How far we’ve come! Really though, it’s been quite the trek. I first wrote about The EPIC Storm (TES) vs. Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) in 2015 and then again in 2017. One of the over-arching themes of the 2017 article was that I expected the two decks to eventually merge and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the road that brought us to where we are today, how we compare to Ad Nauseam Tendrils right now, and where I see the evolution of The EPIC Storm continuing to move toward.
The EPIC Storm Deck Lists
The EPIC Storm (v1.4 — 2017)
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
The EPIC Storm (v8.6 — 2020)
While the deck list on the left may not date as far back as the concept, it show signs of TES diverging from it’s Storm brother. The first real sign in my eyes dates back to the Miracles era where towards the end of the time period, I discovered my match win percentage rising when I stopped trying to be what I consider to be a “bad Past in Flames deck.”
At the time, I had only just started to track my data using spreadsheets. The data revealed that we should not try to grind games out via Past in Flames. This was one of the first big dividends from collecting in-game information. If you’re interested in any more of my Storm data, you can find that here.
I use the term “bad Past in Flames deck” because for years, despite TES playing Past in Flames, the card was never truly good for us. We could just not use the card as effectively as Ad Nauseam Tendrils and for good reason. Our “ritual effects” were two colors instead of one and we were required to cast a Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony. This added an extra step into the equation often making it harder to combo off in some game states. We knew Past in Flames wasn’t great in our deck, but we (The EPIC Storm team) only had the tools available to us. During the Miracles era, we were trying multiple Past in Flames, singleton Cabal Ritual(s) in either the main deck or sideboard, and other things that just didn’t naturally fit how our deck was built. With cards like Chrome Mox not putting cards to the graveyard, it was a struggle.
I remember the exact instance of when it dawned on me that instead of being a “bad Past in Flames deck”, that we should lean into our strengths. I started running lists with a third copy of Chrome Mox (during this time period, two copies were very common in a slower metagame) and a third Xantid Swarm (the concept was to drop it on turn one and win on the second turn more consistently) — You may view the deck list here. While looking back at what I’m saying now and think, “that’s always been the plan” or “tell me something I don’t know”, but this was a turning point that shouldn’t be over-looked.
It was shortly after the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top that AJ Kerrigan started to push the team to cut Past in Flames from the sideboard completely. Admittedly, we probably should’ve listened to AJ Kerrigan back then (I am very sorry) — it took the rest of the team until 2019 to cut the card. Somewhere between v6.6 and v7.0, Past in Flames was removed from the sideboard. It was due to it not working well with newly added cards to the deck. Before we get to those, however, there was another step in innovation or really, a change in perspective.
I’ve talked about this in past articles and on The Eternal Glory Podcast, but at some point in time I was fortunate enough to added into a chat group that discussed Miracles pretty heavily. This was honestly one of the better breaks in my Magic: the Gathering career as I got to see how the brains of the competition worked. Gaining new perspectives or views on topics, even if you don’t always agree with them, is a terrific way to grow both as a player and as a person. There was a particular instance in which I was not convinced by Lawrence Harmon‘s thesis on Accumulated Knowledge. In hindsight, I was wrong but there was a greater thing to be learned, which really opened my eyes. At some point in the conversation, Lawrence pointed out that just because something hasn’t been ideal for years doesn’t mean it’s not ideal now. While he was discussing Accumulated Knowledge and Deathrite Shaman, what was interesting was something clicked in my head regarding The EPIC Storm.
This is where v1.4 above comes into play. We had been trying to cut the color green from The EPIC Storm for some time. I had been looking into the past at an old card in Defense Grid. That’s when it hit me that we should’ve been trying out Hope of Ghirapur and reenacting the plan from the Miracles era of playing an insect on the first turn and killing them on the second turn. The wheels in my mind were turning quickly at this point, and within the next month, I started to eyeball Mox Opal. A clearly degenerate card in both Modern and Vintage, but it saw next to no play in Legacy. This meant that either Legacy players were sleeping on the card or that the cards don’t exist in this format to enable it. If they existed in Modern, there was a good chance at the former being the issue. Hope of Ghirapur brought the artifact count up to 15, and then however many copies of Mox Opal, I figured I’d try out the card.
Mox Opal just made sense in The EPIC Storm. It accelerates into Empty the Warrens and is highly effective with Ad Nauseam as an initial mana source after drawing a lot of cards. This was the sort of card that I think I had always been looking for. It leaned into TES’s strengths rather than trying to mimic something poorly. With Mox Opal in the deck, I decided to revisit my old friend Defense Grid as an additional artifact. If we’re being completely truthful, I did a lot of losing during this time period trying to figure things out. One thing to note is that midway through my testing, the London Mulligan was introduced and really helped this strategy.
People weren’t always very receptive to what I was trying. In fact, some cruel things were said about the lists I was trying at the time. I recall a few posts in the Ad Nauseam Tendrils Facebook group mocking what I was trying to accomplish. Innovation requires trying things out and breaking away from the mold. This was always one thing I admired about Anuraag Das as a content creator. Despite having his lists heavily criticized during the Wrenn and Six era, they essentially paved the way for the recent success of the current four-color Miracles lists.
To circle back to AJ Kerrigan and cutting Past in Flames, at this point, we had removed the four-mana red sorcery and were trying lists with no other Storm engines. The fear was always, “if they attack my life-total, it shuts off both Ad Nauseam AND Empty the Warrens!” or “What if Ad Nauseam was discarded?” We tried a few odd ideas, such as returning to Diminishing Returns and Ill-Gotten Gains as well as the Commander card Mizzix’s Mastery. While this time period was cute, nothing really worked that well. But we didn’t have to wait very long…
Fast-forwarding to later on in 2019, Bolas’s Citadel was printed in War of the Spark, Echo of Eons (Modern Horizons), Veil of Summer (Magic 2020), and Wishclaw Talisman (Throne of Eldraine). Remember what I said above about not having the tools for change? They had arrived. For our initial impressions, you can check them out here:
- 03-31-2019 — Bolas’s Citadel by Bryant Cook
- 05-30-2019 — Echo of Eons by Bryant Cook
- 10-07-2019 — Wishclaw Talisman by Alex McKinley
Recently, two articles have been written on these changes. Rather than reiterate in this already long-winded content section, check them out: The New EPIC Storm and Using The EPIC Storm Data. If it takes a lot of tinkering, losing, and throwing spaghetti at the wall to eventually find something that works. It’s worth it.
v8.5 from my linked article had the highest win percentage long-term with any deck with a reasonable sample size, while the sample size on v8.6 is still somewhat small (37 matches as I write this) it’s even higher.
The EPIC Storm vs. Ad Nauseam Tendrils
The EPIC Storm (v8.6)
Ad Nauseam Tendrils
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 2 Past in Flames
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 1 Dark Petition
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Differences between TES & ANT
The EPIC Storm
As you can tell by looking at the decklists, the differences between the decks has grown quite a bit. The pair of Storm decks once shared more cards, but since have diverged. I’m talking about Infernal Tutor, Duress, Thoughtseize, and if you go further back, Cabal Therapy, Gitaxian Probe, and Past in Flames.
The large introduction section titled, “The Trek” above describes now we got here. That said, Wishclaw Talisman replaced Infernal Tutor which means that the two Storm decks don’t even share the same “Tutor package” anymore with TES having Burning Wish and Wishclaw Talisman versus ANT containing Infernal Tutor and Dark Petition. While these differences may seem drastic, I believe there is a larger discrepancy within the disruption/protection packages.
TES currently contains four copies of Veil of Summer as well as a pair of Defense Grid, not to mention the singleton Chain of Vapor. Meanwhile, ANT has eight discard spells between Duress and Thoughtseize. How do these compare? In a format that is defined by green cards such as Oko, Thief of Crowns and Veil of Summer, I believe running a suite of discard spells is egregious. You’re doing yourself a disservice by activating Veil of Summer and making your own cards weaker and more susceptible to counter-magic. TES scoffs at Veil of Summer due to only running a single card that targets the opponent (Tendrils of Agony), and it doesn’t even need to cast it due to Grapeshot! Unfortunately for ANT, its entire disruption package is weak to Veil of Summer, and the deck cannot even win the game through it due to only having Tendrils of Agony as a win condition in the main deck. This is one of the strengths of Burning Wish at the moment.
Not only can you play around Veil of Summer with Burning Wish, but you’re also able to search up answers to main-deck hate pieces in game one. You can beat a Gaddock Teeg or a Chalice of the Void, it’s possible! This doesn’t even count the Chain of Vapor that can be retrieved by Wishclaw Talisman! Veil of Summer is also a unique piece of “protection” in that it can allow you to resolve spells through Chalice of the Void, making the prison matchups in game one even better!
Due to TES containing four copies of Veil of Summer in the main deck, along with Wishclaw Talisman and Echo of Eons, it actually can play the long-game very well. Wishclaw Talisman can be used at instant speed on your turn, meaning that you can cast Ad Nauseam or Echo of Eons while secretly protecting yourself if you need to. If not, you have additional resources for later on in the turn! In the past, TES was defined as the faster combo deck with lesser late-game longevity compared to ANT. I strongly do not believe that is true (I always felt like that stereotype was exaggerated to begin with) any longer. As I write this article, I am 20-4 versus Miracles and 9-1 versus 4-Color Control since the Wrenn and Six banning. The “New” TES occupies both the blazing fast space due to having 15 zero casting cost artifacts, but also the late-game space that Ad Nauseam Tendrils once coveted.
Those zero casting cost artifacts is the biggest difference in the mana between the two decks. Rite of Flame against Cabal Ritual has been covered to death at this point. If you really want to read about that, I suggest going back to the 2017 article. Newer differences would be that additional artifact mana compared to Preordain. Due to TES having a higher threat density compared to ANT, it doesn’t need to spend as much time casting cantrips. If that wasn’t a good enough answer, consider how the London Mulligan impacts this. It’s actually much better to have higher impact cards in your deck than marginal gains over time.
Similarities between TES & ANT
While the pair of Storm brothers have gone their own ways in recent years, their blood remains the same. When you look at the bones of each deck, they’re still similar. I’m talking about the manabases, cantrips (Brainstorm & Ponder), core accelerants (Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, & Lotus Petal), and Ad Nauseam (although one of these decks definitely uses it more effectively than the other).
It has become slightly more expensive over the last few years to switch back and forth between Storm variants due to the addition of Mox Opal, but I still believe that having the ability to do so is very important. Keep in mind, you can always use those Mox Opals in Vintage or Modern as well.
Deck Game Plans
The EPIC Storm
While ANT’s game plans has remained true over the last five or six years, TES’s has changed. It’s still a primarily Ad Nauseam based deck, but its secondary plans have increased usage. We’ve seen an increased usage of a natural storm count into Tendrils of Agony due to more initial mana sources in the deck while Empty the Warrens usage has decreased. I believe part of this is due to more viable mass removal for Goblin Tokens bring printed such as Plague Engineer. The other major component that Empty the Warrens doesn’t pair well with Wishclaw Talisman. If you use Talisman at some point in the game and then later on cast Empty the Warrens, now your opponent has a way to search up their answer for your Goblin Tokens.
It’s worth noting that due to the protection suite changing from discard spells to Veil of Summer and Defense Grid, it causes the opponent to have to Counterspell our disruption piece or risk death. You can’t allow a Veil of Summer to resolve unlike Duress or Thoughtseize. This is relevant for hands that contain a pair of “Forces” (either Force of Will or Force of Negation) and a single blue card for example. Putting the opponent in these situations in another reason the natural storm count kill has increased.
Echo of Eons really changed things for TES. It finally gained a “Storm engine” that wasn’t life-total dependent or at least pressured from using the life total as a resource. What’s even better about Echo of Eons is that it benefits from the same resources that improve TES’s primary engine in Ad Nauseam. I’m referencing the fast mana that includes: Chrome Mox, Mox Opal, Lotus Petal, and to a lesser extent, Rite of Flame.
There’s more to Echo of Eons though. It’s a three-mana “Storm engine” against decks where speed is king such as Death & Taxes or other prison strategies like Mono-Red Stompy. Echo of Eons also rewards disciplined mulliganing by allowing you to do the right thing by sending back clunky hands knowing that there’s a chance you can just “Wheel” your way back into a new seven-card hand. Pairing this with the London Mulligan and you have yourself a very dangerous concoction.
While it isn’t exactly a game plan, it’s worth pointing out the drastic increase in Grapeshot usage in the Veil of Summer world we live in. Grapeshot‘s usage is actually higher than Empty the Warrens (15 percent compared to 12 percent)! Having access to Grapeshot in the current metagame is a real boon that should not be overlooked.
While the more recent versions of TES are a big upgrade to what we had before, they aren’t perfect.
Chrome Mox can be awkward at times. Due to the way its worded, it can’t actually imprint Wishclaw Talisman. When Chrome Mox was printed in Mirrodin, there weren’t “colored” artifacts. We are now paying the price. There’s also very few black cards in general to imprint onto Chrome Mox, which isn’t a huge deal but does come up occasionally. With the artifact count increasing, I could see Chrome Mox eventually not having a home. I do believe this would require something else to be printed in the future.
Everyone is so eager to cut Rite of Flame from the deck currently, but I don’t necessarily agree with this. Rite of Flame, while less important than the past, is still a key player. You do need something to imprint onto Chrome Mox, right? Joking aside, the real reason to play Rite of Flame is that without it, your deck starts to feel under-powered at times. There are games in which you do not draw Lion’s Eye Diamond or Dark Ritual, and a pair of Rite of Flames does pick up the slack. Having additional effects that can create a plus-two on your mana investment is very important against hate pieces. With many opponents looking to target Lion’s Eye Diamond with their copies of Surgical Extraction, this can put a strain on lists without Rite of Flame. The red sorcery’s most practical use comes from reaching the desired #Storm20 for Grapeshot in the face of Veil of Summer. It really does make obtaining a Storm count that high very easy, which is part of the benefit of the sideboard copy.
Another benefit is the ability to help play around hate pieces such as Karn, The Great Creator or actual Null Rod. With the sideboard plan against Delver of Secrets strategies to be to bring in Empty the Warrens, having additional on-color accelerants to reach four mana is extremely important.
These things said, I can envision a world without the Rite of Flames. This most likely comes from future printings, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I also sort of wonder which breaks first, Chrome Mox or Rite of Flame?
Veil of Summer is something on everyone’s watch list. Is it going to be banned? No clue. I do think we should abuse the powerful things while we have the card, however, and not plan too far ahead into the future. If you’re interested in my thoughts on what should happen regarding Veil of Summer, check out the closing section in Using The EPIC Storm Data.
As far as the future of Ad Nauseam Tendrils goes, it’s tough to say.
ANT hasn’t changed much since the printing of Past in Flames in 2011. In fact, it’s gained exactly one card since then in Dark Petition. The only other change that’s happened is the banning of Gitaxian Probe which forced their hand at adapting the easy swap with Thoughtseize.
I do think there’s room for innovation, but there may not be people trying to do so. It’s very tough to tell from the outside looking in. 2019 gifted degenerate decks a lot of gifts, but it’s up to the players on how they opt to view or see these cards. A wider perspective might be what’s needed. That’s all it took for myself with Hope of Ghirapur into Mox Opal, now look at us! The key is not getting too content in playing someone else’s 75. I believe that could be said for both Storm variants.
The ANT cabal goes through time periods where the featured faces or names phase out, due to many reasons which include: a lack of interest in Magic: the Gathering, interests in other archetypes or formats, personal lives, and other issues. I believe right now might be a time for individuals to step up and take a shot at being the next figure-head through innovation and/or improvement.
One ANT pilot I’ve always admired is my good friend of mine, Brandon Osborne. Recently, he’s been trying out a hybrid style list bringing ANT more towards TES. You can view his list here. Looking at Brandon’s list, he has taken the mandatory first step in improving ANT — that is cutting Duress. You want Duress for Control and Combo matchups, but the issue with this is that the competitive decks in these archetypes all contain Veil of Summer to some extent. This makes Duress essentially laughable in those matchups. At least Thoughtseize is still very good against midrange and prison strategies. If you’re removing Duress, Veil of Summer makes a lot of sense to me. That said, I don’t know if I love Defense Grid in a slower strategy as your opponent is more likely to have time to build up mana to cast their spells through it. Defense Grid might still work, but would need extensive testing to find out if it’s worth the inclusion.
Another thing I enjoy about Brandon’s list is he’s using Burning Wish for Grapeshot to help prevent ANT’s major issue with Veil of Summer. His list is capable of killing the opponent on the same turn, which is a big upgrade to stock lists.
If you’re trying to figure out which Storm variant is for you, the answer depends on if you want to do the leg-work on fixing ANT. Many notable ANT pilots have been switching over to TES in the last month or so, and there have already been some notable finishes. TES is very strong right now, and will most likely continue, even if Veil of Summer ends up on the banned list. I have a few ideas on how we can continue on with the current strategy. It’s always good to plan ahead and keep a few ideas in your back pocket. That’s how we ended up playing Crash after all of those years of “Wish”-ing it was a Sorcery!
This article is pretty long-winded at this point, if you’ve made it this far — thank you for reading. Happy New Year, and as always, keep storming!