June 24, 2016

Release the ANT


After a long while, I'm back with another tournament report from Cebu's Legacy scene! It's been some time since my first post here, and we've managed to launch quite a few Legacy tournaments since then. After winning with Elves, I've gone 2-2, 3-1, and 4-0 with Elves, 3-1 with Grixis Delver, 2-2 and 4-0 with Lands, and now 4-0 with my actual favorite deck: ANT. I can't remember the details of most of those tournaments anymore, but I will be writing about the last tournament I joined with Lands. I had some spicy tech that I'm sure my opponents didn't enjoy. I'm very, very happy that we've been getting our Legacy events to fire now. I believe we've now run more tournaments in 2016 than the whole of 2015. The relatively consistent events have generated some interest from new players who want to try Legacy.

I have a thing for complicated decks with multiple paths to victory, so I always have loads of fun whenever I play ANT. A perfect example of this is the recent Grand Prix Prague finals. That match was just an incredible showcase of Legacy as a format, and of both Miracles and Storm as two of the most powerful decks. I've played Rodrigo Togores' lists since last year, and I have had no reason to doubt it, especially after the GP finals. I played his list as-is, but changed my sideboard for my local metagame.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils Maindeck:
4 Ponder
4 Gitaxian Probe
1 Preordain
4 Infernal Tutor
3 Duress
3 Cabal Therapy
1 Tendrils of Agony
2 Past in Flames
4 Brainstorm
4 Dark Ritual
4 Cabal Ritual
1 Ad Nauseam
1 Rain of Filth
4 Lotus Petal
4 Lion's Eye Diamond
1 Sensei's Divining Top
2 Underground Sea
1 Volcanic Island
1 Bayou
1 Tropical Island
1 Island
1 Swamp
4 Polluted Delta
4 Misty Rainforest

2 Dread of Night
4 Abrupt Decay
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Flusterstorm
2 Xantid Swarm
1 Tendrils of Agony
2 Echoing Truth
1 Krosan Grip
1 Empty the Warrens

I played nothing but ANT for around 8 months last year, but I've been playing Storm variants in Legacy and Vintage for years now. I haven't played it in a tournament since November 2015, though. The deck is extremely powerful, but also very difficult to play correctly. The goal of the deck is to cast Tendrils of Agony with enough Storm copies to kill the opponent on the spot. This is possible because the deck is composed mostly of very efficient mana sources and cantrips. Normally, this is done by abusing the interaction between Infernal Tutor and Lion's Eye Diamond. If the player cracks the Lion's Eye Diamond while Infernal Tutor is on the stack, the Tutor resolves after the discard effect and is guaranteed to be Hell-bent. The mana from the LED will be floating after the Tutor resolves. This effectively turns Infernal Tutor + Lion's Eye Diamond into Demonic Tutor + Black Lotus. Who doesn't love playing Vintage cards in Legacy?

Despite the deck's name, the deck does not actively try to resolve Ad Nauseam. This spell is very inconsistent and is best avoided unless the life total is very high, or the risk of bricking is worth it, such as in a Turn 1 Ad Nauseam. The vast majority of ANT kills come from casting two Rituals, Infernal Tutor cracking LED, and finding Past In Flames. Casting PIF will let the player flash back the rituals and the Tutor, which then finds Tendrils of Agony. This kill is far safer and more consistent than Ad Nauseam. I know this sounds extremely specific and narrow, but there are many, many different ways that a lethal Tendrils can happen without Lion's Eye Diamond or even Tutors. However, a lot of these lethal plays can be quite convoluted and difficult to spot. The 14 cantrips in the deck provide a rock-solid foundation for consistency, and the discard spells and Gitaxian Probe help in getting perfect information and protecting the combo. It is really a beautifully designed deck that rewards practice.

Here's how my tournament went: 

R1 Elves

G1 I race him. ANT is one of the decks that Elves can do next to nothing against in Game 1.

-3 Duress -1 Sensei's Divining Top
+2 Echoing Truth +2 Abrupt Decay

I have no idea what he's playing in the SB, but I thought he'd bring in permanents.

G2 I Truth a T2 Priest of Titania with my slow hand. He has a Symbiote and this is a budget build, so it's possible that he has way more 1 mana elves than usual. This means a T2 Priest can easily turn into a T3 Hoof. He Zeniths into Wellwisher (!) and I have to go all in because I'm not beating Wellwisher, Symbiote, and Priest before I get Hoofed. I get there with Ad Nauseam. He shows me that he boarded in Mindbreak Trap. Whew!
This card can be a complete blowout for ANT when it's unexpected!

2-0 in Games
1-0 in Matches

R2 Omnitell

G1 He goes first, plays a land and passes. I Ponder. He plays another land and passes again. I Probe, and he shows me a hand that can go off easily on Turn 3 through discard. I have to try to Therapy and he Brainstorms. I call Show and Tell and miss. He had Emrakul in hand, and I think that might have been the correct call regardless because if I hit, he has to shuffle the library and lose. I also made another misplay here. I realize now I should have Brainstormed while my opponent's Brainstorm was on the stack so I could try to find another Cabal Therapy. I Brainstormed after it resolved, which he gladly Spell Pierced. A well-deserved loss for me.

-3 Therapy, -1 Preordain, -1 Swamp, -1 Top, -1 Past in Flames
+2 Echoing Truth, +2 Xantid Swarm, +1 Flusterstorm, +1 Krosan Grip, +1 Surgical Extraction

I thought he was boarding in Leylines of Sanctity or some other annoying permanents.

G2 I probe on Turn 2 and find out he has T2 RIP (turns out he boarded this!) with no counters against my PIF hand. I go off against an open Brainstorm on Turn 2 and kill him. Sometimes, being really fast is the best answer to hate.

G3 We both cantrip until I Duress on T2. He Brainstorms and shows me a hand with Probe, land, Emrakul. I can go off through anything he draws next turn, so I take the Probe because the only way I lose is Show and Tell into Omniscience into Emrakul. I pass. He Ponders and passes. I probe and go off. He casts Impulse and fully yields priority to me. I don't screw up and I kill him.

4-1 in Games
2-0 in Matches

R3 Grixis Delver

G1 I keep a slow hand that has cantrips and disruption but few combo cards. I get raced by Angler and Delver. He has no disruption, but I can't cast the Ad Nauseam in hand with no rituals, and I have very little life anyway.

-1 Ad Nauseam, -1 Preordain, -1 Top
+1 Empty the Warrens, +1 Tendrils of Agony, +1 Flusterstorm

Ad Nauseam is pretty bad in this matchup. Usually, my life total goes down so fast that it gets stuck in my hand. Tendrils and Empty are fantastic, on the other hand.

G2 I am happy with my Island PIF, LED, IT, and Delta hand. I play Island, pass. He blind Therapies for LED and hits. I completely forgot about the Therapies in this deck, so I didn't play the LED! I draw another LED, play Land IT for LED, play both LEDs, pass. I don't remember how but he ends up with a Pyromancer and a Token, but forgets to Therapy. Some turns later I have 4 lands and 2 LEDs and I'm forced to go off due to low life. I resolve PIF with zero rituals in the graveyard and a Tendrils in hand. I flashback a Probe seeing DRS and a Land. I draw my SECOND tendrils! That means I can't use the IT in my graveyard to find a Tendrils! I'm forced to crack my second LED for UUU to try and cantrip into a way to flashback my PIF, to give my Tendrils flashback. I find a couple of rituals and manage to get there! Now that I think about it, I could have cracked at least one LED before resolving the PIF. That way, my first Tendrils would be in the graveyard before the PIF resolved. I didn't know what he had in hand, though, so that would have been very risky.

G3 He plays a turn 1 DRS. I probe and see 2 Wasteland, Probe, Therapy, but no counters. I go off T1 with Dark Ritual, IT, crack LED discarding PIF, search for Cabal Ritual and Flashback PIF. Sweet.

I haven't decided if I hate Innistrad for printing this card
or if I love Innistrad for printing this card.     

6-2 in Games
3-0 in Matches

R4 Merfolk with Chalice

G1 I start with Top and LED because I saw him play a Chalice in the previous rounds. He has 1U for the entire game with lords in his hand. Keeps attacking me with Cursecatchers, Mutavault, and Phantasmal Cursecatchers. I have to spend a Brainstorm and a Rain of Filth to get myself to a safe life total in case he gets to play a lord. He correctly counters them with catchers, but loses his clock. I keep filtering until I find the kill at 5 life with 1 Petal and 2 LEDs in play.

-3 Cabal Therapy, -1 Preordain, -1 Ad Nauseam, -1 Sensei's Divining Top, -1 Rain of Filth
+2 Xantid Swarm, +1 Tendrils of Agony, +2 Echoing Truth, +1 Krosan Grip, +1 Empty the Warrens

I was very confident that he wouldn't keep Dismembers and Jitte in, so I brought in the Xantid Swarms. I didn't bring in the Decays because I didn't feel like I needed to stop too many permanents, just one or two Chalices that I can probably play around with lots of Storm cards anyway.

G2 He has to FOW a T1 Xantid Swarm with a mulliganed hand. Great! He plays a T2 Lord and a T3 catcher. He takes me to 12 life. I float 8 black mana with Rituals, Tendrils him for 12, cast PIF from hand, and Tendrils him again in the same turn without Tutors or LEDs! He did not draw any Chalices, but I would have been able to Tendrils him to death through one Chalice on 1 or 0 with my hand. I love this deck.

No Storm player ever wants to see this on the table

8-2 in Games
4-0 in Matches for first place!

This metagame was as expected: at least 50% combo. ANT is not bad at all against a metagame like this. I think it's only really weak to Reanimator, MUD, and Eldrazi.

I guess I've still got it! I had some very interesting lines of play against a bunch of interesting matchups, so I'm really glad I played ANT. I actually rolled a die to choose whether I'd play Lands or ANT, and it rolled Lands. I counted only 14 cards in the sideboard, though, so I had to pick ANT instead! Speaking of Lands, I'll post about that tournament in a few days, so watch out for that!

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