I picked up Ad Nauseam roughly seven months ago after purchasing in its entirety from a friend. I had heard of the deck before, but had never played it, so I seized the opportunity to learn something new. Looking back, I have to admit that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Ad Nauseam is a typical combo deck, aiming to assemble the pieces of the puzzle before disruption or death can occur. One of the things that I enjoy about the deck is its resiliency to other combo decks and how well it performs against any deck that is not making you discard. The deck is just fast — it can race with aggressive strategies as well as go off at instant speed to circumvent control strategies.
It’s pretty competitive, too. In the first half of 2017, we have seen the deck win two SCG events, the Columbus Classic and the Indianapolis Open. More recently it won a GPT in Copenhagen and Top 8’d the Kobe Grand Prix in the same weekend.
In today’s Modern environment, this is the list that I would be running:
Ad Nauseam, by Ben Schuetzenhofer
This deck’s main focus is to be able to cast Ad Nauseam, and dodge the life loss by using Phyrexian Unlife or Angel’s Grace. By dodging the life loss, Ad Nauseam enables you to reveal and “draw” your entire deck. From this point, there are two win conditions:
Lightning Storm: After drawing your deck, you should hopefully have at least 3 copies of my favorite Magic ape, Simian Spirit Guide, available to cast Lightning Storm. As long as you haven’t had to exile or play too many lands, you should be able to boost up Lightning Storm for lethal, as well as deflect if your opponent has a couple of lands in hand of their own. This win condition is the easiest to achieve, and can be done at instant speed. This is important when playing control matchups pre-sideboard. Going off in response to an opponent’s tap-out for Sphinx’s Revelation is relatively savage.
Laboratory Maniac: This win con is a bit more difficult to achieve because of the set up involved, the need to be doing things at sorcery speed, and the exposure of Laboratory Maniac once he resolves. A revolted Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt are not hard to find in Modern, and without a Pact of Negation, Lab-Man just dies, eliminating 50 percent of the win conditions. However, if he lives, you simply have to resolve Ad Nauseam while staying alive, and then have one blue mana available to cast Serum Visions. Another way to do it is by casting Ad Nauseam on an opponent’s end step while Maniac is in play. From there, you untap and move to your draw step for the win.
Lightning Storm and/or Laboratory Maniac
All the cantrips
Along with scrylands, this deck runs on Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand. You have to find what you need as quickly as you can, and all three of these things help achieve that. In a pinch, the pseudo-tutor Spoils of the Vault can try to find Ad Nauseam or a Pact of Negation most of the time. It can also be used to try to buy you time by finding an Angel’s Grace.
Depending on your matchup, you won’t always need Pacts, and Unlife is poor against a couple of match-ups. Unless you suspect Stony Silence, you will keep at least 5-6 of your mana rocks most of the time, but sometimes they come out to other expected hate such as Abrupt Decay or Qasali Pridemage. Tolaria West replaces Dreadship Reef in control matchups as a tutor for Boseiju, but don’t sleep on how good Reef is against artifact hate.
Mana and acceleration
A lot of recent builds run more City of Brass than I prefer to play. I find that it is good to have another red mana source available to you, but with how aggressive the current meta is I do not like to deal myself that much damage.
Scrylands have never been as good as they are in this deck. Being able to scry away your Lightning Storm and Simian Spirit Guides to the bottom is ideal, as nothing in your deck forces you to shuffle. A Plains and a Swamp ensure that you are not completely wrecked by a Blood Moon post sideboard.
Pentad Prisms and Lotus Blooms allow you to achieve the mana you need to combo off as quickly as possible. Between the two, you should consistently have six mana available by turn 4, which is all you need for Angel’s Grace/Ad Nauseam to go off. With a Simian Spirit Guide, you can even go off turn 3 after a turn 2 Pentad Prism.
Dredge: Slow clock and little interaction yield a favorable game for you before sideboard. Rest In Peace and Darkness should push the match in your favor.
G/x Tron: An early Karn or Spellskite are the only concerns. Otherwise their clock is just too slow. Disenchant, Echoing Truth and Darkness all help buy time.
Burn: Unlife slows their game down considerably, and post-board Leylines make most of their draws dead.
U/Wx Control: The prevalence of blue decks and their increasing numbers due to lack of Infect is why Boseiju is currently in the main. In these matchups you take out Laboratory Maniac for the second Lightning Storm. Also bring in Tolaria West and potentially Disenchant if you expect Blood Moon, Sword of the Meek, or some other shenanigans.
Scapeshift: Angel’s Grace combats a Scapeshift resolution, Leylines protect against Valakut and potential Slaughter Games.
Company/Kiki: Their lack of interaction allows you to play your game without much worry. Post-board, you always want to leave one Pact in to save Maniac from a Path to Exile. Unlife extends the game when they do not combo off.
Merfolk: Unlife once again puts an end to the aggressive strategy of this deck, and Darkness helps out of the board. However, this matchup can be difficult if there are heavier amounts of countermagic.
Bogles: Patrician’s Scorn, Darkness and Disenchant all help after board. The hardest part of this matchup is preventing them from gaining too much life so you can still kill them with Lightning Storm.
Living End: Combo versus combo here, and your clock is usually a turn or two quicker. Leylines protect against Architects of Will, Slaughter Games and Lost Legacies. Additionally, Rest in Peace can blow them out of the water if played at the right time.
Infect: As you may have already deduced, this is quite possibly the most unbalanced matchup in Modern. Unlife is terrible, Angel’s Grace doesn’t stop you from losing on your untap step, it is just bad. You will need Darkness and Verdict to stay alive long enough to assemble your pieces. Luckily there is little interaction, and even luckier, since Gitaxian Probe is no longer a thing, Infect is non-existent in today’s meta.
Affinity: See above. Inkmoth is bad news and sideboard options are limited. Darkness and Supreme Verdict can help, and Disenchant may buy you a turn, but you need to be quick to be successful here.
Jund/Abzan: These decks hurt you because of the discard spells that wreck your hand before you can set up. Post sideboard, Leyline swings the match-up heavily in your favor, but if you don’t have one you will most likely just lose. Cut Prisms because of Ancient Grudge and Abrupt Decay, and bring in the second Storm and Echoing Truth.
Eldrazi Taxes: Hand disruption again is a major issue with this matchup. Additionally, Wasteland Strangler processes Bloom while it’s suspended. Supreme Verdict, Darkness and Leylines are needed to have a chance.
Eldrazi Tron: There is nothing that shuts down Ad Nauseam decks as well as Chalice of the Void, which disables your cantrips, Angel’s Grace, and sometimes Blooms. Disenchant for Chalices and Leylines for Thought-Knot Seer help balance the matchup, but this is a tough win.
Lantern: Needles shut down your artifacts and Lightning Storm. Their Leylines also protect against Lightning Storm. Your best chance here is to win with Laboratory Maniac, if you are lucky enough to assemble to pieces to be able to go off.
Death’s Shadow: If they do not hit their hand disruption, many times you can outrace them. Unlife helps buy you time, and due to the risk of discard, sometimes using a Spirit Guide to cast Unlife turn 2 is the right play. With Grixis being the predominant version of the deck, Boseiju should be part of the mainboard. There are too many Stubborn Denials running around today to not be aware of them. Once again, Leylines are a big help in this matchup, as well as Darkness. Rest In Peace may have a place in this matchup to shut off Snapcasters and Delve creatures.
Ad Nauseam: There is no better explanation for the mirror than to say it is a game of cat and mouse. If both of you are in a position to combo off, you want to wait for the opponent to attempt the combo so you can go off in response to their Ad Nauseam. Leylines come in to protect against Lightning Storm, and I have Slaughter Games on the board for the specific purpose that my meta has more than just me playing this deck. If you can resolve Slaughter Games on their Ad Nauseam, there isn’t much room for them to win. Patrician’s Scorn also destroys their Leyline of Sanctity, so if you Cast Angel’s Grace, you can use Scorn to break their barrier for Lightning Storm.
With this deck you are looking for a hand of 2-3 lands maximum, 1-2 mana rocks, a cantrip and one of the life loss prevention tactics. Against decks that have discard spells in the early rounds, sometimes I like to keep a hand of multiple cantrips and rocks so when they Thoughtseize me they aren’t getting one of the combo pieces. It is always best to draw Ad Nauseam the turn that you can play it comfortably.
Turn 1 you want to try to play a cantrip and start to mold your next turn or two. Always make sure to suspend your Lotus Bloom if you have it. When I first started playing the deck, I would find myself passing out of habit and not suspending Blooms. I regretted it 100 percent of the time, even if I won. Also, until you’re trained with the deck, use some kind of method that makes it obvious to remove a time counter on upkeep, such as a die on top of your library or something similar. Turns 2 and 3 are meant for further searching the top of your deck or assembling the pieces on the board needed to cast Ad Nauseam as quickly as possible, namely Pentad Prism and Phyrexian Unlife.
By the time your Blooms come into play on Turn 4, you want to start looking for opportunities in your opponent’s turn to cast Ad Nauseam. Control players will sometimes try to play Sphinx’s Revelation at the end of your turn, and if they tap out, you can safely attempt the combo in response and just win. It is nice to have a Pact of Negation in hand when you attempt to go off, but is not likely that you will, nor is it mandatory.
Some unique interactions within the deck to keep in mind:
- Spoils of the Vault requires you to lose life. Angel’s Grace and Unlife allow you to pay any amount of life without losing; just know the risks of exiling a key win condition.
- Angel’s Grace can be used to circumvent paying for a Pact of Negation at the beginning of your next upkeep instead of paying its cost.
- You play four Simian Spirit Guides to mitigate the risk of exiling them with Spoils, or to enable to you to cast Ad Nauseam a turn earlier than you would regularly.
- You may want to leave one card in your deck if you cast Ad Nauseam at the end of an opponent’s turn. You will have a card to draw the next turn and can have both win conditions available to cast in your first main phase.
Ad Nauseam is not a deck for people who want to interact with their opponent’s deck. It is always trying to accomplish the same thing, the same way, over and over, again and again, so on and so on.
I would not recommend the deck to a beginner based on how it runs and the thought process involved with navigating a multi-piece combo. The reason I enjoy it is that it makes me think. In Constructed formats I have always preferred treating the match like a game of chess, analyzing weaknesses and exploiting the opponent at the perfect time. In a format like Modern, I also enjoy the ability just to win outright.
Combo decks are never in the majority it seems at Modern events, but I believe that this deck performs well against numerous Tier 1-3 decks that you can see any week. With that competitiveness against a broad range of decks and the ability to surprise an unprepared opponent, Ad Nauseam could be the right choice for your next Modern tournament.
Ben Schuetzenhofer is an amateur Magic player who started playing in Mirrodin Block, took a break from the game while many of the best cards were printed, then paid way too much to start playing again during Origins. He enjoys all formats of competitive Magic, and is a continuous student of the game who tries to expand his knowledge with every win or defeat.