Storm Hands

Last week I was asking for interesting opening hands with Legacy Storm on social media. This week, I want to discuss some of the suggestions I got and a couple hands I encountered myself in tournaments. When looking at opening hands with Storm, we can often plan out entire games, which allows us to go prety deep on some hands. These are the questions we should ask ourselves when looking at an opening hand with Storm:

What do we have, what will be our win condition?
What are we missing to enable that win condition?
How are we going to find what we’re looking for?

Due to the amount of card draw we tend to play in Storm, most hands will be able to see additional cards as early as turn one, which lets us keep a wide range of hands. Mulligans mostly come down to the answers of the second and third question. If we’re missing too many pieces and we don’t have a good way to dig, we’re likely looking at a mulligan.

For all of the hands we’re discussing here today, I assume we are on the play and have no clue what our opponent is playing. It is not relevant what exact deck list we are on for any of the hands, except for hand #9, which only works in that exact constellation with a double Ad Nauseam maindeck (spoiler: that’s because it contains two copies of Ad Nauseam). Now that we’ve established some ground rules, let’s get started on the actual decisions.

Hand #1

     

Our first hand looks like an easy keep, but we should still consider our options before making a decision. There are three cards that could be cast on turn one (excluding Dark Ritual and Brainstorm for obvious reasons), so let’s go over the plays we could make.

A lot of people would start the game by casting Gitaxian Probe here, to gain information on whether to cast Duress or Ponder. What holds me from doing that is the presence of Tendrils. Casting a lethal Tendrils straight from your hand is one of the strongest things you can do in Legacy. The ability to cast Gitaxian Probe for two life in the combo turn helps a lot in that regard, so I think it’s best to hold it as long as possible.

Similarly, Duress is also better to cast during the combo turn. The first reason is that casting Duress puts us down a card, which means we need to wait an extra turn to assemble a hand that can cast enough spells for Tendrils to be lethal. Further, if we cast our discard spells during our combo turn, we gain better information and more options. Also, depending on the number of ritual-effects we draw until our combo turn, we might end up in a situation where we have so much black mana that we can essentially cast Duress for free. The final upside of waiting is that we might draw into a Cabal Therapy. If our opponent has two copies of the same counterspell but they are limited to casting only one of them, they can just let Duress resolve without doing anything. With Cabal Therapy, we are guaranteed to handle all of those counters.

Finally, we have Ponder. What we are looking for in this situation is clearly a land, but is it worth drawing up to two dead cards afterwards? I don’t think it is; I think we want to make at least one more landdrop after that and not lock ourselves with the Ponder. On top of that, working under the assumption that in-hand Tendrils is a reasonable plan against the deck we’re facing, we’re likely not going to do a whole lot on turn two anyway. Therefore, I think it’s best to do nothing on turn one and cast Ponder on turn two. That way, if we find a fetchland and two cards we don’t want to draw, we can shuffle both of them away.

Now that we have concluded that we shouldn’t cast anything turn one, what are we doing with our land? In the current metagame, I am not too afraid of Stifle, so I think just playing the Delta and passing is reasonable, but I wouldn’t fault you for respecting Stifle and fetching a basic Island. However, with a few exceptions pertaining only to local tournaments, there is no reason to fetch a non basic in this situation.

I think I should also mention that even if we do nothing on our first turn, we can completely switch gears on turn two depending on what our opponent shows us. In the past, there were a lot of decks that allowed us to just wait out these kind of hands, but current Legacy is very heavy on haymakers like Counterbalance and Show and Tell, often forcing us into more aggressive plays. Even if we’re facing such a deck, I don’t think we should cast the Ponder on turn one.

So in conclusion, this hand does not just look like a keep, it is a pretty strong opening seven we should always keep in a blind game one scenario.

Hand #2:

      

Almost the same as the first hand, but this time with Preordain instead of Ponder.

As before, I think the presence of Tendrils is preventing us from casting Duress or Gitaxian Probe on turn one. But having Preordain over Ponder makes a huge difference in my eyes. Unlike Ponder, Preordain can not lock us into drawing something we don’t want to draw, so we don’t need the ability to shuffle cards away with a fetchland. Another difference is that Preordain does not reward us for casting it after drawing an additional card, so I think we should cast it on turn one.

Just be thorough, the land we grab with Polluted Delta is basic Island. Not only does it protect us from a Wasteland-blowout in case we don’t find another land, it is generally very unlikely that having Island will prevent us from casting any spells we could cast with Underground Sea or Volcanic Island.

Hand#3:

      

Another variation of the first hand, replacing only one card once again. And even more so than having Preordain instead of Ponder, I think having Infernal instead of Tendrils makes a huge difference.

Because combo turns involving Tutor are dependant on a single spell resolving, it is much worse to give our opponents additional turns to search for disruption than in situations where they lose if any one ritual effect resolves. Because of that, and the fact that Tutor usually allows us to go way over the top in regards to storm counts, we should definitely lead with Gitaxian Probe here.

Unfortunately, that is pretty much all the advise I can give here, because what we want to do after that depends on what Gitaxian Probe shows us, both in regards to our opponent’s hand and the card we draw. Most of the time, it will still be correct to just play the land and say go, but we could also draw another cantrip, in which case we are almost forced to cast it. It could also be that we have to play Duress at that point, because they show us Counterbalance plus Brainstorm or a soft counter. Or we draw Cabal Therapy and suddenly we’re able to prevent them from doing anything the next two turns by going discard spell into discard spell.

This hand can lead to an array of scenarios, and I included it more to highlight how much changing a single card can change a hand than to give a complete overview of how to play it, so please bear with me covering every possibility.

Hand #4:

      

For our next hand, we have to go in a little deeper before we can decide if we even want to keep it. So what do we have? We have basic Island, a lot of fast mana and some draw spells. What are we looking for to sculpt a winning hand? We don’t have an initial black source, we don’t have discard and we don’t have any business spells. We also don’t have any real cantrips.

So in order to be able to do anything with this hand, we always need to hit a combination of black source and a business spell, black source and discard or find at least one real cantrip. But in reality, we are looking for a combination of three cards (black mana, business, protection).

On top of what we’re looking for, we also have some dead weight in the form of the second Diamond. It’s very rare that we need more than one and those scenarios basically boil down to two initial mana sources, Infernal Tutor and double Diamond to enable Ad Nauseam.

So if this hand looks so bad, what are the costs a taking a mulligan? For starters, drawing Tendrils of Agony becomes pretty bad because we will have fewer cards. How relevant this is depends on how many copies we have in our deck, but I actually think it’s worse with two copies than with three because with three copies it’s more likely we end up with two copies after some cantripping, enabling a double Tendrils kill to allow us to win from fewer cards. Further, because we will have fewer cards, our combo turns we be easier to disrupt and we will be slower.

With all these things in mind, I don’t think we should keep this hand. However, I would keep it if the second Lion’s Eye Diamond was a cantrip, Infernal Tutor, Past in Flames or Tendrils of Agony instead.

Hand #5:

      

I regularly see players keep this kind of hand and I get why. We have all the mana sources we need to win with any business spell, and we have protection. It’s easy to look at this hand and think we should keep because we’re so close to a winning hand already.

But when we look at what we do with this hand, the answer is simple: We do nothing. When do we even cast our discard spell and how do we win if our opponent casts Deathrite Shaman? On top of the fact that our hand does nothing as is, more than half of the cards in our decks are dead draws — we need to hit an Infernal Tutor or cantrip with our natural draws. That’s just not good enough, and average six-card hands are better than this one.

Hand #6:

      

I think this is a very interesting hybrid of hands #2 & #4. We have the Tendrils in hand again, so we don’t want to cast any cantrips, but we also don’t have a land that taps for blue, so casting Preordain early would also cost us an additional card in the form of Lotus Petal. Let’s look at our options and decide if we want to keep this.

Since our only land is basic Swamp, which doesn’t cast any of our spells on its own, it wouldn’t make sense to play Swamp and then try to cantrip. As for Probe and Preordain, the order in which we play them would usually not make a difference, but with this hand, casting Probe first is better because we might hit the land we’re looking for and therefore don’t have to use Lotus Petal to cast Preordain. So the first line would be to cast Probe and then, if we don’t find a blue source, use Petal and Preordain to dig further.

But what we have to ask ourselves is actually this: When do we need the second land? We already have a landdrop for the first turn and we’ll be trying to keep as many spells for our combo turn as possible. So we could also just play Swamp, pass the turn and try to hit another land in our second turn. This way, if we hit in our draw step, we can keep both the Lotus Petal and Gitaxian Probe, which makes our Tendrils this much better. We could even keep the Preordain until turn three then, which could very much be our combo turn, depending on that draw step.

Even if we don’t hit the land in our first draw step, we still have the option of casting Probe into Preordain and potentially switch gears to a more aggressive game.

In my eyes, what separates this from hand #4 is that not only do we have more digging power, our hand is also more resilient and we’re looking for less pieces. I think we should keep this hand and just play Swamp on the first turn.

Hand #7:

      

Here we have another hand with a pair of Probes but without initial black mana (we have no initial mana at all, actually).

The allure of this hand is pretty clear: We have everything for a turn one Past in Flames kill, but we’re missing the black source to get going. In this case, we can just calculate the odds of missing the black source with both our Probes. We have 53 cards in our deck, 16 of which are initial black mana sources. So the odds of missing both Probes are (37/53) x (36/52), which translates to roughly 48.3%. That means we have a little over 51.6% to go off turn one.

Keep in mind that this also does not even factor in an opposing Force of Will, which further diminishes our chances. We could go into the math on our opponent having an active Force, but I think it’s highly unlikely we’re going to win the game if we miss on the Probes, and game one win percentages with Storm are so good that even after a mulligan, we should be able to do better than a coin flip.

Note that the probability our opponent is holding a Force is not simply the representation of Force of Will in the metagame times the ~40% to start one, because the metagame percentages change depending on the tournament and bracket we’re playing in and hands with Force are also slightly more keepable than hands without Force, given the current saturation of combo decks.

Hand #8:

      

Like the last hand we looked at, here we have another no-lander. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Once more, we have a hand that has no lands, but Probe, Petal and Ponder to dig. Because we don’t have any land yet, we will have to try to hit on the first turn. Therefore, we should lead on Probe into Ponder. For those who have read last week’s article and are wondering why we’re using Ponder over Preordain, that’s because we’re not trying to hit with the combination of the two but looking to optimise our chances on the first one, because if we can cast the second one, we have already hit (except we find another Petal, which I would shuffle away with Ponder).

Lotus Petal into cantrip works pretty much like a mulligan, plus Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Preordain and Cabal Therapy make for the core of a pretty good hand, much better than the average six card hand. On top of that, we get a random card with Probe, and if it’s a land, we’re actually staying at seven cards.

So if the spells are better than those of an average six card hand, how do the odds of hitting a land that taps for blue on the first turn compare? Assuming we have 13 lands that tap for blue, we have ~24.5 to hit on Probe. Casting Ponder afterwards increases the probability to ~76.6%. A six card hand has ~78.6% of hitting a land that taps for blue. This is slightly in favour of the mulligan. Another point for taking the mulligan is the fact the we could go to five if we miss, but the odds of winning on a mull to five are pretty slim.

What we did not consider are the six card hands that have the land but still aren’t keepable. Our seven card hand will never turn into a bad six card hand if we hit, and we even have ~24.5% to stay at seven cards. After careful consideration, we should keep this hand.

Hand #9:

      

Being at least half puzzle, this is only a mulligan question in disguise. For those who haven’t seen the line, this hand can cast turn one Ad Nauseam by casting Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor (crack Diamond for RRR), Past in Flames, flashback Dark Ritual, flashback Cabal Ritual, flashback Infernal for another Diamond and crack it to cast Ad Nauseam.

There is no other line with this hand since we don’t gain anything by waiting. We get a clean Past in Flames kill on our next turn because we have Threshold for the flashback Cabal Ritual, but that’s not that much better than a turn one Ad Nauseam with Past in Flames in the graveyard. Even if we find a discard spell in our draw step, we can’t cast it because that would leave us with no mana after casting Past in Flames. With this hand, going off blindly on turn one is more appealing than waiting and also clearly better than taking a mulligan.

Hand #10:

     

Here we have another hand that can cast turn one Ad Nauseam. But other than the last hand we looked at, we also have the option to cast Preordain on turn one to try for another land or Past in Flames to have a clean, protected kill on turn two.

I think that a turn two kill with backup is much stronger than a blind turn one kill. It’s not even relevant that we get to go off with Past in Flames rather than Ad Nauseam; even with a hand that can either cast Ad Nauseam turn one or dig for an additional mana source to cast a discard spell plus Ad Nauseam turn two, I will try to find the means to cast the discard spell.

I realise those last two hands weren’t very interesting in regards to mulligan decisions if you’re familiar with Storm, but I think looking at how hands play out is an important aspect of evaluating them and Storm allows us to exactly map out even entire games. The question whether to go for it turn one also comes up quite frequently, so I thought it would be good to include two similar scenarios with different answers to that question.

Thank you all for reading and please let me know if you disagree with any of the mulligan decisions or game plans I mapped out.

J

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