Unlocking Legacy – One Sick Deck

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Tuesday, October 14th – No doubt, Ad Nauseam is sick. This is no mere Panglossian pronouncement – it has the potential to draw a lot of cards, fuel a storm finish, and it sits in the right mana acceleration colors. The most fundamental question regarding Ad Nauseam is not whether it’s good, but how to build the deck correctly. As such, we have to put in some serious thinking about how we want to resolve the draw spell and what we want to do with it. Join Doug and special guests for an exploration of the card.

No doubt, Ad Nauseam is sick. This is no mere Panglossian pronouncement – it has the potential to draw a lot of cards, fuel a storm finish, and it sits in the right mana acceleration colors. The most fundamental question regarding Ad Nauseam is not whether it’s good, but how to build the deck correctly. As such, we have to put in some serious thinking about how we want to resolve the draw spell and what we want to do with it.

The rough outline of the plan is to use Duress effects to clear the way from an opponent, then cast enough mana acceleration to resolve the nom de deck. One then performs a calculation that basically goes: [current life total] — [1] — [highest casting-cost spell left in deck] to arrive at how much life one can safely spend on drawing with the spell while still having at least one life available. Often, Ad Nauseam will be the highest casting cost card in the deck, so your life total minus six results in how much life you can safely spend on drawing. Past that, it’s a bit of a gambit, but we’ll be able to decide if we need to go dangerous when we see our drawn cards.

We’ve got this pile of cards in our hand, now how do we cast them? The trick is to pack Lotus Petal and Chrome Mox in the deck for some free mana jump-starts, allowing us to rip off Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual to fuel more mana. When we’ve got enough, we use the spells in our hand, like any leftover draw spells or tutors, to track down Tendrils of Agony or just build up storm counts. Hit ten storm, win! I particularly like Ad Nauseam for the fact that you can use Duress effects post-drawgasm to clear out Stifles safely.

So we’ve got the rough outline of what we should be doing, but how do we build it specifically? I turned to my teammates on the subject, and the following relates to what Mike Bomholt, Paul Mastriano, Michael Herbig, Patrick Chapin and myself have come up with. Between four storm-deck masters and this schmuck, I think it’s pretty solid group.

Let’s start with the fast mana:

4 Chrome Mox
4 Lotus Petal
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Cabal Ritual

Sacrosanct are the Dark Rituals and Lotus Petals. They’re simply the best fast mana in the format and play nice pre- and post-Nauseam. Cabal Ritual helps ramp the mana up to the magic five, and later in the game it adds a great stability with the thresholded ability. None of these choices have been that controversial among us.

We’re also adamant about four Chrome Moxes. They allow for early mana development and fuel the Rituals you draw from Ad Nauseam. Your singular goal is to resolve Ad Nauseam as soon as possible, and these go a long way. Toss Thoughtseizes and other situationally less-useful cards to them and reap the rewards.

Lion’s Eye Diamond is amazing before Ad Nauseam, and a little worse afterwards. Since Ad Nauseam is an Instant, you can activate LED in your upkeep and then draw a spell you like, placed there by Brainstorm, Mystical Tutor, or blind chance, and then resolve it. LED is very strong against decks without counters. Obviously, you play more carefully with it when you fear things like Force of Will acting as Mind Twist. The whole-hand discard is great when combined with Infernal Tutor, a trick that the Ill-Gotten Gains deck has been pulling off for several years. Mike Bomholt suggested that if you activate LED in the upkeep or in response to casting Ad Nauseam, you make Blue mana with it to cast any instants you draw from Ad Nauseam; you’ll have plenty of Black mana on hand for the Ad Nauseam anyway. The Diamonds give a pleasant explosiveness to the deck and you’d be remiss to run without them.

Let’s look at how we’ll find the Ad Nauseam with this draw/tutor suite:

4 Brainstorm
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Infernal Tutor
4 Ad Nauseam

All of these spells are nice on their own and play nicely in conjunction with LED. Mystical Tutor is great at tracking down Tendrils of Agony if you’ve already got Ad Nauseam in hand; Herbig attests to how great it is to cast Ad Nauseam when you’ve already found a Tendrils. Infernal Tutor, when not being hellacious, can help double up Ritual effects, allowing for duplicate Dark Rituals powering out a quick Ad Nauseam. It can also be frequently cast naturally hellbent, just by casting what’s already in your hand. The deck can empty its hand rather quickly, since the manabase doesn’t need to contort to cast anything. Mike Bomholt suggests against Ponder, mainly because the sorcery speed a real pain in the butt when it comes to LED.

All this preparation wouldn’t mean a thing if we didn’t have protection for the spells, so here’s what we’re playing with right now:

X Duress
Y Thoughtseize
2 Bounce Spells

Okay, let’s make some sense of that. If you’re going to be facing down problematic Fishy creatures a lot in your metagame, you’ll want more Thoughtseize than Duress. Otherwise, you can switch it up because the lifeloss is relevant while hitting most creatures is not relevant. Overall, having around six Duress effects is good. We want some maindecked bounce spells to get around things like Gaddock Teeg, Counterbalance, and Thorn of Amethyst. While their popularity waxes and wanes, it’s good to have some sort of answer to any of these.

Your two bounce spells will share between them at least one multiple-bounce effect, one spell that doesn’t cost only one mana (to answer Counterbalance) and some measure of further general utility. Chain of Vapor helps ramp your storm, Rushing River deals with multiple permanents, Wipe Away is uncounterable, Echoing Truth takes care of several threats at a time or bounces your Lotus Petals for more storming action, and so on. We’re running Chain of Vapor and Echoing Truth, but I’m also inclined towards Wipe Away. Slaughter Pact does a handy job of killing as well, so if your major threats are creature-based, then it might be the right call.

We’ve got this storm, we’ve got the mana… how do we kill?

3 Tendrils of Agony
1 Ill-Gotten Gains

Three is just about the right number of Tendrils. Running a single copy means more contortions to find it, which means you have to spend more life to get the spells to track it down. This forces you to go off sooner against decks or lose against aggro-control decks where you would have won if you just bit the bullet and ran more Tendrils. It also opens up the mini-Tendrils plan to get enough life for Ad Nauseam. The Ill-Gotten Gains is a fantastic card to tutor for later, opening up later Tendrils plans and being a real coffin-nail off of an Ad Nauseam. Additionally, it’s a highly potent tool against aggro decks because you can use it to recur a Tendrils of Agony and some rituals, netting at least four storm copies in case you need to make two mini-Tendrils. This is great if you’re knocked out of a bit of life before you get a chance to combo.

We’ll fill out the lands with the following:

4 Underground Sea
4 Polluted Delta
4 Basic Lands (Island & Swamp)

Twelve seems to be the right number for the manabase, ensuring smooth land drops beforehand and not as many dead cards after an Ad Nauseam. The basic lands help when fighting Wastelands, and you can drop a land for another dual land if you want to run a third color.

Next, let’s look at some hands this deck generates and how they play out.

Hand 1:

Underground Sea
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Ad Nauseam
Chrome Mox
Lotus Petal

This looks like a great hand for that turn 2 kill. We play out the Sea and then Brainstorm (into Underground Sea, Chain of Vapor, and Lotus Petal, putting back Ad Nauseam on top of a Swamp). We play out the Diamond and Petals and imprint Chain of Vapor on a Chrome Mox. This is a great hand to illustrate LED in the deck, as well as the speed of it. We’re impervious to Daze at this point, thanks to all the artifact mana.

On our second turn, we crack LED in the upkeep and discard the Sea and float mana into our draw. We should probably crack for Blue mana here, but since we can keep both Lotus Petals on the board if we activate for Black, we should make an exception here since we’ll need all the mana we can get anyway. Let’s cast our Ad Nauseam and see what we flip:

Underground Sea
Polluted Delta

(At this point, all of this is good. We’re seeing another land for the turn and a Brainstorm to turn on any Mystical Tutors we draw.)

Polluted Delta
Tendrils of Agony
Underground Sea
Tendrils of Agony (ouch!)
Dark Ritual
Ad Nauseam (ouch again!)

With 3 life left, let’s stop right now. We have several options available here. First, let’s lay out our Sea. We Brainstorm next, into Duress, Cabal Ritual, and Polluted Delta (putting the last back with its twin). We’ve got some more to cook with at this point. We can cast the Dark Ritual and activate both Petals for threshold, so let’s do that and cast Cabal Ritual. The score right now is six Black mana, one Blue from the Petal, and four storm. We’re a little short of business at the moment, but we can cast Brainstorm again to see our last card. If it’s a blank, we still have two Duresses and enough mana to make Tendrils for eight copies, with another in hand for the final damage next turn.

The third card down is a lucky Dark Ritual! We can cast Duress several times if we fear Stifle, or just go straight for the throat with two Tendrils of Agony in hand.

Let’s review this whole hand. Granted, it’s against no opponent that does anything worthwhile, but it’s a good illustration of how the cards work together and how we actually have to work for a win and take some chances to kill at times. We drew eleven cards from Ad Nauseam, even though three of them combined equaled thirteen life.

Let’s take a look at another opening hand:

Chrome Mox
Ill-Gotten Gains
Lotus Petal
Underground Sea
Ad Nauseam
Mystical Tutor

This is another relatively easy hand – the Mystical Tutor gets Dark Ritual, which opens things up for a second-turn kill. You have Chrome Mox for Daze protection if you need it as well. It’s a relatively unprotected hand; however, against anything with counters, you’re still cornering them with “Force of Will or no?” and I like to be in that position. Here’s what the Ad Nauseam revealed on the next turn:

Chrome Mox
Cabal Ritual
Cabal Ritual
Chain of Vapor
Cabal Ritual
Tendrils of Agony
Infernal Tutor

At this point, we can stop. We’ve got three storm from the Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and Ad Nauseam, and these drawn cards are enough to kill with. There’s also mana open for a Hellbent Infernal Tutor, if that were needed.

Here’s a thinker of a hand:

Infernal Tutor
Infernal Tutor
Chrome Mox
Lion’s Eye Diamond

This was a mulligan to five. It’s kind of a dog of a hand but we’ve still got some outs here. We imprint a Tutor on Chrome Mox and cast Duress. On the second turn, we draw Underground Sea, which makes the Infernal Tutor Hellbent when we play out the LED. What do we get with it, though? I had to think about this for awhile but I think the correct option is Mystical Tutor. You want to set up Ad Nauseam through Lion’s Eye Diamond, and that’s the best way to do it. So you Infernal Tutor for Mystical Tutor so you can do the upkeep mana trick. We’ll have to wait a turn to get untapped mana, but at least we see another card. In this case, we draw Lotus Petal and can resolve Ad Nauseam on turn 4.

Though this hand isn’t very compelling for why you should play the deck, it does illustrate that it has power in it even when you mulligan. I’m hard-pressed to think of situations where you mulligan to five and still potentially kill on the fourth turn. All of them (except turning Goblin Piledriver sideways) certainly take a lot more thinking than setting up Ad Nauseam did here.

You’ll certainly fan open real clunkers of hands, though. Goldfishing with the deck a little will give you a sense of what’s acceptable and what doesn’t have enough. Generally, hands without access to five mana or the means to get five mana should go back. Likewise, hands without Ad Nauseam or enough draw and tutoring to find it should go back.

One of the most challenging things to learn with this deck is how to hold off comboing until you can get the best benefit out of your draw step. What I mean by this is that you’ve got this slight hump of a graph where your win percentage goes up a little if you get another draw step or two beyond what’s necessary, but it certainly goes down when the opponent is bashing you with guys or drawing counterspells. I don’t have any easy hints that make you good at this, but practice will clearly help out.

The postboard games are going to be a bit different against many decks. The reason is that you’re facing similar storm-hate that other combo decks face, but you trade off graveyard invulnerability for really low life totals if you stall. Thus, you’ve got to be more aware of things like Orim’s Chant after you’ve cast Ad Nauseam. Our biggest problems are Counterbalance locks and general stalling until we’re out enough life that we can’t reliably cast Ad Nauseam. I don’t think I have the best answers for these situations, as the deck is still relatively new. That said, cheap bounce is always helpful and there are specialized answers like Abeyance to stop the Counterbalancing opponent (or at least slow them down). You can stay UB with cards like Pact of Negation, Slaughter Pact, and Engineered Explosives. Patrick Chapin suggested the Innovation of Angel’s Grace, which certainly merits further consideration. How you build your sideboard will ultimately be a reflection of your expected metagame and what specific cards you are weak against.

I want to give you definitive matchup results, but the deck is still so new to our team that I don’t have the sample size to give you a genuine answer. You want to sit down against aggro or other combo decks every round, since you’re faster than both. Control decks like the four-color Landstill decks that have been floating around are a little harder, but they don’t put much early pressure on the game so if you can accurately deduce when your success percentage over turns graph is at its highest, you can bleed them out of counters up until that point. In those matches, I’d rather slowroll an opponent or at least take a peek at their hand with Duress first. Your hardest matches are going to be against Threshold-style decks with Daze, Force of Will, Thoughtseize, and Tarmogoyf.

We’re not calling this the hands-down best Ad Nauseam deck. Again, the card is still new and will only get better with age. However, this is the smoothest list we’ve found when we built the deck from the ground up, and we think it’s worth your time to test. As such, we’re calling it Meandeck Ad Nauseam (MAN!) to differentiate it from other Ad Nauseam decks and to avoid the hubris of thinking ours is the definitive sixty. I’d much rather get this deck in your hands now and talk about it again next month instead of cramming everything into one article and making readers wait a month. Extending it this way lets me gauge the long-term strength of the deck and review it in light of other Ad Nauseam decks in the format as well.

Here’s the fully-assembled decklist:

I am keenly interested to hear from you about your results with this deck to see if your testing matched up with ours. Next month’s article will handle more specific situations with playing the deck and fully-formed sideboarding plans. Until then, enjoy drawing thirteen cards at a time!

Doug Linn
Hi-Val on the internets
Thanks to my Meandecky buddies

PS – Lich’s Mirror has incredible art.

PPS – Indie cred time: written while listening to the CSS remix of Tilly and the Wall’s “The Freest Man” and The Avett Brothers’ “Colorshow” and drinking coffee from my French press, with breaks taken to read a biography of Albert Camus.

PPPS – I’m a whore for manners, so I can tell you with authority that Miss Manners detests postscripts, especially post-postscripts.