Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply-entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples means that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Ad Nauseam Tendrils.
What Ad Nauseam Tendrils Does
Ad Nauseam Tendrils is a fast combo deck that seeks to abuse the storm mechanic and win with a big Tendrils of Agony. Capable of insanely fast wins, and offering a good amount of consistency and resilience with cantrips and discard spells respectively, ANT is one of the most powerful all-in combo lists in the format.
ANT wins by chaining together a bunch of cheap spells, drawing a stack of cards, and then firing off a lethal Tendrils. Unlike in Modern, where you need twenty copies of Grapeshot to win, Tendrils only needs half the storm count. The typical way this is achieved is by dumping your hand out, gaining mana with various ritual effects, and then casting an Infernal Tutor and activating Lion’s Eye Diamond.
LED empties your hand for Infernal Tutor’s hellbent ability, and from there you get either Past in Flames or Ad Nauseam to “draw” a bunch of cards, then repeat the Infernal Tutor/LED process once the storm count is high enough, this time tutoring for a lethal Tendrils. It’s also possible to ritual out Ad Nauseam, hoping to dodge high-cost cards (there’s no Angel’s Grace in this list!) and win after “drawing” twenty or so cards.
This is a classic “goldfish” deck. When left to its own devices, it can and will win in the opening turns with relative ease. Given its weird angle of attack, ANT often wins game 1 regardless—the sideboard is where we separate the wheat from the chaff. Post-board, it becomes a worse storm deck but a better deck against the strategy you’re up against, with various interactive cards coming in to defend the combo.
This deck’s primary strength is its speed. ANT can win on turn 2 a surprising amount of the time, and consequently it’s critical to have some way to prevent this from happening (counterspells, discard, taxing effects). Fortunately for ANT players, this is difficult to do in game 1, and as a result the deck is heavily favored against the field pre-sideboarding.
ANT plays a very different game of Magic, attacking on an entirely different angle, and therefore blanks a lot of the cards opponents may play. Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, and other forms of creature interaction do stone-cold nothing against ANT, providing a virtual form of card advantage. It also executes this game plan with remarkable consistency by having many 4-ofs, cantrips, and tutor effects.
One of the usual weaknesses of fast combo—hand disruption—isn’t as effective against ANT, due to its capacity to play out of the graveyard. That’s not to say Thoughtseize isn’t a good card against ANT as it’s still fine, but it won’t have the same impact as against other combo decks like Sneak and Show. Hymn to Tourach is a little better, robbing ANT of the critical mass of cards it needs to go off.
Its sideboard is mostly built to beat other sideboards, and almost always brings in reactive cards to beat out any opponents seeking to re-position themselves post-board, although it does include answers to problematic main deck cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It can also re-position itself slightly with Empty the Warrens—sometimes making six Goblins on turn 1 can be good enough!
Luckily for anyone looking to beat ANT, there are plenty of powerful ways to hate it out. In some decks, these options can even be included in the main deck. Disruptive cards like Flusterstorm, Surgical Extraction, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are all nightmarish for ANT to fight through, due to the extremely one-dimensional game plan of the deck.
ANT has also become a lot worse than it used to be with the banning of Gitaxian Probe. It offered free storm count, but most importantly it offered free information so that ANT pilots could check if the coast was clear to go off.
Additionally, the combo has a lot of very clear weak points. For example, countering the Infernal Tutor is a huge spanner in the works and typically means the ANT player has wasted a bunch of resources for nothing (although good ANT players won’t put themselves in a position to have their Tutor countered).
On top of this, ANT has effectively no reach. If you survive a Tendrils at even 1 life, you have all the time in the world to win the game as they try to build back up to flashing it back with Past in Flames. Again, good ANT players won’t often fire off a non-lethal Tendrils, but just bear in mind that surviving (even on a perilously low life total) will give you plenty of breathing room to win the game at your leisure.
How to Beat Ad Nauseam Tendrils
The best way to beat ANT is by planning for the matchup ahead of time. If you expect an appreciable percentage of the field to be ANT, bring the right cards for the job: graveyard hard, cheap, effective countermagic (Flusterstorm!), and efficient hand disruption (just remember it’s not game over to Duress away one of their key cards). Finally, an excellent anti-ANT card is, weirdly, Izzet Staticaster. It kills tokens from Empty the Warrens and also deals with Xantid Swarm.
There’s a lot of important counterplay involved when in a game against ANT. Here are some critical things to remember when at the table:
- Don’t unnecessarily contribute to the storm count. Good ANT players will bait out extra superfluous spells from you when they can’t get to the required number themselves. Be absolutely certain you need to cast any given spell when they might threaten to go off.
- When they do start going off, it may be a feint to strip you of resources and test your willingness to contest non-critical spells. Don’t fall for it! Be mindful of their resources and potential lines of play, and don’t fall into the trap of trying to fight off a combo they don’t have.
- Post-board, don’t immediately cut all your removal. Xantid Swarm is a sideboard staple for ANT, and sometimes, anticipating no game 2 removal spells, they’ll bring in Dark Confidant as an extra source of card advantage.
Finally, the usual one-two punch of pressure plus disruption works wonders against ANT. They don’t play to the board well at all, so getting early damage in with a cheap beater while fighting off their attempts to set up the combo can win games. ANT is at its best when not on the clock, and when it has breathing room to find and set up the perfect combo, so an early source of pressure is a great way to prevent them from playing their best Magic.