A lot of you enjoyed my last artice in which I went through my thought processes while playing Cabal Ant (still a misnomer, but one I'll have to live with since that's what people know the deck as) through the first game of a match against Canadian Threshold (aka RUG Delver) with making Top 8 of a major tournament on the line.
It seems unfair to leave the story unfinished, and since many of you asked me to finish the match, I'll do just that today.
Enough introduction, let's get back to the story!
Here I am in the last Swiss round of a big tournament somewhere in the depths of Europe playing for Top 8. A very tight game 1 ended with me hitting a key Ritual off a Brainstorm to take the first win.
It's time for the tough games, the ones where my opponent is ready and all his bad cards against me have been taken out of his deck. Time to sideboard. Here's what's at my disposal to counteract his changes:
Double-checking, I remind myself of how I made these choices. He's probably taking out some of his burn for combo hate, so a Swarm sticking around will almost always be good game. Even if I can't attack with a Swarm, they're perfectly fine to flashback Cabal Therapy when necessary. With Swarms I obviously need green mana, and I'm more than happy to have additional mana sources in the deck against his mana denial.
That all still sounds solid.
As for what comes out, I've played the deck before with only Brainstorms and Ponders for cantrips. Cutting the Preordains isn't a problem. As for the Probes, I'd love to keep them in for information gathering, but everything else is more important. Seems right, so I'll stick with this.
That little doubt is water under the bridge now; there are no red cards for me to bring in. Time to battle.
Riffle. Pile. Riffle. Present.
"Wanna let me go first?" Unsurprisingly, he declines.
Shuffle and cut, hand it back.
Count out seven.
He keeps with no hesitation. A good hand, then.
Pick 'em up:
Brainstorm – Good.
Brainstorm – Still good.
Xantid Swarm – Hmmm, bees.
Duress – Excellent, lands please.
Polluted Delta – To order.
Dark Ritual – Alright, only missing another land for a great hand.
Island – There we go!
I draw Lion's Eye Diamond. Pretty good.
Hold back Xantid to play around Daze. Do I play around Stifle or do I maximize my Brainstorms? I still need at least one more piece of acceleration and a Tutor, and I'd like a few more lands. I think I'll risk getting Stifled. Still play the fetch so I can change my mind if he flips Delver with Stifle.
Play Polluted Delta, "Go."
Delver attacks for three (17), and he plays another Tropical into Ponder. Seems like he has free countermagic or kept just on the strength of turn 1 Delver. He also clearly doesn't have the Stifle. He shuffles—that's something—and passes.
Ok, I should have about four more turns. I need the cantrips to find a win, and I want all the disruption to deal with his hand. I don't think I need to fetch now; Duress first next turn should deal with that. LED makes red already, so I don't really need the Volcanic. Put the Therapy on top of that. If he can force me to shuffle, Swarm plus Duress should get me there.
He untaps, draws, and attacks for three (14). He follows up with Brainstorm.
He puts two back, plays a Scalding Tarn, and passes.
I draw my Therapy.
Play Underground Sea, tap it, "Duress, targeting you."
"How many cards in hand?" He has four.
"I don't pay. Go."
He untaps, cracks his Tarn for Volcanic, draws, and swings for another three (11). It's getting close now.
He passes. I draw my Volcanic Island. Now what? Well, I need to cantrip, and I'd like to maximize the cards I see. If he has a Daze, I don't want that to hit me, so I'll play Volcanic first then Ponder; I can't crack the fetch to shuffle after Brainstorm due to the Stifle.
Good, black mana. Now all I need is a Tutor. Too bad I played a land already, otherwise I could try Swarm. Draw Bayou now, draw Ritual next turn, Therapy him for Stifle. Gotta hope to draw something off Brainstorm after fetching next turn.
"Keep them, draw my card. Go."
He untaps, draws, and swings for three (8) before playing another Delver and a Misty Rainforest. Uh oh, I might die to Bolt next turn. He passes.
I draw my Cabal Ritual. Alright, I better try to win now. I need a Tutor. What can I do? What can he have?
"How many cards?" He fans out three.
Ok, one is a Stifle, no idea about the others. Two options. Play Swarm to block and buy a turn even if he has Bolt. Or Therapy now, take his Stifle, and hope he has nothing else while I Brainstorm into a Tutor. Not good odds either way.
If I wait, I see one more card, but so does he. I think I have to hope he has nothing and Therapy now. If worse comes to worst, I can even crack the Delta for Tropical to cast Swarm as a blocker anyway.
Surgical, huh. Past in Flames just became a lot harder.
His Extraction can't really mess with my Cabal Ritual as long as I play Dark Ritual and Brainstorm before Cabal Ritual and also crack the fetch. It does mean I can't Past in Flames, though, so I really want him to play his cards to allow me to natural Tutor chain him.
Tap the Sea. "Dark Ritual, storm is two." It resolves. "BBB floating." I count my graveyard cards—exactly seven—check my hand, and frown ever so slightly. I think for another few seconds and announce:
"Cabal Ritual, B floating, storm is three."
He thinks then asks how many cards I have. I answer "Tw... Uh, Three." Come on, Dark Ritual is a real juicy target here.
After some deliberation, he Surgicals, going to 17. Bingo. Now I just need to hit with Brainstorm.
He removes the Dark Ritual in my graveyard and, seeing my hand, leaves those in my library intact, saying, "I guess those aren't what you need to draw here, are they?" I shrug my agreement. Too bad, he knows what he's doing.
I put back the two lands and pass the turn. He flips his Delver of off Lightning Bolt—at least I called that one—and I pack it in.
Crap. I played this much too defensively. He had effectively nothing after the Flusterstorm. Not cracking the Delta when I had the option really hurt me. Gotta work on this, mustn't play too safe.
Ok, focus. That's over now. Time to concentrate on game 3.
"I'll play first. It worked for you, after all." He grins.
I check my sideboard and change nothing. He's already shuffling up.
Riffle. Pile. Riffle.
Exchange and shuffle. Hand it back.
Count out seven. Pick 'em up:
Bayou – Land, good.
Island – Basic, even better.
Dark Ritual – Need that.
Misty Rainforest – Three land, that's enough.
Polluted Delta – A little flooded. Land is good versus RUG, though.
Past in Flames – Interesting. This might prove useful.
Infernal Tutor – And more business.
This is a tough one. I love lands against Delver, but four is a bit much. I have a Ritual, which I can double with the Tutor, and the Past in Flames to actually win with. No disruption and no cantrips to find disruption. I hate these hands.
Not being vulnerable to mana denial is important, though. Really tempted to mull this.
I think I have to keep it, as much as I hate it. All those lands are just really good against him. With reasonable draws, this should beat anything but turn 1 Delver. Ok, talked myself into it.
He does, too.
I don't actually mind getting Stifled, but I don't want him to know that. Island into fetch it is.
Play Island. "Go."
He draws, plays a Tropical Island, and says go. Perfect, no Delver!
I draw another Infernal Tutor. Not exactly what I need. Let's hope he hasn't drawn Surgical.
Play Misty Rainforest. "Go."
He draws, thinks, and plays a Wasteland before passing. Mana troubles, huh. He also probably has a Stifle or some form of countermagic that actually costs mana. He might not have a Force because otherwise he'd probably have cast a cantrip or something. Or he could have kept an otherwise weak hand on the back of multiple Forces. We'll see.
"Crack Misty, 19." He obligingly Stifles. That worked. Let's get safe mana now.
He untaps, draws, and puts down a Volcanic. He got there...
He passes, and I draw Xantid Swarm. Nice.
Swarm now and protect my Tutors with it or Tutor up a Ritual first so that he has the time to shuffle away some Bolts with possible cantrips?
I need to know if he has FoWs or he might just find one every turn I wait. Swarm now to see where we are.
He untaps, draws, plays a Misty, and cracks it (19). He Ponders and shuffles. So far, so good.
He passes, and I draw Brainstorm. Now what? Well, first things first.
"Attack with Xantid Swarm, triggers." It works, obviously.
I can Tutor for a second Ritual, play Petal, play Ritual, cast the second Tutor for another one... Never mind, no red. Can't get rid of the Brainstorm either right now, so I can't Tutor for the Tendrils anyway. What's the plan here?
Tutor to double a Ritual now. Next turn attack with Swarm, Ritual, Tutor, Ritual twice, Brainstorm—hopefully finding two cards I can get out of my hand between those three and my draw step—Past in Flames, flash back the three Rituals, and Tutor for the win.
What does that lose to? It exposes the Tutors to Extraction, one of his few live cards. It also allows him to find a way to deal with Swarm. Hmm.
Bolt kills Swarm. Actually, Stifle does the same thing because of Delver blocking. That's seven cards, plus a ton of cantrips to find them.
"How many cards do you have?" He shows three. I check his graveyard, seeing another five cards.
Another six permanents in play equals fourteen cards. 46 left in his deck, which makes it roughly one in six not counting cantrips. About 15% for him to stop Swarm.
Alright, can I just win right now? Only if I cast Brainstorm. Downsides? If I hit any land, I can still Tutor and set up the win for next turn. If I hit acceleration, I should be able to win now. So I have to brick on lands and acceleration both to lose anything from playing it now? Seems good.
Tap Island. "Brainstorm." He points to Swarm. I draw:
I check my graveyard. Four cards. Yep, Dark Ritual, Petal, and Delta is seven already.
Let's double-check just to be safe. Use Swamp for Dark Ritual, cast Infernal Tutor for another Cabal Ritual, B floating, Petal for red, crack Delta for whatever to cast both Cabal Rituals with threshold. Nine mana. Past in Flames, recast all the Rituals into Tutor for Tendrils.
He's silent—god I love Xantid Swarm—so I reveal my hand.
"Game's over." He tells me to show him."Sure."
Play Polluted Delta.
"Lotus Petal, storm is two."
Tap Swamp. "Dark Ritual, storm is three."
"Infernal Tutor, B floating, storm is four." I push a Cabal Ritual on top of the Tutor. "I'll use the Delta at the same time if you don't mind. 14."
"Sac Petal for R, BR floating."
Tap Underground Sea. "Cabal Ritual, R floating, storm is five."
"Threshold, five black. Cast the other Cabal Ritual, storm is six, BBBR floating, then up to BBBBBBR."
"Past in Flames, storm is seven, BBB floating."
I can only shrug apologetically. "That's how it works sometimes. Swarm is pretty sick..."
"Definitely." He packs up his cards.
YES! Top 8 here I come!
Top 8 Achieved
And thus endeth the saga of how I made Top 8 of a fictional tournament with Cabal Ant.
I'm pretty sure I screwed up game 2, and I'd enjoy feedback from experienced Storm players on both my handling of that game and the hand I kept in game 3. I honestly don't know if that's something I should have kept, though I have a tendency to overvalue cantrip hands, which is why I decided to try that one. I just hate leaving so much in the hands of the topdeck gods....
What's that? I'm the author, so I should enlighten you, not ask you for the right plays? Come on, cut me some slack. Storm is hard. I'm happy to listen to any advice other players of the archetype can impart to me.
That, by the way, is today's lesson. If this little piece of mine got you interested in the deck or if you already wanted to play Storm, the best thing you can do is to listen to every person who knows the deck well, constantly discuss and compare lines of play with them, and generally try to learn as much as you can.
There are few archetypes as deep as Tendrils Storm, and what makes it worse is that every minor mistake could prove lethal. If you want to win with it, you need to constantly strive to become better. In a way, it's just like real life!
I hope you enjoyed this conclusion. Next time, we'll be back to something more usual. Until next time: ride the storm!