The last time I talked about [card]Past in Flames[/card], I recommended it as a new engine for combo-oriented types to work on, but didn’t have time to invest in it with a new set out. Now that I’ve caught my balance during the tumultuous format shift in standard, I have the time and energy required for building a new archetype from the ground up.
While talking shop in Indy, I heard a few players mention a sweet interaction between [card]Brain Freeze[/card] and [card]Past in Flames[/card]. I don’t know who first thought of the idea, it could have been multiple people, but the earliest player I could trace it to was Liam Kane, so I’m going to consider it his technology until I hear differently.
Basically, you drop some ritual effects into a [card]Brain Freeze[/card], dumping some nine to eighteen cards into your graveyard. If you don’t have a [card]Past in Flames[/card] in hand, hopefully you hit one to flash back. After recycling all the ritual effects, flashing back the Brain Freeze should kill the opponent.
UR In Flames[deck]2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Flooded Strand
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Volcanic Island
4 Past in Flames
2 Lotus Petal
4 Brain Freeze
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song
4 Desperate Ritual
3 Pyretic Ritual
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Gitaxian Probe
This is my first, and roughest, list, but it proved competitive enough to justify putting more work into the archetype. Test results boasted a relevant number of turn two kills, but a critical turn of three, the bare minimum for legacy. Without [card]Force of Will[/card] or discard to protect the combo, the deck would need to either speed up or figure out a way to incorporate some disruption without slowing down.
I’m almost certain two is the incorrect number of [card]Lotus Petal[/card]s, and it’s possible a land should be cut for a third. Also, the basics might be more of a hindrance than a safeguard, but so far they haven’t slowed me down. I enjoy playing with the fourteen land manabase, as it reminds me of vintage.[card]Grapeshot[/card] proved to be a necessary evil, as it was a maindeck answer to [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakuls[/card] and [card progenitus]Progeniti[/card] out of the opponent’s maindeck. Just [card]Brain Freeze[/card] yourself, flash back a [card]Past in Flames[/card], and flash back the [card]Brain Freeze[/card] to essentially draw your entire deck. At this point, flashing back another [card]Past in Flames[/card] will offer up enough storm to kill with [card]Grapeshot[/card].
The games where I had the mana, the [card]Brain Freeze[/card], and the [card]Past in Flames[/card] played out relatively straight forward, but more often than not I’d be missing some piece of the puzzle and have to chain rituals and cantrips, sometimes through multiple [card]Past in Flames[/card], before finding the win. In a few games I never got there, and I fizzled, or the opponent’s disruption was enough to shut me down.
The following game summaries emphasize brevity over detail in an effort to give a feel for what the deck is trying to do.
Tester’s Log: Down and dirty with the Indy Open-winning Reanimator list.
Game one: He [card]Duress[/card]es turn one, taking a ritual effect, and reanimates a turn three [card jin-gitaxias, core augur]Jin-Gitaxias[/card]. Despite drawing seven, he doesn’t have the force and we dump our hand, dredging our library with [card]Brain Freeze[/card].
Game two: On the play we keep [card]Rite of Flame[/card], [card]Lotus Petal[/card], [card]Manamorphose[/card], [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card], [card]Past in Flames[/card], and [card]Brain Freeze[/card] with a fetchland. In the interest of testing the deck’s limits, we try going off turn one, which we probably wouldn’t attempt in a tournament game, but if we hit a ritual effect we’re gold. [card]Manamorphose[/card] draws [card]Ponder[/card], which sees a pair of [card]Desperate Ritual[/card]s and another [card]Ponder[/card]. We, knowing we need an [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] at this point, shuffle and brick. Opponent [card]Duress[/card]es, taking [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card], and then [card]Entomb[/card]s for an [card]Angel of Despair[/card] to hit our single land the next turn.
Game three: Opponent keeps a double [card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Duress[/card] hand lacking in gas but featuring a [card]Brainstorm[/card] to fix things. We keep a double [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card], double [card]Past in Flames[/card] hand with rituals but no dig. On turn three, opponent has reanimated a [card jin-gitaxias, core augur]Jin-Gitaxias[/card], but the few draw steps and a [card]Manamorphose[/card] have given us the [card]Brain Freeze[/card] needed to go off. Our excessive mana and double [card]Past in Flames[/card] get us through double [card]Force of Will[/card].
I played more games, and the matchup feels bad, even without a maindeck [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona[/card]. Guessing which build of Reanimator I’m up against is not something I envy of my future self, as Iona vs Jin-Gitaxias is the difference of an entire turn that you have to kill them. I also learned a lot about when to push my deck and when to sit on my draw step. There are hands that can beat disruption and there are hands that can race, but taking one and trying to do the other rarely worked.
I ran the deck through some other lists from the gauntlet, and it was killing consistently turn three, sometimes through disruption, sometimes not, and with a few turn two kills thrown in for good measure. Still, that wasn’t as quick or resilient as I wanted.
As someone asked, “what do you do if they play a [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card]?”
Back to the drawing board. Perhaps a more typical [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] list could hold its own better against graveyard hate. Or perhaps a transitional sideboard, something along the lines of:
4 [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] 3 [card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card]
would prove sufficient. After all, if the opponent sees what’s up after game one then they won’t be expecting a pile of Goblin tokens. [card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card] is a carryover from the Modern [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] deck, and functions similarly to [card]Time Walk[/card] in the vintage Empty lists. I’m not sure if the card is necessary in legacy yet, but it allows the deck to out tempo potential answers such as [card]Engineered Explosives[/card] for zero, [card]Pernicious Deed[/card], [card]Wrath of God[/card], or even a pile of creatures.
I set to work attempting to engineer a more traditional version, but that proved impossible outside of slimming down to a single [card]Past in Flames[/card] as a sideboard [card]Burning Wish[/card] target, which didn’t fit my goal of breaking the card. The [card]Brain Freeze[/card] engine had something to it, and I wasn’t ready to throw my baby out with the bathwater just yet.
I dwelled on how the deck could win in a variety of ways, sometimes reminding me of old extended [card]Mind’s Desire[/card] combo, sometimes legacy Belcher. Most games, however, involved a blind faith string of rituals and cantrips, eventually finding a way to break the game open. I found this style of play most similar to legacy’s Spanish Inquisition, or even better an old vintage deck called Meandeck Tendrils. Playing a cantrip in the wrong order spelled doom, and there were multiple times I had to use every card available to squeeze out a win.
For reference, here is the old storm list:
Meandeck Tendrils[deck]4 Tendrils of Agony
4 Land Grant
1 Tropical Island
1 Polluted Delta
4 Dark Ritual
4 Cabal Ritual
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Black Lotus
1 Lotus Petal
1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Darkwater Egg
4 Spoils of the Vault
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Demonic Consultation
4 Sleight of Hand
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
4 Night’s Whisper[/deck]
“…it’s a vicious little monster, and it’ll bite anyone. Including you.”
-Justin Walters, regarding the above list. February, 2005.
A problem with this type of deck is that it doesn’t mulligan particularly well. Losing a card drops a storm count, a piece of mana, or a card’s depth in digging for gas, potentially setting back the goldfish by an entire turn.
A benefit of this archetype is that every card produces options, and by making a long series of correct choices a seasoned player will find the winning line while someone who hasn’t put enough time into their decisions won’t have a chance. This attracts me for several reasons. First, most people testing it out won’t put in the proper time to learn its lines, and the deck will under perform in that setting, making them think a certain level of interaction or hate is good enough when it actually isn’t. Second, it keeps my brain working, and I’m never tempted to go on autopilot. Checking outs, draw odds, playing through hate and so on requires the high level of focus that’s ideal for tournament play. Third, I get to feel good about myself when I find the obscure line that gets me there. After all, it is a game, right?
If we mold the In Flames deck to closer resemble the above archetype, we should speed up the clock without losing much in the way of resiliency. Theoretically it makes sense, as the above deck is built to abuse [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card] in the same way that we’re currently trying to abuse [card]Past in Flames[/card]. Thus, the shell of our new deck might benefit from some similarities with the old. Spoils of the Vault looks good in a mana hungry deck like this one.
UBR In Flames[deck]2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Bloodstained Mire
3 Polluted Delta
2 Lotus Petal
2 Seething Song
3 Past in Flames
4 Dark Ritual
3 Burning Wish
4 Rite of Flame
4 Brain Freeze
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Spoils of the Vault
1 Past in Flames
1 Infernal Tutor
1 Tendrils of Agony
4 Empty the Warrens
3 Goblin Bushwhacker[/deck]
In a deck full of fetches, rituals, and free cantrips, [card]Cabal Ritual[/card] gets max value more often than not, making the deck more likely to have the mana to cast and flashback a [card]Past in Flames[/card], playing through a counterspell. At this point, [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] becomes worth considering, but I think the number of [card]Past in Flames[/card] required to make [card]Brain Freeze[/card] worth it makes the mana curve too high for the powerful black card draw spell.
The presence of black does make the deck more complicated to play, as now fetching correctly and managing colored mana in the pool factors in. A grip full of black rituals, [card]Brain Freeze[/card], and [card]Past in Flames[/card] doesn’t get you there, after all. The power and versatility of [card]Manamorphose[/card] takes on a whole new level of meaning in this build, and I don’t think the deck would work without it.
Speaking of which, I cast [card]Spoils of the Vault[/card] for [card]Manamorphose[/card] in more than one test game, and it worked out pretty well. I also dug for a three of a lot, making me think four Burning Wish and three Spoils might be correct, though this switch might slow down some turn one kills. One hesitation I have with Spoils is its nonbo with [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], especially if I’m flashing back multiples of the blue cantrip. Including the black tutor might be a necessary evil, or it might be a mistake. All I know is, until testing shows me otherwise, I like it.
Not included:[card]Intuition[/card] works well with [card]Past in Flames[/card], but is probably too mana intensive for what we want. Note that Intuitioning for [card]Rite of Flames[/card] breaks even on converted mana, which could be a nice filler play if you want to build storm or stock the graveyard. Tutoring for three separate cards to combine into a win with [card]Past in Flames[/card] reminds me of the [card]Intuition[/card] and [card]Goblin Welder[/card] synergy, where the blue instant acts as a triple demonic tutor. [card]Infernal Tutor[/card] is a sideboard target for the [card]Burning Wish[/card] list, but isn’t in either maindeck. A list using the hellbent Demonic Tutor might well be correct, especially since the card is good at stocking the graveyard with sweet spells to flash back.
I realize I didn’t post a full sideboard, and that’s largely because I expect the metagame to keep shifting. Off the top of my head, other cards to consider are [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card], [card]Massacre[/card], [card]Pyroclasm[/card], [card]Pyroblast[/card], [card]Echoing Truth[/card], [card]Chain of Vapor[/card], [card]Rebuild[/card], [card]Perish[/card], [card]Cleanfall[/card], [card]Diminishing Returns[/card], [card]Ill-Gotten Gains[/card], [card]Duress[/card], [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card]Morningtide[/card], [card]Shattering Spree[/card], and [card]Orim’s Chant[/card]. Some of these would require a manabase overhaul, but that’s not the most unreasonable thing if a card is needed for a relevant matchup.
Another way to approach the deck is either discard, countermagic, or [card]Orim’s Chant[/card]s to help the [card]Past in Flames[/card] resolve. This makes the deck more resilient against countermagic and [card]Stifle[/card] effects, but weaker to hate bears, which become more difficult to race as the deck slows down.
The [card]High Tide[/card] deck already runs [card]Force of Will[/card] and could support [card]Past in Flames[/card], but I worry at the lack of synergy between the red finisher and Time Spiral. Odds are, the deck will only need to resolve one of the two cards to win, but that’s another reason to be skeptical. After all, how much gas does that deck need? Making the manabase susceptible to [card]Wasteland[/card] is unlikely to be worth the splash.
A disruption package might require an altered draw engine, which is doable. To compensate for the loss in card advantage to [card]Force of Will[/card], the deck could adapt Ideas Unbound into the list, for example. Ideas has the nice side benefit of being a reasonable cast on turn two, setting up a turn three win, and feels amazing to flash back. That said, the heavy blue casting cost is a liability, and in the above ritual shell Ideas will only be cast after a [card]Manamorphose[/card] or flashed back with help of [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]. I’m not sure how to amend that problem, but perhaps it could work as a [card]Burning Wish[/card] target in the board.
That’s all for this week. Hopefully I get enough games in to do this deck justice at Nashville, as the decision trees can get good and complicated. As with all balls-to-the-wall combo decks, I’ll have to be a little lucky to get there, but I think the newness of the deck and the surprise factor of the transitional sideboard might give me enough of an edge to be worth it over a more consistent deck that taps green creatures sideways.
@CalebDMTG on Twitter