We are back with this month’s Infernal Tutoring article! As always, the Legacy Metagame is evolving. Miracles beat Storm in the finals at Eternal Weekend, with a top eight consisting of Sneak And Show, Czech Pile, Turbo Depths, Grixis Control, Elves, and Turbo Depths. Grixis Delver beat Maverick in the Leaving a Legacy 3k championship with a top eight consisting of Red Stompy, Miracles, Goblins, Miracles, and Sneak & Show. While the meta has been extremely diverse, it seems that Miracles has taken over the spot as the number one deck to beat in Legacy, yet again. Bryant Cook wrote an amazing article recently called Combating Miracles. This article really dives into the matchup, so check it out if you already haven’t! For our part here, I’m going to dive into some new scenarios involving how to deal with some new threats in the Legacy Metagame, and some old threats that we all wish would go away already. (I’m looking at you Counterbalance)
A few words on Kazu Negri (@FlametongueKazu):
Kazu has been playing competitive magic since Innistrad’s release, and Modern has been his favorite constructed format since its inception. Known most for his affinity for combo decks, he has made a name for himself as a featured player of the SCG Tour. He has multiple SCG top 8s including a win with Modern Storm, and has had moderate GP success as well including a Modern top 8. He can commonly be found running around or at your local Dunkin’ Donuts.
In our first matchup, we are playing against Belcher! Belcher is a deck that most people thought was dead with the banning of Gitaxian Probe. With the recent printing of Experimental Frenzy, the deck gained a lot of momentum. With Experimental Frenzy in play, the Belcher player can usually play the majority of their deck because they only play a single land. Belcher tries it’s best to power out a turn one Goblin Charbelcher or a turn one Empty the Warrens. With no discard spells or cantrips, the deck goes all in on turn one. This makes the deck very fragile, but in a room full of non-blue decks, it is very powerful.
In this scenario, we kept a relatively slow hand and were able to make the opponent discard a Goblin Charbelcher with our turn one Thoughtseize. The opponent then played out their hand with an Experimental Frenzy ready to go. Lucky for us, our opponent passed giving us a small window to win. We need to do something this turn or we will most likely be dead on our opponent’s next turn.
With two mana sources in play, there is a high chance for Belcher to be able to win the game on the following turn if we don’t win or disrupt them. Since we have no clear way to win here, we have to stop ourselves from dying to them. I would fetch for Volcanic Island, cast Burning Wish for Pulverize, and then cast it. Belcher will have a good amount of uncastable cards off the top (Red Rituals, Seething Song, additional Experimental Frenzy, Goblin Charbelchers, and you can’t exile Spirit Guides from the top, etc), so it gives us some time. While setting us back two lands hurts, we have the Ponder to help us rebuild, and if we happen to find a Dark Ritual we can even make 10 goblins on the following turn for a 2 turn clock. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a decent chance of making 8-10 Goblins otherwise on the turn after.
After assessing the situation, it is very unlikely that we will be able to win this turn, even with a perfect Ponder. Going for a small Empty the Warrens also seems suboptimal based on the current game state. While it seems like the radical choice, I think it is critical that we play the fetch land, grab our Volcanic Island, and cast Burning Wish for Pulverize. While it hurts to sacrifice our two lands, it would hurt a lot more to lose to Belcher! I would save my Ponder for the following turn because I think that hanging on to our two copies of Lotus Petal is critical. Regardless of what we choose to do, we are at the mercy of their deck bricking for a couple of turns.
I can’t help but wonder if we took the correct card with Thoughtseize, I think we could’ve or at least should’ve taken an initial mana source. This way we get them to cast Goblin Charbelcher instead, and then get an even better blowout with the Pulverize we’re about to cast. I would use Bloodstained Mire for Volcanic Island (this way we still have a Badlands to pair with our basic Island) and cast Burning Wish for Pulverize. Then play pink elephants. Next turn you get a random draw step, hopefully it’s fast mana (Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual) of some sort, then Island into Ponder, looking for a way to cast Empty the Warrens. Just praying that the top of their deck are cards they cannot cast.
Empty the Warrens is a losing proposition. We could try to Pulverize, but that doesn’t feel particularly reliable either. I want to use a Lotus Petal to Ponder, with the goal of turning that into a really good Brainstorm. If we find Brainstorm, we can fetch for Volcanic Island and Brainstorm, hoping to set up Burning Wish for Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam or something similar. If our Ponder or our Brainstorm are terrible, we can always fall back on Burning Wish for Pulverize, and just hope that our opponent fails to find good initial mana sources. It is possible that the Brainstorm idea is so unlikely to happen that we just want to lead on Pulverize to give ourselves an extra Lotus Petal for later.
I would play Bloodstained Mire, crack it for a Badlands, and play Burning Wish to grab Pulverize. I would immediately use the Pulverize this turn and set up for a potential Empty the Warrens line next turn. My reasoning for this is that with blowing up all or our opponents mana sources, they would need to hit a very precise string of cards on the top of their deck with Experimental Frenzy to do anything. In my opinion, this is a safer line that going for Empty the Warrens this turn.
This is a tough spot. Letting the opponent untap with mana to spend is dangerous and I agree will most likely be the end of the match. This may be incorrect but I would play out Bloodstained Mire, sacrifice it and search up Volcanic island. I would cast Burning Wish and retrieve Pulverize and cast it for its alternative casting cost by sacrificing the two mountains we have in play to destroy their two available mana sources and pass the turn while muttering a brief prayer that they are unable to generate mana from the top of their library to cast spells with Experimental Frenzy. On the following turn I would draw an unknown card, play Island followed by ponder specifically looking for Dark Ritual (unless the card we acquire in our draw step opens up our ability to cast Empty the Warrens without). Cast both copies Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and finally Empty the Warrens to make 10+ Goblins and hope that a two turn clock will be enough to close out the game.
I’ve never played against Experimental Frenzy, so I’m not 100% sure on its power level. Belcher does play many free cards, but they’d have to chain pretty perfectly and since they can’t play any cards from their hand I would imagine we aren’t going to die next turn. We probably have a couple turns here unless the top of their deck is set up perfectly. With that in mind, I would just play the Island into Ponder to search for more mana like a Dark Ritual or a Rite of Flame to cast off the Badlands. I would then use the 2 copies of Lotus Petal to cast Empty the Warrens for 10 goblins and put them on a 2 turn clock. If there wasn’t a ritual on the top of our library I would shuffle and try to combo off with Tendrils of Agony in the future turns.
This is a pretty dire situation. Looking at the hand, there is currently four mana available. While casting Empty the Warrens for six goblins is possible I think it is incredibly unlikely to win the game. This hand needs to find a lot more mana if it has a chance so my goal is to find a Brainstorm and maximize its odds. I would start by casting Lotus Petal into Ponder. This allows either a shuffle afterwards, if only one card is good with the Bloodstained Mire, or the cards can be kept by playing the Island. With these cantrips, I’m looking mostly for Lion’s Eye Diamonds to attempt to cast Burning Wish for Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam. If that fails, I want enough mana to cast Empty the Warrens for at least 12 -14 goblins.
Since we don’t have the kill in hand and can’t get rid of the Experimental Frenzy itself, I would consider stalling our opponent by casting Pulverize to destroy their artifact mana and hope that Experimental Frenzy fails to reveal initial mana sources for the next turns.
SITUATION #2 – Miracles
Our next scenario is against Miracles! Our previous game plan against Miracles was to play the slow game and grind the opponent out with cards like Past in Flames and Cabal Ritual. The recent addition of Accumulated Knowledge has made us shift our game plan slightly though. It isn’t nearly as feasible to try to play the long game against Miracles, because they will crush us with card advantage. We want to beat Miracles before they can stabilize.
In this scenario, we were so close to setting up a kill, but the opponent played a Counterbalance followed by a Back to Basics while our lands were tapped, which really slowed us down. On the turn prior, our opponent played a Ponder and chose to not shuffle. After going to their next turn and drawing the second card that they put back with Ponder, the opponent cast Predict, targeting themselves.
If our opponent had a card with converted mana cost of one top, it’s unlikely that they would want to get rid of it, so we can reasonably infer that our Dark Rituals are safe. Given that we’re not sure if we’ll be able to resolve our spells on our turn if they draw another cantrip, there’s no real better time than to go for it now and cross your fingers to fade Flusterstorm and/or Force of Will.
One of the things that I love about Ad Nasueam, that is often forgotten by our opponents, is the fact that it can be cast at instant speed! The way that our opponent has sequenced their last two turns, telegraphs that they have a card on top of their library that they don’t mind throwing away to Predict. It is very unlikely that our opponent would throw away a cantrip, so the only one CMC card that we need to be worried about being on top of our opponent’s library in game one is Swords to Plowshares. Since there are only four copies in our opponent’s deck the odds are probably in our favor. Since we don’t know our opponent’s hand, we definitely are vulnerable to a counterspell here, but with Back to Basics and Counterbalance in play, it isn’t getting better for us. I ultimately decided to jam here, but I could definitely see the merit of waiting, especially because we have a discard spell in our hand.
Knowing what game this is crucial to me, it’s likely game one based on the image. Knowing my opponent set up a Ponder the turn prior it’s safe to assume it’s either a one or a two mana spell on top of their Library. Cards such as Swords to Plowshares come to mind as something they would want to Predict away here. That said, a main phase Predict is a sign of weakness in my opinion which would make me want to jam the Ad Nauseam and it stops our opponent from setting up a converted mana cost of one on top of their library with Ponder or Portent. I think it’s a fine move to go for it.
That said, I think the answers to this question will be skewed due to you giving away the result of the situation below. I could easily see people not going for it and waiting on the Duress. This situation is a good one and very close either way.
I don’t see a compelling reason to try to win here. Two extra cards are annoying, but I’d rather be able to cast Duress on our Ad Nauseam turn given that they kept with Ponder which makes them pretty likely to have a Force of Will or Flusterstorm in hand.
In my experience, you have to take advantage of this tight windows to win the game with a Counterbalance in play, if we don’t go for it now we will most likely lose the game anyways. I would jam.
Yeah, to me this seems like it will probably be our most opportune moment to resolve Ad Nauseam. The opponent is not currently in control of the top of their library, if we are able to resolve both copies of Dark Ritual and Ad Nauseam we still will have resources in hand to possibly set up a Past in Flames line in later turns. It’s possible that the cards they kept on top were permission spells and that we run into counter magic and it’s also possible that by chance the top card of their library has a converted mana cost one. Either of these outcomes would stop our Ad Nauseam line in its tracks, but that is just a risk we will have to take. I say go for it.
This is interesting because the opponent has not played a land yet, knows their top card, and only has 1 mana open right now. I would go for it right now. I think the opponent’s top card is probably just a land or some higher converted mana cost card. They were probably stacking the top of their deck floating 1’s the past couple turns, but their bottom card of the 3 was not a good one. The chance of the opponent having a Force of Will or other 1 mana counterspell is pretty high, but I don’t know if waiting until our turn or until they play another land will increase our chances. I would go for it now, but not sacrificing the Lion’s Eye Diamond.
The card on top of their deck is the third card from after their Ponder. Given the main phase Predict, the opponent does not think that this is a good card to leave on top of their library. To me, this makes it more likely that the card on top is not a zero, one or two. Given it’s game one, it could be something like a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or a Council’s Judgement. If Predict resolves, this also gives them another two card that could interact and the amount of mana available is dwindling, due to the Back to Basics. I would cast Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam in response to the Predict and hope for the best.
This question demands a bit of knowledge about the decks current design to be answered and boils down to the question of which cards your opponent is willing to mill versus TES. Given that most cards with converted cost one in a post-board game are cantrips or counterspells like Flusterstorm and ergo better in the hand than the graveyard, it appears most likely that a Terminus, Accumulated Knowledge, or Land is fated to hit the yard instead. That also means that it’s unlikely, that your Rituals get stuck in that Counterbalance.
SITUATION #3 – Miracles Continued
Our final scenario actually happened in the same game as the last one! We ended up resolving the Ad Nauseam on the opponent’s turn. After our Ad Nauseam finished resolving, our opponent played a Brainstorm. The opponent took about five minutes to resolve the Brainstorm, which probably meant that they were really trying to figure out what card to put on top of their library. The opponent then played a Plains and passed the turn to us.
This situation showcases how frustrating it can be playing against Counterbalance. The good news is, we were able to resolve the Ad Nauseam, but now we still have to be very careful on our turn, or we could get punished and potentially throw away the game. How would you start the turn? How would your line differ if the opponent’s Counterbalance revealed a zero CMC card, a one CMC card, or a two CMC card?
In this scenario, I think we’re looking to Empty the Warrens for as much as we can while paying respect to Force of Will. That said, if our opponent screws up, we can potentially Tutor kill them. Given that our opponent knows the majority of our hand from Ad Nauseum, putting a spell with converted mana cost of two on top makes the least sense, so I’m ignoring that possibility entirely. I’m fetching for Swamp and casting Duress. If our opponent chooses to reveal a one casting cost card, we start playing out our artifacts starting with Chrome Mox. If our opponent declines to counter any of them, to give respect to Force of Will, we cast Empty the Warrens for 14 Goblins, and hope it’s good enough. If our opponent does Force of Will one of the artifacts, we are pretty free to then cast Cabal Ritual and Infernal Tutor (breaking the Lion’s Eye Diamonds) for Burning Wish into Tendrils of Agony. If our opponent kept a casting cost of zero on top, then the Duress must be countered by Force of Will (or it clears the way), which leaves us free to cast Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, our artifacts, and then Empty the Warrens for lethal next turn. We would be hoping to fade Predict/Portent into Terminus or white source and Supreme Verdict.
As we continue to crawl our way out of this hole, we were able to resolve an Ad Nauseam. Whether going for it was correct or not, which was the topic of our last scenario, it happened and we got there. Now we have to figure out how to win this turn through a Counterbalance, and potential countermagic that could have been found from our opponent’s Predict and Brainstorm. Let’s look at some of the obvious observations. The opponent played a Plains, which is amazing for us! That means that from a countermagic perspective, we are only playing around Force of Will. In addition to that, all three of our red lands are in play, so we can’t fetch up another red source. This will be extremely important if the opponent reveals a land with their Counterbalance because we would have no other red sources. I would start by playing a Chrome Mox:
If the opponent reveals a zero converted mana cost (CMC) card, I would play out my Fetchland, grab a black source, and cast Duress. Assuming it resolved, and the coast was clear, I would play both copies of Rite of Flame, all of our zero CMC cards, and then Empty the Warrens for 18 Goblins.
If the opponent revealed a one CMC card, I would play out a Fetchland and cast Cabal Ritual. If the opponent counters it, I would play out my other zero CMC artifacts and go for the Infernal Tutor chain for a natural storm kill. I am taking a gamble that the opponent doesn’t have a second Force of Will, but I am okay with those chances. If the opponent does not counter my Cabal Ritual, I would play out the zero CMC cards and go for an Empty the Warrens. I would then end things with an Infernal Tutor cracking my three copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond to try to get the natural storm kill. If the opponent does have a Force of Will for our Infernal Tutor, we will still have Goblins to fall back on.
If the opponent reveals a two CMC card, I would start by fetching for a black source to Duress the opponent. Assuming the coast was clear, I would cast both copies of Rite of Flame, play out our 0 CMC cards, cast Duress, and then Empty the Warrens.
Eh, not a fan of this scenario. There’s a winning line regardless of what your opponent put on top. You still have a land drop and a variety of spells. I’d start by playing my land and then I’d check with an artifact, to check for zero. Then if it’s countered you have a clean protected kill with Rite of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Duress, and Infernal Tutor. If all of your artifacts resolve, I’d cast Rite of Flame to check for one, if this resolves your opponent most likely put a two mana spell on top. Cast the other copy of Rite of Flame. I’d cast Cabal Ritual as bait, if it resolves I’d cast Duress, and then the Empty the Warrens. It’s possible your opponent put Terminus on top if everything resolves, so then you Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish and win. There is no losing line here.
Start with Chrome Mox and see if it resolves. If it does follow-up with a Lion’s Eye Diamond so we can be certain their isn’t a slow-rolled zero on top. Imprint a Thoughtseize on Chrome Mox and Duress as necessary to clear some space. If they reveal a one, then play out the relevant parts of our hand, and play Cabal Ritual into Empty the Warrens into Infernal Tutor looking to set up Tendrils of Agony. If the discard spell resolves too and we can clear the coast, then we can use Rite of Flame to build up red mana. From there, we can cast Cabal Ritual. If it gets countered, we are all-in on Empty the Warrens. If it doesn’t we can just run the same line as before where we Empty the Warrens into Infernal Tutor.
The three possible mana costs of the card on top of our opponent’s library is zero, one, or two. If they left a one on top, they are most certainly dead unless they have Force of Will. If they left a zero, then have the tools to make goblins with Empty the Warrens anyways. If they left a two, same as above except we can also Duress them. My bet is that they left a zero on top. In any of these cases though, I would lead off with a Lion’s Eye Diamond to see if he flips. If he doesn’t reveal, I would immediately play Rite of Flame. I think his only ways out here is having either Force of Will in hand or having an answer to a horde of goblin tokens.
In this situation I would start by casting Chrome Mox (Storm 1) to see if opponent checks with Counterbalance. If Chrome Mox is countered by Counterbalance I would cast the remainder of the free spells I have left in my hand to build up to a storm count of five, play Polluted Delta, fetch Swamp (2 life), cast Rite of Flame (Storm 6; 2R) from Badlands, use Swamp and one red from Rite of Flame to cast Cabal Ritual (storm 7; 1R, 5B). I would cast Duress (Storm 8; 1R, 4B) before exposing Infernal Tutor to a possible Surgical Extraction from our opponent. Cast Infernal Tutor (Storm 9; 1R, 2B) find our third copy of Rite of Flame and cast both copies that are in our hand (Storm 11; 6R, 2B). Cast Infernal Tutor, retain priority, sacrifice Lion’s Eye Diamond (Storm 12; 5R, 4B) search for and cast Burning Wish (Storm 13; 3R, 3B) Kill them with Tendrils of Agony (Storm 14; 1R, 1B).
If our initial Chrome Mox (Storm 1) isn’t countered I doubt they would reveal to us that the top card of their library has a converted mana cost of one so I would most likely imprint a copy of Thoughtseize and cast a Duress (Storm 2) to both see if the opponent is going to divulge anymore information about the top of their library and to check their hand for anything they might have drawn from their previous turns Brainstorm that could potentially thwart the remainder of our combo turn. It is possible the opponent wont reveal the top card of their library to us. At this point I would cast another copy of Chrome Mox (Storm 3) if they didn’t reveal to the first Chrome Mox it is likely that they also won’t reveal to this copy, I would imprint another copy of Thoughtseize, and play out our Lotus Petal (Storm 4). I would play and sacrifice Polluted Delta (2 Life) searching for Swamp giving us access to 4 mana sources. From here I would cast Rite of Flame (Storm 5) and for the purpose of this exercise we will assume that opponent reveals a card with converted mana cost one which is great! Cast Cabal Ritual (Storm 6; 5B) Cast Infernal Tutor (Storm 7; 3B) for the last copy of Lion’s Eye Diamond, play out all three copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond (Storm 10; 3B) Cast Infernal Tutor and retain priority sacrifice two copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond (Storm 11; 3R, 4B) grab Burning Wish and cast it for Tendrils of Agony (Storm 13; 1R).
I would lead off with casting a Lion’s Eye Diamond as a bait card hoping for a Counterbalance reveal. The problem with that is even if the opponent is floating a zero they may choose not to reveal because they know our 2nd and 3rd Lion’s Eye Diamond isn’t as important to our hand, but I’d give them the opportunity to reveal. If they chose not to reveal then I would try the copies of Chrome Mox and then finally the Lotus Petal. If all of these resolve there is most certainly a 1 or a 2 on top. To check if there’s a 1 on top I would cast the Rite of Flame off the Badlands. This would certainly force a reveal if there’s a 1 on top. If he doesn’t reveal here I would assume there’s a 2 and be forced to cast a Thoughtseize off of 1 Chrome Mox and the other Rite of Flame and cast Empty the Warrens for like 18 goblins. If he reveals a 1 on top we have an easy kill using our Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony.
Given the opponent knows what is on top of their library, they will not reveal it until it matters. This means that they could potentially let spells resolve that otherwise could have been countered. I would start by playing out all of the zeros. The best case scenario is that there is a zero on top of the opponents library, as all of the artifacts can be countered and there is still enough to win the game, through the land drop, rituals and the Lion’s Eye Diamond already in play. If all of the artifacts resolve, I would assume that the opponent does not have a zero on top. This leaves five initial mana available. I would first cast the Rite of Flames. If they both resolve, I would then cast a discard spell to double check the opponent’s hand for a Force of Will. If the opponent reveals to counter the discard spell, I would cast Empty the Warrens before the Infernal Tutor, to hedge against a Force of Will. If all of the one costed spells resolve, I would assume that there is a two on top. At this point, there is seven initial mana available, with three Lion’s Eye Diamonds. I would cast the Cabal Ritual and then the Empty the Warrens regardless of what resolves. If the Cabal Ritual Does resolve, then I would try casting an Inferal Tutor for Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony to finish the game on the spot.
If we look at the scenario from the other side of the table, your opponent has only the options to block your spells that cost zero or two mana, which is highlighted by our opponent taking forever to resolve the Brainstorm. Thankfully we can test the water for cheap with a Lion’s Eye Diamond and a Rite of Flame to provoke a reaction. If both resolve, you can assume that your opponent has attempted to stop Infernal Tutor & Burning Wish with a two casting cost spell and your Empty the Warrens will win most likely regardless. The opposite is also true, if your opponent blocks your zero mana spells. I believe we can pretty much rule out a one casting cost spell in general, as both players know that would have next to no effect.
As I wrap up this article, I just want to encourage everyone to keep your head up against the Miracles menace. The more that you learn the intricacies of the matchup, the more you start to see that we have all of the tools to beat them, even while facing down a resolved Counterbalance. Playing against Miracles will definitely stretch you mentally, but that is all part of becoming a better Legacy player. In almost every match of Magic, your opponent will put their shields down, giving you a window to win. While you won’t always be able to exploit that, it goes to show that no deck in Legacy is perfect.
Until next time, keep storming on!
Like many others, Josh started playing Magic: The Gathering in middle school, where he learned to base his self-worth on how many dragons he owned. These dragons ended up coming in handy 15 years later when he got back into Magic and started playing EDH. After playing it for about six months, Josh heard rumors about a format with decks that could win on turn one. Since then, Josh has focused completely on Legacy.
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