Hello everyone and welcome back to Reading the Ropes!
In the last article, we covered the pros and cons of various win conditions in the deck. Hopefully, you took away from that article that a lot of our wins will come from Empty the Warrens or Ad Nauseam. The next step is to figure out how we actually win the game with those cards, especially if we do not have them in our hand! This week, I’ll be covering the basics of finding and executing a winning line. This is by no means comprehensive, but it should give a basic introduction into how the deck functions.
The first section of our deck that we need to be aware of is the mana production. The primary cards are Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, and Chrome Mox. I’m intentionally leaving out Lion's Eye Diamond for now. It does produce mana, but it is better understood later in the article. Your mana producers are one of the most important parts of your combo turns. Given that you want to win in the first few turns, your lands alone will not allow you to cast enough spells. Instead, the mana producers allow you to generate more Storm for Empty the Warrens and Tendrils of Agony while also giving you the mana to cast even more spells. Chrome Mox is the worst of the bunch, as spending two cards for only one additional mana is often not the best. That said, sometimes you need to get cards out of your hand quickly as we’ll learn later, and Chrome Mox can help with that.
Additionally, you will often times find yourself casting Ad Nauseam without any additional mana, and so you won’t be able to cast Dark Ritual or Rite of Flame should you reveal those to Ad Nauseam. Lotus Petal and Chrome Mox allow you to reliably have access to mana after an Ad Nauseam when you start with none.
The second important section of our deck for combo-ing are the tutors, Burning Wish and Infernal Tutor. These cards allow you to find a whole host of other cards, notably your win conditions. Burning Wish has a nice suite of cards it can find. In addition to the toolbox cards you play in your sideboard, Burning Wish can find Empty the Warrens, Past in Flames, Telemin Performance, Tendrils of Agony, or Grapeshot, should you be attempting to win the game with any of those.
Most commonly, you’ll find Empty the Warrens to make a bunch of Goblin tokens if you don’t draw the one in your maindeck, or you’ll find Tendrils of Agony after an Ad Nauseam to actually win the game. Past in Flames is a solid card that can allow you to win the game, but Burning Wish exiles itself. This means that if you want to use Past in Flames, you need another tutor in your hand or graveyard to win most of the time. Understanding lines with Past in Flames can be quite complicated and as a result, that is a topic for another article. Don’t worry too much though, as it doesn’t come up too often.
Something appealing about The Epic Storm is that people will often board in cards like Rest in Peace to stop Past in Flames, as the other storm decks in the format use Past in Flames quite heavily. Since we barely touch it, the graveyard hate card that they boarded in is often just a dead card.
The other important card in the sideboard is Dark Petition (though sometimes this slot is an Infernal Tutor instead). One problem with Burning Wish is that it can’t find instants, so Ad Nauseam is out of the question. With Dark Petition though, if you have enough mana you can use Burning Wish to effectively find any card in your deck, including Ad Nauseam.
Infernal Tutor is a very interesting card in the deck, as it effectively has two modes. The first lets you find another copy of a card in your hand but, if you don’t have any other cards in your hand, you can find anything. While this article will focus on the second mode as that is the one we often use when actually combo-ing off, understanding that the first part of the card exists is quite important. You will sometimes have one Dark Ritual in your hand and a bunch of excess tutors, and all you need is more mana. When that is the case, you can use one of your extra Infernal Tutors to find a second copy of Dark Ritual in preparation for winning on the following turn.
Focusing on winning the game, if we want to find one of our win conditions such as Ad Nauseam, Empty the Warrens, or Burning Wish (allowing us to find Tendrils of Agony) using Infernal Tutor, we will need to make sure that we get all of the other cards out of our hand. Sometimes this is straightforward, as all of our other cards are ritual effects or cheap enough. Additionally, this is where the downside of Chrome Mox can actually be an upside, as it can effectively save us mana by getting a card out of our hand that is hard to cast. If we can’t get all of the cards out of our hand though, we can take advantage of Lion's Eye Diamond to not only generate three mana, but also get the cards out of our hand that we don’t have mana for like Duress or Brainstorm. While Lion's Eye Diamond does require you to discard your hand, you can activate its ability in response to a spell in order to get three mana. This means that you can cast Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor and then respond by sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond to get three mana towards what you find with that tutor. Additionally, you’ll now have no cards in hand, so your Infernal Tutor can go search for whatever you want.
From there, you’ll need to make sure you have enough mana to get the cast the card you plan to search for. For Empty the Warrens this means having four extra mana and for Ad Nauseam this means having five. This means that in total, you’ll need six mana to cast Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish and find Empty the Warrens, seven mana to cast Infernal Tutor and find Ad Nauseam, and nine mana to cast Burning Wish, find Dark Petition, and find Ad Nauseam. You’ll also need at least two of that mana to be from something other than Lion's Eye Diamond, since Lion's Eye Diamond can only be used after you’ve cast the tutor, not before.
An important piece of mechanical knowledge is that whenever you cast a tutor, you first get the chance to do something in response, and then your opponent gets the chance to respond. In tournaments, it is assumed that you are by default passing up your chance to do something and giving it to your opponent unless you explicitly say so. This means that if you want to use Lion's Eye Diamond, you must explicitly say that you are holding priority to crack Lion's Eye Diamond immediately after you cast your tutor. You can’t wait to see if your opponent counters your tutor before sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond, so if they have one, you’ll be stuck without a hand.
Lastly, another way you can beat your opponent is by just casting a tutor, searching for another tutor, and repeating this process until you only have six mana left, at which point you use your last tutor (which should be Burning Wish) to find Tendrils of Agony from your sideboard and cast it. If you have a lot of mana or your opponent is at a low life total, this can be a way of guaranteeing a kill. Just remember that every two mana you have after four let’s you find another tutor and generate one additional storm, and your last tutor has to be Burning Wish assuming Tendrils of Agony is in your sideboard.
Before we wrap up this article, I want to cover some example hands so you can see how one would execute each combo!
Volcanic Island and Underground Sea are in play. Your hand is Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Chrome Mox, Duress, and Burning Wish. Assuming you don’t have to worry about any cards from your opponent, you can make ten Goblin tokens this turn with Empty the Warrens. You use your two lands to cast Dark Ritual and Rite of Flame, which gives you three black and two red. Then you use Chrome Mox, imprint Duress, and tap it for a black which puts you to six total mana. Burning Wish leaves you with a red and three black, which then lets you find Empty the Warrens and cast it. You get ten tokens because you have played Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Chrome Mox, Burning Wish, and Empty the Warrens.
Underground Sea is in play. Your hand is Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond, Ponder, and Infernal Tutor. If you count up your mana, Underground Sea and Lotus Petal both give you one, Dark Ritual turns one into three which is a net of two, and Lion's Eye Diamond generates three. In total, you have seven mana, which is enough to Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam. You’ll need to get this Ponder out of your hand for Infernal Tutor to work, but Lion's Eye Diamond does that for you.
Use your Underground Sea to cast Dark Ritual and then play and sacrifice your Lotus Petal, putting you at a total of four black mana. Play Lion's Eye Diamond, and then use two of your black to play Infernal Tutor. As soon as you play the Infernal Tutor, remember to say that you would like to sacrifice the Lion's Eye Diamond before you give your opponent a chance to respond. The Lion's Eye Diamond puts you back up to five mana, which is exactly enough to cast Ad Nauseam after you find it with the Infernal Tutor that is currently on the stack.
With Ad Nauseam, you are basically looking for a Burning Wish plus a way to make six mana so that you can Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony, or Infernal Tutor plus eight mana, so that you can Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish, and use the Burning Wish to get Tendrils of Agony. Remember that if you are relying on Infernal Tutor though, you’ll need a Lion's Eye Diamond to get all of the other cards you drew out of your hand.
Your opponent is at 18. You have an Underground Sea, a Volcanic Island, and a Swamp in play. Your hand contains Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Infernal Tutor, and two Lion's Eye Diamonds. Our lands, the Dark Ritual, the Rite of Flame, and the two Lion's Eye Diamonds in total generate 12 mana and give us four storm.
The Infernal Tutor gives us a 5th storm and brings us down to ten mana, but remember to wait until you actually cast the Infernal Tutor to sacrifice the Lion's Eye Diamonds for mana. If we then find another Infernal Tutor, that gives us a 6th storm and brings us down to eight mana. We can then find Infernal Tutor again, which brings us to a 7th storm and six mana. We then find and cast Burning Wish, which brings us down to four mana but up to an 8th storm. We find Tendrils of Agony and cast it, causing our opponent to lose 18 life because of the eight storm and the Tendrils of Agony itself!
Until Next Time
That’s all I have for this article! Work picked up a bit for me recently, so it took me a little longer to get this article out than I would’ve liked, but I plan to pick up the pace of the series starting in April once I go back to school. As always, please provide feedback and let me know what you would like to see covered in an upcoming article. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Thank you for taking time to read the third installment of Reading the Ropes, and I hope that you learned something interesting!