This was a day I did not think would ever come, but there I was. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was necessary. I gathered my courage and went over the words I had practiced. It was time to break someone's heart.
"Titania, can you come in here? We need to talk…"
"What is it, baby?"
"I think we both know that this has been coming for a while. Since Treasure Cruise was printed, things just haven't been the same. There are so many copies of Forked Bolt, Electrickery, and Grafdigger's Cage running around. The Jund and Shardless Sultai decks we preyed on have all but disappeared. Then Containment Priest came to town and tempted me to leave you for Grand Prix New Jersey. I stayed true and you forgave me, for which I will be forever grateful. But that tournament just delayed the inevitable. I thought a vacation together to Portland, Seattle, and Roanoke would rekindle the passion in our relationship, but let's face it-we were just going through the motions. The Players' Championship was a fitting end to a memorable relationship. It's time to move on."
"But…we qualified for the Pro Tour together. Twice. Made three Open Top 8s and one at an Invitational. I know I never gave you a trophy, but I know it's coming soon. How can you give all that up after everything we've been through? I know things haven't been as good recently, but it's just a rough patch. Every couple goes through them, baby. We can work through it! We can sideboard Thragtusk against U/R Delver. They'll never beat it. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!"
"There's nothing left to do. My mind is made up. I'm going to play Storm in Philadelphia this month, and if all goes well, I'll stay with it. This is hard for me too, baby. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I'll always cherish our time together, and I want you to know that I'll never forget the times we shared."
"So, that's it?" (Her eyes water as she is overcome by hopelessness.)
Stoic, I unsuccessfully try to hold back my own tears before quickly exiting, before my pain is further revealed. For the first time in over a year I was alone, without a Legacy deck to call mine.
Break-ups are hard, but ultimately necessary when a relationship no longer works. It's better to face the difficult truths than hide from them, and that's exactly what I had been doing for the last few months. I made some token attempts at looking for a new Legacy deck, but ultimately I was too attached to leave my faithful Elves at home. Part of me relished in my success with a non-Brainstorm deck, and for most of last year, Elves was legitimately one of the best decks in Legacy, perhaps the absolute best. But success, like many relationships, is fleeting. One day you're completing each others' sentences while cashing every tournament in sight, and the next you have nothing to talk about over breakfast and each game feels like a struggle. Times change and we have to change with them. It was scary, but I had to get myself back out there and move on.
Into the Great Wide Open
If I was going to abandon Elves, it had to be for Brainstorm. I would also need to drastically improve my matchups against the decks that prey on Elves, namely combo and Miracles, in order to justify the switch. Given my penchant for combo decks and distaste with Show and Tell due to how many Pyroblasts are around right now, Storm was a natural choice.
I, of course, considered playing one of the many fair blue decks, particularly U/R Delver, but I honestly find these decks to be highly overrated. U/R Delver is an aggressive deck that uses too much of its time playing cantrips to enable Treasure Cruise so it can play a long game that many of its cards are not conducive to playing, and the various Stoneforge Mystic decks are essentially midrange piles of good cards that rely on the power of Brainstorm to overcome the natural variance of midrange. To me, they are poor decks that get by on the incredibly high power level of their cards. I much prefer cohesion.
It may seem like Storm and Elves are very different, but they are much more similar than you may assume. They are both engine-based combo decks with surprising levels of resilience, but where Elves derives its resilience from the multitude of angles of attack, Storm derives its resilience from the high velocity afforded by its cantrips. Both are mechanically challenging and constantly force the opponent to make difficult decisions, which are traits that I value highly.
I had a nagging feeling that Storm combo simply was not good enough, as it has not had many relevant additions in recent years, but it tested well. With the disruption in the metagame dramatically in favor of counterspells relative to discard spells, my instinct was to favor the TES version over ANT, but when comparing recent lists of the two archetypes, it seems as though they have converged somewhat.
Most TES lists have eschewed Silence and play the same Cabal Therapy/Duress package of discard to protect its combo as ANT. Moreover, the most common package of threats I saw in TES was 4 Burning Wish, 3 Infernal Tutor (with a fourth in the sideboard as a Wish target) and 1 Ad Nauseam. With a Grim Tutor, ANT could match this threat density by playing 4 Infernal Tutor, 1 Ad Nauseam, 1 Past in Flames, and 1 Tendrils of Agony in the maindeck.
Given this, the primary difference I found was that TES lists play fewer lands to make room for a few copies of Chrome Mox and play Rite of Flame over Cabal Ritual. Having your rituals make different colors can create awkward scenarios where you need to have two distinct lands in order to begin a combo turn, making TES more chaotic. The gains in speed were not worth the loss of stability in my opinion, so I decided on ANT.
I ended up playing the following list in Philadelphia:
I made two significant choices for the maindeck of my ANT list for Philadelphia. First, I decided to play a single Grim Tutor over the third Preordain since my previous experience with Storm (I actually played it at a SCG Open in New Jersey in early 2013) showed that the primary issue with the deck is threat density. I also biased my split on discard spells towards Cabal Therapy rather than Duress as most lists do. With Gitaxian Probe and Duress to reveal your opponent's hand, as well as the fact that there is a very narrow range of cards you are interested in stripping from their hand, I reasoned that the power of Cabal Therapy would prove to be more useful than the consistency of Duress.
I also decided on playing a Gemstone Mine in the maindeck over other options, including a second Island, a Bayou, a Tropical Island, or a Badlands. Games rarely go long enough that the drawback of Gemstone Mine is relevant and sometimes putting it in the graveyard is necessary to gain threshold for Cabal Ritual. Adam Prosak typically had two copies in his Storm lists, and I was always happy with it. Moreover, your sideboard slots are not at nearly the same premium as in reactive decks, so using a slot on Tropical Island to cast the various green cards is of low cost. It even affords you the option of boarding into a sixteenth land against mana denial decks.
Relative to the maindeck, constructing my sideboard was significantly more difficult, as the range of options is much more varied. I have long been fond of Carpet of Flowers, which is a more effective mana source than Lotus Petal when games go longer, as post-sideboard games tend to do. Even Delver, a deck that historically has operated on very few lands, frequently makes three or four land drops a game because of the higher density of cantrips in the deck. Against Miracles, Carpet of Flowers can create four or more mana per trigger, which gives you the ability to play through much of their disruption, either by paying for soft counters or giving you the ability to go off multiple times in the face of hard counters.
Xantid Swarm was a concession made to the high density of counterspells in the current Legacy metagame. Because it costs you a card, you do not want to bring them in against decks with mixed disruption like the U/R Delver variants that splash solely for Cabal Therapy in the sideboard, or the various Sultai decks. In order for Swarm to be effective it needs to completely remove your opponent's ability to interact. It is a narrow use but excellent at what it does, and that is the type of card that you want in a combo sideboard. The range of relevant cards is significantly narrowed when playing a combo deck, so you need cards that more closely resemble a surgical scalpel than a Swiss Army knife. Plus, I needed some green creatures to ease the transition.
Abrupt Decay is a necessary evil against Counterbalance and Chalice of the Void, but it is important to resist the temptation to bring it in against marginal hate cards like Grafdigger's Cage. It is fairly easy to navigate around these cards by sculpting your draws correctly, and every reactive card in your deck has significant negative implications on your ability to assemble a combo. If you are ever waffling on whether or not to bring Decay in, leave it at home. The best defense is a good offense.
Massacre is a fairly standard answer to hateful creatures like Thalia and Meddling Mage, and I thought there would be enough of these to warrant a third sweeper effect. (Is it any surprise that I afford more respect to creatures than most?) The Pyroclasm, unlike Massacre, answers Gaddock Teeg. Once again, these should not be used as value cards, but rather precise answers to specific hate pieces.
The singleton Empty the Warrens was the last card in the sideboard, but I feel it performs two important functions.
One, against decks that quickly pressure your life total, both Ad Nauseam and Grim Tutor can be liabilities, but you must keep your threat density high enough to be functional. Empty the Warrens provides an additional win condition when these two are not at their best. I erred on the side of bringing out Grim Tutor over Ad Nauseam since the latter is instrumental in your fastest kills.
Second, Empty the Warrens serves as a "win small" card. Against decks that have a lot of discard spells and other resource denial spells, it can be difficult to assemble a full combo, but making 10-12 goblins is reasonably easy and often times still enough to win the game.
It is important to notice that after casting Empty you can flashback a Cabal Therapy or two to severely hinder your opponent's opportunities for counter play, which is particularly relevant against other combo decks. In game 3 of my semifinal match against Sneak and Show, I was able to cast an Empty the Warrens for eighteen goblins and then flashback a Cabal Therapy to take both of my opponent's Griselbrands, leaving him with none of his own combo pieces, and thus, very few live draws.
Learning to Fly
Your first tournament with a deck is always nerve-wracking. Until you win a few matches there is always lingering doubt that your deck is awful and you have made a huge mistake. My tournament had the inauspicious beginning of keeping a six-card, no land hand against Miracles and not making my first land drop until turn 3 despite casting two Gitaxian Probes. Fortunately, Miracles is the slowest deck in the format, which afforded me the time to draw out of my mana screw and eventually overwhelm his disruption and win the game.
For game 2, we were moved to the back-up camera table and when the other match finished quickly, I found myself under the lights early on in the tournament. An early Xantid Swarm allowed me to resolve Ad Nauseam, but I was unable to find a win condition and had to set up to find one on the following turn. After a Brainstorm and a Ponder I found the Tendrils of Agony and left it on top of my deck to shield it from Vendilion Clique since I had a Gitaxian Probe in my hand. After an attack with Xantid Swarm forced his Clique, I had won my opening match and was happy with my play.
After a first-turn kill off a six-card hand to win my second match, I was legitimately excited. That excitement quickly faded as I dropped my next three matches. Trying to remain objective in my analysis, I still felt as though I had drawn rather poorly, and I certainly lost a game where my opponent drew very well to beat a resolved Empty the Warrens for twelve goblins. Still, I lost game 3 of that match in large part due to a poor keep on my part, so I knew I had room to improve my own play.
It was also possible that I was particularly fortunate in the first two rounds, and this was closer to average. Ultimately, I made the decision to leave such thoughts for after the tournament and focus on winning my last two rounds to hopefully sneak into the second day at 6-3.
My last two opponents posed little resistance, as I won both matches 2-0 in unexciting fashion. Despite a 65th place finish on the day, I was able to play on Sunday because of a new rule allowing all players with the same record as the 64th place player into the second day of competition.
With two byes, I was, of course, disappointed with a 6-3 finish, but rather than resign myself to a mediocre fate, I removed all distractions and focused on playing the games and learning my new deck.
Sunday seemed to be my day. My opponents mulliganed at key times and several times aimed their disruption at the wrong target. That being said, I feel as though my play was markedly improved as I gained some comfort with the mechanics of the deck. After losing both matches to U/R Delver I played on Saturday, I was 3-0 in the matchup on Sunday before losing the finals.
I ended up being quite happy with my sideboard with the exception of the Pyroclasm. Gaddock Teeg is rare enough that having Chain of Vapor is satisfactory. I remain unconvinced that my maindeck changes to the stock list are correct. Grim Tutor was fine, but I was never upset to draw a cantrip, and occasionally, had draws that had too few. Also, the consistency of Duress is likely more valuable than the power of Cabal Therapy. I was able to take two cards with Therapy a few times, although taking the two Probes in game 2 of the quarterfinals was likely a mistake since my opponent had Treasure Cruise to re-fuel and I was ill-equipped to play an attrition game.
Here Comes My Girl
There is an unshakable smile on your face and an uncharacteristic exuberance in your demeanor. It's the oft-termed "honeymoon phase" of a new relationship. All is going well and every moment spent together is a chance to learn exciting new things. You feel so fortunate to have found someone so compatible with you. That's where I am with Storm right now. Not only is it a powerful deck, it plays a style I am quite comfortable with and happy to play.
I was also happy to see Titania move on and experience some success of her own in the tournament; although being in the hands of another bearded man named Ross is somewhat worrisome. I hope she's not just on the rebound.
Most of all I am excited that the process of finding a new Legacy deck was not nearly as arduous and riddled with failed experiments as I expected it to be. Given that I am in a tight race for the Season One points lead, such a road could have been quite costly, but I am trying to use a more long-term perspective. I realize I was quite fortunate in finding a strong deck that I really enjoy playing and likely ran on the positive side of variance last weekend to finish as well as I did.
Still, the early success feels earned because it is the result of such a difficult decision on my part, and that I am certainly proud of. I have not been this excited to play Legacy in some time. Unfortunately, I will be preoccupied with Modern in preparation for Pro Tour Fate Reforged, but expect me to be casting Tendrils of Agony in Legacy Opens for the foreseeable future.
I feel as though I have been seduced by the dark side. As I remarked to Cedric and Patrick several times throughout the weekend, you guys may have been onto something with this Brainstorm card.