Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) is, fundamentally, a Blue/Black combo deck that may splash Green or White for additional or alternative disruption. It has a very powerful Linear Draw engine, using [card]Infernal Tutor[/card] and [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] to find and resolve key cards. It relies on Proactive Disruption to force the combo through despite the heavy Blue element, largely because of the deck building constraints imposed by Ad Nauseam.
The deck uses your life total as an additional resource; when Ad Nauseam resolves you can reasonably expect to draw 15+ cards if you have taken no damage. Those cards are then used to create sufficient mana and Storm to resolve a lethal Tendrils of Agony.
Sample List (piloted to 1st place at the 200+ player Dutch Legacy Championship on 14th November 2010 by Robin Boer):
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Polluted Delta
2 Underground Sea
2 Verdant Catacombs
Non-Land Mana (18)
2 [card] Chrome Mox[/card]
4 [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]
4 [card]Lotus Petal[/card]
4 [card]Cabal Ritual[/card]
4 [card]Dark Ritual[/card]
2 [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]
4 [card]Infernal Tutor[/card]
1[card] Ill-Gotten Gains[/card]
1 [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card]
4 [card]Xantid Swarm[/card]
4 [card]Chain of Vapor[/card]
1 [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card]
1 [card]Shelldock Isle[/card]
1 [card]Tropical Island[/card]
Mana Production: WYSIWYG
ANT runs some of the best single card mana producers in the game. The 16/17 ratio of single use/reusable mana sources is an indicator of the balance the deck strikes between speed and resilience.
When choosing reusable mana sources, it overwhelmingly favours land (over [card]Chrome Mox[/card], [card]Mox Diamond[/card], etc) which is limited to 1 per turn; a clear sign that this deck is not aiming for turn 1 wins. Equally, the three basic lands allow you to drop up to three lands in the face of a [card]Wasteland[/card] wielding opponent. This all points to turn 3 being the deck’s intended combo turn.
It is worth noting, at this point, that the use of Cabal Ritual allows this deck to produce large amounts of mana (Threshold being fairly easy to achieve) – often more than the deck needs. This excess mana can make the deck quite resilient to soft counters, such as [card]Daze[/card] or [card]Spell Pierce[/card].
Ad Nauseam is probably the most cost effective mass draw spell in the game, provided the deck has been properly tuned to minimize the potential life loss. The card is backed up by a play set of Infernal Tutors, and an Ill-Gotten Gains. Weak Non-linear Draw also appears, but it largely supplements the main Linear Draw engine.
ANT runs a fairly strong disruption suite, and it can significantly boost this post-board by bringing in 4 Xantid Swarm (or [card]Silence[/card], for the White splash), giving the deck a fairly good shot at fighting through counter magic and other disruption.
Chain of Vapor deals with resolved disruptive permanents like [card]Aethersworn Cannonist[/card] and [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card], but not, notably, [card]Counterbalance[/card]. Rather than try and address this absolute beast of a card, the deck simply tries to play around, with a bolt-on Doomsday/Shelldock Isle/Emrakul package.
It is worth noting that some builds rely heavily on main decked Silence effects in addition to (or in place of) discard effects. While these cards are less versatile (they cannot preemptively attack hate cards), a resolved Silence is arguably better protection during the combo turn than a resolved Duress. The trade-off is a slightly weaker mana base, as a third colour becomes integral to the combo turn.
Particular vulnerabilities: Early life-loss, Counterbalance
Early life-loss limits the effectiveness of Ad Nauseam, the main combo engine; a single [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] will theoretically reduce the number of cards the pilot sees by 3 or more. Zoo, on the play, can reasonably expect to have done more than 10 damage to an ANT player who combos on turn 3.
In fairness, however, a capable pilot will be just as comfortable comboing off via Ill-Gotten Gains. Indeed, in cases where your opponent has no instant speed disruption (such as the aggro matchup), Ill-Gotten Gains is the preferred combo option, as it generates a known quantity of Storm and finds guaranteed cards, whereas Ad Nauseam can still fizzle (albeit rarely).
Because the deck goes off on turn 3, you are too slow to race Counterbalance (with Top active and mana open, no less) if ANT is on the draw (although Ad Nauseam is unlikely to have problems resolving, the 0 and 1 CMC mana generators will all be reliably shut down). Adding answers to Counterbalance would disrupt the ANT engine (as they typically have CMCs of 3 or 4), so an alternate combo is ported in to play around the soft-lock. The matchup is still winnable, but being on the draw in game 1 against a strong Counterbalance player definitely tilts the field against you.
For a while, Ad Nauseam Tendrils was the undisputed king of Storm. In fact, many people considered all other Storm decks to be obsolete. In order to understand why, let’s look at the ANT list piloted by Tomoharu Saito to the semi-finals of the Madrid 2010 Legacy Grand Prix. Incidentally, he was knocked out of contention by another ANT player, David Do Ahn, who went on to take 2nd place. Do Ahn’s deck relied heavily on White disruption.
2 [card]City of Traitors[/card]
3 Flooded Strand
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
1 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
Non-Land Mana (19)
4 Cabal Ritual
3 Chrome Mox
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lions Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
2 Ad Nauseam
3 Infernal Tutor
4 [card]Mystical Tutor[/card]
2 [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]
2 Tendrils of Agony
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Dark Confidant
1 Echoing Truth
2 Hurkyls Recall
3 Reverent Silence
1 Sadistic Sacrament
1 Slaughter Pact
First, consider that the card allocation is nearly the same; a little bit more mana, and a little bit less draw and disruption – indications of an ever so slightly faster build. However, Mystical Tutor (in place of the more current Preordain) reliably finds any part of the combo on turn 1. This means that turn 2 combos become far more commonplace, indeed, even reliable. The deck is fundamentally a turn faster, and this influences most aspects of the deck.
The nature of the mana base changes, for example. Of the 16 lands, 2 are accelerants, producing 2 colorless mana, helping to power out an early Ad Nauseam.
Non-linear Draw is affected, too. Because Mystical only puts the tutored card on top of your library, as opposed to your hand, a card fetched in this manner cannot be used on that same turn unless a cheap cantrip effect is used to draw the tutored card. Seen in this light, the Non-linear Draw is not just a supplement, but an extension of the Linear Draw package, allowing the pilot to easily tutor for any card that might not have appeared among the cards drawn by Ad Nauseam.
Now take a look at the sideboard. Nearly all the cards are singletons, because they can all be fetched by Mystical Tutor. This gave ANT unparalleled ability to fight through hate. By running one copy of an answer they could keep their combo intact, but still have 5 virtual copies. The only sideboard cards that appear more than once are those that cannot be fetched with Mystical Tutor ([card]Dark Confidant[/card]) or deal with control decks like Counterbalance ([card]Reverent Silence[/card]), or Stax ([card]Hurkyls Recall[/card]), where Mystical Tutor is difficult to resolve.
Mystical Tutor also distorts the disruption package, which is a virtual 10, not 6, in matchups where disruption is needed. Yet only 6 slots have been dedicated to disruption.
After Madrid, Wizards clearly felt that Mystical Tutor was too effective in decks like ANT (and also Reanimator, another top deck at Madrid), so Mystical Tutor was banned in July 2010.
The banning of Mystical Tutor changed ANT significantly, and the deck has subsequently fallen out of favour. However, this simply means that it has been dropped by non-Storm players; ANT still has adherents and still posts results.
The deck is also in a state of flux, as pilots experiment with ways to deal with the loss of Mystical Tutor. Some pilots are adding Red for [card]Burning Wish[/card], but this starts to blur the line between ANT (traditionally Blue/Black) and TES (a Black/Red/Other Storm deck). Incidentally, Boer faced and defeated TES in the final round of the Dutch championship.
Non-linear Draw, and sculpting your hand generally, has become more important to the deck, but the main thrust of the deck is unchanged. The sideboard looks quite different, though, with far fewer singleton answers. The bolt-on combo also plays around hate that it used to be possible to race.
Overall, the deck has a solid manabase and a decent Proactive Disruption package. The combo itself is quite straightforward thanks to the strong Linear Draw elements. The choice of splash colour can also help tune the deck to different pilots and metagames.
Life has a dual function in this deck, and although Ill Gotten Gains does provide a way to combo that does not involve spending life, there is no doubt that fast initial damage limits this deck’s ability to go off.
Additionally, because the deck used to be so (comparatively) easy to pilot some players view ANT as â€œeasy modeâ€. Since the banning of Mystical Tutor this is no longer true (if it ever was), however, and most serious players recognize this.
Combos on: Turn 3, using Boer’s build.
Faster starts are possible, and the deck can be modified to encourage faster starts, but at the expense of resilience and consistency. The deck is not as fast or consistent as it was when it could run Mystical Tutor.
Getting Hellbent – This is a key skill for any pilot abusing Infernal Tutor and Lion’s Eye Diamond.
First, the LED has to be in play. Then, without using LED, cast Infernal Tutor. Without passing priority (if you intend to play Storm seriously you will need a very solid understanding of how and when you pass priority and how the stack works) use LED to discard your hand and generate three mana of your chosen colour. Finally, pass priority.
Assuming your opponent does not counter your spell, when Infernal Tutor resolves you will have no cards in hand – ie, you are Hellbent. Go grab your Ad Nauseam/Ill-Gotten Gains.
Ill-Gotten Gains Loop – This â€œloopâ€ allows you to generate large amounts of Storm without using Ad Nauseam. Use Infernal Tutor & LED to fetch Ill-Gotten Gains (as above), and when you cast IGG, recur LED, IT and another mana generator (such as Dark Ritual). You then use your mana generator, LED and Infernal Tutor to create more mana and another Hellbent Tutor.
You are now in exactly the same position as your first Hellbent Tutor, except that you have 4 more Storm. This could well be enough (on top of your other spells this turn) to use the Tutor to fetch a lethal Tendrils of Agony.
Some builds include a second IGG, so that the loop can be used twice to create 8 Storm. However, the additional IGG makes the ANT plan weaker, and IGG is not useful against Blue disruption unless you have first resolved a Silence (they will keep recurring their counter-magic each time you cast IGG).
Getting Threshold – Try to set up your early turns in such a way that your Cabal Ritual is cast after you have Threshold. For example, 3 fetchlands (over three turns), a Ponder (turn 1), a Duress (turn 2), Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual generates more mana than casting the Cabal Ritual before the Lotus Petal, or the Dark Ritual, or before cracking the fetchlands.
Players that love Black, and the concept of using life as a resource, will probably really enjoy ANT, as will players that like to have a clear (and consistent) combo path. While ANT does not need to resolve Ad Nauseam to win (especially after the sideboard), it is generally the best path to victory, which gives ANT players an immediate sense of direction each game that other combo decks often lack.
ANT is also a serious deck that posts serious results. If winning tournaments is especially important to you, then this is a deck to consider.
I would also like to thank practical joke, a poster on mtgthesource.com, and an ANT master-pilot, for reviewing this article prior to publication and providing me with his additional insights into the deck.
As I am approaching these articles in alphabetical order, the next archetype addressed will be Belcher.