Welcome back, folks! Picking up from last time, hopefully you all remember I started talking on the subject of non-creature, non-two-card-monte kills. We talked about different types of non-redzone kills available, which included X-CMC spells, Rube Goldberg engines and Storm-like effects.
What I would like to do today is to delve deeper into what actual viable kill cards we have available.
In terms of X-CMC spells this is very straight forward. There are several classes of spells:
Fireballs: These spells are available in most colour types and combinations. Predominantly, they are in red and black; white and blue are weak and generally require pairing with another colour. Typically, these spells allow direct targeting and application of damage, dependant on the value of X to either a single, a variable or even a entire subset of targets. A subset of Fireball effects are firebreathing spells, which give some combination of +X/0, +X/+X, or arbitrarily set creature power and toughness to X/X.
Genesis: These puppies produce one or more token creatures. The common colour here is generally green. There are a few notable white spells (Hello, Storm Herd!), and also some black ones. These spells can either produce variable amounts of a Y/Z creature or an X/X creature – or even a variable number of X/X creatures.
Wealth: What Wealth spells do is get you free things. These are pretty straight forward: you pay X, you get to see X cards and get to cast a bunch of things based on whatever restriction the card has. For example, Villainous Wealth allows free casting of non-land cards from a target opponent’s deck with CMC X or less.
While we can see that X-spells are great finishers or big play spells, always ending the game with Exsanguinate gets old very, very quickly. The big problem with Rube Goldberg engines built to do this is that they become the entire deck.
What else do we have? Storm and Pseudo-Storm. Let’s take a look.
What Can be Seen in the Eye of the Storm
Let’s break these down into the different elements of Storm and Pseudo-Storm – then, from there we can take a peek at the tools we actually have to work with.
Storm spells: Storm is an interesting mechanic. It can be found on a selection of spells with a very wide variety of applications. Direct storm kills can be achieved through sufficient spell count build up in a turn, and then unleashing the likes of Tendrils of Agony, Grapeshot, Ignite Memories or Brain Freeze. All four of these spells replicate for each spell played before it in a turn, and are able to sweep an entire pod with enough of a ‘storm count’.
I said before that there are a lot of storm spells, and that they do more than just direct kills. Cards like Empty the Warrens or Hunting Pack can be used to produce an obscene number of creatures. With an obscene number of creatures, we have the option for a pod-wide alpha-strike, or in combination with Purphoros, God of the Forge, these cards can be effectively Grapeshotting the board.
Astral Steel can be flung at an unblocked attacker at instant speed to voltron the daylights out of it as a pseudo-storm kill. Haze of Rage is almost as powerful as Astral Steel – it is sorcery speed but it does enhance all of your creatures and it is recurrable with buyback for additional storming.
The remainder of the storm spells are a little different in their uses. Mind’s Desire is typically cheaty and blue. It’s the storm version of a wealth X-CMC spell, in that it gets things randomly for free, but it also allows an increase of storm count through those free spells. Staying in blue, Temporal Fissure is a powerful tool: a tactical mass-boomerang which can be used to surgically nullify plays while staying on theme. Shifting to white, we have also on the defensive front Wing Shards – interestingly a card I never see played in Commander. Wing Shards offers some instant-speed removal and tactical options, while staying on the storm theme; it also helps avoid the stigma of ‘having all the Wraths’.
Red and green offer less interesting options for storm themes. Volcanic Awakening shows up as a form of mass land removal. I would be very much not be recommending Volcanic Awakening; Temporal Fissure is bad enough if you choose to hit lands with it. In green Sprouting Vines whilst also on theme is very sub-par in terms of performance. Yes – it can find a lot of land, but in a list where we’re aiming to cast a lot of spells, basic lands are not going to be in the majority.
One of the other dedicated storm cards I find very interesting is Reaping the Graves. On the surface this appears to be simply a monoblack Raise Dead en-masse tool. Getting under the hood with Reaping, this can bring online some cute possibilities in the form of a Rube Goldberg -type construct. The engine I have in mind is fairly intensive, as it requires maximising the number of creatures in the deck with a functional 0-CMC. There are directly 9 possibilities of 0 or X CMC; only 7 of these will stick around long enough to be sacrificed for mana. (With a mass haste effect in play like Mass Hysteria one drop mana dorks will also do the job.) Pairing these elements with a sacrifice outlet to trade for mana (such as Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod’s Altar), possibly also a mana filter like Gemstone Array, and some kind of recursion element like Eternal Witness or Anarchist will give you a functional infinite mana and storm engine.
Pseudo-Storm: This covers a lot of different things that behave similarly to the Storm mechanic, in that they create an effect or a copy of a spell based on value determined by some game action. There are several classics that come to mind: one I have played heavily in Vintage is the fantastic Quirion Dryad. Dryad is a great example of vertical pseudo-storm, in that the more you cast, the bigger it gets. It’s good, however, in the sense that once it stacks up, it stays stacked up unlike other options such as Kiln Fiend. Fiend stacks vertically and stacks very dramatically, but it only stacks temporarily.
Storm Entity, like Kiln Fiend, is also in red – however, like Dryad it is a permanent vertical stack. Unlike Dryad, which can keep stacking the more spells you cast, Entity is closer to traditional storm in that it only reviews previously cast spells to determine its size.
More recently we have seen in the Khans of Tarkir block the addition of a new vertical pseudo-storm mechanic called Prowess. This new mechanic is operationally similar to Kiln Fiend’s ability, unlike the Fiend, Prowess creatures see all non-creature spells. They are also available with other add-on mechanics including haste, flying and other utility abilities. I would certainly take a prowess critter over a Kiln Fiend.
Vertical storm is vulnerable to tactical removal, whereas horizontal storm is less open. Empty the Warrens is an example of horizontal storm in a traditional storm spell, as it produces two goblin tokens per resolution. On the Vintage circuit over the last year, a large number of decks that have performed well have used Young Pyromancer as a horizontal pseudo-storm generator to generate large numbers of free token creatures. More recently, a combination of vertical and horizontal pseudo-storm card has been printed in the form of Monastery Mentor; for those as yet unfamiliar with this darling, Mentor produces 1/1 tokens with the Prowess ability on casting of a non-creature spell, and also has Prowess itself. As such, with each non-creature spell you cast, your army gets wider and taller.
More closely related to the actual storm mechanic, the unique Gravestorm ability found on Bitter Ordeal is a form of pseudo-storm. It is storm-like in the sense that it clones the Bitter Ordeal spell based on its check value. However, I class it as pseudo-storm as it does not clone off previously cast spells. Bitter Ordeal looks for, and then counts, permanents that have been put into the graveyard this turn to determine the amount of copies generated. This is a typical finisher for a Sharuum, the Hegemon combo loop.
Another form of pseudo-storm can be seen in the Clash mechanic. The card Release the Ants, a popular choice in Legacy Omniscience combo decks, is functionally a single Grapeshot; however, the spliced on Clash ability allows the card to be returned to the owner’s hand on the resolution of a victorious Clash and replayed with enough mana to feed the repeated casting of the spell or an Omniscience in play to bypass mana requirements. Between you and I, I’d be packing a Draco just to ensure I win that clash.
Some other spells have an ability called Replicate. Replicate is a very narrow family of cardboard. Specifically, there are nine cards that have replicate, and one that bestows it. I call Replicate pseudo-storm in the sense that it allows mass generation of copies of spells; however, the check is based on the amount of mana you wish to pump into the Replicate ability. Replicate is based on repaying the mana cost for the additional spell clones; as such, this means that to truly abuse replicate to make a kill you need near-infinite mana. Unfortunately, beyond the initial spell cast, replicate does not generate additional storm.
Good news – if you can generate enough mana there are definitely some good options to replicate. Pyromatics is functionally a replicate version of Grapeshot, thus offering a scalable kill option, while Leap of Flame offers – at instant speed – evasion, combat tricks and vertical pseudo-storm much like Astral Steel.While it is not a direct kill, it will get you there pretty well. Train of Thought under an infinite mana scenario is basically an operational Enter the Infinite, in that you can draw your entire deck.
And finally, we come to the big grand daddy of the Replicators.
Djinn Illuminatus. What more can I say here, other than replicate any and every instant or sorcery you cast for its casting cost? This basically means you can storm up anything. Want to Bribery every creature out of all your opponents’ decks? Sure! Want to make everyone never want to play with you again? Let’s see how many copies of Goblin Game you can slap on the stack. Worse still, you can just Fork your original spell and replicate the Fork for a lot less. Basically, pick what you want to kill with and Xerox-man is your new bestie.
Locking up the gun cabinet and cracking a whiskey
Now we have a pretty good idea of what tools are at our disposal. From here we need to talk about what resources we can muster to run our weapons out, and how we can feed the grinder. I look forward to you joining me again next time as we keep digging under the hood into building EDH storm.