Ad Nauseam had existed on the fringes of competitive play for a significant amount of time before Jared Boettcher piloted the deck to a 9th place finish at Pro Tour Valencia in 2014. The deck subsequently faded into obscurity yet again (in regards to top finishes at large events) until Andreas Ganz piloted the deck to a 1st place finish at Grand Prix Charlotte last month. The fact that Ad Nauseam had never put up a top finish at large event was one of many reasons why many Magic players wrote the deck off as tier 2 and not particularly competitive. However, with Ad Nauseam having won a Grand Prix, the question on people’s minds has become: “Is Ad Nauseam really a viable strategy in Modern?”
The answer is yes. Absolutely, yes. It has been for a long time.
I have been piloting Ad Nauseam for a little over two years now, and as a result, I have witnessed how the deck has operated throughout many iterations of Modern. I believe that right now, Ad Nauseam is extremely well positioned in the format.
If you were to take a look at the most popular decks in Modern right now, you would see decks such as Burn, Zoo, Tron, Company variants, Grixis Control, Affinity and others. Ad Nauseam, in my experience, has a favorable matchup against all of these decks.
Ad Nauseam is oftentimes a difficult deck to race. It consistently can win on turn 4 if unimpeded, and it can also interact with opposing decks to slow down their strategies. To beat Ad Nauseam, you are forced to interact with the deck in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) however, most of the decks listed above do not do this.
In the mainboard, Tron has no significant interaction with Ad Nauseam save for Karn (who interacts with every deck in Modern). Affinity and Zoo simply try to race Ad Nauseam strategies, but with Phyrexian Unlife in Ad Nauseam lists, racing becomes quite tricky. Phyrexian Unlife also presents challenges for opposing Burn decks. Grixis Control relies on tempo and counter magic to slow down Ad Nauseam decks, however that form of interaction is, quite honestly, ineffective. The only deck listed that can pose a real threat to Ad Nauseam is the Company deck, and this is only the case sometimes. When piloting Ad Nauseam against a Company deck, a single “hate” card is often negligible – a single Spellskite, Eidolon of Rhetoric, or Burrenton Forge-Tender does not hurt the game plan much. A combination of these cards however, can be pesky, and can create locks that will lose Ad Nauseam the game.
Essentially, the popular decks right now (except for Infect which is a terrible pre-board matchup) do not operate on axes that can interact with Ad Nauseam in a meaningful way. Furthermore, the deck still possesses a surprise factor against many opponents – while they may have heard of the deck, it is possible that an opponent is not sure which card to take with a Thoughtseize or Vendilion Clique. Another aspect of the surprise factor is that this deck can win at instant speed, which punishes opponents for tapping out at anytime to cast spells. This is a fantastic ability to have in this current metagame, where players seem destined to cast spells like Nahiri, the Harbinger. Generally speaking, unless a player has tested against Ad Nauseam and truly understands how to interact with it in ways that actually matter, the deck is able to play solitaire until it wins.
Let us briefly take a look at the finals of Grand Prix Charlotte, where soon-to-be- victor Andreas Ganz played Naya Company pilot Jon Bolding. If Andreas Ganz were playing another popular deck in Modern such as Affinity or Burn, even Grixis Control, this would have been a very interesting finals match. There would be an abundance of interactions and tough decisions that would most likely draw out a three-game final. However, Ganz took the match in two games because Bolding could not interact meaningfully with his opponent’s deck.
In game one, Bolding played three creatures and tried to kill Ganz with his beefy threats. However, without any interaction Ganz simply waited until he was about to die and then found the kill. If Ganz were piloting a different deck however, those threats would have surely been much more threatening. In game two of the finals, Bolding simply cast creatures yet again, however this time he cast a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. While a decent card to slow down the game plan of an Ad Nauseam deck, Ganz was simply able to play through it and win. It was a rather uneventful and seemingly pretty comfortable finals victory for Ganz.
Ad Nauseam requires sustained and meaningful interaction to be bested often times, and the majority of popular decks in this Modern format do not threaten that. Ad Nauseam is also not yet a solidified deck in Modern (not tier 1) and as a result it still has a surprise factor to it. Ad Nauseam is a competitive deck in Modern and until people begin to sideboard meaningful interaction with the deck, it will continue to be competitive for a long time.
If there are players out there, who even after the win at Grand Prix Charlotte still think that Ad Nauseam is not a competitive deck in Modern, I hope that after reading this article your opinion is changed.