Welcome back to the Infernal Tutoring series!
Hey Stormtroopers, my name is Cyrus and I am new to theepicstorm.com. I go by cyruscg on any magic related website that I frequent, and I am a San Francisco Bay Area magic player and Magic the Gathering Online grinder. I have been playing The EPIC Storm for the past 4 months, so I am very new to the deck. I am very excited to take over The Infernal Tutoring series for the foreseeable future!
In this article I have reconstructed three scenarios on Cockatrice from games I have played either in paper or on Magic the Gathering Online where I found myself in a tough spot and unsure on what decision to make. All three of these situations are against established decks you can expect to face in a tournament, and all three situations had something in common and asked the question: Do I jam?
Situations like this happen frequently with Storm, but unlike other combo decks we oftentimes just lose if we go for it and they have an answer. However, when we don't go for it, sometimes our opponent is able to cantrip into more interaction, drop a lock piece, or just kill us. Every tournament, you will likely be faced with a situation similar to these, and knowing when to go for it or not will usually decide the match result.
For this week, the latest version of The EPIC Storm (TES) was used from the website.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
SITUATION #1 - UR Delver
This deck has skyrocketed in popularity ever since its 2nd place place finish at Grand Prix Las Vegas, and is generally a pretty good matchup for TES. However, many of the recent lists have been playing either Eidolon of the Great Revel or Pyrostatic Pillar and this can make the matchup a bit harder to navigate. They now combine a fast clock with disruption in the form of countermagic and permanent based hate. Because they can burn you out from a seemingly high life total, or drop a lock piece, it is oftentimes hard to decide how long you have to live.
Website recommendation for sideboarding:
I treat it closer to the Burn matchup, but I enjoy having some number of Gitaxian Probes because I think the early game information on how to play around Daze, Flusterstorm, or Spell Pierce is invaluable.
This turn we cast Ponder into a Duress, which was then hit by Spell Pierce by our opponent. We are at 8 life, facing down that same obnoxious Monastery Swiftspear. Our opponent has three cards left in hand. We have seen 1 Daze and 0 Force of Will. We are dead to any piece of interaction, but could also be dead to double Lightning Bolt. Our opponent has cast 0 so far this game. We are basically guaranteed a win next turn if we untap because of a second Duress on top of our deck, but we risk the chance of dying if we pass the turn.
Do you go for it?
Summary: We missed a likely winning line, as things stand now we should probably go for it, but it is close.
So far this turn we cast ponder, we then cast duress which our opponent spell pierced. I think that the best line here is to cast dark ritual in order to pay for the spell pierce. If the ritual resolves, then we can resolve the duress then, we have plenty of mana to go off this turn with Past in Flames. If the Dark Ritual is countered, then we are still well positioned to combo out next turn. Given the current game state my initial reaction looking at the board is that we wait a turn, but luckily we have more context and the advantage of hindsight:
Our opponent has been aggressively countering our discard spells which is unusual. It probably means they either have an absolute glut of counter magic, or that they have a win on board and are keeping us off seeing their hand so that we don’t just go for it or disrupt it. If we assume they have a grip of random cards, there are really ~6 cards in the deck that we care about: 4 Force of Will and 2 Flusterstorm. Daze, Spell Pierce, Stifle we can either beat or delay us one turn. With 6 pieces of interaction and 3 random cards in hand, we are 70% likely to be in the clear (this is giving them full credit for Force of Will even though they may not have another blue card). Our opponents’ cantripping decreases this probability, while their use of counters already increases it.
The math on whether our opponent has the kill in hand is a little more complicated. I believe most UR lists run 2 Fireblast, this means we have a 14% probability of being dead next turn just from Fireblast. If our opponent is running 2 Prostatic Pillar, then that is another 14% chance that we die. We can add another 17% to the probability of dying if we assume that any two of the following kill us: 4 Lightning Bolt, 3 Monastery Swiftspear, 3 Stormchaser Mage, 1 Price of Progress. Clearly Stormchaser Mage plus Monastery Swiftspear won’t kill us, bet we are also ignoring potential cantrip chains. All together we are looking at a 30% to 45% probability that we lose before our next turn, if our opponent has a random hand. I think the aggressive spell pierce also increases the chance of an imminent kill.
After running the analysis I think the correct play is to go for it in the dark. It feels bad when our combo is countered, but going for it looks like the highest EV option. I definitely learned something in this analysis; UR delver is a more explosive deck than my intuition told me and I need to keep my eye out for situations like this in game.
UR Delver is one of my favorite match-ups to face as the deck barely has access to active disruption and is almost limited to reacting to your own spells, so I fared best by sitting on my disruption as long as possible. It was critical to trade discard vs counters early as that only resulted into your opponent digging for more counters instead of creatures/burn, which means that you didn't REALLY get rid of the problem and ended up in a gambling situation without knowledge of their hand.
I think the game-losing mistake was to not respond to their Spell Pierce with one of the redundant Dark Rituals and just pay for the Pierce to finally see your opponent's hand. Afterwards you can use the already piled up storm count to chain Infernal Tutor into Burning Wish to grab Tendrils of Agony for the kill.
SITUATION #2 - Eldrazi Stompy
Although this deck has been on the downswing, it still remains one of our worst matchups. They combine lock pieces like Chalice of the Void and Thorn of Amethyst with a fast clock and hand disruption in the form of Thought-Knot Seer. They even counterspells in the form of Warping Wail.
We keep a turn 2 hand Game 1 in the blind. We start off with a Bloodstained Mire and pass the turn. Our opponent promptly drops a Chalice of the Void on 1 off of an Ancient Tomb. Oh great, all of the rituals and cantrips in our deck are now invalidated.
We draw Lion's Eye Diamond for the turn and are now faced with several choices.
Which option do you take?
10 goblins should be enough to win this game. Our opponent will likely need to use ancient tomb again to build out their board, meaning that they are at a virtual 16 life and we have a two turn clock through blockers. Using Burning Wish for Meltdown uses way too many resources which I don’t believe we can rebuild from. Ad Nauseam with one mana floating also seems sub optimal. We are hoping to hit Lion’s Eye Diamond (which we have two left) and two Lotus Petal or Chrome Mox, even then we still might just be making goblins.
My one concern here is that we don’t actually know that our opponent is on Eldrazi Stompy at this point in game one. There are any number of stompy decks, or they could be on a weird lands package. In any case I still like the tutor chain into goblins line, it should beat most stompy decks, and even if the opponent is on a bizarre lands plan, they can’t crop rotation into The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.
I would make Goblins. The Meltdown line loses to Thought-Knot Seer, Warping Wail and even multiple copies of Wasteland, you actually risk a lot more by attempting to "play-it-safe". It's similar to the thought logic of playing around Thoughtseize, Spell Pierce, Daze or even Chalice of the Void on the first turn, but not playing around Force of Will – you increase your chances of losing by attempting to play it slow.
This scenario also has the benefit of the opponent putting themselves to 18 life and will realistically use the Ancient Tomb again, essentially locking themselves out of the game. If you think about how this game will realistically play out, even if the opponent plays two blockers on their next turn (going to 16 life), they'll still take eight damage going to 8 life and then 2-3 life on the following turn. They can't play enough blockers in time to stabilize.
There's also the added benefit that Eldrazi doesn't play anything like Ratchet Bomb in the main deck.
SITUATION #3 - Miracles
We all thought this deck was dead when Sensei's Divining Top was banned, but the deck has retained a dedicated player base. Miracles has been putting up results online, and also did fairly well at Grand Prix Las Vegas.
This has become a much easier matchup for us recently. Because the deck is not as popular or as powerful, our sideboard and manabase have both been opened up. On the other hand, we also have less answers for cards like Ethersworn Canonist post board. This can make the matchup difficult, especially when deciding to go for it or not.
Game 1 of this matchup is by far the easiest, as they have many dead cards such as Swords to Plowshares and Unexpectedly Absent. They oftentimes just durdle around with their cantrips without threatening a clock. We win the first game of this match and go into game 2.
This is a tricky situation. Our hand has no cantrips and only one discard spell, so we are not well set up to deal with a resolved Ethersworn Canonist. Our opponent's lack of a turn 1 play is suspect, since their deck plays 4 Ponder and 4 Portent.
We lose to Flusterstorm or Force of Will here, and cannot afford to cast Duress and go off in the same turn. We do not have enough black mana for both. However, our opponent may just be representing a Brainstorm to hide an Ethersworn Canonist in response to a discard spell.
What do you do here?
Knowing when to "Jam" is one of the hardest parts about playing Storm. Because TES is an Aggro deck, we oftentimes need to play to percentage points and take risks where other combo decks might not. However, we are also punished extremely hard because of the nature of the deck. Rebuilding from hellbent is often nearly impossible.
Having only played the deck for a few months, I still find myself second guessing my choices. Was it correct to go for it blind? Did I take a line that maybe wasn't optimal? With the Infernal Tutoring series, I hope to learn from more experienced Storm pilots and progress as a player. Hopefully, you will progress along with me!
Until next time, keep storming on!