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PAUPER: STORM IS BACK!

Last week, I asked my social media followers “What deck would you most like to read a deep dive article about?” I got a ton of diverse responses, but Affinity was far the most popular request, so without further adieu: here’s an article about STORM!

The story of how I got to this point is kind of interesting. I bought all of the cards for Affinity, built the deck, learned how to pilot it on MTGO, and played through three leagues with encouraging results that were trending up as I tuned my 75. Then, in the first round of my fourth league I was paired against a Storm deck and that experience fundamentally shattered everything I knew and believed about the Pauper metagame. 

To say I lost badly is an understatement. I got killed on Turn 3 twice, despite the fact that I was able to counter my opponent’s first Ritual with a Dispel in both games. NOW THAT’S A DECK!

I begrudgingly retired my plucky crew of robots for the time being and set to work on assembling, building, and tuning the new Cycling Storm Deck, and WOW is this deck a beast!

WHAT IS CYCLING STORM?

In relation to how broken and outright powerful the Cycle Storm deck is, there’s actually not a ton of information about the deck available yet. From what I’ve been able to cobble together, in my quest to assemble The Perfect Storm combination deck, it appears this new archetype was largely innovated by Caleb Gannon

Cycle Storm is my favorite of his many innovative brews. His video on Cycle Storm was essentially the only high quality information I could find to help guide my exploration of this exciting new archetype. So, if my article peaks your interest in Storm be sure to check out his video for even more Storm Content. 

I just wanted to be sure that I’m giving credit where credit is due as best I can, and that’s the source information that helped guide me to the version I’m posting and discussing today. 

I didn’t “invent” this Storm variant, but I did work quite a bit on refining my list and I think it’s a deck that people should definitely be aware of in the Pauper metagame.

The emergence of this new archetype is a direct corollary of several new Ikoria printings: 

Drannith StingerImposing VantasaurDrannith Healer

The key is that these cards are all creatures that cycle for 1, and one of these cards, Drannith Stinger, also functions as our Tendrils of Agony style win condition at the end of the Storm chain.

In my opinion, the Cycling Storm deck is absolutely broken in half in terms of a Pauper strategy because it’s so fast and difficult to interact with. It’s pretty common for the deck to goldfish on Turn 3 and I’ve even had multiple Turn 2 wins with it! It’s also of note that it is possible for this deck to win on Turn 1, although I haven’t been able to pull that off (yet).

Here’s my build of the archetype: 

Pauper Storm - Brian DeMars

The core is virtually the same as the one that Caleb played, but the key difference is that I’ve shaved down on a few Cycling creatures in order to make room for a little bit more Mana. 

Lotus PetalDark Ritual

I’ve really liked a “split playset” of these cheap rituals in place of a few more Cyclers, because they make the deck much more nimble when trying to get the combo chain going (which is when it is most vulnerable), especially against opposing blue decks. Having more Rituals also makes the average goldfish draw consistently faster. 

I’ve also played a lot of sideboard matches, and have opted to take a slightly different approach with regard to how I’m using many of those slots. 

The key synergy that fuels this deck: 

 

Songs of the DamnedReaping the Graves

The deck has 26 Cycling Creatures, and 4 “ritual creatures” (Tinder Wall). All of these cards power up the back end of Songs of the Damned, and all of which can be regrown from the Graveyard with Reaping the Graves. Once a player hits critical mass of velocity, they can essentially draw every card in their deck and win the game. 

The endgame of these Storm chains typically comes into play once we’ve draw about 40 cards deep into our deck. We can simply deploy two or three Drannith Stingers to the board, with 10+ mana in in our pool, and 10 Cycling creatures in hand and burn our opponent out from most life totals south of 50.

Even if the opponent has multiple removal spells, it’s typically an option to simply Reap one more time and rebuy the Stingers for another encore performance. So, it’s worth noting that removal is typically a dead draw against this deck in the majority of situations, which is another HUGE boon for Storm. 

Pauper is a format where nearly every other piece of the metagame is a dynamic relationship about interacting with an opponent’s creatures, and this deck simply does not care about ANY of that. 

IT’S COMPLICATED….

Cycling Storm is easily one of the most complicated and difficult decks to play, and not only are the best lines of play often challenging to find but extremely clock and click intensive to execute (since we’re essentially making dozens (possibly hundreds) of clicks in the form of microtransactions to draw our deck one card at a time, generating tons of triggers, and resolving tons of targeted Storm triggers. 

So, not only are there tons of opportunities to make a mental mistake that can cost a game, but also lots of opportunities to misclick or run out of time! 

The biggest problem holding this deck back isn’t how good it is, but likely how challenging it is to play! I’ll openly admit, I’m positive I punted many, many games in a row with this deck before I started to get the hang of exactly how to pilot it, when to pull the trigger, and even how to play out my Storm chains optimally. So, if you lose your first ten games in a row, don’t be too surprised. I did. 

I make no apologies about the fact that I’m a weak online player and primarily use MTGO as a tool to learn and practice Pauper. I’m simply not efficient enough with my clicks and clock to play the best decks in the format at the competitive level. I’m an old school card player, not an eSporter. With that said it can take me about 10+ minutes to execute the storm chain with my opponent F6’d. It’s a TON of clicks and triggers.  

IMPORTANT TIPS FOR PLAYING THE DECK 

My pedigree in Magic involves A LOT of Vintage and combo play and so Cycle Storm is right in my wheelhouse as a Strategy that I enjoy and am fairly good at playing (in paper at least!). 

With that said, while the deck is called “Cycling Storm,” and plays with actual STORM cards, it’s actually much closer in playstyle to an “Eggs” deck than a traditional Storm deck. I say this because rather than barfing out a bunch of spells and then winning with a Storm spell, the objective is actually to draw through our entire deck via a series of elaborate microtransactions that eventually combine to facilitate a lethal endgame. 

In terms of playstyle, it’s very much an Eggs-perience like Modern Second Sunrise where once a player starts the chain, the other player is essentially watching a long, drawn out, MTG solitaire sequence play out.

The deck mulligans well, since it’s so redundant with 26 cycling cards and designed to hit critical mass and maintain steam. The biggest favor one can do when playing this deck is to learn which hands to keep and which hands to throw away! Basically, I’m wary of keeping one landers without any Rituals, or hands without the potential to make black mana. The deck is so broken that six is almost always better. 

The types of hands that I tended to want to mulligan are actually what informed my decision to shave Cyclers in favor of “chain starting” rituals, like Lotus Petal and Dark Ritual. These are not the greatest at “sustaining the chain,” like Cabal Ritual and Songs of the Damned which generate A LOT of mana, but they are very nimble at starting chains through Countermagic and keeping the chain afloat when mana gets really tight. 

Managing colored mana is also tricky, until you start to get the hang of it. There’s no finite guideline for mana use that will hold true in every situation (you’ve gotta roll with the punches), but it tends to be a good rule of thumb that black mana matters most early when trying to resolve the first ritual, but after that point we’ll want to focus on turning red and black mana into green mana as often as possible and saving it for later. 

Essentially, don’t get locked out of any single color if possible and manage your resources accordingly. If you go to “no black mana” you can’t cast Rituals. If you drop to “no green mana” you can’t loop Tinder Wall: 

Tinder Wall

TINDER WALL

You do have some “bailouts” in the form of Manamorphose, Chromatic Star, and Lotus Petal (as well as potentially drawing and playing a Forest), but the longer the chain goes on the more difficult it is to come by green mana. Try to exchange black and red mana for green mana early in the chain so you have it available down the road. Since Tinder Wall makes RR, I’m always always using THAT mana to cast my Drannith Stingers at the end of the chain. 

Next tip: It’s almost always wrong to lead out a Drannith Stinger on the front end of the combo. Cycling for a card, and putting that Stinger into the yard where it will net mana with Songs of the Damned and be rebought with Reaping the Graves is actually a significantly more efficient use of resources. You’re not going to generate 20 Cycle Triggers without “going big,” so just go big! Also, if you play Stinger out early it’s likely to give an opponent a meaningful target for their removal spells.

In sideboard games, where opponent’s have removal out and graveyard hate in, the dynamic can change a little bit. 

It’s certainly not to be taken for granted that Cycle Storm has a bunch of creatures that can be played, but I’ve found this is typically something I’m only interested in doing after sideboard, against control, and only in circumstances where I need to bait counters or am unlikely to be able to go off. 

If your opponent isn’t putting you on a clock, and has boarded out removal, it’s certainly possible to force them to counter cards like Stinger, or especially Horror of the Forgotten Lands, and then rebuy them all with Reaping the Graves to sustain threat pressure. 

Another misconception I’ve heard about Storm is that it is soft to Counterspell decks. While I agree Counterspell decks (particularly Delver, because they can pressure us), are the most challenging match up, I’m not even convinced it’s a bad match up. If anything, I believe it’s a close match up, and may even be slightly favored for Storm. 

The reason Delver is challenging is that they have lots of Counterspells and can potentially play 2 Counters with only three mana, and can always play two counters with four lands. It’s essentially a jockeying for position to actually start the chain. 

The reason I think the match up is close becomes a matter of tactics: 

 

Songs of the DamnedDark RitualCabal RitualManamorphoseReaping the Graves

All of these cards are instants and allow you to “value combo” on the opponent’s end step before setting up the signature turn. We can’t technically  “win” on their end step, but we can force Blue Mages into a precarious position of either committing Counterspells (and most importantly mana) or letting us go ham for value and then untapping with a gigantic hand of between 10 and 15 cards to overrun their counters.

Also, bear in mind that half of our deck cycles for 1 mana and for value, since every time we cycle it makes our Songs of the Damned and Reaping the Graves better as the game goes on. It also creates a dynamic where we are able to potentially use our mana more efficiently than the opponent.

If a Blue Mage is forced to hold up counter magic every turn (and thus isn’t using it) and we are cycling on their end step, we’re in a favorable scenario since we’re doing cool stuff with our mana and they are wasting theirs. It gets even worse for them if they don’t have significant pressure, and bear in mind they cannot counter our best payoff card, Reaping the Graves, if the game ever goes long. 

It’s also highly significant that Red Elemental Blast is useless against Storm. Sorry, no Blue cards! And, Blue Elemental Blast can only really interact with Manamorphose. Again, killing the Stinger on the back end doesn’t tend to matter because it can be rebought and redeployed. 

The rest of the metagame is significantly easier to deal with. We’re simply much faster than beatdown decks that are hoping to race. We make people’s removal heavy draws equate to a pile of bricks, and for the first time EVER I’m like “bring on the Tron opponents,” because this deck is a straight up beast against Tron. 

Tron taps out for a Prophetic Prism on turn two and you untap and KILL THEM. Tron also has a lot of problems with trying to assemble to cast two counterspells (without Red Blast) on by turn four. Their deck is also filled with Stonehorn Dignitaries and Moment’s Peace which do actual nothing, and since they don’t have removal it’s one match up where playing the Stinger out front is actually an ok play. 

So, what is good against Storm? 

Relic of ProgenitusNihil SpellbombTormod's Crypt

Graveyard hate.

Graveyard hate is by far the most effective tool against Cycle Storm. Most of the Graveyard Hate people play are Artifacts, which makes bringing in up to 4x Dissenter’s Deliverance a fine post sideboard tactic. Many decks’ most realistic chance of winning is to stick a piece of graveyard hate, and so being able to casually flick it away with a Deliverance is nice. There’s really little downside, since it Cycles for a single mana. 

Also, keep in mind that most of our cards, including Reaping the Graves, are instant speed and so in some circumstances it will be possible to cast a second Reaping the Graves in response to an opponent trying to exile our graveyard. 

Weather the Storm can also beat us if we’re unprepared, since an opponent can use it to gain enough life to surpass the threshold of damage we are actually capable of dealing. If an opponent can gain 60+ life, there’s a real chance we won’t have enough cards left in library to generate lethal Drannith Stinger triggers. Even if we can beat it, the copious amount of life is going to tax our MTGO clock really hard.

I like Duress a lot since it’s the only realistic answer we can play to Weather the Storm and is just a pretty good card in post board games, especially against skilled players. Having the info is so nice. I’ve also found that it doubles as an answer to graveyard hate against a lot of skilled players, who patiently wait to deploy their Relics and Spellbombs until I’ve committed cards to my grave to ensure their best card “gets value” before blindly exposing it to a Dissenter’s Deliverance

I’ve been exceptionally impressed with Storm so far. In a paper metagame, I wouldn’t even consider sleeving up any other deck. In the hands of a skilled pilot, that can find the best lines of play and mitigate the MTGO clock issues, I believe Cycle Storm is easily the best positioned deck in the metagame. The deck has a ton of easy mode match ups (aside from actually executing the combo via clicks!) and the “bad match up,” Delver decks feels pretty close to me. 

In summary, I think Storm is an incredible, broken choice for the Pauper Metagame, but the biggest obstacle that will likely hold it back is that it’s simply too complicated and difficult to play on a speed chess platform like MTGO. Also, investing in $25+ Lotus Petals on MTGO may be a deterrent (Dark Rituals are a viable substitution but I think they are worse than a split), especially considering the two strikes Cycle Storm has against it already: The Solitaire Eggs-perience AND it can win the game on turn two!

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