I’m back from GP Charlotte after a solid finish with what I consider Modern’s top combo deck—Ad Nauseam. Andreas Ganz won GP Charlotte with the deck and brought it back to the forefront of Modern.

Here’s the list I ran:

Ad Nauseam

There are a lot of unintuitive interactions with the deck, and I would highly recommend checking out one of the best primers I have ever read.

As far as the combo goes though, here’s how it works: you need to either A) cast Angel’s Grace or B) have a Phyrexian Unlife out. Then you can cast Ad Nauseam and draw your entire deck, going well into the negative life total range. From here, there are 2 ways to win.

One way is to simply exile some Simian Spirit Guides, cast Lightning Storm, retain priority, and discard enough lands until your opponent is put at lethal. They may respond by trying to redirect Lightning Storm or gain some life, but you can simply discard more lands or cast Pact of Negation on whatever it is they are trying to accomplish. This kill should work most of the time, but won’t work if they have too much life or too many lands. This kill also works at instant speed.

The secondary kill is with Laboratory Maniac. Here, you need 1 additional colored mana available when you draw your deck. You cast Pentad Prism off land, Simian Spirit Guide, then use 2 more Spirit Guides for RR, cast Laboratory Maniac off Prism and the red mana, then use the last Prism counter to cast Serum Visions. This kill only works at sorcery speed and doesn’t work against Abrupt Decay, but it does get around a lot of commonly seen hate cards such as Pithing Needle or Leyline of Sanctity. Other removal spells like Lightning Bolt you can simply Pact of Negation.

There are a few variants of Ad Nauseam and I firmly believe Spoils of the Vault is the best version. It has the fastest kill speed as you have an effective 7 Ad Nauseams in your deck, and it can work as a cantrip when you know the top card or dig for an Angel’s Grace or Pact of Negation in a pinch. In a format as fast as Modern, it’s important to have the ability to consistently go off early and Spoils gives you that.

Furthermore, the Spoils version is packed with scry effects and you never shuffle your deck. That way, if you scry something like a Lightning Storm to the bottom, you know that you will never draw it again.

Frank Karsten calculated the whiff probability of Spoils in terms of exiling too many win cons at about 7% if you play 2 win cons and about 20% if only 1 of the win cons will work. To me, that is an acceptable risk. Every deck has its internal risks and percentages—Spoils of the Vault just happens to make them more obvious because it’s possible to lose when you cast it.

My main deck is fairly stock for a Spoils list—the only question is whether to play Gemstone Mine or split with City of Brass. City of Brass can be tapped when you are negative and you can Angel’s Grace in response to the trigger, so it is superior to Mana Confluence. City of Brass is a more consistent card, but it does cost life and any incremental life can be very costly if it causes you to hit 0 faster when you have a Phyrexian Unlife out. On the other hand, Gemstone Mine is only good for 2 activations if you need the third activation to combo off.

Here are my sideboard choices:

  • 1 Phyrexian Unlife – This is your absolute best card against Burn decks and comes in handy against decks that pack a lot of discard because it allows you to win when you top deck Ad Nauseam. I really like having 4 in the 75. One thing to note about Phyrexian Unlife that many of my opponents were not aware of: the first damage that puts you to 0 or below does not give you any poison counters. If you are at 0 or below, then damage begins to give you poison counters.
  • 4 Leyline of Sanctity – I’m not the biggest fan of Leylines, but you can cast this one and have it be useful later against discard decks. The fact that it’s useful against Burn, Lantern, and Bring to Light Scapeshift merits its 4 slots.
  • 1 Pact of Negation – I like having the fourth Pact against blue decks so you can Spoils for it if you need to.
  • 1 Echoing Truth – This card is an excellent catchall—I’ve used it to great effect versus anything from Stony Silence to Tidehollow Sculler, or Thalia.
  • 1 Slaughter Pact – Answers Spellskite, Thalia, Gaddock Teeg, Eidolon of Rhetoric, etc.
  • 1 Duress – Good for blue decks and against Abzan Company when you want to have the ability to go for Laboratory Maniac and you can strip their Abrupt Decay.
  • 3 Darkness – Great against aggro decks and your worst matchup: Infect.
  • 1 Painful Truths – Flex slot—I like it against discard decks and Jeskai Harbinger.
  • 1 Lightning Storm – There are a few matchups where Laboratory Maniac is bad. I like having a secondary way to win at instant speed in case you Spoils. Furthermore, if you leave in Maniac, it means you need to leave in at least 1 Pentad Prism.
  • 1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All – Blue decks.

Sideboarding

I often change how I sideboard between games 2 and 3 depending on the hate cards I see. In general, against blue decks I prefer to have 2 Lightning Storms instead of 1 Lightning Storm 1 Laboratory Maniac. If you’re leaving in Laboratory Maniac, be sure to leave in at least 1 Pentad Prism.

Abzan/Jund (Unfavorable)

Out

In

These 2 matchups are not good, but it’s not hard to steal a win. I like the fourth Unlife because it means you can win via a topdecked Ad Nauseam against Liliana of the Veil, and it’s a back-up copy against their opposing Abrupt Decay. Against Abzan, if I suspect Stony Silence, I like to bring in an Echoing Truth. It’s good to side out some artifacts to hedge versus Ancient Grudge/Stony Silence.

Burn (Favorable)

Out

In

Add +3 Darkness instead if they have Wild Nacatl. This matchup is very close when you don’t have Phyrexian Unlife and quite good when you do. Unlife essentially buys you a full turn while “saving” a mana because you only need 5 mana to go off with Ad Nauseam. You leave in 1 Pact in case they side in Deflecting Palm.

Infect (Close to Unwinnable)

Out

In

This matchup is horrible. They have a fast clock, your protection does nothing, and they have counters and artifact/enchantment hate. Some people have gone as far as to play 4 Gut Shot 4 Lose Hope as a way to win this matchup. Personally, my strategy for winning a large tournament is to dodge a bad pairing and accept a loss here and there. In Modern, every deck has a really bad matchup, and this is Ad Nauseam’s.

GR Tron (Very Favorable)

Out

In

Outside of an early Karn Liberated, they really don’t have any meaningful ways to interact with you. Slaughter Pact comes in for Spellskite, although you can usually win through Spellskite anyway.

Affinity/Gruul Zoo (Favorable)

Out

In

Against Affinity, you can hedge by keeping in Laboratory Maniac so that if they gain too much life via Vault Skirge you can win. Against Zoo, you can use Lightning Storm.

Jeskai Harbinger (Favorable)

Out

In

They have a lot of enchantment hate post-board, so I prefer to board out my Unlifes and win via Angel’s Grace + Ad Nauseam. Most blue decks are great matchups—Nahiri, the Harbinger is a “clock” of sorts, but you can typically win by turn 6.

Scapeshift (Favorable)

Out

In

(Approximate based on what you see.)

Scapeshift is another great matchup. Game 1, if they ever attempt to combo, you can simply Angel’s Grace after letting Scapeshift resolve. Then, all of their lands are tapped and you can cast Ad Nauseam at your leisure during their end step. Post-sideboard, the Bring to Light lists have Slaughter Games, so if you suspect that, I like to bring in 3 Leyline of Sanctity.

Abzan Company/Kiki-Chord (Favorable)

Out

In

Typically, you’re half a turn faster and they don’t have too much interaction. Eidolon of Rhetoric can be annoying, but you can kill it or kill them via Phyrexian Unlife (end-step Ad Nauseam, draw the deck, untap win). You leave in 1 Pact in case you need to counter Path to Exile for your Laboratory Maniac.

Eldrazi Taxes (Unfavorable)

Out

In

This matchup is quite difficult—they have plenty of tax effects, Flickerwisp, and hand disruption. I’m not sure if Leyline of Sanctity is correct, but they can use Wasteland Strangler to process Lotus Bloom, so I think it should be cut.

Merfolk (Favorable)

Out

In

Merfolk typically doesn’t actually run that many counterspells, so it’s not hard to power through their cards. A lot of your cards are also good at buying time.

GR Scapeshift (Favorable)

Out

In

They often pack Slaughter Games, so Leyline of Sanctity is a great way to buy time.

Grixis (Even)

Out

In

I prefer Lotus Bloom to Pentad Prism against blue decks if they play Kolaghan’s Command/Spell Snare. Bloom is awkward against Remand, but sometimes you can choose to Pact their Remand or just re-suspend Bloom.

Ad Nauseam (Even)

Out

In

The mirror depends highly on build, but the typical Lightning Storm kill is easily countered via Angel’s Grace. It’s correct to set up a Phyrexian Unlife, then set up a Laboratory Maniac kill where you can continually counter whatever they try to do while you run them out of Angel’s Graces because you have no library or Laboratory Maniac.

Bogles (Favorable)

Out

In

Slaughter Pact is for Gaddock Teeg—the rest of the cards buy time. Leave 1 Pact in for Path to Exile.

Lantern (Unfavorable)

Out

In

This matchup is quite difficult as they have Pithing Needle and Leyline of Sanctity for Lightning Storm, and Pyrite Spellbomb for Laboratory Maniac. Luckily, this deck is not very popular.

All in all, Ad Nauseam has a lot of very good matchups across the board and a couple that are really difficult. Modern is a format with polarizing matchups, Ad Nauseam tends to take it to the extreme. For now, I think it’s a winning strategy. I predict a significant uptick in Ad Nauseam in the months to come, so be sure to learn the interactions even if you’re not planning on playing it.