After a hot 3-0 start in Star City Games: Baltimore last month, I crashed and burned – losing twice to Shardless BUG and once to a Stoneblade variant. Slightly frustrated, I went back to the drawing board.
Something I've been working on for awhile is finding the right amount of consistency while maintaining explosiveness. It's a delicate balance that is often tough to find because there aren't really too many flexible slots in storm variants. Peter Raab and I talked years ago about the storm decks merging, they've done so gradually since that time. With The EPIC Storm (TES) adopting a manabase more similar to Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) and now with some ANT pilots picking up Chrome Mox for additional speed against Death & Taxes as well as Eldrazi. We're seeing a shift in these storm variants as the metagame is forcing these decks to evolve.
Since the event in Baltimore I've had roughly thirty decklists that I've been testing online with some ideas that are out there and some ideas that were a little more conservative, here's a few of them:
- 4 Chrome Mox
- Diminishing Returns / Reforge the Soul
- 3 Cabal Ritual (with no Rite of Flame)
- Past in Flames (main deck)
- 2 Volcanic Island, 2 Badlands (to support Pulverize)
- 4 Cabal Therapy as the entire discard package (with heavier threats instead of Duress)
- 3 Thoughtseize (main deck)
- No Ad Nauseam
- No win condition (main deck)
- Cut blue (Keeping Probe) and just being RBg
I am always trying to innovate the storm archetype as a whole, I've been working with a number of other storm pilots to bounce ideas off (and to keep me grounded). After some positive testing online Thursday and Friday, I decided I would take the deck list below for a spin on Saturday.
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 3 Burning Wish
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Past in Flames
- 1 Ad Nauseam
From my standard list, you'll see that there's one less Chrome Mox and only three Burning Wish. I've always played four copies of Burning Wish, but there's only so many slots in the deck and you need a certain percentage of mana and business spells (part of the reason I tried a list with a higher threat density with less discard). I wanted to move a Past in Flames main deck and considering it was one of the highest targets for Burning Wish, it made sense. The one downside is that it's one less Burning Wish to find Massacre against Death & Taxes.
As for the Cabal Ritual, as a singleton it was great. I didn't notice a loss of speed and it compliments Past in Flames very nicely with Infernal Tutor to search for it (I've had this come up a few times).
The combination of these two cards really gave me the slight edge I needed to win against all of the fair-grindy decks I saw on Saturday.
In the sideboard, you'll notice that Xantid Swarm is back as a measure to fight against Sensei's Divining Top. I considered making one of them a sideboard discard spell, but never pulled the trigger - I'm not positive of where I stand on the matter.
The last addition in the sideboard was Reverent Silence. A card I've had in my, "Maybe someday..." binder for some time. Someone mentioned it on Reddit and I decided to give it a fair shot again, I've had some reasonable success with it. An easy way to remove Counterbalance in game one or a Leyline of Sanctity post-board. The real downside to this is that it requires the Bayou to be in the main deck, which is awkward on the manabase at times.
You need two red sources, two copies of Underground Sea and then everything else is up for debate. I prefer eight fetchlands for color consistency, but you can get by with seven. The basic Swamp is really valuable in a lot of match-ups, especially Death & Taxes since there's multiple Massacre. But even more important, the rise of Ghost Quarter everywhere has been alarming, I've seen it in Lands, D&T and Eldrazi.
At this point we have 2 Underground Sea, 1 Volcanic Island, 1 Bayou, 1 Swamp and some fetchlands with the second red source up for debate. I used to run a pair of Volcanic Island and no Badlands, but I've fallen in love with the ability to Brainstorm (off of Underground Sea), fetch, Duress and then have a red source on my next turn. In an ideal world, I would like four blue sources and two "pretty much" Swamps (Bayou, Badlands, Swamp) but I couldn't get the mana to work right that way.
If I was to play a fourteenth land, I would run another Bloodstained Mire which would make me feel better about the current selection of dual lands. You could do this by cutting the Cabal Ritual or the second Chrome Mox, but you lose percentages elsewhere.
Round one: Paolo Cesari with Grixis Delver
Paolo wasn't originally my first round opponent, but after a quick repair, I found myself facing some tough competition from the get-go.
Game one: I win the die roll and start by searching up the basic Swamp and casting Duress: Stifle, Deathrite Shaman, Ponder, Daze, Abrupt Decay, Tropical Island and Polluted Delta. I discarded the Ponder. Paolo draws, lays his Tropical Island and then a Deathrite Shaman. In order to play around Daze, I play Lion's Eye Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond and then I put my Volcanic Island on the table (this way, a Daze on either of the Diamonds doesn't stop me). I then follow up these plays with an Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam, at this point Daze hits the table and I have no mana floating.
My Ad Nauseam is fairly lack-luster, but I will be able to win on the following turn. I purposely lay a Lion's Eye Diamond on the table for Paolo to spend his turn and his mana on Abrupt Decay. I get to untap and then recast my graveyard with Past in Flames.
Sideboarding: -1 Ponder, -1 Chrome Mox, +2 Xantid Swarm.
Game two: We both play, "Land, go" until turn three when Paolo breaks the silence with a Ponder and a Deathrite Shaman. I searched twice on his end step for Bayou and Volcanic Island, expecting a Stifle that didn't appear. I played a Xantid which was met by a pair of Daze. The following two turns I'm either a mana short or a card in graveyard for Cabal Ritual while being hit by back-to-back Wastelands from Paolo. Before I know it, I can only Ad Nauseam but my life total is too low. I pick up my cards for a third game.
I tried to hedge against Stifle, Flusterstorm and the expected Pyroblast with Xantid Swarm but immediately regretted it with the strain on my manabase.
Sideboarding: -2 Xantid Swarm, +1 Ponder, +1 Chrome Mox.
Game three: I start with a Polluted Delta into Underground Sea and cast Ponder. Paolo taps out for a Deathrite Shaman. I play a second land and cast Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will. Paolo puts one to the graveyard and reveals: Surgical Extraction, Deathrite Shaman, Gurmag Angler, Brainstorm and Polluted Delta. Lotus Petal, Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond, Burning Wish, Empty the Warrens and then force Paolo to discard his Brainstorm using Cabal Therapy.
2-1 | 1-0
Round two: Hank Mead with Esper Deathblade
Hank is a friend, who primarily plays Elves, but I couldn't remember what he switched to. He didn't strike me as a blue player, meaning I put him on a Thalia deck.
Game one: Hank mulligans. He starts off with a Marsh Flats and passes. I use my Bloodstained Mire to find Swamp and then play Cabal Therapy naming Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Hank revealed: Force of Will, Brainstorm, True-Name Nemesis, Swords to Plowshares, Tropical Island. I'm stuck at an awkward position where I burned a discard spell and can't fight through Force of Will. Which allows a few turns to pass while I dig, in the meantime Hank has played Stoneforge Mystic, put Batterskull into play and resolved a Painful Truths. I finally dig deep enough to find another Cabal Therapy, it turns out that Hank had been drawing pretty poorly. I resolve Past in Flames, but at the end of all of my mana and cantripping, I am a mana short of Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony. I end up playing both Cabal Therapy again and finishing with 32 Goblin Tokens. There's some back and forth between the two sides attacking, but I end up getting it.
Sideboarding: -2 Chrome Mox, -1 Empty the Warrens, +2 Abrupt Decay, +1 Tendrils of Agony.
Game two: Hank plays a Ponder before passing. I start off with a Gitaxian Probe, Hanks hand is: Inquisition of Kozilek, Brainstorm, Zealous Persecution, Painful Truths, Flooded Strand and Underground Sea. I follow up with Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Infernal Tutor (BR Floating - reveal Lion's Eye Diamond), cast the pair of Lion's Eye Diamond and then another! Burning Wish, Dark Petition, Burning Wish and Tendrils of Agony.
4-1 | 2-0
Round three: Kevin Hamel with BUGstill
Game one: Kevin mulligans. I won the die roll and start with Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy (off of a Swamp) hitting Kevin's Force of Will, leaving him with: Pernicious Deed, Deathrite Shaman, Polluted Delta and a pair of Wasteland. Kevin plays a Deathrite Shaman. I play fourteen Goblins and discard Pernicious Deed. Kevin draws blanks the rest of the game.
Sideboarding: -1 Chrome Mox, -1 Ponder, -1 Empty the Warrens, +3 Xantid Swarm.
Game two: Kevin has a pretty solid start with Thoughtseize backed by a pair of Wasteland. I find myself struggling to catch up, I'm almost ready to combo but his pair of Deathrite Shamans have cut me off Past in Flames and Ad Nauseam. I cast Gitaxian Probe and look at two ways of stopping Empty the Warrens. Kevin had my number.
Game three: My opening hand consists of Xantid Swarm, Xantid Swarm, Bloodstained Mire, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam and Infernal Tutor. I cast a Xantid Swarm off of the Bayou, it resolves. Kevin has a Deathrite Shaman, I draw another Infernal Tutor. At this point I think about breaking the Lotus Petal to search up a second copy of Dark Ritual, but decide against it. I wanted to keep my color options for red or blue open incase I'm hit by Thoughtseize. Kevin plays a Liliana of the Veil and forces me to discard, which I'm fine with, but I just need to draw a live-mana. I draw Brainstorm, I cast it off the Lotus Petal and draw Infernal Tutor, Infernal Tutor and Ponder. I know that I have immediately lost.
5-3 | 2-1
Round four: Jeremy Denmon with Grixis Delver
Game one: I have a hand where if Bayou was a fetchland or blue source I could keep but I am forced to mulligan. My six was a Bayou hand too, but with a Gitaxian Probe I felt like I could keep. My scry is a fetchland, we're in business. It's a back and forth game with a lot of discard on each side. I manage to make twelve Goblins against a Deathrite and a Delver of Secrets, but Jeremy has a Young Pyromancer. I attack leaving two Goblins back, but I end up being three life short in the end. A very close game.
Game two: Jeremy mulligans. I play Underground Sea into Ponder. I am met with a Wasteland. On my turn I am ready to go off but if I wait a turn I can go off with a discard spell. I think about not playing my land, because if I'm hit by a second Wasteland I can't use the discard spell. But if I do play the land, I get a land drop on the following turn post-Ad Nauseam. Even though the probability is low, I feel like I'm punished by making the right play when I see a second Wasteland. I decide to go all in, Chrome Mox (Imprint: Burning Wish), Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor and Ad Nauseam. I feel very fortunate that Jeremy doesn't have Force of Will.
Game three: Jeremy starts the game off with a Gitaxian Probe and scoffs at my keep, while it wasn't great it had three lands, Gitaxian Probe, Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual and Lion's Eye Diamond. He follows it up with a Ponder. I draw Brainstorm for the turn, I play my own Gitaxian Probe and look at a pair of Daze, Force of Will, Vendilion Clique, Deathrite Shaman and Ponder. I draw a second Brainstorm. The next few turns for the both of us are mainly land drops and cantrips with Jeremy playing a Deathrite Shaman. At the end of my draw step on turn four, he plays Vendilion Clique, I play Brainstorm in response. I hide Infernal Tutor and Brainstorm. He puts my Infernal Tutor on the bottom. He sees that I have a pair of Rite of Flame, among other things.
I take a few turns of getting hit by Vendilion Clique and Deathrite Shaman while trying to fight through his countermagic. Then I am hit by a Cabal Therapy on Rite of Flame, except I have three in my hand at this point. I am left with Infernal Tutor, Brainstorm, Lion's Eye Diamond and Dark Ritual. On my main phase, I play the Ponder I just drew. Jeremy is quick to snap off a Pyroblast. I follow up with Brainstorm. I draw a Duress, Cabal Therapy and a land. I put the land back with Infernal Tutor on top. I play Duress, which is met with two copies of Daze. I end my turn by playing Lion's Eye Diamond.
Jeremy sacrifices his Deathrite Shaman to Cabal Therapy naming Infernal Tutor to see my Cabal Therapy. I draw Infernal tutor, then discard his Force of Will. I Infernal Tutor for Past in Flames and pass. Jeremy's Vendilion Clique knocks me down to a single life.
I draw a second Infernal Tutor, which immediately makes me think I've lost the game. I think for a second, with four lands in play and a Lion's Eye Diamond, what can I do? Then I've got it.
Sacrifice Lion's Eye Diamond and then flash back Past in Flames. This gives me both red and black mana. Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Infernal Tutor for Lion's Eye Diamond (add three black mana), Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish and finally Tendrils of Agony.
This was an insane match. One of the better ones I've played in recent memories.
7-4 | 3-1
Round five: Nick Cummings with Food Chain
I played against Nick at the Star City Games: Syracuse event. He was running Flusterstorms and Shardless Agents which didn't bode well for him.
Game one: Nick mulligans and wins the die roll. He plays Underground Sea and passes. I play an Underground Sea and a Duress, I discard Force of Will leaving him with Shardless Agent, Baleful Strix, Misty Rainforest and Fierce Empath. Over the next few turns I realize that I'm going to win with Past in Flames (it's in my hand), I infernal Tutor for a second Rite of Flame. I then play my Rite of Flames, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor for Cabal Ritual and flashback Past in Flames. Replay all three Rituals, Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish and Tendrils of Agony.
Sideboarding: -1 Chrome Mox, -1 Ponder, -1 Empty the Warrens, +3 Xantid Swarm.
Game two: Game two is very similar to game one, but I miscount my mana, I'm a mana short. I have to cast Infernal Tutor and hope that Nick scoops up his cards, however, Nick is a seasoned Legacy veteran. He didn't fall for my trick, we're on to game three.
Sideboarding: -3 Xantid Swarm, +1 Chrome Mox, +1 Ponder, +1 Tendrils of Agony.
Game three: Nick mulligans. I start with a Gitaxian Probe and a Cabal Therapy. Nick plays Force of Will (removing Manipulate Fate). I leave him with Mind Break Trap, Manipulate Fate, Tropical Island and Island. I play Lion's Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox (Imprint: Dark Ritual) and pass. Nick plays a Tropical Island, I draw Brainstorm and cast it looking for a discard spell. I hide the Infernal Tutor on top of my deck, which I am rewarded for. Nick draws and plays Duress, only to see a Rite of Flame in my hand. I draw Infernal Tutor and Ad Nauseam, the rest is easy.
9-5 | 4-1
Round six: Kevin Brenneman with NicFit
Intentional Draw (I didn't know what he was playing).
9-5-1 | 4-1-1
Top eight: Eric English with Grixis Control
Eric and I go way back to the early days of Jupiter Games, the last time we played we were both 6-0 at a Grand Prix. He got me then, now was my turn.
Game one: I'm on the play and start with a fetchland before passing. Eric plays a blind Cabal Therapy naming Lion's Eye Diamond. I reveal a bunch of mana and a Gitaxian Probe. My draw for turn is Past in Flames, I play Gitaxian Probe revealing: Ponder, Young Pyromancer, Lightning Bolt, Polluted Delta and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I draw Burning Wish! I play my rituals, Past in Flames, flash them all back, Gitaxian Probe again and Burning Wish. I'm a storm short, so I settle for Empty the Warrens.
Game two: Eric starts with a Gitaxian Probe and a Ponder. I draw and play Gitaxian Probe, Lotus Petal, Brainstorm, Lotus Petal, Underground Sea, Lion's Eye Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish and Tendrils of Agony.
11-5-1 | 5-1-1
Top four: Doug Wilson with Shardless BUG
Game one: I play a blind Cabal Therapy on Force of Will and hit. Leaving Doug with: Baleful Strix, Shardless Agent, Creeping Tar Pit, Polluted Delta and a pair of Verdant Catacombs. Doug lays the Creeping Tar Pit and passes. I play another land, Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Burning Wish, Past in Flames, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor and Doug picks them up.
Sideboarding: -1 Empty the Warrrens, +1 Tendrils of Agony.
Game two: Doug plays a land and passes. I search up the basic Swamp and cast Duress: Surgical Extraction, Tarmogoyf, Swamp, Misty Rainforest, Toxic Deluge and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I decided to take Surgical Extraction, but there's certainly the argument for taking the blue card for Force of Will. Doug plays Tarmogoyf. I play Dark Ritual, Rite of flame, Rite of Flame, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor and Ad Nauseam. Awkwardly I can't get hellbent, even after a number of cantrips. I find Burning Wish, but the Tendrils of Agony is in my deck. For some reason, it then dawned on me, DARK PETITION. I use it to find the Tendrils of Agony.
13-5-1 | 6-1-1
Finals: Eli Kassis with Miracles
I wish this was a better match, but Eli was over prepared for me.
Game one: Eli has a turn one Sensei's Divining Top into a second turn Counterbalance. I play Burning Wish, it resolves, I get Reverent Silence. Eli then plays another Counterbalance. I'm locked out at this point.
Sideboarding: -4 Ponder, -2 Chrome Mox, -1 Empty the Warrens, +4 Abrupt Decay, +3 Xantid Swarm.
Game two: I have a turn one Xantid Swarm, on the second turn I have an opportunity to kill him if I can find a "Tutor effect" off of my Brainstorm. Instead, I draw a second Abrupt Decay, a second Lion's Eye Diamond and a Badlands. Even more awkwardly, no fetchland. Eli plays a Counterbalance and now has both pieces of the combo. I draw and pass. Eli then plays Sanctum Prelate, I Abrupt Decay Counterbalance in response. He responds to his own Sanctum Prelate with a Surgical Extraction on my Abrupt Decays. I spend the rest of the game not doing much.
13-7-1 | 6-2-1
- Games: 13-7-1
- The Die Roll: 3-2
- Mulligans: 2
- Empty the Warrens Wins: 4
- Ad Nauseam Wins: 5
- Past in Flames Wins: 4
- Natural Storm Wins: 2
While the event only had 43 players, I had some steep competition against some very strong Legacy stalwarts and even some Pro-Tour competitors. The deck list felt great, I don't see any changes at the moment but that doesn't mean much - I bounce back and forth on card slots so frequently. I've been preparing a lot for GP:Louisville in January, I'm really looking forward to it!
Thanks for reading, feel free to drop me a message or ask a question using the contact form below. Any questions will likely be featured in an upcoming TES Mailbox article.
Until next time, keep storming!