Sideboarding with Storm: A Look into the Mind of Caleb Scherer's Protege
Other than losing, sideboarding was always the toughest part of Magic for me. I recall the very first SCG Open I played in Boston back in 2010. It was the standard RUG midrange mirror in round 10 that would decide whether I cashed the event or not. I drew my opening hand containing Flashfreeze (A card I was convinced was very good in the mirror as it countered Inferno Titan), 3 lands, Explore, Lotus Cobra, and Lightning Bolt. I snap kept, bolted my opponents turn 2 Cobra, and got buried by a Jace, the Mind Sculptor while looking at Flashfreeze in my hand. I was convinced I had done nothing wrong, and that was just the variance of the situation.
It was after that match that my friend Alex approached me. He mentioned he had been watching the match and wanted to talk to me about my “card selection”. I had no idea what he meant as we were playing identical 75’s. Alex explained that I was at a disadvantage before the game even began. The mirror revolved more around JTMS after board, and Flashfreeze was more often than not going to be a dud. He went on to explain how important having the correct configuration of your deck in game 2 and game 3 of every matchup was, and I had punted before we even started playing. My mind was blown. I had been looking at Magic incorrectly for so long.
I continued to struggle with sideboarding for years. It wasn’t until I started becoming serious about the Legacy format that I began to get a clue. I played just about every deck in the format. From Merfolk to Stoneblade to Miracles to Punishing Jund, I mis-boarded with them all. In late 2015 I decided that I wanted to try something new. I talked to my friend Caleb Scherer, a true master of Legacy Storm, and expressed my interest in learning the deck. I already owned the majority of the cards necessary in both paper and MTGO, and wanted to put the time into learning one of legacy’s most difficult yet potent weapons.
Over these past few years Caleb and I have spent easily over 1000 hours skyping, calling, gold-fishing, and talking about storm with each other. Not only did he teach me how to play the deck, but I learned why every single card in the 75 was there, and what its purpose was in each and every match-up. My days of pounding together loose sideboard guides before the tournament were coming to end. Caleb had taught me sideboarding theory in a way I never expected to learn it, and I was amazed how the game began to open up for me.
Below are 3 ANT (Ad-Nauseam Tendrils) storm lists that Caleb and I have played in different events. I am going to talk about the cards in each one (while combining overlapping pieces), why they belong in the deck, and when it is appropriate to remove or add them. This will be much more beneficial to one’s understanding of storm sideboarding theory than a typical guide, which is a baseline anyway, and will allow you to modify and formulate your own plans as the metagame changes. Let’s get started!
Changing a landbase after sideboard is often something one doesn’t always consider. It is very important to rid yourself of this idea when playing storm. Only ever cut one non-Polluted Delta fetchland. Not only are they the most flexible lands in the deck, but they also have the added bonus of enabling threshold for Cabal Ritual, as well as giving you a reshuffle off a cantrip. I also rarely cut dual lands. There are situations present in list 3 when you would want all 3 basics as well as a Badlands, in which case dropping to 1 Underground Sea may be acceptable, but this is rare.
As you can see in all three lists, Caleb and I are big proponents of running 3 basic lands (2 Island, 1 Swamp). This gives us extra protection to Wasteland, Blood Moon, and Ghost Quarter in game 1 at a very minimal cost. When boarding in the 2 green lands in list 2, the default swap is going to be 1 Island and 1 Misty Rainforest. You also have the option of just cutting the Island and going up a land if you foresee the game going longer, or are having your mana constantly pressured. This situation arises against UW control or lands.
The second Island is the default cut when trimming a land. This occurs when we board in multiple Chrome Mox, which I will explain below, and don’t want to overload on mana sources. It creates the option to transform into almost a TES (The Epic Storm) style deck with 16 initial and repeatable mana sources, and have at least 1 land of every fetchable style. This can be seen by looking at Bryant Cook’s TES list here: http://theepicstorm.com/ . On a final note, Chrome Mox has the added benefit of being very difficult to interact with. While it is important to expect hate like Ratchet Bomb and Krosan Grip in the Mox match-ups, cards such as Wasteland, Ghost Quarter, and Rishadan Port will have no effect.
The Mana Rocks:
The mana rocks are a large part of what makes Storm so explosive. The combination of fast mana, as well as the interaction of Infernal Tutor with Lion’s Eye Diamond is quite the potent threat. We never cut Lotus Petal as it is far too good at what it does, and a large part of what allows Storm to get away with playing so few lands. Without Lotus Petal we are sacrificing too much of our explosiveness, and relying too heavily on our single Volcanic Island for red mana. Depending on your list, Lion’s Eye Diamond can occasionally be trimmed by 1 or 2 against decks which you don’t want to expose choke points to (UW Control of 4-Color Control), but other cuts are preferable. It’s also important to note that these mana rocks don’t have to be used the same turn they are played. This can be relevant when premtively deploying them to play around a top-decked Chalice of the Void, or to create more mana but less of a storm count against a potential Flusterstorm.
Chrome Mox is one of my favorite innovations from Caleb, and has quickly become one the most controversial sideboard options in ANT. The moxen are boarded in for match-ups that don’t have a permission or discard such as eldrazi, burn, death and taxes, or maverick. They allow you to go underneath the hate bears presented by these archetypes by accelerating your mana production. This in turn makes the deck faster in the face of Thalia, Eidolon, or Challice. In addition, the Chrome Mox also have the added benefit of greatly strengthening your Ad Nauseum. This is especially true when you have no mana floating, and/or have used multiple Lotus Petals already.
Perhaps the the most notable cards in the storm deck, allowing you to both cheat on mana like the mana rocks, but also having the ability to be flashbacked later with a potential Past in Flames. Like with Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual is too important to the core of our deck to cut at all. However, I often find myself trimming a singleton Cabal Ritual in the face of extensive graveyard hate such as Deathrite Shaman, Surgical Extraction, or Rest in Peace. Cabal Ritual can also be trimmed in match-ups where our opponent is very reliant on Daze or Spell Pierce to interact with us. It contradicts our mid-range control role against those decks, and plays into them too much by virtue of the two mana investment.
Rain of Filth is also another easy cut in match-ups that are very quick, and where Empty the Warrens is poor (Ex: Lands). Unlike with Cabal Ritual, Rain of Filth can almost provide insurance against Daze and Spell Pierce effects, and let us generate a massive amount of mana in the late game, while still cycling for mana and storm count early. You could also consider cutting Rain of Filth in discard based matchups that also include Wasteland in their deck.
These are the cards that allow storm to be the consistent deck that it is when it doesn’t draw “The Nuts”. If you’re considering cutting Brainstorm ever in any situation, I suggest you cast it a bit more. In combination with fetchlands it can turn unwinnable games into unloseable games, and it also allows for many different tricks within the deck. This can include putting back excess cards to enable hellbent on Infernal Tutor in absence of Lion’s Eye Diamond, hiding combo pieces from discard, or even undoing a mulligan by virtue of card selection.
Gitaxian Probe is in a similar camp. Being able to sleeve up a 56 card deck, know exactly what we have to play around, and remove all variance of Cabal Therapy, is too important to cut. Some argue the loss of life aspect against aggressive decks such as burn, but I still believe the information and deck thinning is too valuable to get rid of.
Preordain is our first cut in most situations, followed by Ponder. This is especially true with growing presence of Leovold. The rule I used when I first started playing storm was if I don’t know what to cut, cut Preordain first and some number of Ponder second. Some may fear by this logic we will be too far off of our 14 cantrip main deck, and will lose consistency. This can be alleviated though as in the post-board games we will know our game plan, and the cards we are boarding in will often act in a 1 for 1 fashion buying us a turn such as a cantrip would. In addition, the boarded cards will often disrupt our opponent in ways cantrips do not. This is very important to keep in mind when fearing cuts.
The Hand Disruption Spells:
Here are the cards that really separate ANT from “Balls to the Wall” strategies like Goblin Charbelcher. We have the ability to grind though permission spells such as Force of Will, hatebears such as Thalia, or even throw a wrench in our opponent’s game plan. Duress is an easy cut against decks in which their primary hate pieces are creatures. This is true against death and taxes, maverick, burn, and even some UW strategies after board.
Cabal Therapy is card I find myself cutting against decks that plan on dumping their hate card on the first turn by cheating on mana. This includes Chalice of the Void decks such as eldrazi and lands. We also have the ability to bring a fourth copy in from the board when necessary as well. I find myself doing this against most blue based decks, as well as places where Duress is poor. It’s generally acceptable to cut some amount of discard if you plan on bringing in bounce and removal effects, but be careful to have what your opponent is bringing to the table covered.
The cards that allow the storm player to search their library for either a win-condition or a “Tutor Target” (More below) are very important to our function. Without these cards we would simply be drawing naturally to what we hope to cast.
Before the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, I would cut some number of Infernal Tutor against the miracles deck as Counterbalance lock proved to be too large of a choke point. In the current metagame, I would not remove an Infernal Tutor from my deck as the 3-Tendrils grinding station plan is a thing of the past.
Cutting Dark Petition is a fairly common occurrence, especially when main-decking 2 (Usually because Empty the Warrens is poor). Dark Petition plays very poorly against taxing counterspells such as Daze and Spell Pierce (Much like Cabal Ritual) as it requires 5 mana as an initial investment. I also find myself cutting it in very fast paced match-ups where Ad Nauseam is our primary game plan (Ex: Reanimator).
The Tutor Targets:
Storm is very often a deck of counting to 10. However, more often than not after you’ve emptied your hand and cast a tutor, your storm count will not be lethal. That is where these cards come in. Past in Flames is usually a “Guaranteed Kill” when you have the correct graveyard ritual configuration. At some point WOTC believed printing Yawgmoth’s Will with flashback was an alright thing to do, and we will be taking full advantage of that as our plan A. Regardless of what graveyard hate your opponent is packing, I would never present my deck without this card in it. It is simply too powerful and important to our game plan. If you are playing a second copy, boarding it in for the grindy match-ups can be a successful strategy. However it is important to note these grindy match-ups often include large amounts of graveyard hate, so we are very reliant on Ground Seal during this plan. A second copy of PIF will greatly depend on your expected metagame and the effectiveness of Ground Seal in it.
Ad Nauseam is part of the namesake of the deck, and for good reason. When we don’t have enough rituals in our graveyard for a clean Past in Flames kill, or don’t want to open ourselves up to potential hate, Ad Nauseam can let us draw a massive ammount of cards. This will most likely kill our opponent that turn, or at the very least set us up for the following turn. Unlike Past in Flames, Ad Nauseam can be cut against aggressive decks where our life total is pressured, or against decks that present a large number of counterspells. Examples include burn, delver strategies, or UW control.
The Win Conditions:
Tendrils and Empty are the cards that actually contain the storm mechanic and allow us to win the game. As Tendrils is our primary win-condition in almost all circumstances, we never want to present a deck with less than 1 copy. Empty the Warrens on the other hand can be removed against combo decks in which we don’t expect Leyline of Sanctity from their board. Empty can serve almost as a tutor target in the early game against fair decks to present a quick kill over the course of 2 or 3 turns. While it does have the upside of being able to flashback Cabal Therapy, it can sometimes be raced by your opponent’s creatures, and is vulnerable to board wipes such as Toxic Deluge or Engineered Explosives. Make goblins with caution!
As far as bringing in additional copies of these cards, we have that option, and exercise it quite frequently. A second Tendrils can be useful in unfair match-ups where we side Chrome Mox and Empty is poor, or against slower grindy decks without discard such as UW control. It is important to have at least 2 win-conditions in your deck when playing Chrome Mox in the instance one needs to be exiled. This showcases the role of the second Tendrils in the non-grindy match-ups. List 3 has the option to go up to 3 copies of Empty post board. This can be a great game plan against delver or control style decks when Ad Nauseam is being removed, however is very metagame dependent.
The Bounce and Removal Spells:
Since ANT doesn’t play Burning Wish like other storm variants, we will often have to fight through hate permanents game 1, or sometimes fold to them. That is where these cards come in after board. They allow us to deal with troublesome cards such as Thalia, Chalice of the Void, Ethersworn Canonist, and many more. Some individuals opt to bring bounce and removal in against delver or Leovold style decks. I believe this is wrong as I generally will only want to dilute my deck with these if my opponent presents a card that stops my game plan in near totality (Examples Above). The only exception I make to this rule is Fatal Push against infect as they are a fast combo deck with disruption, and unlike all other options, Push will kill every creature in their deck. The argument that this isn’t even an exception at all can also be made. Infect kills very quickly, and often Glistener Elf won’t less us play magic much in the same way Ethersworn Canonist doesn’t!
Chain of Vapor, Perilous Voyage, and Echoing Truth are the universal bounce spells. They will deal with just about everything, but are very run of the mill. Abrupt Decay fits this description as well, but also includes being uncounterable and destroying the permanent at the cost of playing green. Recall and Fatal Push are a bit more specialized in their applications. While not boarded as frequently as interaction listed above, they are much better against their respective archetypes (Death and Taxes and Eldrazi/Lands).
Knowing which interaction to board for which match-ups will greatly depend on how your sideboard is constructed, but as a rule of thumb I try to have at least 6 to 10 pieces of interaction (including discard) in match-ups where it is needed. This will allow us to see between 1 and 2 pieces in the top 10 cards of our library, and adjust our game plan accordingly. List A for example has 2 Chain of Vapor as a universal bounce spell, as well as 4 clean answers to a Chalice on one. Between the 2 Duress we are most likely leaving in our deck, we can expect to have most scenarios covered by the mid-game. A last ditch sideboard plan that can be employed when confused in a match-up is simply cutting 1 Preordain for 1 Chain of Vapor. While probably not optimal, it eliminates the risk of overboarding, and gives an answer to a possible silver bullet an opponent has.
The Anti-Hate Permanents:
While not always included in storm decks, the anti-hate permanents can provide a continuous layer of protection from when cast, up to the combo turn. At worst they can be an expensive Duress, but at best they can be back breaking to an opponent. City of Solitude is no longer played in any of our lists, but similar to Defense Grid, will be boarded in for counterspell heavy match-ups that don’t include discard spells (UW Control, Sneak and Show, Jeskai Blade). Ground Seal is a fairly new innovation for most storm decks, but is a great hoser against decks playing cards such as Deathrite Shaman, Snapcaster Mage, Surgical Extraction (The New 4C Control Deck). It also can be useful against Reanimator strategies, but be aware Exhume doesn’t target!
Storm is an incredibly complex deck that can be very intimidating to pilot and alter for games 2 and 3. I hope this guide and overview helps prevent confusion and misboarding amongst my fellow storm troopers. If you are interested about learning about boarding strategies other than the ones I have outlined above, please check out the Ad-Nauseam Tendrils Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/groups/721815924611921/ and view the Pinned Post. With a deck such as storm, having a community to talk to and bounce ideas off is very important. I encourage you to ask all questions you have and provide feedback in the comments section. Until next time, storm on!
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