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Against the Odds: Torment of Hailfire (Standard)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode ninety-six of Against the Odds. Last week, we had the second all-Hour of Devastation Against the Odds poll, and while the voting was fairly close, the black punisher card Torment of Hailfire came out on top in the end, sneaking out a victory over Abandoned Sarcophagus. As a result, we are heading to Standard this week to see if we can ramp our way into some massive Torment of Hailfires! While Torment of Hailfire is powerful, the challenge is that it's a punisher card that gives the opponent the choice of whether to sacrifice permanents, discard cards, or lose life. Because of this, we occasionally end up like a deck that plays some infect creatures and some normal creatures, essentially looking to kill the opponent in multiple ways. The good news is that the rate on Torment of Hailfire is great—in theory, it can be a 21-damage burn spell for just nine mana! So, the question today is: what happens if you build a deck that's all-in on making Torment of Hailfire as good as possible? Can the new punisher rare work in Standard? Let's get to the videos and find out!

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Against the Odds: Torment of Hailfire (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Torment of Hailfire (Games)

The Deck

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There were basically two choices when it came to building Torment of Hailfire for Standard. One was to build punisher tribal, with various curses, Remorseless Punishment, and Torment of Hailfire. While this build would be funny, it likely wouldn't win too many games or do a very good job showcasing Torment of Hailfire. The second choice—which is where we ended up—was to play a deck that was all-in on making Torment of Hailfire good. So, what does it take to make Torment of Hailfire work? We are looking for four different things. First, we need ramp to be able to cast Torment of Hailfire for as much mana as possible. If we can cast the sorcery for enough mana, we might be able to brute force our way past the punisher aspect of the card and kill our opponent. Second, we want to get cards out of our opponent hand. Third, we want to keep creatures off our opponent's side of the battlefield, and fourth, we want to deal our opponent some damage. Basically, we can take away some of the punisher aspects of Torment of Hailfire by doing any or all of these things (for example, our opponent can't choose to discard cards if they don't have any cards in hand, which might force them to take a lethal amount of damage from Torment of Hailfire).

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While we tried to stay away from the all-in punisher strategy, a couple of copies of Cruel Reality did slip in as Torment of Hailfire numbers five and six. While the enchantment is expensive, we have a lot of ramp, and Cruel Reality can be pretty powerful. The big deal is that the opponent has to sacrifice a creature if they have an option, which helps power up our Torment of Hailfire by keeping creatures off the battlefield, and while this isn't a big deal for some decks (like WU Monument, which has tons of tokens to sacrifice), other decks can be locked out of the game if they have to sacrifice a creature every turn. Plus, if our opponent doesn't have a creature, Cruel Reality goes after our opponent's life total and can even win us the game by itself!

Ramp

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Cultivator's Caravan, Hedron Archive, and Oblivion Sower help to ramp us into big Torment of Hailfires. When it comes to making Torment of Hailfire good, we really want to be casting it with the "X" equal to eight or more, which is usually enough that our opponent has to pay most of their life and also choose between sacrificing some stuff or discarding their hand. Apart from just ramping us, all of our ramp spells have some upside. Cultivator's Caravan can turn into a creature and block or attack our opponent's life total. Hedron Archive lets us do some desperation card drawing in search of removal or a Torment of Hailfire, and Oblivion Sower is huge!

Board Attack (Removal)

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Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness give us some good early-game removal. Since our goal is to cast Torment of Hailfire for at least 10 mana, one of the biggest challenges of our deck is staying alive long enough to make this happen, and having some good, cheap removal is important to reaching this goal. Meanwhile, Never // Return gives us the ability to kill a planeswalker, which is nice. Plus, the back half can actually be pretty good when we exile a Dusk // Dawn against WU Monument or a God-Pharaoh's Gift against various reanimator decks.

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Bontu's Last Reckoning is the best sweeper option available in mono-black, and if any deck could make the three-mana wrath good (by minimizing the downside of not untapping our lands the next turn), it's probably ours, since we have so many mana rocks that will untap no matter what. More importantly, having a sweeper is key to making Torment of Hailfire good, since one of the easiest ways our opponent can beat our sorcery is by flooding the board with creatures. A great example of this is the WU Monument deck, which makes tons of tokens thanks to Oketra's Monument, so no matter how much mana we can spend on Torment of Hailfire, our opponent can usually just sacrifice a bunch of 1/1s and proceed to win the game. Meanwhile, Ob Nixilis Reignited is just a one of, but it can kill a creature in a pinch while also helping us churn through our deck to find sweepers, discard, and of course Torment of Hailfire.

Hand Attack (Discard)

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On level one, our discard helps to power up our Torment of Hailfire—getting our opponent empty-handed is one of the easiest ways to take away the punisher aspect of Torment of Hailfire, since our opponent can't choose to discard cards they don't have. However, Transgress the Mind, Lay Bare the Heart, and Thought-Knot Seer help to make sure we can actually resolve our Torment of Hailfire. The nightmare scenario is that we spend our entire turn (and a ton of mana) to try to cast a huge Torment of Hailfire only to watch our opponent counter the spell for just two or three mana. Our discard lets us do a hand check first to make sure our opponent doesn't have any counters in hand to ruin our day.

Other Stuff

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Gifted Aetherborn is our last non-land card, and it's the only card in our main deck that doesn't directly work to support our Torment of Hailfire plan. Instead, it's just an early-game road block against aggressive decks that can gain us a bit of life and hopefully keep us alive long enough to cast our big, powerful spells. While we only have two copies in the main deck because Gifted Aetherborn can be a bit matchup dependent, we have the other two in the sideboard so that we can go up to the full playset when we run into decks like Mono-Red Aggro and (hopefully) stay alive until we get to Torment of Hailfire

The Matchups

The matchups for Torment of Hailfire are weird. Apart from things like counterspells (which make matchups difficult), what makes matchups good (or bad) is card advantage. Here, I don't mean just card draw (although that's part of it) but any card that somehow makes multiple cards. For instance, WU Oketra's Monument is—by far—the worst matchup for our deck, since when they have Oketra's Monument out, every creature our opponent casts comes with a 1/1 token kicker, and every token our opponent makes is another mana we need to spend to make Torment of Hailfire good (because our opponent can sacrifice the tokens to pay the "X" cost). Along the same lines, Cloudblazer, Rogue Refiner, and Glimmer of Genius do the same thing—they are one card that gives our opponent another card (or even two), which they can discard to pay for Torment of Hailfire. Looking over the matchups in Standard, this means that various control decks and random white-blue decks are likely our worst matchups. Oh yeah, and I'm not sure we every beat Mono-Red Aggro—we just don't have enough blockers to keep our opponent's hasty threats under control.

On the other hand, random midrange decks like Temur Energy and GB Energy are probably our best matchups. While these opponents can play a lot of big, powerful threats, they don't have much card advantage, which means Torment of Hailfire and Cruel Reality usually just win us the game if we can survive long enough to cast them.

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches and won three (which gives us a 60% match win percentage, although this is slightly deceiving because one win was thanks to an opponent getting mana screwed and scooping early, so let's say 50%) along with winning 7 of our 13 games (not counting the early scoop)—good for a 54% game win percentage. As for Torment of Hailfire, one thing I'll say for it is that it leads to some exciting moments, and most of the games that we won were thanks to the X spell. That said, our matches really showed the good and bad of Torment of Hailfire. Sometimes, we cast it for 10 mana and it won us the game on the spot; other times, we cast it for 10 mana and our opponent discarded a couple of cards, sacrificed a couple of permanents, paid some life, and simply killed us on the back swing. Basically, when Torment of Hailfire is good, it's really good, but when it's bad, it's really bad. 

As for playing Torment of Hailfire in tier decks, it could work if you are playing some sort of ramp deck with black mana, but it's probably better off as a one-of (or maybe two-of, at most) where you can hopefully find it in situations where it's good and not have it cluttering up your hand when it's bad. It will also become more appealing after Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger rotates. If you want to play a fun side game, go back through our matches and, every time we cast a huge Torment of Hailfire, ask, "Is Torment of Hailfire better here than if we just cast an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger?" While the answer might occasionally be yes, more often than not, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger would have been just as good if we were ahead and better when we were behind. So, for right now (until the Eldrazi rotate), it's hard to justify playing Torment of Hailfire as your primary ramp finisher with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger competing for the same slot.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

This weekend is Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, which sort of wraps up the release season for Magic's newest set. So, in celebration, let's have one last Hour of Devastation poll, and then we'll get back to normal (with a mixture of new and old options) with our next poll. Which of these Hour of Devastation cards should we play next week? Let us know by voting below!

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Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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