Heart of the Storm – Grand Prix Lille Aftermath

GP Lille is in the books and what a blast it was! Close to 1700 Legacy aficionados battled for the crown in this year’s only European Legacy Grand Prix over three days. The weekend was full of trials, side events and the intense 15 round swiss main event which was followed by a Top 8 elimination which climaxed with a Miracles mirror in the finals.

My expectation for the format on this particular weekend was to see a field full of Miracles and Dig Through Time decks in all variations and I still was shocked to see how bad the status quo really was when I sat down in the Early Bird Trial booth and had a glimpse at other players deck lists and I had the impression that more than 85% of participants this weekend choose to play Sensei’s Divining Top, Dig Through Time, Tendrils of Agony or Chalice of the Void. Surprisingly the majority of Dig Through Time decks this weekend were not OmniTell, but were various aggro-control decks (UR Delver, Patriot, UWR Blade, UW Blade, 4c Deathblade, BUG Delver), which seem to have had a higher percentage than I expected. This lead me to the conclusion that I might face a problem this weekend, if I have to play against Daze/Wasteland, Counterbalance or Chalice of the Void in each round.

The early bird trial was disastrous with the regular list, but wielded me a Sensei’s Divining Top playmat, which I planned to get signed on Sunday and would likely pay for the registration fee for the side events this weekend all by itself. The side event also was a good method of getting rid of my rusty play. Instead of hopping right into the next trial (some people played trials until 10pm that night with the main event of day 1 scheduled at 9am on the following day), I was going to met up with all my pals – Julian Knab, Martin Vonasek, Rodrigo Togores, Kai Sawatari, Matt Pavlic, Marc Beck König, Felix Peter Munch and all the others to chat to gather impressions/data about the current state of the metagame and their trial results.

To be honest, I was pretty stressed the whole day as I was forced to get Dual lands and other things quickly before the Trials as the german postal service was on strike and a lot of cards did not arrive in time – but thanks to Jon Smallhill the roughest problems got solved. Shout out to him for his assistance and Jon making Day 2 with Grixis Delver. Congrats!

At the end of the day I left the venue pretty early … No, I fled from it, as the air conditioning wasn’t working all day and turned the venue into an oven with unbearable temperatures. This at least gave me the time to grab food with old study friends from Lille and to ponder about how I want to adjust the deck for the main event and in the evening I grabbed my recent own build which was tuned against Combo/Delver/Miracles:

Main deck


You might be confused at this point with my particular choice as the list looks and is very unconventional. The list misses some key-elements like Chrome Mox and the main deck Empty the Warrens which are typical for The EPIC Storm, I however choose to dismiss these cards for reasons based on the metagame constellation and intern dynamic of the list.

Empty the Warrens suffers a lot of problems with Young Pyromancer on everyones radar and opponents prepared to deal with 1 toughness creatures with their sideboards from what I have seen during Friday. Another problem with the Goblins is that they might be too slow in the combo mirror. In the end, I did not find too much reason to run it main deck and cutting it had the benefit that I can reveal more cards to Ad Nauseam before I have to stop to not die the sudden death. It requires some sure instinct and experience to grasp the relation between required initial and floated mana into and for Ad Nauseam, once you cut the Empty the Warrens. Usually you should get alone with a single Mox here, which I noted for the half-finished build. The real game changer came, as I wanted to add more stability against Daze/Wasteland which I saw in the room during the Friday trials. Instead of adding supporting cards like Carpet of Flowers to the sideboard against those decks, I wanted to squeeze improvements in that section into the mainboard.

A traditional weakness of The EPIC Storm is being unable to go for the long run and overpower mana denial & discard. I addressed the problem which is also linked to Daze/Wasteland by adding the 14th land and two Rain of Filth. The ability to make more land drops and lessen the impact of Wasteland, while also fueling Rain of Filth against Delver decks to overcome Daze and Spell Pierce, was sound and playing two Rituals more than the traditional lists of The EPIC Storm to actually floating mana into Ad Nauseam, allowed me to cut all the Chrome Mox. I settled on two Bayous instead of Bayou & Swamp as I didn’t have to fear Wasteland that much with the increased land count and also having two green sources keep Abrupt Decays boardable even in the face of Wasteland.

The sideboard contained 4 Abrupt Decay to credit all the Miracles in the european metagame along side the 3-off evergreens Xantid Swarm and Chain of Vapor which gives me some flexibility in an open field. I kept the Massacre for the first games against decks with white hatebears as I usually evaluate my starting hand against blue decks and didn’t want to auto-lose if I’m paired against Death & Taxes with a slower hand. Something which is uncommon, but a result of the lack of the main deck Empty the Warrens,  is having two copies in the sideboard, to have the option to board one, if I face decks which are soft to the goblin ambush or require me to combo fast.

I left the hotel early at Saturday morning to pickup breakfast at PAUL close to my hotel. Mocca + Brioche is still my favorite combination for less than 4€. I hit the venue to write down the 75 and wait for the player meeting in the food booth trying to relax as I have to start round one while most of the others have their byes. I still think this isn’t necessarily bad as I’m usually pretty nervous round one anyways.

I get hand my second playmat for the weekend and my Griselbrand Promo in exchange for my deck list and seeing the Judge Team struggling to do the trade for all the tables in a reasonable time. It takes ages before all is settled and round one is announced. It’s about half past ten o’clock as I finally shake my first opponents hand for this GP. Game time!

The Main Event

I take seat across an elderly gentleman with British accent introducing himself as Darius. I roll out my Source playmat to see, if I get any reaction. I admit, I was a bit confused and maybe intimidated myself as he unpacked sleeves, notepad and stuff all from Channel Fireball. We shuffle up and I’m up for some chatter while winning the dice roll. I keep a hand with three lands a Rite of Flame, Ponder, Brainstorm and Gitaxian Probe. I lead with the Volcanic Island in my hand and follow up with Ponder into another Rite of Flame and Burning Wish which are both fine. He goes for Scalding Tarn into Volcanic Island into Delver of Secrets and ships the turn back. I draw and cast Probe seeing Force of Will, Wasteland, Dig Through Time, Brainstorm, Daze, Misty Rainforest, so I just drop a fetch land and pass. UR Delver it seems. He misses to flip his Delver for the next two turns and I just keep dropping lands while seeing my Volcanic getting destroyed. I just sit back and see him setting up a clock with Pyromancer. I decide to move with fetching an Underground Sea and casting Duress, taking his Force of Will, but he has still Dig Through Time, Ponder and Daze left, so I cast my second Gitaxian Probe this game, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Rain of Filth and Burning Wish. He casts Dig Through Time and finds another Force of Will to counter the Burning Wish, but I have another one in my hand at this point to grab Tendrils of Agony while his Daze is worthless left in his hand.

I decide to board in only the Empty the Warrens for a Ponder and keep a balanced 7. He starts with Gitaxian Probe and fetches for Volcanic to cast Delver. I also peek in his hand with my own Gitaxian Probe seeing Swiftspear, Young Pyromancer, Ponder, Force of Will and Dig Through Time. No mind games anymore. I sculpt a hand the following turns while he fetches a second land and casts Swiftspear and another Swiftspear plus Ponder the turn after. He drops his third fetch land and passes back. I cast Dark Ritual into Duress which he responds to with Brainstorm after using his fetch land and dropping to 15. I discard something random and proceed with another Gitaxian Probe, Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Burning Wish, Tendrils of Agony.

I’m glad that I was able to win this second game through Force of Will, just one turn before he was able to kill me. He takes it like a sportsman and I wish him the best for the weekend before heading to the Team Euroswag which had all Helium-Balloons attached at their bags so they could spot each other in the crowd very easy. Philipp Schönegger was casually slinging his Miracles for fun, waiting for round three to join the tournament and I was grabbing my first snack of the day and talking to Matt about the girls we met during his visit in Berlin. Round two was announced and I was already annoyed of the distance between the pairing board and the seat 125 I was about to play at. Francois was the name of my opponent which is easy to recall as I just took a picture of the pairing sheet each round. He was about my age and we shuffled to enter our first game with me winning another dice roll. I have another solid hand and lead with Gitaxian Probe seeing Decay, Wasteland, Plowshares, Jitte, Stoneforge and Flooded Strand. I drop a Misty Rainforest and pass the turn being sure that I face 4c Deathblade. He drops a Polluted Delta and passes the turn according to my notes which gives me all the information to drop my Bayou, fetch a Volcanic, cast Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, Rain of Filth, Lions Eye Diamond, Infernal TutorAd Nauseam (1 red mana floating) which reveals enough mana to showboat a bit and grab Tendrils of Agony from the sideboard.

I board out an Infernal, three Duress and two Rain of Filth to fit in Xantid Swarm and Chains of Vapor. I think I over sideboarded, but my opening hand is pretty good containing a Gitaxian Probe and a turn one Ad Nauseam, if he does not cast Thoughtseize. He opens with Flooded Strand into Underground Sea into Deathrite Shaman instead. I cast the Gitaxian Probe to see Spell Pierce, Karakas, Wasteland, Wasteland, Brainstorm. I just cast, Ritual, Ritual, Ad Nauseam, flip 17 cards, cast two Petals, Gitaxian Probe, Rite of Flame, two Lions Eye Diamonds, Burning Wish and Tendrils of Agony.

This was short and brutal. I apologize and walk off fast with the signed match slip, seeing that there are still 25:14 on the match clock left which means that I can make a coffee and bathroom break here. I barely miss round three chatting in front of the venue and had to run to table 128 to meet Daniel who tells me that he beat Delver and Miracles, so I put him on S&T, Miracles or Death & Taxes. I lose the dice roll and he starts with Sensei’s Divining Top. I immediately cast Duress to avoid being locked out by Counterbalance, but see none and discarded his Force of Will in hand instead, leaving him with lands and garbage, which doesn’t bother him and his top-decked Counterbalance. I get Vendilion Clique’d by turn 4 which gives me the confirmation that I’m against Legend Miracles. I scoop at this point and move to sideboarding.

I remove an Infernal Tutor, two Rains of Filth and 4 Ponder for 4 Abrupt Decays and 3 Xantid Swarm. I keep a grip of seven with Xantid, Brainstorm, Gitaxian Probe, Ritual and lands. I hard cast Gitaxian Probe, seeing a hand with minimal resistance, but my turn two Brainstorm fails to deliver any business, so I’m doomed to go into top-deck mode after fetching for Bayou to drop Xantid. I top-deck more mana and a second Xantid Swarm, which I cast, just to see him landing three Counterbalances in successive turns which blind-counter the next two cantrips I top-deck. He gets Sensei’s Divining Top online as well as a single angel before I surrender to his Wear/Tear floated on top of his library. I never saw even a single Abrupt Decay and really hated the useless Xantid Swarm. I should have brought Trygon Predator, Young Pyromancer, Pyroblast or Krosan Grip instead of the Xantid Swarm and probably will in the future to deal with this abysmal match-up.

I keep pondering about this loss for a while despite there is only enough time for an energy bar before the next round. Seriously, I was playing Storm versus Miracles in two games and it took like forever to finish. Writing this I still think my keep was ok, but at this particular Saturday, my confidence got a low blow before I sat down across Marco for round four. I lose the dice again and keep Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam, 3 lands, Gitaxian Probe and Infernal as my hand. He opens with Taiga into Exploration and I know I’m up against RG Lands. I play a land and ship the turn for the next two turns while he develops his board. I cast Gitaxian Probe without seeing anything of interest, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Rain of Filth for a total of seven mana and cast Ad Nauseam with black/red floating. I try to leech 32 life.

I board out all the discard and add 4 Abrupt Decays and 3 Chain of Vapor before shuffling for game two. My opponent mulls and I once more keep my 7 with Chain, Abrupt Decay, Brainstorm, Lions Eye Diamond, Infernal and two lands. He drops Chalice at 0 and Chalice at 1 a turn later. I decay the the Chalice at 1 during the end of his third turn, untap, drop my third land, target the remaining Chalice with the Chain of Vapor, Rain of Filth, Lions Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor, Ad Nauseam. 23 flipped cards later, he just asks me to show him the Tendrils of Agony in the sideboard, which I do.

Another pretty short match which gives me enough time to hydrate myself as the temperatures in the venue rise again. I pour in half a liter and try to cool down for the next match against Damien, a member of TheSource. I salute you Damien, if you read these lines. I lose the dice roll here and get hit by a blind Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will, which makes it pretty clear I’m playing the storm mirror and he does not know who I am. He sees my hand and he seems to get an idea of who I am, shipping the turn. I drop a Dual and ship back. Another Cabal Therapyy is pointed at me, but I respond with Brainstorm to minimize the impact. I untap, drop a Fetch and pass again, just to see his third Cabal Therapy still with one land only in play. I also mimic my previous turn by casting another Brainstorm which makes us both laugh. I untap and cast Ad Nauseam. I peek into his hand and see Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Rain of FilthAd Nauseam and Brainstorm in his hand. Thank god, he didn’t see another land, but just my sideboard Tendrils of Agony at the end of my spellchain. I really like to face people, I don’t have to explain to, whats going on during a combo turn. Makes things so much easier.

I opt to board nothing and shuffle up for game two. My hand is so-so and can’t put up with his turn three Past in Flames loop, which I offer to assist for counting storm and mana. Looks like we need a third game to decide his match which I start with an Underground Sea and shipping the turn hoping he just does not have the Duress for disrupting me easily and indeed he just casts Ponder. It’s a weight off my mind and I drop my second land, fetch for the Volcanic, floating black/red mana to cast my Rituals and Rites weave an Ad Nauseam turn 2 to decide this match.

I get a headache and head back to sip another bottle of water and head to the bathroom. I check for the others and have to hear that Marc and Julian are already on tilt with two losses and Matt dropped with 2-3. Bummer. I’m paired against Joao and lose the dice again, just to see him opening with Windswept Heath into Forest into Deathrite Shaman. Without a doubt: Elves. I hold a hand which has a protected turn 2 or turn 3 kill depending on the draw, but I feel I have to cast my Duress immediately. I do after fetching for an Underground Sea and look at Nettle Sentinel, Birchlore Ranger, Nettle Sentinel, Craterhoof Behemoth, Wirewood Symbiote, which is a dangerous combination if he top-decks Glimpse of Nature or Natural Order. I have to pass and prepare for my turn two Ad Nauseam. He draws, taps Deathrite Shaman for mana removing his fetch land from the graveyard, casts Nettle Sentinel, taps Forest, summons Birchlore, taps Birchlore + Nettle to cast another Nettle Sentinel untapping the Nettle in play. Two Nettles make a green mana and he casts Glimpse. I know that things will get really iffy for me now as he untaps the Nettles once more with Glimpse in the stack. The following Symbiote draws him a card and I just tell him he can continue, as I know the deck and interactions pretty well. Symbiote gets flipped upside down to signal, that he uses the ability of the insect, untapping the Deathrite Shaman via bouncing Birchlore after drawing another green mana into his manapool with the Nettles. Birchlore gets replayed, drawing another card. Deathrite taps again for mana removing my fetch land and both Nettles follow suit to lure a Elvish Visionary out of the forest, drawing him two cards total. He continues the combo and a dozen creatures later, Deathrite and Craterhoof enter the red zone and destroy my dreams. Sigh.

I board in Chain of Vapors for the Rains of Filth and a Bayou to deal with Nullrods and other stuff which I expect him to bring for game 2. I cast Ponder off a Volcanic to open game two and find the turn two Ad Nauseam if he does not Thoughtseize/Cabal Therapy me and he just goes for Verdant Catacomb into Bayou to summon a Heritage Druid. I untap, fetch an Underground Sea, drop a pair of Lions Eye Diamonds, cast Rite of Flame into Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam breaking the Diamonds for black and red mana and leave one of each floating as I announce the 5cc Instant, which should be a sure kill, but the next 20+ cards I reveal to Ad Nauseam are just the worst and I feel like hitting all the Lands, Tutors, Burning Wishes and Cantrips the deck has left and only a single Dark Ritual as applicable mana acceleration among them as I stop at 2. I sit on the edge of my set, doing the math for hitting either a Rite of Flame or a Dark Ritual or a Lions Eye Diamond among the remaining crap left in the deck. I can’t pass the turn as I lack mana for a Past in Flames loop as well. I flip one more: Ponder. That leaves me with Diamonds and Petals as only outs, but I can’t pass the turn anyways, so I flip: Burning Wish … my luck! I probably just stare lifeless into the distance as I re-sideboard and my opponent is apologizing several times for my bad luck and the blowout. I can’t remember, if I ever failed with an Ad Nauseam, black/red mana floating and 19 life points. I have to pull myself up to wish him the best for the next round, before I leave the venue for a moment to vent my anger.

I’m in a very bad mood when I take seat for the next round against Jean-Rémi. I’m dead serious when I shuffle up. I lose the dice roll again and keep a reasonable seven to see Ancient Tomb casting Chalice of the Void at 1. MUD? Are you kidding me? I can’t do much during my turn and he follows up with Grim Monolith. My next turn just wields me a Duress which is totally worthless. He drops a Lodestone Golem during his turn and I don’t see a point to let this farce continue and move to boarding. First the hilarious bad beat against Elves and now starting the game on the draw against MUD. I just couldn’t stand it during Saturday and can’t as I write these lines.

I immediately cut all the discard and a Ponder for Abrupt Decays, Chain of Vapors and an Empty the Warrens for game two. I make 12 Goblins turn 1 and ship the turn to see Ancient Tomb into Grim Monolith into Metalworker happening on his side. I draw my second land, play it and attack, dropping him to 9. He drops an unexpected Wurmcoil Engine which stops my assault and I tank before drawing for my turn to do some uncommon combat math which however is depressingly easy. I draw a Chain of Vapor which comes right in time. I bounce the Wurmcoil and swing for the win in game 2.

I feel like I dodged a bullet here and keep a hand with Abrupt Decay, Chain of Vapor, two lands, two pieces of fast mana and a Wish. I’m confident with this hand, especially as he mulls to 4. He starts with Ancient Tomb into Chalice at 1, but I’m not impressed. I drop a fetch land and pass, just to see him drop a Glimmervoid and cast Trinisphere. Mother of god. I fail to draw another land the next 5 turns which gives him all the time to drop a Wurmcoil and chop my life total three times. I can remove the Trinisphere and the Chalice in the meanwhile. During the last possible turn, I drop my artifact mana, cast Chain of Vapor on my artifacts and his Wurmcoil, replay the artifacts, cast my fast mana to chain Cantrips into Burning Wish to see that his Wurmcoil has put him totally out of my reach for the natural Tendrils or Past in Flames (no additional Infernal Tutor/Burning Wish) at this point. I head for Empty the Warrens to stall while he recasts the Wurmcoil and follows up with a second one to make it clear, that I will never recover. Game over. Thanks for coming.

The Aftermath

I played many more games this weekend and the main deck just kept delivering stable and resistant hands and draws. I had to mull zero times through the main event and two times across the whole weekend only, which I see as a testament to the fundamental advantage 14 lands come with compared to previous iterations with 12 or 13 lands especially if you, like me this weekend, expect to face a lot of mana denial and tempo-counters and fear to lose games because your starting grip lacks initial mana sources to overcome these challenges. The mana base in addition with 10 Ritual-effects (4 Dark Ritual, 4 Rite of Flame, 2 Rain of Filth) made SB cards like Carpet of Flowers obsolete to improve your game against the before mentioned decks and wielded me additional SB space to add stuff like the required 4th Abrupt Decay.

After three days of fierce battle, I can’t say I missed the explosiveness of Chrome Mox aside the the few match-ups and games on the draw we have to combo turn 1 or getting locked out like against MUD or Death & Taxes (which I still did not manage to lose a match to) and given the metagame percentage of these decks, I will not opt to return to playing Chrome Mox for the foreseeable future. I have tried to make notes about, if Cabal Ritual wouldn’t have been better than Rain of Filth, but given I did not use Past in Flames the whole weekend at all, but faced situations where Rain of Filth was adding 2+ mana where Cabal Ritual would have only added 1 as a result of lacking threshold, I want to stick to the Rain of Filth. The usual habit to board out Ponders for sideboard hate and solutions in several match-ups isn’t really supporting your ability to gain threshold by chaining cantrips fast anyways.

There as exactly one situation, where I missed the mainboard Empty the Warrens across the Trials, the Grand Prix and the Side events, but I was glad I included the second copy in my sideboard to fix the lack of explosive 6-mana play lines via Infernal Tutor in postboard games on demand while being able to be very greedy with Ad Nauseam even after being attacked by Delver and friends. If you just keep fearlessly flipping cards down to one or two life points left you apparently confuse a lot of opponents and even seasoned storm pilots I was talking with about the build. I will definitely continue to run 4 Abrupt Decay in the sideboard. They became pretty reliable removal even against Wasteland thanks to 14 lands and two Bayous, a mana base which does not surrender after being hit by a Wasteland and still leaves a second searchable green mana source even if a Bayou gets destroyed at a certain point of the game. I opt to stick to three Chain of Vapor instead of a mix with Void Snare for being an instant (bounce hate end of opponents turn) and fueling storm count by returning your own artifacts to your hand just to replay them. I’ve cut wishable singletons solutions like Grapeshot, Thoughtseize or Pyroclasm completely and did not look back on them so far, but hard a hard time to let Massacre go, for the reasons already stated at the beginning of this article.

The sideboard slots I was disappointed with the most, were the Xantid Swarms. I boarded them a few times, but after I lost against Miracles with two Xantid Swarm in play and the fact that OmniTell can combo off despite the Xantid dropped into their Show & Tell (thanks to Omniscience), I think we need to find better use for the slots. If Death & Taxes gets more popular because of the all the Miracles, Delver and Combo decks in the format, we might want to look at either Dread of Nights or Sulfur Elementals to supplement our sideboard. Personally I want to load up on dedicated Miracles hate with either Pyroblast or exotic options like Trygon Predator or Krosan Grip. Lets see what the future hold for us as the next B&R update is just around the corner.

Greatness awaits!