A look behind
For the sake of contextualization, let’s say a lot happened for the league since the last article was published. I was ahead in our ranking, but without a comfortable lead over my competition. It was our last weekly event, only was thing was left between that time and the final tournament – a practice night. Which revealed itself to be very instructive, filled with decision making and conceptual thoughts about the deck and my own meta play. It had to be, at the same time, the final testing ground and a final moment in which I could grind more points to win our league even with a counter-performance on Saturday night.
Quite a shattering event for a new comer. Bear with me, this whole series of articles was dedicated to be a learning experience and it successfully made me a better player. I hope the exposed thought process, flawed, corrected, or sometimes right, will help more people to come.
But as there was no tomorrow, no time to go online between that practice and the tournament, I had to think on my own. This very article should expose, for a last time, my deepest weaknesses but also what I learned from you.
To start the practice, I went over the last changes we had and brought back the Abrupt Decay, removing most of the copies of Dread of Night, as it didn’t prove itself when it had the chance to. I gave a last chance to Abrupt Decay in hope it would do better – It didn’t.
I ended the night 3-1, losing again to Death & Taxes. It seems I’ll need a full season only dedicated to this match-up. There would be a lot of things to say about it, but it would most likely be a repetition of what was written over the last weeks.
At last, the loss confirmed my final thought; I couldn’t cast Abrupt Decay without exposing myself to Wasteland. By the time I was feeling comfortable at casting it, I couldn’t anymore because of taxing effects. It always felt too slow or too dangerous and it seemed I always had better options elsewhere. Was it because I didn’t know how to play them or because the cards were plain bad in the meta? I knew at least one thing after that night: I wouldn’t play those on Saturday.
Crisis before the tournament
Following the practice night, haunted by the hate decks, I couldn’t find peace to settle a proper deck list. With no suggestions working, either that I found on my own or from the advice received, I was struggling to get anything done. I looked back at most of the results if there was a correlation to notice in my play. Over the last weeks, my only lost were against hard hate, the two phenomenal decks. I had to understand what the evidences were showing me: if I couldn’t manage to win for months, there would be no miracle solution this special night either. This tournament would be more important than the rest of the season combined, but if I could pull the same results there as I did previously, there would be no need for me to beat Death & Taxes and Punishing Maverick.
So I sat down, took and pen, and wrote this.
4 Polluted Delta
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
3 Chrome Mox
4 Infernal Tutor
4 Burning Wish
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Cabal Therapy
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Ad Nauseam
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Past in Flames
1 Dark Petition
3 Shattering Spree
2 Xantid Swarm
The main deck would be what I played most of the summer: the same list as the website to that date, minus a Duress, plus a Chrome Mox. The reason being that Cabal Ritual and Rain of Filth are a bit too slow for the metagame we described in the early articles and since almost no counterspells are played, a third Duress isn’t that required while I can play a faster card instead against hate.
I chose to bring Grapeshot back in sideboard because of graveyard hate, mostly. With Surgical Extraction being played a lot, a new win condition, less mana dependent, would be complementary to a quick Empty the Warrens. I felt the need for it and at the same time, it always proved useful against Elves and other creature decks.
The difficult cut happened to be the Xantid Swarm. I felt like they would be useful against Stoneblade and Manaless Dredge, but with both decks having close to no removal post-sideboard, 3 copies appeared to be too much. I preferred a second Chain of Vapor over a third Xantid Swarm. I knew they would be useful as I knew that Leyline of Sanctity were being borrowed.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory, right or wrong. There was no way I was playing Abrupt Decay and Shattering Spree seemed like the best replacement for the slot. All I needed was a few wins in a Round Robin tournament. As the first player came in, my deck list was done and the tension built up before the first game. I had a deck to represent.
Round 1 – Alexis on Esper Stoneblade
I find it exciting to finally play against a real blue deck in a tournament venue. However, since its pilot isn’t that familiar with blue archetypes and because the deck is in fact mine, I feel rather confident going in with TES. Me and Alexis have tested the match-up a bit and we’re both thriving as we roll the dice, which I lose.
Hand: Underground Sea, Volcanic Island, Polluted Delta, Ponder, Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish.
What an almost perfect hand. I choose to keep with a turn 1 Ponder in mind if I’m left alone, however, he plays a Thoughtseize on his turn, taking out the blue card. I draw Dark Ritual on my turn. Without interaction with his hand, but still wanting to go before equipments become relevant, I choose to bait early and see where it leads me. He plays nothing on his turn 2. I draw a Gitaxian Probe and choose to play it with life, to see if a bait is really necessary.
His hand is Force of Will, Force of Will, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Snapcaster Mage.
I choose to go for it as I cast Burning Wish. It resolves, I grab myself a Past in Flames, just for fun, as I still have the Infernal Tutor and the pair of Dark Ritual. I know I can’t go fully before I get discard spells, but I’m patient.
He plays a Snapcaster Mage into Thoughtseize on his turn 3. Past in Flames makes it hard to choose anything as the flashback will most likely give me the edge anyway. He chooses to take out the Past in Flames itself, forcing me to play tighter around mana. I draw Gitaxian Probe again, and my notes say I play it right away from a land to have it in my graveyard while I search for discard spells. With three lands in play, I don’t have enough mana to go. I know I’ll most likely have to face two resolved Force of Will. Gitaxian Probe however gives me the Duress I need, so I’m only waiting on some mana.
On his turn 4, he draws a Tundra, plays it and casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I find it risky as now only a proper Brainstorm out of Jace, the Mind Sculptor can give him the second blue card to pitch to Force of Will. It makes it easier for me that he shows his draw. Could be a bait.
Luckily, I draw a third Dark Ritual on my turn. I however need a clear path before I throw everything at once. To achieve this, I know I need the Infernal Tutor to fetch for an other Duress, as Alexis most likely found a blue card out of his previous Brainstorm effect, and is waiting with two Force of Will. At best, the Infernal Tutor will resolve and I will have two Duress in hand, at worst, it will get countered by a Force of Will, thus making the second Duress not needed anyway.
With that in mind, we start a rather great turn 4. I start the combo with a Dark Ritual out of an Underground Sea. It resolves. I cast Infernal Tutor right away, with now a black floating mana, two Dark Ritual in hand, and our combo most likely ready to go if we manage a resolved Past in Flames.
Infernal Tutor resolves, I reveal a Duress and play it right away from the floating mana. I see only the pair of Force of Will with no other blue cards. With only two lands left, I cast the remaining rituals for 5 black mana and tap the last land for the red mana and Past in Flames (floating a single black mana). I use that to cast the Dark Ritual again, empty my hand and make sure to flashback Infernal Tutor before the Gitaxian Probe & Ponder to ensure Hellbent. I once lost a game because I didn’t pay attention to that. With that Infernal Tutor grabbing me Ad Nauseam, I can easily fix my game and win on the spot.
Our turn 2 bait for Past in Flames worked exactly like we needed.
Sideboard: -4 Ponder, -2 Chrome Mox, +2 Chain of Vapor, +1 Void Snare, +1 Grapeshot, +2 Xantid Swarm
I’m unfamiliar with the sideboard against this deck. I know he will remove his Swords to Plowshares and thus I feel like Xantid Swarm can help a lot against the Flusterstorm. A general strategy is to bring the Abrupt Decay for the Meddling Mage, but if you’re reading this, you most likely know my story with those… I thus bring the other spot removals in. I remove cards as stated on the website itself, tweaking the numbers to make more room for the Xantid Swarm. I don’t know if it’s a right move, but I’m up a game, I have room for mistakes.
Hand: Burning Wish, Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Volcanic Island, Polluted Delta and Underground Sea.
What a short but intense game. Long story short, I made a mistake that helped me by a full turn.
He does nothing on his first turn, most likely because of a bad mulligans. I only drop a land and play Brainstorm before my turn two. I draw a Gitaxian Probe on my second turn, check his hand, he Brainstorm in response. I’m clear to make 14 goblins using Empty the Warrens, discarding my entire hand to Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Of course, he put Engineered Explosives on top and clears the table on turn three.
My first draw after that play is an Infernal Tutor. I cast it while I’m still Hellbent and find… a Past in Flames main deck!? I left it there! With two Dark Ritual in the graveyard, an Infernal Tutor and a Brainstorm, it seems like the easiest way to build up a hand. I was going for Burning Wish anyway! Here is a welcomed, saved turn.
As he tries to race with a Stoneforge Mystic after his good move, he can’t beat the mana provided by Lion’s Eye Diamond for a proper Past in Flames. Tendrils of Agony settles the game a few turns later.
Round 2 – Alexandra on Burn
I didn’t expect Alexandra to play her Burn deck. As she had the upper hand in skirmishes, I feel a bit worried, but I’ve been practicing a lot lately while she hasn’t played much Magic. Strong from my last win, I roll the dice, but manage to lose again.
Hand: Ponder, Brainstorm, Volcanic Island, Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame and Empty the Warrens.
She opens with a Lava Spike. I draw a Gitaxian Probe, which I play with life, as I know I’ll make goblins this turn. I see a Pyroclasm in her hand? Yeah, not a good choice anymore. I then play my land, cast Ponder… and manage to find a Cabal Therapy among the three cards, which I draw. Happily, I then play the Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, the Lion’s Eye Diamond and then Empty the Warrens. I sacrifice Lion’s Eye Diamond, thus discarding my Cabal Therapy, allowing me to flashback and discard the Pyroclasm.
She can’t recover from that and the win is secured. A clean turn 1 win!
Sideboard: -4 Gitaxian Probe, -1 Duress, +2 Chain of Vapor, +1 Void Snare, +1 Pyroclasm, +1 Grapeshot
Most of her hate comes from permanents and I would rather use the synergy between Goblin Guide paired with Brainstorm. I grab everything to get rid of those and Eidolon Of The Great Revel.
Whatever my hand is, I blind Cabal Therapy on the first turn to get rid of Eidolon Of The Great Revel. I see a lot of threats, but no lands in her hand? That’s the story of the game: I let myself sink to 6 life while she’s mana short, to finally use a Chain of Vapor on my artifacts for free Storm. It wasn’t much of a game, bad luck for her.
Round 3 – Bruno on Elves
Brunolost a round already, while I was 2-0. I’m most likely ahead in our standings for good, as he needed to have a better score than me to win. Only Jean-Christophe can beat me in our standings from here… but not if I win this match. I try to be relaxed, but this remains in the back of my head. Bruno wins the dice roll, again.
Hand: Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual and Brainstorm.
Who needs starting mana, anyway? I did. (On a serious note, would you have kept that hand? I mean, it looks so good…)
Sideboard: -3 Ponder, -1 Empty the Warrens, +2 Chain of Vapor, +1 Grapeshot, +1 Pyroclasm. I didn’t really feel the need for a sorcery speed spot removal, and with Massacre still in the board, I’m confident with these sweepers.
Hand: Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Chrome Mox, Duress, Cabal Therapy, Underground Sea and Dark Ritual.
He mulligans down to 5 but surprises me with a Leyline of Sanctity. However, with both Chain of Vapor in the deck, the Void Snare available with Burning Wish, and with no Chalice of the Void to prevent me from using those! I know I can settle for a quick Ad Nauseam win and start cantripping for it. I shuffle away my discard spells, with Brainstorm and the fetch lands I find, due to Leyline of Sanctity. It gives me enough room and cards for a proper Ad Nauseam – I can’t hide my grin as it reveals a Chain of Vapor following a Lotus Petal.
Hand: Underground Sea, Polluted Delta, Volcanic Island, Burning Wish, Gitaxian Probe, Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy.
He empties his hand by turn two, he plays everything but can’t find a combo piece. I play Burning Wish searching for Massacre on my turn, but have to sacrifice Dark Ritual to cast it properly. However, having cantrips helps me filter my draw steps, allowing me to once again, win with Past in Flames. By far the MVP of this tournament! This round was enough to secure months of work into a proper title for The EPIC Storm!
Round 4 – Jean-Christophe on Punishing Maverick
Hatebears… What a great way to end the summer. I previously could manage this Punishing Maverick brew, unlike the pure Death & Taxes build, but Jean-Christophe is a very strong player who, I’m sure, learned from that experience, tweaked his play and deck for the cause.
Nothing much to say, notes aren’t helping either. By the time I could have a decent Empty the Warrens he already had an Umezawa’s Jitte online and equipped on a Mother of Runes. I scoop early.
Sideboard: -4 Ponder, -2 Duress, -1 Cabal Therapy, +2 Chain of Vapor, +1 Void Snare, +1 Grapeshot, +1 Pyroclasm, +2 Shattering Spree. I tell myself I’ll be fine with a Shattering Spree available on Burning Wish, because I don’t need them against Chalice of the Void, only for equipments and Ethersworn Canonist.
Hand: Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Gitaxian Probe, Gitaxian Probe, Burning Wish, Swamp and Underground Sea.
As I’m missing some mana to go right away on a Burning Wish, my first thought is to play Gitaxian Probe which reveals a Wasteland in his hand – I can play around that. For instance, a cantrip would be nice, but I can’t expose myself to Wasteland yet.
His hand looks like this: Deathrite Shaman, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Mother of Runes, Green Sun’s Zenith and two lands.
I find a Brainstorm off of that Gitaxian Probe and I cast it right away off the Underground Sea, but it doesn’t find red mana. The game progresses with him playing a Mother of Runes, but still being land light. He eventually draws an Ethersworn Canonist the turn before I could produce red mana. A little bitter, I cast Burning Wish for Shattering Spree – even if it won’t get rid of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I remembered the Green Sun’s Zenith and expect a Gaddock Teeg coming soon, preventing the Massacre.
I was wrong. He didn’t have the mana to fetch that Gaddock Teeg. Another mistake was that he had a Mother of Runes online to prevent me destroying Ethersworn Canonist. Two mistakes in a single turn, but that’s my fate against hatebears. I extend the hand and admit my defeat.
Final thoughts after an amazing adventure
With all friends leaving pour la Grand’Terre, as we say on the islands, I knew this tournament would be my last Magic games for a long, long while. I’m at the same time glad it’s over, exhausted, happy, but I can’t deny a taste of failure. So much work to fail yet again against hatebears.
I wish I could say I understand what happened, that my friends built unusual decks or techniques to beat The EPIC Storm. I wish I could say I understand that you don’t need to win every matches to be a tournament, only enough. In fact, I can say I understand, but I don’t feel it. But was it worthless? Not at all. While I still consider myself as a newbie, we can’t deny the progress that was made in our playgroup. As I learned from all of you, my partners needed to adapt and became stronger on their own. Alone on the island, we now wouldn’t fear playing with more people, and who knows, maybe in a large tournament if an opportunity shows up.
I was a bit worried about the future, too. Like, with still so much to learn but no way to practice, how can a man improve at all? And that’s where I realized how lucky we are, Storm players, to have the best community around. I mean, our participation on forums eclipses other decks like no other, the activity on the Facebook page is nothing to be ashamed, and this very website is becoming a gold mine of knowledge. There will always be events to come, reports to read, coverage to watch, as long as we decide as a community to show up and represent.
Thanks again for the help, that was hell of a ride.
P.S. This is what victory tastes like here in Canada.