Ad Nauseam Tendrils and The Epic Storm. The Ken and Ryu of the Legacy format. While the play style and structure of these two Storm decks is rather different, they share enough similarities that I’m going to flip the script and break them both down at the same time. Anyone familiar with Modern knows that Storm is a powerful mechanic, and Tendrils of Agony is no slouch. For only half the Storm count Grapeshot needs, Tendrils of Agony does twice the life drain, and THAT is why we play Legacy Storm. There’s no tedious counting, no reliance on untapping permanents. There’s only the oncoming Storm.
SO HOW DO THESE TWO DECKS FUNCTION?
Ad Nauseam Tendrils, or ANT, comes from the school of naming decks after its best cards. With ANT, your main goal is to cast as many cheap spells as you can before firing off either Past in Flames, Ad Nauseam, or Infernal Tutor to fetch out the one copy of Tendrils of Agony for the win. This is definitely the more straightforward version of the deck as its predominantly UB suite of cantrips and rituals is far less taxing on your manabase.
When playing ANT, it’s imperative to plan out how you’re going to combo off ahead of time. Between Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain, and Sensei’s Divining Top, you have 11 different ways of stacking your deck and giving you near perfect information. These also allow you to dig for your kill conditions. The first engine is the eponymous Ad Nauseam. Unlike its applications in Modern, in Legacy you don’t have Angel’s Grace to let you draw your entire deck. However, due to the curve of your cards, and only three of them costing 4+ mana, the odds are in your favour that you’ll dig your way to your Tendrils of Agony for the kill without dying to Ad Nauseam yourself. Also worth noting is that it’s possible to combo off on turn one with a hand of land, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam, which lets you dig down until you can hit enough Lotus Petals and rituals to cast Tendrils.
Past in Flames is the “fixed” Yawgmoth’s Will in that it gives all of your spells flashback and effectively doubling your Storm count. Combined with eight rituals, this helps generate a ton of mana to Infernal Tutor into your Tendrils of Agony. The final engine, Infernal Tutor, is a situational tutor that Storm is more than capable of abusing to its full potential. While in any other archetype Infernal Tutor would just get the second copy of a card, here you can achieve Hellbent by either sacrificing LED as you cast it, or even just by casting all your other spells first. This turns Infernal Tutor into a functional Demonic Tutor, allowing you to fetch out whatever card you need.
Another of ANT’s strengths is that it runs a suite of seven discard spells to help ensure that you can combo off without interruption. Cards like Flusterstorm, Mindbreak Trap, or a timely Force of Will can really ruin your day, so by leading with a discard spell or two to clear the way, ANT has a better chance of successfully comboing off. One of the better starts is by using Gitaxian Probe to ensure that your Cabal Therapies hit their targets.
While ANT carefully sets up its hand and tries to disrupt the opponent’s hand, TES is far more explosive in its approach to Storming. It’s like the Balki Bartokomous to ANT’s Cousin Larry, and if you got that reference, kudos. There are several key distinctions that make TES so much crazier to play, namely Chrome Mox, Silence, and Burning Wish. Note that TES plays three fewer lands than ANT and has replaced them with Chrome Mox. Not only does this mean that there’s a higher spell to land ratio in TES which makes it less likely to flood out, it also helps set up your combo turn by adding to your Storm count for free. Chrome Mox ups the number of free spells to 11 (15 if you count Gitaxian Probe), and fixes your colours. While it runs into more issues than a land, such as countermagic and Abrupt Decay, the ability to start off with extra reusable mana sources on turn 1 can really help you accelerate into your kill condition.
Silence is just hilarious in this deck. Whereas ANT uses discard spells to protect its combo from disruption, it can sometimes run into issues if the opponent has more countermagic than it does discard. Silence just stonewalls interaction from the opponent and lets you combo off at your leisure. You don’t have to worry about Flusterstorms or getting your Storm trigger Stifled. For one White mana you get to say “I’m winning now, and you can only sit there and watch”. That being said, Silence is the only White spell in the entire deck, which can put a strain on your manabase. The deck runs City of Brass, Gemstone Mine, and Lotus Petal to offset this, but if the game starts going long you’ll often find your ability to generate White mana diminishing as time goes on.
Lastly, Burning Wish is in my opinion the biggest advantage that TES offers over ANT. Between Wish and Infernal Tutor you have eight main deck tutors to fetch out whatever you need, and it even gives you the ability to run a suite of sorceries such as Ill-Gotten Gains and Diminishing Returns. Thanks to Rite of Flame casting Burning Wish is a breeze and it gives you plenty of options for building your sideboard for any metagame. Another important aspect of Burning Wish is that all of your win conditions happen to be sorceries, so you can Wish for any Storm spell in your sideboard to suit the current game state.
WHAT MATCHES DO I WANT TO FACE? WHAT DECKS TAKE ME TO THE CLEANERS?
Storm decks as a whole have three things they don’t want to face: Flusterstorm, Death & Taxes/MUD, and excessive hand disruption. Ever since Flusterstorm was printed in 2011, it’s been a pain in the neck for Storm. Having a one mana “counter all copies of your win condition” spell in the format is something you should always be aware of, especially given Blue’s popularity in Legacy right now. There’s several reasons why Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Silence are in the maindecks for ANT and TES, but Flusterstorm is easily the biggest one. Another card Storm uses to mitigate Flusterstorm is Xantid Swarm. Attacking with Xantid Swarm is essentially the same as casting Silence, only instead of worrying about Spell Pierce you worry about Lightning Bolt. Thankfully, most decks board out their spot removal against Storm, so Xantid Swarm is a pretty viable option against the Delver decks of the format.
Death & Taxes and MUD are just big piles of cards Storm never wants to see. Thalia, Lodestone Golem, Chalice of the Void, and Trinisphere are all absolute nightmares to play against, and they all see 4-of play in their respective decks. Due to how taxing on your mana these kinds of effects are, these four cards are why Abrupt Decay and Chain of Vapor see play in both Storm sideboards, as getting these hate cards off the table on the opponent’s end step should be enough to combo off in peace. Where you really start to run into problems is when hate cards come down in combination. Normally Chain of Vapor is sufficient for hate cards, but a turn 1 Chalice of the Void locks down your cantrips, your Dark Rituals, and even your Chain of Vapor, so Abrupt Decay does a lot of work. Here I find it’s often not a bad idea to buck tradition and keep an opening hand with about three lands because there’s nothing worse than facing a Trinisphere and not having the capacity to cast a single spell.
Finally, excessive hand disruption will utterly ruin Storm and it’s something that it really has a hard time handling. Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, and Cabal Therapy can ruin what would otherwise be a serviceable opening hand, and repeatable discard effects like Liliana of the Veil can keep you from ever getting enough cards to actually combo off. Due to the nature of your draw spells, you’re primarily cantripping rather than drawing cards, so this tactic is especially effective against Storm. Shardless BUG and Jund are the most prevalent decks that focus of discard, and unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of ways to fight this particular strategy. ANT has recently started running Dark Confidants in the sideboard to help mitigate the one-for-one discard spells; however, Confidant is still vulnerable to any removal spells they may have left in their deck.
The decks you want to be facing are slower combo decks like Elves and fair decks that are light on countermagic such as Merfolk. Both ANT and TES are capable of going off in the first two turns, and by aggressively using your own disruption you can force slower opponents to play on your terms by stripping away their answers. You also have the capacity to beat most other all-in combo decks when you’re on the play. Having Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Silence can be backbreaking in the Storm mirror, and even give Charbelcher and Tin Fins headaches. On the draw they’re much harder to face since you pretty much have to hope they don’t have the turn 1 kill, but if they don’t you should be in the clear.
SO HOW DO THESE DECKS STACK UP AGAINST EACH OTHER?
Honestly, it’s all up to your play style. If you want to sit back and sculpt your hand, ANT is your best option. For players that want to have more options and flexibility, TES is where it’s at. For the budget conscious Legacy player, TES is also the way to go, as a landbase of fetches and duals, as well as the Dark Confidants in the sideboard can be a little much for someone just getting into the archetype. I personally prefer playing ANT over TES. I enjoy the consistency, not having to worry about having all of my colours and being able to disrupt opposing decks more proactively. That being said, it’s very metagame specific. TES is much better suited for an unknown metagame since you can run 1-ofs in your sideboard and use one of your eight tutors to grab them as needed. My advice is if you have to pick one, before going all-in on a Storm deck proxy them both up and see which build you’re more comfortable piloting.
Storm, be it ANT or TES, is a powerful mechanic, and one that is probably the most definitive combo deck in the format. In the hands of an experienced player, Storm is downright terrifying to play against, and the slightest slip up can spell doom for your opponents. The archetype takes moments to learn and a lifetime to master, and slamming down spell after spell leading into one massive Storm is one of the more satisfying things you can do in Legacy. There’s a Storm a-comin’!
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