Heart of the Storm – New Frontiers

While I enjoy hot drinks in the cold and my cross-Europe-travel to visit all my friends and family in Spain, France, Bavaria, and Poland usually the last 2-3 weeks of the year, I admit I’m just not the type for the warm and fuzzy Christmas-feeling, maybe as a result of usually breaking up during October/November (3 years in a row…don’t ask me why). If people I meet there on the long rail-travels across Europe or during a chatter in the departure hall of an airport ask me where I’m from, I usually answer that question with “Europe!” due to my wide-spread multi-national family tree and being pervaded by that cultural mix, rather than a distinctive nationality. I also mixed my academic training, as I have a bachelor degree as an architect and a diploma (equals a master degree) in construction engineering, working internationally as a consultant for conversion of stores (worked for Levi’s, Otto Kern, Fossil, etc.), re-utilization of urban space (often into living areas), town planning, and rights of residence. This is my third year living in Germany’s capital and I still adore the rough, edgy, gross, and yet historic and monumental sides of Berlin, with all the available space to actually create/alter the face of the city.

I first played the game in 1994 between the Arabian Nights and Antiquities expansions on a non-regular basis and really became a real tournament player in 2003, playing mostly Vintage at that time and therefore pervaded by Scourge’s key mechanic which sculpted the metagame back then: Storm. If you’ve ever sleeved up the powerful mana artifacts of the old days with sets of Lion’s Eye Diamonds and Minds Desire, it carves a lasting passion which now lasts for a full decade in my case, even if I don’t sleeve up my Beta Power anymore. Over the years, a passion grew between me and Legacy combo decks, slinging infamous cards like Doomsday, Show & Tell, Aluren, and Survival of the Fittest in their full bloom. I was ever a pretty fast guy for taking down notes for reports and to reconstruct possible misplays, thanks to my dear grandmother who taught me stenography during middle school. It was late 2012 as I thought that I could use that ability to create very detailed notes during the matches and my knowledge of the storm-mechanic to unravel one of the most complex and misunderstood decks in the current Legacy metagame: The EPIC Storm.

Rise of the Cabal – Bazaar of Moxen Review

In fact, a lot has changed for me and the game, and it all started with the Bazaar of Moxen tournament during November 1-3, in Paris, France. As was evident to players there and at the Eternal Weekend in the USA, it was plainly stupid timing to have the brand new release of the tournament legal Commander 2013 sets on the weekend of two huge tournaments, as card availability would certainly be an issue. It was the first chance to get our hands on Legacy’s new public enemy #1, True-Name Nemesis, which I expected to have a devastating impact on the Legacy metagame (especially paired with Stoneforge Mystic and equipment, or in BUG deck shell, as the “Mini-Progenitus” fully profits from the recent printed powerhouses in black/green named Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, and Golgari Charm to get rid of opposing Goblins, Elves, Mother of Runes, Thalia and the aforementioned True-Name Nemesis). It was a hilarious spectacle to witness dozens of players running to the certified trading company at the Bazaar of Moxen right after the opening of the event hall just to buy several Commander Sets for 70€ per piece with the Nemesis inside, rip it open, pick out the Nemesis and stuff the rest of the cards in their bags. I felt that those peeps were my expected pray that weekend (spoiler: I faced not a single one of those).

ParisInFall

If you had expected a full-fledged tournament report for the Bazaar of Moxen or stories about the amazing Adventures of Doomed Traveller, which had my pal and roommate Kai Thiele dying of laughter at the floor of the hotel room the night before the main event, you’ll be disappointed, because I only took minimal notes during my rounds, as the weekend was rather draining as I had to deal with hard matchups (several Miracles, Painter, EsperBlade) and heinously bad dice rolls (won 3 rolls in 3 days!). If you play Storm, there’s simply not much to win if you see Turn 1 Thoughtseize, followed by a Turn 2 Ethersworn Canonist with Force of Will as backup; a Turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top, followed by a Turn 2 Counterbalance with Force of Will as backup; or a Turn 1 Ancient Tomb into Thorn of Amethyst, followed by a Turn 2 Magus of the Moon, round after round. I lost twice to Painter (both 1-2), once against Yohan Dudognon on Miracles (1-2), one match to EsperBlade (1-2), and one against UWR Delver (1-2) that weekend, which I punted hard by missing to flashback a Therapy for a Batterskull to win via Emptied Goblins (no not pile your graveyard guys! Check your bin after every Empty the Warrens resolves!). There was a draw against a second EsperBlade as well (he prevented two kill-attempts during the 5-turn-limit after time was called), and that was enough to eliminate me from the Friday trial as well as the main event, in which I played the following list:

The

[Business] (29)
Brainstorm
Ponder
Gitaxian Probe
Cabal Therapy
Silence
Burning Wish
Infernal Tutor
Empty the Warrens
Ad Nauseam

[/Business] (0)

[Mana Sources] (31)
Chrome Mox
Lotus Petal
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Dark Ritual
Rite of Flame
Gemstone Mine
City of Brass
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island

[/Mana Sources] (0)
[Sideboard] (15)
Xantid Swarm
Abrupt Decay
Chain of Vapor
Cabal Therapy
Telemin Performance
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Tendrils of Agony
Past in Flames
Diminishing Returns[/Sideboard]

It was a discussion about the limitations of Duress and the inability to grab creatures that bother Storm decks, such as Thalia, Stoneforge Mystic, Vendilion Clique and others, that got me thinking about the waste of space to switch Duress for Therapies out of the board in matchups featuring those creatures, which was a usual procedure in TES at that time.I quickly realized that the potential card advantage created by being able to discard 2 or more spells of the same name could be huge in a deck without any actual card advantage outside of Ad Nauseam and, to a much lesser extent, Past in Flames, but the real game breaker revealed itself in a testing match:

Gitaxian Probe (cast for 2 life), seeing a Force of Will + Ponder + Engineered Explosives in my opponents hand, with only access to a handful of Goblins via Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens, or the Diminishing Returns roulette, as options available. I fling my fresh drawn Cabal Therapy against his Force of Will, cast Burning Wish as I noticed that I could use the created Goblin tokens, whose number was boosted for free by Gitaxian Probe (helping me to aim with Cabal Therapy), to flashback the discard spell to strip my opponent of his Engineered Explosives, leaving him completely helpless against the army of raging Goblins.

Mind blown: Gitaxian Probe + Cabal Therapy + Empty the Warrens, a combination I called the “Tri-force” later on, in regards to the “Wisdom” gained by Probe, the “Courage” to sometimes blind-call with Therapy instead of having the safe choice in Duress and the “Power” Empty the Warrens summons onto the battlefield, dominated the situation (no more Zelda references from now on…promise!). I started a much larger online testing session after telling my team and the thread about the possibility to push our goblins-trait in the wake of an increasing number of sweepers across the metagame, due to True-Name Nemesis and the pointy-eared powerhouses called Elves. In advance of and during the Bazaar of Moxen, Kai Thiele and I sliced through the metagame on the back of the mentioned sub-combo, and we had a good feeling for the main event as he went 5-2 and finished 21st out of 400 players in the trial (I dropped after my second loss and skipped the last round to accompany 2 mates to get food for the crew).

The main event itself started ok for me and StarCityGames’ own writer and local storm icon Carsten Kotter, while the rest of our crew struggled hard. After beating Death & Taxes and EsperBlade 4-0 in games, I expected to make a run, but in the following rounds more and more problems and bad luck occurred and revealed the significant weakness in running Silence, as the spell is unable to address combined, variable hate.

Players finally realized, that attacking Storm with various styles of disruption is very effective and that simply overloading on counterspells is a losing strategy in the face of Silence and Xantid Swarm. Neither is pure permanent-based hate reliable, as Storm decks have Abrupt Decay and Chain of Vapor in the sideboard, while discard as a sole source of disruption can be invalidated by Storm.dec via floating their business on top of their library or dumping the hand Turn 1 or Turn 2 into a lethal Tendrils/Empty the Warrens while the player sitting across stares at his useless Hymn to Tourach in his hand.

Silence led to misery several times, drawing it after my opponent already dropped their Stoneforge Mystic, wasted my white mana source before I could assemble a protected kill, or once you face an opponent’s hand featuring the likes of Ethersworn Canonist + Force of Will or Meddling Mage + Thoughtseize, which I had dozens of times and wasn’t able to overcome in some games that mattered, leaving me in despair after finally being eliminated at Saturday evening.

Of course not everything about the Bazaar was bad for me, as I was able to meet a lot of people who heard about “that German TES writer,” recognized one of my 3D’s (Deck, Dices, Diamonds), or have simply read my previous tournament reports. On top of that, I was able to pull off some seriously sick plays like beating double Vendilion Clique + Karakas + Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top, Mindtwisting my opponents with Turn 2 double Cabal Therapy + double flashback via Empty the Warrens, or fearlessly kept on flipping 4 more cards off Ad Nauseam being already at 1 life for the win against a German Jund player (Hi Lars!)…just to name a few things, I regret not having covered.

A Storm Approaching – The Tournament

My biggest problem these times is that between my job and my social life there is very little time to test all the ideas that piled in my head, including the variations of the protection suite mentioned above, driving me mad. I grabbed my phone and called Tim (our organizer), informing him that I’ll participate the next tourney and asking him about the location and my former playgroup called “The Gent’s Club,” because we’re mostly businessmen, and used to hang out directly after work, slinging spells in suits while sipping snobby drinks. I call one of the guys about the recent tournaments, just to get my fears confirmed: the metagame developed into a netdecker’s paradise as a result of the changing and expanding player base (lots of new cross-format players). Does that mean I should expect a lot of Elves, Show & Tell, UWR Delver, and Death & Taxes?!

The other days I was once more struggling to make up my mind about which protection suite and which manabase to take to the tourney. I really wanted to try Thoughtseize in place of Silences (and a slightly different manabase), as I did not expect RUG Delver or something like that, but the trend towards Spell Snares. Envelope and Pyroblast in the metagame means that Silence can give me some free wins unlike Thoughtseize via disabling several cards of their protection at once, so I decided to sleeve up the basic list for the upcoming event and make the all-discard-list a topic for the near future.

The

[Business] (29)
Brainstorm
Ponder
Gitaxian Probe
Cabal Therapy
Silence
Burning Wish
Infernal Tutor
Empty the Warrens
Ad Nauseam

[/Business] (0)

[Mana Sources] (31)
Chrome Mox
Lotus Petal
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Dark Ritual
Rite of Flame
Gemstone Mine
City of Brass
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island

[/Mana Sources] (0)
[Sideboard] (15)
Abrupt Decay
Xantid Swarm
Pyroblast
Tropical Island
Chain of Vapor
Thoughtseize
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Tendrils of Agony
Past in Flame
Diminishing Returns[/Sideboard]

The list is rock-solid for a wide, unknown metagame, as we have done a lot of testing with it, and in a second, more important instance, writing about an experimental list in a tournament wields a questionable message regarding the outcome for all you dear readers. My goal is to paint an accurate image of the deck in the metagame. Days before the tourney, we had the topic of Pyroblast replacing the Carpet of Flowers, as the green enchantment didn’t really helped against our problematic matchups like Tempo, as those decks can operate on a single land turning Carpet into a 1cc rainbow-manastone. Pyroblast is an old friend of this deck, being played a few years back, but now being able to make a comeback against Show & Tell, Delver of Secrets, True-Name Nemesis, Counterbalance, and Vendilion Clique.

LionsEyeDiamondAlters

I convinced 2 more old fellows to grab their spellbooks and join our crusade. As we arrived younger players looked at us in surprise like children catching Santa Clause at Christmas morning. We’re significant older (27+) than the average crowd Tim gathered for today, not to talk about the fact that baggy jeans and shit aren’t part of our wardrobe, if you know what I mean. Registration fee’s a whopping 15€ for about 42 players, so prizes better be according to that. We’re paired for round 1 and the name’s telling me nothing. Could be a good thing, if I can surprise an unprepared opponent.

Round 1 vs. Death and Taxes

Game 1
I’m seated against a very young man making a pretty annoyed face. I can’t tell if I’ve ever met him before, nor why he makes a such a face before the tournament even started, therefore I have no idea what I’m playing against here, but I put him on something fair like Maverick out of some stupid stereotypes…don’t judge me for that. He gives his pile a rough shuffle after winning the dice, but is thankfully more careful with mine. He throws back his hand after a peek, trying to find a better 6, which he seemed to find. I picked up:
Ponder
Brainstorm
Silence
Infernal Tutor
Empty the Warrens
Chrome Mox
Burning Wish

Would you keep this hand?

This hand would start with card disadvantage as I would be forced to imprint a cantrip onto the Chrome Mox, and then I would be still left with a bunch of cards I lack the mana to cast those. There’s no way I want to keep that one and start piling my library again for 6 fresh cards, and draw:
Gitaxian Probe
Dark Ritual
Ad Nauseam
Ponder
Misty Rainforest
Infernal Tutor

Would you keep this hand?

That’s a hand I feel can work around anything that doesn’t start with casting Stifle on my fetchland, so I decide to keep that one. He drops a Plains and casts an Aether Vial. I make a face myself…Death and Taxes…a pretty bad matchup once it’s allowed to make a second land drop, considering that that archetype is running Thalia, Ethersworn Canonist, Aven Mindcensor, Wasteland, Mother of Runes (to make it impossible for me to remove the hatebears), and Stoneforge Mystic to fight our Empty plan with Batterskull. I cast Gitaxian Probe on him and see Sword of Fire & Ice, Mother of Runes, Serra Avenger, and Karakas. That’s maybe a solid keep against anything fair or tempo archetypes, but far from good against combo. I draw a Chrome Mox and plant a Misty Rainforest, chop the wood and dig for an Underground Sea, manifest a Ponder to see Brainstorm, Cabal Therapy and another Mox. It’s not even close to a keep, so I shuffle and find a much more valuable card in Lotus Petal. Now, undoubtedly knowing that he has to battle the Storm archetype, the guy across knocks on the top of his deck, calling for Wasteland or Thalia after ramping his Vial to 1, draws his card for the turn and slams Stoneforge Mystic to basically negate the Empty plan, which I don’t even care about much at this point. He tutors for his Batterskull and I untap, draw a second Infernal and punish his fair keep of 6 by imprinting the Tutor into the Mox (storm 1), drop the Petal (storm 2) and cast Dark Ritual off it (storm 3), leech mana from the Underground Sea to accumulate a total of 5 mana to weave our favorite charm: Ad Nauseam (storm 4). The quiet guy across whiffs and leans back, browsing through his sideboard as he makes a bit derogatory gesture with his hand for me to carry on. 17 lifepoints left and still a land drop to make…this should be working out.

Burning Wish (15 life left)
Lotus Petal (15 life left)
Ponder (14 life left)
Silence (13 life left)
Gemstone Mine (13 life left)
Lions Eye Diamond (13 life left)
Infernal Tutor (11 life left)
Silence (10 life left)
Lions Eye Diamond (10 life left)
Chrome Mox (10 life left)
Brainstorm (9 life left)
Dark Ritual (8 life left)
Dark Ritual (7 life left)
Rite of Flame (6 life left)
Brainstorm (5 life left)
Underground Sea (5 life left)
Lotus Petal (5 life left)
Brainstorm (4 life left)

I think, that I may should take that nice flop to punish his behaviour immediately. Starting with dropping Petal (storm 5), Petal (storm 6), Dark Ritual off of a Petal (storm 7), Dark Ritual (storm 8), Infernal Tutor for a second copy of Rite of Flame (storm 9), Rite of Flame off the second Petal (storm 10), Rite of Flame (storm 11), imprint Brainstorm into the second Chrome Mox (storm 12), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 13), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 14), cast Burning Wish and he scoops it up after I announce Past in Flames as my target of choice.

I’m not sure if I want to board anything against this deck, but rather want to rely on discard against his hatebears, as I feel that Abrupt Decays might not do the trick against Wasteland and Rishadan Port featuring Thalia. I decide to shuffle in 6 cards in front of his face, just to pick out exactly the same 6 after the first shuffle.

Sideboarding:
none

Game 2
I pile shuffle my 60 and think about if Death & Taxes shouldn’t maybe run 2-3 Mindbreak Traps in their sideboards, just to have the option to bridge games against fast combo to their turn 2 so they can actually drop their hatebears. It seemedthat running the Mindbreak Trap for this sole reason served Julian Knab very well, as I watched him during day 2 of the Bazaar of Moxen in Paris. Surprisingly, Death & Taxes has no options to disrupt combo decks before their second land drop, therefore I opt to keep the deck as fast as possible. If my starting grips are not good enough to go for gold before Thalia and friends enter the battlefield, I still have a game 3 on the play to walk out the victor in this match. I count down 7 cards and present them before looking at:
Flooded Strand
Ponder
Lotus Petal
Gitaxian Probe
Lotus Petal
Rite of Flame
Dark Ritual

Would you keep this hand?

That’s 6 mana and another 6 cards I’m guaranteed to see next turn thanks to the cantrips. I want to hold on to this hand, as I consider my opponent a goldfish at this point. He rearranges his cards in hand and drops a Plains to summon a Mother of Runes, which clearly indicated that his second turn might lock me out of the game completely once he gets Thalia/Canonist to join. I draw a second Rite of Flame for the turn and immediately use Gitaxian Probe to peek at his hand: Flickerwisp, Wasteland, Phyrexian Revoker, Umezawa’s Jitte, Thalia! That’s one hell of a hand! I take notes and want to draw my card for Gitaxian Probe (storm 1) as he wants me to stop, calling me out for drawing an extra here. I show him the number of cards in my hand and count the 7 that are supposed to be there being on the draw. He accepts that and I get my draw: Volcanic Island. I now think about using the fetchland to “thin out” the deck before playing the Ponder or keep it as a shuffle effect, ergo playing Ponder off the Volcanic. I do the later (storm 2) seeing that there is a Wish, a Diamond, and a Gemstone Mine on top of my deck. I’ll make a gut-decision here to push with goblins, even in the face of Jitte, as Thalia and Wasteland will pretty much close me out if I decide to slow-roll. Rearrange the top cards and draw Burning Wish, Lotus Petal (storm 3), Lotus Petal (storm 4), pop Petal for Rite of Flame (storm 5), Rite of Flame (storm6), harvest the second Petal for black mana to cast Dark Ritual (storm 7), Burning Wish (storm 8) for Empty the Warrens (storm 9)! That’s a whoping 18 goblins as he noticed, slowly shaking his head. He draws his card for turn, drops a Jitte and passes. I draw the Diamond I left there on top of my library and drop the Flooded Strand in my hand, pushing into the Red-Zone with 18 angry doods. He blocks with Mother of Runes, giving her protection from red, dropping to 3. His next draw step doesn’t seem to help him either. He shrugs and offers the handshake as Jitte is unable to save him.

I’m relieved that the deck is still to fast for pure hatebear-based disruption, unlike its sibling ANT which I had to notice at day 1 of the Bazaar of Moxen. Thankfully I crushed Death & Taxes there as well as it was my round 1 matchup in the mainevent.

1-0 in matches, 2-0 in games

Round 2 vs. Sneak & Show

Game 1
I hope my last opponent doesn’t spoil my day by telling everybody about me and my deck, but the pairings for round 2 make this unnecessary, as my next opponent is a guy I have had the pleasure to play against several times, usually on Show & Tell. He’s greeting me with a smile and handshake, chatting a bit about my impressions at the Bazaar of Moxen and other topics while shuffling up. I lose my second dice for the day, which is particularly bad in this matchup. Let’s take a look at my opening 7:
Brainstorm
Misty Rainforest
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Brainstorm
City of Brass
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Cabal Therapy

Would you keep this hand?

Cabal TherapyThis hand is strong. However, I hope being on the draw here doesn’t bite me in the ass despite that nutty opener. Only a Scalding Tarn pops up on his side of the playmat we share as he forgot his at home. I get to rip a Gitaxian Probe off the top and immediately cast it going to 18 life, peeking at Sneak Attack, Force of Will, Scalding Tarn, Brainstorm, Griselbrand, and Show & Tell. I’m able to replace the Probe with a Rite of Flame here and rearrange the Cabal Therapy to the top of my grip thinking about a possible target, but the fact that he can hide the Force of Will + Griselbrand in response to my Therapy, rendering my discard-spell pretty useless with two enabler in his hand. I decide to drop the City of Brass and cast a Brainstorm, looking for business and a clue how to proceed as he needs a Lotus Petal to go off and I’m willing to take that risk. I draw an Infernal Tutor, Chrome Mox, and a Gemstone Mine, putting back Misty and Infernal, talking crap about “Brainstorm-locking”, but I doubt he buys my story. He presses his lips together thinking about a Brainstorm at the end of my turn, but rightfully untaps instead. Draw, drop Scalding Tarn #2, passing back. I feel, he’s trying to slow roll the game with a double counter backup here. I draw the Infernal I left on top of my library last turn and drop my Gemstone Mine to cast my Cabal Therapy off it (storm 1). He breaks both of his Scalding Tarns, putting 2 Volcanic Islands into play. I suspect him doing so to hide something with his brainstorm while being able to cast a Spell Pierce he may find on top of his library. My Cabal Therapy remains on the stack a bit longer as he casts the expected Brainstorm (storm 2). Therapy is allowed to resolve and I name Force of Will. To my surprise, I get one to discard here. Why didn’t he hide that one with the Brainstorm? The only answer that makes sense to me here is that he tries to setup a trap for me, hiding a second copy on top of his deck! Sneaky bastard! I cast the Chrome Mox (storm 3) and imprint my Brainstorm, summon both Diamonds (storm 4 + storm 5) to the battlefield, tap the City of Brass and the Chrome Mox dropping to 16 life, putting Infernal Tutor on the stack (storm 6), breaking both Diamonds in response for 6 black mana, then fetch and cast Ad Nauseam (storm 7) with one black floating, and it resolves, revealing:

Dark Ritual (15 life left)
Empty the Warrens (11 life left)
Volcanic Island (11 life left)
Ponder (10 life left)
Brainstorm (9 life left)
Lotus Petal (9 life left)
Rite of Flame (8 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (8 life left)
Underground Sea (8 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (8 life left)
Silence (7 life left)
Gitaxian Probe (6 life left)
Silence (5 life left)
Dark Ritual (4 life left)
Burning Wish (2 life left)

That’s enough to weave a lethal Grapeshot. He laughs and flips the top card of his library: Force of Will! As I’d expected! I’m allowed to proceed here for the records, because I informed him about writing another report. What an awesome guy! I cast Lotus Petal (storm 8), break for red mana to cast the Rite of Flame for RRR (storm 9, one RoF already in my graveyard), Dark Ritual (storm 10), Dark Ritual (storm 11), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 12), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 13), Burning Wish (storm 14) breaking both Diamonds in response, fetch Past in Flames from my sideboard to put it on the stack (storm 15), start flashbacking Rite of Flame (storm 16), Rite of Flame (storm 17), Dark Ritual (storm 18), Dark Ritual (storm 19), Infernal Tutor (storm 20) to dig up a Burning Wish (storm 21), grabbing my sideboard a second time browsing for my Grapeshot (storm 22)

Sideboarding:
-1 Infernal Tutor
-1 Ponder
-4 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
+3 Xantid Swarm
+1 Tropical Island
+1 Chain of Vapor
+2 Pyroblast

Game 2
That’s pretty harsh sideboarding, but gaining additional green sources to cast Xantid Swarm in the face of Leyline of Sanctity is pretty helpful. Pyroblasts are here to combat his Show & Tell as well as his other countermeasures. The Empty the Warrens is often too slow against that archetype, so it gets replaced with a Chain of Vapor to get rid of the Leyline either via being revealed to the Ad Nauseam or via digging for it during a Past in Flames loop. Boarding out the Empty also allows me to be even more aggressive with my Ad Nauseam flips. We shuffle up, pile, and present. I fan of the following opener:
Brainstorm
Gitaxian Probe
Gitaxian Probe
Dark Ritual
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Infernal Tutor
Brainstorm

Would you keep this hand?

That is a very, very greedy keep, as it requires me to topdeck an initial mana source or die. On the other side, I’ll see the next 3 cards during my turn thanks to the Probes. I decide to hold on this 7. He keeps his one as well and starts our game 2 with a Gitaxian Probe! I let him take down notes and watch him smiling all over his face as he drops a Scalding Tarn and ships his turn. I draw a Lotus Petal! Time to weave a Gitaxian Probe for 2 of my precious life points to see his hand. He surprisingly responds by fetching for a Volcanic Island and casts Red Elemental Blast on my cantrip. I feel stupid; he’s obviously trying to prevent me from finding mana which is a smart idea considering my card configuration. I cast another Gitaxian Probe going down to 16 life and finally gain some insight about his hand: City of Traitors, Force of Will, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Divert(!?). I take notes myself and begin to chat a bit about the meaning of Divert. Does this indicate, he doesn’t run Leyline of Sanctity against Discard anymore? I draw my desired mana in form of an Underground Sea off my life-feasting cantrip, but still need disruption to get beyond his Force of Will. I drop the Underground Sea and Brainstorm into Scalding Tarn, Rite of Flame and Gemstone Mine, putting back Gemstone and Tarn on top of it. In my opponents turn he drops an obviously fresh drawn Ancient Tomb and manifests a Ponder, keeping the 3 on top, and and drawing a card. That leaves him without a colored mana for my upcoming turn which I begin by drawing the Scalding Tarn. I cast my second Brainstorm off the Underground Sea and see a “fresh” 3 containing Gemstone Mine, Burning Wish and Lotus Petal. I stick back Gemstone Mine and Lotus Petal. I drop the Scalding Tarn and think about Wishing for Thoughtseize immediately to get around Brainstorm and Divert stripping his Force of Will, but wonder about the price of burning a Petal and a Rite of Flame for doing so. I decide to go for a path between and drop Scalding Tarn, break it to cultivate a Volcanic Island, cast Rite of Flame and Burning Wish after. I think about taking one of the boarded out Therapies, but remember the Brainstorm in his hand. I take the risky bet, Cabal Therapy and ship back with a bad gut feeling as he can delay me a total of 2 turns with his Force of Will and Divert for my Therapy. He draws and Brainstorms, drops another Tarn and fetches for a second Volcanic Island, just to pass the turn back. I draw a Rite of Flame, add Lotus Petal to my field and cast Rite of Flame followed by Therapy to bait a reaction which follows in form of Brainstorm as the flooded three red mana (a Rite of Flame already in my grave) negate his Divert. To my total surprise, he casts Force of Will (pitch Divert) against my Cabal Therapy!? I’m baffled! Does he hold a second Force of Will after the Brainstorm in his hand? Does he try to trick me into passing the turn? I know he still has the Show & Tell in hand and cast 2 Brainstorms in the meanwhile, so passing the turn is dangerous. He tried to trick me in the past, so I want to take my chance here and crack my Petal for black, cast Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Infernal Tutor (breaking the Diamond in response). Unfortunately he shows me the second Force of Will (removing Show & Tell)! I’m blank now, lean back, and pass the turn. He draws and drops Sneak Attack…this is a joke, no?! I draw a Lion’s Eye Diamond and pass again, he draws, drops Griselbrand into play, draws 7, drops a Petal and attacks. He shows me another Griselbrand in his fresh drawn grip for the next turn and as I see it as pretty guaranteed that he’ll find Emrakul as well as even more counterspells the next turn, so I decide to move to game 3.

Sideboarding:
none

Game 3
I thought about boarding the Infernal back in for that game, but decided that the last game was simply unmanageable for me to turn around. I shake my head and try to focus on the next one. I draw the following:
Rite of Flame
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Dark Ritual
Gitaxian Probe
Lotus Petal
Gitaxian Probe
Xantid Swarm

Would you keep this hand?

Another hand with questionable initial mana. Once more I decide to keep that one in favour of the Xantid Swarm and double Probe to get going. I open with a Gitaxian Probe after his mulligan into a pure nut 6 containing Misty Rainforest, Spell Pierce, Show & Tell, Swan Song, Flusterstorm, and Force of Will! 4 counterspells, mana, and one half of his combo?! Sick! I’m able to topdeck a City of Brass and I’m inclined to drop the Xantid Swarm, but seeing it being countered with Force of Will still leaves me with dealing with 2 more counterspells. I fire off a second Probe to draw Burning Wish. That gives me another angle to attack his hand: I drop the City of Brass + Lotus Petal (to dodge Flusterstorm for upcoming turns), cast Rite of Flame and Wish for Cabal Therapy. I pass my turn and am willing to slow roll this game as he drops the Misty Rainforest after drawing his card for turn. I topdeck more mana in form of an Underground Sea and develop my board with the blue/black Dual, casting the Cabal Therapy off the Underground Sea. He wants to trade his Spell Pierce for my Petal by breaking his fetchland for a Volcanic and flinging his Pierce against my Therapy. I’m fine with that trade and cast the Diamond after stripping his Force of Will with the resolved Cabal Therapy for the aforementioned reason to pass back the turn with Dark Ritual and Xantid Swarm still in my hand. I take down notes about a second Show & Tell now in his hand. He Ponders, shuffles, and draws an Ancient Tomb which he drops on the battlefield. I get to draw my second Burning Wish for that game and drop the Xantid Swarm on the field, hoping that he doesn’t immediately topdeck a creature for his 2 Show & Tells. He makes a long face assorting his cards in hand with the Xantid on the stack which gives me hope. The Swarm is allowed to resolve and after shipping his turn he taps on the top of his deck, then draws and plays a Scalding Tarn! At this moment I honestly regret cutting Telemin Performance from my sideboard as a much cheaper/reliable SB card than Diminishing Returns or Burning Wish into Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam. I draw another Dark Ritual and count my available mana: 9! I attack with Xantid which makes him put his cards face down on the table, giving me the “go ahead.” Dark Ritual off the Underground Sea (storm 1), Dark Ritual (storm 2), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 3), Burning Wish (storm 4) off City of Brass leaving me with only 12 life. I hold on a moment and think about my options, but 12 life should be enough without an Empty the Warrens in my 60 to go for Ad Nauseam. I pop the Diamond for 3 black mana and browse my sideboard for the Infernal Tutor I boarded out, cast it and fetch the Ad Nauseam out of my library. Zero mana floating, fellas:

Silence (11 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (11 life left)
Chrome Mox (11 life left)
Xantid Swarm (10 life left)
Brainstorm (9 life left)
Gitaxian Probe (8 life left)
Ponder (7 life left)
Volcanic Island (7 life left)
Burning Wish (5 life left)
Lotus Petal (5 life left)
Brainstorm (4 life left)
Chain of Vapor (3 life left)
Infernal Tutor (1 life left)

I imprint Gitaxian Probe into my Chrome Mox (storm 5), Volcanic Island, Lotus Petal (storm 6), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 7), Chain of Vapor targeting my Chrome Mox (I tapped to cast the Chain), Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Lotus Petal, sacrificing the City of Brass as well as the Underground Sea (storm 8). I replay Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 9), Chrome Mox (storm 10) while imprinting Brainstorm, drop Lotus Petal (storm 11), tap the Volcanic Island and Chrome Mox to cast Burning Wish (storm 12). I break both my artifact mana sources for a total of 4 black mana as a reaction to my Burning Wish. He nods in defeat as I reveal my Tendrils of Agony to drain a total of 26 life points.

He’s not angry about how the last game played out and agrees to keep his mouth shut about what I am playing as some of the other players in the room have me seen playing Elves to a 3rd place finish lately, and the last time I played TES here was during summer. He confirms my assumption that Leyline left his sideboard. I’m not that deep into Show & Tell subtypes, so I listen to his reasoning that the crowd dropped Leyline of Sanctity in favour of more traditional countermeasures. The combination of Silence and Xantid Swarms still trumps conditional counters like Flusterstorm and Swan Song even after the days of Leyline. At this point I realize that the days of a full-discard protection suite has not arrived. I wish him the best and looking forward to meet him again in the elimination rounds which were announced for today’s Top 4. Maybe a bit too confident in retrospective as I have only won 2 of 5 Swiss rounds so far :/

2-0 in matches, 4-1 in games

Round 3 vs. Death and Taxes

For God’s sake, where are all the tempo decks today? I saw him slinging white summon spells before the tournament started, so I knew he had at least a Death & Taxes deck with him today. Does he play it in the tourney? No idea. I still decide to play game 1 according to that information…a clue is better than nothing, right?

Game 1
I shuffle and pile my deck without looking at it much rather than gaining information from him with a chat…no chance. I decide to dig deep into my trickster’s toolbox remembering a neat mindtrick and grab by lil’ sack of token stones from my satchel, I use to mark creatures which used their abilities in my Elven deck (like Quirion Ranger or Wirewood Symbiote), dropping it on the table, asking my opponent for a dice to roll! “So you are playing your Elves again?” Wait, what? He tells me he saw me playing Elves during the last events semi-finals and not having a dice tells too much…duh! Got me…barely 😉 I open with:
Rite of Flame
Brainstorm
Flooded Strand
Dark Ritual
Ad Nauseam
Gitaxian Probe
Cabal Therapy

Would you keep this hand?

I won the dice roll this round, so this should be a cake walk regardless. I’d like to expand the usual question below the opening hand: Would you lead with Gitaxian Probe here?

Well, I did not even opt to do that here even if that may seems natural for many players even familiar with storm, as a Gitaxian Probe tells my opponent that he’s facing Storm (or more unlikely: Show & Tell). I know that I need to find a second initial mana source to cast Ad Nauseam and by simply dropping the Flooded Strand and passing back I could be playing anything from Miracles to UWR Delver in the eyes of my opponent, possibly forcing him to misplay with his Thalia and Wasteland in the deck and rather provoke him into developing a more aggressive stance in his creature choices, with me still being able to fix my draw with an end-of-turn Brainstorm. I can still choose to discard a Thalia in my turn two. I ship the turn back with the Flooded Strand in play and no expression in my face. He’s totally confused now, rising his eyebrows and rearranging cards. My fellow contender on the opposite side of the table digs out a Cavern of Souls, names “Human” and drops a Mother of Runes. I nod and he wants to ship back with me announcing to fetch end of turn. “Swords to Plowshares?” he says. “No, Brainstorm,”I reply, as I browse my library and snatch an Underground Sea, casting the Brainstorm. “Esper DeathBlade?” “I’m at least playing with white cards in there. Dunno how you call the deck.” I draw Burning Wish, City of Brass, and Gemstone Mine, putting back Wish and City. I untap, drop Gemstone Mine, cast Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam. “Oh my God, you are playing ANT?!” 19 life, dice-box from the leather satchel on the table, go flippin!

Burning Wish (17 life left)
Burning Wish (15 life left)
Misty Rainforest (15 life left)
Ponder (14 life left)
Silence (13 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (13 life left)
Chrome Mox (13 life left)
Rite of Flame (12 life left)
Chrome Mox (12 life left)
Ponder (11 life left)
Rite of Flame (10 life left)
Chrome Mox (10 life left)
Infernal Tutor (8 life left)
Brainstorm (7 life left)
Scalding Tarn (7 life left)
Underground Sea (7 life left)
Ponder (6 life left)
Brainstorm (5 life left)
Lotus Petal (5 life left)
Silence (4 life left)

GrapeshotMore than enough. He refuses to scoop and rather want me to show what I can do with that, obviously hoping, that I screw up here. Chrome Mox (imprint Burning Wish), Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame (now a total of 3 in my graveyard), Chrome Mox (imprint Cabal Therapy), Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox (imprint Brainstorm), Brainstorm (find another Petal, putting back crap), Lotus Petal, Ponder off Petal, shuffle, draw an Infernal, Infernal Tutor for a second Diamond, pop the second Petal for black, casting an Infernal for the third Lion’s Eye Diamond, drop all 3 Diamonds, cast Burning Wish for Past in Flames breaking 2 Diamonds in response for a combination of several red and black mana floating, cast the Past in Flames as my only card left to give all my cards in the graveyard flashback, chaining Dark Ritual into Infernal, digging for the 4th Rite of Flame for a double digit amount of mana floating after casting it and flashing back it’s siblings, durdle a bit more around with Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy, recast the second Infernal from my grave to fetch another Burning Wish out of my library, put the red sorcery on the stack to browse a second time in this game through my sideboard to slam Grapeshot on the table, announcing his Mother the receiver of a single copy and him as the victim of a more than lethal amount of Grapeshizzle!

I fake sideboarding in like 7 cards and pile my previous 60 a second time.

Sideboarding:
none

Game 2
Thus I decide to win here turn 1 or burst, I need a very simple configuration as Thalia, Ethersworn Canonist, and Phyrexian Revoker simply deliver too many variables to be dismantled by a single discard spell, even guided by a Gitaxian Probe. Abrupt Decay simply doesn’t do the trick according to my knowledge as Thalia, Wasteland, and Rishadan Port pressure my mana too much to ever dig out from such a position on a reliable manabase. In essence, it’s the same circumstance I faced Round 1, Game 2. He opts to take a mulligan here while I laugh about this:
Rite of Flame
Lotus Petal
Lotus Petal
Ponder
City of Brass
Lotus Petal
Dark Ritual

Would you keep this hand?

Oh, I love the thrill! Considering me having to cast the Ponder, that leaves me with a whopping 6 mana to cast Infernal/Burning Wish/Empty the Warrens/Ad Nauseam if my draw step and the potential 4 fresh cards off the Ponder show any business. That’s a gamble I’d take any day of the week! He opens with Plains into Mother of Runes and ships back the turn confidently. I’m sure he won’t surprise me with stuff like Mindbreak Trap as I draw a Gitaxian Probe and fire it off (storm 1). I see Stoneforge Mystic, Rishadan Port, Ethersworn Canonist, and Rest in Peace. Maybe he’s got nothing better in his sideboard than the graveyard hate. I get my hands on Lion’s Eye Diamond thanks to the Probe, and use the City of Brass to cast Ponder (storm 2), seeing Gemstone Mine, Cabal Therapy and Burning Wish. I opt to take the Therapy to strip his Cannonist and drop goblins the next turn with the help of my Wish-board, stripping a Batterskull with the flashback of the Cabal Therapy enabled by the goblins. I count twice as that option would give me 14 goblins. However, that plan just whiffs if he topdecks a Thalia, Canonist, or even Revoker. He even can deploy 2+ blockers in the meantime for additional topdecked help. Is it more of a gamble to immediately wish for a Diminishing Returns with 3 mana floating instead? I try to calculate odds here as he keeps talking crap to break my concentration. I breathe deeply, look at my white skull storm counter dice,facepalm myself,drop Lotus Petal (storm 3), Lotus Petal #2 (storm 4), Lotus Petal #3 (storm 5) and the Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 6), harvest 2 Petals for black and red mana, cast Rite of Flame (storm 7), Dark Ritual (storm 8), Burning Wish (storm 9) fetching Tendrils of Agony (storm10). I’m an idiot sometimes.

I’m honest to him about me barely missing the obvious, natural kill, and he rants that my deck just loses to Thalia or Force of Will. I don’t want to discuss with a pissed guy about his perception of the match and my deck. At this point, I want to point out something for you readers I made during the first match against Death & Taxes today: TES is soft to multiple angles of hate and current iterations of Death & Taxes only have a very one-dimensional hate for storm in form of Thalia, Phyrexian Revoker, Ethersworn Canonist, Thorn of Amethyst, and Ratchet Bomb (against mana artifacts and goblin tokens). Despite me being not the biggest fan of Mindbreak Trap, I think that the card can aid a non-blue, non-black deck like Death & Taxes to reach their critical turn 2. Depending on being on the draw or play, being completely defenseless against combo decks for 1 or 2 full turns, is a ballsy play style, without reward for my opponents today.

3-0 in matches, 6-1 in games

Round 4 vs. BURG Tempo

Game 1
Finally a guy who is used to playing tempo! He used to play RUG Delver in the past, so I’d not be surprised if that’s the case today. We shuffle up and he snap keeps his grip. I’m not too sure about this opener:
Infernal Tutor
Underground Sea
Lotus Petal
Ponder
Gemstone Mine
Cabal Therapy
Gemstone Mine

Would you keep this hand?

This hand is not great, but at least offers 3 lands for his mana denial, and no targets for Stifle. As I have won the dice roll I lead with Gemstone Mine into Ponder, hoping that the vanishing rainbow land will be the target of a Wasteland, rather than my pending Underground Sea. I see Gitaxian Probe, Cabal Therapy, and Ad Nauseam. I want to keep those, putting the 5-mana instant back first, followed by Cabal Therapy and Gitaxian Probe, which I immediately draw. I cast Probe seeing two Lightning Bolts, Stifle, Force of Will, Delver of Secrets, Brainstorm, and Volcanic Island. As my hand will take 2-3 turns to develop I choose to invest a Lotus Petal to cast Cabal Therapy to either strip his Delver or provoke him into a casting his counterspell to protect his clock or Lightning Bolts. He doesn’t believe that I can threaten him too soon with only 4 cards in my hand at that time and allows me to get rid of the Delver. He drops a Volcanic Island onto the field and ships back, allowing me to get my hands on my deck’s prime engine: Ad Nauseam. I deploy my Underground Sea onto the battlefield and cast Infernal Tutor, which gets the nod as well, handing me my third Cabal Therapy, andget a Lightning Bolt to my head at end of turn putting me to 15. Tropical Island joins his Volcanic and a Deathrite Shaman is summoned. All clear … I’m against BURG tempo in this matchup, basically an extension of RUG Delver with Deathrite Shaman to disrupt opponents graveyards, develop a stronger manabase (especially paired with Wasteland to eat opponents destroyed lands), and additional options for the sideboard in the form of sweepers against my goblins like Toxic Deluge, Golgari Charm, and variable angles of hate like discard in form of Thoughtseize. This deck is hard to overcome in the sideboard games as there are Pyroblast, Flusterstorms, Spell Snares, and other goodies waiting to catch me cold. Thankfully I had hard lessons against that deck, as one of Germanys prime BURG pilots, tempo-innovator and former TES-protégé Kai Thiele is a close friend of mine and local player in Berlin. I’m allowed to take my third turn and draw a spicy Dark Ritual for it. I add the second Gemstone Mine to my manabase and fling a Cabal Therapy, provoking an expected response in form of Brainstorm. I think about what to name. I’m sure he wants to hide the Force of Will from my discard-spell, but at the same time I’m sure he wants to have double protection up again during my next turn and Stifle isn’t too hot right now as he sure knows. As I don’t care much about Stifle for the moment I name Spell Pierce and indeed hit! He drops a Volcanic onto the battlefield as I take notes about him having hid Lightning Bolt and Force of Will on top of his library. A Nimble Mongoose which he obviously found with the Brainstorm joins the Deathrite Shaman and I ensure he has no black mana to drain me with the Shaman and only Force of Will + Stifle left in his hand. I draw a Brainstorm instead of fast-mana which makes it impossible to go for Ad Nauseam this turn. I cast the Brainstorm and it resolves: Gemstone Mine, Silence, Gitaxian Probe. I take the Gemstone Mine and float the Silence above the Probe. I drop my 4th land and cast Cabal Therapy off it to strip the Force of Will. He attacks me to 13 and I review my notes: according to those, his drawn card has to be the Lightning Bolt. This is important, as it not only makes casting Silence prior to my card advantage engine unnecessary but also dictates that I have to be very careful with my Ad Nauseam flips. I’m allowed to take my turn and draw the Silence. I cast Dark Ritual (storm 1), Ad Nauseam (storm 2) and 13 life to work with…I sweat as I reveal:

Gitaxian Probe (12 life left)
Rite of Flame (11 life left)
Gitaxian Probe (10 life left)
Underground Sea (10 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (10 life left)
Dark Ritual (9 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (9 life left)
Flooded Strand (9 life left)
Infernal Tutor (7 life left)

I decide to stop here as flipping Empty the Warrens would kill me with him holding Lightning Bolt. I cast Silence (storm 3) sacrificing one of my Gemstone Mines while removing it’s last counter which resolves as he does not want to aid me in building up storm count. Gitaxian Probe drawing Brainstorm (storm 4), Gitaxian Probe drawing Dark Ritual (storm 5), Underground Sea, Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 6), Dark Ritual (storm 7), Dark Ritual (storm 8), Infernal Tutor (storm 9, breaking the Diamond for 3 red mana in response), browse my library for Burning Wish (storm 10) to fetch Tendrils of Agony from my sideboard (storm 11).

Sideboarding:
-1 Chrome Mox
-1 Infernal Tutor
-1 Ponder
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Tropical Island

I often gamble against the Lightning Bolts and board in the Xantid Swarm which is considered a no-go against RUG, but as he will board in Golgari Charms against my goblins, the plan to foil his counterspells is a losing one, so I stick with a plan of stabilizing my mana and countermeasures against his Delver and Brainstorm tricks.

Game 2
I know I need to get a stable manabase on the board in this match to fight back. Worst case would be the usual opener with Delver, Force of Will, followed by a flurry of Wastelands. Let’s see what I found in the opening grip:
Tropical Island
Burning Wish
Gitaxian Probe
Rite of Flame
Gitaxian Probe
Dark Ritual
Gemstone Mine

Would you keep this hand?

Double Probe leaves me with a lot of question marks regarding that hand, but the combination of fast mana and Wish is nothing I can ever mulligan away. We both keep our 7 and he starts our second game of the day with Misty Rainforest into Tropical Island into Nimble Mongoose. That’s a lot less pressure than the feared Delver of Secrets. My draw gifts me an Infernal Tutor, and I play out the Topical Island what is actually worse than a basic Island at that point of the game without a green card boarded. I want to see what he holds back in his remaining 5 and cast Gitaxian Probe for 2 life (enabling me to cast a drawn cantrip afterwards), calling for the Daze which does not show up but Stifle, Force of Will, a Scalding Tarn and a crazy pair of Wastelands! Bad news for my manabase…maybe? Probe let me draw into the nuts: Lion’s Eye Diamond! I pass. Tropical Island gets killed by Wasteland like it being British Petroleum. Mongoose beats for one damage. I drop my Gemstone Mine and Probe again for 2 life (going to 15), drawing City of Brass, drop it, and cast Brainstorm seeing Cabal Therapy, Dark Ritua,l and Gemstone Mine. I put back Burning Wish and Gemstone on top of the library, and then pass the turn back On his turn he attacks my land again with his Wasteland and pushes into the red zone. 13 life left for me, and I draw the already known Gemstone and he laughs about me possibly outdrawing his Wastelands. I want to shift gears now and cast Dark Ritual, and cast it (storm 1)! He has only 1 unknown card in his hand as he begs for some time to think about it. He sure gets all the time he needs as I want him to cast the Force of Will without me needing to choose between calling for the Force and go for Ad Nauseam, bursting, if the unknown card is a counter or taking the Stifle to drop goblins hoping that the factor x in his hand isn’t a blue card or him drawing into a Golgari Charm. Dark Ritual resolves! Cabal Therapy thrown on the stack (storm 2)! He tanks, and I get the nod. I name Stifle, as a Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, Flusterstorm, and Daze all would foil my plan to go for Ad Nauseam and I can set up a trap with Burning Wish + Infernal Tutor in that case for my next turn. I get a headache from going through all those scenarios. He reveals his hand and the unknown card: Underground Sea. I cast the second Dark Ritual (storm 3), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 4), Infernal Tutor (storm 5, breaking the Diamond for 3 red in response), and opt to either go for Ad Nauseam off 13 life or 12 goblins while giving him 2 more draw steps to find a solution. I come to the conclusion that I don’t want to give him any more turns, and I fetch and cast Ad Nauseam (storm 6), revealing:

Brainstorm (12 life left)
Silence (11 life left)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (11 life left)
Burning Wish (9 life left)
Brainstorm (8 life left)
Chrome Mox (8 life left)
Gemstone Mine (8 life left)
Rite of Flame (7 life left)
Flooded Strand (7 life left)
Underground Sea (7 life left)
Cabal Therapy (6 life left)
Cabal Therapy (5 life left)
Brainstorm (4 life left)

Still not enough…need to keep on flipping in the danger of sudden death by revealing Empty the Warrens :/
Gitaxian Probe (3 life left)
Lotus Petal (3 life left)

I count again, and that should be enough. Lotus Petal (storm 7), Chrome Mox imprinting Brainstorm (storm 8), pop the Petal for red mana to cast Rite of Flame (storm 9) for 3 red mana (one RoF already in the graveyard), Gitaxian Probe (storm 10) drawing another Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame (storm 11), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 12), Burning Wish (storm 13, breaking the Diamond for 3 black mana in response) for Past in Flames (storm 14), begin to flashback Rite of Flame (storm 15), Rite of Flame (storm 16), Rite of Flame (storm 17), Dark Ritual (storm 18), Dark Ritual (storm 19), hellbent Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish (storm 20), Burning Wish for Grapeshot (storm 21), Grapeshot for a total of 22 copies to his head!

The game took pretty long and I honestly needed a snack. I get confirmation that the following round is indeed the last one in the Swiss. As the next round is announced I take a bit longer as usual in front of the posting to see if I need to play the following round or can offer a draw and get some food & drink. I’m placed second at the moment, so an ID with the guy in lead should lift us both into the semi-finals

4-0 in matches, 8-1 in games

Round 5 vs. Elves

I meet a familiar face at the table who played Elves in the past, and I ask him about drawing the round to go out for a snack instead. He gladly picks up his backpack and we inform out judge after having another look at the posting. An ID would lock us both for the top 4. Deal.

4-0-1 in matches, 8-1 in games

We leave the location and head to a nice café in a parallel street, chatting about me meeting Julian Knab at the Bazaar of Moxen, my weekend in Paris overall, and stuff concerning the spiky-eared folk, especially the combo matchups and different approaches to tackle those. We return to the location short after the 5th round ended and the other 2 semi-finalists were determined. I have no hope that my opponent does not know what I was playing at this point, as it’s pretty annoying that some people watching my previous games let everyone know that I was playing Storm between rounds, those people however refuse to tell you about your opponent because of “fair play?!” I choose to complain about that loudly to the judge and he decides to announce players AND decks for the semi-finals. That’s still a disadvantage for me though as it allows my opponent to keep hands accordingly and the information to play against “UWR Delver” doesn’t influence my mulligan decisions in game 1 much. Goddamnit.

Semifinals vs. UWR Delver

Game 1
He flips his cards a bit around and ends up keeping his hand after winning the dice roll. I guaran-damn-tee he holds a Force of Will…his acting can’t fool me. I open with:
Lotus Petal
Cabal Therapy
Chrome Mox
Empty the Warrens
City of Brass
Burning Wish
Dark Ritual

Would you keep this hand?

That hand could become a prime example for the insane interaction of Cabal Therapy and Empty the Warrens, if I get the Dark Ritual to resolve (critical). I keep. He opens with Volcanic Island into Ponder, rearranges his cards and draws. By this aggressive move I suspect him lacking a second land, otherwise keeping a blue mana open to represent a Brainstorm or Spell Pierce in his hand would have made much more sense. I draw a Lotus Petal for my turn, which is plain awesome! I establish my mana in form of a City of Brass and Lotus Petal (storm 1), cast Cabal Therapy (storm2). He slowly nods his head and I ask for confirmation that the black spell resolves. I call for Force of Will as the only card that can stop me at this point, as I can play around Daze and Force of Will in his hand, thanks to the Petal in play. He reveals his hand of Misty Rainforest, Swords to Plowshares, True-Name Nemesis, Spell Pierce, Stoneforge Mystic, and a Force of Will. He puts his 5-mana counterspell in to the bin and I take down some notes. I proceed with the second Lotus Petal (storm 3), harvesting both flowers for red and black mana to cast Dark Ritual (storm 4), tinker a poor man’s Mox Ruby by imprinting Burning Wish into a Chrome Mox (storm 5) and summon 12 Goblins with Empty the Warrens (storm 6)! I immediately sacrifice a dood to flashback my Cabal Therapy, announcing Stoneforge Mystic as my target of choice, as a tutored-up Batterskull can stop my goblin-ambush. I ship the turn back to him with 11 creatures in play. He drops the Misty Rainforest and tanks. He ships back and I add a Gemstone Mine to my manabase that I’ve topdecked, and swing with 11 Goblins. He breaks the fetchland for a Tundra, throws a Swords to Plowshares against a Goblin, going to 9 life. He draws, reveals another Stoneforge Mystic and concedes as he’s unable to get the Batterskull going in time…phew!

In post-sideboard games, this matchup can turn into a real nightmare. They usually bring in a mix of Flusterstorms, Red Elemental Blasts/Pyroblast, Vendilion Clique, Meddling Mages, and Ethersworn Canonist. I choose to bring in Pyroblasts for his Delver of Secrets, Meddling Mages, and cantrips, as well as thinking about Abrupt Decays to get rid of his permanent based hate and Batterskull (Germ token and Stoneforge Mystic as the enabler). I have to leave Xantid swarm in the board as his Lightning Bolts will stay in the maindeck as a playset. I opt to keep the Abrupt Decays in the board for game 2 and leave myself vulnerable to Ethersworn Canonist to not dilute my deck more than necessary for the moment.

Sideboarding:
-1 Infernal Tutor
-2 Ponder
+1 Tropical Island
+2 Pyroblast

Game 2
He’s not taking a mulligan and looks confident. I expect a very grindy game and pick up these 7:
Underground Sea
Dark Ritual
Burning Wish
Gemstone Mine
City of Brass
Cabal Therapy
Infernal Tutor

Would you keep this hand?

I kind of like the 3 lands against a tempo-orientated strategy with Wasteland and Daze, so I’ll give it a try. He drops a Scalding Tarn and immediately passes the turn back. A Pyroblast makes it to my hand during my draw step and a Gemstone Mine to the battlefield, because I it consider it the weakest land for longer lasting battles. In his turn he flings a Wasteland at my sole permanent mana source, and passes the turn back to me. Misty Rainforest off the top! I feel that the only card that can knock me out with such a draw is an Ethersworn Canonist. I slam the Misty Rainforest on the table and ship back the turn, with him responding by breaking his Scalding Tarn for a Volcanic Island, casting an end of turn Brainstorm. I decide to break my Misty Rainforest for a Volcanic Island myself and fire off my Pyroblast aggressively against his Brainstorm, and he protects his Brainstorm with a Daze on my Pyroblast! The Brainstorm resolves and he takes his turn, dropping an Arid Mesa and immediately fetching a Volcanic Island. I draw Gitaxian Probe (draw Lotus Petal) and put it on the stack. He allows me to see his hand containing Pyroblast, Lightning Bolt, Misty Rainforest, an Ethersworn Canonist, (!) and 2 Spell Pierces. I have no other choice but to play Underground Sea, Lotus Petal, and using land to pay for Cabal Therapy. He casts Spell Pierce against my Therapy, making me sacrifice the Petal and tapping the Volcanic to pay the tax to let my Therapy resolve. I name the obvious: Ethersworn Canonist, which my dear opponent puts to the bin. I end my turn with us both having 4 cards in hand. My opponent expands his manabase with a Misty Rainforest and ships the turn back to me, and I draw a Brainstorm. I drop my third land in form of a City of Brass and cast Burning Wish to provoke the Spell Pierce. Instead, he Brainstorms in response, puts back two cards and uses his Misty Rainforest to dig up a Tundra, casting the expected Spell Pierce. I decide to cast my Brainstorm immediately, as his Pyroblast won’t ever let my cantrip resolve once he untaps again. I drop to 16 life and see Gitaxian Probe, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Cabal Therapy. I put back the Diamond and the Therapy on top. It’s his turn now and he uses it to drop another Misty Rainforest and casts Ponder off his Tundra before passing the turn once more without dropping a threat, giving me turn after turn to establish a position to push through his defense. I get my hands on the Cabal Therapy and start to count my mana. I begin by Probing him (storm 1) seeing Daze, another Spell Pierce, and Pyroblast. I cast Cabal Therapy (storm 2) and he gives me the nod to announce and discard his Spell Pierce. I tinker a Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 3), weave a Dark Ritual (storm 4), cast Infernal Tutor (storm 5, breaking the Diamond for 3 black mana in response), for a total of 4 black mana floating and my Volcanic Island still untapped. He recounts my mana and storm count despite my storm counter and mana dice in play and gives me the “ok.” I search my library for Empty the Warrens (storm 6), establishing a board of 12 Goblins and pile up my graveyard. That’s all I have to offer for this match. I lean back, cross my arms behind my head and ask him to take his turn which he uses to summon a Stoneforge Mystic and picking up a Batterskull from his library. I draw a Rite of Flame and attack with the full crew putting him down to 6 life as his Stoneforge Mystic kills one of my Goblins in combat. I fan my graveyard again and pick out one of the Cabal Therapies to cast it via flashback, naming Batterskull, and he shakes his head, discarding the artifact. He breaks his fetchland for a second Tundra and another shuffle-effect end of my turn. In his draw phase he flips the top card over: Force of Will.

5-0-1 in matches, 10-1 in games

I felt pretty lucky after this match as these decks are usually as bad as it gets for Storm decks. The reason for this is True-Name Nemesis, but in a more subtle way, is the fact that Stoneforge Mystic and the blue Merfolk are a pretty resistant team and rarely need support out of their master’s sideboard to fullfil their deadly deed. Therefore, this creature-package allows the player to have plenty of additional sideboard space for critical matchups like combo, as I highlighted during sideboarding. I still have some time left to get some water as my potential opponents both trade blows in their game 3. Team America versus Elves – a painful stage play between sweeping boards and tickling your opponent to death with 1/1 creatures until it was decided one way or another.

Finals vs. Elves

Yes, I’m going to face a tremendous cast of pointy-eared creatures, bigger than anything Peter Jackson could deliver. I immediately fling my white skull stormcounter dice to decide, who’s going to start, and I lose. Despite that, I’m pretty sure the only way he can beat me game 1 is to have Ruric Thar in his mainboard and/or being able to resolve a fast Natural Order.

Game 1
I try to cool down, adjusting the dice, as well as pen and paper. I urge all Storm players to keep spinning the dice in each of their rounds to keep track of mana and storm. It calms you down and you’ll make fewer mistakes during turns as it gives you time to evaluate your plays. I call it “dice-yoga” for a reason. He snap-keeps his 7 and I fan open these seven:
Lotus Petal
Cabal Therapy
Lotus Petal
Brainstorm
Rite of Flame
Infernal Tutor
Burning Wish

Would you keep this hand?

Oh my. I immediately try to calculate my outs here to find more mana off my natural draw for the turn and 3 more cards seen by casting Brainstorm. I decide to keep…honestly, more because of a gut-feeling than dedicated math. The first spell of this final summons a Deathrite Shaman, after my opponent used a Wooded Foothills to fetch a Bayou. Pretty much the best start this deck can have game 1. I draw a Gitaxian Probe for my turn and once more today, the combo of Gitaxian Probe + Cabal Therapy in my hand makes me smile. I sacrifice two of my precious life points to peek in his hand by casting the Probe (storm 1), to see a Heritage Druid, a Nettle Sentinel, and 3 Glimpse of Natures! I draw a Dark Ritual and drop Lotus Petal (storm 2) to cast my Brainstorm off it (storm 3), as using a Lotus Petal to get rid of his three Glimpse of Nature still leave me without any initial mana for at least the next turn. I draw Gitaxian Probe, Gemstone Mine, and Chrome Mox, putting back Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish on top the library. I cultivate the second Lotus Petal in this game (storm 4), play the Gemstone Mine and use both mana sources to cast Rite of Flame (storm 5) and Dark Ritual (storm 6). I tinker a Mox Jet by imprinting my Cabal Therapy into a Chrome Mox (storm 7), drawing another mana in my pool by tapping the artifact for a total of two red and four black mana floating as I cast the last remaining card in my hand, Gitaxian Probe (storm 8) to draw the Burning Wish I left on top of my library. I adjust the dice and check the spell count once more, before putting Burning Wish on the stack (storm 9) and reveal Tendrils of Agony in my sideboard (storm 10).

I’m not sure if he uses Mindbreak Trap or taxing permanent like Thorn of Amethyst to accompany the expected number of Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy, therefore I’m unsure if I maybe should board out the Silences for Chain of Vapor and two Abrupt Decays to deal with Thorn or a potential Gaddock Teeg via Green Sun’s Zenith. I have the feeling that the trend clearly goes towards counterspells in Elves, not because of storm archetypes alone, but also as a reaction to the increasing number of Terminus, Pernicious Deeds, Show & Tells, as well as Sneak Attacks in the metagame.

Sideboarding:
-1 Empty the Warrens
+1 Thoughtseize

I decide to only board out the Empty the Warrens and replace it with the Thoughtseize, due to the fact that Elves are easily capable of trampling over my Goblins pretty fast, thanks to Natural Order and Craterhoof Behemoth.

Game 2
My dear opponent isn’t too pleased with his 7 and piles his deck again for a better 6 which he seemed to find. I’m curious about my 7 which looked like this:
Underground Sea
Dark Ritual
Gitaxian Probe
Rite of Flame
Dark Ritual
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Brainstorm

Would you keep this hand?

Pretty much once more a hand, that looks insanely powerful against Thorn of Amethyst, but blows against cards like Mindbreak Trap, especially as the hand is light on business and I’m expecting two angles of attack in form of either discard + Thorn of Amethyst or discard + counterspells. I cannot throw this hand away regardless. I make a joke about him getting possibly more than one turn to play his deck in this game as he browses his library for a Bayou after harrowing his Wooded Foothills for a dual. The Bayou is used to weave his own Cabal Therapy. I immediately petrify my face and put my cards face down on the table. He names Lion’s Eye Diamond and I have to toss the artifact into the bin while he takes notes and there is no doubt that my Dark Rituals could fall victim to his discard soon. I draw a Chrome Mox and cast Gitaxian Probe, paying 2 points of life to see Quirion Ranger, Glimpse of Nature, Gaea’s Cradle, and Mindbreak Trap in his hand remaining. I draw into Burning Wish by the Gitaxian Probes effect, but don’t see a way to play around the Mindbreak Trap for the moment, so I just drop the Underground Sea and pass the turn back. He drops a freshly drawn Dryad Arbor and sacrifices it to pay for Cabal Therapy’s flashback cost. I have to respond with a Brainstorm to prevent his discard spell from blowing me out. I draw a second Burning Wish, Cabal Therapy and Lion’s Eye Diamond. Now the mind games kick into play as I’m sure that he expects me to put back the Dark Rituals to protect them, but I’m not going to fulfill his expectation but rather put back a Dark Ritual and Rite of Flame. This might look strange for some of your dear readers, but under the expectation, that I’ll hide the Dark Rituals, Rite of Flame should be his target of choice and red mana is my chokepoint. He indeed announces Rite of Flame and I gladly show him my grip as he takes notes and rubs his forehead. The Quirion Ranger enters the battlefield before it’s my turn again. I sling a Dark Ritual (storm 1) and cast Cabal Therapy (storm 2), naming Mindbreak Trap to clear the way, and proceed by assemble a Mox Ruby my imprinting Burning Wish into my Chrome Mox (storm 3), Rite of Flame (storm 4), Lion’s Eye Diamond (storm 5), and Burning Wish (storm 6). I pause and think about going for Diminishing Returns, doing the math about his outs to 14 Goblins, and decide that not even a topdecked Natural Order should be able to save him here. I break the Diamond for 3 red mana in response to the Wish and browse my sideboard for Empty the Warrens (storm 7). I flashback my own Cabal Therapy for his Glimpse of Nature to limit my opponents options even more. My fellow opponent drops his Gaea’s Cradle and summons a Deathrite Shaman. I draw my Volcanic Island and push into the red zone. He drops to 7 life despite his Shaman defending his master and killing one of my goblins. He taps his Deathrite Shaman, removing the Wooded Foothills in his graveyard for mana, taps his Bayou, returns the dual land to his hand to untap the Shaman, replays the Bayou and taps it once more for Natural Order! I’m confused, as I play Elves myself at times, but cannot imagine him having an actual out to this board state in his deck. He takes quite some time looking for a solution in his library, shaking his head. The crowd watching is disturbingly silent at this point and the tension is unbearable, till I see the people behind him making faces as he browses a third time though the library, and I’m sure the match is over. He picks out Craterhoof Behemoth replacing the sacrificed Quirion Ranger and pushing into the red zone for unimpressive 10 damage with a smile on his face, as I note that not even a third creature would have killed me. I draw an Infernal Tutor and he takes the backlash like a man.

6-0-1 in matches, 12-1 in games

I throw my fist up in the air…relief! My pals immediately give me some high fives and pat my shoulder, but my thanks are mainly directed to my awesome opponents today. I promised to send some greetings to Julian Knab before the finals (hope you read this, pal), and pick up my crew and a few others and go out for dinner and laugher. Taking the crown today is rewarded by a full playset of foil Deathrite Shamans – a tremendous “consolation” for my upcoming train ride back to Berlin.

ChampionIsCrowned

Propper:
– Big prize payout
– Ad Nauseam
– Empty the Warrens + Cabal Therapy + Gitaxian Probe
– Attendance record
– Still too fast for hatebears
– Eternal Central for publishing

Blopper:
– Bitchy Death and Taxes players
– High registration fee
– Not enough time to playtest
– Taking forever to write this report

Fact Sheet:
– 13 games, 12 wins, 1 loss, 1 intentional draw
– 4 wins via Empty the Warrens
– 6 times casting Ad Nauseam
– 4 games finished via Tendrils of Agony
– 3 games finished via Grapeshot
– 2 wins off a natural spell chain

A Glimpse of the Future – Tournament Aftermath

The deck worked out excellent and delivered impressive counter-arguments for the endemic persuasion of the deck, being inconsistent and losing to common countermeasures like Force of Will. Sure, as other combo decks also do, The EPIC Storm suffers from variance at times and that’s the point where prudent mulligans, tight play and maximizing cantrips decide games. TES is possibly the only Legacy combo deck which can dismember opposing defense with surgical precision, sidestepping lots of common hate unlike its storm-sibling ANT, while also being able to quickly close out games before common combo-breakers like Ethersworn Canonist, Thalia, Thorn of Amethyst, Counterbalance, Vendilion Clique, or Hymn to Tourach can even be played. With the metagame shifting towards midrange with Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis as the format’s prime predator, and the fall of previously common tempo archetypes featuring Stifle, I do expect a surge of combo archetypes like Sneak & Show or Reanimator as a result, and recommend a reworked sideboard against those decks:

2 Abrupt Decay
2 Xantid Swarm
2 Pyroblast
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Tropical Island
1 Thoughtseize
1 Grapeshot
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Past in Flames
1 Diminishing Returns

Sideboarding for Reanimator:
-4 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Ponder
+1 Tropical Island
+2 Surgical Extraction
+1 Thoughtseize
+2 Xantid Swarm

Sideboarding for Show & Tell archetypes:
-4 Cabal Therapy
-1 Empty the Warrens
-1 Ponder
+1 Tropical Island
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Thoughtseize
+2 Xantid Swarm

Look forward to the future…Greatness awaits.

Bonus section: Travelling Tips for Berlin During Christmas Season

I finally returned from my latest business travel to Italy, and am enjoying some easy days in the local office, and go out with the prettiest apartment-sharing community the city might have ever seen (which I’m hanging out with since I first dropped my luggage in the Big B). These girls can party for hours, seem to know everyone in the city (including doormen), and managed to get us in already closed bars to continue partying with the staff there more than once, watching how the club lounges of the previous night transform into breakfast cafés (morph-stores are quite common) during the shift changeover, and we leave the location with the night shift staff and go for breakfast ourselves, before dropping dead on the floor once making it back through the door of my apartment. I’m obviously too old for partying more than 16 hours without a break.

I recommend grabbing your opposite-sex-BFF and spend the Sunday at one of Berlin’s Christmas markets like the one in front of the Red Town Hall with public ice-skating around the famous Neptune Fountain…

NeptuneFountain

…or visiting the Gendarmenmarkt with its restaurant-tents and shows during the Christmas time.

weihnachtsmarkt-gendarmenmarkt-2

Enjoy your trip!

Peter Raab

Equipped with a Bachelor Degree in Architecture and a diploma as a construction engineer, this dashing guy is destined to "build" some sick piles! Known best as the author of the Heart of the Storm series, he provides some insight to one of the most complex decks in Legacy: The EPIC Storm.

  • As usual, Peter delivers a strong article!

  • fm302boss

    That is a sick altered play-set of LED’s. If you don’t mind me asking….

    Who did them?
    How much?
    Have you ever had any problems with them being legal?

  • Peter Raab

    I was ever only asked once to replace them as the missing original art might made the cards unrecognizable for newer players and that was during the BoM Mainevent (no Problem during Trials). It was not a speiüblem as I have a second, normal set always with me. The Paint is so thin that you can’t tell the difference to originals in a sleeve

    The french artist was Demonium and there are 5 “Lost Eye Diamonds” in Existance (one is french).

  • Lars Vooge

    You should do some video recordings at those “tournaments”, so we can see you in action.
    It’s really impressive how you win every tournament undefeated. I think you are the best Legacy player in Germany and am surprised that I still can’t find your name on any T8 decklists. 🙁

    • Peter Raab

      I don’t go every tournament undefeated, nor I’m close to the top players here as I have some much less impressive local showings 😉

      You’ll rarely find my name because those tourneys in Halle aren’t uploaded to mtgtop8.com and such sites afaik. I’m also usually working Saturdays and therefore can barely make it to tournaments; I’m glad if I can play 3 tourneys a month (LGS events included) due to my schedule.

      I’m looking forward to Bazaar of Moxen in May. Will be there 😀

  • Brett Frankson

    Great series, keep em coming.

  • Kay

    Very detailed report, I like it, but really can’t imagine you could take notes like this during a real tournament. 😉

  • Zebullon De Pompougnac

    Really nice article 🙂
    I’m kind of puzzled by the grapeshot in side, why not just kill with tendrils ? This looks way more difficult and the Pif+Grapeshot looks super costly too… ?