Since the last segment, our deck list has switched to the current standard of running the green splash for Abrupt Decay and Xantid Swarm (v3.9). This deck list is much stronger in the current metagame as Miracles has grown to be one of the most popular decks, with Abrupt Decay being the only viable answer to Counterbalance.
This deck list has proven to be a big success for many pilots of The EPIC Storm, myself included. That being said, I am happy to be running it for this installment of the Infernal Tutoring series. Without further adieu, let's dive into this month's scenarios!
For this week, the latest version of The EPIC Storm (TES) was used from the website.
SITUATION #1 - Grixis Delver
Grixis Delver for a while now has been one of the best and most represented decks in Legacy, as well as being the most popular Delver variant. For the most part, I consider the deck to be one of our most even match-ups. This is a matchup where Empty the Warrens shines, as Grixis Delver usually doesn't have a solid way to win through an early horde of goblins, especially game one. That being said, this is a matchup where we want to go off before our opponent has time to sculpt the perfect hand to beat us. If we give our opponent time to pick our hand apart with Cabal Therapy along with Young Pyromancer while holding up counterspells, it can be very difficult to win.
Depending on the list, Grixis Delver also sometimes runs answers to Empty the Warrens in the sideboard, such as Engineered Explosives. That being said, it is still very important to pick how we want to win, especially after game one. Our early turns are always our best turns in this matchup.
We are in game one and kept a hand on the play with a very simple game plan: Duress our opponent turn one to take whatever disruption they might have as well as gain information, and combo off turn two. Our opponent kept a hand with Ponder, True-Name Nemesis, Tropical Island, two copies of Delver of Secrets, and two copies of Gitaxian Probe. We took their Ponder with our Duress, as it lets them dig for disruption, such as a Force of Will, and they have two copies of Gitaxian Probe anyways so making them discard one of them is pointless. On their turn, they cast both of their copies of Gitaxian Probe, played their Tropical Island, and passed the turn. The fact that they didn't play a Delver of Secrets is very suspicious, it is very likely that they have either a Spell Pierce or Brainstorm.
We drew an Underground Sea on our turn, from here we have many options. We can try to jam and combo into Ad Nauseam, try to make goblins instead to play around possible taxing counterspells our opponent may have, or we could either use our Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor to bait a counterspell from our opponent. We can also simply play a land and pass the turn, as we are currently under no pressure.
How would you play out this turn?
Like I said, our early turns are our best turns in this matchup. I think it's important to go off before our opponent develops an advantage over us. That being said, I think they definitely have a Spell Pierce, so I play my Badlands, both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, and Infernal Tutor with the intention of tutoring for Empty the Warrens to make eight goblins while playing around Spell Pierce, I think if our opponent was playing correctly, they would save the Spell Pierce for an Ad Nauseam here. They are also far away from casting True-Name Nemesis and paid four life to cast their copies of Gitaxian Probe, so I think eight goblins here is definitely enough to win.
Open mana is definitely suspicious. They are representing Brainstorm (4 copies) which can dig for Force of Will, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, or a badass bluff. I think we are far enough ahead, that we can assume that they have something. Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam, if successful, is likely our highest win percentage play, however it loses to Spell Pierce and I do not think it is significantly enough better than 8 goblins to warrant the line. Our other options are to Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish into Empty the Warrens. This plays around 6 of their likely 8 potential holdings (although it is still weak if they manage to dig into Force of Will). Alternatively we can Burning Wish, hoping it gets countered and pull Empty the Warrens out of our sideboard if it resolves. This allows us likely two chances to combo off, first with a natural Empty the Warrens (if we draw or dig for a ritual), and second with Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam. I prefer this last line, as it beats the most potential counter spells, while preserving the most resources.
I would play out both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond and our Badlands and go for the Empty the Warrens with the Infernal Tutor. My gut instinct is that he has a Spell Pierce and not a Brainstorm. I don't think Brainstorm is a good enough reason to not play out a Delver of Secrets since they need to present a clock and there's no guarantee we would have a turn 2 combo. Going for Empty the Warrens plays around Spell Pierce if they decide to wait and use it on the presumed Ad Nauseam. There's also a chance they just Spell Pierce the Infernal Tutor, but I think I'm willing to take that risk because the longer the game goes the more they are favored. We also don't have a ton of action in the form of cantrips of discard to make the following turn much better.
If we had a discard spell in our sideboard, I'd be willing to entertain other lines that involve Burning Wish, but spending time trying to find a discard spell definitely benefits our opponent as they can slowly invalidate Ad Nauseam and sculpt their hand. I'd play both Lion's Eye Diamonds and use Infernal Tutor to get Empty the Warrens and make 8 Goblins, which should be enough with our opponent at 16. I want to use Infernal Tutor because it's more likely to bait a premature Spell Pierce out of our opponent if they forgot that they could just Spell Pierce the Ad Nauseam itself, whereas I think Burning Wish is obviously getting Empty the Warrens everytime. It's super marginal and rarely makes a difference, but we should also keep in mind the value of having Burning Wish in our graveyard in case we somehow muster together a Past in Flames later in the game after getting our Goblin tokens answered.
This is a gambling situation of Ad Nauseam versus Empty the Warrens, as we talk about 0-2 Spell Pierces in average in this archetype. Both your possible winning play-lines at this point are cold to Force of Will, but given that fact that your opponent is only at 16 life, going for Goblins is very reasonable here, as his 3 creatures alone can't neuter the assault.
While they could have Spell Pierce if they're playing the copy/paste Bob Haung list, they could also have Stifle, which is something important to consider. Meaning, we could go all in and get a measly two Goblins from it. What bothers me about this line is even if it works, we could still lose. A Deathrite Shaman and a Delver of Secrets on the second turn is enough to combat this line. I think it would likely be better to play Badlands and cast Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens. This way you're not going all-in and you still have that option in a turn or two. If the top of your deck is mana, great! If the top of your deck is disruption, great! Same could be said for cantrips. I think it provides game without too much risk. I like this line because if they do have the two-of Spell Pierce, they're likely using it on Burning Wish. If not, they have to beat our Natural Storm into Goblins FOLLOWED BY an Ad Nauseam. #getem
SITUATION #2 - ANT
The Storm mirror is an incredibly volatile matchup! One player either goes off and wins immediately, or both players pick apart each others' hands with discard spells and it becomes a top-deck war of sorts of who can draw into their combo first. This is how most games in the Storm mirror play out, regardless of which variant either side is piloting. It is very important to play out your artifact spells (especially Lotus Petal and Lion's Eye Diamond) even if you aren't going off that turn to avoid having them discarded by a Duress or Cabal Therapy. That way, if you draw into the Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish you need, you can still win through the onslaught of discard spells your opponent may have.
Website Recommendation for Sideboarding:
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Tendrils of Agony
Our opponent is CyrusCG (Shoutouts!), we are in game three on the play and already mulliganed to six cards, we are faced with yet another mulligan decision. Our hand consists of Burning Wish, Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Duress, and two copies of Lion's Eye Diamond. Ultimately, our plan would be to scry either a land or a Lotus Petal to the top of our deck, pass the turn, hope Cyrus doesn't have a discard spell or kill us turn one, and then combo into Telemin Performance on our next turn. This is also hoping that he didn't bring in a Xantid Swarm from his sideboard. That being said, I don't believe Cyrus has ran Xantid Swarm in his recent ANT lists.
Keeping this hand is ambitious, however, it likely isn't getting much better. That being said, it is possible that we could mulligan to five cards and have a hand that could combo into an Ad Nauseam turn one, or a hand with cantrips and/or discard spells such as Duress. It is possible that he would keep a slower hand that would only play a cantrip on turn one, knowing that we mulliganed. It is also possible that our Burning Wish gets discarded and we are left in a situation that is less than ideal.
Would you keep this hand?
It was close, but I decided to keep the hand. While there are only seventeen cards we could scry to the top of our deck that would allow us to combo into a Telemin Performance turn two assuming we are uninterrupted, I think this presents better odds to win this game than mulliganing to five cards.
This is a rough spot. We sit down across the table from (former TES writer) Cyrus prepared for our bye and some sweet treasure chests, only to have the gods of variance trample our well laid plans. Not only did Cyrus luck into a win in one of the first two games, but now with our back up against the wall we’re forced to toss our first seven back and face the prospect of losing to the handsomest devil west of the Rockies. If our opponent had mulliganed, I would likely keep this 6, however on seven it is very unlikely he doesn’t either have a fast combo or discard. Either way, we’re in trouble. I think our best chance is to go to 5 and hope for either a fast combo, or that he is on a discard heavy but slow plan, and we can out draw him. Well played Cyrus, how’d you manage to hack the MTGO shuffler?
I would mulligan this hand. I think keeping this hand is banking on a lot to go right, granted so is mulliganing to 5, but this hand is all in. We either win or completely lose on the spot and I don't think that risk is necessary. Given that the opponent kept 7 (and will be up to 8 cards) I think it is highly unlikely he doesn't have a discard spell knowing that we are playing the faster combo deck. Even if he didn't have a discard spell he could easily cantrip into 1 and then play it off a Lotus Petal. There's a very good chance of this because if we kept a no lander and passed the turn the opponent knows we are 1 card away from killing him. There's also the risk he brought in Xantid Swarm because they know about Telemin Performance. I don't know if we won game 1 with Telemin Performance or not, but if we did that percentage goes up.
I'd keep this hand and play both Lion's Eye Diamonds before passing. This allows us to potentially beat a Cabal Therapy since, once the Lion's Eye Diamonds are in play, they will usually name Dark Ritual or Infernal Tutor. Duress is still a beating, but not many 5-card hands are beating a Duress either, and this hand gives us the highest chance of comboing off in the first few turns of the game. I'm not necessarily expecting to win this one, but I think I like my chances more than mulliganing. With 17 outs, we are about 53% to draw the mana source on our second turn after a scry.
This hand is a mulligan for me. You would need to top-deck 2 initial mana sources to get this awkward combination of accelerators and business spells going. If your Rituals and Tutors/Wishes would be of one color, I would keep, but it isn't the case here.
Honestly, the first thing I would do is google for his latest deck list. Which isn't relevant to paper magic, but it's crucial for this decision. His last published list doesn't have a single copy of Xantid Swarm. You have 14 cards off the top of your library that you win the game (4 copies of Lotus Petal as well as 10 lands) out of 54 cards (about 27% with two looks because of your scry). While the odds don't feel good, because you also need Cyrus to not have a Duress or Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy, a five card hand isn't likely to have more potential while not losing to a discard spell. Which makes this a keep for me.
SITUATION #3 - Death and Taxes (Red Splash)
Death and Taxes is a fantastic matchup. Up until your opponent's turn two, you can usually play your game uninterrupted, which is a significant advantage. Even if you don't win the game by then, you can usually find your Cabal Therapy in time to deal with the hate that your opponent may have, such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
This is also another matchup where Empty the Warrens shines, as the only way Death and Taxes can usually beat it is when they can put a Batterskull into play early with a Stoneforge Mystic, and that's only if you didn't make enough goblins to power through it (usually only happens on when you are on the draw). This specific Death and Taxes list also splashes red for mainboard Magus of the Moon, which doesn't hurt us that bad as they can't put it into play as fast as a deck like Mono Red Sneak Attack.
In this situation, it is game one and we are in the middle of resolving a Ponder. Our opponent has a Mother of Runes and a Stoneforge Mystic in play, which they used to fetch a Batterskull. Thanks to our Gitaxian Probe on turn one, we also know that our opponent has a Flickerwisp and a Magus of the Moon in hand. The last card is their hand is still unknown. This Ponder presents two possible play options this turn. We can leave Gitaxian Probe on top, use it to draw our Lion's Eye Diamond, and then proceed to make eighteen goblin tokens with Empty the Warrens by using Chrome Mox to imprint a Burning Wish, then use the fast mana in our hand to cast Burning Wish, crack Lion's Eye Diamond for three black mana, put Dark Petition into our hand, and use it to find Empty the Warrens. The only problem here is that our opponent will most certainly drop a Batterskull next turn, so they can very well stabilize.
Alternatively, we can draw any of these three cards with the Ponder and pass the turn. We have enough mana the next turn here to have a guaranteed kill with Tendrils of Agony through a Past in Flames loop, as we have two copies of Burning Wish in our hand. This is a guaranteed win unless our opponent draws a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It is also worth noting that we have enough mana to win with this line even if our opponent draws a Phyrexian Revoker and uses it to shut off Lion's Eye Diamond.
Which line would you take?
At first sight, eighteen goblins seem like enough to power through Batterskull, until you take into account that they will be attacking with it too. It just isn't enough to win, especially when they still have creatures in their hand. I simply drew Gitaxian Probe with my Ponder and passed the turn. Looking back at it, I should have cast Gitaxian Probe that turn to see the mystery card in their hand as it could have been relevant, such as if they had a Vryn Wingmare.
After a little math, this seems trivial. On this board state, our opponent can beat 18 goblins (they go to 1). We need to risk them drawing a Thalia and go for the guaranteed win. It’s also worth noting that if they draw and play Thalia, we then have another chance to draw discard for the Batterskull (and potentially win through Thalia).
I keep the Ponder stack the same as it is and drawing the Gitaxian Probe and cast it before making any of decisions. That unknown card could make a difference in my decision. The only card I could think of that they couldn't have cast would be Sanctum Prelate. If that was their last remaining card I probably would go for the Empty the Warrens and hope to get them low enough and hope to be able to Grapeshot in the future turns. Empty the Warrens is not good enough vs this many creatures and a Batterskull, both attacking and blocking. If their last card isn't another lock creature then I would just pass the turn back and aim to cast Tendrils of Agony on the following turn. The next turn we would be able to cast all of our rituals then Burning Wish for Past in Flames, cracking Lion's Eye Diamond, flashing them all back with the cantrips and then the second Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony.
If they had draw Thalia, I think that they would've played it on turn two pretty much every time. This means that if we pass, they had two chances to find a Vryn Wingmare when they usually play very few to no copies, and only one chance to find Thalia. We know that Goblins won't be enough if we do the math, so we can't go for that. With this in mind, I would draw Gitaxian Probe, leaving Lion's Eye Diamond directly under it (if we do end up needing to fetch before Probe for whatever reason, we'd rather shuffle away Rite of Flame). I would not cast Gitaxian Probe though. Even if we see a Vryn Wingmare, our play remains unchanged because we still can't go for Empty the Warrens this turn, so there isn't a compelling reason to Gitaxian Probe yet.
This one took me a minute and I still can't see a solution to secure a win this turn knowing that your opponent has Batterskull and 3 blockers before you can even attack. I think it's inevitable to draw the Probe and just hope they land no hatebear.
I mean, this is an easy one right? 18 Goblins doesn't beat Batterskull plus friends. Even if our opponent has a hatebear in their hand (Sanctum Prelate, etc.), that number isn't great enough. I think the line is to play Chrome Mox (Imprint: Burning Wish) and cast the other Burning Wish for Dark Petition. This will save mana on the combo turn. I would also put Gitaxian Probe on the bottom for the Ponder as it's not relevant to this game and I don't want to have to pay life to draw a card I know that I want before I cast Ad Nauseam.
One of the most challenging parts of playing The EPIC Storm is that every decision impacts the game tremendously. Even if one play seems appetizing, you have to pay extra attention to how and what your opponent has played before getting overzealous in your play, as the smallest mistake can spell your defeat.
Playing TES is like cracking a puzzle that always has new pieces, and when you manage to crack the puzzle and come out on top, there's surely no better feeling in the world of the competitive Legacy format.
See you Storm Cowboys!