Welcome back to the Infernal Tutoring series!
Hello Legacy Storm players! My name is Joshua Hughes, and I've been given the most distinct honor of taking over the Infernal Tutoring series on a bi-monthly basis, trading off with the very talented Alex McKinley! My introduction into writing for Infernal Tutoring could not have come at a more turbulent yet interesting time. Halfway through writing my first draft of this very article, Wizards dropped a nuclear bomb on the Legacy meta as we've come to know it (Caution: Spoilers Ahead!). The infamous Deathrite Shaman and our beloved Gitaxian Probe have both officially been added to the icon-filled mausoleum known as the Legacy ban list (Yes, they're both officially banned)! While it is painful to see our precious Gitaxian Probe go, it was awesome to see how quickly The Epic Storm community came together to rebuild and re-strategize. To get some great insight into Bryant's post-ban thoughts, check out his latest article here: B&R Update - 07-02-2018 - Deathrite Shaman & Gitaxian Probe.
A few words on Brandon Osborne(Control4Daze):
Brandon began his Magic addiction on the blacktops at recess in 1994...eager for the opportunity to trade a freshly pulled dual land for a Force of Nature. Playing until 2001, Brandon had some success on the JSS with two of his favorite decks of all time, Counter Rebels and Fires (of Yavimaya). After a 14 year hiatus from the game, Brandon picked up Standard at the release of M15, and slowly worked his way down the formats, until arriving at Legacy. Inspired by Kai Sawatari's T4 finish at Grand Prix Kyoto, he built and quickly fell in love with ANT – with notable finishes including an SCG Classic win and a Magic Online Challenge win. He is a fan of play-style extremes, control, and combo – hence his alias, Control4Daze.
For this article, The EPIC Storm (v4.7) was used.
SITUATION #1 - Death and Taxes
In our first scenario, we're playing against Death and Taxes in Game one. While Death and Taxes got a pretty sizable boost in effectiveness with the banning of Deathrite Shaman, it still remains one of our better matchups. Death and Taxes can't efficiently start taxing us until at least turn two, which gives us a pretty big window to go off, especially on the play. In game one, Death and Taxes' biggest threats against us are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Vryn Wingmare, and Stoneforge Mystic. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Vryn Wingmare slow us down by taxing our spells, while an early Stoneforge Mystic invalidates our slower Empty the Warrens hands. In addition to the creature threats, Death and Taxes also has a stellar mana denial suite with Rishadan Port and Wasteland, which can lead to us getting punished for fetching non-basics or keeping one-land hands.
This scenario is a good example of what happens when a good matchup starts to go horribly wrong. We had a very solid opener, with all the right mana sources and discard spells, and we just needed to hit a tutor. We were able to make our opponent discard a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and a Stoneforge Mystic, which is a huge win for us. After going down to six life from a slew of small threats chipping away at our life total, we finally draw an Infernal Tutor. We must do something this turn because next turn we are dead to Flickerwisp and the Sword of Fire and Ice, which can be put into play with Stoneforge Mystic and equipped next turn. How would you play out this turn to either win or put yourself in a winning position?
At first glance, the most obvious line is to go for the natural Storm kill by playing out both copies of Rite of Flame, both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox with no imprint, Infernal Tutor cracking both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor, Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish, and Tendrils of Agony for twenty damage. Unfortunately, if we take this line, any halfway competent Death and Taxes player will immediately tap Karakas and then proceed to crush our dreams with Swords to Plowshares targeting Flickerwisp. Assuming that we see the Swords to Plowshare line and play around it, what options are we left with? We can start by ruling out an Ad Nauseam line because our life total is way too low to attempt that. We can rule out Goblins because we are dead to the onboard Flickerwisp and Sword of Fire and Ice. We can rule out a Past in Flames line because we are one mana short of killing the opponent. What does that leave us with?
I decided to play it safe and cast both copies of Rite of Flame, both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox with no imprint, Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish, and then Grapeshot to wipe the opponent's board. It feels really bad to not be able to win this turn, but this line was the best in my opinion. You are still in a pretty bad spot, but with three lands and two copies of Lion's Eye Diamond in play, you have a decent shot at winning before the opponent can rebuild.
Given that our life total is so low and there is a Sword of Fire and Ice in the opponent's hand, I want to win this turn through Tendrils of Agony. We have a total of 12 mana assuming that the opponent does not have any interaction. In many Death & Taxes lists, their only instant speed interaction is Surgical Extraction. If the opponent ends up using Surgical Extraction on Rite of Flame, it does not change the plan, as adding the storm reduces a step in the tutor/wish chaining. To play around it as best as possible, I'd go for a natural storm kill, tutoring for Burning Wish, wishing for Dark Petition, which finds another Burning Wish and that gets Tendrils of Agony. If the opponent ends up extracting Rite of Flame, then Infernal Tutor for Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony (9 storm, opponent is now at 18 life) gets the job done.
Unfortunately for us, our opponent having a Swords to Plowshares in hand prevents us from being able to win with a natural Tendrils of Agony line. That said, we have to go for Ad Nauseam, despite only being at six life. I would lead with both copies of Rite of Flame, Chrome Mox (Imprinting nothing), both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, and then Infernal Tutor, cracking both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond for three black and three blue, and search for Ad Nauseam. When resolving Ad Nauseam, I would leave one black, two red, and one blue open, as well as our basic island, as we will probably need to use a cantrip or two to generate enough storm to win post-Ad Nauseam.
I would start off by playing all 3 of our artifact mana and not imprinting on Chrome Mox (3 storm). Then both copies of Rite of Flame off of the Badlands for 4 red mana, and spending 1 and the Underground Sea for Infernal Tutor, and sacrificing both copies of Lion's Eye Diamond, and the end result will be 3 red, 6 black, an untapped Island, and 6 storm. I would use the Infernal Tutor to find another Infernal Tutor, and then do it again leaving me with 1 red, 4 black, untapped Island, and 8 storm. Then I can easily Burning Wish for Tendrils with 10 storm.
We have a line to chain tutors and deal 20 with Tendrils of Agony, but then we lose to Swords to Plowshares. We'll be at 26, but I suspect they can kill us before we can find a way to deal 2 given that we'll be on a three turn clock. Going for Past in Flames leaves us without enough mana to do anything meaningful, and trying to Grapeshot their team means we just lose in two or three turns. For that reason, I would choose to Ad Nauseam from six life with five mana floating and hope for the best.
If you play the Chrome Mox as a blank and drop all your mana to cast Infernal Tutor, you end up with storm count 6 and 10 mana. That means, that you just need to chain two more Infernal Tutors into Burning Wish and grab Tendrils of Agony for the win.
Due to the Swords to Plowshares in their hand that we know about, the "Tutor Chain" is out of the question, Empty the Warrens is also incredibly far away from winning this. This leaves one path - Ad Nauseam. The only real question is what colors of mana to float, if you cast Rite of Flames off of the Badlands, Infernal Tutor off of the Underground Sea, then add BBBBBB with Lion's Eye Diamonds. You can have BBRRU available post-Ad Nauseam, which provides you with the best chances of winning. (I think this is true due to not needed to reveal a Dark Ritual or a Lion's Eye Diamond in order to win.)
If you evaluate all of your options on hand, there is only one that even has a chance to win. If you cast Empty the Warrens, you're dead. Past in Flames falls 1 mana short of a kill with Tendrils of Agony. Grapeshot kills their board, but then they have 7 cards in hand and you will have nothing. The only choice that makes sense is to Ad Nauseam here – the real question is, what color mana do you make with your Lion's Eye Diamond(s), and do you sacrifice one or both of them? I think I'm cracking both Lion's Eye Diamond here, only because you have such a low life total to work with, and this gives you more flexibility with your draws (I'm assuming you still have a land drop as well, which should be helpful). With Ad Nauseam pending, I think I would like to have RRBUU floating. This line gives you the option to Grapeshot if you hit a Burning Wish, and cantrip if you draw into Brainstorm and Ponder, which is a likely scenario if you are going to win this turn. The likelihood of you pulling this one off is slim, but I believe this gives you the best chance as the game stands.
SITUATION #2 - Dredge
In our second scenario, we find ourselves in game two against Dredge on the draw. Dredge is a deck that got an even bigger boost from the banning of Deathrite Shaman and it has been pretty common in the online meta since the ban. Dredge can be a very tough matchup for us because they are also extremely explosive, and they are one of the few decks that can still efficiently leverage Cabal Therapy without Gitaxian Probe to rip our hand to shreds. Empty the Warrens doesn't pair well against a deck that can make an army of 2/2 Zombie tokens very quickly and efficiently with Bridge from Below, so ideally we need to kill with Tendrils of Agony.
HOW I SIDEBOARDED:
In this scenario, we find ourselves in a tough spot. Last turn the Dredge player fired off a blind Cabal Therapy naming Dark Ritual, which was an unfortunate hit. Between the opponent's four Golgari Grave-Troll in the graveyard, and the Cephalid Coliseum in play, our opponent can dredge up to eighteen cards next turn. The chance of us being able to do anything after this turn is very slim, as he will almost certainly dredge into multiple Cabal Therapy. How would you play out this turn to either win or put yourself in a winning situation?
In this scenario, I was fully expecting to do a Past in Flames kill, but the blind Cabal Therapy naming Dark Ritual forced me to change my plan. We know that we have to do something this turn, so how do we adjust? The best line that I could find is making Goblins. We can't just make ten or twelve Goblins though, to stand a chance we need to make at least twenty Goblins.
I started by casting Rite of Flame with my Volcanic Island (two red mana, storm count one), playing the Bloodstained Mire, fetching for an Underground Sea, casting Infernal Tutor revealing Rite of Flame (one red mana, storm count two), casting both copies of Rite of Flame (six red mana, storm count four), playing the Lotus Petal (six red mana, storm count five), casting Burning Wish revealing Past in Flames (four red mana, storm count six), casting Past in Flames (zero mana, storm count seven), cracking my Lotus Petal for red mana to cast the three copies of Rite of Flame from the Graveyard (seven red mana, storm count ten), casting the second Burning Wish from my hand revealing Empty The Warrens (five red mana, storm count eleven) , and then finally casting Empty the Warrens for twenty-four Goblins. Chances are pretty high that the opponent can beat our 1/1 Goblin army with their 2/2 Zombie army, but if we can find an Echoing Truth, we can potentially bounce the opponent's Zombie army, and sneak in a lethal attack.
The opponent can pretty much dredge their entire library next turn, which means that there will be a ton of zombies after multiple copies of Cabal Therapy. Empty the Warrens won't get the job done against that many zombies which means taking a risky line. I would play Bloodstained Mire, fetching for a black source. Then I would cast Rite of Flame off of Volcanic Island. Using one of the red mana floating, I would Infernal Tutor for another Rite of Flame. Then after casting the second and third Rite of Flame, we end up with 6 red floating and 4 storm. Then I would play Lotus Petal and Burning Wish for Past in Flames. If this ran us out of cards, the line would be super easy. Instead, the second Burning Wish prevents tutoring for a Lion's Eye Diamond. After casting the Past in Flames, there is one mana source left, the Lotus Petal. My line is to crack it for blue to cast the Preordain in the graveyard to look for a Lion's Eye Diamond. There is about a 22% chance to find the Lion's Eye Diamond, which I believe gives the best odds to win the game. If Preordain finds Lion's Eye Diamond, the line is: play Lion's Eye Diamond and crack for black. Cast Dark Ritual (5 black), then Infernal Tutor for Lion's Eye Diamond, crack for red (3 black and 3 red). Cast the three Rite of Flames (3 black and 9 red) then flashback Past in Flames (3 Black 4 red) to be able to cast the Burning Wish that was discarded earlier. Burning Wish finds Tendrils of Agony with plenty of storm for the kill.
This situation is really frustrating. I could still be missing something, but while its far from ideal I think we have to make twenty-four goblins via a Past in Flames line. I'll start by playing Bloodstained Mire and cracking it for a Badlands, then cast Infernal Tutor for a third Rite of Flame. I then cast and use the Lotus Petal to play all three copies of Rite of Flame, then Burning Wish for Past In Flames, then cast Past in Flames, flashback all three copies of Rite of Flame, and use our second Burning Wish to grab Empty the Warrens, and cast it for twelve copies. Having twenty-four goblin tokens probably won't immediately win us the game, but it can stall the game out a couple turns so we can at least draw into a combination of cards that win us the game, as we still have Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor, and Past in Flames in our graveyard. It's also worth noting that a well-timed top deck of Echoing Truth can actually just win is the game next turn.
If we instead just cast Burning Wish for Past in Flames, played out Lotus Petal and cast the turn, we'd effectively be putting ourselves on one draw step after the incoming copies of Cabal Therapy. That line actually requires two perfect draw-steps to win the game, which we simply don't have time for. Like I said, I may be missing something here, but I believe making twenty-four goblins is our only play that I immediately saw that gives us an above 0% chance to win the game. Great situation Josh!
Unfortunately, I think we are a black source short of being able to win with a Past in Flames line for Tendrils of Agony, so I would use the Bloodstained Mire to fetch for Badlands to cast Infernal Tutor grabbing another Rite of Flame. Sacrifice the Lotus Petal to play 3 copies of Rite of Flame (7R 5 storm). Cast Burning Wish to find and cast Past in Flames (1R 7 storm) to flashback all 3 copies of Rite of Flame (7R 10 storm). Then using the Burning Wish leftover in hand to tutor for Empty the Warrens to make 24 goblins and hope to grind through it and that the very bottom cards of their deck are the good ones.
We have two options. One is to Infernal Tutor for Rite of Flame and then use Past in Flames plus Empty the Warrens to make 24 tokens and hope our opponent misses really badly on their 24 dredge cards, though I think that's unlikely given that they have 26 cards in their deck. Instead, I want to play Rite of Flame off of Volcanic Island, then fetch for Underground Sea and cast Infernal Tutor, finding another Rite of Flame. Use our remaining red to produce six red with the last two Rite of Flames, and cast Burning Wish for Past in Flames. Use all of our red mana to play Past in Flames, then use Lotus Petal to flash back Preordain. Our goal is to hit exactly Lion's Eye Diamond, which we are 22% to do. If we hit Lion's Eye Diamond, we use it to make three black, flashback Dark Ritual to go to five black, flashback Infernal Tutor for Lion's Eye Diamond and use it to make three red, then flashback every Rite of Flame which leaves us 12 mana, enough to flashback Past in Flames, then Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony.
Drop the land and tap both for black and red mana, cast Rite of Flame into Infernal Tutor to grab another copy of Rite of Flame. Cast all your mana and wish for Past in Flames to replay all your cards in the graveyard with another Burning Wish in your hand.
I'd like to start off by saying I really dislike how you sideboarded. Bounce spells, in general, are very poor versus Dredge, most of the time that they're good are corner cases. I could see one Echoing Truth, but all-around, discard spells are way higher impact on the game. Other than that, I like this scenario! I would start off by searching up Badlands or Underground Sea with Bloodstained Mire. From there, tap Volcanic Island and cast Rite of Flame, then tap your black mana source and Infernal Tutor (Storm 2 - R Floating) revealing Rite of Flame, cast both copies of Rite of Flame (Storm 4 - RRRRRR Floating), and then Burning Wish for Past in Flames (Storm 6 - Zero Floating). Play Lotus Petal (Storm 7 - R Floating). From here you have two decisions, to go all-in on Empty the Warrens or try to find exactly Lion's Eye Diamond off of Preordain. Mathematically, I think it makes sense to go for Empty the Warrens as it's a higher percentage line. The downside is Magic isn't all about math, I think you're highly likely to die on the following turn. This makes me want to find Lion's Eye Diamond with Preordain, you have a 22% chance of finding one but it's actually the best odds of winning. From there if you find one, you flashback Dark Ritual (Storm 10 - BBBBB Floating), Infernal Tutor (Storm 11 - BBB Floating), Lion's Eye Diamonds, then all three copies of Rite of Flame (Storm 15 - BBBRRRRRRR Floating). After all of this, you can finally flashback Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony (Storm 17 - BRRR Floating).
This one is a doozy. It seems to be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" type-scenario – which is appropriate playing against a deck where you opponent is respawning creatures from the depths of some terrible hellacious place... This situation, much like many others you will find yourself in against dredge, is one where you need to rely heavily on the power of Past in Flames, due to your opponent's access to multiple Cabal Therapy. Basically, I think you need to set yourself up for next turn, with the most possible outs, because it most certainly is not happening this turn. I would lead Bloodstained Mire, crack for Underground Sea (B), cast both Rite of Flame (RRRRB), Burning Wish for Past in Flames (RRB), Infernal Tutor for a second Lotus Petal (R), play out both Lotus Petal and pass, with Burning Wish and Past in Flames still in hand. This line diminishes the value of their future copies of Cabal Therapy, and gives you any Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, or Lion's Eye Diamond as outs that could potentially win the game on your following turn.
SITUATION #3 - Burn
In our third scenario, we find ourselves in game one against Burn on the play. Over the last year, I've seen very little Burn on MTGO, but after the banning, I've seen a small resurgence. Burn's ultimate goal is to play very efficient creatures like Monastery Swiftspear or Goblin Guide, while slinging spells at our face. Burn also has a very efficient turn two Anti-Storm creature in their main deck that we need to play around, Eidolon of the Great Revel. The key here is keeping an explosive hand that can go off very quickly. If all of that wasn't stressful enough, you also need to be very careful not to go too low on your Ad Nauseam. Each untapped Mountain represents a potential three damage, and two Mountains can be sacrificed to Fireblast to deal four damage. That is a potential ten damage on turn two if they have two untapped lands.
In this scenario, we have another tough choice to make. It is turn three, and we know that the opponent is tapped out with two Price of Progress and a Searing Blood in hand. That means that we don't have to play around Fireblast. For our turn we play out a Chrome Mox imprinting a Duress, a Chrome Mox imprinting a Burning Wish, two Dark Rituals, and an Infernal Tutor. Our Storm count is currently five, our life is ten, and we have not played a land drop. How do you play out your turn to either win or put yourself in a winning situation?
This is one of those scenarios where both of our lines are a gamble, which makes the situation hard to navigate. We know that we can cast Ad Nauseam from ten life, but that is usually a death wish. Luckily, we haven't played a land drop this turn, which helps our odds a little bit. Ultimately though, we have to reveal cards with Ad Nauseam until we can win because we won't have another turn if we take this line. The other option is making twelve Goblins and praying that the opponent bricks on draws for multiple turns. If we are smart with how we leave back blockers, our opponent can only deal us seven damage with the cards that are in their hand and that is over the course of three turns. In a deck where almost every nonland card the opponent draws can deal three damage, I decided that the Ad Nauseam line was less of a risk.
There are two options here: cast Empty the Warrens or cast Ad Nauseam. If we cast Empty the Warrens for 12 goblins, it will take three turns to kill our opponent, between Searing Blood, the Monastery Swiftspear blocking and leaving back blockers for the Monastery Swiftspear, which gives our burn opponent three draws steps to draw enough burn spells to kill. I would cast Ad Nauseam. With the land drop remaining, it seems likely that it would find enough initial mana sources to be able to kill with Tendrils of Agony this turn.
I'm jamming Ad Nauseam. If we go for Empty the Warrens, we're leaving ourselves dead to multiple combinations of draw steps, such as any Lightning Bolt effect combined with Fireblast. Not to mention, we still have an open land drop, four copies of Lotus Petal, and four copies of Lion's Eye Diamond left in the deck. No question, I'm jamming Ad Nauseam.
I would cast Ad Nauseam and go for it. We get a land drop with 4 Lotus Petal, 2 Chrome Mox, and 4 Lion's Eye Diamond left in the deck. Those are pretty good odds despite being at 10 life. I just don't think Empty the Warrens is good enough here. It's not an ideal position, but I would go for it with Ad Nauseam.
To keep it short, the math works out such that twelve Goblins is likely two lose to our opponent drawing any combination of two lands and two one-mana burn spells in their next two draw steps, but it beats them drawing more two drops and some combinations that involve creatures. Ad Nauseam from 10 isn't super likely to win even with a land drop because we are missing two of our copies of Chrome Mox and two of our Dark Rituals, so it's a bit of a judgment call as to what you think is more likely. I personally favor Empty the Warrens for twelve. If our opponent makes a land drop next turn, attack with all but two Goblins. If they don't make a land drop, attack with every Goblin. Other weird draw steps might require a reevaluation of this, but that's my starting point for how the math works out.
Its pretty likely that Goblins end up being just a 3 turn clock here, which is worse in this matchup than going straight for Ad Nauseam with a land drop yet to make.
We don't play The EPIC Storm because we're afraid of probabilities, I'm going all in on Ad Nauseam. I like my chances of winning more with a land drop than staying alive with Goblins.
I feel this scenario is a little more straightforward than the previous two – you ultimately have two choices: a. you can Ad Nauseam from 10 life and hope, or b. you can Empty the Warrens for 12 Goblins and try to fade a few draw steps. This is an extremely close decision, but I think I would opt for the more conservative of the two lines and chose to cast Empty the Warrens here. Your opponent is choked on mana and their next turn is already spoken for, likely casting Searing Blood on a Goblin. From there, they need to draw into land and 2 burn spells to beat this line – their multiple Price of Progress simply aren't good enough here and are essentially dead cards in their hand. Additionally, this line provides the opportunity for your opponent to make a mistake and gives you more draw steps to find discard, Burning Wish, etc. If they choose to not attack with the Monastery Swiftspear, you could potentially be more aggressive and turn your 3-turn-clock into a 2-turn-clock. I'm not sure if you're favored if you take this line, but I think it gives you the best chance to win.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that the pros of living in a world without Deathrite Shaman far outweigh the loss of Gitaxian Probe. After playing one hundred or so league matches since the ban, I am starting to really enjoy the changes. There were some initial struggles as I sought to find the new balance of the deck in the post-Probe meta, but after some tweaks and a realization of the true power of Thoughtseize, I've found the changes to be advantageous and have put up increasingly positive league results. I truly believe that once the dust settles and the Legacy meta stabilizes, The Epic Storm will continue to be one of the top decks in the format.
Until next time, keep Storming!