My name is Alex McKinley and I take a break from thinking about math and card choices to actually play some magic! I think I've found some situations that are a bit off the beaten path, where we are not always looking to go off this turn. When I'm practicing the deck, I am often goldfishing in my spare time, and finding the lines that win the game on the combo turn are fun, but often, do not help as much in real game situations. Analyzing and practicing setting up for the combo turn are important parts of the deck that often get overlooked. Let's see how some of the best handle a couple of set up turns!
Cyrus Corman-Gill (cyruscg):
Cyrus has been playing Magic for 13 years. You may remember him as a Storm novice looking up to the big dogs on how to cast Rite of Flame while hosting this very article series a year ago! However, he later succumbed to the dark side and dropped Rite of Flames and Burning Wishes in favor of Magic cards with WAY more skulls on them #banCabalRitual. Since then he has made it "big time" with his own stream, podcast, and even a Google Doc sideboard guide! Despite all of his newfound fame, he can still appreciate a good Grapeshot for 20.
So this is game two, where each player has mulliganed to five. Our five was relatively week, while our opponent has put quite the clock on. Our opponent has one card left, which is likely to be a land given they did not play it last turn for the prowess trigger. We have the option to remove the Monastery Swiftspear and look to go off with Empty the Warrens or we could shuffle and look for a more deterministic kill.
Would you shuffle the Ponder? If not what do you do with these cards? If you do shuffle, what are you looking for?
Looking with hindsight, I think it would be correct to not shuffle the Ponder. I don't think there is a single card that we could shuffle into to win the game this turn, so regardless we will have to hope to survive next turn. If we don't shuffle, we get to kill the Monastery Swiftspear and cast another Ponder to attempt to go off in two turns. We might have to fade a draw-step or two, but I think this gives the best chance to win the game.
This scenario seems pretty hopeless regardless of what we do. No matter how we resolve our Ponder, we aren't able to kill the opponent's Monastery Swiftspear or make Goblins this turn. If we shuffle, I am not sure that there is a draw that puts us in a winning situation either. Even if we find an answer to the Monastery Swiftspear, we are still going to be dead to most of their draws. The best scenario I can see is resolving Ponder with Rite of Flame on top, Bayou in the middle, and Abrupt Decay on the bottom. Next turn, we can play the Bayou and cast Infernal Tutor targeting Rite of Flame, cast both copies of Rite of Flame, and then Empty the Warrens for eight Goblins. We will still have a Burning Wish in hand, so if we draw a Lion's Eye Diamond, we can Tendrils of Agony to gain some life to buy another turn or two.
While we are likely just dead, I think our best line here is to draw the Bayou with Ponder, then cast Burning Wish (revealing Tendrils of Agony). On our next turn, I would Abrupt Decay our opponent's Monastery Swiftspear and also cast Ponder to look for fast mana. Our plan here is to be able to make around 6-8 goblins with Empty the Warrens and then cast a small Tendrils of Agony the turn after to survive. I think we're too far away and too close to dying to dig for a deterministic kill, and Ad Nauseam is off the table. I think our odds of winning this game are very slim, but this plan gives the best chance to win in my opinion.
I would shuffle this Ponder. These top 3 are just too slow with not much to gain. I would shuffle hoping my top 3 had 2 non-land mana producers to be able to go off with Empty the Warren's or a tutor if it's a Lions eye diamond for a storm of 3-4 on the following turn. I think we are in a terrible shape to win this game, but I believe the best shot is not to try to use removal spells, but rather to overwhelm the board.
I'm not sure how accurate it is that the card in our opponent's hand is most likely a land, but I also don't think we're close enough to a deterministic kill anyway. I want to draw Bayou and play it, then draw Rite of Flame and Infernal Tutor for another Rite of Flame and then cast Ponder (I want the shuffle first so our Ponder is maximized). After that, if your opponent has been kind enough to draw some combination of one-drop creatures and lands, we can likely produce a two-turn clock of Goblins if we haven't been blessed with enough Lion's Eye Diamonds to actually win. It's possible that playing Ponder before Infernal Tutor increases our likelihood of finding a Dark Ritual or Lion's Eye Diamond to pair with the Infernal Tutor instead, but when in doubt I just want the quality of our Ponder to be maximized versus knowing that we are going to see an Abrupt Decay on it and being unable to then keep two cards from it if we still need to Infernal Tutor later in the turn.
At 6 life only and a bricking hand on top, we are not in the position to play the slow control role here by removing the Monastery Swiftspear, as we still would die to top-decked direct damage really fast. I would shuffle, hoping to find a Lion’s Eye Diamond, a Brainstorm or a blue land for Ponder #2. You need to solve the situation of having that many dead cards but no mana in your hand.
Personally, I think you should've listened to the sideboard guide for this match-up because I don't agree with how you boarded. It's also possible that your opponent has Fireblast in hand for what it's worth, but you can't afford to play around it. Back to the actual scenario, you can't actually cast Abrupt Decay this turn. Next turn you could Infernal Tutor for Rite of Flame, cast both, and Empty the Warrens. But now you're looking to fade around 5 draw steps, which is questionable at best. I think the best odds of winning this game involve a shuffle. You either need to draw running Dark Rituals, Lion's Eye Diamonds, or Brainstorm into the perfect cards.
I do agree that Burn is a harder matchup than a lot of people may expect. They can threaten a turn three kill and Eidolon of the Great Revels is a card we can almost never win through.
We are in a pretty tough spot here. Keeping the Ponder is tempting because we are almost certainly not dying next turn and we can cast both Abrupt Decay and Ponder and then Empty the Warrens on the following turn. On the other hand, I don’t like the notion of trying to fade that many draw steps from our opponent as I just don’t see a small amount of goblin tokens getting there against the deck with a high critical mass of burn spells. I believe the only way we are going to win this game is going to involve a Brainstorm into Dark Ritual and Lion’s Eye Diamond to create a much higher Storm count. For that reason, I would shuffle and hope to mise a Brainstorm next turn.
Our opponent had a turn two Gaddock Teeg preventing our turn two win. I wished for Grapeshot on the previous turn. Clearly, we need to kill the Gaddock Teeg before we can attempt comboing.
Do you go off this turn, just kill the Gaddock Teeg, or simply pass the turn? Why?
Currently, this hand can go off, kill the Gaddock Teeg and make 14 goblins. The problem is the Knight of the Reliquary. It can fetch up the Tabernacle at Pendril Vale and answer all of our goblins. If we wait one turn and draw any spell, we can go off and kill the opponent outright by casting all of our mana, then Grapeshot, with two copies targeting Gaddock Teeg and the rest targeting the opponent. Then, Burning Wish gets Tendrils of Agony and kills the opponent.
This is actually a pretty tough scenario where we are so close to being able to win this turn! If you start by casting Right of Flame (two red mana, Storm one), Chrome Mox with no imprint (two red mana, Storm two), Dark Ritual (two red mana,three black mana, Storm three), Lion's Eye Diamond (two red mana,three black mana, Storm four), Grapeshot dealing two damage to Gaddock Teeg and three damage to the opponent (one red mana, two black mana, Storm five), Burning Wish cracking Lion's Eye Diamond for Black Mana (4B, Storm 6), grabbing Tendrils of Agony, you will be one storm short from lethal damage! Alternatively, you can take that same line but grab Empty the Warrens and make fourteen Goblins. On turn three in game two against 4C Loam, I think that making Goblins is way too risky, especially with Knight of the Reliquary in play! On Magic Online, most 4C Loam players have The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in their sideboard and they would most likely sideboard it in against us. Since we are one storm short of being able to kill both the Knight of the Reliquary and Gaddock Teeg when we cast our Grapeshot for five, I don’t think we can take the Goblin line.
I think in this scenario, I would play out the Chrome Mox with no imprint, (I’d hate for our Lion’s Eye Diamond to get Abrupt Decayed), and then Grapeshot to kill the Gaddock Teeg. It feels bad to not be able to win, but it would feel much worse if the opponent used Knight of the Reliquary to tutor up The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and completely wreck us!
Given that we're in a postboard game, our opponent is more likely to have The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale in their deck while also being less likely to have copies any copies of Abrupt Decay left in the deck. This being said, I think killing the Gaddock Teeg this turn and then going for an Empty the Warrens line is very risky at this point in the game, we also can't forget about cards like Golgari Charm and Toxic Deluge as well. Given that our opponent is holding four cards in hand and they played a Knight of the Reliquary instead of something like a Chalice of the Void or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, I think it's very likely that they are holding an answer to Empty the Warrens, and this only matters IF they aren't playing The Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale in their deck. I would play out the Polluted Delta, crack it for an Island, play Chrome Mox (Imprinting Rite of Flame) and then cast Burning Wish to grab Dark Petition, I would then cast Grapeshot on our opponent's Gaddock Teeg with one copy left over to hit the dome. This sets us up for an Ad Nauseam line next turn. Like I said earlier, with our opponent playing out Knight of the Reliquary, they likely don't have a Chalice of the Void or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in hand so they would most likely have to find a lock piece on the top. It is also worth noting that we still have enough mana to Ad Nauseam next turn even if our opponent uses Wasteland on our Volcanic Island.
I would start off by using my fetchland to search for Badlands and then cast Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond and Chrome Mox imprinting nothing for 3B 2R storm 4 with 1 land untapped. I would spend 1B and 1R for Grapeshot for 5. 2 at Gaddock Teeg and 3 at his life total. This leaves me with 6 storm, 1R, 2B and 1 land untapped. Because I don't know which game it is I would Burning Wish and crack my Lion's Eye Diamond for Empty the Warrens with storm 8 to make 16 goblins. They only have 0-1 sweepers main deck with an additional couple copies in the board. I would take my chances here I think waiting another turn lets the opponent Wasteland us using their Knight of the Reliquary and allow them a turn to play another lock piece which we may not be able to answer.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is pretty standard in the opponent's 75, so Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens likely won't get very far. I believe that if our opponent had a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or a Chalice of the Void, they would've played that on turn two instead, and if they had a Chalice of the Void, they would've played that on turn three instead too. Playing Knight of the Reliquary only really makes sense if they drew exactly Thalia, Guardian of Thraben last turn or they don't have another piece of hate. As long as we play one of our two-drops this turn, we can Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam next turn through a Wasteland. It can't be Burning Wish this turn though, because we actually can't Grapeshot and then cast Dark Petition given the order of how our mana is generated. For that reason, I want to play Polluted Delta, then Chrome Mox, then Grapeshot the Gaddock Teeg. We could play Lion's Eye Diamond instead so that Chrome Mox is still around for mana, but then we basically lose to Abrupt Decay or Vindicate.
If you wanted to gamble against The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, you can kill the Gaddock Teeg and summon a bunch of goblins. That however is very risky in post-board games. A crucial point of info I miss here is, if the land-drop for this turn was already made. Assuming it was made, I would just kill the Gaddock Teeg and pass the turn.
This is a good scenario! You have a lot of options in a very difficult situation. I think the most obvious line is to play all of your spells into Grapeshot and then Empty the Warrens, praying their list doesn't have a copy of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Which is completely reasonable as not all lists play it, even more-so in paper due to costs. There's also a line where you pass the turn and get Dark Petition, this line is worse to me as I believe our opponent is way more likely to have a copy of Bojuka Bog than they are of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. There's a final line of playing all of your spells into Grapeshot killing both creatures, leaving Dark Petition in your hand with three mana against four cards.
In reality, I think we're in a lose, lose, lose situation. But I think the highest percentage play is the most obvious, crossing your fingers that their list doesn't contain The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.
All of my lines are going to involve killing Gaddock Teeg this turn. This would allow our opponent to cast X spells like Green Sun’s Zenith and Chalice of the Void or four drops like Leyline of the Void but I think that being mana efficient and saving two points of damage is worth it.
My first inclination is to cast Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Chrome Mox (no imprint), Lion’s Eye Diamond and Grapeshot to kill Gaddock Teeg while dealing three to our opponent and then Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens and make fourteen goblins. The problem with this play is that if our opponent is playing The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale we will just lose. This is a pretty common sideboard card for Four Color Loam, and one I think we should play around if we can afford to.
The second play that comes to mind for me is to cast Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox (no imprint) Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Burning Wish for Dark Petition, and then Grapeshot both of our opponent’s creatures. Our opponent still has four cards in hand but I feel it is pretty likely they do not have another hatebear if they were willing to cast Knight of the Reliquary on turn three. If we draw either Rite of Flame or Dark Ritual we would likely win the game with Ad Nauseam. The issue with this is that although we are probably favored in a top-deck war, our opponent still has four cards in hand to our one.
The play that I would make is to cast Chrome Mox (imprinting Rite of Flame), Burning Wish for Dark Petition and then Grapeshot targeting Gaddock Teeg twice and our opponent once. This allows us to Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam next turn from twelve to seventeen life depending on if our opponent has a fetchland or a Wasteland or even chooses to attack in the first place. This is a life total that TES can definitely win from especially with the amount of mana floating we will have next turn.
SITUATION #3 - Grixis Delver
While it got hit hard by the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, Grixis Delver is still a strong force in the metagame. With lots of soft permission and a quicker clock, Empty the Warrens is at its strongest in this matchup.
It has not been a fun match. Our opponent seems to be able to find 3 pieces of countermagic off of every Brainstorm. They currently have a couple of pieces of soft permission and the beginnings of a clock. On top of our library is Ad Nauseam, from a Brainstorm on our previous turn. Hopefully, we can cast Ad Nauseam next turn and have it resolve.
What do you do this turn to set up for Ad Nauseam next turn?
I want to use this Burning wish to eat as many of my opponent's counterspells as possible. If they decide not to counter the Burning Wish, I'll use it to get Grapeshot to kill the both of the Delver of Secrets to buy more time to find more discard.
The first option that I see is doing nothing this turn and casting the Ad Nauseam next turn, praying that our opponent doesn't draw another counterspell because we can pay up to four mana if we imprint the Chrome Mox and crack the Lion's Eye Diamond in response to casting Ad Nauseam. The only thing that I dislike about waiting a turn without dealing with the two Delver of Secrets, is that if they flip, they will put us down to 11 life. Grixis also plays Lightning Bolt and we sideboard in two additional copies of Empty the Warrens, which makes an Ad Nauseam from that life total really scary.
I think the best line is to play out the Lotus Petal (Storm one), then the Chrome Mox imprinting nothing (Storm two), the Lion’s Eye Diamond, (Storm three) and then Burning Wish cracking Lion’s Eye Diamond for red mana (three red mana, Storm four). If the opponent decides to use both Daze and Spell Pierce on the Burning Wish, I would pay by tapping my two untapped lands and one of the mana from my Lion’s Eye Diamond. I then would Grapeshot my opponent and his pair of Delver of Secrets with the other two red mana that I have floating. Since I wouldn’t have to use my Lotus Petal, I will still be able to cast Ad Nauseam next turn. If for some reason, the opponent decides to not use his Daze and Spell Pierce on my Burning wish, I would most likely grab Empty the Warrens and make Goblins.
I would cast Burning Wish to hopefully bait our opponent into countering it with a potential Force of Will. If it doesn't get countered, I would grab Grapeshot to try and get rid of our opponent's clock after Ad Nauseam gets countered (if it does).
I would start off with a Burning Wish to try to bait out some soft permission. If it resolved I would grab a Dark Petition. My plan would be to imprint to the Chrome Mox on the following turn but depending what the opponent revealed off his Delver of Secrets my plan may change and use it for something else. Assuming all went well, I would play out my artifact mana then cast Ad Nauseam cracking the Lion's Eye Diamond with 3B floating.
In this spot, my primary concern is that if these Delver of Secrets flip (unsure when our opponent last cast Brainstorm but it seems like they will), then we are trying to Ad Nauseam from 11 with basically no mana floating. Unfortunately, being short on red mana means we can't Burning Wish for Grapeshot without losing this Lotus Petal. It's possible we are okay losing Lotus Petal though because we set our opponent so far back, buy ourselves a lot of time, and then any non-Chrome Mox card under the Ad Nauseam lets us win the turn after. My concern is just that we become pretty soft to any single piece of permission including a Wasteland assuming they want to just let both Delver of Secrets die. All that said, we only give them one additional turn to draw that kind of permission (since they are getting their next draw step anyway) and if we feel that we need it, we can always just take more time since we then under very little pressure. My conclusion then is that we should Burning Wish for Grapeshot. I want to play the Lotus Petal first because I want our opponent to be disincentivized from using both counterspells to counter this. Normally I'd actually want them to do that, but a bunch of Empty the Warrens in our deck means that Ad Nauseam from 11 is much less likely to win, even if we aren't forced to use our Lion's Eye Diamond to resolve it. I do believe this is a game that we will lose if our opponent makes some incredibly good plays (casting Spell Pierce on Burning Wish, and then using Daze on our 5th mana source if possible on the turn we try to win), but they don't know our hand and those are pretty strange plays to make, so I feel okay.
I'd play all mana and cast Burning Wish, opting to break the Lion’s Eye Diamond to grab the remaining Empty the Warrens from the sideboard or just Grapeshot to provoke reactions. In either case, we have 4 lands and the Petal to follow up with Ad Nauseam.
I finally agree with how you sideboarded for once 😉. I wish we had a second resource for this hand as it would be much easier to navigate this game. With Ad Nauseam being on top of the deck I would want to play out my cards this turn for a few reasons: 1.) If our opponent does something out of the ordinary next turn, I want to be able to still win from a healthy life total and not have to pass the turn again. A Spell Piece on Lion's Eye Diamond could be back-breaking. 2.) I've noticed Thoughtseize as well as Inquisition of Kozilek in some of these new Grixis Delver lists, by playing all of our cards out, we're immune to that style of effect. Next turn we draw Ad Nauseam and cast it, from there we can use Lion's Eye Diamond to pay for the soft counterspells. There's a good chance we still don't win this game as there are copies of Empty the Warrens in the deck and our opponent will of had three looks at a third piece of interaction, but you need to play to your outs and this line is our best shot.
Although it is tempting to want to Burning Wish for something like Grapeshot and wrath our opponent’s board, I think the best place for Burning Wish is right under the Chrome Mox. I would play out all of our artifact mana this turn in order to play around the soft permission, and then cast Ad Nauseam next turn using the Lion’s Eye Diamond to pay for Spell Pierce and Daze if we need to. We are just not likely winning this game if our opponent’s one unknown card is relevant or if they flip either of the copies of Delver of Secrets to a relevant card. This is a tough spot to be in because they have two looks with their Polluted Delta but I think we are at a point where we can’t realistically play around our opponent having more than they already do.
Figuring out how to build up to a combo turn is just as important as navigating the most complex turns of a combo. I think a lot of people do not always see where they could make up percentage points by thinking a turn or two ahead for their setup. I personally watched myself miss a lot of lines in these turns that seem obvious in hindsight. Hopefully, we can get them to be obvious in foresight as well!
Until next time, keep storming on!
Alex McKinley is a computer scientist who loves mixing Magic: The Gathering and technology. When outside, he spends his time winning Quidditch Championships and camping.