Nickel aluminides exhibit limited ductility and toughness at room temperature. One way to improve these characteristics is by adding ceramic reinforcements to the matrix. In this paper, we have studied the combustion synthesis of Ni3Al and Ni3Al-matrix composites, using the self-propagating high-temperature synthesis (SHS) mode. First, studies of the Ni3Al synthesis were carried out by quenching the reaction during its progress, which revealed the mechanism of the synthesis. The influence of Al2O3 and SiC whiskers or particulates, and B4C particulates added to the reaction mixture prior to combustion synthesis, was investigated next. It was found that, in general, reinforcements are heat sinks and limit the propagation of the reaction. Also, whiskers impede the flow of formed liquid to a larger extent than do particulates. Al2O3 is inert and matrices reinforced with up to 2 wt. % Al2O3 are composed essentially of Ni3Al grains. However, both B4C and SiC react with the Ni-Al matrix and lead to complex phases. In particular, B4C readily forms a Ni-Al-B liquid phase and disrupts dramatically the progress of the Ni3Al matrix synthesis.