How To Count To Ten: GP Denver Edition

Need a deck to play at your next Legacy event? GP Nashville finalist Ari Lax suggests trying one of the two major builds of Storm, The Epic Storm and Ad Nauseam Tendrils.

If I wasn’t commentating at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Columbus the first weekend in January, I would be at Grand Prix Denver playing Storm. This probably doesn’t sound surprising to most of you, but there was a decent stretch of time where the deck was not a good choice. No common matchup was great, and Miracles was actually just bad due to Counterbalance.

Then Deathrite Shaman happened. Have you seen these decks? Nice Shardless Agents, guess I’m not getting Counterspelled or Spell Pierced. Some of those lists are even cutting Force of Wills from the maindeck. I’m looking at Jarvis Yu. In trying to next level the mirror, the fair decks have become too inbred. Right now is the time for someone to show up and remind them all why previous blue decks looked the way they did.

While just under two weeks is a very short amount of time to pick up the deck, it’s more than enough for someone experienced with it to get back into Tendrils mode and adapt to the new changes.

For the first time in a while, there are legitimate reasons to play both major builds of Storm as opposed to one just being the better deck for the current metagame.

The Epic Storm (TES), the five-color list featuring Burning Wish, Rite of Flame, and Silence, is slightly faster due to Chrome Mox making early mana, the extra four bomb spells main, and turning Ad Nauseam with zero floating into a safe play. If you count the games where it just Burning Wishes for ten to fourteen Goblins via Empty the Warrens as the kill, this difference is even more pronounced. This often lets you race two-drop interaction like Thalia or Counterbalance or Hymn to Tourach.

Making Goblins requires only six mana, allowing kills with less combo cards against discard or through more soft counters like Daze. Silence also has a lot of niche advantages that were once much more relevant, like busting up sets of Spell Snare and Mindbreak Trap or winning combo mirrors. Your “off color” sideboard cards (i.e., Abrupt Decay) are also better positioned against Wastelands because you have six actual lands that cast them as opposed to one dual land you fetch for that can instantly die.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT), the base blue-black list with Cabal Ritual and Preordain, is generally a bit more stable. In matchups where your opponent only has light disruption and gives you some time, ANT better at assembling the combo through it every time. The additional cantrips let you chain them to almost always have a turn 3 kill and have a Duress or two if you want to wait, whereas TES sometimes just can’t filter for cards. The increased number of fetchlands improves your Brainstorms and lets you ignore Wasteland by fetching basics, whereas TES can have certain hands that have issues with the card.

ANT is also easier to play through Daze effects; all your rituals cost the same color of mana so your minimum startup cost is lower, Cabal Ritual adds three instead of one to two, and your disruption can be cast on other turns than your combo turn. TES can win through the taxing counters with some tight play and good counting, but it’s easier for those decks to add up to just too much.

The biggest play difference between the two is how the decks handle Brainstorm. ANT plays a very traditional Legacy game with Brainstorm, only casting it with a fetch, to counter discard, or when setting up to hide a card then sacrifice Lion’s Eye Diamond in response to a second cantrip. You often have enough fetchlands to use them on Ponders, drawing one or two cards then shuffling a third.

TES just throws Brainstorms out there since it’s higher fast mana density and lower fetch land count mean that often the card isn’t paired with a shuffle. Whether that is because you don’t have one or the game immediately ends depends on how things go. Ponders or Infernal Tutors are ways to get out of a self-imposed Brainstorm lock, but ideally the way out is that the game ends without you drawing another card.

The Epic Storm

“Recent” Changes and Alternatives

Maindeck Tendrils of Agony, No Maindeck Empty the Warrens

Bryant Cook, the creator of this list, has been a proponent of swapping to Empty the Warrens as the maindeck storm card to kill with so that your Infernal Tutors can also function as low storm, six mana kills. Personally, I feel having to find an Infernal Tutor to kill after resolving Ad Nauseam or Diminishing Returns makes both of these cards significantly worse. I’m just much more comfortable having reliable Tendrils kills in these cases. Some of this may be stylistic, so try both out if you plan on playing the deck.

4 Gitaxian Probe

First of all, this is four less cards in your deck. That’s four less cards that aren’t Lion’s Eye Diamond to draw. It also lets you set up a few cool things with Ponder, Brainstorm, and Lion’s Eye Diamond as an additional cantrip.

The added storm off Gitaxian Probe makes your Empty the Warrens much more powerful. The only hard number I can cite is the fourteen Goblin threshold that beats them following up with Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull, but generally the additional copy puts the creature count completely out of range of fairly fighting without a sweeper.

Finally, one of the big issues with TES prior to Probe was the lack of information. Guessing which line of interaction they had often drastically affects your play, and you only had a set of Duresses to know for sure how to play. Often the line required deciding whether to Duress them there and risk a Wasteland or just go for it. Now you have seven cards that show you their hand, of which four are just free rolls.

Also worth noting is that the cards you cut for Probe are generally the worst of a category you have a ton of redundant effects in, which when you account for the fact your deck is 56 cards gives you very similar ratios. You cut the thirteenth land (one fetch), the eighth disruption spell (one Duress that overlaps on hand peeking), and the tenth action spell (the second Ad Nauseam) and the 24th fast mana short (the fourth Chrome Mox, which also reduces your odds of drawing multiples of that card).

One consequence of this change is Ad Nauseam gets a marginal amount worse on average. While you cut the second Ad Nauseam, that’s just an occasional big swing you have avoided.

3 Abrupt Decay

I’ve previously talked about my dislike of Krosan Grip as a way to beat Counterbalance because it does nothing to help you combo, but Abrupt Decay has a few key benefits. The big one is that the current Counterbalance lists are much lighter on disruption than the old lists. Instead of needing to fight through Spell Snare and Counterspell when they don’t have the lock, you just need to beat Force of Will. Being down a card is much more acceptable in that situation. Abrupt Decay can also kill Rest in Peace to break up the Helm of Obedience combo.

The big bonus: Abrupt Decay is a real card against Maverick-style hate bears. This means your Counterbalance hate card takes up zero actual sideboard slots.

Three may be too many. It still is a conditional answer for their threat out of a deck that is clearly the aggressor in the Counterbalance matchup, and you need a certain amount of actually live cards and answers to Force of Will to play a game of Magic against them.

2 Chain of Vapor, 0 Echoing Truth, 0 Karakas

Chain of Vapor is the other catchall answer to permanent-based hate. The one mana difference between it and Echoing Truth is a huge deal when answering Thalia or other Sphere of Resistance effects, and the ability to Chain bounce your own mana artifacts comes up every so often.

Karakas is the new contender for this slot as it bounces some of the most common creatures targeted by Chain of Vapor: Thalia, Gaddock Teeg, and Iona. Beyond these, it also bounces the random Show and Tell creatures. I’ve just found Chain to be a more versatile card than Karakas and am afraid of them being able to use their own Karakas to preempt mine, but whether this is a real concern compared to Mother of Runes beating Chain of Vapor is to be seen. I haven’t actually put in enough testing to actually say one is definitively better.

Worth noting: Abrupt Decay is a better board than Chain of Vapor against a lot of the matchups like Goblins where you want an answer for a hate card just in case. If they don’t have it, removal is usually better than bounce at stalling them.

2 Thoughtseize, 1 Duress, 0 Cabal Therapy, 0 Inquisition of Kozilek

You need a full seven cards to board in against Maverick for your current disruption suite that does nothing against Thalia. Additional discard that hits creatures is a strong, versatile option. Inquisition of Kozilek is the best against Maverick, but as that deck has faded out of the metagame the sideboard has shifted towards a set of disruption that matches up better elsewhere (see also: cards that take Force of Will).

Personally, I find the guessing game of Cabal Therapy a huge issue. Without a Gitaxian Probe, there are too many coin flips. Do you name Force of Will or Counterbalance with minimal information when both are lethal? What about when they might have a Spell Pierce instead of a Force that when added to their Daze causes issues? As a result of this, I’ve opted for the surefire Thoughtseize. As you only need two of these cards to board in against Maverick, one slot became the fourth Duress as the best one to Wish for or board in against control. Short version: I’m not close to good enough with Therapy to play it with minimal assistance. If you are better at it, it may be worth running.

1 Pyroclasm, 0 Grapeshot, 0 Infest, 0 Virtue’s Ruin

I finally had a game where I would want the Grapeshot. It involved my opponent nearly stopping an Empty the Warrens, and Grapeshot would have meant I could Wish for an immediate out had he survived at one to two life. That was the first time that has happened to me. Until it happens more, I would rather have the better sweeper.

As for the others, getting to four mana to kill a Thalia is a much bigger issue than getting to three for a Pyroclasm, even if they do work through Mother of Runes.

1 Deathmark, 0 Silent Departure

Iona was a dead card long before Deathrite Shaman came into play. Being able to answer Thalia and then pass the turn is a more relevant concern right now than answering Iona on Black.

1 Ill-Gotten Gains, 0 Past in Flames

One of these gets back Lion’s Eye Diamond. The other doesn’t. While Past in Flames doesn’t turn on their Force of Wills in graveyard, it is much more likely you aren’t going to have enough mana to go off when using it. Past in Flames has some benefits as a spell you can move in on then use again later if countered, but I’ve only had one instance I wanted the card where as I regularly want Ill-Gotten Gains over it.

1 Shattering Spree, 0 Hull Breach, 0 Revoke Existence

This largely has to do with how many Chain of Vapors you are playing. You would rather have the Stax killer if you can, but if you play Abrupt Decay and Karakas, you don’t have a way to kill an enchantment like Leyline of Sanctity if you need to do so. I don’t know if the dual kill on Hull Breach matters, but Revoke Existence can be cast off an Underground Sea or Mox, which seems much more relevant to me.

Note: All of these kill Chalice of the Void set to one. Shattering Spree’s replicate copies aren’t countered by the trigger.

0 Xantid Swarm

This card is only good against blue combo and Merfolk. If you judge that to be extremely relevant, you can move some slots around for it, but don’t get tricked into boarding this card against people who may just have removal.

Game Play Notes

I only have a couple play notes, but they are key to winning with the deck:

First, sideboard sparingly. Usually, the only cards I change are swapping out disruption for other disruption that is better in that matchup and trading out a Ponder or Gitaxian Probe for a fourth discard spell against Force of Will decks without discard. If you are sideboarding more than two or three cards, it’s because Silence and Duress are getting upgraded.

Second, when playing against Miracles, the best plan is to try to kill them as early as possible. The other option is casting Duress, but between Sensei’s Divining Top and Brainstorm, they can easily beat that card when on the play. You usually can’t afford to keep cantrip setup hands in that matchup, which incidentally means that while TES is not great there it is significantly better than ANT, which always has to set up.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils

While I haven’t played this list enough since the addition of Past in Flames to know a lot of the intricacies that have changed, I can comment on a few random things.

Four Infernal Tutor is definitely pushing the low end of threat density for the deck. Even with the effective 56-card deck size, you have dropped from 11.7% of your deck being game enders to 9%. The two Grim Tutors I previously played is definitely too many of that card with the additional four cantrips, but one would be enough to make up most of the difference. Burning Wish is also reasonable, but only playing one or two of that card when it eats sideboard slots just feels bad.

Carpet of Flowers is a very powerful card against the tempo decks that has been discussed for the TES board as well, but as mentioned above, having to fetch your off color land against decks with Wasteland is a big issue. If your Carpet gets Spell Pierced, it’s a huge blow out.

If Storm isn’t your thing, my suggestion would be to play a non-blue Deathrite Shaman deck or a slower combo deck like High Tide or Blue Enchantress. Both punish the current blue Deathrite Shaman decks for being midrange blue decks but trade the raw power of Storm against the field for a more solid game plan against some of the more counterspell-heavy blue decks. Alternatively, you could just RUG Delver people. The deck is still the same as always: in the dark every match is even-ish, but every punt they make gives you a huge edge. If you were paying attention, you will notice these are the decks that went 7-1 or better at the last SCG Invitational, but that was because they were all legitimately well positioned.

Of course, the last deck that went 7-1 was Storm. I would also suggest playing that one.

Shout Outs

Bryant Cook for putting in huge amounts of work developing TES over the past year.

Brian DeMars for making an awesome format in The Danger Room. Think Cube without needing to set up a draft and with much more interactive games.

Ari Lax

@armlx on Twitter