Hey Stormtroopers, I'm back with another episode of Infernal Tutoring.
It has been almost 6 months since Sensei's Divining Top was banned and it appears the meta is starting to settle. Many people assumed Grixis Delver would become the top deck, but it appears from the last few months of data that 4c Control is actually the best performing, or at least most represented deck, followed by Grixis Delver and Storm. The rest of the spots in the top-5 seem to be rotating between Lands, Stoneblade, Elves, and Death and Taxes, and Miracles as the meta shifts to combat the top three decks.
4c Control is currently the most represented deck in the format. The matchup can be tricky for The EPIC Storm because Hymn to Tourach is very strong against us. They are also able to drop a Leovold, Emissary of Trest as early as turn two! When they do this we aren't able to grind as well because our cantrips are turned off and casting a discard spell allows them to draw a card. They back this up with a plethora of counter magic, other discard spells, and graveyard hate. The best way to combat all of this is oftentimes just to go under them and be as fast as possible. Playing extra discard spells helps too because it allows us to proactively take cards like Hymn to Tourach while still leaving us discard spells for their countermagic. Empty the Warrens is oftentimes very strong against 4c Control because it does not trigger Leovold, Emissary of Trest which can allow them to draw into a Flusterstorm, and they usually do not play enough creatures to beat 8-12 Goblins on the first 2 turns of the game before their Hymn to Tourachs become live. Another option is Rending Volley for Leovold, Emissary of Trest but I do not like this because it leaves us weak to Hymn to Tourach still and they still draw a card.
Here we are in a tricky spot. We had to fight through some countermagic from our opponent and weren’t really able to get any mana together while our hand was clogged down with business spells. Thankfully last turn we were able to Ponder into enough mana to try and win on this turn. However, we are at 8 life and know 2 of the 3 cards in our opponent's hand. They have a Lightning Bolt, an Island, and an unknown card. We are at a virtual 5 life and they have us on dead on board.
How can we put ourselves in the best position to win this game?
I imprint Ad Nauseam on Chrome Mox, cast Rite of Flame, cast Lion's Eye Diamond and cast Empty the Warrens for 8 Goblins. Then next turn we go down to three life and chump Tasigur, the Golden Fang. When we untap we can flashback Cabal Therapy (if i does not get eaten by Deathrite Shaman), then Burning Wish for Grapeshot and kill both Deathrite Shaman and Baleful Strix. We may be able to possibly race the Tasigur, the Golden Fang if we draw another Empty the Warrens and a source of mana. I think this puts us in the best position to win the game. Tasigur, the Golden Fang activating every turn puts us in a tough spot, and we will need to get lucky in order to pull out a win here.
This is frustrating. We are so close to being able to both Empty the Warrens and Burning Wish for Grapeshot to tidy up our opponent’s board. Making goblins this turn leaves us dead on board, even if our plan is to Grapeshot next turn. Despite the low odds of success I would attempt to Ad Nauseam off: imprint the Empty the Warrens on the Chrome Mox, cast Rite of Flame, and cast Ad Nauseam. I think this is a scenario where it is correct not to crack the Lion's Eye Diamond in response to casting the Ad Nauseam. We need to draw into a free mana source to use the Burning Wish, however casting and cracking the Lion's Eye Diamond however would necessitate both additional Rituals and a Tutor (from a very low life).
This is a really difficult scenario and really pronounces some of the weaknesses of TES. We are far enough into this game where our Empty the Warrens might not be good enough and at too low of a life total for Ad Nauseam (our 2 best ways we kill the opponent). I would play Chrome Mox and imprint Ad Nauseam, cast Rite of Flame, Lion's Eye Diamond, and then Empty the Warrens for 8 tokens. The opponent can respond by exiling the Cabal Therapy with Deathrite Shaman. If they don't then I would flash it back (going to 7 goblins). This would force them to cast Lightning Bolt and then not being able to do 2 damage to us with the Deathrite Shaman because it would have to be used for red mana. This would leave me with just Burning Wish in hand. I don't think 8 tokens is enough to win the game and I am going to have to rely on Burning Wish for some help. The situation moving forward would depend on if the opponent removed the Cabal Therapy or not, but my plan on the following turn would be to try and Burning Wish for a Grapeshot to remove the Deathrite Shaman and Baleful Strix.
If we give our opponent another turn, we lose the game to two Deathrite Shaman activations, the Lightning Bolt, and the Baleful Strix, so barring weird lines where we Grapeshot their team, we need to win this turn or at least gain a bunch of life. We could Tendrils of Agony for 12, but then we'll still be dead in three turns, so we need to do something else. As mediocre as it seems, our best bet is to Ad Nauseam and hope we hit a bunch of mana sources in the next four life so that we can put together a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Put the Empty the Warrens under the Chrome Mox and save the Lion's Eye Diamond. The mana from Lion's Eye Diamond would be nice, but we can't afford the life trying to find another Burning Wish. Best case scenario is to hit an initial mana source that produces red and a Rite of Flame.
This is a situation gave me headaches and would have caused me to kill the clock, because there appears to be no definitive solution, but only options to minimize the damage your opponent can cause once they untap. In my opinion, there is no alternative to imprint Ad Nauseam into the Chrome Mox, dropping the Lion's Eye Diamond and creating 6 Goblins to block Tasigur, the Golden Fang, while hoping to draw more gas or wiping Deathrite Shaman and Baleful Strix with Burning Wish into Grapeshot, to further reduce the opponents clock. However, we would still eat the Lightning Bolt end of turn, no matter what we do, thanks to Death Shaman's mana ability and would have to deal with at least 3 more damage during the opponents turn, which means that we are dead if another Lightning Bolt is drawn.
This might sound nuts, but I think going for the goblins plan is almost an auto-loss and because of this I would jam Ad Nauseam. You would need to be pretty lucky, but there's still a chance. I would play Chrome Mox (Imprint: Empty the Warrens) and then cast Rite of Flame. Lion's Eye Diamond and then Ad Nauseam. The real decision is whether or not to break Lion's Eye Diamond, I don't think I would. What is disappointing is that you've searched for both of your red duals, meaning your land drop this turn can't provide red for Burning Wish. You still have a land drop to make, your ideal flips would be Lotus Petal and Rite of Flame.
I understand we're at a virtual five life, but some chance is better than none in my eyes.
SITUATION #2 - Death and Taxes
In the last few months, the price of Rishadan Port has tanked on Magic the Gathering: Online. Where it was once the most expensive card on the client, it has now become relatively affordable. This, combined with the prevalence of Grixis Delver has caused an uptick in the popularity of Death and Taxes. You can also almost always expect to face this deck in a paper tournament as it is one of the most popular paper decks as well.
Thankfully, Death and Taxes is a great matchup for The EPIC Storm.
When we still ran Abrupt Decay, we would change our board plans against hatebear decks depending if we were on the play or on the draw. With the increased threat density and lower mana requirements of 3 Empty the Warrens post-board, I have decided to try this again. Here we are on the draw so I sideboard accordingly:
If we had been on the play I would have left in all 4 Ponders, and not played any two-mana removal.
We are playing Game 2 against Death and Taxes, we won Game 1 and are on the draw. We keep a mediocre hand that has the potential to rip our opponent's hand apart while making goblins on turn 1, and also does not lose to a Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull. We lead off on a Gitaxian Probe which sees, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Stoneforge Mystic, Flickerwisp, Palace Jailer, and Wasteland. Our opponent scried to top so we can assume they have a white source on top.
How should we play this turn?
This is an interesting spot. Despite not having a white source, our opponent is very likely to play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben next turn because they scryed their card to top. If we cast the other Gitaxian Probe in order to dig deeper, we will not be able to use the Gitaxian Probe in conjunction with any Lion's Eye Diamond that we find to cast the Empty the Warrens. Because our opponent has a Rishadan Port and a Wasteland we are going to have our mana pressured soon, and the Bloodstained Mire does not fetch basic Island. I think we can afford to wait 1 turn because it is unlikely that our opponent will use Rishadan Port rather than play Stoneforge Mystic. I would fetch basic Swamp and cast Cabal Therapy naming Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Next turn I would try and win with another draw and another land drop by casting Brainstorm off the Chrome Mox before making goblins and flashing back Cabal Therapy to take whatever equipment my opponent fetches with Stoneforge Mystic.
I see two potentially valid options in this scenario, the first is to Brainstorm to better sculpt our game plan. The second is to Cabal Therapy away the Thalia and Stoneforge Mystic and try and play a slightly slower game hoping we draw well. I would go with the more conservative line, imprinting Gitaxian Probe on Chrome Mox and then cast Brainstorm. My base case is that I will fetch a Swamp with the Bloodstained Mire and use Cabal Therapy to strip away the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
I would bet they kept a white source on the top of their library. I play the Bloodstained Mire and the Chrome Mox, imprinting a Cabal Therapy, and then casting a Cabal Therapy off of the Chrome Mox naming Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. My plan would be to try and make around 10 goblins either next turn or our turn 3. If the Brainstorm would not provide me with the tools to do that combo off next turn then I would use my last Cabal Therapy naming whatever he fetched with his Stoneforge Mystic and try the following turn.
There are a bunch of different lines we can take here, and the differences between them are pretty minimal. That said, I want to either find a Swamp with our Bloodstained Mire or not sacrifice it at all which would mean using Chrome Mox to cast Cabal Therapy. More than likely if we take that line, our opponent will just play Stoneforge Mystic next turn, which means we can fetch for a blue dual land on our end step, cast Brainstorm, and likely be in pretty good shape to cast Empty the Warrens. The problem is that if our Brainstorm is really bad, we'll quickly fall behind to the Wasteland. Given that, I think I would actually rather use Chrome Mox to Brainstorm this turn if we want to Brainstorm, but this line also puts us in a weird place if our Brainstorm is bad despite granting us the ability to shuffle afterward because we'll be low on storm count. With all of that in mind, I would fetch for a Swamp, Cabal Therapy their Thalia, and pass the turn. If our draw is really weak, we can Chrome Mox to cast Brainstorm in order to work our way out of our weak hand, and if our draw is a bit better, we should be able to afford a Gitaxian Probe and can likely make 10-14 Goblins which should be enough to win the game. This is a tough situation though, so I'm definitely willing to believe that I'm missing something important.
As so often in TES, there are two alternatives: One could gamble here and imprint the Gitaxian Probe into the Chrome Mox and cast a Hail Mary Brainstorm in order to find enough mana to cast Empty the Warrens, but giving the odds of finding the required amount, I suggest going with casting the Cabal Therapy instead. Imprinting a Cabal Therapy to the Chrome Mox and then cast a second Cabal Therapy to discard Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is as necessary follow up to gain time. Before you pass the turn, play the Bloodstained Mire.
The likelihood of us being able to win off of the Brainstorm is incredibly low. Meaning, I think we should just play Chrome Mox (Imprint: Cabal Therapy) and then discard Thalia, Guardian of Thraben using another Cabal Therapy. You could search up a Swamp and then discard the Stoneforge Mystic too, but this locks you out of the game color-wise and a non-basic gets killed by Wasteland. If they have a white-source on top of their deck AND your brainstorm fails you next turn, you can just use Cabal Therapy to discard the Batterskull.
SITUATION #3 - Lands
Lands is one of the best-positioned decks right now. It has a very favorable matchup against both 4c Control and Grixis Delver and although it does have a pretty terrible Storm matchup, now that Miracles is a less significant part of the meta Lands can afford to devote more sideboard cards to the matchup. Sometimes post-board it feels like they transform into MUD with multiple Chalice of the Void, Sphere of Resistance, and even Ancient Tomb so that they can cast these on turn one.
Game 1 is incredibly favored for us. They have no interaction for Ad Nauseam or Telemin Performance except for mana denial, and our Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, and multiple basic lands mitigate this. Postboard can be tricky because we will likely have to fight through a lock piece and our Telemin Performance is likely going to be dead as a result of them bringing in Tireless Tracker. Empty the Warrens is a dead card against them and should never be cast except in dire situations as they have multiple ways to deal with it in their main deck.
In this scenario, we are going into game 3 after losing game 1 and I sideboard accordingly.
I was able to cast an early discard spell for my opponent's Sphere of Resistance. However, we proceeded to draw a lot of business spells off the top and our opponent's Rishadan Port is able to keep our only land tapped down. They have a Life from the Loam engine going and already have a Thespian's Stage so we are at risk of losing to Marit Lage very quickly.
How would you resolve this Brainstorm, and then proceed with the rest of the game?
I think it was correct to imprint the Echoing Truth on the Chrome Mox and Brainstorm. We need to get out from under this Rishadan Port lock before our opponent finds a Dark Depths. They are not drawing anymore so we do not need to worry about a lockpiece, and because of the Rishadan Port we are unlikely to be able to cast the Echoing Truth anyways. I would put back both of the Burning Wishes and pass the turn. On our next turn I cast Infernal Tutor revealing Lion's Eye Diamond off of the Underground Sea, and pass the turn again. Our opponent can Wasteland us but we get but are able to Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam with mana floating on our following turn.
This seems pretty straight forward that our plan is to try and Ad Nauseam next turn. We put back Rite of Flame and Burning Wish. Play Volcanic Island and Infernal Tutor for a second Lion’s Eye Diamond. Next turn as long as we don’t draw we can cast double Lion’s Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam with one mana floating. This is somewhat weak to Surgical Extraction, but keeping a Burning Wish may allow us to rebuild if they strip away our first Infernal Tutor.
I would put back both copies of Burning Wish. This turn would be my setup turn and then I would try to combo off on the following turn. I would then play the Volcanic Island and sacrifice the Lotus Petal for Infernal Tutor, grabbing another Lion's Eye Diamond. I played the Volancic Island to protect my Underground Sea from Wasteland and Rishidan Port for the following turn. This would leave me with 2x Lion's Eye Diamond, 1x Infernal Tutor, Underground Sea, and Rite of Flame. On my next turn I would go for Ad Nauseam with mana floating.
We put back both Burning Wishes, then use Volcanic Island and Lotus Petal to find a Lion's Eye Diamond off of Infernal Tutor. After we lose access to both of our lands, we use Underground Sea and Chrome Mox to cast Infernal Tutor, and use both Lion's Eye Diamonds to find and cast Ad Nauseam with one mana floating, which should be enough to win the game from 16 life without a problem.
I would put back the pair of Burning Wish, play out the Volcanic Island, Lotus Petal, and the two Lion's Eye Diamond. That leaves your opponent without any handle (other than Chalice set at 2) to prevent you from casting Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam the next turn.
I think the Brainstorm play is fine. I would likely put back the pair of Burning Wish and then lay the Volcanic Island and cast Infernal Tutor (Revealing: Lion's Eye Diamond), play both Lion's Eye Diamonds and pass. This way, even if our opponent uses Wasteland and either Rishadan Port or Ghost Quater, next turn you can still cast Ad Nauseam.
The EPIC Storm is incredibly well positioned right now. In a meta of fair decks, Empty the Warrens is insane. Playing 4 Empty the Warrens in our 75 allows us to go under most of the fair decks of the format while playing 7 discard spells main including 4 Cabal Therapy allows us to rip our opponent's hands apart and then flashback Cabal Therapies to take other key cards or even sweepers. However, it is likely that people will be aware of the Empty the Warrens plan moving forward so it may not be as powerful. Regardless, The EPIC Storm is an incredibly resilient deck and should be well positioned in a field of 4c Control, Grixis Delver, Elves, and Lands. As long as Surgical Extraction and Deathrite Shaman remain as popular as they are now, Empty the Warrens and Ad Nauseam remain excellent choices.
Until next time, keep storming on!
I’m a Political Science student, Hip Hop Head, and Magic the Gathering Online grinder. I love San Francisco Bay Area Sports and Grapeshotting people for 20.