Magic has been described by several creators over the years as a zero-sum fun game, which typically means that when one player is having fun in a game, the other is not. This is a relatively debated topic in the community as many players are able to find fun regardless of the outcome of a match. Many big plays and tense exchanges of resources can create better memories than simply signing a match slip alone. Today’s deck, however, is the prime example of a zero-sum fun time while playing. Utilizing a mechanic so egregious, so unbalanced, so soul-crushingly unfun that Mark Rosewater himself named the scale of “mechanics that we’re never going to return to” after it. Let’s talk about Storm.
Budget Modern Storm by Darren Magnotti
Note: Each Modern deck covered in this series is built at the time of writing to a $150 budget. This is an attempt to keep things reasonable for those who are actually looking to buy into the format on the cheap while not skimping so much that the deck is completely without the power to keep up. Every deck showcased in this series has been personally tested and is being shown off for a reason, whether it’s the deck’s competitive aptitude, its ability to transition easily into a nonbudget version or its capacity to teach a newer player a vital skill required to keep up in today’s competitive metagame.
Storm in Modern is an Izzet-colored all-in combo deck that aims to cast a flurry of spells in one turn in order to power out a lethal Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens. The primary appeal of the deck is the navigation that it takes to force the combo through whatever barriers and disruption an opponent can set up. With the opening hand as the starting point and a Grapeshot for 20 the ending, it’s up to the Storm pilot to work their way through the puzzle from both ends as they piece together the correct chain of spells to get the job done. Storm is definitely one of those decks that feels like you’re playing a game other than Magic, which while that doesn’t appeal to every player, has many fans within the Modern format.
Arguably the most important aspect to a successful combo turn is having a plethora of mana available. This is facilitated by two sets of redundant cards – the mana bears and the rituals.
Baral, Chief of Compliance and Goblin Electromancer work together, sometimes in tandem, to reduce the overall mana cost of each spell in the deck. This is key to getting the explosive draws necessary to close out a game in the first couple of turns, but is by no means necessary to the function of the deck. In a general sense, cheaper spells make it easier to keep the chain going, and with one of Storm’s strengths being the lack of a reliance on creatures, these mana bears are likely to stick around in post-sideboard games.
The rituals, on the other hand, are less permanent sources of mana that are used to create and continue the chain of spells needed to win the game. Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual and on occasion Manamorphose all serve the simple purpose of turning two mana into three while adding storm count. There isn’t much else to say here other than it takes mana to cast spells, and these cards allow for that. Manamorphose in specific is crucial to the combo’s success as it turns the abundance of red mana into blue, which enables the non-mana half of the deck. All three of the rituals of course work extremely favorably with the mana bears as well, generating two extra mana instead of one or in the case of Manamorphose, generating extra mana at all.
The second ingredient required in our “cast-20-spells-in-a-turn” pie is a hand that is never empty. Consider, Opt and Serum Visions all act as card-neutral spells that help set up future draws while also providing another spell for the storm count. These are usually cast in the earlier turns as setup rather than being relied on during the combo turn because of a general lack of blue mana while comboing off, and to sit in/fill the graveyard. When casting Consider, it’s frequently correct to mill the card looked at even if it’d be beneficial to have in the moment, and the more of these setup cards that can sit in the graveyard, the better.
Past in Flames is the payoff for all of that early turn setup, as its powerful ability to allow each card in the graveyard to be recast is frequently enough to supply the remaining nine to 12 spells missing from the storm count. Galvanic Relay is also used for situations where it may not be, for whatever reason, possible to fully combo off in one shot. It helps to “save” the current storm count for later by supplying that many cards for future play.
Storm relies on one of two cards to secure a game, Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens. Grapeshot is the preferred method as direct damage is typically safer than attacking with creatures, though Empty also has its applications.
Both of these spells also have an alternate mode of “cast it for less than lethal to address the board state,” which while it may seem draining on resources to do so, is sometimes the mandatory play in order to become not dead. Grapeshot with a storm count of around five is quite strong when it comes to clearing out a board full of small creatures; think Fury but more difficult to cast. Empty is typically cast when a disruptive creature deck is trying to race with their creatures and you think that you may not be able to complete the full combo cycle in one go; say there’s a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or similar in play. From there, sometimes generating eight Goblin tokens is enough to beat down, or group block the problematic creature, other times it’s too much for the opponent and while they’re focusing on stopping the full combo the handful of tokens is able to attack in for lethal.
Remand should also be noted here as an effective means to turn a non-lethal Grapeshot into a lethal one. With the storm trigger on the stack, you can cast Remand targeting the storm spell to return it to hand and draw a card, effectively letting you double the storm count +2. On top of being a defensive measure, Remand can be incredibly potent in terms of stealing a win when it otherwise wouldn’t exist.
The real backbone of the Storm deck is the power of Gifts Ungiven, which allows for the searching up of any collection of pieces needed for any particular moment. There are many primers and guides written detailing the perfect Gifts pile for every situation and even for every mana count and board state, but in general the typical pile consists of Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Past in Flames and Manamorphose.
Between these cards, you gain access to anything that you may need, be it the mana to continue casting spells, the access to cards in graveyard to spend all that mana on or some fresh looks at more cards from the deck. Regardless of what the opponent chooses to put in the graveyard, these four cards can be the basis of a combo on either the turn the Gifts was cast or the following.
Here are some other Gifts piles and the situations that they may be needed for:
2x Ritual, Past in Flames, Grapeshot
There are a reasonable number of cards in hand or graveyard already, this is the second Gifts cast this game and we’re looking for the kill condition or the opponent has too many creatures on board and is threatening lethal the following turn so Grapeshot needs to go on board wipe duty.
2x Ritual, Manamorphose, Grapeshot
Similar to the above pile, but there’s already a Past in Flames in hand or graveyard that’s relatively safe from graveyard hate.
Manamorphose, Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, Past in Flames (or Remand)
There is plenty of mana floating and this is likely the second Gifts of the game, looking for a kill condition with backup.
Island, Snow-Covered Island, Fiery Islet, Shivan Reef
Mana is an issue and you need to fight through a taxing effect with little else in terms of threats across the table. This should seldom be done, but it is a line that is available.
Galvanic Relay, Past in Flames, Manamorphose, Gifts Ungiven
There’s plenty of ammunition in hand, but generating storm count may be an issue because of something like a known Flusterstorm, a taxing effect or the graveyard has just been wiped.
Gifts Ungiven is one of the most skill-testing cards in the format, but many players have put in exhaustive hours into outlining its every in and out. Those interested in picking up this deck should certainly find one or two of these guides and read up. Though these situations don’t happen frequently, they will happen eventually, so it’s best to be prepared with all available options. Doing so will also help you to understand your deck better and be able to figure your way out of similar situations that arise in the future.
Storm is extremely fun to pilot, even as an inexperienced player. I’ve never personally played Storm before, but I have played against it many times over the years, and I definitely understand now the appeal.The deck seems straightforward on the surface, but its decision trees are vast and one incorrect move two turns ago can easily come back to haunt you. It’s great fun to figure out the tools available for the situation at hand and finding the ways to piece them all together to come out on top.
In terms of performance, it feels like a lot of players have forgotten that this deck exists. Several opponents weren’t even aware that it was a thing, and others had no idea how their deck should respond to what was happening on my side of the table. That caused a good number of relatively free wins, but in a more competitive environment, I’m sure that people would be more prepared, even though the deck isn’t a strong force in today’s metagame.
As easy as it is to make a mistake when behind the wheel of the Storm deck, it’s just as easy to make a catastrophic mistake as its opponent, which a skilled pilot can easily take advantage of. Gifts Ungiven in particular is just as skill-testing for the opponent, as they may not be aware of the common or correct ways to split the piles you present. One thing that I found extremely helpful was pulling the deck list up on a second monitor and using it as reference throughout all of my matches.
In general, familiarity with the deck helps to speed things along significantly, and practice really does make perfect with this one. While it may not be the format-defining all-star that it used to be, Storm is an excellent way to take on the meta game and offer opponents something that they may not be used to playing against.
Modern Storm by Moisés Canto
Fortunately for the budget-conscious of us, upgrading the Storm deck is relatively straightforward, as the deck largely fits into the budget price point. Lands are the obvious upgrade, though it should be noted that even fully upgraded Storm lists tend to stay away from fetchlands. One of the keys to piloting the deck is putting the unnecessary cards to the bottom of the deck via cantrips and scrys, and fetchlands shuffling those cards back into the deck really messes that plan up. Some players have begun opting for a Wish package in addition to Gifts, which is something to consider for sure as it grants access to some of the powerful one-of effects during Game 1 that would otherwise be missing.
That’s all for this one! Storm is a very fun deck to sit behind, and while I’m sure I made some opponents unhappy on MTGO, I think that the deck is extremely worthwhile to learn to pilot correctly. It’s a great example of how familiarity with a deck list can really pull some weight when it comes to securing wins, as you don’t need to spend precious mental energy figuring out what your deck is capable of in a given scenario. As always, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading.