Some of you may recognize me from this past weekend's StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Worcester. I was piloting The EPIC Storm (TES), a deck I'm commonly known for. I had created the Storm deck back in the summer of 2006 and have been a Storm enthusiast - or as I like to call myself a “Storm Trooper” - ever since the deck's creation. I've been fortunate enough to pilot TES to some pretty successful finishes over the years, with the most notable being a Top 8 appearance in Grand Prix: Columbus where I had the privilege of letting Caleb Durward's Survival deck run all over me.
TES isn't exactly a deck that one simply picks up the night before an event. It takes months to properly make accurate decisions based on the game state. TES isn't a deck like Stoneblade where every card is inherently powerful; this means that every slight misplay could end up costing a player the game. TES is built around synergy, small interactions, degenerate engines and cards with the Storm mechanic.
The general gameplan of TES is to play accelerants to ramp into Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish in order to find a “Storm Engine”. These engines are typically Ad Nauseam, Past in Flames, Ill-Gotten Gains and Diminishing Returns.
This doesn't seem too different from Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT), am I right?
Truth be hold, it's really not.
Both decks are pretty similar. They have a lot of identical cardboard and shared strategy. The difference between the two is mainly that TES is a five-color deck while ANT is typically a 2.5 color deck. TES utilizes every color to its advantage with cards like Silence, Burning Wish, Abrupt Decay and Xantid Swarm. And while those cards aren't uncommon to ANT players, they often rotate in and out of the deck based on current trends. TES doesn't make card decisions based on color requirements. TES has access to all of the best cards for the deck at all times.
One of the beautiful things about TES is how powerful its usage of Ad Nauseam is. With additional artifact mana in Chrome Mox over additional lands as well as a general lower casting cost of the deck compared to ANT, TES is certainly capable of going off from a low life total. Cards like Rite of Flame over Cabal Ritual and the lack of a maindeck Tendrils of Agony or Past in Flames are difference-makers.
But enough comparison talk! If you're interested in more on TES, I've written dozens of articles as well as posts all over the internet on the subject. Feel free to scour!
“Are you still trying to convince yourself not to go to Worcester?”
The weeks prior to the StarCityGames.com Open in Worcester, I was feeling a bit deflated. After a speeding ticket on the way to a PTQ, a loss in the Top 8, and a horrible cold that I managed to obtain, I just wasn't thrilled with the idea of traveling five hours to get my nerd on. I wasn't feeling great; if you happened to watch any of the coverage, you probably witnessed my attempts to not coughing all over the board. Magic is a cruel mistress. Sometimes it's great and then there are those days. After being convince to spend nearly the last of my funds on the trip, our car of Nick Patnode, Royce Walter, and Eric LaFramboise spent an hour on the New York State Thruway.
Not moving at all.
There was a ten-car pile-up. While Magic trips are always fun, especially the ride there, things can get awfully weird sitting in non-moving traffic for too long.
“If we begin to starve, we're going to eat the person who weighs the most.”
Awkward conversations somehow became hours of 90's singalongs during our travels.
We eventually arrived at the hotel across the street from the convention center to find our good friend Phil Blechman, a former Syracuse transplant (now in NYC) waiting for our arrival. Phil had also brought an alright guy named Scott with him for the journey. Needless to say, the hotel room got awfully crowded.
“Just one of those days,” is the phrase can be used to describe most of Saturday's Standard Open. I had been on Jund for months before Reid's feat the weekend before in Miami. It's fair to say that players came prepared Saturday. I lost the first round to a very nice gentleman playing a green and white Populate deck with... multiple copies of Terminus? That definitely set the tone for the rest of the event. Before I knew it, I was in the Legacy Challenge! After a failed attempt at redeeming myself, I watched my good friend Eric LaFramboise rise to the occasion and solidify his seed in the Top 8. Unfortunately for him, he lost to Jund in the Top 8 after destroying me with Junk Aristocrats in testing all week.
That night, we went to the conveniently-placed UNOs, as did everyone else at the event. After our wait to be seated, Royce once again attempted to convince me to play a third Xantid Swarm in our sideboard this weekend over the second Cabal Therapy. We discussed it for awhile but didn't agree at the end, my argument mostly consisting of, “Royce, do you know how much a third Japanese foil Xantid Swarm will cost me?!” Although, let it be known, I'm very glad that I didn't end up playing it.
Royce and I briefly mentioned it as we filled out our deck registration for the second event. Instead of continuing to disagree, I played some Commander and chatted with some long lost friends. Then the pairings for Round 1 were up:
Round One: Dave with Goblins
Game One: I win the die roll. My seven cards are Dark Ritual, Gitaxian Probe, Rite of Flame, Lion's Eye Diamond, Scalding Tarn, Gitaxian Probe and a Ponder. Keep! I'm quick to shock myself to reveal some information. Goblins! No Force of Will? Don't mind if I do. I draw a Chrome Mox. I'm a bit weird in the fact that sometimes I do things to humor myself while I play. The next sudden shock during the turn would target myself. Draw Burning Wish. Chrome Mox (imprinting Rite of Flame), Scalding Tarn fetches Underground Sea, cast Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond. Tap Chrome Mox, Burning Wish and crack the LED, then the horde of goblins hit the table. Dave shuffles for the second game.
Game Two: Dave began the second game with a first turn Goblin Lackey after mulliganing twice. This game was a bit awkward, my initial draw of the game was the lone Ad Nauseam. It made the hand I kept a little weak. The hand was: Infernal Tutor, Cabal Therapy, Dark Ritual, City of Brass, Chrome Mox, Misty Rainforest and Gitaxian Probe. This was a turn one kill. I lay the Probe from my hand, Dave's hand consists of Wasteland, Goblin Ringleader and a second Goblin Lackey. I'm fairly certain that's about as good as it gets without a second turn Thalia, Gaurdian of Thraben from Goblins. I draw Abrupt Decay and then use Misty to search Underground Sea onto the battlefield. Cabal Therapy would then strip Goblin Ringleader from Dave's hand. A second Lackey hits the table right before a Wasteland destroying my Sea. Dave passes the turn. I draw Brainstorm, cast it off of my City of Brass. Red Elemental Blast! Dave slams a Rishadan Port. Remember when I said this game was a bit awkward? City of Brass doesn't just deal damage when it's tapped for mana, but whenever it's tapped. I'm stuck for several turns without any business while Dave pings me and attacks with two Lackeys. This ends when Dave draws a Thalia to seal the deal.
Game Three: I keep a bit of a slower hand and Dave repeats his classic shuffle down to five cards routine. My first turn Gitaxian Probe reveals a Thalia and not much else, I know, I draw that card a lot on turn one. I follow up the self-loving damage with a Ponder, shuffle and draw Cabal Therapy. Pass. Dave searches up a Plateau before passing. I lay another land and force him to discard the Thalia. Dave lays a land and passes, which I find weird considering he had Mogg War Marshal in hand. He must've drawn Red Elemental Blast. This Brainstorm in my hand sure looks good now, I cast it anyway to see if I'm right. I'm already in good position and if I'm wrong it won't likely matter - I was right. On my turn, I draw the Dark Ritual I needed to provide the additional mana to Tutor for Ad Nauseam this turn. I go through the motions and start revealing cards from the top of my library. Dave had seen enough.
Round Two: Jeremy with U/W/r Stoneblade
I look at the pairings and my shoulders just cave in. I lost a bit of confidence for a second. I wasn't playing against Matthew Costa or some other big name (not that I would care honestly).
It was Jeremy Tibbets.
We've known each other for years. We're both Legacy veterans of the Northeast and we've seen each other our fair share. I've never beaten him. Sometimes I wonder if Jeremy wakes up in the morning of Legacy events and says, “I think I'm going to play Bryant today, I should make my good match-up better!” before putting three copies of Ethersworn Cannonist in his sideboard of Miracles. I don't know if that actually happens, but I wouldn't doubt it either.
Game One: Jermey's hand is decent for a mulligan. My Duress reveals a Force of Will, Izzet Charm, Snapcaster Mage, Tundra, Flooded Strand, and a Spell Pierce. Cya Force! “Tundra, go.” I play a Ponder which is countered. “Strand, pass.” I begin this turn with a Silence, which isn't countered by Izzet Charm. “Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Lion's Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor. I'll break Lion's Eye Diamond for black and then cast Ad Nauseam floating a red.”Sideboarding: -1 Infernal Tutor, -1 Empty the Warrens, -1 Ponder, -1 Chrome Mox, +1 Cabal Therapy, +3 Abrupt Decay
Knowing Jeremy there was multiple Cannonist or Counterbalance, I had to bring in Decay.
Game Two: I mulligan to five and keep a pretty weak hand expecting to get run over. It's all mana. Well, it turns out that Jeremy's hand is all counterspells with a single land. We literally play “draw, go” for what seems like ten turns before I feel comfortable attempting to win.
At this point Jeremy has two lands and no hand. My hand is four rituals with five lands in play. We play “draw, go” again while I fail to draw business until on the turn I draw a tutor, Vendilion Clique hits. Timely! Unfortunately for Jeremy, I drew Ponder off of the Clique and that Ponder found Burning Wish. I begin the combo turn with another Silence, which resolves with Jeremy holding a lone counterspell. If only he knew that there was a Diminishing Returns on its way! We shuffle, my new seven looks pretty glorious at this point considering how three-fourths of my deck's lands are on the battlefield. I go through the motions and Jeremy extends his hand.
Round Three: Matt with Merfolk
Ever make judgments based on what your opponent looks like? Not cruel or rude judgments, but an educated guess on what your opponent is playing based on their physical appearance? Ridiculous? Perhaps. Matt was wearing a ten gallon hat with a sleeveless flannel shirt. I was thinking, “Going big or going home?” Must be some sort of Reanimator/Show and Tell deck.
I was way off.
Game One: My turn one Duress reveals a hand full of Fish as well as a Force of Will with an Island or two. Matt plays an Island and passes the turn. I begin with Gemstone Mine, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox (imprinting Silence), Burning Wish and Empty the Warrens, making twelve Goblins before passing back. Matt looks at his hand, drops an Island onto the table followed by a Lord. I swing out and Matt drops to nine, pass. Matt draws and we're off to game two.
Not a joke. Like I said earlier, sometimes I do things to amuse myself. Sometimes I like to swap my Empty the Warrens to make it look like I'm actually doing something. Secret's out.
Game Two: Matt's turns go as follows,
Up until this point, I have not missed a land drop, nor have I cast a spell. Matt hasn't laid another land either. It's pretty clear that twelve lands are greater than twenty at this point. I let Matt Ancestral Recall as I took two damage and look at his grip of ten cards. My eyes almost hit the table when I saw how bad his draws have been. There wasn't a single card that interacted with my hand. I play out all of the mana from my hand, it's important to note against Daze or Cursecatcher effects that it's best to play Rite of Flame first. The reason being that it's possible to respond with instants such as Dark Ritual in order to pay costs. I follow up the rituals with a Lion's Eye Diamond before beginning my tutor chain into Tendrils of Agony.
Round Four: Brian with RUG
As I mentioned in the previous match, I like to guess. Brian looked like a guy who studies a lot, very put together. An intelligent vibe, I'm guessing that he's a guy who likes stability and consistency. I put him on RUG Delver.
Game One: He leads off with Tropical Island into Ponder. GITAXIAN PROBE! I look at Forked Bolt, Volcanic Island, Nimble Mongoose, Brainstorm, Lightning Bolt and Wasteland. The coast is clear. Underground Sea, Brainstorm. Brainstorm draws into a much-needed Dark Ritual. Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor and respond by adding three red. Empty the Warrens, seven copies. Brian draws, thinks for a moment and begins to shuffle everything together.
Making this change is helpful for two reasons. The first being additional protection, but now Burning Wish can effectively find Ad Nauseam if need be and not have to cast Diminishing Returns or Ill-Gotten Gains against blue decks.
Game Two: To be honest, I don't have notes for this game, just my life total ticking down to zero. I don't even remember it; let's make something up. Such as Brian is a Wastelanding monster who Stifles fetchlands or something. That's all I've got.
Game Three: Brian shuffles his hand back twice, I start the game with a Volcanic and a Ponder, setting up for the Empty the Warrens in my hand to make Goblins on the second turn. Brian lays a Volcanic Island and passes. I play Gitaxian Probe which reveals Lightning Bolt, Daze, Tropical Island, Tarmogoyf and Brainstorm. After the Probe is done resolving it's followed by Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox (imprint Infernal Tutor) and Empty the Warrens for five copies. Brian lets a copy resolve, plays a Lightning Bolt on one of the Goblins before casting Daze on a copy. By doing this Brian sets himself back a turn for casting Tarmogoyf, it's kind of a lose-lose situation. I turn my tokens sideways twice before passing to Brian's final turn, which begins with a moment of Silence.
Round Five: Adam with RUG
The guessing game was over, I sat next to Adam the round beforehand. Luckily for me, he didn't see what I was playing. I had played against Adam before at the Atlanta Invitational. Nice guy, didn't talk much. He was much more talkative this time around.
Game One: He kept a hand that would've wrecked an aggro deck considering it had multiple Tarmogoyfs. I pretended to be RUG the first few turns. Misty Rainforest for Volcanic to cast Ponder. He plays a Tarmogoyf, I lay Scalding Tarn and pass. He swings and follows up with a second 'Goyf. I play Brainstorm on his end step. During my upkeep I fetch (I do this because if the opponent Stifles it now adds to my storm count) searching up an Underground Sea. Draw, lay City of Brass, the jig is up. Cast Silence, it resolves. I play a bunch of spells into Ad Nauseam.
Game Two: Adam leads this game off with a turn one Delver of Secrets off of Volcanic Island. I look at my hand and think to myself for a minute, my options are to play Gemstone Mine and Ponder or Underground Sea. If I run with Mine and it gets Wastelanded, it wouldn't hurt nearly as much as losing the Underground Sea. Considering that my hand wasn't very quick, I would need to tap Sea a few times. But that could've been a reason to run Underground Sea out there first, to save counters on Gemstone Mine. I looked at Adam for a minute while he viewed his hand. Sometimes I'll get a good read on an opponent who has a Wasteland in their hand because they'll glimpse at your manabase but it's a little more difficult when you haven't laid a land yet. I think to myself and say, “Adam looks like the type of guy who values Wasteland pretty highly”. I run the Gemstone out and Ponder. I shuffle off it and draw another land.
Adam doesn't reveal for Delver and Wastelands the Gemstone Mine. He attacks and passes. I spend a few turns sculpting my hand while Adam does the same. However, at this point I'm taking three damage a turn while he is not. When I'm ready to combo off, my Duress meets Force of Will and my Silence finds a Flusterstorm. I'm low on life and have Burning Wish plus mana. Adam has two cards in hand. I need to win this turn considering the board. I don't have enough in my yard to win with Past in Flames and can't Ill-Gotten Gains or else I'll return all of his counterspells. My options are to Tendrils of Agony for exactly lethal (eighteen life) or Diminishing Returns. I weigh my opions, I believe that I have a higher chance of being stopped if I gave him seven new cards than with that he could possibly have. Luckily enough, I have a good read on my opponents. He had Force of Will and... a fetchland.
Round Six: Royce with TES
Royce and I knew there was a chance that we would play when we realized that we were both undefeated up until this point. Unfortunately, it happened sooner rather than later. Also unfortunate, this is a match-up that is almost purely draw-dependent. Gerard walks over, points at me and says “You're on camera.” I chuckle to myself.
Game One: Royce starts the game with a Gitaxian Probe, leaving my hand naked: Underground Sea, Brainstorm, Chrome Mox, Burning Wish, Silence, Lotus Petal and a Rite of Flame. He then Ponders and leaves Lotus Petal up to represent Silence. I mimic him with a Sea and Petal before passing. We spend the next few turns playing cantrips and setting up the win along with disruption. I get to know Royce's hand too thanks to my own Probe, which reveals two copies of Silence as well as a Duress. It's not looking great for the home team. Royce casts Duress discarding my Silence, leaving me unable to interact. I untap, lay City of Brass before casting Burning Wish. Royce breaks Lotus Petal and Silences me. I retrieve a Cabal Therapy. Royce untaps, plays a Probe and draws a gold land for his Silence, then passes. On my upkeep, Royce Silences me. I draw Silence and pass. Royce draws and casts Burning Wish. I Silence him. I untap and play a few Petals. I cast Cabal Therapy naming Rite of Flame so that if he had any, they would add to my mana while making sure the coast was clear. Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam.
Due to Royce cutting the second Cabal Therapy, he didn't really have the option to bring in his lone Therapy. It's much more important to have the copy in the sideboard for Burning Wish in the mirror. At the same time, it's pretty important to take Empty the Warrens out of the deck for game two as passing the turn and attacking is not be the best way to win in a combo mirror. I imagine he sided in a Xantid Swarm to combat Silence in Empty's place.
Game Two: I keep an opening hand of Rite of Flame, Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest, Lotus Petal, Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond and Lion's Eye Diamond. Which is quickly revealed to Royce. He does the usual cantrip business. I draw a Silence, I play out everything I can and pass. Royce plays a Duress. I discard the drawn Silence. I search during Royce's end step for an Underground Sea and then draw Ad Nauseam! Misty Rainforest is quickly put to the graveyard for a land in order to cast Rite of Flame into Ad Nauseam. I decided to break one Lion's Eye for three red to ensure an easier victory while leaving myself a way to become hellbent for Infernal Tutor if need be.
Round Seven: Jon with Goblins
Game One: Jon's first turn is Goblin Lackey. Mine is Volcanic Island and Ponder, I try to look like RUG again. But Jon knows that I'm on Storm. Siege-Gang Commander comes down and then Jon casts Goblin Piledriver which represents lethal. I attempt a Diminishing Returns floating a blue from a pair of Rite of Flames, Lion's Eye Diamond and Burning Wish. My brand new seven unfortunately isn't good enough to win the game. The reason I kept a blue mana floating is the more cards you see post-Returns the higher your percentage of winning is. Be it Brainstorm or Ponder, the odds greatly increase. It's best to ensure that you can cast these cards.
Game Three: Jon mulligans to five, I go down to six. I play a turn-one Gitaxian Probe that reveals a Thalia. Jon runs out a Plateau and an AEther Vial. I need him to not draw a land on turn two to play Thalia, as I couldn't win the game yet. He draws another Vial, on my turn I draw Ad Nauseam. Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond and Ad Nauseam. Jon was nice enough to let me cast a lethal Grapeshot on-camera.
Round Eight: Jacob with RUG
Jacob had no intentions of drawing this round. That was fine by me, I wanted to be on the play in the Top 8.
Game One: Jacob begins the game with a Gitaxian Probe, then Scalding Tarn fetches Volcanic Island and he casts a Delver of Secrets. I draw a Dark Ritual for the turn, lay a land and Probe Jacob back. He reveals a creature, a pair of Lightning Bolts, Force of Will and a land. I cast Ponder and the third card down is Lion's Eye Diamond. I look at my hand which contains Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual and Infernal Tutor. I draw the Lion's Eye and cast Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish. Wish retrieving Tendrils of Agony and cast it.Sideboarding: -1 Infernal Tutor, +1 Cabal Therapy
Game Two: This was a game where I tore apart Jacob's hand until I knew exactly what he had minus one card. I went for the kill. I cast Silence which was countered as expected, and I continued to make progression until I was halted by Flusterstorm. That one card.
Game Three: I keep a cantrip-heavy hand with four lands, I figured that had to be good against mana denial. I Duress taking away Jacob's Force of Will on turn four. Jacob attacks for one and casts a Delver of Secrets. On my turn I lead with Silence which resolves, Chrome Mox (imprinting Burning Wish), Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor and Empty the Warrens for twelve Goblins. Jacob flips off of Delver, lays a Tarmogoyf and attacks for three. I untap and draw Silence. I do my best to keep a stone face and swing out. During Jacob's upkeep I play Silence. Jacob ensures that I can do math and forces me to attack him.
Round Nine: Nick with Elves
I had every intention of playing out this round. I wanted to be the first person to 12-0 a Legacy Open. However, when I said I wanted to play the final round the look on Nick's face made me feel pretty awful. Pair with that the fact I'd rather have Elves in the Top 8 than a random deck (...it's a pretty good matchup..) I knew that I should probably draw.
Quarterfinals: Erik Smith with UWr Delver
For coverage on this match, please read Reuben's point of view. His coverage is more complete than my recollection of events could be.
In hindsight, if I had knocked out Elves of the Top 8, I would've had the opportunity to play against Chris VanMeter's Esper Deathblade deck that is a decent matchup for me. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I had pretty great opponents throughout the event and it was a pleasure playing against most of them. As I stated before, Magic is a cruel mistress. There's days like Saturday where nothing seems to go right and then there are days such as Sunday, where you just always draw Ad Nauseam. Can't let "those days" get the best of you though, fortunately for me the Top 8 finish paid for my trip as well as most of that PTQ speeding ticket!