I seriously have no idea why I do these things to myself.
Here I am, barely 48 hours before the Grand Prix, with Serra Avengers suited up and Dark Rituals possibly sidelined. My choices could not be more
different. I’m either playing a completely fair deck that wins by making the opponent play on its level or a degenerate deck that wins by making sure
its opponent has nothing that can interact. One deck I’m picking up tonight; the other I’ve played for a year. I’ve told people I just wanted to get
this G/W deck out of my system before going back to Storm, but I’m not so sure. What I need now is a Chris Jobin, calling to tell me that Faeries is
just the best and that a miser’s Loxodon Warhammer would probably be good.
Thursday Morning: A Return to Sanity
As soon as I thought the last line, I realized I’ve been here before. On one hand, I have the solid deck with a bunch of good cards. On the other, I
have the insane, synergistic deck that people think has a bad matchup against the most popular deck but in reality is probably favored. One deck I’ve
played a bit and have performed well with; the other I’ve been called a master at piloting.
My mind is made up. Storm count is one, three mana floating?
Thursday Evening: This Is Realistic
Let’s start with this.
Over a month ago, I booked my room like the responsible human being I rarely am. I had heard rumors that the boarding situation in Providence would be
crazy due to Brown’s graduation being the same weekend as the Grand Prix and decided I wanted no part in a last-second scramble for lodging. Once this
was settled, the rule was whoever gave me a spot in their car had a spot in my hotel. A car was offered by another Ann Arbor resident, and it quickly
Flash forward to today. We got in the car to leave for the Grand Prix, and things looked like they might become difficult. The car had a significant
lag changing gears at times, and the following conversation ensued. Names of certain parties have been changed to protect the guilty.
“Tom Basketball, are you sure this car is going to make it to the Grand Prix?”
“Yes, it’s fine. I drove 200 miles this weekend already, and it only has issues when you try to accelerate over 40 miles an hour at a
“Are you absolutely sure? Both Kurtis and I have functional cars that we can take instead.”
“No, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”
Two hours later, we were driving down I-80 by Fremont, Ohio. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry because I’m not too sure either beyond the
fact it’s the middle of nowhere. The highway started to wind down to one lane of slow-moving, obstructed traffic, and we merged over into the stop and
go. We stopped, but the going part of the equation did not resolve so well. We managed to push the car to the side of the road and got a tow truck.
Fortunately, we were in a caravan with another car, which stopped at the next rest stop a few miles up in the rain. The tow truck obviously could only
seat one, but the driver was generous enough to illegally let us ride in the car on the flat bed.
At the rest stop, we determined we had another problem: we had six people for a five-seat car. We figured out that another car from Michigan would be
driving by around six hours later, but no one volunteered to stay behind. An attempt at a buyout was created, but the price was too high for anyone to
be willing to pay, so that left us gaming for it. John Johnson aka jjflipped was the unfortunate “winner,” though his wait was shortened by
Kelly Reid answering his cries for help on Twitter.
To make things better, I received the following text a bit later.
“Tow truck rear-ended some guy. No joke.”
Got basically zero testing done today, which was perfectly fine. The one thing I did try was playing against the Team America list from the top four of
the last StarCityGames.com Open, which turned out reasonably well. The loss of Stifle really hurts their chances in the matchup, as they are down to
four hard counters.
Here is the list I’ve settled on for tomorrow.
- 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
As you can see, I didn’t change much. The maindeck has been the same for almost a year now, and I’ve seen no reason to change it. The Chain of Vapors,
Thoughtseizes, and Rebuilds have also been constant and have all proven themselves time and time again. Chain is by far the best generic bounce spell;
Thoughtseize is the best discard spell when you need to add more than the maindeck six; and Rebuild absolutely destroys the decks it is good against.
The second Ad Nauseam is a nice addition when you can’t Ill-Gotten Gains due to counter density or when you want more, cheaper ways to go off due to an
expected diminished hand size from disruption.
The biggest recent change was the move away from Doomsday. Now that Counterbalance is basically dead, you don’t really need it any more. Against the
other blue control decks, you can expect Wastelands and Jaces to cause problems, and other than that, you only wanted it against Enchantress to turn an
80% match into a 95% one. In place of the seven-card package are three Dark Confidants, two Tendrils of Agony, and two Echoing Truths.
Dark Confidant was a card I didn’t really like before, but I’ve come to realize that was only because I was boarding it in too often. It’s only good
when you really need something to dig you out of a hole or when the chip shots it gets in really help in addition to the cards. This means you board it
in against BUG, where due to their heavy disruption suite, you are often short on cards; against the mirror, where not only are there a million
Duresses on both sides, but Bob hits put them out of Ad Nauseam range and into short Tendrils range; and against Counterbalance, where if you hit them
a couple times and have a Tendrils in hand, you can legitimately just straight storm them out through the lock.
Usually when Bob comes in, you’re shaving a couple extra cantrips for it, as it covers some of the same card selection and advantage roles. A Lotus
Petal or two can also be shaved depending on how Ad Nauseam reliant you plan on being, as the card in general provides you the least per-card value of
anything in your deck. Three has been a good number, as four means you draw too many when you want more action and too often flip them to Ad Nauseam.
Tendrils of Agony is there for when you actually want to cast the card from your hand. As mentioned above, this plus Dark Confidant is actually a
realistic way to power through a Counterbalance lock, but primarily you use it against Landstill. They can’t really present a strong clock without
tapping low enough that you can just plow through their free counters, so their best bet is to try for a longer game where you eventually die to
Factory beats, or they manage to stick a Jace with sufficient mana up to not die. The problem is that you are better at assembling a perfect hand than
they are. Eventually the game gets to the point where your hand is three Rituals, two Duresses, a threat, and two other cards with five or six lands in
play, and you just crush them through three counters.
The problem arises when they start to have four or five counters available. Fortunately, if that threat is Tendrils of Agony and your other cards are
another Ritual and a cantrip or tutor, they probably need six or seven counters to win if they can at all. Drew Levin took a look at my sideboard and
wondered how he was ever supposed to win a game if I had two Tendrils in my hand when I went for it.
Finally, Echoing Truth is a bit of a catchall. If you need to bounce something against a deck with Mental Misstep, this is your go-to card. It’s also
nice that it provides an answer to Chalice of the Void that can answer other hate, unlike Rebuild at times. It is much worse to draw than the other two
bounce spells when you don’t need it, so it will sometimes not be what you want, but the sideboard had room for flexibility. If anything was going to
be cut, it would be this card, but it has yet to disappoint.
Here are some basic board plans for the two decks I spent the most time working on new ideas for:
-2 Lion’s Eye Diamond, -1 Ill-Gotten Gains, +2 Tendrils of Agony, +1 Thoughtseize
You don’t necessarily want a ton of Thoughtseizes, as you’re saving everything for one big turn and can find the two copies you want pretty easily.
Lion’s Eye Diamond doesn’t really add mana well, but a couple help when you want to turn on Infernal Tutor, and it still is a zero-cost spell to storm
up with. The two Echoing Truths can come in for two Ponders (if you plan on going long, the card selection powers of Preordain are far better) if you
need to fight an Ethersworn Canonist or something similar (Wipe Away may be necessary if this becomes an issue).
Team America and other BUG variants:
-2 Preordain, -1 Ponder, -1 Ill-Gotten Gains, -1 Grim Tutor, +3 Dark Confidant, +1 Ad Nauseam, +1 Thoughtseize
You can’t afford the full eight discard, as it stresses your hand size too much to play the attrition war against them. Grim Tutor is just upgraded to
Ad Nauseam to save on mana, and the cantrips turn into Dark Confidants that provide a much greater advantage if they don’t immediately die.
Saturday Evening: A Solid Start
Here’s the Day One wrap up:
First of all, I broke the lunch format when I discovered there was a full sushi bar in the adjoining mall food court.
Second, testing against Gavin Verhey showed the BUG matchup to still be unfavorable by a fair bit against the Dark Confidant builds. The card advantage
they get from that card on top of the added disruption from Vendilion Clique is really backbreaking, not even counting the fact that they have moved
towards more Spell Snares. I didn’t really expect to win the matchup regularly, but mising the win was definitely not out of the question.
my opponent mentioned pre-match that he didn’t play much Legacy. When my first-turn Preordain was met with a Wooded Foothills, I started reshaping my
plans to not have to cast the Ad Nauseam in my hand. When he sacrificed it for a basic Forest, played a Horizon Canopy, and tanked with two mana in his
pool, I had a brief moment of fear where I expected to just get Gaddock Teeged out of the game. When he chose to cast Tarmogoyf, I untapped and killed
him with an Ad Nauseam from eighteen life. A Duress revealed that he was on Zoo, and the choice he made was that guy or Pridemage.
I went with the standard Zoo plan of -3 Duress, -1 Preordain, -1 Land, +3 Chain of Vapor, + 2 Thoughtseize, and game two was more of the same. He had a
Steppe Lynx on one for a decent clock and a Blood Moon on turn 3 to shut me off of my Underground Sea and a Polluted Delta in hand, but Lotus Petal
provided the lethal black mana.
I played against Junk. He really didn’t interact much and mulliganed to five game two. I only jammed in a couple of Chain of Vapors for Preordains
here, as realistically your maindeck is fine against them. I’ve gone back and forth on wanting the second Ad Nauseam, but you definitely don’t want
Dark Confidant. They don’t have enough discard to really empty your hand the same way BUG does and often have things like Vindicate that won’t come
out. Your main plan is basically better than almost any resistance they can put up, so there’s no reason to shift.
I found myself matched up against Orrin Beasley with BUG. His Thoughtseize took a Preordain, and I decided to Duress on the return, which was probably
incorrect, as he had let me keep it. He had three Brainstorms, and despite my best efforts and his not even getting close to full value out of each of
them, I was demolished.
I boarded as stated above and promptly mulliganed to four. I still had a shot, as I managed to stick a Bob against a disruption-light hand, but he
promptly ripped Go for the Throat and left me hellbent and out of the game.
I played against Affinity. Game one, he kept a sketchy hand, and mine was very average, resulting in his getting demolished more so than typical for
this matchup. I boarded in two Rebuilds and two Thoughtseizes for three Duresses and a basic Island.
He led game two on Springleaf Drum and Great Furnace, and my Thoughtseize saw no lands, Arcbound Ravager, Signal Pest, Thoughtseize, and Cabal Therapy.
I took Thoughtseize, as I expected him to miss on Cabal Therapy and have to blow his Signal Pest to hit anything. After dumping my Lion’s Eye Diamonds
into play, I passed. As expected, he incorrectly named Ad Nauseam off of Cabal Therapy and had to flashback on an otherwise lethal Infernal Tutor. The
Preordain he left me found a Brainstorm, and when that resolved the next turn, I was looking at putting back two from a hand of Grim Tutor, Infernal
Tutor, two Rebuilds, and Ad Nauseam with two Lion’s Eye Diamonds and two lands in play. I put Rebuild back on top of Ad Nauseam, and he Thoughtseized
my Infernal Tutor. I drew Rebuild for the turn, cycled it, and broke my LEDs in response to cast the Ad Nauseam I was going to draw. At nineteen life,
I easily found the necessary pieces to win.
I faced off against David Gearhart with a sick Counterbalance brew. He led game one on Badlands and Tropical Island, and I knew things would get
interesting. Fortunately for me, he was more on the Rock side of things than the MUC side, and his double Dark Confidants didn’t really get him any
interaction I couldn’t strip away with Duresses. I ended up casting Ad Nauseam with zero floating at fourteen life to just draw some cards, ending up
at six life. His subsequent Bob flips put him to eight and let him Top up a Counterbalance. I untapped and played Lotus Petal, Ponder, and Tendrils of
Agony to leave him at two life. He failed to dodge on the Confidants, and it was off to the next game.
I boarded in my own Bobs, another Tendrils, and two Thoughtseizes for three cantrips, a land, the Ill-Gotten Gains, and one Lotus Petal or Lion’s Eye
Game two, I had one Bob to his two and was able to keep him off interaction before going off. I made a mistake and miscounted mana, leading me to think
I was one storm short when I actually had enough start-up mana to Infernal for a Dark Ritual to just +1 storm. He managed to almost live through his
double Dark Confidants with Top shenanigans, but on the last turn, I went off again, and he ended up getting stuck having to pitch his Brainstorm to
Force of Will and died on his upkeep by revealing the Top he had to flip.
After the match, we had some cool discussions about the format and what things were and weren’t good about it, but this was interrupted by something
far more important. It was brought to our attention by one of David’s friends that there was someone at this Grand Prix who was in a full-arm cast due
to a high five. After a little hunting, David did in fact manage to track him down and very carefully high-fived his functional hand. I won’t spoil the
story of how he did it, as it’s his to tell, but it was definitely significantly better than “some idiot hit me way too hard,” and I was
I battled against a Sneak and Tell deck. Game one, I had the nut draw and killed him on turn 2 with a Duress after he mulliganed.
I boarded two Thoughtseizes and an Echoing Truth for two Preordains and an Island, but it was his turn to have the nuts game two. Turn 2 Trinisphere
was followed by turn 3 Sneak Attack and turn 4 Emrakul. I even drew the miser bounce spell and cast it before being annihilated, but he also had the
Force of Will to squash any hope I had of coming back as well as the second Emrakul to finish the job.
I added another Echoing Truth for game three and led off with a Duress, taking his Trinisphere and seeing Intuition, Show and Tell, and Lotus Petal. He
simply had land go, and my subsequent turn involved Duressing his Lotus Petal and seeing he had drawn a Seething Song. He did nothing again, and my
combo was not met with a topdecked Force of Will.
I wish I could say I had some more unreal non-Magic stories from this Grand Prix, but I just wanted to eat, sleep, and be ready for the next day.
Sunday Evening: A Disappointing Finish
I really thought I had it on lock this time. The BUG players I knew of had dropped like flies going into the day, and I had no fear of any other
matchup. Looking around early on, everything looked like a field of Zoo and other counter-less decks. I was expecting nothing short of victory.
I played against the same deck that won the GP: No Force Bant. Game one, I may have gotten greedy when I ran a Thoughtseize into a Daze on turn 2, but
I had two more cantrips I felt could find another copy. I ended up in a situation where I Brainstormed in response to Vendilion Clique and hid my
second Tutor and a Duress, which beats a Force of Will. He took my first Tutor, then had Karakas to rebuy Clique for my second. Had I known he didn’t
have Force, I could have hid both Tutors, but I couldn’t realistically expect that.
I boarded two Echoing Truths and two Thoughtseizes for two Preordains, a Duress, and a land.
Game two, we both mulled to five, and I decided to wait to kill him on turn 4 to find Duress backup rather than run it out into his four cards in hand.
He ended up runnering Green Sun’s Zenith for Gaddock Teeg into Brainstorm, and I never drew a blue card. I consider myself sufficiently leveled by the
lack of Force of Will here, but I don’t really think either of the decisions I made was a poor judgment call.
I gave Ben Peebles-Mundy what he said was “one of the most sound beatings I have taken.” He was playing Team Italia, and game one kept a
non-interactive hand. With that quickly out of the way, I boarded in three Chain of Vapors and two Thoughtseizes for two Preordains and three Duresses.
Game two, he played a turn 1 Thoughtseize, taking Brainstorm over Preordain, Lotus Petal, and two Lion’s Eye Diamonds. I Preordained to hide an
Infernal Tutor on top and stupidly passed without playing my LEDs. Fortunately, I hit the 40% chance that his Hymn to Tourach missed them both from my
six-card hand, and he died on my next turn. He showed me the two Red Blasts he also had waiting after the match.
was my first Merfolk player of the event. Game one, he had a Force for my Ad Nauseam and three Daze effects to counter my Cabal Ritual that would have
otherwise led to a lethal Infernal Tutor and Tendrils, while game two, I had double Duress for his Misstep and Force. Game three, he mulliganed to
five, and that was that.
was also Merfolk. Game one, I had to draw anything but a land to get hellbent and kill him and was unable to do so while facing lethal on board, and
game two, my hand just filled with clunky cards and was unable to actually go anywhere. I almost assuredly made some poor decisions along the way
during that game however and probably could have won; for instance, I fetched a dual and assumed he wouldn’t Cursecatcher an Infernal Tutor that was
just setting up my hand.
was yet again Merfolk. Game one, he didn’t really put up a fight, and game two, he made what was possibly an error, as he didn’t really have experience
with the matchup. He had out a Relic of Progenitus that would have cut me off comboing, as I had drawn my one Tendrils and couldn’t get to lethal mana
without sacrificing Lion’s Eye Diamond, meaning I needed to Ill-Gotten Gains. He cracked the Relic on his main phase one turn, hoping to hit a Lord and
put me to dead in two hits, letting me kill him on my turn. He didn’t even consider Ill-Gotten Gains as an issue, but realistically his line was
was a rough one. My opponent was playing basically a RUG value deck, with Bloodbraid Elf, Tarmogoyf, Brainstorm, and Force of Will. We both knew he was
maybe 30% to win each game and had been discussing earlier how he had barely mised out Mark Tocco playing Tendrils. Game one, I had it all set up and
took his Force with a Duress the turn I went off, but his Brainstorm hit one of the other three.
I boarded two Thoughtseizes and two Chain of Vapors for two Preordains, an Island, and a Duress, as I knew he had Null Rod. My mull to six wasn’t great
but had Duress, Thoughtseize, and a Chain to buy time and find gas. Those quickly took his Vendilion Clique and Force, but I failed to find any way to
win the game before dying to Tarmogoyfs.
11-4 for 35th place
I can’t help but feel disappointed at this point. The losses to Merfolk and BUG were expected (you can’t win them all against Fish), but the other
losses were rough. Both times, I felt like I was a huge favorite and hit bad breaks. Not that I didn’t run good at several points to get there, but
it’s always worse when you feel like you should win and end up losing, as opposed to when you feel like it was close to begin with.
That said, I’ve definitely realized I don’t have time to mope over this with my current schedule. Looking at the Invitational this weekend, I wouldn’t
change a thing from my list. Not only was every card great, but the deck gets miles better in the metagame. Fish and BUG, a close and bad matchup, were
losing out to more midrange, less disruptive decks. A lot of the BUG players commented that their deck was more or less The Rock, or a pile of midrange
garbage. Unless things swing way back towards Counterbalance for no reason, Storm should be the best deck for that event.
Take this with a grain of salt however. There were only three Storm players on Day Two, and it was all people who had previously put up results and put
in a lot of work with the deck: Mark Tocco, Bryant Cook, and myself. There’s a reason for this, and it likely means the current timeline of less than a
week is not enough to pick up the deck.
If you are looking for other options, Brian DeMars finished in the top 16 and nearly Top 8ed with a very well-built Stoneforge Control deck that I’m
sure he’ll write about. Other than that, I’d still recommend the G/W beatdown deck I posted a couple weeks ago. It is very strong against
other fair decks, has tools against the unfair ones, and Mother of Runes is secretly unbeatable. Show and Tell strategies are also reasonable, though
the interaction between Hive Mind, Pacts, and Daze should be public knowledge by now, making that a worse choice. If you aren’t aware, if you have a
mana up, you can Daze your copy of the Pact, pay for their Daze copy, and fail to pay for yours. Force of Will is also a blank post–Hive Mind, as
their copy targets yours.
As for Standard, I fully expect the event to be over half Caw-Blade. I haven’t played a game of the format post-Batterskull due to Block and Legacy
being more important to me, but there are all of three matchups to actually test before deciding what deck to play. Regardless, you should know the Caw
matchup inside-out if you plan on winning anything in this format.
I’ll be in Indianapolis for the StarCityGames.com 50K Invitational this weekend, so feel free to hit me up there if you want to discuss Legacy or on
Twitter as @armlx. I’ll be back soon with results from that event and Japan.
And, on one last note, major props to Scott and Jake Sowles as well as Kelly Reid for coming through and saving us from mechanical malfunctions. At
least one person owes his ability to GP to you.