The Next Step for Storm
- Robert Swiecki
No more Shaman, no more Probe. Storm lives on but will have to adapt and change much like everything else. Seizing opponents' thoughts and wrapping them in tendrils is still going to be one of the best ways of ending games of Legacy, even if its players are forced to adapt.
Storm was, is, and will be an important player in the Legacy meta. Even after banning Gitaxian Probe, Storm immediately put up great results online. It is true that decks that played Deathrite Shaman kept the ridiculous power of Past in Flames in check to some extent but it was by no means an unstoppable obstacle. The loss of Gitaxian Probe hurts the deck more than being free from Deathrite though. Phyrexian mana is completely insane in a format that functions around limited resources and broken spells. Having access to information and drawing a card for two life is already extremely powerful effect on its own but synergizing with Cabal Therapy and Past in Flames, the latter of which turned Probe into “pay 4 life, look at target player's hand, draw two cards, and add two to your storm count.” The card regularly turned the tides and made Storm steal games quite often. Now that both cards, the oppressive Elf and the uber-Peek are gone, every current Legacy deck will have to reevaluate its card choices and Storm is naturally no exception. It all has to be taken into account to identify and steer Storm combo's development in this new era of Legacy.
Storm needs to take three main steps to ensure its continued existence. The deck keeps on getting 5-0s online and will continue to take down big paper tournaments as well, although the deck is much harder to pilot without automatic triggers, so bear that in mind.
Layer One: The Obligatory Changes
The most obvious changes to the deck can be made without defining a new meta game. Storm has to cut its Probes in favor of more cantrips and some discard spells. Since Storm only cares about a small percentage of cards the opponent's deck, peeking at their hand without spending mana unmasks potential answers to the combo and digs for more cards at the same time. In this respect, Gitaxian Probe was the perfect took for storm, both digging for more cards, increasing storm count, and giving you perfect information to know whether you can combo off or not. Naturally, going up to a full set of Preordain seems to be a mandatory at the moment. To support so many cantrips, one could include a second Island to the main deck as well.
In addition, Thoughtseize has become a main deck card in all lists because it is the best one-mana discard spell in Magic and a great substitution for Cabal Therapy. It remains to be seen which sets of discard spells will be the preferred one, but hitting multiples with Cabal Therapy, even without Probe, is still too powerful to neglect completely. Just imagine playing against Burn or Death and Taxes, looking at their hands with Thoughtseize and seeing multiple Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Eidolon of the Great Revel. Both cards are by far the most problematic ones in those matchups and if you can't disrupt both copies, you're looking at a game loss. Something along the lines of 7-9 discard spells should provide a decent protection suite. Maxing out on Thoughtseize could be the way to go alongside a couple of Duress and Therapy as the third option.
Once you've changed those seven to eight slots, the deck is legal again and can be taken for a test drive at any Legacy tournament, where it would most likely it would perform well. This, however, is only the very first step, the first layer, in changing the deck. It is rather evident that Legacy ANT can switch some slots and still execute the combo via Past in Flames, a tutor chain, or the inferior Ad Nauseam.
Layer Two: The Necessary Adjustments
As I have already stated in my previous article, banning Deathrite and Probe will cause the biggest shake up in Legacy's history. Even decks that have not been affected by these changes directly are going to adapt. Dethroning Deathrite leaves behind a power vacuum that needs to be filled. Ad Nauseam Tendrils is a highly complex deck where all the slots are scrutinised regularly. There has never been a default list but rather various playable set ups customised for different play styles.
The new meta game has not delivered any major surprises yet. Maybe many players want to stick to safe options for now before diving into this new post-Shaman era. Canadian seems to do alright, Sneak & Show and Death and Taxes look like the strongest contenders, whereas UB Reanimator struggles with the rise of graveyard hate and waits for the meta to settle down. All decks, however, are subject to a shifting meta. That means that a deck is defined by other decks and its ways to interact with their strategies. Decks like Belcher or Spanish Inquisition, which usually do not care about the opponent's cards, play at one extreme end of the meta spectrum because they consist of cards that only support their own strategy. Decks, such as Miracles or Canadian Threshold, are fine-tuned meta decks that prey upon certain strategies being present in a meta – just try and take Canadian for a spin at a casual free for all event; I am sure it will lose to some Kamigawa Block constructed deck.
Legacy's Ad Nauseam Tendrils has always tried to find the perfect balance between speed and resilience. Many lists play two Past in Flames main in order to punch through counter spells and 15 lands. Now that Deathrite is gone, it could seem like Past in Flames has become significantly better. While that is true, ANT has lost the Gitaxian Probe that allowed for high percentages of non-deterministic kills. Therefore, Past in Flames is weaker than before the bannings. Deathrite has never been that big of a problem for a spell chain loop via the graveyard. Cutting a Past in Flames and thus going down to only a single one in the main looks like a decent move. Following this notion, Ad Nauseam has to be played main as well. By common knowledge as a necessary evil, the actual card Ad Nauseam shines in the faster, but more fragile TES deck and has always distressed ANT players. In this new era, it remains a mediocre panic button that visits the sideboard in some match ups.
Having one less engine spell makes room for yet another tutor. Dark Petition, a divisive card in ANT, could take two spots in the main. Going up to six tutors main allows the deck to maximize its chances to kill involving a tutor on turn two. Generally, ANT wants to cantrip its first turn, play a land on its second and then cast a discard spell and ramp with rituals for a Past in Flames loop with a tutor. Of course, Dark Petition also has some important drawbacks, like its vulnerability to taxing counter spells and to graveyard-hate like Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, Nihil Spellbomb, and Leyline of the Void.
That said, there are many other possible set ups and sticking to more Past in Flames in the main could add to some resilience against other decks that play discard like Depths, Reanimator, and Esper variants. Even one Empty the Warrens main could see a comeback, but without Probe and Therapy, it has gotten a lot weaker. It could even end up fighting for one of the last slots in players' sideboards. At the moment, cards like Karakas to battle Reanimator and Sneak & Show, Engineered Explosives as a catch all, and more Hurkyl's Recall and Abrupt Decay look much more appealing.
Layer Three: Reevaluating Play Patterns
Many ANT players have been playing their deck for a long time. Rushing through multiple leagues a day online, grinding at the local game store or sleeving up for major tournaments, a Storm player's life revolves around casting enough spells to put a lethal Tendrils of Agony on the stack. Play patterns have an important role in helping to achieve this goal. When a Storm player sees a certain starting hand, they immediately think about the possible lines of play, trying to predict their opponents' reactions. Reevaluating the deck's play patterns for specific match ups is going to be the most important aspect in finding ANT's place in the new meta. There are two main changes that need to be taken into account:
- Timing of discard spells. Playing discard correctly has become more difficult because they have to do the work Probe did formerly, in that they give you a peek at your opponent's hand. Sequencing spells after a Probe was rather easy but without perfect information, a Thoughtseize or a Duress doesn't only have to clear the way for the combo but also gather information on the first turn. Thus, Storm players will be more inclined to fire off a discard spell on turn one to counter a bad surprise in form of Chalice of the Void or by taking the opponent's discard spell.
- Dealing with permanent hate. Death and Taxes, Eldrazi, Loam, and Maverick are going to be major threats in this post-Deathrite meta. They can play their hate permanents on turn one or two respectively and start to beat down Storm with powerful creatures. Running a deck with Gitaxian Probe allowed for faster and trenchant moves, with follow-up discard spells or cantrips. Changing the play patterns to accommodate the deck's slower pace with Massacre, Dread of Night or other options like Pyroclasm and a full playset of Abrupt Decay will be one of the main challenges for most Storm players. Especially for those who were familiarized with the pre-ban deck.
Storm has and will continue being a strong contender in Legacy moving forward, but as with any deck that has had cards banned, players will have to adapt to the major changes in their deck. I'll leave you with my decklist for the time being, which should serve as a solid list for those interested in post-ban ANT. The Grim Tutor could theoretically be swapped out for a Dark Petition, if that's a card you have/want to test with. Let me know what you think of the deck, article, and where you think Storm is headed in the comments below!
Ad Nauseam Tendrils by CabalTherapy
|1Badlands||4Lion's Eye Diamond||3Duress|
|1Bloodstained Mire||4Lotus Petal||1Grim Tutor|
|1Misty Rainforest||2Past in Flames|
|1Swamp||1Tendrils of Agony|
|2Underground Sea||1Ad Nauseam|
|1Rain of Filth|
|2Abrupt Decay||1Bayou||2Dread of Night|
|2Echoing Truth||1Empty the Warrens||1Flusterstorm|
|1Hurkyl's Recall||1Karakas||2Tormod's Crypt|
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