It was only a matter of time before I went back to Cockatrice to try to learn more about our favorite deck. The feedback on the last article was amazing, please remember that we read every single comment and try to improve according to your suggestions. The last article taught me one major lesson: Empty the Warrens is a good card, but it needs to be used properly – too few Goblins, too late, is a synonym for a game loss.

For this week, the latest version of The EPIC Storm was used. It is, of course, available on the home page.



Situation #1 – Jeskai Stoneblade

We’re down a game against Jeskai Stoneblade. The deck didn’t seem to run any Daze or Wasteland,  I lost the last game due to using a discard spell the turn before going off. While I discarded Spell Snare, he managed to hide a Force of Will with a Brainstorm on top, drew it on his turn and stopped the Infernal Tutor. Thinking too much about the last game and not enough about Meddling Mage, I choose to only sideboard a Ponder for the Bayou.

I choose to keep the following hand: Cabal Therapy, Duress, Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Burning Wish, Polluted Delta, Polluted Delta.

Our opponent chooses to keep too. Learning from the previous game, I want to at least keep one discard for our combo turn. I feel confident enough in my decision to play Ponder on the first turn to sculpt my hand. Gitaxian Probe could be an option to see one more card from the top of our library, however, I want a backup option to see our opponent’s hand in the case he counterspells our Duress first, to avoid a blind Cabal Therapy if possible.

I activate a Polluted Delta, searching for the Volcanic Island and cast Ponder. I see Brainstorm, Burning Wish and Dark Ritual, leaving them in that order. I draw the Brainstorm. Our opponent opens with a Tundra and passes.

I draw the previously seen Burning Wish, lay Polluted Delta and pass. It would be pointless to use the discard spell now, since we don’t have to save mana for the next few turns at least. He casts Brainstorm at my end step. Our opponent doesn’t find a land and sends the turn back to us. We could Brainstorm and fetch here to get rid of the second Burning Wish, but as a novice, I feel it safer to have an extra one in case of a counterspell. Also, I could really use the Dark Ritual on top of the deck. I draw the Dark Ritual and play Gitaxian Probe to see their hand for the first time:

Engineered Explosives, Meddling Mage, Vendillion Clique, Brainstorm, Force of Will, Surgical Extraction, Surgical Extraction. I draw a third copy of Burning Wish off of the Gitaxian Probe.

Since I didn’t sideboard properly, Cabal Therapy is my only removal for Meddling Mage. While the pair of Surgical Extraction feels unsafe too, I was once taught by Peter Raab that Surgical Extraction can be played around by a good sequencing of our spells. I thus play Cabal Therapy to get rid of the Meddling Mage. In response, he Brainstorms, but doesn’t hide anything in his hand: the only difference as I name Meddling Mage is an Izzet Staticaster. I pass the turn.

He draws, passes again. He’s still on one land, but has two Surgical Extraction and at least one castable Force of Will.

I draw Dark Ritual and play Brainstorm out of the Volcanic Island. I draw Gitaxian Probe, Duress and Lotus Petal. I choose to put back Gitaxian Probe first and then Lotus Petal on top. It will allow me to cast a Duress this turn and most likely go off next. I take out a Force of Will, but he reveals a second one. Good thing I drew the Duress and played it this turn! It will save one mana on the combo turn.

He draws, still no land. He passes. I draw the Lotus Petal I previously put on the top. At that point, this is the battlefield. Should we have played something else earlier, can we win now, do we wait? What’s the best play?

IT02 -Jeskai Stoneblade - 01
EDITOR’S NOTE: You may click on the images to enlarge for better viewing.

To my eyes, I can’t win yet. On my main phase, I lead with a Duress out of the Underground Sea. The unknown card is a True-Name Nemesis. I take the Force of Will out, and choose to manage the pair of Surgical Extraction when I can. I look back at my hand, I really want to go, but I know I can’t. It seems impossible with so little mana, and three Burning Wishes.

With the cards that we currently have, Empty the Warrens is our only real option, but that doesn’t seem to do very much. I think that our best option is to just continue to sit and wait, trying to set up a Burning Wish for Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam. The best way to do this, since I don’t really believe we have a very clearly defined line for beating our opponent drawing multiple other counter spells anyway, is to Duress the Force of Will, and use our following turn to Burning Wish for Dark Petition if we feel it likely that the Burning Wish will resolve to avoid Surgical Extraction. If we still don’t feel incredibly safe in three turns, we can Burning Wish for Thoughtseize to clear more of a path and by then, we should have drawn at least one more mana source to make combo-ing easier.

For me the most critical moment in this match was deciding to keep the second Burning Wish, which I only do, if I have the mana to bait a counterspell with it and still can follow up with one more or Infernal Tutor into Empty the Warrens/Tendrils of Agony in a single turn. In this scenario, mana was the chokepoint from the start to trade the first Burning Wish for a counter and profit from this trade at the end of your spell-chain.

The play line for me to choose at the given point in the game, is wishing for Dark Petition and passing the turn as a top decked mana source/accelerant enables you to cast Duress (to dismantle the Force of Will) and cast Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam, despite the two Surgical Extractions and with the key to the win condition (Burning Wish) already in hand. Empty the Warrens or Past in Flames are no options for me, according to opponents hand.

I probably would’ve kept the second Burning Wish as a means to playing around several different counterspells – we did see Spell Snare already. I probably would’ve put a Burning Wish on top of the Library with the other Brainstorm. There’s just no need for a useless card to be in our hand with a live one on top of the library where it could be shuffled away with Surgical Extraction.

I dislike going for Goblins in this scenario, because they have Surgical Extraction with two answers in their hand. If they’re even slightly competent, they would remove Cabal Therapy in response to the Empty the Warrens – leaving them with an answer already in hand. My line would be to grind them down with a Burning Wish into Dark Petition.

He ended up drawing, missing the land drop once again. I drew another Gitaxian Probe and while I could have gone for Goblins despite his Engineered Explosives (he’s missing one mana to activate), I wanted to secure a win. I still passed, unsure.

Still no lands for him. To avoid throwing a card for nothing in the graveyard, he played his Engineered Explosives, kept 7 cards and passed again.

I drew a Dark Ritual. With a a hand of three Dark Ritual, three Burning Wish, Lotus Petal and Gitaxian Probe, it would have been ridiculous to keep this game any longer.

This is the sequence I went with: Gitaxian Probe (revealing Snapcaster Mage and Red Elemental Blast, I draw Empty the Warrens), tap Underground Sea for Dark Ritual (Storm 2, BBB), Dark Ritual (Storm 3, BBBBB), Dark Ritual (Storm 4, BBBBBBB), Lotus Petal (Storm 5, BBBBBBB), tap Volcanic Island, for Burning Wish (Storm 6, BBBBBB), Dark Petition (Storm 7, B plus BBBB), sacrifice Lotus Petal, for Ad Nauseam (Storm 8).

It felt good winning with Dark Petition, it felt awful to wait so much against an opponent who couldn’t draw lands.

Situation #2 – Death & Taxes

Using Empty the Warrens properly this time, we managed to win game one against D&T. The deck seems to use the classic mono white list and didn’t show any red or Blood Moon. We sideboard according to the website guide: +4 Abrupt Decay, +1 Grapeshot, +1 Bayou, -4 Ponder, -2 Duress. We enter game two as our opponent mulligans to 6. We keep a hand of:

Polluted Delta, Rite of Flame, Chrome Mox, Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Bloodstained Mire, Chrome Mox.

I appreciate the speed this hand gives. We could win right away with a win condition or use our Brainstorm for a “tutor effect” with some extra mana.

Our opponent opens with a Wasteland, followed by Aether Vial. We draw a Lion’s Eye Diamond! We play a Bloodstained Mire and pass, as if we need to go for Empty the Warrens, every Storm counter will be important. It’s a choice I make over the taxing effect from a possible Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

Our opponent draws, drops a Rishadan Port and then casts a Phyrexian Revoker naming Lion’s Eye Diamond. He passes, and I choose to hold on the Brainstorm despite his lands being tapped. With Lion’s Eye Diamond being ineffective, I just don’t believe in my chance for next turn and want to avoid the Wasteland exposure. I draw Dark Ritual for my turn and pass. He drops a Mother of Runes with this Aether Vial.

He draws, attacks with Phyrexian Revoker and plays a Ratchet Bomb. Empty the Warrens seems not that good anymore. Seeing his lands are all tapped, I try to recover from what I think was a mistake and casts Brainstorm on the end step. I activating the Bloodstained Mire and drawing Rite of Flame, Grapeshot and Gitaxian Probe. Below is a picture of the current situation:

IT02 - Death & Taxes - 01

At this point, seeing no viable option to win the game (Grapeshot could barely hit for 10), I choose to shuffle away the pair of Chrome Mox for a Swamp in play. On my turn, I draw a Bayou. We still don’t know what’s in the opponent’s hand, but Phyrexian Revoker can be protected from Grapeshot with Mother of Runes. I try to analyze the scenario, telling myself that playing Grapeshot after a Gitaxian Probe, with a storm count of two, would get rid of at least one creature. However, if he has one more taxing creature in hand, it would be a waste of removal, and bit premature like our last scenario with our discard spell. In any case, I feel like I need to cast Gitaxian Probe first: revealing Vryn Wingmare and Rest in Peace. I draw a Bloodstained Mire.

I’m quite sure I will need the Grapeshot for the Vryn Wingmare too, I lay the Bloodstained Mire and pass the turn. Our opponent draws and puts a Vryn Wingmare on the battlefield by activating Aether Vial, leaving both of the lands to control mine. Attacking again with Phyrexian Revoker before passing the turn, tapping my Swamp in my upkeep. I draw a Rite of Flame and pass the turn. This turn should have been the opportunity to clear the board to set up a combo on the following turn. But I don’t see how I can manage my objective. I pass again.

The opponent draws, attacks and keep their lands available to tap my Bayou at my upkeep. I draw an Infernal Tutor. Can you win from there?

IT02 - Death & Taxes - 02

I pay one mana to drop my Lion’s Eye Diamond and pass, as my opponent can’t kill me yet.

I don’t see a clear, definite path to victory through either creature, but especially given the knowledge that our opponent will likely save the Vryn Wingmare given the choice between the two. With that in mind, I want to try to bait our opponent into saving the Phyrexian Revoker so that we can win on the following turn if our opponent is really unlucky. To do this, we cast Dark Ritual, then Lion’s Eye Diamond, then Grapeshot putting one damage on each creature. Hopefully he sees the Lion’s Eye Diamond as an excuse to save Phyrexian Revoker. If he does, we pass and pray that he hits blanks, and then on our next turn we use our remaining ritual effects to make 11 mana (assuming a land gets tapped), Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish, Burning Wish for Past in Flames, flashback all of our rituals, and kill them with a flashbacked Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony.

I don’t see a method to win this turn which doesn’t need you to get rid of the Phyrexian Revoker and the Wryn Wingmare, which is impossible due to Mother of Runes, so I would use two Rite of Flames to Grapeshot the board, freeing either the remaining Rituals or the Lions Eye Diamond from restriction and see, if you can power through the next turn(s). I fear it’s far too late trying to turn around the game at this point with Empty the Warrens being no option and and all that restriction on your lands and acceleration. Neither the opening hand nor the Brainstorm were hot.

My initial shock was why you didn’t fire off the Brainstorm on turn one. This is a match-up where you could easily lose the game on turn two, you have most of the pieces to be able to win on turn one – go for it. Even if you miss, I feel the odds are still higher than if you just let them have a second turn.

My other thought is there is such a thing as playing it “too safe” – you’re not a control deck. Calculate the odds of winning if your opponent drops another creature. It’s not very high, I would’ve taken the chance on the previous turn to get rid of at least one of the problematic threats to keep yourself in the game. This slows down the clock, but also provides the opportunity that if you draw one of your eight tutor effects or Ad Nauseam you might be able to do something. If this were the line of play, all of the copies of Abrupt Decay in the deck are now able to hit any future threats now that Mother of Ruins is gone.

As for the immediate situation, I like the idea of casting Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond and then Grapeshot. This forces the opponent to make the correct play instead of the obvious one (keeping Vryn Wingmare). This allows you to possibly start setting up a Past in Flames kill on the following turn if they don’t draw a Plains for Rest in Peace.

Here is how the game ended: On the following turn, Wasteland destroyed my Bayou followed by a second copy of Rishadan Port. Using the lands to tap my Swamp during my upkeep. I drew an extra Dark Ritual for the turn: Infernal Tutor, Grapeshot, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, and no way to win for me.

It felt like the best option was to cast the three copies of Rite of Flame into Grapeshot and then try to win, or the three Dark Rituals, paying the taxes and end up with nothing anyway. Sighing, I conceded. I wonder if Massacre (hard casted, as he had no Plains) or Pyroclasm (still leaving one creature) could have been useful as a “sweeper” not requiring our mana and storm count for support.

Situation #3: 4-Color Deathblade

We’re game 3 in a long, intense match. We’re sideboarded according to the website: +3 Abrupt Decay, +1 Bayou, -2 Ponder, -2 Chrome Mox.

I mulligan and keep the following: Abrupt Decay, Infernal Tutor, Rite of Flame, Gitaxian Probe, Polluted Delta, Lotus Petal.

Luckily, our opponent mulligans to 5. We lead with a Polluted Delta and pass. Our opponent drops a Tropical Island and plays a Ponder. I draw an Underground Sea, cast Gitaxian Probe to check for a Wasteland – wondering if it’s safe to drop our land. Gitaxian Probe reveals: Stoneforge Mystic, True-Name Nemesis, Flusterstorm, Flusterstorm and Flooded Strand. I draw Badlands, lay down Underground Sea.

Our opponent plays Flooded Strand and passes. I draw Lion’s Eye Diamond for turn. Very good combo hand, but we’re held back by the pair of Flusterstorm. Flooded Stand is still untapped on the battlefield, I pass. Our opponent draws and send the turn back. I draw again and get a Lotus Petal. While more mana is great, I’m really looking to draw a Cabal Therapy. Our opponent casts Baleful Strix on their turn, leaving one mana open for a Flusterstorm. As we have no discard spells, Flusterstorm can be a bit much. We draw an additional copy of Infernal Tutor, leaving the battlefield like this:

IT02 - 4c Stoneblade - 01

Not an easy situation without a Cabal Therapy.

I choose to wait. They hit another land drop, play Stoneforge Mystic and search for a Umezawa’s Jitte. I choose to Abrupt Decay the Stoneforge Mystic, this forces them to use more mana to make it relevant..and Abrupt Decay was a dead card in my hand anyway. I draw a Bloodstained Mire, drop it and pass again against the Baleful Strix alone. True-Name Nemesis comes down, I draw and play a Brainstorm on my turn – which finds Infernal Tutor, Dark Ritual and Burning Wish. Sadly, there are no discard spells.

I shuffle away two copies of Infernal Tutor by cracking the Bloodstained Mire (that could be a mistake…?) and play Burning Wish right on the spot. The goal is to get Past in Flames as a safety net or eat a Flusterstorm. They choose to use one! I still have Infernal Tutor and my mana to go, however I know there’s still another copy of Flusterstorm and I really can’t combo without a discard spell or a good bait. After taking a beating on the following turn, I draw another Brainstorm. This one draws Lion’s Eye Diamond, Gitaxian Probe and Duress! With four lands on the board, I feel the pair of Lotus Petal can be put on top, especially since we can draw one with our Gitaxian Probe. I choose to cast it and see this:

IT02 - 4c Stoneblade - 02

The Gitaxian Probe gives us the Lotus Petal we previously did put on top. I know he doesn’t have enough to kill me on his next turn, I pass for an extra Storm counter and initial mana source (the second Lotus Petal). With 8 cards in hand against a sea of counters, is there anything to do now, or should something have been done earlier to prevent this harsh situation?

There’s two scenarios that come to my mind: either I should have won earlier, either I just couldn’t win anytime this game. I try despite everything, but with only one discard and one engine piece. I play Duress, get Flusterstorm, but he plays a Snapcaster Mage and counters my Infernal Tutor anyway.

Unfortunately, it appears that we have lost the game at this point. As with the previous scenario, our best hope is to bait our opponent into countering the wrong spells. We lead with Duress to get rid of the Flusterstorm. Next, we play Rite of Flame. We can’t win if Dark Ritual doesn’t resolve, but we win easily if the Rite of Flame doesn’t. In real life, do your best to really sell like you win if this Rite of Flame resolves. If our opponent does counter the Rite of Flame, we can Infernal Tutor with 7 mana floating and a storm count of 9, allowing us to easily find Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony. It might be worth it to wait a turn, as getting Wastelanded but drawing Lotus Petal means that it doesn’t matter which ritual resolves to win the game. It is certainly easier to get opponents to counter Dark Rituals than Rite of Flames, so we probably wait a turn, hope he draws nothing, and do our best to bait the Snapcaster Mage/Flusterstorm on our Dark Ritual.

This scenario was about dragging out the game until you found a solution for the double Flusterstorm. I don’t quite understand why you casted the Abrupt Decay against the Stoneforge Mystic rather than against the Umezawa’s Jitte (so follow up creatures are no real threat) or shuffle it away with the Brainstorm you casted afterwards. Next, I am not sure why you were so eager to throw the Burning Wish right into the Flusterstorm, if it doesn’t really improve your situation. I would have played around the Flusterstorms and grabbed the sideboard Ponder to dig for Cabal Therapy the next two turns after the first Brainstorm. This should have fixed your issues with the double Flusterstorm and open up a lot of play lines.

It’s certainly another difficult scenario. I would cast Infernal Tutor (Duress), we lose the game if we draw the Lotus Petal next turn. Then cast Duress, hopefully they would play Snapcaster Mage and Flusterstorm from the graveyard. Which would make sense as it lowers our life total on their turn – but opens them up to our second copy of Duress. We kind of need them to misplay. Now we have all the resources we need to win, but would require a live draw. If they keep Snapcaster Mage in hand, we would have to draw Burning Wish to be able to beat it. It’s a possible out, but have to draw the right cards.

It seems like I’m not ready yet to fight counterspells, so better luck in the next article!