Question 1: Why am I sharing the full deck list I plan on playing at this Grand Prix?
Seriously? Who am I kidding? Even if I had something I was super excited about, there would still be a coin flip chance I just show up with Dark Rituals unless it's something like Flash-Hulk.
Even if I didn't share the full list, it probably wouldn't matter. Anyone who is reading this probably already knew I was biased towards Storm, and the amount of difference in their mulligan decisions between me having Rite of Flames and me having Cabal Rituals is approximately zero. It's not even like anyone familiar with Legacy wouldn't already have a very solid idea of 70 or more cards in my list based off my first two plays given how distinct the various Storm lists are.
Also, this probably isn't the actual 75 I'm going to be showing up with. The sideboard will probably be at least one card different!
Or I might play Green Sun's Zenith and keep people honest. Mulligan to double Force? Nice hand!
(Seriously, not joking on that last one, but I'll get back to that later on.)
(Before Bryant or someone else chimes in to correct me, his actual list is -3 Chain of Vapor, +2 Echoing Truth, +1 Wipe Away in the board. My reasons for these changes will be given below, but credit shall be given where credit is due.)
Question 2: Why am I playing this deck over the U/B list I've traditionally advocated?
The short answer: the format is faster and full of conditional hard counters.
The long answer: Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets have pushed the format in a completely different direction. When I built the U/B Grim Tutor list from the Mystical Tutor shells, it was for a format swamped with Merfolk and Bant decks with full sets of Wasteland and Daze. Most importantly, almost no one was playing any sort of hard counters beyond Force of Will, and if they were their deck was unbelievably slow.
ANT is built to handle these things extremely well. Seventeen lands with the full twelve cantrips means you'll hit every land drop to beat Daze, and with only one color of combo spells you can easily pay for their taxing counters, get your Dark Ritual through, and go off without any of the color matching issues T.E.S. might have due to Rite of Flame and Burning Wish. Add the fact that only two of your lands are targets for Wasteland and it was very easy to dispatch Fish decks with Grim Tutors. Now, thanks to Snapcaster Mage and Green Sun's Zenith, there are very few Wastelands paired with Dazes outside of Tempo Thresh. Having the all-basics mana base is much less important. Instead you're trying to fight through Stifles and Spell Snares, which make heavy fetch land mana bases and Duresses much worse. Orim's Chant and Silence do wonders here.
Another relevant part of this is the issue of gameplan depth. There's this hidden tipping point in combo at around ten or eleven cantrips where your deck just gets to fiddle with its top of library every turn. To advance a Flores term, you reach terminal velocity. Against the Landstill decks of the era, you were better at hitting land drops and eventually reached this odd point where you would attrition them out. You would have the eight perfect cards in hand much faster than they could assemble their perfect seven simply because you had more card manipulation and redundancy and could make a push. Either your first two spells resolved and it was over, or they burned two counters and you set back up for the same push in two or three turns. T.E.S. was plucking off the top much more and was not nearly as reliable in going over the top during the end game. Today Batterskulls and Delver of Secrets represent real clocks out of previously controlling decks, and you no longer have the luxury of grinding them out through multiple big showdowns.
Cabal Ritual gives you excess amounts of mana compared to Rite of Flame, both because you're almost always Thresholded and because once you get to that point you can "fair cast" Infernal Tutor for extra Cabal Rituals to add mana (-2 for the Tutor, +3 from the resulting Cabal Ritual with Threshold for a net +1). This then leads to you being able to just Tutor chain kill someone by using your hellbent Infernal Tutor (or Grim Tutor) to find another Tutor before grabbing Tendrils, generating +1 Storm for each two extra mana you spend. Without Cabal Ritual, it's very hard to reach the ten or so mana usually required to kill this way. Cabal Ritual also drives you away from Chrome Mox as it actively detracts from your ability to reach threshold in multiple ways compared to a fetch land. You lose a spell that would hit the bin, and if it was a fetch it would put you one closer to seven on its own.
Burning Wish as opposed to Grim Tutor makes a difference on the other assured kill that Storm has: Ill-Gotten Gains. T.E.S. doesn't usually maindeck a copy of this card, meaning that in order to execute the "loop" of getting back two Rituals and a Tutor to then Tendrils them involves you actually having a second Tutor effect on top of the Wish that exiles itself to find the IGG. This often leaves you looking at the option of Empty the Warrens or Diminishing Returns and while both are usually solid, they aren't locks.
Finally, due to these last choices, T.E.S. is ironically a better Ad Nauseam deck than the list that bears the card's name. The first level of this: Rite of Flame and Burning Wish cost less than Cabal Ritual and Grim Tutor, especially if you count Grim Tutor as a six-drop due to needing three more life to cast it. In turn, you see more cards. The second level: Rite of Flame and Chrome Mox give you a much more reliable kill with zero mana floating, essentially shaving Ad Nauseam from eight mana (or seven plus an unused land drop) to simply pay seven and win. This means more quick kills exist from the card simply because of how those other slots flex.
When most of your opponents should not realistically beat you given a proper set up, there's no reason to not have yourself lined up for sure kills over playing the odds. In current Legacy, there just isn't the wiggle room for this to occur. Counterspells now cost mana due to Snapcaster Mage, so capitalizing on early bottlenecks is much more viable than giving your opponent time to wall off. The non-counter decks also have you racing a potential Gaddock Teeg as opposed to a normal clock, which cuts a turn or two off your setup time and promotes just aiming for a turn two kill. You're currently incentivized to just gun for it with some backup to shirk a couple of counterspells, and that's what T.E.S. does best.
Note: Before I move completely off ANT, I want to touch on one last issue with the deck. A lot of people are adding a Chain of Vapor to the maindeck of ANT, presumably to answer a Green Sun's Zenith for Gaddock Teeg. This is absolutely incorrect. First of all, how are you actually finding this card in time? It's not like Maverick has no clock, especially when only having only one Chain means a Mother of Runes is lethal. You can Grim Tutor for it, but most lists with a Chain are cutting a Grim to fit it. Second, what are you actually afraid of? A ton of the Maverick lists don't even play a Teeg, and those that do are leaning on Green Sun's Zenith to find it which opens them up to Duress mattering. Also consider that a lot of times they can just die before Teeg gets to hit the board unless they also have the Noble Hierarch on turn one. Why not just win that way? Don't make your deck worse to add marginal percentage against something you shouldn't care about anyways. Just kill them and worry about it game two.
Question 3: What personal choices have you made (or shamelessly barned from Bryant) with this list?
Main deck decisions:
2 Ad Nauseam, 0 Empty the Warrens - Empty the Warrens is a very good option to have right now. I can't deny that. The issue is that most of the time the conditions for Ad Nauseam and Empty being good are very similar, minus the one additional mana to Infernal for a five-drop. Most notably, both require you to have life to play with as Empty for a ton of guys can actually be raced in the world of Delvers. The tiebreak is actually what happens when you randomly draw them. Empty in your hand is ok and making early Goblins can lead to some easy wins, but Ad Nauseam in an opener is absolutely insane. It dodges Spell Snare and Stifle and is almost a complete lock to kill them when you cast it on turn one or two. It is also worth noting that against all of the Stoneforge Mystic decks, it's very easy for them to just brick twelve or so Goblins with a Batterskull due to the life gain on both the attack and block; I'd rather just try to drain them for twenty.
If you were wondering why there isn't a main deck Ill-Gotten Gains, see the answer to question one.
Someone suggested a main deck Empty over the Tendrils, but I'm not sold. Doing this seems like it would make Ad Nauseam worse, which is not where I want to be right now.
3 Orim's Chant, 2 Silence, 3 Duress - Orim's Chant effects are at an all-time high right now. Not only do they turn off unlimited numbers of Spell Snares and Stifles, but they bait action on a Snapcaster Mage, Spellstutter Sprite, or Vendilion Clique. Also worth noting is the previous point about most counters now costing mana, meaning when they try answer your Chant they actually have to expend the ability to use some of their other options. Taxing counters, the traditional enemy of Chant as you have to hold Chant until you try to go off, are also at an all-time low and only really show up in matchups where you needed Chant over Duress to fight through anyways.
Orim's Chant is also absurd against the current iterations of non-blue decks. When you're going to kill them on turn two or three every game and aren't pumping all of your mana for cantrips, pausing them for a turn is as good as pulling the card that matters out of their hand and better if they have multiples. This last part is extremely relevant against Pox. While previous attrition decks were light enough on discard that a smattering of Duresses could make them stumble up their curve, try Duressing someone whose hand is Smallpox, Hymn to Tourach, and Sinkhole. Now try Chanting them and winning next turn.
Still, you want a mix of Chants and Duresses just because Duress allows for some more flexibility. You can Duress before the combo turn to free up mana and fight through taxing/hard counter mixes, and the information is still very important. Casting Chant effects can also still be an issue, and you can't imprint extra Chants on a Chrome Mox to play Dark Rituals.
The first reason is the normal and probably "most correct" reasoning. You want five of the effect, and Orim's Chant is the better one because the kicker upside of Fogging is marginally more relevant than the non-targeting of Silence. More important is the ability to Infernal Tutor for a second copy of whichever you draw, and this necessitates a second Silence.
The second reason is probably the real reason and is much less logical. The two main advocates of T.E.S., Bryant Cook and Liam Kane, have the stereotypical Eternal player pathological love of foreign foils. Regardless of how often Tutoring up the second Silence happens, foil Japanese Orim's Chants are ten times the cost in American dollars of foil Japanese Silences, and having a flawlessly beautiful deck trumps having a less beautiful but marginally more correct one.
The third reason is just me going deep in the tank. The reason to play Silence over Chant is specifically Ivory Mask effects (barring a random Misdirection, but who does that anymore?). The only deck with Ivory Masks is Enchantress, which has Solitary Confinement. As per reason one, you want a minimum of two Silences in your deck, but you may need more to beat a turn three Confinement on the draw after a turn two Enchantress. Fortunately, I found the line that trumps a Chant with only two copies and as such don't need to play a third.
For those wondering, the play is resolve Ad Nauseam for more than enough cards, then set up so that you can Empty the Warrens for lethal Goblins and Ill-Gotten Gains back two Silences and a Chant. After resolving Gains, they'll have three cards in hand.
Turn 1: Silence them, they can discard to two cards in hand or sacrifice Confinement and die.
Turn 2: Silence them, they can discard to one card in hand or sacrifice Confinement and die.
Turn 3: They can either let Solitary die and get Chanted out or discard to no cards in hand, at which point you just pass the turn again and Chant them after Solitary dies.
Turn 4: GOBLINS!
Silent Departure - One mana answer to a Gaddock Teeg or Ethersworn Canonist. Unlike Deathmark, this also hits an Iona, Shield of Emeria on black, which is the one color Reanimator can name that you have issues killing them through.
3 Chain of Vapor, 0 Echoing Truth, 0 Wipe Away - I have no fear of the card Chalice of the Void. I have no fear of the card Counterbalance. What I do care about is stupid 2/2s which I want to Chain of Vapor. They might also be backed by a Mother of Runes, for which the best answer is end of turn Chain of Vapor into untap, Chain of Vapor. Unfortunately in the latter case, Wipe Away is a little rough to cast against Wastelands. I also would rather draw a Chain of Vapor as it lets me do crazy things involving bouncing my own Chrome Moxes or other zero-drops for mana and Storm count, and I would rather Ad Nauseam into a Chain of Vapor as the fundamental properties of mathematics hold and one is less than two or three.
If I draw a blank on what to trade out Pyroblasts for, the other bounce spells will likely make the cut.
1 Empty the Warrens, not 4 - Empty the Warrens was an all-star in ANT as a way to force down a kill that dodged Spell Snare and Stifle against non-Stoneforge Mystic blue decks. In T.E.S., Ad Nauseam already does this and the effect is unnecessary beyond the first copy to give your Burning Wishes access to that effect.
1 Past in Flames, 1 Ill-Gotten Gains - IGG is the better one of the two most of the time, but Wishing for a Past in Flames can help against big control as a way to power through a counter or against black decks as a way to bank your Burning Wish through a discard effect when you're hellbent. The one-sided nature of Past in Flames has also come up from time to time, and it's involved in most of your Grapeshot kills.
Also, if they refuse to scoop, it's more fun to win this way.
1 Diminishing Returns - Your Hail Mary. When everything else is out of the question and things aren't getting better, throw it deep and see what happens. If you look at it as a way to actually win the game, you'll be disappointed. If you want to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, this is your go-to card.
Also, Red Elemental Blast is not an acceptable alternative to this card if you can't find Pyroblasts. Pyroblasts can be cast without a blue spell or permanent to target, letting you add Storm or go hellbent. Red Blast just sits there and laughs at you.
Question 4: For those who have played ANT, how does this differ?
The actual counting to ten part comes up much less; most of the time you either go over the minimum with Ad Nauseam or are retroactively counting for Goblins. Always keep it in mind and check on it if you have two Infernal Tutors or Burning Wishes, but it's nice to know that once you recognize the triggers for a Ill-Gotten Gains or Past in Flames aren't around you have a bit less math to keep track of.
Have less fear and go for it. When questioning whether to act or wait with ANT, the answer was often just chill and sculpt more. With T.E.S., you typically just stare them down and call. Guess what? More often then you expect they just have nothing and die. Sure, you lose a couple here or there, but even if you had the dig of ANT in the current metagame, the window of games where they have it now but you could beat it in a turn or two is very minimal.
You'll find yourself more strained on mana. Prioritize accelerants with cantrips and mulligan clunky hands.
Remember, Chrome Mox is a land, not a Ritual.
In general, take more mulligans. If your hand isn't doing much and can't dig for action, you can't lean on cantrips to pull you out.
Finally, play your Brainstorms looser than you want to. There are a ton of scenarios where you look at your hand and realize you're just about there for a kill. Often in these cases the mana spent on a main phase Brainstorm is more important than one extra card. You have four fetch lands, not ten. Unless you have the shuffle effect anyway, getting gutsy isn't the worst. I realize this goes against every single principle of good Brainstorming anyone has ever told you. This is the corner case. Obviously don't just throw away value if your hand is a few pieces away and you have the fetch or if they're doing actual nothing relevant, but given that this format is very time oriented for Storm combo rolling the dice is sometimes better than playing tight.
Seriously, this is coming from someone who has spent multiple minutes in a sanctioned match berating a friend over a turn one Brainstorm. I've casually described matches at events as "Me: T1 Fetch, Preordain. Him: T1 fetch, Brainstorm. 2-0." On the Belcher to Solidarity scale, this deck is far closer to the Belcher side. Have no fear, end of turn Brainstorm, and kill them on turn two.
Question 5: If you don't play Storm, what are you playing?
As an update from my last article, I tried out Nic Fit. I see why people like it, but I felt I was leaning way too heavily on Pernicious Deed to win. Maybe that was just me sucking with pure control, maybe it's the deck pining for a Brainstorm. I don't know. I wouldn't fault anyone for playing the deck.
As a result of playing Nic Fit, Bigger Stoneblade is also out of the question. Again, I wouldn't fault anyone for going for it, but I wouldn't feel comfortable in the fight of that deck against the round clock. I'm not a slow player by any means (to the best of my knowledge, I haven't gone to time in a 50 minute round in around three years), but I don't trust my opponents to not be. You can definitely pressure the round clock by calling for a judge, but given control mirrors in Legacy there's a lot of chances for games to drag on just based on the number of actions taken at a reasonable pace. Unless I feel my deck has a massive advantage against the field, this is not where I want to be. I've watched multiple people get drawn out of a Grand Prix playing Tundras and don't want to be another.
For anyone who wants to play either of these decks, seriously take a look at Garruk Relentless. He's the real deal.
0 Tarmogoyf. In their place I would just have more Scavenging Ooze. That guy is a boss. He gets bigger than a Tarmogoyf, wins the heads up fight against one or a Knight of the Reliquary, munches some Dredge cards, gains life against Burn, and in general is just the man.
Lots of Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, probably three or four total. These are the end bosses of fair deck mirrors and both help take down opposing Jaces. Elspeth gets the nod over Garruk Relentless as the leap effect is very good on a Geist, Knight, or Ooze.
Beyond that, the rest is flexible or stock. I have no idea how William Cao fit Punishing Fire and blue into his list, but that might be a direction to go if you feel the Grove of the Burnwillows engine trumps Elspeth and Jace. I personally wouldn't want to stretch that far, but that's just me.
Regardless of whether I decided to play the fairest or least fair deck, I'll see you in Indianapolis this weekend. If you have any other questions, post them here. I can also be reached at armlx on The Source, MTGSalvation, and Twitter.