In the Modern format, very few turn one plays scare me as much as seeing my opponent go land into Sleight of Hand. That is a play that instantly lets me know my opponent is going to be playing solitaire and my job will be to disrupt them to the point where they cannot win or hope to race them to a victory. Turn one Sleight of Hand most often signals one of two decks, UR Gifts Storm or Ad Nauseum. Today I’ll cover the strategies and sideboard inclusions needed to win these match-ups.
Currently, the most popular solitaire deck in Modern is UR Gifts Storm. The Storm pilot’s game plan is simple: see as many of your cards as possible by running as many one mana cantrips as you can, then play a cost reducer like Baral, Chief of Compliance or Goblin Electromancer to make your spells cheaper. Play Gifts Ungiven to find the pieces of the combo you don’t have, play a bunch of rituals to generate mana, and then play them again by using Past in Flames. Finally, cast either Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens with a ridiculously high “storm count” to end the game on the spot. Ideally the Storm player is typically able to win the game on turn four although it is very possible to get a turn three kill.
To understand Storm from the pilot’s perspective, you may want to check out Mike Thomas’ primer on the deck.
So how do you stop Storm? The first thing to do is identify the weak points of the deck. The easiest things to go after are the cost reducers (Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance), as without them, Storm has a very hard time accumulating a high enough storm count with fully costed spells. The other big weakness of the deck is its reliance on the graveyard. Since Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames are crucial pieces to the plan, an exiled graveyard can cause Storm players quite a bit of trouble.
Now let’s look at the most effective way to beat Storm. Hand attack, like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Collective Brutality do an amazing job of tearing apart Storm’s hand. Removal like Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and even Path to Exile keeps the board clear of those pesky cost reducers. Countermagic, especially Spell Snare, is quite live in this matchup, and countering the first ritual spell can set your opponent back a turn. Out of the sideboard, graveyard hate, especially Grafdiggers Cage and Rest in Peace can demand an answer from Storm if they hope to win. I’m also a personal fan of bringing in Leyline of Sanctity against Storm. While it can be an awful topdeck in the lategame, the ability to give yourself hexproof can effectively shut off Grapeshot. That is huge.
Also worth noting, creature decks (especially ones that run toolbox cards such as Eldritch Evolution and Chord of Calling) often find success packing cards like Eidolon of Rhetoric to limit your opponent’s spell count to one per turn. Beyond that, this creature’s four points of toughness make it rather resilient in the face of Storm’s limited removal options, primarily Lightning Bolt.
There are two things to be aware of post side against Storm. The first is Empty the Warrens. A lot of players will take out all their sweepers against Storm and lose to an Empty the Warrens for just five or six because of it. Consider keeping one Engineered Explosives or Supreme Verdict in as security against such a strategy. The other big threat is Blood Moon. Storm is a two-color deck that packs a lot of basics. They can cast Blood Moon on the second turn with a ritual. While it may not be worth fetching basics until you can’t fetch anymore, it’s probably worth getting one or two out of your deck if you’re worried about a potential this type of .
If you’re looking to hate out Storm in a local meta, some decks to consider would be Grixis Shadow, Naya Burn, or the new Five Color Humans (a la Collins Mullen’s recent SCGO winning list). All of these decks have a very quick clock and have ways to disrupt Storm without throwing off their own gameplan.
Next, Ad Nauseam. This one’s a doozy. Unlike Storm, which simply wants to cast a bunch of spells in order to deal a bunch of damage, this is a deck with a true two card combo – Phyrexian Unlife and the namesake of the deck, Ad Nauseam. Since loss of life, which is what Ad Nauseam does, is not the same thing as damage, the combination of these cards will let a player draw his or her entire deck and then win by discarding three Simian Spirit Guides to cast Lightning Storm (and they will almost always have more lands in their deck then you do in hand, no matter how hard you flood). The advantage this deck has over other combo decks is that Ad Nauseam can win very consistently with its combo. As a tradeoff, Ad Nauseam players are likely to assemble the combo on turn four or five, whereas Storm can potentially win as early as turn three with a greater risk of fizzling.
Beating Ad Nauseam
It’s hard to exploit weaknesses with Ad Nauseam because the deck prepares for them. Again, hand disruption can be a great tool as it can pick apart combo pieces before they are cast. However, many variants of the deck are playing three or four Leyline of Sanctity in the mainboard, and those that don’t are playing the same number in the sideboard as well. Enchantment removal for Phyrexian Unlife would be great, except for the fact that the deck plays Angel’s Grace for redundancy and doesn’t need Unlife to win. Countering Ad Nauseam could work, but then you see that Ad Nauseam is also running the closest thing the format has to Force of Will; Pact of Negation. So what hate is actually good? One of the best, most overlooked, pieces of hate against Ad Nauseam is Stony Silence. This turns off all their mana acceleration and fixing and when you’re against a deck running an awful lot of lands that come into play tapped after turn three, that’s a big deal. Another key piece of hate against Ad Nauseam is Blood Moon – Ad Nauseam runs zero fetchlands and only two basic lands in most cases. Therefore, Blood Moon is especially potent in this matchup.
One thing that you need to look out for against Ad Nauseum is the alternate win condition of the deck. Most versions are running a copy of Laboratory Maniac, as well as Spoils of the Vault. After naming a card that isn’t actually in the deck, Ad Nauseam pilots will jam the “Lab Man” and play a Serum Visions to win the game on the spot. Because of this, it could be worth leaving a few ways to interact with Lab Maniac in the deck (ie. Path to Exile or Fatal Push).
If Ad Nauseam is an issue in your local meta, there is a cheap and easy way to combat this threat – Infect. Even after sideboarding, Ad Nauseam doesn’t really have a way to consistently combat the aggression of Infect and infect counters can do a great job of trumping any way they try to cheat death. Other than Infect, decks like Skred and Sun and Moon that run those very potent mainboard cards that Ad Nauseam has issues with (ie. Blood Moon and friends) do a very good of making a rather difficult matchup for most decks into something much more manageable.
The last thing to know is that these matchups will very often come down to pilot experience. Just getting in the reps against these decks will help you understand and identify the key points of the matchups and tilt the balance in your favor. Good luck out there against the goldfishing menaces.