Heart of the Storm – Storm Shards #1 – Mana Acceleration

This article marks the first entry to an upcoming series to bring you closer to TES fundamentals in terms of deckbuilding and strategy. Look forward to in-depth looks at cantrip sequencing, manabases, managing of options, seizing opportunities, match psychology, board organisation, mulligan evaluation and more (requested) stuff like that. For today and as a start into this new series, I want to cover a pretty basic topic, which are the common options of mana acceleration for storm.

Dark Ritual is a hallmark for mana acceleration since it’s first release in Alpha even if it’s breakouts came later thanks to card like Juzám Djinn, Necropotence (Necro-Knights & Necro/Donate for example) and Hatred in early 2000’s Suicide Black decks which lead to Dark Rituals banning in the Extended Format at that time. Unlike most cheap acceleration in the whole history of the game, Dark Ritual increases your available mana for more than just one and delivers also several black mana, which is handy, given that most cards Dark Ritual is paired with are also black like Infernal Tutor and Tendrils of Agony.

In 2002 it got a bigger brother named Cabal Ritual which also became and remained a staple for fueling decks featuring Tendrils of Agony to this very day. Cabal Ritual is however a card which rarely is played in The EPIC Storm compared to storm-subtypes which already evolve around the graveyard and Past in Flames. The reasons are manifold and include the fact that one of the advantages of The EPIC Storm is to be immune to graveyard-hate as it’s main engine is Ad Nauseam and not Past in Flames. Variants of storm which focus on Past in Flames instead of Ad Nauseam gain the ability to effectively use their life total to gain additional turns against your opponents damage output, but suffer on two levels from graveyard-hate, as it not only renders their Past in Flames useless, but also block their Cabal Rituals Threshold and increased manaboost to aim for a natural spellchain to reach a lethal amount of storm. Cabal Ritual is perfect for a slower and more controlled approach to storm, which also naturally fills the graveyard over turns until you find your window of opportunity. This card has insane potential once you reach your turn 3 or 4 and your graveyard is still intact, but that’s not the timeframe you opt for playing The EPIC Storm, nor are we keen on revealing a card to Ad Nauseam which needs two initial mana itself to do anything else than just dealing damage.

We opted for another option which was released in 2006s Coldsnap and also featured the potential for an insane manaboost rivaling Cabal Ritual in it’s potency. Rite of Flame is the spiritual successor of Accumulated Knowledge and Muscle Burst which saw print in the 24th Magic: The Gathering Expansion named Odyssey and part of the block which also featured the beforementioned Cabal Ritual. Like the cards from Odyssey, Rite of Flame features the ability to gain additional potential via additional copies in the players graveyard. The second Rite of Flame is already a full-fledged color-shifted Dark Ritual, while the third delivers as much red mana as the famous Black Lotus! The initial manaboost for a mere red mana required fits in The EPIC Storms‘ gameplan, to reliably initiate it’s combo off a single black and/or red source and because it’s very likely to reveal additional copies of Rite of Flame to Ad Nauseam, the card gets absurdly powerful for finishing off your opponents. Compared to Cabal Ritual it obviously lacks power and lategame potential as a singleton, but the ability to deliver several red mana is a key-feature for a deck which opts to chain Burning Wish into Empty the Warrens or Past in Flames a fair amount of times over the course of a tournament.

Lotus Petal, while a being an attempt to print a fixed Black Lotus, was banned in Legacy during September 1999 in the course of cleaning Vintage and Legacy from the rampant mana artifacts at that time and found itself blacklisted alongside Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, Grim Monolith and Mox Diamond until the banned list for the format was seperately maintained from Vintage’s in September 2004 and returned Lotus Petal alongside Chrome Mox, Burning Wish and Lion’s Eye Diamond to Legacy’s cardpool. The cards ability to deliver initial mana without any color-restriction made it a staple in all explosive combo decks in all formats Lotus Petal was legal to play and a key-card for pre- & post-Ad Nauseam playlines without dealing any damage by being revealed to the 5-mana instant. It plays a major role for providing the often early required black + red mana for The EPIC Storms common playlines and is the main reason this deck can reliably finish off it’s opponents even if Ad Nauseam is cast without any mana left in the pool.

As the fundamental rules of the game unfortunately limit the legal amount of Lotus Petals to four and the deck languishes for quick, initial mana sources, Chrome Mox often takes the spot as additional, functional substitute, which is able to clear your hand from chaff which is potentially blocking your Infernal Tutors Hellbent while providing the mana to initiate and finish your combo. The nature of having to invest two cards for a mere mana however bears problems. Not only is Chrome Mox a horrible card to draw in multiples, but also for any game that goes past turn 2 and the concepts of card- & mana-advantage kick in. Investing two cards to play around a Daze is a losing concept compared to an additional landdrop or powering through the soft-counter with a Cabal Ritual, which is the main reason why storm iterations build around Cabal Ritual and Past in Flames have a much better shot at winning against decks with Daze or Spell Pierce than The EPIC Storm has. These decks and longer games in general are simply not your yard and the best Moxen usually are the ones you never see before casting Ad Nauseam so the goal of TES’ deeper deckbuilding is also to decrease the number of cards like Chrome Mox in it’s 75.

Once more I want to dive into Magic: The Gatherings history and point to December 2003 where the DCI decided that the interaction of Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish. These cards were once too powerful for Vintage, increasing the number of virtual copies of Yawgmoths Will, Tinker plus other broken sorceries and restricted both cards with the side-effect of their resulting ban in Legacy according to the linked B&R lists of both formats at that time. In September 2004 the Lion’s Eye Diamond was legal as a playset once more in Magic’s most popular eternal format and Legacy’s own Black Lotus equivalent formed the heart of all storm decks to come, providing a full three mana of your choice with either an Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish on the stack. The manaboost is only matched by Cabal Ritual in the whole formats depth and it’s explosiveness is unrivaled even 18 years after it’s release and the opportunity-cost of having to discard your hand, which once labeled the card unplayable, became a feature to turn on Infernal Tutors hellbent mechanic.

An obscure card of the past which got a recent renaissance in storm-subtypes, is the old Urzas Saga uncommon Rain of Filth. This card obviously is pretty bad in multiples and had only a history as a one-off in Legacy Doomsday as it enables you to profit from longer games and additional lands played, while the Doomsday itself is able to search and setup Rain of Filth. It has a lot in common with Cabal Ritual in Legacy Storm, as both cards gain power the longer games last and synergize with each other, as the sacrificed lands via Rain of Filth, quickly setup threshold for Cabal Ritual to generate more mana, more quickly! It’s a black Rite of Flame with 2 lands, a 5th Dark Ritual with 3 lands and rivals Cabal Rituals manaboost with 4 lands which is pretty appealing as an option to not lose power, if you have to play longer games. These cards are the strategic opposite of Chrome Moxen. The real difference between Cabal Ritual and Rain of Filth, that makes the later an interresting addition to The EPIC Storms strategic arsenal, is that the card does not interact with the graveyard at all, remaining the decks invulnerability to graveyard-hate, compared to storm variants which rely on Cabal Ritual and/or Past in Flames.

That’s all for today, folks! Please leave feedback and requests either here or via Twitter (@valelemnear).

Greatness awaits!