features youíll lose are the big hitters and the specialty feng shui sites. Thatís a double whammy, since youíre losing good offensive cards and good save-your-butt defensive cards at the same time. The major focus for a no-rares deck is making up for these shortcomings, or finding a way around them completely.

The Making Of A Hitter

Getting out and hitting hard enough to take a feng shui site is your primary concern. Most of the common and uncommon characters arenít big enough to grab a site by themselves, but they do enough damage to leave an easy target for the next player. Here are a few approaches to get your hitters up to dangerous size:

The Weenie Horde: often tried, rarely successful (I really want this to work. It does, sometimes). Using a flood of small characters with Ambush, like the Midnight Whisperer, and Edges/effects to pump up their fighting/damage, like Arcanowave Reinforcer, Entropy Is Your Friend, and Death-O-Rama, can be effective against some opponents. A Final Brawl that catches you without an Expendable Unit will wipe out your army, and worse yet a Toughness deck will stop you in your tracks. If you could recycle your weenies quickly, you might have a chance, but most recylers will cost you more than your weenie did in the first place (although the Reinvigoration Process/Midnight Whisperer combo has some merit, itís still not fast enough). And since you donít have access to Feast of Souls, itíll cost you to keep the horde flowing...

The State Deck: pretty straightforward. Add States until youíre happy with your death-dealing potential. Guns are usually the easiest, but tanks and the other various Weapons work well too. As long as youíre adding States, you should also consider cards that complement your States: Both Guns Blazing, Orange Monk, Orange Meditation, etc. Relying on lots of States has a couple of drawbacks, of course: speed (lack thereof) and tendency to stall. Most of the big States are expensive, so theyíre not coming out on turn 2 or 3 while youíre still building up your resources. You have to be willing to discard aggressively to get the State deck moving (or play with cards that increase your hand size, like Art of War or Scorched Earth). Same goes for the stall - with all those States in your deck, you have a higher probability of drawing a hand full of States but nothing to put them on. New Manifesto helps with this, since you can discard lots of cards and still generate power, and Shield of Pure Soul will let you grab a card you need under less than ideal conditions (you donít really want to give up a site every time you need to draw a card, do you?). Basically, the State deck works, but you have to accept the fact that you will have a truly bad game every now and again when you start with a hideous draw...

The Anti-Site Deck: donít pump up your hitters, knock down your opponentsí sites! This is a difficult technique to use in multiplayer games, since you have to be able to make a successful attack after your softening-up; otherwise you leave a weak site exposed for the next person to grab. A slight variation of this is to use the cards that let you grab sites outright, like Violet Monk, Thunder Champion, and Mirror Dancer, and/or cards that let you move the more vulnerable sites around, like Satellite Intelligence. If you want to destroy sites, the obvious cards to use are Killing Rain or Orbital Laser Strike, but Gearhead (plus Monkeywrenching), Operation Green Strike, Burn,Baby,Burn! and Sphere of Defilement can help out too. Donít forget Soul of the Dragon - it effectively reduces the body of every site in play by 1, but only for you.

The Control Deck: donít plan on providing your own hitters. Spend your time building up your resources, and use lots of 0-cost Events so you can save your power for your Shadowy Mentors or Tortured Memories. Heroic Conversion can also help; more so in a two player game than in multiplayer. You also need a way to stop your opponentsí hitters without damaging them or taking them out of play, since you want to use them on your turn - Operation Killdeer is ideal. Use big sites (Inner Sanctum, Trade Center) so you can survive until something worthy of the Mentor gets into play. It works, but itís fairly boring to play with or against.

Choosing the Right Feng Shui Sites

Always worth some thought in any deck, but especially so without the rare feng shui sites. The two primary factors you need to consider are (1) how much power do you need to generate each turn to keep moving (and how are you going to get it?) and (2) how will you defend your site structure?

For power generation purposes, most decks want to have a steady flow of 2-4 power each turn. Whether your opponents will allow you to have that many sites is a good question, but you need to decide how youíll get that power. You may need to play your deck a couple of times to find out how much power you really need, but thatís part of the deck-tuning process anyway.

So how do you generate that power consistently? The most straightforward way is to rely on your sites, of course, but then you have to do some planning. Do you want to rely on feng shui sites only? (expensive, and slow, but possible if no one pays attention to you for a while) Do you want to back them up with some smaller non-feng shui sites? Or just go for a row of Trade Centers? (very slow, but also hard for your opponents to nab early since theyíre so darn big). Your decision will influence the cards that you put in your deck, since youíll need some good anti-character defensive cards (Operation Killdeer, Nerve Gas, etc.) to keep your sites intact while you build if you decide that you want to create a city. You probably still want to have a few comeback cards (Pocket Demon, Violet Meditation, Kii-Yaaah!!!, etc.) just in case your plans donít work out, otherwise youíll have quite a boring game watching your opponents pummel you after you fall behind...

Another approach is to rely more on non-site power generation for the bulk of your power, and keep your site structure small so itís easily defended. This will probably let you use Monkey House as well, and generate some extra power from any other feng shui sites hanging around in your hand. Pocket Demon and Violet Meditation are key cards here, especially when you back them up with cards that will generate additional power during your or your opponentsí turns (like Fire in the Lake, Paper Trail, Doomsday Device, Claws of Darkness, etc.). Using your opponentsí cards against them with The Fox Outfoxed is also a nifty trick.

So, now youíve thought about your Power needs, but how do you defend yourself? You wonít have access to the last-minute saves from Turtle Beach, City Square, Kinoshita House, or Fox Pass, so youíll need to rely on other cards for defense. You donít want to use your characters for defense if possible, since you need them alive and relatively undamaged for hitting during your turns. One method is to stock up on low cost Events that stop characters (Operation Killdeer, Nerve Gas, etc.) or that let you defend without giving up a character (Iron & Silk). This approach is better if youíve decided to keep your site structure small and defend what little you do put out.

On the other hand, you could decide to play aggressively and just ignore the defense. Youíre relying on being able to hit your opponent harder and faster than they can hit you, so youíll need to pack a lot of cards that push your attacks through (Blood of the Valiant, for example) as well as cards that can keep your attackers alive and on the table (like Ring of Gates and Confucian Stability). Youíre going to lose your own sites regularly this way, so you should use sites that do something nifty for you when theyíre gone (Pinball Hall, Rust Garden, and Fortress of Shadow are good examples). Or use only huge sites that are likely to stay around for multiple turns (at least in the early part of the game) even if you donít defend them. Or you can pump up your sites with stuff like Security or Shields of Darkness, but that will likely distract you from your main goal of pummeling your opponent quickly.

The final question you should always ask is "What happens if my opponent seizes this and uses it against me?" Are you prepared to deal with that? If itís hideous (for example, putting a Wall of A Thousand Eyes into an Ambush or Superleap deck) then you should swap that site out for something a little more benign....

Which Factions Should I Use?

Ideally, you want to stick with a faction that gives you decent offense, some defense, power generation that doesnít depend on your sites, and a bit of fun, too. The all-around winner for me has been the Ascended but Iíve also done reasonably well with all the factions except Jammers. Hereís a quick overview of each factionsí strengths and weaknesses (considering only commons and uncommons, of course). You may end up with a two-faction deck so you can cover one factionís weaknesses with anotherís strengths, or you can accept the fact that you have a particular hole in your defenses, and hope you donít run into a deck thatíll stop you cold.

Ascended: You can win tournaments with them, and you donít need access to Netherworld or Flashpoint to do it. Might of the Elephant is the only uncommon hitter who is truly fearsome on his own. Shadowy Mentor, well, youíve seen that enough, havenít you? Why pack your own rare hitters when you can use someone elseís? For power generation, you have Paper Trail, Mole Network, Bite of the Jellyfish (if your opponent is really greedy and actually burns for Power with an Ascended player at the table) and Family Estate (well, no, itís not exactly power generation, but it does save you one power for each of those Pledged weenies). You can even get more power from your characters, with Swiss Banker and Triumvirate Dealmaker. You have tons of excellent free Events, and you have a good defense against States and Edges with Realpolitik. The big hole in your armor is Event defense - you donít have one. Cry of the Forgotten Ancestor or Church Official will deflect the magic Events, but youíre basically helpless against a Nerve Gas. Thereís always Festival Circle, or just pack Faked Deaths and assume Might isnít going to make it the first time.

Architects: The Architects are great on offense and anti-character defense. CHAR is an excellent hitter, plus you have a variety of characters with Ambush for offense and interesting special abilities for defense or recycling your cards. Youíve got lots of great states to pump those hitters, from the Buro Godhammer all the way up to the MegaTank (all of the tank states are uncommon, so you can make a reasonable Tank Warfare deck). The DNA Mage with his Magic resource gives you access to Pocket Demon, and youíve got the fun Helix Rethread, but one of your best sources of power is the Vivisector (with Proving Ground, you can play a hitter, grab something, then sacrifice him and get 2 more power than you paid in the first place. Not bad at all.). On top of that, you have the best character stoppers in the game with Nerve Gas, Imprisoned, and Neutron Bomb. Your big problems are Event defense and State defense - you canít stop either of them. If CHAR decides to join the Lodge, well, youíre going to have to let him go and make him pay for it later (or vivisect him before he goes. "CHAR, report to briefing room A immediately for special instructions!").

Dragons: The Dragon uncommon hitters are a bit underpowered for their cost compared to the other factions, but youíve got the stunning Ex-Commando/ Both Guns Blazing combo working for you to come up with multiple sites in one turn. Pile on the guns! For power generation youíll need Kii-Yaaah!!! and Dirk Wiselyís Gambit. And you still have the cool utility characters like Chinese Doctor plus excellent events like the ever-popular Final Brawl. Your problems, of course: Event and State defense. You have a bit of defense in Charmed Life, but itís not perfect. And your Ex-Commando has an annoying tendency to defect to the Lodge after heís visited your gun locker a couple of times. Itís possible to make Dragons work without rares, but difficult. The Gun deck works spectacularly sometimes, and others you have a bunch of guns in your hand but no characters to put them on. Darn fun to play, though.

Hand: The Hand have an effective, but expensive, hitter in the Shaolin Master, and good back-up with the Virtuous Hood and Cop on Vacation. The superleaping weenies with guns/explosives approach (Shaolin Warrior, and maybe Red Monk) also works. You have a wide variety of options for power generation: Violet Meditation, Darkís Soft Whisper, The Fox Outfoxed, and Fire in the Lake, to name a few. And never forget the Shield of Pure Soul - you should always pack at least one. The Hand are well balanced, too, since you have great Event and State defense in Confucian Stability, and Iron & Silk to help with character defense. And on top of that you could actually heal your characters and sites if you wanted to with Beneficial Realignment or Dawn of the Righteous. What youíre missing is good character stoppers to sweep opponents out of the way - Blood of the Valiant helps a lot, but itís not everything.

Lotus: The Lotus have a wide variety of medium hitters, but theyíre all on the small side - Destroyer makes up for that by being the only self-recycling hitter in the game (ok, Johnny Badhair might come back, but not always), Gnarled Marauder can potentially net you two sites at once, Abysmal Absorber tends to grow fast, and the Walking Corpses are just so cheap... Youíll have to resort to States to get your hitters up to respectable size, but, oddly enough, the Corpses and demons are pretty handy with Shotguns. Pocket Demon is the obvious source of power, but donít forget about The Hungry (especially multiple The Hungry...) - burn for victory and get power? Yes! Plus youíve got the two Fires, Discerning and Shattering, to clear the way for you. And you can borrow your enemies with Tortured Memories when you need a little extra punch. Inauspicious Reburial can also put a nice damper on your opponentsí development and give you time to get ahead or rebuild a bit. Your problems are (everyone, say it together!) Event and State defense. Not much you can do about either one.

Jammers: The Jammers have come of age in Flashpoint with the Gorilla Fighter, backed up by our old friend the $10,000 Man. You now have one of the best States to pump up your hitters: put íem in the Homemade Tank for a turn and grab some new real estate! Unfortunately, the Jammers are the only faction with a huge hole - no power generation other than sites (Throne Wars will supposedly fix that, and the Jammers will move up a notch, but for now...). Youíre going to have to play with another faction to get access to Pocket Demon or Violet Meditation, or pray that your deck always comes out just right and you can roll over your opponents before they beat you into submission. And you have the standard problems of Event and State defense, so the Jammers are doubly hard to play alone.

Monarchs: Youíve got some decent hitters in the Butterfly Knight and Fire Martyr (although the Martyr is a bit fragile). Fire Assassin can be huge against opposing characters, too. Your most effective hitter is the Thunder Champion, if you can get him through and keep him relatively unscathed. Youíll still want something to pump those hitters up a bit (Claws of Darkness are great, with a Spirit Pole to recycle them), but at least you have easy Butterfly recycling with the Thunder Squire. Cheap Magic resources give you convenient access to Pocket Demon for power generation, and Shattering and Discerning Fires for anti-character offense/defense, plus you have the most fun Event defense: Brain Fire (especially against the Ascended and Architects, since most of their Events are "targetted"). You still donít have a State defense, although you can counter Shadowy Mentors with Ice Courtiers. The Monarchs are good contenders without rares, just make certain your opponents know that thereís no royalty in your deck - otherwise you may be the subject of preemptive pummeling to keep the Kings and Queens from making an appearance.

Unaligned: Not a whole lot of help from the unaligned characters. The Yak Enforcer is a good addition to a Dragons/Final Brawl deck, and The Displaced can be helpful in many decks, but The Losers are, well, Losers. Good in concept, but too often not around (or too expensive) when you most need them. The Faceless are probably most useful against you since youíll be using States, but they can be an odd way to rescue your hitter whoís been Shadowy Mentored - your Faceless die, but you get your hitter back plus you can Shadowy Mentor something else, too. The Mirror Dancer can be an amazing surprise attack, since a lot of people play with Inner Sanctums and Proving Grounds. But most of the unaligned cards youíll need are the damage-dealers: guns, Explosives, and vehicles.

No-Rares Deck Suggestions:

I wonít spell out the exact contents of the deck (I think thatís the fun part about putting decks together, donít you?) but Iíll give you a few ideas from my no-rares decks. If youíre intrigued, send me an email and Iíll send you the current (or last known, since I donít keep them all around at any given time) contents of any particular deck.

Iím Huge: the straight Ascended deck mentioned above. Might of the Elephant, lots of Pledged weenies and Family Estates to get them out, multiple Paper Trails, and a generous salting of the cool 0-cost Ascended Events. Believe it or not, the exact mix doesnít matter that much. This deck took 4th place in the GenCon 1997 national championships.

Night of the Sneaking Dead: Lotus/Architects. Buro Officials give Ambush to Walking Corpses. Godhammers and Arcanotanks for the Corpses to roll around with. Tortured Memories, Nerve Gas, and Imprison for fun. Wheee! Gnarled Horrors and Vivisectors are fun to add, too.

Tanks For The Memories: straight Architects. Tank Warfare, CHAR, Midnight Whisperer, and a bunch of tanks. (the Whisperer in the MegaTank is very scary, especially against an Architects opponent). Youíll need DNA Mages to get the Pocket Demons. If you play against a lot of Ascended, add some The Faceless to get your tanks back - run íem into the Pledged CHAR and snatch his tank away! (doesnít work with the MegaTank, but itís makes good cinema anyway).

Gimme That!: Dragon/Hand. Scrappy Kid, Violet Monk, and Rigorous Discipline. No non-feng shui site is safe! (until the Nerve Gas pops out. Awww.) If youíre daring, add Hackers to get the tech resources for Satellite Intelligence and move those non-feng shui sites to the front, or add magic and Mirror Dancers for loads of possibilities with Rigorous Discipline. This is not a very effective deck, but it annoys your opponents to no end (which I think is fitting for the Scrappy Kid, donít you?).

Fleas: Architects/Jammers weenie horde. Midnight Whisperers, Arcanowave Reinforcers, Godhammers, Entropy is Your Friend, and Reinvigoration Process. Works well until somebody does away with your Edges, or drops a Final Brawl into the middle of your armada. Did much better by adding Hosed and Death-O-Rama until I found out that Hosed doesnít count as combat damage so Death-O-Rama didnít add to it (although that wasnít an official answer, so maybe thereís hope yet...)

Burniní For You: Lotus/Hand. Kun Kan and The Hungry with Destroyer and Gnarled Marauder for fun. Donít defend any of your sites, and always burn your opponentsí sites for victory. Relies on non-site power generation almost exclusively (Pocket Demon, Violet Meditation, The Hungry, Darkís Soft Whisper, Fox Outfoxed, Shield of Pure Soul, etc.) and assumes youíll always have less power-generating sites than your opponents so things like Heat of Battle and Storm of the Just become useful. I liked the Turtle Island / Inexorable Corruption twist - youíll have it for a few turns, but your enemies wonít be able to do anything except smoke it (unless itís the new Ninja or somebody in a Fire Sled coming to grab it). If youíre really daring go without sites entirely, but then youíd better pack Wind on the Mountain to get those Pocket Demons and Violet Meds back. One interesting addition: Laughter on the Wind. The power you get from The Hungry is just enough to unturn everyone and send them back in again...

My, What Big A Big Site Structure You Have: A variant of Burniní For You - Architects/Hand. Spawn of the New Flesh and Anomaly Spirit, powered by lots and lots of Battleground sites (mostly Killing Ground and Sniper Nest). BuroMil Elite for backup. Definitely want the Shield of Pure Soul so you can get something when those Battlegrounds are seized. Use multiple Home Fronts to help your defense (people think twice about trying the easy snatch for a Killing Ground when its Body is 9). Pack Sampan Village, Satellite Intelligence and Disinformation Packet to mess with your opponents. This is another fun deck, but not very effective. Itís easy to stall on all those Battleground Sites, and itís likely that youíll lose most of them before you get the Spawn or Spirit out.

Flame Retardant: Jammers/Monarchs. Created to cheese off those folks who go for the early burn for power to get their decks running. Thunder Champion, Gorilla Fighter, and Mirror Dancer. Turtle Island and Auspicious Termites for feng shui sites - youíll always have a good target for your Dancers, and who cares if the Champion is only going to seize if thatís your only choice? (or put a Fire Sled on your Thunder Champion so you can burn those Auspicious Termites that wandered off to your opponentís side of the table) Donít bother to defend much; your Gorilla Fighters will come out that much cheaper and all of your sites are easy to retrieve. This is much more effective in a two player game, since your opponent is forced to deal with you - in multiplayer, a lot of folks will pass by your un-burnable sites in favor of something they can burn (which is still sort of good for you, but defeats the purpose of the deck).

Colt .96: straight Dragons, typical gun deck. Ex-Commando, Both Guns Blazing, Slo Mo Vengeance, and a bunch of guns. Festival Circle to help with the Event defense (and Bronze Sentinel to get rid of the Festival Circles when theyíve been used a bit). Kii-Yaaah!!! and Dirk Wiselyís Gambits for power (with Jane Q. Public thrown in to make sure that you get a payoff pretty much no matter what happens). Whoís the Big Man Now will let you grab another site or two during a turn (but just make sure that everyoneís stopper Events are gone before you use it. Nothing worse than becoming The Man only to get Nerve Gassed...).

Manicure: variant of Colt .96, adds Monarchs to get Claws of Darkness (yes, they are Weapons!), Brain Fire for Event defense, and Pocket Demon for power generation. Spirit Pole works well here too. This also opens up the great Fire Martyr/Back for Seconds combo - the Martyr gets his +4 bonus until the end of the turn, so if you can unturn him and send him back, he gets another +4. Dangerous.

Both Tentacles Blazing: another variant of Colt .96 (can you tell I liked Both Guns Blazing a lot?). Adds Lotus, drops the Ex-Commando in favor of the Gnarled Marauder, and adds Pocket Demon. Use Back For Seconds to hit multiple times with the Marauder. Ow.

Flip-Flop: Jammers/Lotus dueling deck. Gearhead, Monkeywrenching, Sphere of Defilement, and Smart Missile. Works kinda like a Killing Rain that only hurts your opponent, but much more theatrical since itís so card-intensive. $10,000 Man or Walking Corpses for hitters. Timing is everything - you want to hurt those sites just enough so that you can grab them easily, but no so much that they just evaporate before you get there...

What Would Happen If I Left Out The Uncommons, Too?

Daring, arenít you? An all-common deck thatís competitive is possible, but difficult. Without the uncommons, youíre biggest hitters will be 4 Fighting characters at best, and you donít even have a way to play them at a discount anymore (Proving Ground is Uncommon, sadly). If you want to try it, here are a couple of faction-specific notes:

Ascended: Lots of Shadowy Mentors. Youíll need a big site structure since youíve lost Paper Trail, so use hefty sites and maybe a couple of Swiss Bankers. Hang back and build until something worthy of the Mentor pops out. The classic "Ascended Speed" deck doesnít work in this format, since youíve lost Explosives, but put some Guns on those Gruff Lieutenants to give your opponents something to worry about while you build...

Architects: No more recycling, no more Vivisecting, no more Bombing... Take the uncommons away and the Architects deck changes quite a bit. You still have some good character stoppers (Nerve Gas, Imprisoned) but your star hitter is now the BuroMil Elite or the Plasma Trooper. Youíve also lost the tanks, but you still have the GodHammer and the Midnight Whisperer. The Architects make a good second faction for all-commons decks.

Dragons: the Gun deck still works - most of the Guns, Both Guns Blazing, Slo Mo Vengeance, and the Ex-Commando are all commons. The Dragons actually donít lose that much when you pull the Uncommons...

Hand: Even worse shape than the Architects. You still have a good selection of Events, but your best hitter is the Yakuza Enforcer (ha ha). You will have to concentrate on the Superleaping Shaolin Warriors approach, but even that is questionable since you donít have Explosives either. Lots of Guns maybe (pairing up with the Dragons isnít a bad choice). Or you could build a deck around the cheesy Playerís Guide ruling on Kung Fu Student.

Lotus: If everyone else was playing commons only, youíd be in pretty good shape. You still have regenerating characters, the Vile Prodigy might amount to something someday, and the Walking Corpses are staggering out of the grave to help you. Shattering and Discerning Fires are still here, too. Best bet is to emphasize Inauspicious Reburial so your opponent never gets the resources to put something big out (youíll be ok until they pop out the new White Ninja or something).

Jammers: the Jammers have a selection of common "hitters" at 3 cost / 4 Fighting with decent abilities (plus Dallas Rocket, who hits for 6 a lot of the time). If only they had a way to generate power... Youíll still have to pair them up with somebody else to get Violet Med/Pocket Demon help. Another good second faction for somebody else (Dragons also good here - the Portal Jockeyís first-turn Ambush works nicely in a Gun deck).

Monarchs: Youíve still got Butterfly Knights, but thatís about as good as it gets. The Soul Diver might be useful later after your opponents have killed off some interesting characters (or sometimes itís useful early if your opponents are playing with DNA Mages or Redeemed Gunmen). Brain Fire still a great defense. Another good second faction....


Youíll probably have to work harder to get your no-rares decks tuned properly, but itís worth the effort. If you need help or advice, email me, or post your deck on Usenet and ask for comments. And if you come up with a nifty combo, let me know!

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