So Many Insane Plays – The Perfect Storm

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Monday, August 18th – Storm is a mechanic that has been abused in a variety of formats. From Standard to Vintage, from Extended to Two-Headed Giant, it seems that copying spells for zero mana is quite a strong strategy. Today, Stephen Menendian looks at the strongest deck in Vintage, replete with the powerful Storm combo… The Perfect Storm.

I. Introduction

If you’ve played competitive or professional level Constructed Magic in the last year or two, you are probably familiar with TEPS, The Extended Perfect Storm. The modifier “Extended” was included because TPS is a half-decade old Vintage deck. It’s also currently the best deck in Vintage, hands down, since the restriction of Merchant Scroll and company.

Combo decks have been tried with varying degrees of success since the inception of Magic. Many have been terrifying (Academy). Some less so (Channel-Fireball). All memorable.

Although most ‘combo decks’ historically are literally combination decks designed to stitch together two cards for a powerful effect, a la ChannelFireball or FlashProtean Hulk, in more recent years Combo decks are mostly just Storm decks with a bunch of restricted cards mashed into them, designed to win off a critical mass Tendrils of Agony.

The Vintage Perfect Storm, or TPS, first emerged on the European continent as the answer to Trinisphere decks in 2004. Put together an impervious manabase, a suite of bounce spells, plenty of tutors, and the most broken Blue and Black spells in the game, and you have the Perfect Storm. The hallmark of TPS is 4 Duress and 4 Force of Will as the base disruption.

January, 2005
Kenny Öberg
The Perfect Storm

1 Black Lotus
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Memory Jar
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
4 Dark Ritual
1 Demonic Tutor
4 Duress
1 Necropotence
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
4 Brainstorm
1 Cunning Wish
4 Force of Will
1 Mind’s Desire
1 Mystical Tutor
2 Rebuild
1 Time Spiral
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
1 Windfall
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Flooded Strand
3 Island
4 Polluted Delta
2 Swamp
1 Tolarian Academy
3 Underground Sea
1 Volcanic Island

1 Brain Freeze
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Coffin Purge
1 Darksteel Colossus
2 Defense Grid
1 Echoing Truth
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
3 Hydroblast
1 Meditate
1 Rushing River
1 Stifle

Americans, by and large, refused to play TPS at the time. Most criticisms of the deck suggested that it was too slow, inconsistent, and fizzled too much. All three criticisms were tied to the fact that TPS was designed to be able to win under a Trinisphere. Mishra’s Workshop decks at the time commonly played turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere. This is a brutal and often game-ending opening play. If you didn’t have a Force of Will in hand, how were you going to win? You needed a high land-count with many basic lands, a design feature which impeded a quick victory. Players trying to push the deck to win on turn 1 or turn 2 would be met with a frustrating Timetwister or Memory Jar that drew too much land, bounce, and filler like Cunning Wish, gift wrapping the game for the opponent.

Trinisphere has since been restricted. Although there are just as many Spheres in the format, thanks to Lorwyn’s Thorn of Amethyst, the high land count is not as important since a Mox can be played with a single land under a Thorn or Sphere of Resistance. This means that TPS can run 12 lands and achieve the same mana stability it needed with 14 in the Trinisphere heyday.

The release of Portal into Vintage meant that faster combo decks could run Grim Tutors as replacements for Burning Wish and Death Wish, giving them a more concentrated and superior Yawgmoth’s Will tutor engine. Imperial Seal also gave you another Vampiric Tutor.

TPS has generally been an inferior option to the faster combo decks of the past like Pitch Long, and also had poor match-ups against anything sporting four Merchant Scrolls. Those decks are all gone now, killed by restrictions.

TPS, today, looks very similar to the 2004/05 TPS lists, except with a better card pool.

The Extended Storm deck is relatively simple to play by comparison, once you are familiar with most of its components. Your goal with that deck was to build up to a critical mass Mind’s Desire. With this deck, there are far more singletons. In fact, the deck is almost entirely singletons. That means you’ll have to familiarize yourself with how each card operates and its role in advancing your game plan.

II. Paths to Victory

There are two paths to victory. The first is a lethal Tendrils of Agony. The second is an attacking Darksteel Colossus. (Note that after sideboarding, you can also win with Tarmogoyfs.)

Both victory conditions require varying degrees of “set-up,” meaning that there will be some preparatory work to get there. Although Darksteel Colossus can be hard cast with enough mana on the table, or played for free with Mind’s Desire, the most efficient way to get Darksteel Colossus onto the table is by playing Tinker. A turn 1 Tinker with a modest amount of disruption will likely be all that is needed to win the game, putting your opponent on a two-turn clock.

Tinker is your go-to Plan B if Tendrils of Agony seems like an unlikely or improbable end-game.

The paths to a victorious Tendrils are many, but they are more treacherous.

A. Yawgmoth’s Will

The most efficient path to a lethal Tendrils is Yawgmoth’s Will. This is because Yawgmoth’s Will is the easiest and most cost-effective way to generate both storm and mana at Sam’s Club quantities and prices. All of the mana that you played before casting Yawgmoth’s Will can be replayed for free or little cost. So, for example, if you played a Polluted Delta on turn 1 and broke it for an Underground Sea, you can replay the Polluted Delta after playing Yawgmoth’s Will to find another land. Similarly, you can replay Dark Rituals, Black Lotus, and other reusable mana sources that have been played before Yawgmoth’s Will.

The test to see if your Yawgmoth’s Will will be lethal is to check whether you can generate enough mana from your graveyard after playing Yawgmoth’s Will to both find Tendrils of Agony and play it. For example, if you have a Grim Tutor in your graveyard, you will need BBBB3 after resolving Yawgmoth’s Will to play Grim Tutor and Tendrils of Agony. So figuring out when Yawgmoth’s Will can create a lethal Tendrils requires a little bit of math, but it’s just addition and subtraction.

B. Mind’s Desire

Mind’s Desire is one of the best engines you can set up, although it requires the most preparation. First of all, the mana requirement is challenging. UU4 will require two Blue mana source in play in addition to the other mana you will need to use to pay for the remaining four colorless. For example, if you have an Island, Underground Sea, Mana Crypt, and multiple Dark Rituals, you will not be able to cast Mind’s Desire until you find another Blue (or Black) mana source. Second, you will need to set up enough storm to make Mind’s Desire viable. As a general rule, a Mind’s Desire for less than five storm is not going to be powerful enough to move you across the finish line.

In the best case scenario, a Mind’s Desire will flip over a Tendrils of Agony. In addition to the other cards revealed, that Tendrils should prove lethal. Alternatively, a Mind’s Desire that reveals a Yawgmoth’s Will (see section II(A)) or Yawgmoth’s Bargain (see section II(B) below) is the next best thing.

Another way of generating lots of storm and mana to play Mind’s Desire is Yawgmoth’s Will, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and Necropotence.

C. Yawgmoth’s Bargain

By filtering life into card advantage, Yawgmoth’s Bargain provides an immediate and large burst of card drawing that makes achieving a lethal Tendrils quite easy. By drawing many cards using Yawgmoth’s Bargain, you should have little difficulty achieving ten storm. Roughly half of your draws will be mana of some variety, and over a half of that will be Moxen or Rituals that can be played to generate more mana and storm. Should you draw a Tendrils off Yawgmoth’s Bargain, you can play a miniature Tendrils to gain the life to draw more cards to generate the mana to play Yawgmoth’s Will, which will allow you to replay the Tendrils for lethal damage.

If you draw a tutor off Yawgmoth’s Bargain, you can use that tutor to find Yawgmoth’s Will (see section II(A)) or, if you already have enough storm and mana, to find Tendrils of Agony. Alternatively, you can use Yawgmoth’s Bargain to help set up a large Mind’s Desire (see section II(B)). Finally, you may have drawn both Time Walk and Tinker. You can play Tinker for Darksteel Colossus and then cast Time Walk to swing in for lethal damage. Using Yawgmoth’s Bargain in this capacity will allow you to achieve complete control over the board state, translating your overwhelming card advantage into superior counterspell power and disruption.

D. Necropotence

In general, Necropotence will not, by itself, fuel a lethal Tendrils of Agony. The fresh new batch of cards you draw off of Necropotence will not give you the storm to cast a lethal Tendrils if your opponent is near 20 life. That means that Necropotence is actually best used in tandem with another engine. The best engines to play after Necropotence are Yawgmoth’s Will and Mind’s Desire, followed by Tinker into Jar. Those spells will give you the storm and resources (search and mana) needed to achieve a lethal Tendrils. Once in a while you will have a bounce spell like Chain of Vapor or Rebuild that can give you lethal storm, however. (See section II(G)).

Necropotence is the easiest of the Tendrils engines to set up since it only requires a Dark Ritual to play, but it is the most difficult to use efficiently. Many of the best combo pilots get tripped up with Necropotence, and a small error or minor miscalculation can lead to a game loss.

There are three basic considerations that go into the use of Necropotence. The first is deciding how many cards to set aside. This involves calculations about how much life you can afford to pay, how many cards you will need to see in order to have enough resources to win the game, an evaluation of the strength and utility of cards already in hand, how much life you will need in your following turn, and how much damage you may suffer in between. The second consideration is finding a plan. After a turn 1 or 2 Necropotence, I tend to set aside 11 cards, overfilling my hand. After picking up these cards, you will need to select seven of those cards that you believe will best help you win the game. I try to identify two possible routes to victory which may overlap or synergize, and sculpt my hand around those two plans. That way in case one of those routes is foreclosed, the other is available by the time you get another turn. A third related consideration involves deciding what to discard after you have filled your hand. Often, you will identify the 4-5 core cards that you will want to keep, but then you will have to decide which marginal cards to keep. You need to consider how your opponent will try to disrupt your attempts to win the game, and how you may need these tools to stop them. Time permitting, each consideration requires careful thought.

E. Timetwister

Timetwister is the riskiest and most speculative Tendrils engine. Unlike Yawgmoth’s Bargain or a Mind’s Desire of a certain storm count, there are few certainties regarding the mixture of cards you are likely to draw off of Timetwister. There are, however, ways to minimize risks and to maximize your chances of pulling off a lethal Tendrils after playing Timetwister.

As a general matter, Timetwister is at its peak power on turn 1, on the play. A turn 1 Timetwister will mulligan your opponent into a hand which they have no say over whether to keep or not. A lucky Timetwister, played on turn 1, may draw you into sufficient mana and resources to play a lethal Tendrils.

However, a turn 2 or 3 Timetwister that does not produce a Tendrils or the mana or means to find and play a Tendrils is a dangerous play. Giving your opponent a new hand risks giving them the resources to kill you with a Yawgmoth’s Will of their own, or similarly powered card or combination of cards, or the resistance to stop whatever you may try to do in the future.

The best way to maximize Timetwister is to play it at the last possible moment, putting as many lands into play as possible. This will minimize the chances that you will draw too much redundant mana in your Twister. The longer you wait, the greater the spell-to-mana ratio will be within your deck. Additionally, the more mana you can play before resolving Twister, the more resources you will have to play cards you draw off Timetwister. Beyond turn 1 (and turn 2 on the play), it is a card you will want to play as a last resort, playing after your other bombs have been neutralized.

F. Memory Jar

The most common way to put Memory Jar into play is with Tinker or a pair of Rituals. It can also be played rather easily off two lands, a Dark Ritual, and a Mox.

Memory Jar has most of the advantages of Timetwister and few of the drawbacks. The risks of handing your opponent the game after activating Memory Jar are much less since your opponent will not get to keep their new hand into their turn. In addition, it does not sweep your graveyard into your library, which means that there is a diminished chance that you’ll draw fetchlands you’ve already played, mana flooding your new hand, and that you won’t have to start building a new graveyard to fuel Yawgmoth’s Will. Finally, Memory Jar can be played and activated on different turns.

In general, the correct use of Memory Jar is to wait until your next turn’s upkeep and activate it. This will give you all of your on-board mana and an additional draw in your draw step from which you can try to generate storm and mana to play a lethal Tendrils. Alternatively, if you can play a Mind’s Desire or Yawgmoth’s Will (see sections II(A) and II(B)) within a Jar, you should be able to achieve the same result.

G. Rebuild and Chain of Vapor

Sometimes you can execute a lethal Tendrils with just on-board mana and a bounce spell or two. For example, if you are holding a couple of mana artifacts and a Rebuild, you might be able to play them, play Rebuild, and replay the mana artifacts to cast a lethal Tendrils. The same thing can be accomplished with Chain of Vapor by sacrificing lands to copy it. For example, suppose your board is:

Island, Swamp, Underground Sea, Mox Emerald, Sol Ring, Mana Vault

Your hand is: Chain of Vapor, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Tendrils of Agony.

Here’s what you can do:

1) Tap all of your on board mana generating: UBB6.
2) Play Lotus Petal. Storm is 1.
3) Use a Blue to play Chain of Vapor, targeting Mana Vault. Storm is 2.
4) Sacrifice the Swamp to copy Chain of Vapor to target Sol Ring.
5) Sacrifice Island to copy Chain of Vapor to target Mox Emerald.
6) Sacrifice Underground Sea to copy Chain of Vapor to target Lotus Petal.
7) Replay Mana Vault, Sol Ring, Mox Emerald, and Lotus Petal. Storm is 6. Mana floating: BB6.
8) Use a Black mana and a colorless to play Cabal Ritual. Storm is 7. BBBB5 floating.
9) Use a Black mana to play Dark Ritual. Storm is 8. BBBBBB5 floating.
10) Play Tendrils of Agony for 18 damage. Kill your opponent (assuming they were at 18 life).

Although it is critical to understand how each Tendrils engine can get you to a lethal Tendrils by itself, most of the time these various engines will interact with each other. As I’ve noted, often Necropotence will draw you into a Yawgmoth’s Will scenario, which will then move you to Tendrils. Alternatively, Memory Jar may take you into a Chain of Vapor which you use to play a lethal Tendrils.

Mastery of TPS will require attention primarily on interfacing these engines with each other to achieve the ultimate result of a lethal Tendrils.

III. Disruption

Duress and Force of Will are the most efficient and powerful disruption spells in Vintage. Although this deck is a combo deck, it is an interactive combo deck which uses its disruption to disarm its opponent both offensively and defensively.

In general, Duress should be played immediately to get a view of your opponent’s hand. This will give you immediate insight into your opponent’s game plan, but also the level of likely resistance you will encounter. After notating your opponent’s hand, your decisions can be mapped against what you think will be an anticipating response to any line of play. Sometimes you will want to take your opponent’s resistance, such as a Force of Will or other counterspell. At other times, the correct card to take will be something which advances your opponent’s game plan, such as Ancestral Recall or Yawgmoth’s Will. There are only a limited number of options. If you are uncertain about what to take, use a process of elimination to narrow it down to a pair of choices. Even if you make the wrong decision, you will learn something from the experience.

Force of Will is both an offensive and a defensive card, like Duress. Force of Will can and should be used to prevent your opponent from playing a card which will likely result in them winning the game or to counter a card which will stop you from winning the game. Its most effective use is as a shield to protect your threat.

For example:

Turn 1:

You: Underground Sea, Dark Ritual, Necropotence.

Your opponent: Play Force of Will pitching Brainstorm.

You respond: Play Force of Will pitching Timetwister

This use of Force of Will is most potent because it requires two pitch counter spells for an opponent to stop, a very unlikely possibility.

I also use a single Misdirection to serve as a 5th offensive Force of Will, to aid in the resolution of critical threats. Misdirection also can be used as a irregular weapon to combat and steal early Ancestral Recalls from an opponent.

One of the trickiest issues surrounding the use of Force of Will is knowing when and how to hard-cast it, and whether to play mana in anticipation of needing to hard-cast it. For example, should you play a Mana Crypt, a potentially life threatening play, in order to hold up Force of Will? This is a difficult judgment call which requires a context-sensitive analysis of the risks and benefits of such a play.

IV. Tutors

Tutors are the connective tissue that bridges the gap between the engines and a lethal Tendrils. Each tutor has its own particularities that you should be sensitive to when utilizing.

Grim Tutor

Grim Tutor is the most common tutor in the deck. Although it is included as a go-to Yawgmoth’s Will tutor, it will common be used to find Tendrils of Agony, Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Necropotence. Grim Tutor will be used to find Tendrils of Agony when you are in the final steps of comboing out on the back of another card, such as Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Mind’s Desire or after the successful resolution of Yawgmoth’s Will. A Grim Tutor for Ancestral Recall is a play that I might make with a hand such as this:

Mox Jet
Mox Emerald
Polluted Delta

Grim Tutor

Force of Will

Chain of Vapor

With this hand, you can play turn 1 Grim Tutor for Ancestral Recall, and likely protect it on turn 2. Grim Tutor for Black Lotus is a go-to play if you are planning on resolving Yawgmoth’s Will immediately thereafter. Grim Tutor for Necropotence is a potent early play if your only real business is Grim Tutor. It is a play I would make with a hand like this:

Polluted Delta
Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual
Mox Ruby
Grim Tutor
Force of Will
Chain of Vapor

From here, you can play the two Dark Rituals, the Mox, and Grim Tutor for Necropotence and play it on turn 1 with Force of Will protection.

Gifts Ungiven

Gifts Ungiven is one of the most skill-intensive cards in the deck since it involves the greatest number of decisions in a single card at a single moment in time. Unfortunately, there is no standard “Gifts Package” in a deck like this. Gifts Ungiven piles should be tailored to the conditions on the board and the cards in your hand. For example, a Gifs Ungiven preceding a Yawgmoth’s Will may need to be mana intensive, finding Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Black Lotus, and Mana Crypt.

In general, the idea is to get two good cards in your hand. A mid-game Gifts Ungiven might find: Tinker, Demonic Tutor, Necropotence, and Black Lotus. In the finals of the Vintage Championship, Paul Mastriano played Gifts Ungiven for Phyrexian Negator, Necropotence, Demonic Tutor, and Ancestral Recall. Jimmy gave him Ancestral Recall and Phyrexian Negator. I would be hesitant to include Yawgmoth’s Will in a Gifts pile, since you will almost never be given it, and it is card you will likely want to play post-Gifts.

Merchant Scroll

Merchant Scroll is a narrower tutor than any other tutor in the deck aside from Polluted Delta and Tinker, but it is efficient and Blue. Being Blue means that it keeps your Blue count high enough to support pitch countermagic even though Brainstorm is restricted. It is also fast enough to find and fire off an impactful Ancestral Recall. In the alternative, if can find Force of Will for defense or Mystical Tutor to find Yawgmoth’s Will or Tendrils of Agony.

Next week I will discuss matchups and sideboarding. I will also address any questions people have about TPS in the forums.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian