Mental Misstep was a disaster for Storm decks for two reasons.
First of all, the card itself was fairly good against the decks themselves. The fast Storm decks were already soft to any disruption, so another free counter was enough to drive them out entirely. The “slow” Storm decks were able to handle Misstep, but it was another hoop to jump through. Especially obnoxious was the fact it could be used on an early Brainstorm, not only countering your best card but leaving you down a card and consequentially usually a spell further from ten. All the disruption spells in Storm also cost one, so Mental Misstep was just extra copies of Force of Will once the blue player had their first.
Second, the card made post-board hate miserable to deal with. Previously Chain of Vapor made it easy or even profitable to answer a Gaddock Teeg. Misstep made it less reliable to not just resolve the answers but harder to find them if the blue player started attacking your cantrips.
Finally, Mental Misstep removed a large portion of the bye matchups for Storm from the metagame. Goblins and Zoo, two of the top decks prior to New Phyrexia and virtual byes for Storm, were mostly replaced with more blue decks. Things got even worse once you looked at the top end of the metagame. At the Star City Invitational, I played against the card six of seven rounds, and that seemed to be the norm.
Realistically, there wasn’t a good reason to play a combo deck without Mental Misstep, and Lion’s Eye Diamond is not good friends with that card.
Now that Misstep is gone, things are going to go back in time a few months. Let’s see what things were like back then.
Oh, yeah, that’s how it went.
Of course, there isn’t just one option for Storm. I know which list I like, but a lot of Storm is based on personal preference just due to comfort with the lines of play having as much to do with your wins as your deck choice. For those just joining the mechanic and those who want a refresher, these are the major options for abusing one of the most broken mechanics of all time.
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Cabal Ritual
- 4 Duress
- 4 Dark Ritual
- 2 Grim Tutor
- 1 Ill-Gotten Gains
- 4 Lotus Petal
- 4 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Ponder
- 2 Thoughtseize
- 1 Ad Nauseam
- 4 Preordain
The basic shell of ANT dates back to old Ill-Gotten Gains–based decks, but it obviously didn’t exist until the namesake card was printed. The deck ended up being one of the reasons Mystical Tutor was banned, at which point the focus shifted away from just finding Ad Nauseam and the mana for it to assembling a known lethal hand. The card still exists as an option should you need it, but it’s more so a matchup-dependent tool than your plan A.
Benefits of ANT Over Other Combo Decks
You win by turn three almost every game, often with Duress backup and almost always with backup if you wait another turn.
The twelve cantrips also mean that your opening hands are much more consistent than the other Storm decks, resulting in fewer mulligans. The importance of this can’t be understated, as every card in hand is another spell that counts towards a win. The density of card filtering also lets you outgun the Landstill-style decks going late.
The two-color setup also makes you significantly more resilient to Daze and Wasteland. The Wasteland part should be fairly obvious, as you never have to fetch or even play a dual land before you win the game if you don’t want to.
The Daze part is a bit more subtle. Once you start going off, you only need black mana, so burning all your initial mana to resolve a Dark Ritual through Dazes and Spell Pierce doesn’t matter as you just chain from there. In the multi-color variants, you can find yourself constrained by needing red for your Rite of Flame and Burning Wish, black for your Dark Ritual and Tendrils, and white for your Orim’s Chant to lead with. When you have to pay for a Daze to start off with, you suddenly need four mana to start with as opposed to just two. The two problems really compound on each other as the two cards are often seen in the same deck, with Wasteland keeping you on two or three mana in play when you need four to beat a Daze.
The summary: ANT is the deck that just jams a Tendrils for twenty at them on turn three through most of the standard interaction people play without having to jump through many hoops.
Drawbacks of ANT Compared to Other Combo Decks
There is no realistic way to include maindeck answers to hard hate in this deck. Without a real tutor like Mystical Tutor or Burning Wish, you can’t reliably find them. This means you are dead to a game-one Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist, Runed Halo, or whatever other card you can think of that does the same thing.
There are definite drawbacks to the deck being so linear as well. You are all-in on Tendrils with ANT, as opposed to having any backup plan like Empty the Warrens and don’t really have any “Go big and see what happens” cards like Diminishing Returns to go for when you are down on life and cards. This usually comes up in situations where your opponent is around thirty life and you are under ten, cutting off Ad Nauseam as a storm builder. In a post-Batterskull world, this is likely to be more relevant than before.
Grim Tutor is also mediocre. It is the best card at doing the job it does while still letting you dodge Wasteland, but it has a lot of issues involving the life loss and added mana. Four Infernal Tutors also isn’t enough either, so just cutting them isn’t the answer. I’ve tried just splashing Burning Wish—but that opens up some of the Daze and Wasteland issues—and adding another Ad Nauseam and Chrome Moxes, which makes you a bit softer going late and adds Mox-related issues.
The overall problem: ANT’s linearity can come back to hurt it in the end. When scenarios it isn’t prepared for start occurring, it doesn’t have that many lines to get out.
Doomsday is a strange card. Ever since the swap from Type 1.5 to Legacy legalized the card after five years on the banned list, the deck has existed in various forms but has only started cracking Top Eights in the US recently, and even then only really in the form of decks aiming to Shelldock Isle an Emrakul into play.
Then you have Germany, where Doomsday Tendrils was shredding the metagame up until the release of Mental Misstep.
If anything, this is the deck that has gotten an upgrade since May in the form of Gitaxian Probe. The other blue Phyrexian one-drop gives this deck another set of free options to immediately draw into the top of a Doomsday stack.
Note: This list is completely untested and an amalgam of a bunch of lists, mainly Chris Alsheimer’s. For example, I have no clue if Ideas Unbound or Meditate is better. Ideas costs less mana to win with, but if you have to throw in a bounce or removal spell, Meditate piles cost less and can go bigger with Doomsday to Doomsday stacks. The green splash could be irrelevant, or you might want to splash red for Burning Wish and white for Chants.
Benefits of DDFT Over Other Combo Decks
This deck does anything and everything. I’m sure you can build the deck and your Doomsday stack to win through a ton of different options. Beyond the basic Chain of Vapor piles or just having Emrakul main, you have piles than can push you upwards of fifteen storm involving Ill-Gotten Gains and/or setting up Doomsday into Doomsday loops.
Your life total is less relevant, and you need fewer cards in hand to go off. As long as you have two life, Doomsday can resolve and win the game with just a cantrip and a few mana.
You also have the best long game weapon of any Storm deck in Sensei’s Divining Top. You can sit there against walls of countermagic and set up the perfect hand better than any other Storm deck.
Putting this all together, Doomsday is the best deck when it has the chance to hang out and set up.
Drawbacks of DDFT Compared to Other Combo Decks
You lose mana stability relative to ANT. The BBB for Doomsday means more Underground Seas and more ability to be Wastelanded, as well as the UU or 2U for the big card draw spell after Doomsday making Daze more relevant.
You cut down on fast mana, meaning you can be stranded off a turn-three kill a lot more than the other Storm decks. Sometimes this means that a Wild Nacatl just kills you.
As much as you can win off a higher life total, the half life loss off Doomsday can be problematic against Fireblast and Lightning Bolts.
Finally, and probably most relevant, Doomsday is sometimes nearly impossible to figure out. You need to consider which five of your sixty cards to get, as well as stack order, end storm count, and mana through the entire chain. All of that is also assuming you don’t have to play around any effects your opponent might have. If you play the card at the wrong time, you die. Too many times, Doomsday becomes go into the tank for two minutes, sets aside five cards, looks again, swaps three out, tanks again, then concedes.
All in all, Doomsday has the most issues with pressure, both in game and mental, of all the Storm decks.
(Note to the Reader: I have tried out Past in Flames as a replacement or addition to Ill-Gotten Gains, but at least in this version, it is not good. I have never actually won off Ill-Gotten Gains without getting back Lion’s Eye Diamond, and I think that much of a drawback is not worth being able to dodge countermagic, especially when you already can in the form of Silence effects).
If someone asked me what my all-time favorite deck was, it would be TES without question.
Epic Storm dates back to around 2006, when designer Bryant Cook found himself disappointed with most other combo options. Slowly, Wizards printed cards that made the deck more of a contender, from Rite of Flame in Coldsnap to Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens in Time Spiral. The deck went through constant changes, repeatedly adding and removing different cards, including draw fours like Cruel Bargain and protection spells like Defense Grid.
Then Ad Nauseam was printed! This was the birth of the modern Storm combo decks we know today, giving them an alternate way to win the game if Ill-Gotten Gains or Empty the Warrens wasn’t enough. This card alone caused the deck to see major changes. The life loss of Thoughtseize was too much, and the mana cost on Simian Spirit Guide made it borderline unplayable.
With the release of M10 came two rules changes that would affect Storm decks immensely. The first change was that “outside of the game” no longer referred to cards removed from the game but was instead kept to just your sideboard. This meant that you couldn’t set up weird loops like Burning Wish for Burning Wish or Ill-Gotten Gains.
The second change was that you could no longer float mana between your upkeep and your draw step. You could no longer crack Lion’s Eye Diamond on your upkeep, to then draw and cast Ad Nauseam. This made Mystical Tutor much worse, and it went from a three- or four-of, down to a one- or two-of.
The deck adapted and moved on. Wizards tried to keep us down with Leyline of Sanctity and Mindbreak Trap among other hate cards, but none was as prevalent as Mental Misstep as discussed earlier in the article.
Benefits of Epic Storm Over Other Combo Decks
An argument that I’ve heard since I’ve started playing Legacy is the common debate between which is better—Epic Storm or Ad Nauseam Tendrils. I personally find Epic Storm to be much better. This is for a few reasons, and they apply to why I think this deck is better than most other combo choices.
The first reason is the versatility that Epic Storm provides. I’ve very often found that it is much harder for ANT to win through heavy countermagic because they only have discard spells. Orim’s Chant and Silence mean that a TES pilot can still win with Ill-Gotten Gains even if their opponent still has counterspells in their graveyard. The two most popular ways and essentially the only ways (minus some loops with Infernal Tutor) that ANT wins are through Ill-Gotten Gains and Ad Nauseam. If the opponent has some counterspells in the graveyard, it becomes impossible to win with Ill-Gotten Gains, forcing you to go for the ever-risky Ad Nauseam.
In TES, the chant effects and Burning Wish make it possible to still win the game from a low life total through heavy countermagic in the opponent’s graveyard. Versatility is also found in Burning Wish, allowing a TES pilot to choose from a wide variety of answers out of the sideboard, even in game 1!
Another reason I prefer TES is that I find it to have the perfect mix of speed and resiliency. ANT is slightly slower with more cantrips but has slightly more protection. I’m fine with giving up one or two pieces of protection to be at least a turn faster. TES is slower than the All-In on turn one style of combo decks but has more protection against hate. TES is faster than the heavy protection combo decks, at the cost of only a small amount of defensive spells. There are a few more minute benefits, but these are the main reasons to play TES over other combo decks.
Drawbacks of TES Compared to Other Combo Decks
One problem with TES is the susceptibility to Wasteland. Stifle itself usually isn’t a problem due to only having four fetchlands, but Wasteland can sometimes blow you out of games that you originally thought were going to be an easy win.
Consistency compared to other combo decks can also sometimes be annoying, but the difference is usually so miniscule that over the course of a tournament, you won’t notice much of a change. Most other combo decks like High Tide play more cantrips than the eight that exist in TES, but Burning Wish can also be considered a be all, end all cantrip in most situations.
Another major drawback is the variety of mana necessary to go off. If you’re not casting any cantrips the turn you go off, you still need to usually make black, white and red, which can make you much more susceptible to Daze if you don’t cast your spells in the right order.
The final drawback of TES is the lack of speed compared to Belcher combo decks, but in a way, this really isn’t a drawback. You lose a lot of chances to go off turn 1 but gain ways to win through just a single Force of Will in the opposing hand. Obviously my love affair with Epic Storm might be clouding some of my judgment, but I feel that TES just has more benefits than drawbacks compared to other combo decks.
The short version is that TES has more options than other Storm decks but is less consistent and resilient than the other “long”-game builds.
- 1 Taiga
Here’s a quick guide to know if you should be playing Belcher:
– You find you never have enough time between each round to relax and eat
– You can’t stand playing Magic for more than five minutes at a time
– You like making little kids cry
If you felt that at least two of those lines fit your personality, then Belcher just might be the deck for you.
Belcher is based around the namesake card, Goblin Charbelcher. Notorious for its consistent turn-one kill—or turn-two, since Goblin tokens have to attack—Goblin Charbelcher is one of the quickest decks in the format. This deck coined the term “Belcher-Style Decks,” meaning all-in combo decks with minimal protection that try to win usually within the first three turns.
There are different variants within the Belcher deck, usually on the number of lands each deck plays. Personally, I find the One-Land Belcher to be best, as you have a much lower chance of fizzling with Goblin Charbelcher.
I don’t have as much experience with this deck, so I have a bit less to say about this than TES, but here’s what I know. First of all, Belcher obviously became a deck after Mirrodin, when Goblin Charbelcher was printed. The exact time afterward when it became a deck is unknown to me (feel free to point it out in the comment section), but the deck was constantly changing. Back then, and even today, people aren’t sure of how many lands to play in the deck (usually it’s between one and three), and cards are constantly being tested out and added to the deck.
The printing of Empty the Warrens gave the deck another way to win that couldn’t just be answered by Force of Will, and Gitaxian Probe lets you know whether or not it’s safe to go off, while also creating some free storm count if you’re on the Empty the Warrens plan. Similar to TES, the deck plays Burning Wish so that it can grab the singleton Tendrils of Agony as another answer to decks with counterspells (if you can force the Burning Wish through) as well as the fourth copy of Empty the Warrens. This deck is constantly evolving, and I’d be interested to hear what you the reader thinks the best version is and why.
Benefits of Belcher Over Other Combo Decks
To be honest, the only benefit I can think of for playing Belcher is the speed. You give up a lot of room to protect yourself just to increase the sheer number of turn-one kills, which in a world without Mental Misstep and Force of Will is reasonable. (We’re halfway there, but I doubt Force of Will is getting banned anytime soon. Sorry, fellow combo players.) However, in a world where people are packing hate, you need at least some form of protection. Post-board you have some interaction, but game one is all about the combo.
Similar to Dredge, Belcher forces your opponent to not play “normal” Magic. No matter how good your hand may be, if you’re playing against Belcher and don’t have any interaction in your hand, there is a really good chance that you will lose. This causes an opponent to mulligan aggressively and sometimes end up with a four- or five-card hand with still no interaction and fewer cards than they want. This is obviously one of the biggest benefits of playing Belcher.
Drawbacks of Belcher Compared to Other Combo Decks
As previously stated, game one you are cold to any hate that can’t really be played around. A Force of Will or two, and you’ll be sideboarding for game two. Gitaxian Probe helps to know whether it’s safe but doesn’t actually do anything if you see that they have something.
After sideboarding, you have answers to their hate, but it still sometimes isn’t enough. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Belcher for any long tournament, as the luck and hate will catch up to you, but if you want to play it in a small, local tournament, then it is definitely a decent choice, as you can win three or four rounds through hate relatively easily.
The Force of Will issue is something you can sometimes handle with an Empty the Warrens draw, but they can just counter the right Ritual, and you only have three actual Empties to play. The real issue is that by waiting, the blue deck’s hand will get better faster than yours.
The deck is not nearly as consistent as you want it to be. Almost every time I’ve played against the deck, at least one game of the match it doesn’t have anything on turn one. There are often games where you are on the play where you just hope your turn-two draw makes a mana.
Duress is even more of a disaster than Force of Will. I’ve won every game on the play against Belcher with U/B Storm.
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Dryad Arbor
- 3 Tendrils of Agony
- 4 Cabal Ritual
- 4 Dark Ritual
- 4 Cruel Bargain
- 4 Land Grant
- 2 Goblin Charbelcher
- 4 Infernal Contract
- 4 Culling the Weak
- 1 Ill-Gotten Gains
- 4 Lotus Petal
- 4 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 4 Chrome Mox
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Summoner's Pact
- 2 Manamorphose
SI is very similar to Belcher in principle but is functionally quite a bit different. Instead of Empty being plan B to Belcher as plan A, you have Belcher as plan B to a lethal Tendrils. The enabler of choice is the black draw fours.
Before Summoner’s Pact, SI existed with a Phyrexian Walker and Shield Sphere shell to provide fodder for Cabal Therapy and Culling the Weak. That list has some interaction but also has significantly more dead cards, making it much worse at actually winning.
Pact not only gave the deck access to another four Rituals but let it cut down on the blanks. There are only two creatures to support Culling the Weak now, with Witness mostly being a way for Summoner’s Pact to directly ramp up storm. Dryad Arbor is fairly obvious, as you can Land Grant for it, and it doesn’t cost mana to play; Odious Trow seems strange to everyone at first but carries a lot of weight. The fact it is a one-drop to Culling that you can Pact for and play off floating black mana comes up a lot. It also imprints very well onto a Chrome Mox when you draw it.
The Ill-Gotten Gains is not standard, but you just want some big spell to Infernal for to storm up. The alternative is Slithermuse, but even when testing it for full value every time the card was mediocre.
Interesting note: Drawing first is often correct with this deck. Against Merfolk and other Daze decks, you are punished for letting them get another counter on line, but you gain a significant number of turn-one kills on the draw against the rest of the field.
Benefits of SI Over Other Combo Decks
Assuming you draw first, you’re a more consistent turn-one deck than Belcher. Even on the play, you have more keepable hands because you don’t need quite as much mana to start going off.
Beyond that, you have all the benefits of Belcher. Sometimes you can’t afford to give your opponent time.
Drawbacks of SI Compared to Other Combo Decks
You can recover from a Force a bit better than Belcher at times, as Infernal Contract requires a lower investment than Goblin Charbelcher, and you can more often just keep going, but you’re still very soft to free counters. There isn’t much to say here; that’s what happens when you play a combo deck without interaction. The sideboard is a halfhearted attempt to fix this, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t close to enough.
Life loss can also be an issue. I’ve watched SI lose to Zoo because they were looking at a Lightning Bolt and needed to Contract three times to win.
SI is the most reliable deck if your opponent is doing absolutely nothing, but its quality falls off drastically the more wrenches they throw into your plan.
Past in Flames
No, I don’t have a list. Yes, this card is probably as insane as it looks.
The first thing to realize about Past in Flames is that it likely wants a whole new deck based around it. Ad Nauseam wasn’t just jammed into old lists successfully.
Where to start though?
- Past in Flames makes red Rituals significantly better. You want to flashback Brainstorms and the like off it, meaning you need to consolidate your colors a lot better. Red lets you Manamorphose into the blue mana necessary to keep going, while black just kinda sits there. Infernal Tutoring with it is cool, but is dodging a Force of Will rebuy that much better than being able to get back Lion’s Eye Diamond off IGG? The loss of black would also require a shift in disruption towards Pact of Negation, most likely.
- Intuition and other graveyard effects go wild with this card. On top of some Iggy Pop style loops with Intuition for three copies of this card into Intuition for Rituals and/or more Intuitions, something like Mental Note turns into an Ancestral.
- You need to consider if you want a real backup plan for something like a Tormod’s Crypt and whether this extra vulnerability is worth it.
I personally haven’t put enough time into the deck to definitively play it at an event, but it would not shock me to see it break out.
So overall, I hope you enjoyed a brief history on the set of decks known as “Storm Decks” along with the different options you can choose for this weekend at SCG Open: Indianapolis. With Mental Misstep gone, I’ll be playing TES at many more events (no more Illusionary Masks… for now), and hopefully you give it a try. The decks are very skill intensive in learning the different lines of play for each game state (more so Doomsday than Belcher of course), and a lot of math is involved in each and every game you play. Hope to see you all in Baltimore next month!