This past week, StarCityGames.com® introduced one of my favorite features in a very long time—What We'd Play. As a competitor, I am hard-pressed to think of a more valuable piece of information than a glimpse of what my fellow competitors intend to play and, more importantly, why they intend to play it. I felt extremely honored to be presented with the opportunity to contribute my deck selection to this piece, and I knew I had to bring something to the table that could bring my readers success at SCG Baltimore.
So obviously I chose Ad Nauseam.
Okay, I've got some explaining to do. Ad Nauseam has dwelled in the depths of Modern's lower tiers for what feels like forever. There have been very few points in Modern's history where you could posit that Ad Nauseam was one of the format's top decks. But let me tell you about the last time you could have made such an argument.
First, some context regarding Modern at the time of Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
The big shakeup leading into this tournament was the unbanning of Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom. While testing quickly confirmed that dedicated Faeries builds had little chance of keeping pace in Modern, it seemed clear that Zoo featuring Wild Nacatl was able to post respectable win-rates against most of the format pillars. Since Zoo was the shiny new toy, we anticipated that it would make up a large portion of the field.
The clear path forward was to find a deck that could succeed against Zoo while simultaneously exploiting the clear predators that we expected prepared players to pick up, such as Jeskai Control and G/R Scapeshift.
Enter Ad Nauseam.
Ad Nauseam laughed in the face of hyper-aggressive decks designed to reduce an opponent's life total from twenty to zero while doing little else. Similarly, control opponents were equally unprepared to deal with the combination of copious free countermagic and Boseiju, Who Shelters All. Ad Nauseam carried me to an 8-1-1 record in Constructed and earned me my first noteworthy Pro Tour finish.
Which brings us to the present. What do I see in the present metagame that leads me to believe it may be time for Ad Nauseam to shine once more?
Linear Aggro Has Returned
At Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Zoo comprised 25% of the field. Then Zoo fell off a cliff and linear aggro completely disappeared from the format. Over the past year, linear aggro has made a comeback, on the back of a far more powerful card than Wild Nacatl.
Hollow One, along with its leafy friend Vengevine, has brought attacking back in vogue. These decks pack minimal disruption, subscribing to the theory that the best way to disrupt your opponent is to kill them. The extra life points provided by Phyrexian Unlife combined with the quasi-Fog of Angel's Grace ensure that Ad Nauseam will be able to stick around to fuel up a lethal Lightning Storm.
Pure Control Is Not Only Good, It Might Be the Best Deck
While my GAM Podcast co-host Gerry Thompson remains unconvinced of the viability of control in Modern, U/W Control is showing up in increasing numbers week in and week out. In the past, slow control stood no chance against the free countermagic of Ad Nauseam.
Fellow SCG author and U/W Control aficionado Ari Lax suggested to me that I'm underrating control's improvement as of late and that Jace, the Mind Sculptor now allows U/W Control to slam the door shut with brutal efficiency. Even if U/W Control has improved, it still has precious few cards that do anything against Ad Nauseam in Game 1, and Ad Nauseam has efficient sideboard cards that swing the matchup dramatically in its favor in post-sideboard games.
Karn Will Never Go Away
While its metagame percentage has ebbed and flowed, Karn Liberated has remained a part of the Modern metagame for an incredible length of time. Turns out playing a seven-mana planeswalker on Turn 3 will always be good. Who knew?
As Ad Nauseam, Mono-Green Tron is basically your ideal opponent. They do nothing that really matters to you, and you can often easily win through a Turn 3 Karn Liberated with the help of Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism. The more copies of Karn Liberated in the format, the happier you are to sleeve up Ad Nauseam, and right now Karn Liberated remains a favored choice of many top players.
Despite all these things being true, there's one sizeable thorn in Ad Nauseam's side.
The most widely played deck in Modern, Humans, is an abysmal matchup. As players have correctly embraced The Bugler (sorry, Cedric), Humans has increased its metagame share and win percentage. However, prominent voices, including our own Owen Turtenwald, are beginning to turn on Humans, suggesting its huge metagame share may be a mistake.
It's unclear if we see Humans representation at top tables begin to decline, but in a format as diverse as Modern, it's possible to find success in a tournament even with a problematic matchup against a widely played archetype. In addition, Ad Nauseam has picked up some new tools to deploy in the fight against Humans in recent sets. While Fatal Push and Bontu's Last Reckoning don't bring the matchup anywhere near even, they at least give Ad Nauseam a chance.
Without any further ado, my latest Ad Nauseam list:
You might notice my list leaves out a card which has been omnipresent in recent Ad Nauseam lists.
Spoils of the Vault is simply not a good Magic card.
The reason you're playing a combo deck like Ad Nauseam as opposed to other, potentially faster combo options is because your deck is consistent and can play itself into a position of inevitability regardless of countermeasures your opponents may deploy. When you cast Spoils of the Vault without Angel's Grace protection, you're saying that you no longer trust your deck to provide the tools you need to win the game and you're willing to just roll the dice on the outcome of your match.
I understand why people have been drawn to Spoils of the Vault when they're forcing Ad Nauseam in hostile metagames. If things don't line up for Ad Nauseam, it can face some downright abysmal matchups, and you're better off taking your chances on Spoils of the Vault. I'm instead advocating a lower-variance version of Ad Nauseam that should only be deployed into a favorable metagame. I would much rather pick my spots to play Ad Nauseam than try to jam a square peg into a round hole.
Humans's disruption is practically made for messing up a deck like Ad Nauseam. If you ever naturally draw Lightning Storm, be sure to cast it as quickly as possible. You're better off having it in your graveyard than in your hand once Humans gains access to Sin Collector.
VS U/W Control
Slow and steady. Slow and steady. Rarely do you have to force any action. Instead you wait to compose a perfectly sculpted hand of countermagic and anti-countermagic and grind your opponent to dust.
VS Mono-Green Tron
Most of what Tron can do against you is irrelevant, although a timely Nature's Claim can occasionally steal a game. Remember to protect your Lightning Storm in post-sideboard games in case they have access to Thought-Knot Seer.
Pact of Negation is awful in post-sideboard games, but we do need at least one copy to account for Deflecting Palm. Phyrexian Unlife and Leyline of Sanctity combine to make this a very easy matchup so long as you don't get blown out by Destructive Revelry.
VS Hollow One
As discussed above, this is the type of linear aggro that you're happy to prey on. However, it's possible to get very unlucky on Burning Inquiry discards and find yourself without a way to win the game. Such is life.
If you choose to play Ad Nauseam in the coming weeks, do so with the understanding that some matchups simply won't be pretty for Ad Nauseam. Humans, Jund, and even 8-Rack all have the capability to make you feel very silly about your deck choice. Your matchups are polarized, and there is no escaping this fact. Still, if you have faith in your metagame calls and are willing to have just a little bit of gamble in your life (but not Spoils of the Vault levels of gamble), Ad Nauseam might just be the right choice for you.