Raiding The Necromancer’s Vault

This week Carsten shares the results of his testing with Lim-Dul’s Vault in Ad Nauseam Tendrils. See if you should try it this weekend at #SCGINVI!

Well, after a couple of articles dedicated to brewing with the new cards, I felt it was time to go back to one of my old favorites: Cabal Ad Nauseam Tendrils, still sadly misnamed for Ad Nauseam when it has been mainly a Past in Flames deck for a while now.

The biggest decklist-related discussion—pretty much the only one actually—surrounding the deck is how to fill the last couple of slots to ensure you’re going to hit a business spell before your opponent has managed to goldfish you. Common solutions include splashing enough red to run Burning Wish, just maxing out on cantrips a la Adam Prosak, and the clunky but serviceable old workhorse Grim Tutor—the card I’ve used in the past. Now, though, I believe I’ve found a card much better suited for that role:

When I say "found," what I mean is "I saw it in Martin Vonasek’s (aka Sloshthedark on mtgthesource) list and tested it," after which I concluded that the card is the bee’s knees in modern Cabal ANT.

There isn’t much to say about the deck itself that hasn’t been explained before. If you’re interested in learning about the basics of playing and constructing Cabal ANT, I suggest you read a couple of the following articles:

My introduction to the deck
My two-part series about playing the deck
My two tournament reports for GP Strasbourg and its huge side event
[author name="Adam Prosak"]Adam Prosak’s[/author] primer for the sixteen-cantrip  version
Ari Lax old primer for the U/B version
Timo Schunemann’s tournament report/primer for the Burning Wish version
The thread on mththesource.com

Instead of rehashing things that have been said already, I’ll just shortly cover my current list before focusing on the power of Lim-Dul’s Vault in Cabal ANT.

Before we start, these are a few common acronyms and short forms used to refer to certain cards (using them from time to time will help me not go insane while typing this up):

LDV: Lim-Dul’s Vault
LED: Lion’s Eye Diamond
PiF: Past in Flames
Probe: Gitaxian Probe
Petal: Lotus Petal
Infernal: Infernal Tutor
Tendrils or ToA: Tendrils of Agony

Listing Storm

Let’s start by taking a look at Martin’s innovative list that led to me retest Lim-Dul’s Vault:

There are a couple of things I really don’t like about his list, the mana base being the biggest one. Not having any basics eliminates the option of playing around Wasteland for not much gain in my opinion.

I also hate not having the fourth Ponder, and while the sideboard looks intriguing, I can’t help but wonder if Notion Thief is really where it’s at. Ground Seal, though, is something I’d like to test some more—so far it’s been pretty mediocre—because it looks like the ideal answer to Deathrite Shaman and Extirpate effects. It cantrips and makes sure your Past in Flames kill or threshold for Cabal Ritual isn’t going to be shut down. My problem with it so far has been that it really sucks if they don’t have the Shaman in spite of drawing you a card.

Anyway, here’s what testing Lim-Dul’s Vault has morphed my own list into:

(The missing four sideboard cards are metagame slots.)

The numbers on Duress and Cabal Therapy should probably be flipped in an ideal world, but in all honesty I’m just not good enough at extrapolating for Therapy and win a lot more games if I get to choose after seeing their hand. If you feel comfortable casting blind Cabal Therapys, feel free to make the switch. The Sensei’s Divining Tops made it in instead of my usual Preordains for two reasons. First, they’re similarly good, and this way you are pretty much pre-boarded against the oh-so-common discard-based disruption. Secondly, they have awesome synergy with our newest toy Lim-Dul’s Vault.

The metagame slots in the sideboard can be filled with Ground Seal, Pyroclasm, Surgical Extraction, Karakas, or whatever other answers you think you might need. Another option is to test Young Pyromancer for the semi-transformation.

One card that could easily turn up as the twelfth card is Ad Nauseam. I’ve been experimenting with a double Past in Flames maindeck similar to Martin’s and have rarely missed the black instant. Ad Nauseam is by far the worst business spell the deck has. You’ll pass the turn after casting it with regularity, and it’s essentially useless against Delver decks, one of your hardest common matchups.

That being said, it remains a powerful tool, and I’d want to have access to it against discard-heavy decks and opposing combo, which is why it will at worst always remain a sideboard option for me at least.

In most cases, though, you’re better off just dumping a bunch of Goblins onto the table when you can’t straight up Will them out. There honestly aren’t many decks right now that can beat ten-plus Goblins on turn 1 or 2, which is why I’ve opted for a maindeck copy instead of just having it in the sideboard as I did before. It’s your best business spell against Delver early in the game and serves as an incredibly powerful tool to take things home given the slightest opening. I wouldn’t leave home without access to Empty the Warrens.

Finally, cutting the last Lotus Petal is something I’m still reluctant about. Acceleration is at the heart of these decks, after all, but so far having one less accelerator maindeck has served me well. It’s in the board because you really want it when speed is what matters most.

Now that you know what I’m working with, let’s have a look at my new favorite toy, shall we?

Exploring The Vault

For those skeptical, I remember testing LDV quite some time back and finding it too unreliable to actually be worth running. That was in a deck without Gitaxian Probes, though, and the free cantrip changes a lot. In my current list, LDV varies between decent and insane. Half the time it plays as a worse but still acceptably powerful Vampiric Tutor. The other half of the time, well, you have an "instant speed Doomsday for UB that doesn’t cost half your life."

Alright, so what does Lim-Dul’s Vault do? Not literally, as I’m sure you can read the card yourself, but what does this weird kind of tutor effect do for the deck? I’m happy you asked.

Its most basic function is to just dig up the last piece you’re missing for a kill. A couple of life generally manages to find whatever single card you need, and playing it during the opponent’s end step means that you can adjust your choices depending on what the opponent has done with their turn before drawing your missing card during your draw step.

If that was all the card did, though, I don’t think it would be good enough here. Vampiric Tutor for two mana is surprisingly fair. The real power of LDV only becomes apparent when you figure in the rest of your hand. With a Gitaxian Probe, you get to find two cards you need instead of just one. With a Brainstorm, it could even be up to four! Not to mention you can also hope to simply hit the Brainstorm together with whatever you need in Hail Mary situations.

To give you an example, assume you control an Underground Sea and a Volcanic Island and your hand is Lim-Dul’s Vault, Infernal Tutor, Cabal Ritual, and Gitaxian Probe with only a couple of cards already in your graveyard. An end of turn LDV that turns up any combination of Dark Rituals and/or Lion’s Eye Diamonds will lead straight into a Past in Flames win!

Similarly, it’s usually easy to find an Infernal Tutor or discard spell in addition to a Ritual. The deck has a ton of Rituals, so there’s a high likelihood that one of the four (or six) remaining copies of whatever other card you need also has a piece of strong acceleration within five cards around it. You just have to go deep enough to find it, draw it and win.

This characteristic of Dark Ritual Storm decks—the fact that they run an incredible amount of fast mana—is what really breaks Lim-Dul’s Vault wide open. Because one of your tools is so abundant, it will be present in many random five-card piles you select from your deck. Because of that, the opportunity to turn Lim-Dul’s Vault plus a draw effect into a lethal double tutor comes up almost every time you cast the card with a cantrip in an otherwise reasonable hand. It doesn’t only work when goldfishing, either, and can be very strong when you need anti-hate after sideboarding. This is one of my sweeter exploits so far:

In game 2 against Pox, my opponent opens with turn 1 Dark Ritual into Trinisphere. Luckily for me, my hand has three lands, including two fetchlands. When I reach my third turn main phase, this is what I’m looking at: Volcanic Island, Lim-Dul’s Vault, Empty the Warrens, Gitaxian Probe, double Lotus Petal, Cabal Ritual. My opponent has three Swamps and a Trinisphere. I play the Volcanic and pass the turn, unable to do anything meaningful yet. My opponent only drops a Liliana of the Veil and makes us both discard. I think for a moment and respond by fetching and casting Lim-Dul’s Vault—I need to know where I will go from here before deciding what to discard.

This is the point where we need to consider the two key questions of Lim-Dul’s Vaulting: how many cards can I draw and what exactly do I need.

The first question is vital because it tells us both how greedy we can be—the more setup cards we can draw, the more likely it is we should just try to find a lethal stack—and how many cards are going to matter out of each five-card block we see.

The second question is informed by the first. Given that we will have access to X cards, what do we need these X cards to be to win the game? Once both of these questions are answered, deciding how to Vault is merely a function of recognizing any five-card pile that can cover our needs, even if it isn’t exactly what we expected to hit.

In the example at hand, what is it we really want to draw? Given our opponent has a Trinisphere, we definitely want one of our boarded in Chain of Vapors, yet at that point we’ll have a lot of trouble actually doing anything meaningful before the Trinisphere comes back down. Our best option is probably to find a Dark Ritual—exactly Dark Ritual—and a Chain, bounce the Trinisphere, and make a bunch of Goblins before Liliana can rip our hand apart. Other than that, hitting bounce plus discard isn’t the worst, and something like bounce plus Ad Nauseam also probably wins the game straight up.

I look at the top five and see a Ponder, a couple of lands, and a Chain of Vapor. Great, I’ve found my anti-hate. The problem? None of the other cards do anything, and Liliana will just rip my hand apart if I keep these. So I go deeper, and my faith is rewarded. A couple of life down, I find my second Chain of Vapor as well as the Dark Ritual I’ve been looking for. Lucky? Unquestionably. Likely to come up again? I very much think so, even though I don’t know how to do the math on that.

I discard Cabal Ritual to Liliana, untap, Chain of Vapor the Trinisphere, and make a bunch of Goblins to get there.

Would a different card have gotten me out of this situation? Probably, but I can’t actually think of anything else that would have allowed me to go from infinitely behind to clearly winning in the blink of an eye as Lim-Dul’s Vault did.

Finally, there’s one last trick to look out for whenever you’re casting Lim-Dul’s Vault trying to find a specific combination of cards: looping. Because you only pay one life for every five cards, you can actually look at significantly more than 60 cards assuming your life total isn’t under duress. If your deck size is dividable by five, that means you’ll be hitting what you put on the bottom of your deck once you’re through. If it isn’t, though, you get to construct those new piles yourself!

To illustrate: you need an Infernal Tutor and either a Cabal Ritual or a Lion’s Eye Diamond to win and have the Gitaxian Probe to draw the second card. Your deck has 48 cards left in it. That means once we reach the end of our deck with Lim-Dul’s Vault, there will be three cards remaining we haven’t seen yet and the other two cards come from the first pile we pushed to the bottom. The next five cards are the three remaining from the first pile we looked at plus the top two cards of the second one (and so on for later piles). Knowing we need to find both an Infernal Tutor and a big mana accelerant, we now have a reasonable chance to make exactly that combination happen.

Assuming we see an Infernal Tutor in pile A but not the accelerator we need, we put Infernal Tutor into the bottom three cards of that pile when placing them under our library. If we hit a Cabal Ritual or Lion’s Eye Diamond among the next five cards, we can put those into the top two when pushing that pile, ensuring we’ll hit the combination we need once we reach the bottom of our original library with Lim-Dul’s Vault. Pretty sweet, huh?

So if Lim-Dul’s Vault is such a sweet card, why only run two? Amazingly enough, the reason for this is how good LDV actually is. Most of the time, resolving a single LDV will give you most of the pieces you might need, making the second one dead. Even worse, what makes the card so good are the other cards you have in hand: cheap draw effects plus the fast mana and tutors you need to actually win. Having a second Lim-Dul’s Vault at that point is the biggest brick you can have other than useless lands.

There is, however, the option to use one Lim-Dul’s Vault to turn a bad hand into one full of cantrips before using the second one to find a win. Situations where that is good enough to run away with the game are relatively rare, though, so you’d really rather not plan for them to happen.

To make a long story short, there’s a limit to how many times you can usefully pillage Lim-Dul’s hoard, and that limit is one most of the time. By running only two copies, you make having multiples rare while getting exactly the six tutor effects I need in Cabal ANT to feel most comfortable.

Seeing It In Action

Given that I was hesitant to try Lim-Dul’s Vault and excited to no end once I had played with the card, I think the best way to both make my case and illustrate how LDV plays is to show you. Here are a couple of goldfish games in which I took the liberty of making sure I had one in my opening hand.

Alrighty, time to storm!

Example #1

Turn 1 we played Island, Ponder, and shuffled crap away. This is what our hand looks like on turn 2:

Volcanic Island Badlands Lim-Dul's Vault Brainstorm Cabal Ritual Lion's Eye Diamond Duress

On the board: Island

In the graveyard: Ponder

We play the Badlands and cast Lim-Dul’s Vault during our opponent’s end step, having realized by now they are a goldfish. Remember our questions:

How many cards can we draw?

Well, we have a draw step and Brainstorm available, meaning we’ll get to see the top four cards of whatever we keep, though at the moment I assume we only have the Duress to put back, leaving us with access to up to three cards.

Which cards do we need?

We need business, so we’re looking for Infernal Tutor or possibly Past in Flames itself (assuming we can float two blue mana through the Past in Flames to reuse the LDV and a cantrip). In addition to that, we need at least a single Dark Ritual or Lion’s Eye Diamond to have enough mana to win.

Bonus question: can we loop?

We have 49 cards remaining in our deck, so we can introduce one new card into any given pile by looping.

Alright, time to resolve Lim-Dul’s Vault!

Pile #1:

Brainstorm Swamp Lotus Petal Infernal Tutor Duress

This pile can Tendrils or Empty the Warrens for sixteen by using Lion’s Eye Diamond to threshold Cabal Ritual if that’s good enough. Assuming it isn’t, we push these cards, but remember there’s the Infernal we need in here. As hitting LED in the top five cards is more likely than doing so in the bottom four, we make sure to put the Tutor all the way down on the bottom so it’s possible to loop into it.

Pile #2:

Brainstorm Scalding Tarn Underground Sea Dark Ritual Tendrils of Agony

No way to get lethal here unless I’m missing something, but at least we’ve found a Dark Ritual to put as the topmost card when pushing this pile, ensuring that we hit Infernal Tutor and Dark Ritual for the win after going through our deck once. Knowing this, we could stop here and just assume we’re looping through. Let’s keep looking to see what LDV can do, though, and what would happen if we were low on life.

Pile #3:

Lion's Eye Diamond Gitaxian Probe Past in Flames Lotus Petal Polluted Delta

Alright, this wins. We stack these as follows: Gitaxian Probe, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Past in Flames, Polluted Delta. We draw Probe, Brainstorm into Petal, LED, and PiF, putting back PiF on top of Duress.

We now play Volcanic Island, Petal, and double LED before paying two life to cast Probe. In response, we play Cabal Ritual and sacrifice both LEDs as well as the Lotus Petal for RRRUUUU. The Cabal Ritual leaves us with BBBRRRUUUU in our pool before the Probe resolves, drawing Past in Flames. We cast it (UUUUBB floating) and flashback Cabal Ritual, now with threshold (UUUUBBBBB floating). Given that we’ve only used up four life so far, we can now go ahead and use Lim-Dul’s Vault to locate either an Infernal or the Tendrils itself and then draw the card with a cantrip from our graveyard. In case you’re wondering, Tendrils itself is another five life down, meaning we’ve paid nine life total this game while winning on turn 3.

Example #2

Our opening hand is:

Scalding Tarn Infernal Tutor Lotus Petal Dark Ritual Past in Flames Duress Lim-Dul's Vault

If our next draw step is Lion’s Eye Diamond, we easily win the game. Luckily enough, we have Petal and LDV in hand to make sure that’s exactly what we’ll draw.

Turn 1: Play Scalding Tarn and Lotus Petal before passing the turn. In an actual game, we’ll want to wait and see if we need to cast Duress. Upon seeing we’re goldfishing (aka playing against Goblins or something), we cast LDV during the end step.

Cards we can draw: Just the one from our regular draw step, but luckily we only need a single card to go off.

What we want to find: Lion’s Eye Diamond.

Pile #1:

Lim-Dul's Vault Tendrils of Agony Sensei's Divining Top Scalding Tarn Polluted Delta

Nothing useful here, pushing these. No need to think about looping since LED alone is enough to win and we’ll find one of those before reaching the end of our deck.

Pile #2:

Cabal Ritual Polluted Delta Badlands Duress Ponder

This is no better.

Pile #3:

Volcanic Island Infernal Tutor Cabal Therapy Brainstorm Infernal Tutor

Neither is this.

Pile #4:

Brainstorm Ponder Island Lotus Petal Cabal Therapy

Once more with feeling.

Pile #5:

Lion's Eye Diamond Cabal Ritual Polluted Delta Dark Ritual Cabal Ritual

Well, here’s our LED.

We draw it and cast Dark Ritual, LED, Infernal Tutor. We sacrifice the LED in response for RRR and now have threshold (BRRR floating), using the Tutor to find Cabal Ritual. We cast that (BBBBBRR floating), flashback PiF (BB floating), flashback both Rituals, (BBBBBBB), Duress our opponent (for storm count) and Tutor for Tendrils to win.

Example #3

Our starting hand:

Ad Nauseam Lim-Dul's Vault Underground Sea Polluted Delta Cabal Ritual Duress Lim-Dul's Vault

The second Lim-Dul’s Vault is likely a dead card if we’re goldfishing but might come in quite handy against a resilient opponent. As is, this can Duress on turn 1 but is very likely not do much else until turn 4. I’ll mulligan this.

Let’s look at our six:

Lim-Dul's Vault Scalding Tarn Scalding Tarn Volcanic Island Infernal Tutor Brainstorm Duress

An excellent hand. It has Infernal Tutor, Brainstorm and LDV as well as the mana to cast those cards. I’ll keep this and expect to goldfish on turn 3.

We play Scalding Tarn, say go, and draw a second Duress on turn 2. Having seen we’re goldfishing, we play the other Scalding Tarn, fetch Underground Sea and Badlands during the opponent’s end step, and cast LDV.

How many cards can we draw: we have Brainstorm and our draw step, with two Duresses to put back—we’ll get to draw up to four of our Vault cards in one fell swoop!

What we’re looking for: a bunch of Rituals and/or LEDs to Brainstorm into for the win.

Can we loop: oops, our library has exactly 50 cards, so we’ll just be recreating the same order. Looks like we should have played the Volcanic Island instead of the second fetch since having the ability to loop is too powerful a tool to waste like we have done here. Yes, with Lim-Dul’s Vault there is even more to keep in mind when playing ANT.

Pile #1:

Lotus Petal Brainstorm Scalding Tarn Underground Sea Empty the Warrens

Not what we need, so we push it. If we could loop, I’d put Petal on the bottom, hoping to hit two more accelerators and have a lethal pile that way.

Pile #2:

Dark Ritual Cabal Ritual Ponder Ponder Ponder

We’re one mana short on reaching threshold by casting both Duresses followed by chaining Dark Ritual plus Cabal Ritual into a PiF kill. Close, but no cigar. Note that fate really wants to make sure I remember screwing up the card count since if we could loop the Lotus Petal would make a lethal pile. Darn it.

Pile #3:

Dark Ritual Duress Infernal Tutor Infernal Tutor Dark Ritual

This would allow us to turn both Infernals into Dark Rituals to raise storm but will only leave us with six mana and a storm count of nine afterward. In an actual game, this could likely be used to deliver a win with Empty the Warrens depending on what we’re facing, or it might just kill an opponent that has Dark Confidant out or cracked two fetchlands. Given that we’re goldfishing, though, I only count a full kill from twenty as a win, so we’ll keep trying.

Pile #4:

Island Scalding Tarn Gitaxian Probe Lotus Petal Gitaxian Probe

Crap, next.

Pile #5:

Sensei's Divining Top Polluted Delta Brainstorm Cabal Therapy Duress

Still not what we need, push.

Pile #6:

Cabal Ritual Lion's Eye Diamond Tendrils of Agony Cabal Ritual Cabal Ritual

Exactly what we want. Stack Cabal Ritual times three and LED on top of Tendrils.

We draw Cabal Ritual and cast Brainstorm to draw the other three accelerators, putting back the Duresses. We then cast two Cabal Rituals (no Threshold) and the LED, leaving us with BBBB floating. Next we play Infernal and respond to it by casting the last Cabal Ritual, once again responding to that by sacrificing our Lion’s Eye Diamond for RRR, giving us threshold for the Cabal Ritual on the stack. Winning with Past in Flames is now elementary.

Closing The Vault

I actually have a couple of other games recorded that way—I did some of these to check if Lim-Dul’s Vault was worth testing again before even planning the article—but we’ve already broken the 4000-word mark and I think the couple of examples I’ve given you should be telling enough. Remember, the only thing set up about those goldfishes was that I put Lim-Dul’s Vault into my hand. Everything else is exactly what you’d get playing normally.

If you like to play Storm, I believe you should find these impressive enough to at least give the card a shot—seeing these kinds of games happen definitely convinced me at the very least.

Since then, I’ve only grown to love the Vault more and more. There are so many sweet things you can do when facing an actual opponent, from finding both protection and business at the same time to winning pretty much out of nowhere like the last example showed.

Lim-Dul’s Vault gives Cabal ANT a tool it didn’t have before: a weird cross between a card-disadvantage tutor and full-engine piece all for the totally reasonable cost of UB at instant speed. The card is flexible, fun, and extremely intricate while also winning you games no other card would. What’s not to love?

That’s it from me for this week. Give Lim-Dul’s Vault a shot and let me know what you think in the comments—about the card, the article, or both.

Until next time, take all the treasure you can carry!

Carsten Kotter