The State of Storm after #GPDC

Last week, I outlined three Delver decks; RUG, its evolution, BURG, and BUG, or Team America, if you will. I came to the conclusion that BUG was the best of the three, with my list being somewhat unconventional, trimming down on creatures to include more countermagic and replacing Hymn to Tourach with Thoughtseize. While the event was ultimately taken down by Owen Turtenwald’s UWR list, which I didn’t even touch on (and, to be fair, I still don’t like the deck much, but more on that later), I still think that BUG is the best of the bunch, mostly because it’s best equipped to deal with opposing True-Name Nemeses or even outright ignoring them.

What I want to do today is taking a look at all of the top eight lists, as well as the three decks that put their pilots at 13-2 records, but still outside of the top eight. What I want to focus on is the relevant interaction those decks bring to the table when paired up against Storm, which I still think is a very good choice right now. What I want to get from this is to find out which aspect of Storm these decks are least prepared for and how to shape our deck to exploit this.

I’m not going to start with a specific list of storm; rather I want to focus on the different routes to victory Storm decks can take and then try to come to a conclusion as to how I think Storm will be best set up to take on the current metagame. Just for clarification, these are what I consider the relevant options we have:

1. Ad Nauseam
The “easiest” way to build up storm: draw a bunch of cards, then cast a (lethal) Storm spell, preferably Tendrils of Agony. Usually this is enabled by a combination of Infernal Tutor, Lion’s Eye Diamond and a ritual-effect, but casting Ad Nauseam from our hand works just as fine and often better as we get to keep additional business spells in hand in case we weren’t able to strip their hand of all countermagic.

2. Past in Flames
Very reliable. When going of with Past in Flames, we are going to be sure to win more often than not. Again, this tends to be enabled by Infernal Tutor, although a critical mass of ritual effects and a Storm spell in hand does the trick as well. Sometimes we will be forced to go off with Past in Flames with only cantrips and rituals to our disposal, in those cases we’ll need to get a little lucky, depending on how many live draws we still have. Past in Flames becomes better the more Storm spells we have in our deck.

3. Infernal Tutor Chains
Very basic, very clean. This is almost the same as going of with Past in Flames, only that we’ll need more rituals and Lion’s Eye Diamond to reach lethal storm counts. This becomes more of an option in games where our opponents helps us by reducing their life totals with fetchlands or cards like Gitaxian Probe and Thoughtseize.

4. Ill-Gotten Gains
This has largely fallen out of favour with the printing of Past in Flames, but I thought I’d mention it for good measure. Just like with its modern counterpart, Past in Flames, this lets us map out what’s going to happen. The major advantage this has over Past in Flames is that we get to reuse Lion’s Eye Diamonds. We can also use it as a Mind Twist in combo mirrors. The downsides are its weakness against countermagic (they can just get back what we let them discard before) and the three-card-limit, preventing us from generating large Storm chains just from one card.

5. In-hand Tendrils
I used to call this the Storm X kill, but I think this is more descriptive. Here, the plan is to set up a winning hand that doesn’t rely on resolving any single key spell. Of all routes to victory, this is the hardest to execute as it’s often very much all-or-nothing, but it is also the kill that’s hardest to interact with favourably. Generally our plan will be to keep seven cards in hand at all times and then go off when we draw that eighth card that is going to win. Sequencing for the final turn will usually look like this:

Cantrips -> Discard spells -> Rituals -> Tendrils

In games where our opponent is below their starting twenty, we are going to need less cantrips. Take note that this plan needs to be set up properly, so we’re not going to do this often if we’re only running a single Tendrils of Agony – it’s just not worth trying to set up this kill without drawing the Tendrils first; don’t try to dig for it in your combo turn.

6. Empty the Warrens
This is similar to the in-hand Tendrils kill, only that it needs way less resources. A first turn Empty for eight Goblins is going to steal a lot of games, especially when they’re not prepared. Thus, we can also Tutor or Burning Wish for it from time to time when other options aren’t available.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s cut to the chase and try to find out where we actually want to be right now!

UWR Delver by Owen Turtenwald
1st Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 True-Name Nemesis
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Arid Mesa
1 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
4 Ponder

Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Meddling Mage
1 True-Name Nemesis
2 Rest in Peace
2 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Wear // Tear

First things first, the big winner. As I said before, I still don’t like this deck very much, but I have to admit, Owen’s list is a piece of beauty. All of his choices make perfect sense and with this sideboard, he is never going to have any useless cards after boarding – and that says a lot for a deck that’s playing eight removal spells maindeck.

That being said, the deck is designed to win against fair decks before boarding and turns to the sideboard to shore up its matchups against combo decks. So, what is relevant? Preboard, there are Owen’s eight softcounters, a set of Force of Wills, Wasteland to prevent you from casting spells and Delver of Secrets and Stoneforge Mystic to put you on a clock, with the latter also providing protection against Goblins, although Batterskull never comes down before turn three, when it will still not be able to attack.

This sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t. Let’s start off with what seems relevant, but hardly impacts you. First, the lifegain provided by Stoneforge Mystic is very slow – unless they’re curving a first turn Delver into a second turn Mystic, they’re not going to gain any life before turn four. Second, Wasteland alone does not do nearly as much as the combination of Stifle and Wasteland. With correct use of fetchlands, we can easily play around these.

Then, they have Daze and Spell Pierce. These will primarily be aimed at our cantrips. If they don’t put pressure on us while countering our cantrips, we will eventually draw into what we need the hard way, but if they do, this can easily spell trouble. In our comboturn, we can usually play around or through these by leading with ritual effects.

This only leaves Force of Will, which is the only way they have to stop us cold from doing something. It will almost always be correct to name Force of Will with Cabal Therapy, even if we don’t get to cast our free version of Peek.

To me, it seems like we want to Past in Flames them all day – they don’t have much countermagic and Past in Flames even has built-in protection. One of my favourite plays is to discard Past in Flames to Lion’s Eye Diamond in response to an Infernal Tutor. If they counter the tutor, well, the coast is clear for Past in Flames. If they don’t, we can get a discard spell or additional ritual to beat their Force of Will or Spell Pierce.

It’s also worth noting that they have no way of stopping us from casting a lethal Tendrils straight from our hand; all they can hope for is to counter all of our rituals, but we don’t have to watch out for any Stifles.

Let’s take a look at Owen’s sideboard again:

1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Meddling Mage
1 True-Name Nemesis
2 Rest in Peace
2 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Wear // Tear

Between graveyard hate, Meddling Mages, additional countermagic for our cantrips and Sword of Feast and Famine to wreck our hand, this sideboard is stacked – they have a grand total of eleven cards to bring in against us. Luckily, they can’t board them all; at some point their deck just won’t function properly anymore.

Since their best way to win is to prevent us from setting up a winning hand, they are going to bring in the three Blasts for sure. Umezawa’s Jitte for Sword of Feast and Famine is another clean swap, although this is not even set in stone. They’re likely to keep in at least some of their Bolts, both for their clock but also for potential Xantid Swarms. Swords to Plowshares go out for sure, as well as the two copies of True-Name. They’re still a whopping four cards short for what they have to bring in though. I think they can shave one land against us, so they have seven cards to board out. Now, if they don’t board out creatures, their Delver will become very bad, seeing as seven of their ten sideboard cards are permanents. This leads me to thinking that they’re likely to skimp on the graveyard hate, which seems least important to me.

Notably absent from this sideboard is Flusterstorm, which often puts a damper on the in-hand Tendrils plan, making it seem like this is still the best we can do – only they have Meddling Mage to prevent us from casting Tendrils in the first place. I don’t think we can get around boarding some kind of anti-hate against them, likely Abrupt Decay, or, if it turns out necessary, Sudden Shock (unlikely, but hey, I’ve played it before).

Sneak and Show by Jared Boettcher
2nd Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C.

4 Lotus Petal
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Griselbrand
4 Sneak Attack
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
2 Intuition
1 Misdirection
3 Spell Pierce
3 Ancient Tomb
2 City of Traitors
3 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Volcanic Island
3 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
4 Show and Tell

The boogeyman of the format. Interestingly, Jared opted to go for a faster approach than most other Sneak and Show players, including Intuition again. For Storm players, this is bad news. Not only does he get to combo faster, but he also has access to Force of Will more often.

Most of the time, this matchup will come down to a race. To make things worse, we can’t really predict what they’re going to do. They might Show and Tell Emrakul, which sometimes does actual nothing, but they could also have Sneak Attack for the instant win with two creatures. If they Show and Tell Griselbrand, it will be hard for us to resolve an engine spell or Infernal Tutor since discard is very bad against instant-speed carddrawing.

Natural Tendrils kills will be very hard to assemble in the 2 1/2 turns they will give us, especially when we have to cast discard spells to prevent them from going off. Empty the Warrens is even worse, although it can work out if we draw enough Cabal Therapies to completely wreck their hand.

I think the best plan for preboard games is to just try to race them with Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames.

Sideboard:
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Sulfur Elemental
2 Blood Moon
2 Divert
1 Flusterstorm
1 Red Elemental Blast
2 Swan Song
2 Pyroclasm
2 Through the Breach

Now this is a lot of countermagic. Luckily for us, they won’t be able to board it all in without diluting their deck. I’m wondering if they’re going to bring in these Grafdigger’s Cages against us, but I don’t think they should. Pyroclasm is another card they could theoretically bring in but probably shouldn’t. The only reason they’d want to have it is Xantid Swarm rather than our Goblin tokens.

Speaking of Xantid Swarm, I think it’s interesting that this list has no way of dealing without outside of Force of Will. It’s also interesting that Jared did not bring Leyline of Sanctity to the GP, which has been a staple in Sneak and Show sideboards for a while.

I think racing is still the best approach after boarding, only that we want to have Xantid Swarm and potentially some way to get rid of their Leylines.

Dredge by Drew Tunison
3rd Place, Grand Prix Washington D.C. 2013

4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
3 Golgari Thug
2 Griselbrand
3 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Bridge from Below
4 Cephalid Coliseum
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Breakthrough
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Careful Study
3 Dread Return
4 Faithless Looting

I am not going to lie, this matchup is atrocious. No matter which way we look at it, we’re an underdog. I think there are three ways to win this matchup with storm. The first is to go off (with Ad Nauseam) before they can do anything. This is unlikely because they can easily go off on their first turn. The second is trying to get around their Cabal Therapies with Brainstorms, artifact mana and Past in Flames. Normally I’d say this approach is best, but this list even has Dread Return for the instant kill. They go off, we’re dead. It’s as easy as that.

The third way to win is to bring Orim’s Chant and/or Silence. This way we could Chant-Walk them until we can go off ourselves, but even that requires us to draw enough Chants and actual business. It seems unlikely to me that we even want to have Chant effects, but playing them and still having to get lucky seems too much to me. Let’s just say I’m happy Dredge doesn’t see more play.

Sideboard
1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Chain of Vapor
1 Darkblast
2 Nature’s Claim
4 Gitaxian Probe

After boarding, nothing really changes for us. This list might want to bring in Leylines, but I doubt that. We could potentially board in graveyard hate ourselves, but I don’t think that’s justified right now. In my eyes, this is the event’s breakout deck.

Bant by Sam Black
4th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Scavenging Ooze
3 Stoneforge Mystic
4 True-Name Nemesis
4 Brainstorm
3 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Flooded Strand
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Karakas
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Savannah
3 Tropical Island
2 Tundra
3 Wasteland
4 Windswept Heath
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Ponder

On the one hand, I really like how this deck looks. On the other hand, I don’t think this maindeck has what it takes to win against Storm. Four Swords to Plowshares, four True-Name Nemesis, Qasali Pridemage, Jace? Yes, please! Knight enabling a chain of Wastelands might be nice, but again, I don’t think Wasteland without Stifle is all that good.

This deck is even lower on countermagic than Owen’s, so it should be very easy for us to resolve key spells. Delver of Secrets being replaced with three-mana creatures is also very good for us, even if they’re powered out by Noble Hierarch and Green Sun’s Zenith for Dryad Arbor. Going off with Past in Flames when they have Scavenging Ooze can be hard, but luckily they don’t have much pressure to put on Ad Nauseam.

And while they also have Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull to hold off Goblin tokens, their only way to interact with in-hand Tendrils is also lifegain – just keep an eye on them casting Swords on giant Knights.

Sideboard:
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Gaddock Teeg
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Humility
1 Sylvan Library
1 Envelope
1 Spell Pierce
3 Swan Song

Another stacked sideboard. In his tournament report, Sam noted that he would often only sideboard one or two cards, and I wish this was true against us as well. As in Owen’s list, there is no Flusterstorm here, but there’s pretty much everything else – this deck gets to board five additional counters, two Vendilion Cliques, two hatebears and graveyard hate.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we are going to resolve any engine spells and just accept the fact that we’ll either have to build up an army of Goblins fast or get them with an in-hand Tendrils. Just watch out for Vendilion Clique. Again, like with Owen’s deck, we want to have access to a way to get rid of their bears.

Death & Taxes by Craig Wescoe
5th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

4 Æther Vial
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Aven Mindcensor
4 Flickerwisp
1 Mirran Crusader
4 Mother of Runes
4 Phyrexian Revoker
3 Serra Avenger
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Horizon Canopy
3 Karakas
10 Plains
4 Rishadan Port
4 Wasteland

This deck is interesting in that it doesn’t have to interact with our spells directly – rather, it interacts with our ability to cast them in the first place. They have Rishadan Port and Wasteland to keep our mana down and Thalia to make it harder (not impossible, as some players want to believe) for us to go off. There’s also Phyrexian Revoker to shut off our artifact mana and potentially prevent us from properly using Infernal Tutor, which Aven Mindcensor does as well.

In my experience, the best approach is to kill them before they can do anything. I’ve been liking to have access to multiple Ad Nauseams to kill them early. Past in Flames can do almost the same thing, albeit slightly less explosive. In exchange, Past in Flames is the much more stable engine. If we’re going to make Goblins, we’d better do so on your first turn, and on the draw, even that could not be enough, seeing as they have access to Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull.

Sideboard:
1 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Wilt-Leaf Liege
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Rest in Peace
1 Sunlance
2 Cataclysm

After sideboarding, they won’t have dead removal anymore and they will bring in additional hatepieces – notably all of which are permanents. Since not all of their hate permanents are creatures, just bringing in creature removal (Massacre, Dread of Night) might not always get us there, unless we plan on just sidestepping their graveyard hate. But even then, they still have Æther Vial to put in another Ethersworn Canonist after we just wiped their board. I like trying to go underneath their hate with early game Ad Nauseams while bringing in some copies of both Dread of Night and Chain of Vapor.

Elves by Andrew Cuneo
6th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

2 Craterhoof Behemoth
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Elvish Visionary
1 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Heritage Druid
1 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Wirewood Symbiote
2 Bayou
2 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
4 Gaea’s Cradle
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Savannah
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills
4 Glimpse of Nature
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Natural Order

With Cuneo’s maindeck, game one will almost always be a race where we are favoured because we have both interaction and the faster kill. Some builds, like Julian Knab’s Bazaar of Moxen winning list, have access to maindeck Ruric Thar or Gaddock Teeg, which might cause problems, as both of these can come down as early as turn two.

Sideboard:
1 Progenitus
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Worldspine Wurm
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Mindbreak Trap
3 Cabal Therapy
1 Natural Order
4 Thoughtseize

After sideboarding, they will still be the slower deck, but they will also have interaction, which is more effective than ours as we rely on key cards much more than they do. I’d advice against Empty the Warrens here – they might just kill you on turn three. My preferred plan against discard based interaction is to try to go underneath it with Ad Nauseam. Not only does this allow us to go off early, but a naturally drawn Ad Nauseam will let us go off from very little cards in hand. Seeing as they have Deathrite Shaman (plus Quirion Ranger), trying the same thing with Past in Flames might not be the best idea.

Shardless BUG by Ted McCluskie
7th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

1 Baleful Strix
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Shardless Agent
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Abrupt Decay
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
2 Bayou
2 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Wasteland
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Liliana of the Veil
4 Ancestral Vision
2 Hymn to Tourach
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Thoughtseize

I’ve said it before: I don’t really view this as a blue deck. It works almost the same as Jund, only that there’s carddraw. Apart from the few Forces and discard spells they have, the deck is much more concerned about controlling the board, which we don’t care much about, apart from the few corner-cases where we have a line including multiple Lion’s Eye Diamonds, when they can potentially use one of their Abrupt Decays.

Their only maindeck out to Goblins is a singleton Maelstrom Pulse, so Empty the Warrens seems like a fine route to victory. Usually we want to in-hand Tendrils a deck that’s focusing on the board, but between Liliana and their discard spells, that seems ambitious. Their lack of countermagic makes it easy to resolve key spells, although Deathrite Shaman can in fact hamper with our Past in Flames.

Sideboard:
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Baleful Strix
1 Chill
1 Disfigure
2 Flusterstorm
2 Golgari Charm
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Massacre
2 Thoughtseize
1 Toxic Deluge

After sideboarding, they get to board out dead removal spells (like most decks) and bring in additional countermagic. The fact that even then, they still only have six counters, combined with their lacking clock makes me still want to cast Ad Nauseam against this deck. They also get to bring in additional discard which makes going off from less cards even more important than it already is preboard.

While Deathrite Shaman alone might not always be enough to stop our Past in Flames, them having Nihil Spellbomb on top of that should stop us most of the time. They also get Golgari Charms, which not only answer Empty the Warrens but also get rid of Xantid Swarm and Carpet of Flowers, the latter of which we’d usually want to have against a slower blue deck.

Esper Stoneblade by DeShaun Baylock
8th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

1 Batterskull
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Baleful Strix
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 True-Name Nemesis
1 Vendilion Clique
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
2 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Academy Ruins
1 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Flooded Strand
2 Island
1 Karakas
3 Marsh Flats
2 Plains
2 Polluted Delta
1 Scrubland
1 Swamp
3 Tundra
2 Underground Sea
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Ponder
2 Supreme Verdict
4 Thoughtseize

Against us, this is essentially Shardless, but better. They have more countermagic, better discard and Snapcaster Mage to double up on what they’ve already used and sometimes sidestep our discard spells. Stoneforge Mystic not only forces us to generate huge amounts of Storm to have Tendrils still be lethal, but also answers Empty the Warrens most of the time – not that having three answers to Empty aren’t enough.

Luckily, we have a few advantages here. The first is an inherent problem of their deck: It’s full of situational cards and low on card-selection. It’s not rare that they just draw the wrong half of their deck. On top of that, we have the speed-advantage. Most of their cards are slow, so they rarely do anything meaningful before their third turn, which could easily be too late. The final point is the lack of maindeck graveyard hate, making Past in Flames a very reliable card.

Sideboard:
1 Manriki-Gusari
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
4 Meddling Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Detention Sphere
2 Rest in Peace
3 Flusterstorm
2 Supreme Verdict

This sideboard is savage. It’s interesting to see that Baylock, like Turtenwald, also chose to play the full four Meddling Mages rather than diversifying and running a few Ethersworn Canonists as well. He also has the second Vendilion Clique, which works nicely with his Flusterstorms – after all, keeping up mana for countermagic is not that bad if you can make use of it with Flash creatures. But even after sideboarding, he still only has two copies of Rest in Peace, so Past in Flames still looks like our best bet.

BUG Delver by Daniel Signorini
9th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Tombstalker
1 Sylvan Library
4 Abrupt Decay
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
1 Disfigure
4 Force of Will
2 Bayou
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Polluted Delta
1 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Ponder

The nightmare. Apart from answers to Empty the Warrens, this deck has it all. A fast clock? Check. Discard? Check. Countermagic? Check. Manadenial? Check. Deathrite Shaman? Check. They even have Brainstorm and Ponder to smoothen their draws. Yeah, Empty the Warrens really has to do some work here. Most lists are running Hymn to Tourach over Thoughtseize, so they will not always be able to interact from turn one. This means that we sometimes might get them with an early Ad Nauseam.

I don’t like this approach that much, though. For one, I really like Empty the Warrens here. If we can fire it off on turn one or two, we should have the game locked up. We can also try to overload their Deathrite Shamans by cycling through tons of cards before we finally go off with Past in Flames, meaning that we might want both, additional cantrips and additional copies of Past in Flames.

Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Pithing Needle
2 Disfigure
3 Golgari Charm
1 Krosan Grip
2 Spell Pierce
1 Sylvan Library
1 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Liliana of the Veil

Luckily, it doesn’t get that much worse after sideboarding. We don’t want to board in removal spells against them, as discard is much more important, so Empty the Warrens will be our only shot at beating that Grafdigger’s Cage. Oh wait. They get to bring in Golgari Charms as well? Well, good thing they only have one copy of Cage. I don’t think there’s much we can do to make this matchup better, but at least this deck is not that popular.

RUG Delver by Daryl Ayers
10th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
1 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
1 Forked Bolt
4 Ponder

Since this maindeck is only two spells off Glenn McIelwain’s 11th Place list (for our purposes), I’m going to cover both of these at the same time.

This deck is, essentially, UWR Delver’s rough brother. It does most of the same things, while being less flashy and more brutal. They have almost the same countermagic – one Spell Pierce is replaced with a Spell Snare – and they have Stifle to supplement their Wastelands. While Tarmogoyf is worse than Stoneforge Mystic in terms of holding back Goblin tokens, it starts beating down a turn early. Nimble Mongoose also has a higher expected damage ratio than True-Name Nemesis.

I think the plan here should be the same as against Owen’s UWR list – focus on Past in Flames. The main difference is that Empty the Warrens is really good here; if they don’t have Stifle for the Storm trigger, they are very likely to just lose. Sometimes, when you’re at a low life total, you can even hold back some Goblins to block their creatures.

Sideboard:
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Sulfur Elemental
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Flusterstorm
1 Krosan Grip
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Spell Snare
3 Submerge
2 Rough // Tumble

This sideboard has pretty much everything you could expect from RUG, so, again, I don’t think it’s worth covering both decklists separately.

Mainly, what’s going on here is that they get to bring in additional countermagic. For the most part, that means our cantrips are less likely to resolve. The big spells were already hard to resolve to begin with, but now it will be even harder for us to set them up properly.

Despite the fact that they have Grafdigger’s Cage, I still like Past in Flames. I also still like Goblins after boarding, even though they get Rough // Tumble. Now, I wouldn’t suggest to just run them out without knowing their hand, but if they have, say, one cantrip and two draw steps, it’s usually right to go for it. The Vendilion Clique in this sideboard is more the exception than the norm, and I don’t think it is very good against us, mostly because it costs three mana and thus does nothing in our combo turn. This means it can’t interact with in-hand Tendrils, which is the best thing we can do (see UWR Delver).

RUG Delver by Glenn McIelwain
11th Place, Grand Prix Washington, D.C. 2013

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
2 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
2 Stifle
1 Flooded Strand
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
2 Chain Lightning
4 Ponder

Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Pithing Needle
2 True-Name Nemesis
1 Sylvan Library
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Flusterstorm
3 Pyroblast
3 Submerge
1 Forked Bolt

I’m not going into detail on this list, but I thought I’d include it regardless, as Glenn McIelwain also had the 13-2 record which should make Top 8 in most Gand Prix.

Without further ado, this is what I would play right now:

4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Brainstorm
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Dark Ritual
1 Rain of Filth
1 Bayou
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
1 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Volcanic Island
4 Cabal Therapy
1 Duress
1 Empty the Warrens
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Infernal Tutor
2 Past in Flames
4 Ponder
2 Tendrils of Agony
1 Thoughtseize

Sideboard:
1 Chrome Mox
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Carpet of Flowers
3 Dread of Night
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Ad Nauseam
2 Chain of Vapor
1 Burning Wish
1 Tendrils of Agony

Most of this shouldn’t be new to you. In fact, the maindeck is only two cards off our latest Grinding Station list. Let’s see what’s going on here.

1. Two copies of Past in Flames, no maindeck Ad Nauseam.
The number of Deathrite Shamans in the format has gone down a little, so Past in Flames has become better again. It’s also very possible to play through a single active Deathrite Shaman with Past in Flames. With two copies in the deck, the line where you discard Past in Flames to Lion’s Eye Diamond and then get a ritual with your Tutor becomes much more common, enabling faster kills. With this many storm spells it’s also easy to just have Past in Flames, a bunch of rituals, maybe a cantrip or two and a Storm spell for the win.

2. Ad Nauseam (& Chrome Mox) in the sideboard
While the 2-Ad Nauseam-setup is only about half a turn faster than the 2-Past in Flames-setup, it has two major advantages. The first is that it ignores the graveyard. Sure, it’s possible to play through or around their graveyard hate, but I’d rather not have to. The second advantage it has is requiring less cards in hand. If there were no discard spells in the format, Ad Nauseam wouldn’t be necessary, but as is, we need them. Ad Nauseam also helps in the combo mirrors, which is a nice bonus, as is the fact that we get to randomly kill Death & Taxes (and other decks with only permanents for disruption) on turn one.

Chrome Mox is there to make our Ad Nauseams better and to power them out earlier, if needed. It might not be absolutely necessary, but I think it’s well worth the slot.

3. Sensei’s Divining Top (& Bloodstained Mire)
Like Ad Nauseam, Top does two things. For one, it helps against discard spells by letting us float important cards on the top of our library. There’s also the odd line where we crack a Lion’s Eye Diamond and then activate Top to draw into, say, Ad Nauseam, allowing us to cast it when we otherwise wouldn’t have the mana for it.

On top of that, it gives us insane digging power against decks where we mainly want to go off with in-hand Storm spells. In these games it not only helps us by finding landdrops, but it also allows us to off from nine cards in hand, giving us a lot of flexibility. Because these decks often have Wastelands, we want to make it a little easier for us to get two basic lands on the board, so we can use Top more effectively. Thus, Bloodstained Mire has replaced one Misty Rainforest to have one more way to get the basic Swamp.

4. Maindeck Empty the Warrens
As I outlined above, most decks lack maindeck answers to Empty the Warrens, especially ones that are active before turn three. The ability to throw out Goblins early can often help a lot. With Ad Nauseam in the maindeck, we’d have to rely on the singleton Burning Wish to get this, but naturally drawing this card is way better, as it sidesteps countermagic (for the most part). We also get to tutor for it every now and then.

5. No Xantid Swarm
Sadly, the Legacy metagame is pretty diverse right now, and most matchups come with unique challenges. A lot of the cards in our sideboard are very narrow, and there’s only so much room. Swarm is the card I’ve decided to skimp on, as it’s least likely to be needed. We only want it if they have Leyline of Sanctity and countermagic, and even then, they need to draw both. We can’t beat everyone, and this is a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it means I get to play an overall more flexible deck.

Further, there are two things I’m not sure about. The first is the split of discard spells. I kind of want to have a second Thoughtseize in the deck (mainly for Death & Taxes), but I think it’s inferior to the other discard spells in most matchups. The issue is that in some matchups, we really want to be able to take creatures, which Duress doesn’t, and, in other matchups, it’s more important to actually hit at all than shutting off a specific card, which sometimes makes it better than Cabal Therapy. That being said, the lifeloss can be very relevant against Delver decks, which make for an absurd amount of the metagame.

The other thing is the second maindeck Past in Flames. It is possible that Empty the Warrens already makes up for the speed we lose by not having Ad Nauseam in the maindeck, so this could also just be the third Tendrils. This, in turn, would allow us to play a third Abrupt Decay or Carpet of Flowers. Right now, neither of these seems necessary to me, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Before I leave, let me give you a few sideboarding suggestions. While they’re not set in stone, they’re very solid. What’s going on there should come natural if you read the matchup explanations above.

UWR Delver:

-1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
-1 Cabal Ritual
-1 Duress
-1 Infernal Tutor
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Thoughtseize

+1 Sensei’s Divining Top
+2 Carpet of Flowers
+2 Abrupt Decay
+1 Tendrils of Agony

Sneak and Show:

-1 Sensei’s Divining Top
-1 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+1 Chrome Mox
+2 Ad Nauseam
+1/2 Chain of Vapor
(+1 Burning Wish)

Non-Blue Combo Mirror:
(Elves; Dredge; Storm)

-1 Sensei’s Divining Top
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+1 Chrome Mox
+2 Ad Nauseam
+1 Burning Wish

Death & Taxes:

-1 Sensei’s Divining Top
-4 Cabal Therapy
-1 Duress
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+1 Chrome Mox
+3 Dread of Night
+2 Ad Nauseam
+2 Chain of Vapor
+1 Burning Wish

Shardless BUG / Jund:

-1 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Gitaxian Probe
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+1 Chrome Mox
+1 Sensei’s Divining Top
+2 Ad Nauseam
+1 Burning Wish

BUG Delver:

-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Ponder
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+1 Chrome Mox
+2 Ad Nauseam
+1 Burning Wish

RUG Delver:

-1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
-1 Cabal Ritual
-1 Infernal Tutor
-1 Past in Flames

+1 Sensei’s Divining Top
+2 Carpet of Flowers
+1 Tendrils of Agony

Miracles:

-1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
-1 Cabal Ritual
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Infernal Tutor
-1 Past in Flames

+1 Sensei’s Divining Top
+2 Carpet of Flowers
+2 Abrupt Decay

Miracles is the only matchup that wasn’t included above, but it’s on the decline and I don’t care about it that much anymore – otherwise, there’d be a third Abrupt Decay in the board. Furthermore, I think it’s a toss-up between this plan and the Ad Nauseam plan. Maybe Ad Nauseam is slightly better with only two Decays, but usually I prefer this plan against them. Here’s the alternative:

-1 Cabal Ritual
-1 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
-2 Gitaxian Probe
-1 Past in Flames
-1 Tendrils of Agony

+2 Carpet of Flowers
+2 Abrupt Decay
+2 Ad Nauseam
+1 Burning Wish

That’s it for today. As always, if you have any questions contact me in the forums or send me an e-mail:

jonathanalexander at gmx dot de

Take care!

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