In the past I’ve claimed that Storm decks are precision machines, and that they should not be tampered with by novice pilots lightly. To illustrate this point further, I’m going to discuss some of the Brainstorming (no, not the card) I’ve been doing over ANT builds; specifically, whether to use Ill-Gotten Gains or Past in Flames as the primary engine.
It has to be said that I’m fairly new to UB storm, so I’m not claiming that all my decisions will be correct. However, I have been a dedicated Storm pilot for about three years now, so I (hopefully) have a decent grasp of the interactions and issues. Feel free to disagree.
I’ve decided that I want to play UB Storm. For the purposes of this article the reasons for that are irrelevant, but I like a stable manabase.
UB Storm decks of this kind have a well-established skeleton of 15-17 lands, 10-12 cantrips, 8-10 artifact acceleration, 8 rituals, 6-8 tutors (depending on whether you are splashing red or not), 2-3 storm engines, and 1-2 kill spells. Let’s accept this skeleton for the time being. In order to keep the level of complexity to a minimum, we’re also going to disregard Doomsday and assume that we’re set on 1 Ad Nauseam and 1 Tendrils of Agony in the main.
The issue under discussion is whether to use Ill-Gotten Gains (IGG) or Past in Flames (PiF) as our primary Storm engine. Yes, I said primary. While this will come as no surprise to experienced pilots, many non-Storm players are surprised to learn that ANT players hate having to actually cast the deck’s eponymous card.
Ad Nauseam is risky; it puts you on low life and can easily fizzle if the deck has decided it does not like you today. The ANT deck piloted to 37th place at GP Amsterdam played a total of 51 games. He cast Ad Nauseam 5 times. We try very hard to avoid using that card if we have any other option open to us.
Both IGG and PiF, on the other hand, are usually guaranteed wins. If they were not both susceptible to graveyard hate, I’m not sure people would bother with Ad Nauseam.
Past in Flames.
Right, let’s take a look at the card. It costs 3R, it’s a sorcery, and it gives all the sorceries and instants in your graveyard (at the time PiF is cast) flashback. PiF itself can be flashed back for 4R.
A few things immediately jump out at us. First, it’s red. Duh. But that means something if we are playing UB Storm; PiF is not in color. If we want to rely on it, we need a reliable way to produce red mana. While we have eight artifacts that can produce R (4 Lotus Petal, 4 Lion’s Eye Diamond), it might be worth adding a Volcanic Island to the deck to ensure we can fetch for red mana if we need it. This means PiF is going to weaken our manabase slightly.
Next, it only affects instants and sorceries, and the only instants and sorceries that produce mana are the red and black rituals. Since we are not playing red as a main colour, we can disregard the red rituals. This means that although PiF requires red mana, in only produces black mana.
This is very relevant, because it affects our choice of disruption. While we certainly hope that we have played our disruption before casting PiF, we might not have. Perhaps the threat was something like Stifle – we need to deal with it, but not until we are ready to cast Tendrils of Agony. Or perhaps we did cast it, but we need some more storm.
Because PiF will only produce black mana, we are going to get the most out of black disruption; this is the stuff we can actually cast (either from our hand or from the graveyard) with the mana created through PiF.
This, in turn, obviously affects our choice of disruption. The big question at the moment is whether to run discard (in black), Xantid Swarm & Autumn’s Veil (in green), chant effects (in white), or some combination of these. If we decide to run PiF, we’ll get the most out of running a discard suite, primarily because of the color requirements.
Color requirements might also affect our choices of cantrip. While we all love to go off under ideal circumstances, sometimes we have to give things a try and hope for the best. If you don’t a have a kill card (or a tutor for a kill card), and instead need to rely on cantripping into the win, PiF won’t actually produce the mana that allows you to cast your flashbacked cantrips. Gitaxian Probe, which uses Phyrexian mana, gets around this problem, allowing you a desperation play that might not otherwise be open to you. (And of course, choosing to play Gitaxian Probe will have other consequences for your build choices; combined with Thoughtseize the life loss is probably too great, but suddenly Cabal Therapy becomes very interesting.)
Another significant point in PiF’s favour; it can actually be cast from the graveyard. This means that a countered PiF can be recast if you have the resources available. That a discarded PiF can be salvaged. That you can actually have PiF in hand and still cast it off your LED. This added flexibility and resilience is a serious plus.
Finally, PiF gets progressively more powerful as the game goes on. As your graveyard fills up, your ability to flashback mana, tutors and dig increases. That can be very important at a time when decks are usually running low on resources.
However, the scope of IGG is simultaneously both wider and narrower than PiF; it gets you ANY cards from your graveyard, but only three of them. This means that IGG’s power only increases up to a certain point; once your â€œoptimalâ€ cards are in the graveyard, further cards are meaningless.
In exchange, though, you get to reuse your LEDs. The ideal IGG play will bring back 2 LED and 1 Infernal Tutor with enough mana already floating to cast the Tutor while cracking the LEDs. Assuming you are not playing around Speaking of disruption, IGG comes with one, huge drawback; it’s symmetrical. That means that if your opponent has any counter-magic in his hand or in his graveyard, you are probably never going to resolve your Infernal Tutor. If you took a look at the Amsterdam top 32, you’ll know that the vast majority of those lists played counter-magic. This is a BIG deal.
True, you can bring back your own disruption, but that means you’ll need to float far more mana into IGG; enough that you probably could have just tutor-chained for the win instead. For this reason IGG really needs to be played with Xantid Swarm or chant effects. You don’t care if your opponent retrieves [card]Force of Will">Daze[card], you then tutor for a second tutor, and then tutor for Tendrils of Agony. Including IGG, this has generated six storm. Assuming you have managed to cast four other spells that turn (such as a disruption spell, those two LED and that Tutor), you have lethal.
Speaking of disruption, IGG comes with one, huge drawback; it’s symmetrical. That means that if your opponent has any counter-magic in his hand or in his graveyard, you are probably never going to resolve your Infernal Tutor. If you took a look at the Amsterdam top 32, you’ll know that the vast majority of those lists played counter-magic. This is a BIG deal.
True, you can bring back your own disruption, but that means you’ll need to float far more mana into IGG; enough that you probably could have just tutor-chained for the win instead. For this reason IGG really needs to be played with Xantid Swarm or chant effects. You don’t care if your opponent retrieves [card]Force of Will if he can’t cast it; and you plan on winning before the chant effect ends.
This contradiction fills our engine choice with irony; we can go with an off-colour engine that encourages on-colour disruption, or an on-color engine that demands off-colour disruption.
On the other hand, LED can produce any colour of mana, so a valid desperation play might well be to bring back two LED and a Ponder. Crack one of the LED (after casting Ponder, of course) for blue, the other for black, and hope to cantrip into a win before running out of mana.
While IGG cannot be cast twice, it is worth noting that two IGG play VERY well together, while two PiF do not. If you have cast IGG to bring back 2 LED and Infernal Tutor, you can simply fetch your second IGG and go through the whole loop a second time, generating another four storm, making an IGG-loop lethal without any kind of buildup. Conversely, PiF will exile all the sorceries and instants that would make a second PiF useful. You’ll never want more than one in your deck.
A further niche use for IGG is as a turn one Mind Twist effect; play your artifacts out and ritual into IGG. You recover your rituals, but your opponent is down to three cards. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s very funny when it does.
A final note: IGG removes exiles itself on resolution. This is a very important point if you are going to be returning Cabal Rituals and are relying on them having Threshold.
On the face of it, the choice between IGG and PiF is a simple one; we are only looking at one card in 75, and the two spells are similar in many ways (4cc sorceries involving graveyard recursion to build storm). As we have seen, though, subtle differences between the cards have a ripple effect on other aspects of the deck.
In addition to the main build choices, a host of other cards shift in value depending on the engine you are using. Indeed, some cards might lose their spot entirely, but even if they do not, they will change the decisions that you make when you Ponder, Brainstorm, or Preordain.
LED is an excellent example of a card that diminishes in value under one engine rather than the other – although never to the point where I would consider removing it.
Under IGG, LED is one of the best cards in your deck; it makes your tutors hellbent and it is the most efficient mana accelerator you have (matched only by Cabal Ritual with threshold), which is very important when you can only recur three cards. By being able to focus on one resource your cantrip decisions are made a little easier, but you are putting a great deal of pressure on one card that you may, or may not, be able to find in sufficient time and in sufficient quantities.
Under PiF, on the other hand, LED is good, but not quite as important. To be sure, it still makes your tutors hellbent, and it is a source of that vital red mana. However, you can’t recur it, so from a pure acceleration point of view it loses out to Dark Ritual (which nets you four mana after being flashed back) and the deeply impressive threshold Cabal Ritual (which nets you an amazing six mana after being flashed back).
This can make your cantrip decisions more difficult if you have to pick one resource over another, but it also means that you have increased the number of effective accelerates in your deck.
Chrome Mox, on the other hand, is an example of a card that might lose it’s place completely. It produces black and blue easily, and can probably produce white if you are running enough disruption, but if your only red card is PiF, it’s never going to produce red for you. I’m experimenting with a singleton Mox Diamond for just this reason. Or I may just remove the Mox and increase the land count.
So which is the better engine?
That’s not really the point of this article. I suspect that once you decide which form of disruption is best for your meta, you work backwards from there and include the matching engine.
I’m personally liking PiF over IGG, largely because I feel that white disruption requires you to expose your manabase before you are ready to go off or are sure that it is safe (if your Orim’s Chant is Forced, do you keep going and risk running into Flusterstorm, or do you hold and risk having your Tundra hit by Wasteland? Nasty choice.). PiF, on the other hand, does not require you to fetch your Volcanic Island until you have already disrupted your opponent as far as you able.
Of course, I may well see things differently after I have more tournament experience with the deck. Certainly, both engines were represented in the top 32 at Amsterdam, and both continue to do well.
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing.