The EPIC Storm approaches the Magdalen coast – the Hate Deck

Before anything, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you for your amazing support. I didn’t know the first article would have such an effect on this hidden player base The EPIC Storm seems to have. I’m glad this fills a need we never expected to be that big. The kind words on Cockatrice from some of you were really appreciated. With that said, let’s get back to work.

Follow-up from last week

Pressured would be the finest word to describe how things went after the first article was published. Expected would be a close second. After two nights of intense play, my final record was 5-3. My losses were against Reanimator and Death & Taxes, which I played against twice. I should have expected the hate.

Three things were to be tested in these games. First, if I was good enough as a player to win against the favorable match-ups. Second, how the sideboard/gameplay were going to be against the hate and difficult opponents. Third, what would I change for the incoming tournament based on the results I would have.

While I think I got lucky enough to win against Burn twice, I feel pretty confident going in next Thursday against most of the field. I surely lost a few games prior to this week due to bad plays where I wasn’t sure of the proper choice and tried a few things out. Mistakes were made and mostly acknowledged, hopefully we’re now on cruise control to win.

Regarding specific cards, Abrupt Decay felt way too short against the most problematic encounters. I wanted an answer, a possibility to win against Chalice of the Void while I’m waiting on Shattering Spree. Abrupt Decay seemed like the best compromise, but it ended with a chance too small to even be considered. As it doesn’t have to hit Counterbalance, Meddling Mage or deal with pure MUD deck, the card loses a lot of power and become almost subpar compared to other solutions. After these testing sessions, it really felt like throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire. It doesn’t do much.

The sweepers were a bit better, but it seems the strategy is still lacking somewhere. I found a use for Pyroclasm against Elves, Death & Taxes, and a version of Burn. Somehow, the card often feels better as a sideboard target than having it in hand; as I want Pyroclasm when I need it, not when I could combo instead. My final thought on Pyroclasm is mixed. It’s a nice tool, but I used it wrong by boarding it in any match-up. In other words, it did well in sweeping the board, but a board sweep had much less impact than I expected. I thought I would be able to win every games after a sweep, and it isn’t the case.

The increased utility of Grapeshot showed once against Burn. Somehow, I managed to use it as lethal 20 storm counters. Else than that, it felt very similar to Pyroclasm, with the exception that I was already sure I preferred it in the sideboard as a permanent target for Burning Wish.

Massacre, as always, gave me at least one game vs Death & Taxes. But a game isn’t a match.

And then, to my surprise, I felt Void Snare just isn’t doing enough, at least where I would like it to do more. The following will also apply to Chain of Vapor, but the the instant speed makes the whole difference as it leaves you more mana the turn you go off. Or at least, it has other utilization, like bouncing a Griselbrand before it attacks, and leave your opponent short on life. Actually, let’s go deeper in the main subject for this week: problematic matchups, hate, and sideboard cards.

Storm Chaser one: Death & Taxes

The very troublesome essence of Death & Taxes (or other hate bear decks of the same configuration) is that Chalice of the Void set at one counter prevents the use of Chain of Vapor or Void Snare, which are our natural solutions for hate bears like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Ethersworn Canonist, Vryn Wingmare or Gaddock Teeg. It would be an issue we could deal with if a win before the first Chalice of the Void was assured, however, a turn 0 win isn’t always possible. Especially if game one is lost.

As a new player, I thought the easy solution would be sweepers, as stated before, mostly because of their smaller mana cost. However, even without hate bear, a deck with Chalice of the Void cuts out at least one of our additional mana sources; either artifacts when it’s at 0, or Rituals (and thus cutting the Past in Flames option) when settled at 1. Because of that, I had to rearrange my priority on what to hate. To this day, nothing succesfull has been found.

Here is an example on why Abrupt Decay might not be enough, in any chase a turn one Empty the Warrens can be done. Sounds unrealistic or impossible? It happens all the time. While on the play, after losing game one. Before anything, Death & Taxes drops two Leyline of Sanctity. A turn one Empty the Warrens isn’t possible, but we go for a fetch/go, or a cantrip.

On its turn one, Death & Taxes drops Aether Vial. And, of course Chalice of the Void at 0. We get a turn two, but Empty the Warrens is still hard to do without proper artifact mana acceleration. We can’t win this turn either. A typical turn two for Death & Taxes will be, you have guess, Chalice of the Void for 1. Next turn, an Ethersworn Canonist in play. And a Wasteland waiting for your Bayou. It quickly becomes impossible to fight back.

As a general consensus, The EPIC Storm seems to do better when the full aggro strategy (read: Goblins) is used against these control decks, instead of trying to fight every angle of hate. This is why I last week was so important: finding the right angle to exploit, and give us a slight breach to combo out. We should see that soon enough.

Storm Chaser two: Reanimator

On the opposite, it seems we have all the tools necessary to fight Reanimator, but maybe not enough time. Please understand my experience against the deck is very limited, but at least I could grasp the general issue.

Griselbrand is, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest problem against any Storm deck in the matchup. Fighting through counterspells is already hard enough, but a big clock makes everything worse. It seems unrealistic to think Xantid Swarm is enough on its own against all of these. At least that’s what I thought, and here comes a real difference between Void Snare and Chain of Vapor. Bouncing Griselbrand while declared as an attacker in damn fun and effective.

But of course, Reanimator has the property of shutting down Empty the Warrens with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. This is the hard part: naturally cutting a win condition when you can fight the other with counter magic has to give you an edge. There’s no doubt about it. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t win, or are too limited on our actions. As The EPIC Storm can compete against the deck in speed, their counter magic is most of the time used against us, and not for them, leaving the Storm deck able to control the game without hard hate, and exploding the following turns.

Yes, it’s implicit that Reanimator doesn’t go off by turn 0 on the play, but my point is that, unlike the biggest Hate.dec, a general solution exists and only needs to be applied. Funny enough, it’s possible to see a comparison between how to play vs Reanimator and how Death & Taxes plays against us: hate first, then go all in.

Sure, I lost my games learning the hard way about soft counterspells and how to dare, but it didn’t leave a deep scar. Just some experience.

Short term solutions

But what if a solution existed, both to Death & Taxes and Reanimator, and even Affinity? A way to get rid of Chalice of the Void and Griselbrand, at least for a fatal turn? I can’t believe how I forgot about Echoing Truth.

Avoid the Chalice of the Void lock? Check.
Get rid of every Chalice of the Void at once? Check.
Easy colors to cast? Check.
Reasonable casting cost, even with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play? Check.
Can get rid of anything depending on our need? Check. CHECK!

Echoing Truth is the glimpse of hope I was wishing for. Much more versatile than even Shattering Spree, I will use at least a pair, if not three copies, mixed with the red artifact destroyer as soon as possible. It doesn’t have the weaknesses of a Dread of Night (which couldn’t deal with Ethersworn Canonist or Stoneforge Mystic, after Empty the Warrens). It’s an instant. It can’t be used against us. It gives me confidence.

But what to remove? As I don’t fear counterspells and would prefer to avoid color issues, Abrupt Decay will most likely give up its spot until a Miracle deck shows up. I could also see a sweeper like Pyroclasm or even Void Snare go.

Still, being sharper on the decision making side will be the most essential point for a win next Thursday. With every comment and every piece of discussion, video or talk I can get, I see the improvement in my plays. But I’m far from anywhere I would consider good enough. Being at the top spot in our league maybe doesn’t mean much, but for anyone craving for victories, it at least gives a proper challenge. Hopefully I will win enough to give a proper report, as my real victory will only be self satisfaction, and that’s a thirst that may never be satisfied.

See you next week,