In this issue of Lessons From the Fringe, we’re joined by special guest author: Leptys. Anyone familiar with his record in the various cEDH tournaments over the years as well as his in-depth work on Gitrog will know to pay close attention to what he’s got to say. Today, he’s breaking down the list he piloted to a 2nd place finish in the most recent TimeTwisted cEDH Tournament. Enjoy!
Lessons From the Fringe: Tymna Farm and Turbo Ad Nauseam
Ad Nauseam. A card originally printed in Shards of Alara that has seen play in some of the most prevalent combo decks in almost every eternal format it has been legal in. A card once hailed as the figurehead piece of competitive EDH decks, maybe of even the cEDH community itself nearly half a decade backward. The power of “mana-positive” cards like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring combined with the 40-life rule presented tons of build-around potential with the black instant right from the beginning times of the format. A one-card combo feared and loved by many, Ad Nauseam has arguably been one of the most important cards when it comes to influencing the initial growth of online cEDH deck brewing as it exists today.
The words “Ad Nauseam”, meaning literally “until you’re so sick you throw up” could also be easily used to describe the lengthy hold the card had over online competitive EDH scenes. Simultaneously, the tempting process of netting more and more cards and resolving an ever-changing puzzle presented by those cards has also become an addiction of many EDH combo and storm pilots over the years.
However, a lot of time has passed since the card reigned at the top, as today many powerful cards come to compete with the throne Ad Nauseam once almost held monopoly on. With the appearance of Thrasios & Tymna in 2016 and the unbanning of Protean Hulk in 2017, the metagame during these past years has revolved a lot on mid- and late-game staying power as opposed to pure speed. The pure lockdown decks, once holding the fastest decks hostage are these days most often out-valued by “slow-roll” combo decks based on steadily eking out advantage in stagnant board states. The sheer robustness of combos like Laboratory Maniac, Food Chain, as well as build-around generals like Najeela and Gitrog, plays through most stax pieces without much effort.
In short, most contemporary online games these days hinge on drawn out Mexican standoffs, where counterspells are fired at the latest moment possible, and where slipping in early wins becomes an exception rather than the rule. More often than before, games end by combat damage rather than a combo, something that usually happens only in the most staxed out games we see so little of today. Essentially, we live in a sort of “midrange combo” climate, where the once hailed balls-to-the-wall speedy combo strategies get overlooked as only a meager sub-par approach to the now omnipresent Flash Hulk (to the point that even Flash Hulk isn’t trying to be fast with its newer iterations, not that it really needs to).
But what if I told you that your deck’s speed isn’t purely dependent on how much mana your combo costs? What if I told you that you don’t need to amass superior card advantage to win each game that starts to grind? What if I told you that Ad Nauseam, as overlooked as it now is as the de-facto win condition, was never truly usurped from that position?
Hello, readers. Perhaps you’ve already guessed, but I’m not your regular article author here in Lessons From the Fringe. I go in the web by the name Leptys, and some of you might already know me from my former work with the Laboratory Maniacs regarding the more traditional Gitrog Monster shells back in 2017.
I’m not here to talk about Gitrog today though; her popularity has gone, needless to say, above and beyond ‘fringe’ in terms of cEDH popularity. I am here about a non-blue combo deck, however, and like Gitrog, it has got some impressive results in prized online cEDH events recently. In the most recent TimeTwisted cEDH Tournament hosted by MetalLegs, aka Ian from the streaming group Mystic Remoras on December 2019, an Ad Naus -focused combo deck helmed by Tymna and Ikra Shidiqi reached 2nd place over the course of a 2-day tournament with over 40 players. Almost a year backwards, the very same shell reached the final pod of the first TimeTwisted Tournament. This might very well be just a stroke of luck with the small sample of tournaments being held, but shedding light to this dark horse archetype still is worth some effort given the repeated high standings. Time to go into detail how this Turbo Ad Nauseam deck helmed by Tymna, usually referred to as “Farm” (courtesy of the archetype’s originator RiverMayCry) functions and brings in such results.
If you’ve read my former write-up on this deck from 2018, you might already know what a “Farm” deck is built to do: resolve Ad Nauseam ASAP, and win afterwards in quick fashion. There has been more than several dedicated Ad Naus combo decks played online in the past (Zur, Jeleva, Mono Black Sidisi etc.), but Farm lists especially make more than a few intentional deckbuilding concessions despite their access to colors to achieve a huge amount of consistency with their storm-like victories utilizing the life-hungry black instant.
However, with some efforts to make an emphasis in synergy, the shell effectively forms a sum greater than its parts: robust protection suite, diverse combo selection, the occasionally-needed lifegain as well as a toolbox of cheap and evasive creatures to abuse with Tymna form a machinery that goes off fast, recovers quickly, grinds into the long game without much effort, and provides uninterrupted wins even when at a resource disadvantage, often through a stax effect or two. With the arrival of the London Mulligan rule, the option to aggressively search for your one-card combo just raises the odds of Farm being in its endgame from as early as turn 2 onwards, making it match speeds of singular Flash Hulk decks in early game wins due to not having the same card and library requirements in going off as Hulk does despite the mana cost requirement.
In this article I’m going in-depth with the main themes involved in the deckbuilding of this list, and why it keeps overmatching the value-oriented midrange climate we’re in right now in terms of online cEDH.
White Nauseam - Hard Counter to Aggro
During the time Ad Nauseam was printed, there already existed a sort of “security system” that prevented the overuse of Ad Nauseam costing you the game, that being the white instant Angel’s Grace from Time Spiral. The card has seen use in many of the classic Ad Naus decks in past cEDH lists, the main example being Zur, the Enchanter Doomsday. Grace primarily provides Ad Nauseam late-game staying power, as sometimes life totals just get too low for the card to work by itself. However, simultaneously it only presented a singular solution to the dilemma: what can I do if opponents start beating me down with every creature they have?
Cue the White Nauseam philosophy, one of the main concepts that Farm’s deckbuilding revolves around. Initially invented and coined by RiverMayCry who had been trying to make Orzhov combo decks work in cEDH for years prior, White Nauseam-esque deckbuilding essentially expands from the Angel’s Grace + Ad Nauseam idea to other forms of “life insurance”, which in this case is primarily incidental lifegain. Lifegain for its own sake isn’t usually that viable in many formats, but with the aid of Tymna, creatures with lifegain properties become not only that, but also card-draw.
While Ikra Shidiqi and Mad Farm’s Bruse Tarl already stand out as an example in the command zone, cards like Children of Korlis, as well as Serra Ascendant also provide your life-to-cards engines with surplus potential, making your combo turns way safer in the process. Children practically allows you to draw half of your deck twice by returning your life totals to safe levels after losing most of it, while a turn 1 Serra Ascendant is such a haymaker by itself in cEDH tables that it can single-handedly win you a game by pressuring one or two players down in just a few turns. That is, unless they react quickly with interaction that would’ve otherwise been hitting your combo cards, which is sometimes just as juicy for us.
The reason why this lifegain theme works so well in the current cEDH metagame is that the surge of midrange decks has essentially extended game times so much that hitting people down with creatures is starting to show its head. To add to this, Ad Nauseam has already been written off as a card one can easily beat without wasting extra card slots in their deck by just pressuring the combo player’s life total with combat damage. Those creatures usually are something like Tymna, but also beefier generals like Gitrog or Kenrith, or even aggro-oriented like Najeela.
This “hate the Naus player out” culture, while commonplace for a reason, is accompanied usually by the motto “hit the player with the least life”. 40-life-pools are already gargantuan in terms of aggro and burn -typed gameplans in EDH, so dividing your already mediocre damage between multiple opponents guarantees that you’ll be at best tickling everyone and at worst making them focus on you for hitting them.
In that sense, what does a huge, beefy blocker or a lifegain engine do in this environment? It stops the beats against you altogether. The once troublesome policy of “hit the player with the least life” flips on its head to “don’t hit the player with the most life”, practically leading to a total cessation of incoming combat damage. Needless to say, this is fantastic news for dedicated Ad Nauseam decks like Farm which can double down on using life to fuel game-winning spells.
To add to the benefits of incidental lifegain, the generals relying on incidental damage or life-loss to present a clock like Najeela or Yuriko groan at cards like Ikra Shidiqi, seeing how everyone at the table can be cut down below 10 life while you still stand above your 30s. All in all, the once effective, slot-efficient tactic dedicated Ad Nauseam was weak against is no longer, all due to a couple of buffers to our seemingly inconsequential amount of life (all of which turns into not-so-inconsequential card advantage not long after).
It’s also an important thing to mention that the White Nauseam lifegain theme isn’t something the deck relies on to function; Farm can just as easily win from a main-phase Ad Nauseam at 25-30 life with little mana floating, assuming you can hit enough of your mana-positive cards. The deck is already built around sketchy Ad Nauseams by forcing such a low mana curve, going all-out on mana production and abusing cards like Scroll Rack to basically make even the mana-hungriest 20-card hands able to force through a win.
Preemptive Protection - Turning the Tables Against Value
Another strong part to an Ad Nauseam deck with access to white is doubling down on Silence effects: cards that make our opponents unable to cast any meaningful interaction for minimal cost while also not risking you with a loss like a simple combo attempt would.
The most classic effects here are the titular Silence and Grand Abolisher known from many well established lists, but stopping there would do our protection options no justice. The newly printed Ranger-Captain of Eos and Veil of Summer increase density on exactly these kinds of effects, while the already uncounterable land-based support cards like Boseiju, Who Shelters All and Cavern of Souls make for easy resolution of Ad Nauseam or Abolisher trivial against late-game hands full of counterspells. Black hand hate like Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy, as well as smaller creature-based effects like Cabal Therapist and Hope of Ghirapur close the circle of layers upon layers of easy ways to baiting interaction before ever putting Ad Nauseam to the stack, or simply forcing the opposition to watch in literal silence when you eventually do so. We naturally don’t have blue interaction ready in Abzan Farm, but with access to silencing the stack altogether we have the next-best thing. The Mardu version of Farm has none of the green Veils available, but reactive cards like Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast work just as well as counterspells and as ways to remove blue value engines or hate pieces.
As to why does this kind of “pre-emptive” interaction work against the current cEDH metagame, all becomes clear with only a couple of card examples. Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study, format-defining parasite cards that feed off of almost every half-decent cEDH table basically become jokes when you cast a Silence. Cards that forced people to withhold any active gameplans at the risk handing someone the game now become trivial value engines, as their controllers’ ever-increasing hand sizes on your combo turn become mere semblances of hope that you’d somehow fail in going off. But then you win. Again and again… and again. To add to this, the now-ubiquitous Flash Hulk decks that are looking to win in response to counter wars now have to carefully weigh whether they want to go off in response to a singular Silence effect, or wait for the next turn that might never appear.
Silence effects also help in offensively interacting with our opponents if necessary. Just like we can silence foes on your own combo turns, we can also prevent them from casting subsequent spells when we see a threatening one enter the stack. This doesn’t stop instant-speed comboing naturally, but a well-placed Silence or Ranger-Captain activation forms the bread and butter of disrupting half-hearted combo attempts in an emergency, giving Farm’s protection suite a bit of reactive interaction potential on the side.
The cEDH community has known about Silence’s power since forever with its usage in storm/combo decks with white in them, but now that WotC has granted us with so many new cards that fulfill its purpose in cEDH, pre-emptive combo protection is back with a vengeance. With Veil of Summer already seeing play in many combo decks alongside Silence and with Abolisher seeing play in Hulk decks, the “throw protection into an empty stack” is slowly making a comeback in more established lists. And with our deck that’s chock full of these effects, I can guarantee that no-one wants to intuitively counter that 1-mana instant on an empty stack. If they do, you’ve lost next to nothing. And if they don’t, there literally isn’t much they can do to keep you from winning.
The Farm Animals - Oiling the Tymna Engine
When Tymna got printed, I witnessed more than several MtG players quickly realizing that the card could’ve just as easily been a mainstay general even without the Partner mechanic. The card-draw potential with no direct subsequent costs in mana means essentially free cards in any table that doesn’t provide early game blockers, and sometimes even that is not enough to deal with the ever-recurring value menace Tymna threatens from the command zone.
With the surge of creatures in stalled-out metagames, Tymna doesn’t get to connect as much as it could before. The feature of “blocking Tymna” has become not unlike the “Bolt test” of utility creatures in cEDH, so 3-toughness creatures are now the golden standard when it comes to untapped bodies. However, as Tymna doesn’t need to connect herself to net you cards, there are still ways around this wall of x/3s by using mana-efficient evasive threats, something akin to Yuriko’s or Edric’s way of EDH deckbuilding.
But how can we utilize this kind of thinking in an Ad Nauseam storm deck? How can you flip into gas cards every game if you just get a bunch of Edric creatures all the time? Here we come to the part where the deck gets is name from: the offensive, cheap as well as evasive creature suite that provide strong static effects, or sacrifice themselves for additional resources when needed, also known as the “farm animals”.
“Farm animal” in the context of the deck means any low-curve creature, around 1-3CMC that can land on the field before Tymna comes in and swing for cards in the early game, and which can also be sacrificed for further value during your combo turn. The viability in regards to the overall mana cost depends on how powerful the creature by itself is, but by default you want creatures that are as cheap as possible and sacrifice themselves for mana or other resources, with evasion being a big bonus for easier Tymna connections down the line.
A good example of a “farm animal” in the current list is Cabal Therapist. Being a 1-drop, you can easily stick Therapist on turn 1-2, then play Tymna on the following turn and draw a card upon easily connecting via Menace. Later on, when you deem Therapist or other creatures you’ve landed unnecessary, you can start sacrificing them to check opposing hands for interaction, or scouting a silent opponent’s hand for combo cards to focus the whole table’s attention on them.
The deck thrives on cards like these, as small utility creatures can potentially serve 2-3 purposes thanks to Tymna, even when on the surface-level they wouldn’t seem like they’d do much. In similar fashion, the deck already runs cards like Ranger-Captain of Eos for more protection and tutoring, Overeager Apprentice for mana-fixing as well as discarding Leonin Relic-Warders ripe for reanimation, and even cards like Memnite and Krosan Wayfarer to work as ways to land easy mana-positive Culling the Weaks or Gaea’s Cradles on your Ad Nauseam turn.
As the deck now becomes somewhat oriented on creatures that give you cards with Tymna and also work as ways to fix or generate mana on your Ad Nauseam turns, cards like Earthcraft, Skullclamp and Cabal Therapy work as very useful support cards for the whole toolbox. Some Turbo Nauseam decks even abuse cards like Razaketh to maximize the amount of value you get from your cheap beaters, supporting one of the combos we’re already running that’s being covered next.
Combos & Win Outlets - A Necessary Formality
Having talked a lot about how the deck is built already, the game-ending combos themselves are not the number one priority, although they eventually become necessary too. However, because our bottleneck is not the outlet but resolving an instant that nets us 20+ cards, you can run a small suite of different, yet compact combos that you can use to maneuver around opposing hate. The particular list here runs three combos, the latter two of which have a couple of overlapping outlets:
Sickening Dreams: a 2-mana sorcery that Earthquakes the whole table for the size of your library after drawing it with Angel’s Grace + Ad Nauseam works here as the most mana and card efficient win condition. Grace also grants you immunity to damage, so while other players get hit for 50+ damage, you won’t be breaking any sweat. This avenue of victory is, in a sense, more tricky to reach as it often requires Angel’s Grace with your Ad Nauseam to grant enough cards and immunity to damage, but due to existing only on the stack, it’s also immune to pretty much all forms of interaction other than counterspells when executed, also usually preceded by protection due to its cheap mana cost. As pure Grace + Naus lines are pretty rare, most often you’ll be using Dreams to win by casting a second Naus from your graveyard via Yawgmoth’s Will after finding Angel’s Grace and enough mana from your first cast.
Leonin Relic-Warder + Animate Dead/Necromancy: An already known reanimation combo from the popular Razakats decks helmed by Thrasios & Tymna, the “Animate Cat” win line comes to use in this list, albeit as a slightly more compact version as we’re not using Razaketh to assemble it. By using a reanimation enchantment on Relic-Warder, it can be used to cause arbitrary amounts of ETB/death triggers for Corpse Knight/Blood Artist effects, as well as provide infinite fodder for sacrifice outlets like Goblin Bombardment or Blasting Station. This line is arguably the weakest in our combo suite, as it is weak to both spot removal and graveyard hate.
Squirrel Nest + Earthcraft: Another infinite combo when you have a basic land handy, Squirrel Nest accompanied with Earthcraft provides you with infinite tapped Squirrel tokens. A little bit more resilient than the Cat Combo above due to not requiring the grave, Squirrelcraft can be used to instantly win the game with the same outlets as with the above combo.
Speaking of outlets, as both of the latter combos work very similarly, deck slots can be easily conserved by using overlapping outlets in Corpse Knight and Blasting Station in the Abzan list. For the original Mardu-colored Mad Farm, the deck runs Dualcaster Mage + Twinflame in the place of Squirrelcraft, and Goblin Bombardment in the place of Blasting Station. Bombardment is a strict upgrade to Station, and Dualcaster + Twinflame is also overall better, as it also allows for an instant win without any separate outlets as long as you haven’t used your combat step yet.
Also of note: while it’s possible to assemble the latter two combos without Ad Nauseam, it’s not gonna happen too often without getting disrupted. However, keeping an eye on what combo pieces you draw can help you sneak in a victory or two without relying on Naus, just don’t make your slow assemblies look too obvious while attempting such lines.
The Folly of Farm - Why This Deck Stinks
With as much as I’ve advocated Farm’s strengths already, there of course is a flip side, and I’m sure you’ve surmised some of it already. By excluding blue from our color identity, the deck already suffers a lot merely by lacking any access to stack-based interaction. While the deck can do a lot to pre-emptively protect itself or recover from a failed attempt, there isn’t much you can do against an opposing Silence if an opponent ever decides to cast one during your combo turn. The general lack of interaction in permanent form also hurts the chances of effectively disrupting other, occasionally faster combo decks, so in certain games you can get outraced. This applies especially to Flash Hulk; while outracing a single Hulk deck consistently is somewhat possible, outracing multiple Hulks quickly turns the odds against you.
There’s also the factor of our creature suite that doesn’t accrue much value without Tymna around. By conceding blue we won’t only lose our counterspell option, but also most of our individual card-draw haymakers like Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora. Therefore, if people get a little bit too interested in our Tymna, we might face a full stop in our value-grinding gameplan. In similar fashion, the occasional creature wipe can’t be prevented by us either, so you can’t help it much if someone decides your or someone else’s board is looking too threatening. Finally, we’re leaning hard on one card to win games, which makes us somewhat weak to opposing extraction and to people who are actively focusing on us in every game.
Some of the weaknesses mentioned above can be very detrimental to your general piloting experience depending on the meta you’re playing in, as well as on how you are going to handle it verbally. For instance, being in the hot-seat of having to race multiple Flash Hulk decks with no counterspells of your own is often a damned task. The most recent TimeTwisted Tournament provided a prevalent example of this when people started putting their Flashes to the stack in pods where every opponent was running Flash Hulk; there wasn’t much Farm could do to stop it all from transpiring.
However, contrary to what you might believe from the first skim of the deck, you can do surprisingly much to interact with your opposition, even without blue. The deck does run a lot of already mentioned Silence effects, which similarly can stop our opponents in their tracks just like they can stop us. Simultaneously, the deck does run some grave-hate for blowout potential (Scavenger Grounds / Necromancy / Noxious Revival), and targeted discard which works as premature removal, but also gives valuable information to the whole table on what the more quiet players are up to.
Speaking of revealing opportune information to the table, one of the strongest interaction tools in these kind of lists is the miniscule amount of attention they receive in their plays, assuming you play your cards right of course (no pun intended). While for some cEDH players it might seem weird to talk about “politics” per se, table talk is often a very vital factor on who wins or loses a given game. Arguing the fact that the resident Hulk player has his combo ready while also continuously reminding the table how many cards the player with Rhystic Study has drawn are very powerful examples of the verbal tools at your disposal, especially while your strongest plays for the turn are basically 1/1s with evasion.
Take note I’m not telling anyone to intentionally play or deckbuild sub-optimally here. Just remember that when you find yourself loving a deck that’s not in the top echelons of any multiplayer format, take refuge in that mediocrity and call out those top tier players that are trying to slither their way out of yet another obvious set-up. I see these kinds of situations happen almost every day when I play with some of the more experienced cEDH pilots, so I beg you not to be fooled. Learn who you’re playing against and call the politics out. Speak up whenever you can, as EDH is always a social format, whether you’re playing in a top tier pod or in a more casual environment.
Farm’s Position In the Meta - Matchups In (Not So) Brief
Now it is true that while I have described Farm as a reckless fast combo deck, not all games are Christmas Land turn 1-2 Ad Nauseam wins where caring about the opposition is irrelevant. Games can range, depending on your opponents and your seating in the table, from fast combo shotgun parties where everyone tries to race to the win to the slower counter-war gut checks, and finally to the grinds through stax-ridden board states that can last hours. That’s why having an eye on what your given role is at each table is paramount to succeeding, especially when blue interaction is out of your reach.
Below there are several tips on how to approach the current cEDH metagame, with the 3 main representatives of current metagame archetypes covered more extensively, followed by general-specific decks and some of the less prevalent archetypes.
Flash Hulk, the Apex Predator
As I’ve already covered above, Flash Hulk lists are arguably the fastest combo decks you can come across today in cEDH tables. Given that their combos require only two cards and two mana to bring about a game-winning game state, usually with protection, some games you just lose to these decks, and that is a concession Farm is willing to make. However, given that we are talking about arguably the most dangerous decks in the table, you have more than plenty of tools to deal with them, both in verbal and cardboard form.
- Discard: Early Thoughtseizes and Cabal Therapies naming Flash are always valid choices against local Hulk players. Even if you miss your Therapy discard, getting the information on their hand ASAP is of utmost importance unless you want to get got by their sudden participation to a counter war down the line by flashing in a win (pun intended). By revealing their hand you also give the rest of the table the knowledge required to deal with any incoming early win attempts. Just don’t discard their Hulk unless you’re planning to reanimate it right after yourself – they run plenty of reanimation too.
- Grave Hate: Our graveyard hate is few and far between, but you can bet that the effects we have mean business against most Hulk decks. Our primary piece here is Scavenger Grounds, which can be tutored with both Crop Rotation and Elvish Reclaimer, as well as flashed onto the field via Krosan Wayfarer for blowouts. As Grounds is a land, it also goes through pieces like Grand Abolisher, which is important to keep in mind if the Hulk player runs piles with Abolisher in them. Noxious Revival works as grave hate against DNV piles (short for “Definitely Not Varolz”, don’t ask) that utilize Lesser Masticore persist loops, but unfortunately doesn’t do much against Shuffle Hulk nor Breakfast Hulk piles. Necromancy can be used to disrupt anything creature-based that’s not with Abolisher backup, but take care of Shuffle’s flashbacked Memory’s Journeys that can be used to respond to your hate spell. Work with the table here if possible to present responses to Hulk player’s responses.
- Silence Effects: If your opponent is playing any Hulk pile that requires casting spells afterward, Silence stops them in their tracks. Just be careful if they can win at instant speed, because at that point they can just go off during the next player’s upkeep if the table is not prepared.
- Strategy & Politics: Your strongest weapon against Hulk is ironically our other opponents’ interaction against Flash, so using verbal means to ready the table against it is our A-game. Anything the Hulk player does, be it mana production, casting spells, tapping mana, not tapping mana… call it out. Make a parade out of the ever-approaching doom named Flash. Let the Hulk player know that you’re not falling for anything they might try to take the spotlight off of them, and let the table know that they need to keep their interaction up for those Flashes at all times. As focus is shifted away from your value game, you can either keep grinding with Tymna, or slip by an innocuous Silence effect just to hit the Ad Nauseam button right after.
Flash Hulk players are your some of your hardest opponents to deal with, but you’re fortunately not alone with this dilemma. Use the table to your advantage, and shift attention as much as you can towards the top dog. If you’re up against multiple Hulk players, this strategy unfortunately gets less effective and your wins come down to luck more than anything. However, the longer the games and standoffs go, usually the more inevitability you can represent with your silences and counter-proof lands. Meta-specific hate cards like Containment Priest, Hushbringer and Hallowed Moonlight can be used against Hulk if you can’t turn the table against them with table talk, but use any static effects sparingly and mainly as last-ditch blowouts.
Consultation, the Midrange Mastermind
There were more than half a dozen decks that won by abusing Lab Man before 2019 in the cEDH scene, but now with the arrival of Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, the sample size of decks running at least one of these two has fittingly doubled, more so since the ban of Paradox Engine.
Consultation is not as much of an archetype as it is a package that is being pasted into every deck that by default tries to go fast, usually along the lines of Ad Nauseam, Food Chain or some other engine. However, given the package’s primary role as a resilient slow-roll win condition, most of these decks are a pretty good matchup against us. The playstyle Consultation leans towards is consequently more on the conservative side than the storm decks of old – something we can leverage to outrace them with our aggressive tactics. Proper use of your interaction cards should be taken into account when facing Consultation Kess, CST (Consultation Scepter Thrasios), Food Chain First Sliver or anything of the sort, with some tips presented below to help you prioritize against their most favorite backup plan.
- Discard: Consultation players often like to play the game from their hand rather than from their board, so taking a peek at all the information they have access to and revealing their gameplan to the table is often a powerful move, especially when they have been relatively passive for a turn or two. This especially applies to non-creature storm decks like Kess or Zur, which only hold mana sources or value enchantments on the field outside of their generals.
- Praetor’s Grasp: Grasp is also a very useful card against Consultation, as these decks like Ad Nauseam almost as much as we do, with some exceptions. Getting a “wheel-proof” Ad Naus is very useful for us, but don’t be afraid to take a Silence, a Mystic Remora or even a Dockside Extortionist in case the situation calls for it (and you have a mana source that can cast the card you stole). Grasp can also be used as a way to speculate what the Consultation player has in their hand, but this tactic only works in a paper metagames and only when you know their decklist inside-out, so keep that in mind.
- Removal: Abrupt Decay does wonders against Consultation lines that rely on Laboratory Maniac, but not so much against Jace. Assassin’s Trophy works on both, but counterable spells can have trouble resolving due to the amount of cheap counterspells run by these decks. Be sure to fire your removal rather sooner than later if you see no-one else having interaction for the game-winning permanents, as their controller can easily deck themselves in response to your efforts given enough time and resources.
- Grave Hate: Consultation combo lines go through grave hate like nothing, but it’s good to note that every Consultation deck in their right mind also runs Yawgmoth’s Will. Some madmen even play Mnemonic Betrayal, so keep that Scavenger Grounds handy in case graveyards start getting stacked.
- Silence Effects: Silence doesn’t work well against Consultation + Lab Man itself, but it sure makes the more conservative players break a sweat if you’re presenting Ad Nauseam mana. Keep these small jabs with Ranger-Captain, Hope of Ghirapur and reanimation for them ready to threaten combo attempts and keep them on their back foot. Silence effects also work against any of the non-Consultation lines like with Food Chain Sliver, or with any of the storm lines by CST, Kess etc.
- Strategy & Politics: Consultation decks are usually a tad slower than we are in our combo attempts, so trying to force them to interact with us or with someone faster than us is a pretty valid strategy most of the time. If it’s the Consultation player who’s speeding, then be ready to start speculating with the table the lines they could be taking. Are they going for a quick Ad Nauseam kill? A Food Chain line? Notion Thief + Wheel perhaps? Finding out what the Consultation player is going for helps the table to respond accordingly when they eventually cast their haymakers, so help other players as much as you can verbally in pinpointing the right course of action (and interaction) for that point in time. After the fast combo attempts are done with, you can try your own luck in going off, or grind value with Tymna & Ikra if the board becomes stagnant due to hate pieces until you have enough removal and/or protection to force through a win.
All in all, Consultation players like to lean on the grindy side in regards to many cEDH tables, so most of the time you’ll be asking the questions with early Ad Nauseams or mid-game Silences. If they try rounding up the table against you, play the attention politics as much as you can and try beating them at their own value game. If the game goes long enough, you can start threatening Ad Nauseam through Boseiju, or an Abolisher creature through Cavern of Souls to win on the spot. There aren’t many meta-specific cards I’d particularly recommend, as the combo package is pretty immune to any specific hate. Just direct the table so everyone can contribute with removal or counterspells when everyone’s favorite blue Grey Ogre enters the fray.
Blood Pod & Stax, the Former Nemesis
Stax decks have been the traditional main opponent against fast combo decks, especially back when Partial Paris was a thing. However, with the arrival of the more strict Mulligan rules in EDH, stax has taken a backseat for a while (save for very established playgroups), and the surge of midrange makes using card slots for hate pieces even less favorable despite the arrival of London mulligans. A couple of dedicated stax lists still see play online, the primary one being Tymna Tana Blood Pod. Stax decks like Blood Pod can bring our combo plans to a halt with a couple of properly timed spheres or Rule of Law effects, but with Farm, we have several tactics we can use to deal with them.
- Serra Ascendant & Aggro: The amount of games I’ve been in and where the stax player has been beaten out by the table is more numerous than one might imagine. That being said, Serra Ascendant often is one of the biggest beaters available in cEDH, and with evasion to boot. The moment the stax player starts over-dedicating to their hate piece gameplan, start leaning on “player removal” instead of permanent removal by swinging at them with any creatures that are able to connect.
- Discard: One might think that the best way to deal with a hate piece is to get rid of it before it even hits the stack, but try being conservative with your hand hate here. Stax players play plenty of hate, and your discard is definitely not plentiful. Shooting your discard spells is more of a thing to consider when forced to a 1v1 situation against stax down the line.
- Removal: Just like with discard, be conservative with your removal against stax. If you see that you can go off by removing one troublesome permanent, then definitely tutor a Decay/Trophy/Claim and blast off. If it’s anything more than that, however, then try leveraging the removal held by the rest of the table. If your deck runs mass removal spells, those can be handy depending on the situation.
- Tymna Value: Sometimes, the best thing against stax is to just sit back and grind. With Tymna and evasive creatures, you often are at an advantage against your opponents, as creature beats go through almost every relevant cEDH stax piece. With Ikra, your life totals will also stay at reasonable levels despite aggressive approaches from your opponents, but be ready for the occasional Toxic Deluge or Elesh Norn that can ruin these kinds of gameplans.
- Strategy & Politics: Leverage the fact that stax is one of the most difficult archetypes to play when it comes to politics: nobody truly likes being stopped from playing Magic, even at the competitive level where everything goes. Try emphasizing on those early game creatures, so that when the eventual Trinisphere, Rule of Law or Null Rod hits the field, you can rally the whole table to gang up on the stax player. If the stax player is smart, he’ll conserve most of the stax and play only as much as is necessary to stop the fastest decks, in which case you can attempt to remove that one piece that’s stopping you from going off, then do just that.
Stax is not something that exists in huge numbers in most cEDH tables these days, especially now that midrange is seemingly everywhere. Midrange preys on stax, so while the occasional taxing permanent or a Deafening Silence can can stop our Ad Nauseam-filled fun time, their controllers are rarely favored against the numerous value engines presented to them by their opponents. Simply keep in mind that Blood Moon is a card so you don’t get blown out by not fetching those basic lands when you could’ve.
Things do however become much more problematic when every opposing deck plays stax, because at that point you’re the punching bag, and at the same time you’re the only one that wants to get rid of the now stax-infested board. If your local metagame ever (d)evolves into that, adding 1-2 mass removal spells like Engineered Explosives, Toxic Deluge, Force of Vigor, Pernicious Deed or Seeds of Innocence is an option. If playing red, cards like Abrade, Fire Covenant, Wear//Tear, and even By Force can be used if absolutely needed.
That does it for the matchups against the most well versed out 3 main archetypes of cEDH. If you’re curious for more in-depth matchup coverage, look to the deck’s TappedOut page for additional words on specific matchups. Next it’s time to look at how we can put all the theory above regarding Farm into practice with some mulligan and gameplay examples.
Case Examination I - Mulligans
I’ll keep it brief: this deck has got some pretty easy mulligans, especially when you know what to look for. I’ll answer that exact question by going through the priority order of what you want from best to worst.
Fast Mana + Ad Nauseam / Tutor for it
For any storm veteran, this is a pretty obvious instant keep. Ad Nauseam, ridiculous mana potential and a tutor for pretty much anything you would need. I would most definitely try a turn 2 Ad Nauseam here with 0 mana floating; the deck is designed to win from those kinds of situations as often as possible with all the Moxen and other fast mana we have still in our deck. Vampiric Tutor gets us an easy Yawgmoth’s Will or Scroll Rack depending on what we need after getting our 20+ cards, or alternatively a recursion spell to try another Ad Naus if it gets countered. Even without Ad Nauseam in the opener, the Vampiric Tutor here would easily work as a replacement for Naus too, making this an easy keep nevertheless.
Fast Mana + Creatures that land before Tymna (or Necropotence)
One of our better hands that this deck is built to very consistently mulligan to. You have plenty of ramp and plenty of 1-drop creatures here, and it’ll be easy to jam Tymna on turn 2 or 3. One question here would be whether to play Pilgrim or Serra Ascendant first. Depends on the table, but an early Serra can be used to pressure other Ad Nauseam decks, or alternatively ones that play an early stax piece to keep you from comboing off. Even though early ramp is often preferred, don’t underestimate the clock Ascendant represents if you play it on turn 1. Take note that Necropotence also is a high-priority target in openers should your hand be able to cast it, and has an equal level of priority as hands like the one above.
Fast Mana + Other Value Engines/Interaction
Now we get to the more common examples of openers: a lot of ramp accompanied by less powerful value engines and/or some interaction. Because we already have our engine in the command zone, these kinds of hands fit well for our purposes. The first hand can Pact into Ad Nauseam too, but in case it doesn’t find Naus before exiling most of your mana sources, it still has more than enough action to function well with Scroll Rack that can dig deep with Tymna. The second hand has no tutors, but it has more than enough mana to cast Ikra as a Tymna creature, and also Ad Nauseam should we topdeck it or a tutor for it.
Creatures that land before Tymna
The sketchiest of keepable hands, but still keepable as it has a steady game plan. Tymna comes out on turn 2 or 3 depending on our topdeck, and at that point you’ll be most likely topdecking into more and more mana. One tutor plus a protection piece will seal the game, but depending on the table it will be a tough race for you at times. The Smothering Tithe and Dark Confidant make this one of the better hands of this level, but even with 1-2 creature cards instead of those two would suffice if you’re already mulliganing deep.
Case Examination II - Main Phase Ad Nauseam Lines
Now we’re getting to the more challenging part, that being the resolution of a main-phase Ad Nauseam with very little mana open. Among black combo players in EDH, people often prefer playing Ad Nauseam pretty conservatively as an end-step draw-spell, which makes it essentially free card-draw for your combo turn. Most decks are satisfied by building their decks around this sort of Ad Naus usage, and it is quite powerful in relation to the amount of deckbuilding sacrifices you’d have to make.
However, as the high-power tables get used to seeing 5+ mana open followed by the combo player passing turn without doing anything, everyone will be holding onto their counterspells which makes attempting to go off that much more difficult. By comparison, main-phase Ad Nauseams give no early forecast on what’s about to happen, and at the same time eliminate the risk of passing turns to people who might be going off on their turns. And even if you don’t draw into enough fast mana and end up passing turn, sculpting into your perfect 7-card-grip often is more valuable than risking a turn cycle where you might get countered.
For the uninitiated, here’s a pretty usual game state in terms of your board and open mana post-Ad Nauseam, but with some unfriendly flips to force some elaboration on possible lines one can take:
Game state: Your turn 3. You’re up against 3 blue players, two of which have 1 blue mana open. You play Wooded Foothills getting Savannah as your land for the turn, and no-one presented counterspells to the Mana Vault that you topdecked. You proceed to Ad Nauseam, which also has no responses. You go down to 3 life with the following hand post-resolution:
Children of Korlis, Grand Abolisher, Marsh Flats, Verdant Catacombs, Gemstone Caverns, Snow-Covered Forest, Swamp, Overeager Apprentice, Gaea’s Cradle, Arcane Signet, Imperial Seal, Elvish Spirit Guide, Cabal Ritual, Forest, Vampiric Tutor, Flooded Strand, Ancient Tomb, Exotic Orchard, Snow-Covered Plains, Crop Rotation, Skullclamp, Polluted Delta, Boseiju Who Shelters All, Dark Confidant, Serra Ascendant, Cavern of Souls, Command Tower, Memnite, Smothering Tithe, Animate Dead, Corpse Knight, Exploration, Yawgmoth’s Will, Scavenger Grounds, Regrowth, Abrupt Decay, Grim Monolith
Your graveyard consists of: Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills, Ad Nauseam
When it comes to your opponents, this might very well be a goldfish situation assuming everyone knew what they were doing. As no-one presented any counterspells to your Ad Nauseam nor to your Mana Vault, there are very few real interaction pieces that could disrupt us anymore. Mental Misstep is one of the only counterspells that could still potentially threaten us because of its unique restriction to 1-mana cards, but that is only if someone was willing to take the risk by letting our Mana Vault resolve. Assuming everyone knew what deck we’re on, I doubt they’d let Ad Nauseam resolve by itself, so those facts give us already tons of information. All this being said, if someone decides to Silence you on the opportune moment you’re screwed, but there’s no point playing around that anyway without blue, so you can ignore that case here.
Hand-wise, however, it might look like we’re in a jam. We only got a couple of rocks and a single proper ritual, that being Cabal with no obvious way to reach Threshold. We’ve got no real Moxen to really start mana production either save for Elvish Spirit Guide, and any dreams of combo assembly are distant with our hand as-is. What we essentially need is more cards or we’re getting nowhere other than fiddling with rituals to YawgWill ourselves into pretty much nothing relevant.
Fortunately though, we do have a combo “extender” that Cobble has already talked covered in one of his prior articles: Scroll Rack. Rack works with Ad Nauseam just as well as it does with Anje, and with this kind of hand, Racking for 20+ cards will almost always dig us into the rest of the fast mana that are still in the deck (unless we get super duper unlucky). Therefore, the main objective for this kind of hand is to:
1. Produce enough mana to tutor, play and activate Scroll Rack (playing and activating costs 3 mana total, so that plus tutoring costs)
2. Retain enough life to resolve a black top-deck tutor and survive, seeing as we only have topdeck tutors that cost life (Total cost 3+[B] & 2 life)
3. Use whatever we can to draw our Scroll Rack from the top. We have Skullclamp as pretty much the only reasonable option to draw cards, so we need at least 2 more mana to cast and equip Skullclamp. We have Arbor Elf and Memnite, so no shortage of free bodies so far (Total cost 5+[B] & 2 life)
With all of this in mind, there’s a couple of decision trees that can be navigated through for more mana-positive cards, mana fixing, and finally progress towards Scroll Rack:
Playing Exploration with the we have access to from Elvish Spirit Guide (or Arbor Elf), then playing Ancient Tomb or Gaea’s Cradle + Memnite to net an extra mana from a new land drop. As we don’t have any ways to gain life from 3 and no tutors that don’t cost any life, Ancient Tomb is out of the equation. So, with Cradle and Memnite we’ve made Exploration to a green Rite of Flame to produce , which isn’t anything to scoff at.
Next we’re going to do something that requires certain knowledge on what is in our particular list, and that is playing Crop Rotation with we’ve produced. There is still a Phyrexian Tower in the library, so we can fetch that and sacrifice Arbor Elf/Memnite to it for . This will fix our green mana to black, and also nets us mana unlike the Arcane Signet, which would cost mana instead. Our total mana is now in pool with Savannah open, and we’ve gone from 3 cards in graveyard to 6, so Threshold is now starting to look more than achievable.
From here on we can pretty easily play either Imperial Seal or Vampiric Tutor, go to 1 life, achieve Threshold and Cabal Ritual to get to 5 mana total in pool with Savannah still open. With one extra mana from Grim Monolith, all that’s left is to play Skullclamp, attach it to Memnite to draw Rack + one card, then Rack away pretty much everything that’s left in your hand save for Yawgmoth’s Will. That means we’re racking away a total of 28 cards, which at this point is over half of our remaining library (50 cards after Skullclamping). We also still have one in our pool and an open Savannah, so let’s see what we get.
Scroll Rack activation into: Enlightened Tutor, Fellwar Stone, Chrome Mox, Cabal Therapist, Thoughtseize, Sol Ring, Necromancy, Deathrite Shaman, Mox Diamond, Overgrown Tomb, Squirrel Nest, Ranger-Captain of Eos, Praetor’s Grasp, Sickening Dreams, Mana Crypt, Nature’s Lore, Temple Garden, Godless Shrine, Noxious Revival, Veil of Summer, Tainted Pact, Earthcraft, Arid Mesa, Wishclaw Talisman, Mox Opal, Assassin’s Trophy, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Krosan Wayfarer.
There we go, the Christmas Land right there. Racking into Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Mox Diamond, Mox Opal, Chrome Mox et al. allows for pure mana production straight into a total of 8 mana, which can be used to cast Earthcraft, Krosan Wayfarer, tap Wayfarer to Earthcraft, sac Wayfarer to put a land into play, play Yawgmoth’s Will, do that all again, cast Cabal Ritual & Memnite for more mana… essentially you’ve got more than enough to just win the game on the spot with the Squirrelcraft combo. You’re still lacking an outlet (Blasting Station/Corpse Knight), but one can be fetched easily with Tainted Pact now that it’s the only piece you need. A Sickening Dreams kill is also possible here by just tutoring and casting Angel’s Grace with Wishclaw Talisman and casting Ad Nauseam from the grave via Yawgwill to draw your whole deck, using the final rituals left to cast Dreams for well over 50 damage to the whole table. Leonin+Animate Dead is not valid anymore due to using Yawgmoth’s Will, so keep that in mind (unless you’re using Leonin in someone else’s graveyard, it can happen).
So in the end, we ended up winning from a pretty mediocre Ad Nauseam with white mana open at all times to Children of Korlis our way back to starting life if things look grim. Therefore, getting disrupted at the start by a Misstep would not have been the worst thing, and in addition you can be glad due to all the protected wins you’ll be getting if people start using their counterspells only after you’ve resolved your Ad Nauseam. All in all, a line above average difficulty that was weak to interaction in multiple points. Luckily, however, there often is 1-2 mana open for protection post-Nauseam from played lands and the sort, as well as a ton more of actual flipped Moxen, rituals and protection to make reaching critical mass easier. Knowing the deck and what to tutor for in a given situation also helps getting these kinds of mediocre 20+ cards into actual gas and consequently wins, so goldfishing here is key.
Regarding the Scroll Rack activation, you could say that it’s pure luck with how much fast mana one can flip into at that point, and that is somewhat true. However, the more cards you see in a list that’s built to be this mana-positive, the less it’s about luck and more about making the odds in your favor. If you still can’t get enough mana to win despite seeing 50-80 cards in your deck, finding enough to crack that Children of Korlis is enough to bring you back to your golden age of high life totals and sculpt into the perfect 7 that wins you the game on your next turn.
Closure - Bringing Fast Combo Back
And there you have it, the cEDH tournament boogeyman Abzan Farm in a nutshell. Now that the cEDH landscape has delved so deep into Consultation decks that even fast Flash Hulks are a secondary to grinding value with Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study, it’s time to start asking the question “Do I Win?” as often as possible, and as fast as possible. When you’re playing the mutually agreed amounts of blue interaction, it can be easy to fall into reactive ways of thinking and consequently lacking in more active ways to advance your gameplan in relation to your opponents’. Everything might change now that cards like Dockside Extortionist and the new Underworld Breach has made a big splash, and things might already be different in your particular playgroup due to rapid group-specific shifts.
Nevertheless, I hope this article has provided at least some light to how fast combo is incredibly favored against the abundant value decks of today and how Flash Hulk is not the only way to go about it, as well as an idea or two on how you can actually do all this in practice. Thank you for reading!