During the first week of February, I’ll be in Bilbao with the rest of Team Coverage as we bring the live stream of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the world. For those new to Modern, getting across the huge scope of viable decks is quite intimidating. To bring everyone up to speed for the Pro Tour, Level 1 Modern is a column that seeks to explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Storm.
What Storm Does
Storm is a deck unlike any other in the format—a truly “old-school” deck that foregoes any kind of meaningful interaction to go full steam ahead with a linear combo. The victim of repeated bannings due to the power of speedy and non-interactive kills, Storm decks in Modern have had mixed fortunes over the years. But these days, Storm is one of the best-performing archetypes in Modern, with Gifts Ungiven and Baral, Chief of Compliance among the deck’s most recent innovations.
Storm’s game plan is simple, although not intuitive to those unfamiliar with the deck. At its most basic, a Storm player seeks to generate a lot of floating mana through pairing Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance with various mana-producing cards (known as “Rituals”), such as Desperate Ritual. This process can be prolonged with Past in Flames to cast these Rituals again from the graveyard, and once enough spells have been cast in this way, an enormous Grapeshot will finish the job.
Brian Heine, 14th place at GP Oklahoma City 2017
Storm is just about the most non-interactive deck you can imagine. It essentially ignores anything and everything the opponent does in pursuing its linear game plan, playing toward the same combo finish virtually every game. This has the added advantage of blanking much of the interaction that opponents will bring to bear. While the odd removal spell might snipe a Goblin Electromancer, generally speaking, a large proportion of cards are stone-cold blanks in this matchup.
The other major factor when considering Storm’s strengths is of course its speed. On average, a Storm player facing no disruption will kill consistently on turn 4, and sometimes as soon as turn 3. This lightning-quick clock means that opponents are forced to find a way to stop the Storm player from “going off,” usually through interaction rather than racing.
Card redundancies also help Storm in executing its game plan, as the list has multiple ways to generate mana as well as ways to find and cast (or recast) Grapeshot. With a multitude of cards doing close to the same thing (Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Opt all offering card selection, Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, and Manamorphose all producing mana), Storm tends to be very consistent.
Finally—but very importantly—Storm is a 2-color red deck. This should immediately set off alarm bells for the canny Modern player: Expect Blood Moon out of the sideboard for games 2 and 3! This card is well-positioned against so much of the Modern format (Tron, Scapeshift, etc.) and is something that you absolutely must keep in mind when playing against Storm.
Storm seeks to steal game 1s from opponents that have come to play interactive or slightly slower Magic. That’s all well and good, and will often pay dividends, except when a piece of main-deck interaction wrecks the party for the Storm player. Examples of this include Relic of Progenitus in Tron’s starting 60, the nigh-unbeatable Meddling Mage in 5-Color Humans, or Eidolon of the Great Revel in Burn.
Additionally, Storm itself lacks meaningful interaction to deal with opposing cards like these. In addition to hateful cards of all stripes (plenty exist in addition to those already mentioned—Eidolon of Rhetoric, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben), opposing combos such as Vizier of Remedies/Devoted Druid are very difficult to deal with. Generally, Storm’s “glass cannon” approach will hustle hard and get the job done, but it also means a single silver bullet card can completely upset the apple cart.
Storm also demands a high level of play skill and format awareness from its pilots. Knowing the ins and outs of different lists is crucial, as knowing which cards you should play around is critical for success with this deck. It requires a good deal of practice to play Storm competently, and even more to play it well. Make sure you get in the reps before attempting to get it done with Storm, and make sure you know the deck inside and out. Counting is very hard.
How to Beat Storm
Given the speed at which Storm seeks to end the game, and given its high susceptibility to disruption, the best way to beat Storm is to get in early with interactive elements that prevent the deck from successfully following through on what it aims to do, alongside effective graveyard hate to shut down Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames.
For most decks, trying to clock them is often futile. Instead, leverage cheap hand disruption and counterspells to put them off-balance early. Of course, if you can present an even faster clock, then that’s an even better way to stop them from winning—just take the game out before they get a chance to.
Sideboarding against Storm is relatively straightforward once you understand the different posture the deck takes in game 2. Due to the main deck losing to cards like Meddling Mage and graveyard hate, Storm players lean heavily on Empty the Warrens after sideboarding.
Empty is also picking up steam as a main-deck card for Storm, so it’s crucial to have a plan to kill all the little Goblins. Stretching your post-board plan to cover both Grapeshot and Empty is tricky, but cheap sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Flaying Tendrils are worthy inclusions against Storm (as well as being useful in multiple other matchups).
Storm is sure to appear in the hands of the “old guard” Magic players who will be in attendance at PT Rivals of Ixalan. It is seen by many of them as the last remaining pure, old-school style decks in the format. Given the decades of experience players such as these have with decks like Storm, this strategy may well end up being a force to be reckoned with in Bilbao!