Reading the Ropes - Using Draw Spells

Hello everyone and welcome back to Reading the Ropes!

In this article, we are going to cover the basics of getting the most mileage out of your draw spells. Knowing how to effectively use your draw spells can seem marginal, but over a large sample size can really increase your win percentage. It's an incredibly complex topic with a lot of contextual aspects, but the goal of this article is to introduce the basic things that you should be trying to do and keeping an eye on in general. For the purpose of this article, we are going to look at the three draw spells that are most commonly played in The EPIC Storm: Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, and Brainstorm.

Before diving in, I want to clarify something about the draw spells in The EPIC Storm. Playing draw spells in a fast combo deck like The EPIC Storm is a little bit different than in most other decks, especially slower blue decks that aren't trying to win with a combo, like Miracles or Grixis Delver. In those decks, Ponder and Brainstorm serve a function that is, at least some amount of the time, marginally different than what might be the case in The EPIC Storm. This means that a lot of the wisdom from those decks is not transferable to The EPIC Storm, and vice versa, so keep that in mind when looking at other sources of information on how to use these incredibly complex cards.

Gitaxian Probe

Ad Nauseam

With that out of the way, let's start by discussing Gitaxian Probe. Gitaxian Probe is fairly straightforward on the surface, as it let's us know if the coast is clear and generates additional storm without costing mana or a card. In addition though, Gitaxian Probe has a lot of small intricacies. First, I see a lot of people default to automatically paying life for Gitaxian Probe every time they cast it. In slower games though, preserving your life total can buy you extra turns or make your Ad Nauseam better. If the mana you are spending isn't super important, consider paying mana instead of life.

Additionally, keep in mind that there is often no need to cast Gitaxian Probe right away. If you are ready to combo off or you are aggressively trying to find a specific card, then cast it as soon as possible. Otherwise, waiting is often better, as knowing that the coast is clear is more important when you are actually ready to win the game. On top of that, one of Gitaxian Probe's best utilities is for improving the quality of Cabal Therapy, and so waiting will make a future Cabal Therapy much better.

Another small functionality of Gitaxian Probe is, if you plan to combo next turn but you are worried about Thoughtseize, you can hide two important cards on top of your deck with Brainstorm and still have access to both on the following turn as long as they don't take the Gitaxian Probe. In practice, I've found that people rarely take Gitaxian Probe with discard spells even when it might make sense to, so feel free to use that to your advantage.

The last awesome thing that Gitaxian Probe does is combo with Lion's Eye Diamond! If you know the top card of your library is an Ad Nauseam or Empty the Warrens (from Ponder or Brainstorm), you can cast Gitaxian Probe and hold priority, sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond for three mana which will then let you cast the spell that you draw. This can be a tricky way to generate some extra mana for your win condition if you are otherwise lacking in ways to do that. Just make sure that if you are doing it with Ponder, the card you want to cast after Gitaxian Probe needs to be the second card. A lot of times when starting this line of play, I see people put the card they want directly on top, forgetting that they will draw a card from the final part of Ponder. You can also do this without Gitaxian Probe if you have a second copy of Ponder or Brainstorm, as the principle is the same, but it's most common with Gitaxian Probe since Gitaxian Probe requires one less mana.

Keep in mind that you will need to sacrifice Lion's Eye Diamond and discard your hand before you get to see the opponent's hand, so you will not get to check if the coast is clear first, at which point they can just counter your Gitaxian Probe. Also keep in mind that against Leyline of Sanctity, you can always Gitaxian Probe targeting yourself. You don't get to see your opponent's hand, but you do still get the storm count and the card.

Bloodstained Mire

Moving forward, I'm going to lump Brainstorm and Ponder together for the larger points, and talk about the intricacies of each within those points. Brainstorm and Ponder are at their best when you have access to a fetchland such as Bloodstained Mire. The reason is that for Brainstorm, you can put back the cards that you don't want and then shuffle them away as opposed to being stuck drawing them for your next two turns. For Ponder, you will often run into situations where one of the cards is really good, but the other two are very bad, and so without a fetchland you are forced to make a really awkward decision. A fetchland allows you to take the card you want, and then shuffle away any of the other cards that are bad. Additionally, if a card is situational and depends on what your opponent does next turn, you can always leave it on top and then pass with a fetchland in play. Depending on what happens, you can decide on their end step whether or not you need the card.

Additionally, I often like to play my Brainstorm before I play my Ponder, if I have access to both. There are a few reasons for this specific ordering. First of all, Ponder can act as a shuffle effect for your Brainstorm if you put two bad cards back on top. It's not exactly the most amazing use for your Ponder, but I'm more than happy to do it in a pinch. Additionally, Ponder is better for finding specific cards since it sees a higher number of cards (four, compared to Brainstorm seeing three), while Brainstorm is better for more generally improving the quality of your hand. In most situations where your hand still needs a bit of work to come together, you want to improve the overall quality of your hand, and then look for the specific card that you might be missing.

With Ponder and Brainstorm, knowing when to use them very aggressively versus knowing when to wait for a bit can be difficult. In general, The EPIC Storm is a deck trying to win the game very quickly, and so you want to use your draw spells as soon as possible in order to make your hand come together much sooner. That said, if you know that by default a game is going to take a bit longer, and you need more information from your opponent before knowing exactly what you are looking for yourself, feel free to wait. Those situations are not super common though, as The EPIC Storm is a relatively homogeneous deck, and so the types of cards you are looking for can be discerned pretty quickly.

Further, be very careful when using Ponder and Brainstorm if discard spells are something that you need to be concerned about. With Ponder, it can be tempting to put the card you need right on top and draw it, but if you can't win until next turn anyway and you are otherwise insulated against a discard spell, consider putting the card you need second from the top, so that you draw it on your next turn. With Brainstorm, one of its best utilities is for protecting against discard spells! If you play Brainstorm on your turn against a deck with discard spells, consider carefully what you might want to hide. Additionally, feel free to wait on playing Brainstorm altogether. While a general piece of advice is to feel comfortable playing it on your own turn despite it being an instant, discard spells are a great reason to wait! Playing it on your turn can allow you to make land drops or play around counterspells like Pyroblast and Daze, but in the context of the game, those points might be less important to play around than discard spells.

Cabal Therapy
Kolaghan's Command
Empty The Warrens

Ancillary to this idea of playing around discard, if you Brainstorm on your turn and find that you want to play around a discard spell, remember that you can play your Lion's Eye Diamonds and Lotus Petals if you are worried about those being taken. This allows you to put back cards like Infernal Tutor and Dark Ritual while still protecting your important artifacts. Be aware of cards like Engineered Explosives, Kolaghan's Command, and Abrade when doing this, but definitely consider doing it if you don't think your Storm count will matter. Additionally, make sure that you won't be put into an awkward spot with your fetchlands when hiding cards. For example, I've had situations where I hid a card with my Brainstorm, then used an untapped land to play Duress. My opponent played Daze on my Duress, and I was forced to sacrifice my fetchland if I wanted to pay for it, which meant losing the card I hid. A similar thing can happen with Wasteland and Rishadan Port on a fetchland, so be careful!

Lastly, using Brainstorm against Cabal Therapy doesn't have any clear guidelines, but be willing to make some bluffs. If your opponent knows most of your hand and then casts Cabal Therapy without the ability to flash it back, you have the option of protecting important cards with Brainstorm, or putting back cards you want to get rid of. The former is the safe play, as it means you won't lose your most important cards, but then they can just name your third best card with Cabal Therapy and take that, and your Brainstorm lost some value since you don't have the chance to get rid of cards you don't want.

Alternatively, if you believe your opponent will assume you hid your best cards and instead take aim at the third or fourth best card in your hand, hide those instead, or just get rid of bad cards. The upside to this line is that you can get the most value out of your Brainstorm and make their Cabal Therapy useless, but the downside is that they might catch on and still name the best card, in which case you lose a card you might have needed. Consider whether you can afford to or need to take this kind of risk, and how important the third and fourth best cards in your hand are. Sometimes hiding your two best cards instead enough to protect your hand anyway, and as a result you need to take a gamble and hope they name the wrong card. It's an incredibly interesting mind game, though don't overthink it if they can just flashback Cabal Therapy anyway, as that defeats your ability to hide information.

The last note I have about draw spells is in their ability to generate additional storm count. In some hands, you have exactly enough mana to combo off with Tendrils of Agony (assuming Ad Nauseam is off the table), except that you will be one or two storm short of actually dealing lethal. While Ponder and Brainstorm do cost one mana, they can often replace that mana in the form of a land, mana artifact, or ritual effect. This line is especially useful if you do not currently have a land to play for turn and are exactly one storm short, as that increases the number of good hits substantially. Don't take any unnecessary risks though. If you already have everything you need to win, don't use a draw spell assuming it will find a mana producing card. The only spot where this can be difficult to judge is with Empty the Warrens. It can be difficult to weigh whether or not the extra storm count is worth the risk of ending up exactly one mana short of being able to cast Empty the Warrens, and so it is your job to decide in the context of the game how badly you need the two or four extra Goblin tokens.

In conclusion, you will find that often times the draw spells are pretty straightforward, but knowing all of the tips and tricks can greatly expand their utility, which can result in you winning games that you might otherwise lose. Brainstorm in particular is a card that can be incredibly difficult to play with, so practice a lot, and whenever you finish up a match, consider whether you could have done anything different with your draw spells in any of the games. Over time, you will begin to consider a whole new set of options that you had not previously been looking for.

Until Next Time

That’s all I have for this article! If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or recommendations, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Thank you for taking time to read the fifth installment of Reading the Ropes, and I hope that you learned something interesting!

AJ Kerrigan

I'm an Options Trader by day, and a long-time Epic Storm enthusiast by night. When I'm not busy, I'm either watching Twitch, jamming out to Taylor Swift, or beating StarCityGames grinders on camera with Empty the Warrens.