TPS is a good deck TPS is arguably the best deck in the MTG Old Frame format. I’ve played the deck and think it is great. So, I wrote a primer on it! I hope this article is helpful for both people who want to give the deck a try as much as for those who want to beat it!
And believe it, you can beat it, you just have to build your sideboard and mulligan accordingly (but I am getting ahead of myself. We’ll get there in a few paragraphs).
I wrote a sideboard guide and left it at the end. So if you don’t want to read the theory in the front end, just skip ahead to the bottom of the article.
Also, this is the time to thank Karl Akbari for his comments on the draft of this article! Karl, Iñaki, and I did quite some thinking about this deck, so many of the ideas here come from those discussions.
Finally, the super old Vintage forums have been somewhat helpful but mostly fun to read (those guys really did not see how good fetch lands were when they printed them! I guess most of us didn’t tbh). Anyhow, too much introduction already, let’s talk storm!
ARTIFACTS1 Black Lotus
1 Grim Monolith
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Memory Jar
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
INSTANTS1 Ancestral Recall
1 Cabal Ritual
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Dark Ritual
4 Force of Will
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
SORCERIES1 Demonic Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mind’s Desire
2 Tendrils of Agony
1 Time Walk
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
LANDS2 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
1 Tolarian Academy
3 Underground Sea
1 Volcanic Island
1 Coffin Purge
3 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Mind Twist
1 Tropical Island
3 Xantid Swarm
I want to start with just a little bit of deck theory. Let’s break down the deck into its main components:
- Mana sources (28, divided in 12 lands, 5 rituals, 11 mana producing artifacts)
- 6 Fetchlands (4 Flooded Strands & 2 Polluted Delta, for instance)
- 3 Underground Sea
- 1 Swamp
- 1 Tolarian Academy
- 1 Volcanic Island
- 1 Cabal Ritual
- 4 Dark Ritual
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Sapphire
- Mox Jet
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Emerald
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Grim Monolith
- Protection spells (10)
- 4 Force of Will
- 4 Duress
- 1 Hurkill’s Recall
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- Setup spells (14)
- 4 Brainstorm
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Meditate
- 1 Windfall (while this could technically be a draw 7, it is better to count is a draw 4)
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- Draw seven cards (3)
- 1 Time Twister
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Memory Jar
- “I win” spells (5)
- 1 Mind’s Desire
- 1 Yawgmoth’s Will
- 1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
- 2 Tendrils of Agony
How to play the deck
The plan of the deck is very “simple”:
Step 1: Get mana. Step 2: Set up a turn where you cast your hand while drawing multiple cards (normally via a “draw 7” spell). Count to 9 and then, Step 3: Cast an “I win” spell. Shuffle for Game 2.
Ok, ok, yes, I am meme-ing. I get this is an oversimplification and there are many times that you can win without even casting a draw 7.
You see, this deck is not very linear like other storm variants such as TES or ANT in Legacy or Gift Storm in Modern. In other words, the deck does not have one deterministic line that you try to assemble every game. Most of the time, you just go off with the resources you have available and while you are combo-ing off, you have to make lots of decisions with imperfect information with the hopes of casting your lethal Tendrils. It is surprising the amount of “leaps of faith” you have to take on that key turn.
Just to get you familiarized, I’ll list some potential lines that you can take to get over the finish line on turn 1!
Turn 1: You keep your 7 card hand with no draw spells. - Play Tolarian Academy, cast Mox Pearl, Mox Emerald, Mana Vault, and Black Lotus. - Tap Tolarian Academy for UUUU, Mana Vault for 3 and one of your Moxen for either G or W (since it is off-color, we will count it as colorless). Storm count is 4, you have 4UUUU floating, and two cards in hand. - Cast Hurkill's Recall targeting you, and then replay your four artifacts (storm count is 9 and you have 2UUU floating). - Crack the Black Lotus for BBB and cast the lethal Tendrils of Agony from your hand.
Turn 1: You are on a mulligan to 5. - Play a fetch-land and get a land. - Cast Mox Jet, tap it for B and play Dark Ritual - Cast Mana Vault, which you tap to have 3BBB floating, and cast Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Storm count is 4 and you have 19 life. - Pay 15 life to draw 15 cards, play 5 spells. For example, Lotus Petal that you will crack for B, Dark Ritual, Sol Ring, Mox Sapphire, and Mystical Tutor (storm is 9, 2BB floating). - With the Mystical Tutor grab a Tendrils of Agony and put it on top of your deck. Pay one more life (down to 3) to draw it thanks to the Bargain and cast it for lethal! NOTE: you should always have a couple extra points of life left to cast a Vampiric Tutor instead of Mystical Tutor, or Force of Will in case they have Stifle. You know they did not have Force of Will because you resolved Yawgmoth’s Bargain!
Turn 1: You are on a mulligan to 5. - Play Swamp, Dark Ritual and Necropotence. - Opponent casts a Force of Will and you Force back. Necropotence resolves. You have 19 life and zero cards in hand and your opponent has 5 cards and is also at 19. - Pay 9 life this turn to draw 9 cards and exile two of them as the End of Turn triggers. Turns 2+: Build your position over the course of the next few turns. You can pay between 6-9 life to draw the equivalent number of cards over the next couple turns. - You should be able to win from there!
While these hands are rare, they are not that rare. In certain match-ups, you have the chance to go off on Turn 1, but more often than not you may want to be a little patient. Start with a Duress first, test the waters. Try baiting a counter spell with a bomb and follow up next turn with another bomb! It is perfectly fine to take a longer approach, like in the following case:
Turn 1: Fetch a land, cast Mox Pearl, Sol Ring, and Timetwister. Pass the turn. You and your opponent have 7 cards in hand but you have 3 permanents in play to their zero. You effectively restarted the game, but you are in a significantly more advantageous position. Leverage this advantage and win the game in a few turns.
The one piece of advice I can give you to master the deck is to first goldfish multiple times and just try to go off one turn before you think you are ready to go and see how many times you actually get there. You will be surprised about how many of these times you end up casting a lethal Tendrils from a position you did not believe was possible! Yes, the deck is that powerful.
How to beat the deck
You can fight TPS on multiple fronts. Normally, these are the angles of hate you have at your disposal in Old Frame:
- Mana denial via Wasteland, Null Rod, Stifle, Karn, Silver Golem, and Blood Moon.
- On the stack, using counter spells and stifling Tendrils of Agony.
- Attacking the opponent’s life total with burn spells or creatures.
- Attacking the opponent’s hand with discard spells such as Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and Mind Twist.
- With taxing effects such as Sphere of Resistance, Smokestack, Chains of Mephistopheles, Nether Void, Arcane Laboratory, or Meddling Mage.
- Or just killing you faster. This is vintage, dying on Turn 1-2 happens!
Unless you die before you can go off, any one angle of attack on its own is fine. The deck is built to deal with linear lines of disruption. You have cards to plan and play against any single line of hate your opponents may present.
However, things become increasingly more complicated when opponents attack you on multiple fronts. Dealing with two lines of hate (eg, mana denial and taxing effects, or counter spells plus a fast clock, etc) is increasingly harder than any single strategy because fighting over two lines splits your resources.
When decks can consistently fight you on three angles, chances are you are not winning that game unless you can kill them quick.
Note that for this build of TPS it is easier to deal with artifacts than other types of permanents (thanks to Hurkill’s Recall). At the same time, it is easier to deal with blue or red spells or permanents (because of Pyroblast and Hydroblast). Therefore, taxing the deck with creatures or enchantments of other colors is significantly more effective.
Given the limited card pool of Old Frame, I get that this is easier said than done, but the point is that your sideboard should make it hard for TPS to win, so do not put all the eggs in one basket.
In a recent match, I played versus Karl (he was on TPS I was on Stiflenought). He wins Game 1 as TPS normally does. On Game 2 I quickly put out a 12/12 and have a Force of Will to back it up (angles 2 and 3/6). He is unable to deal with both, so I win. On Game 3 I put two different pieces of disruption on the board (Meddling Mage and Arcane Laboratory). Meddling Mage slowly managed to kill him a few turns later (angles 3 and 5). You can watch the video here.
In sum, if you want to consistently beat TPS, make sure your deck can fight on at least two (ideally three) of the strategies mentioned above.
Metagame choices and card alternatives
The main deck of TPS is clearly not set in stone (specially in relatively small and evolving metagames like the ones we play in the league). While the deck has some main deck components that I would consider to be essential for it to function, there are a few cards that could be considered flexible slots.
In the current version of the deck, I see the following 9 cards as flex slots:
- 1 Volcanic Island (or 1 Badlands). These are run almost exclusively to support 1 Wheel of Fortune. While the purely UB version is insanely fast, reliable, and almost impossible to mana screw, I think the deck needs at least three real draw 7 effects, and Time Spiral is very slow. This one is not going anywhere any time soon.
- 1 Wheel of Fortune. See above. Playing a pure UB version makes the mana more reliable and consistent. However, in metagames where people are not actively trying to go after your mana, then you are more than happy to run 1 Wheel of Fortune to increase your draw 7 count. There may be a world where Time Spiral is better in this spot, but I don’t think we live in that world at this moment
- 1 Cabal Ritual. Most of the old decks did not run it, but I now think the card is too good to pass (Iñaki Puigdollers sold me on it!). At worst, it is a Lotus Petal, at best it is a Black Lotus. Many times it just helps cast Necropotence from an off color mana source. If you suspect your opponent will attack your graveyard, you can sideboard this out on Games 2 & 3 (in that case is a flex slot).
- 1 Grim Monolith. I like Grim Monolith because it helps cast Tinker more consistently (and also across two turns), ramps to Bargain, and does not hurt you once it is tapped. One of the main selling points this card has is that 10 non-Lotus Petal mana artifacts are significantly more than 9 (even though it does not seem like much, the difference becomes noticeable in a large sample size). That being said, this could be a second Cabal Ritual in a more dedicated black deck running Infernal Contract.
- 1 Meditate. Spending a turn to draw cards is not a great deal but four cards for 2U is more or less the best you can get in Old Frame (it also pitches for Force of Will). I tend to sideboard out this card a lot.
- 1 Merchant Scroll. This card wasn’t played back in the day. I was skeptical to try it but I have come around to liking it. The flexibility of allowing you to find the exact enabler (ie, Ancestral Recall, Meditate, or Brainstorm) or defensive spell (Force of Will, Hurkyl’s Recall, or Chain of Vapor) makes this a fantastic card in most matches! I sideboard this out in matches where you don’t plan to search blue instants (ie, when you sideboard in Xantid Swarm vs Mana Drain decks).
- 1 Windfall. While this card may technically draw you seven cards, most of the time it is a draw 4. I think of this card as the second Meditate. I tend to sideboard out this card a lot.
- 1 Hurkyl’s Recall. I think it is correct to have one main deck effect that can return a sphere of resistance or a null rod to your opponent’s hand. This one also works as a storm enabler by returning your own artifacts to your hand. I sideboard these out against Mana Drain decks that battle you on the stack (not with artifacts on the battlefield).
- 1 Chain of Vapor. Same as Hurkyl’s Recall but chain can also return creatures such as Meddling Mage, or opposing enchantments such as Illusions of Grandeur (in response to opponent playing Donate), or Pyrostatic Pillar.
In a similar vein, there are cards that I am not currently running but they could be considered as main deck cards in future iterations of the deck:
- 1 Island. I used to run a basic Island instead of the Volcanic Island. A basic island is good in a fast metagame with many decks running Wasteland. For the time being, I think it is better to run a Volcanic Island to have access to Wheel of Fortune. I would run a basic island if a significant portion of the meta runs Wasteland. While I would be tempted to swap it directly with either the 3rd Underground Sea or the Volcanic Island, if the meta becomes too focused on land destruction, I would run 13 lands instead of 12.
- 1 Scrubland. Some decks used to run Scrubland instead of basic Swamp. Scrubland gives access to white sideboard cards. Running white basically allows the deck to run 3-4 copies of Abeyance for the mirror match (and maybe Orim’s Chant). This move may be correct in a meta where storm decks are over represented and you need dedicated slots to win the mirror match.
- 1 City of Brass / 1 Gemstone Mine. Some decks have run these in the past. I think the only reason they did it was because people did not fully realize how powerful fetch lands were (or maybe because they did not own them). In sum, don’t let late adopters from 2003 fool you! Use fetch lands and leave your City of Brass in your Old School deck.
- 1 Time Spiral. Most of the time it is too slow and ends up being food for Force of Will. I love the fact that this lets you shuffle your graveyard but 4UU is hard in many matches. I would consider it as a sideboard option if too many people start playing graveyard decks
- 1 Infernal Contract. It is an alternative to Meditate that does not make you give up a turn. Note that BBB is significantly harder to cast than 2U (even in decks running Badlands instead of Volcanic Island). While I don’t love Meditate, I prefer it over this card
- 1 Frantic Search. This card is fantastic when you have Tolarian Academy in play but when you don’t it is between ok and terrible (card disadvantage without gaining mana is a terrible deal). Thus, I don’t like to run it because the downside is too costly.
- 1 Chromatic Sphere. The 4 Burning Wish and 4 Lion’s Eye Diamond decks used to run between one and four of these. I don’t think they are necessary in TPS though because they don’t seem to resolve any needs/problems for this deck.
- 2nd Cabal Ritual. I think the deck needs to run around 28 mana sources to consistently do what it wants to do. The combination of these mana sources is not fixed. The second Cabal Ritual can easily be run instead of 1 Grim Monolith. I think this change is correct if you are running 1 Infernal Contract instead of Meditate and/or if the meta is Null Rod heavy.
- 2nd Meditate. Some of the old lists ran a second Meditate to set up. The second Meditate may be correct in a relatively slow and grindy metagame. Nowadays, I definitely prefer to run a Merchant Scroll instead in a second Meditate.
- 3rd Tendrils of Agony. Some old lists ran three copies of Tendrils of Agony but I think it is too many. You don’t want to have Tendrils of Agony in your opening hand. Instead, you want to draw it throughout the course of the game (ideally the turn you go off). Running just one copy is too risky since it may be hard to find it during the key turn and also it may end up exiled if your opponent discards it when you have Necropotence out. I think two copies of Tendrils of Agony is actually the perfect number!
- Time Vault + Voltaic Key. I used to run it but I took it out. Key by itself ramps a little bit with the mana rocks and can transform off-color mana into on color mana one time. Time Vault is basically a dead draw unless you have the key. When you know how to play the deck, you don’t need to run these cards.
Sideboarding with the deck
I’m running the current sideboard:
- 1 Hydroblast
- 3 Stifle
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Massacre
- 1 Coffin Purge
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 3 Hurkyl’s Recall
- 1 Tropical Island
- 3 Xantid Swarm
As usual, this is how I would sideboard if I were to play the deck today. I retain the right to change my mind in the future and change my plan accordingly. The more I learn about the deck, the more chances there are that I change the plan for some matchup. Also, bear in mind that these general strategies will work for stock versions of these decks (whatever that is), it is important to adapt to what you see your opponent playing. Your opponents will get creative and so should you!
Mana Drain control decks match-up
They fight you with Force of Will, Mana Drain, and Duress. Cunning Wish for Stifle or another counter spell is another angle. There is a small chance they bring in one Arcane Laboratory. Most of the time, these decks don’t present a quick clock. The one Chain of Vapor may deal with either the lab or reset one of their creatures. Your plan is to either go off before they have Mana Drain mana up or take your time to resolve Xantid Swarm and go off then. While top deck tutors are not great vs Mana Drain decks due to the card disadvantage, they may be ok on the play (but not on the draw).
- 1 Underground Sea - 1 Hurkyl's Recall - 1 Cabal Ritual (vs very slow decks with only 0-3 creatures) - 2 top deck tutors + 1 Tropical Island + 3 Xantid Swarm + 1 Mind Twist (vs very slow decks with only 0-3 creatures)
Fish decks with Null Rod match-up
This is a hard match-up because they fight you from multiple angles. They have counter spells, Wasteland, and permanent-based hate (Null Rod and Meddling Mage). Some decks even run a playset of main deck Stifle! It is hard to grind them out because they can actually present some form of clock. Try to win before the hate pieces touch the battlefield.
- 1 Grim Monolith - 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall + 1 Massacre + 1 Chain of Vapor + 1 Hurkyl's Recall
Phyrexian Dreadnought match-up
You can think of this as a race but keep in mind that they play 4 main deck Stifle, plus Force of Will, and possibly Meddling Mages. Alternatively, you can let them resolve the 12/12, return it to their hand on their end step, and win on your turn afterwards.
- 1 Grim Monolith - 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall + 1 Chain of Vapor + 2 Hurkyl's Recall
While they are a somewhat slower combo on Game 1, they have main deck Duress and Force of Will. On Games 2 & 3, they have access to Null Rod.
- 1 Grim Monolith - 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall + 1 Stifle + 1 Chain of Vapor + 1 Coffin Purge
Mono Red match-up
They are fast and they run the main deck Null Rod package and some number of Pyrostatic Pillar post board. Cards like Meditate, Necropotence, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain very quickly lose their value because our life total gets depleted quickly. Just try and win before their hate pieces hit the board (unless you can, you know, Duress/Force of Will them!)
- 1 Cabal Ritual - 1 Grim Monolith - 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall + 1 Hydroblast + 1 Chain of Vapor + 2 Hurkyl's Recall
TNT / Stax match-up
The plan is basically to either win turn one, or wait until they play their Sphere of Resistance, then return them to opponent’s hand at the end of their turn, and win on your turn.
- 1 Cabal Ritual - 1 Grim Monolith - 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall - 1 Wheel of Fortune (just vs TNT) + 1 Chain of Vapor + 3 Hurkyl's Recall + 1 Hydroblast (just vs TNT)
Storm / mirror match-up
This is a hard matchup that sometimes is decided by the coin toss of who goes first.
- 1 Meditate - 1 Windfall - 1 Hurkyl's Recall - 1 Chain of Vapor + 3 Stifle + 1 Mind Twist + 1 Hydroblast (just vs decks with 4 Burning Wish)
Starting with our September 2021 league, the Old Frame format added four new sets to its existing pool: Starter 1999 plus the three Portal sets. For our purposes here, these sets provide us with two new tools:
Should we include either or both of these cards? I could answer this question but I think this is a good moment to stop an already long article and encourage you to try them yourself in our next league!
Until next time. In the meantime, keep storming!