In the Modern portion of the World Championships Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and I chose to play Storm combo. For a while now, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the deck. I love to play it. It’s very fun, and can get some truly absurd draws. The games are typically very exciting, partly because the deck is always in situations where it needs to find a specific card at the exact moment. However, that is a bit of a double-edged sword. The deck is capable of fizzling, and occasionally can lose games that as the pilot, you really felt were impossible to lose.
The deck is extremely powerful, but it definitely has a weakness in that it is very vulnerable to hate cards. Figuring out what hate cards to expect when entering into a tournament with Storm, and also figuring out how best to construct a sideboard to deal with those hate cards can be very difficult tasks. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the card choices for the main deck and sideboard, as well as how I would sideboard against some of the top decks in Modern. I’ll also try to give some tips on game play, for anyone who is interesting in trying out Storm for themselves.
Here is the list that I played at the World Championships:
Most of the maindeck choices have been pretty standard in Storm decks for a while. The major decisions for deck construction are:
• Two or three copies of Past in Flames?
• Three or four copies of Goblin Electromancer?
• How should we construct our mana base?
Treasure Cruise or Desperate Ravings?
This one might seem obvious, but I think it’s closer than people might think. While Treasure Cruise is clearly the more powerful card, it doesn’t play that well with a lot of cards in the Storm deck. Treasure Cruise and Pyromancer Ascension or Past in Flames aren’t exactly combos, given that Treasure Cruise wants to exile lots of cards from the graveyard, and the red cards both rely on the graveyard.
Desperate Ravings has some big upsides. It has always been great in slow grindy matches, as you have plenty of time to use it twice. Also, when going off, card draw spells you can cast for only red mana are very useful, since the “big turn” can come down to your ability to produce enough blue mana to cast all your card draw spells, especially if you don’t draw Manamorphose.
Ultimately, against green/black-based decks like Junk or Jund, usually featuring both Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay, Desperate Ravings has historically been one of the better cards. But because those matchups are slower, the downsides of casting Treasure Cruise don’t bite you as much, since you have significantly more time to set up. Also, against Liliana of the Veil, Treasure Cruise greater sheer card advantage and lower mana cost I think make it a better addition to the main deck.
Two or three copies of Past in Flames? Three or four copies of Goblin Electromancer?
The most common way to win with Storm combo is probably to get an active Pyromancer Ascension and use card draw spells, rituals, and Manamorphose to draw your entire library and finish the opponent off by casting Grapeshot, sometimes with Past in Flames. In those instances, two copies of Past in Flames are almost certainly enough. However, the fastest wins come from the combination of Goblin Electromancer and Past in Flames. Current Modern is a pretty fast format. The Delver decks are not particularly forgiving if we stumble, the Birthing Pod decks are capable of killing us on turn three, Splinter Twin on turn four, and there are Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks that can win on turn two or three as well. The best way for Storm to race in those matchups is to untap on turn three with a Goblin Electromancer in play.
With Electromancer in play, Past in Flames is almost Yawgmoth’s Will. In fact, in many games it’s even better because of the ability to flash it back. Usually the turn-three kill consists of Electromancer into a couple rituals, Manamorphose, a couple card draw spells, but really lacks the blue mana to be able to easily win without finding a past in Flames. Even when mana is tight, the Past in Flames being able to flashback makes a major difference. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve won with Storm historically by doing something like: Electromancer, Ritual, Ritual, Manamorphose, Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Past in Flames, Ritual, Ritual, Manamorphose, Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Grapeshot, flashback the same Past in Flames, Grapeshot again. While Past of Flames really isn’t good to draw in multiples, it’s so important to draw one in those hands that it is worth playing three in our deck.
People have made the argument to me in the past that you don’t want to draw Goblin Electromancer in multiples, and therefore only playing three is fine. Another argument is that it turns on your opponent’s creature removal. In practice, I think that these arguments don’t hold water. I’ve always found that in games when I’m playing a turn two Goblin Electromancer and my opponent spent their 2nd turn just to remove it, I have more time to set up. My opponent now wasn’t able to add Tarmogoyf or something to the table to pressure me, and make me go off before I’m comfortable. Also, it’s not very difficult to play Electromancer and win on the same turn. If it’s turn four, and we have four lands in play, we can often cast two spells, or sometimes more, that all gain the benefit of being reduced by Goblin Electromancer’s ability. For all these reasons, I believe that four Goblin Electromancer is the correct number.
How should we build our mana base?
In the past when I or my teammates played Storm we’ve typically only played 7 fetchlands. Because of Treasure Cruise, it’s reasonable to increase that number to 8. It’s possible even 9 could be correct, but I think that leads to having too few fetchable lands or having to cut back on Shivan Reef, which can be a problem if we’re worried about Choke. Two Steam Vents is typically enough because usually when fetching for a land you want that land to come into play untapped. The games don’t go very long and it’s important to be able to get both colors of mana easily, but playing too many Steam Vents will lead to taking too much damage. One Mountain is there so we can have one pain-free target for Scalding Tarn. Round things out with a couple Shivan Reef, both to prevent Choke from locking us out and to provide a reasonable dual land. I avoid Sulfur Falls or Cascade Bluffs because frankly the deck just keeps too many one-land hands to play with cards like that, and it’s already virtually impossible to keep a one-land hand when that land is a Mountain.
One of the weaknesses of Storm is that it is extremely vulnerable to certain sideboard cards. In fact, you literally can’t win while certain permanents are in play. Because Storm does rely quite a bit on the graveyard, it is vulnerable to different kinds of sideboard cards, which makes it much harder to plan for how to fight back. Someone who wants to attack the graveyard approach is likely to sideboard in cards like Grafdigger’s Cage or Rest in Peace. Another angle of attack is to simply try to make it harder, or impossible, for the Storm deck to go off by using cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Ethersworn Canonist, Chalice of the Void, or Eidolon of the Great Revel. There’s always the tried and true method of just using discard spells or counter spells to prevent the Storm deck from reaching its critical mass. Lastly, Choke has been seeing a lot of play recently, particularly in the sideboard of Pod decks, and it’s a card that we definitely need to be aware of.
Storm is a very focused deck, with a lot of moving parts. The thing is, all those parts have to work together in order to win a game. It is very important when playing combo decks, and specifically Storm, that we don’t dilute our deck so much to fight sideboard hate that our deck no longer functions as intended.
Wear // Tear is basically the best card against the field of sideboard cards that people are currently playing. Tear kills Choke, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Rest in Peace, and Rule of Law. Wear kills Grafdigger’s Cage, Chalice of the Void, Ethersworn Canonist, and has the added bonus of being able to pick up a stray Birthing Pod.
We played this card at Worlds, as a one-of, to combat the creature-based Ascendancy combo deck. Having it as a 1-of makes it harder for people to sideboard against it, since it’s not that often that we draw it. Also, it could be OK against some unkown combo deck that popped up. If I were to play another Modern tournament soon, I would cut this for a 3rd Lightning Bolt.
This is here in order to cast our white spells! If sideboard slots were a major issue, and we really needed to free up a spot, we could move this to the main deck. But that comes with a very real cost of having another land does 2 damage to us if we want to use it to cast a blue spell early in the game.
This card would only come in against Affinity, but when it does, it’s just so powerful that it’s worth including a couple copies in the sideboard.
Lightning Bolt is really valuable to have access to in nearly every red deck. It is a significantly better answer to Eidolon of the Great Revel than Wear // Tear. A deck that has Eidolon of the Great Revel is very likely a Burn deck, so given that Hallowed Fountain is our only source of white (other than Manamorphose) it is going to cost us 2 life we can’t afford to cast it. Lightning Bolt is also much better when we’re trying to go off. Sometimes a quick Electromancer/Past in Flames kill can be dramatically accelerated by having a single copy of Lightning Bolt. Since it only costs 1 red mana, it can often be cast and flashed back, reducing the total number of spells needed substantially. Lightning Bolt is also valuable if people show up with decks like hate bears, or really any deck containing Thalia.
The fourth Treasure Cruise is in the sideboard to have a very effective card against Thoughtseize decks, where Treasure Cruise is great and also when we’re happy to draw multiple copies. It’s actually reasonable in any matchup that is going to go particularly long, like control, where having a high impact, one-mana spell is also very potent.
Dispel is here for decks where we really want to force Pyormancer Ascension through counterspells, most notably control decks.
Empty the Warrens is a very powerful card. It is definitely at its best against people who try to win primarily by attacking our graveyard. Casting three to four or more spells before casting Empty the Warrens is not particularly difficult, and as early as turn two we can get eight to ten tokens into play somewhat easily. Against a player who is trying to fight us with Rest in Peace, this is very effective.
Empty the Warrens is excellent against counterspell decks as well. Often people try to not counter our rituals, instead waiting for the high impact spells, but with Empty the Warrens in our deck, it makes it very difficult for a control deck to not counter our rituals. Imagine a scenario where we play turn 3 Desparate Ritual, it resolves, then we fire off a Gitaxian Probe and an Empty the Warrens. This is a very effective clock against a deck that is trying to fight us with countermagic, and therefore letting any Ritual resolve is a gamble, making the game very difficult to play from the control side.
Here’s how I would sideboard against the top few decks in Modern:
There are a few things that I’d like to mention about the game play of the Storm deck. First, be careful about the order of your cantrips, especially when “going off.” Just because Gitaxian Probe is free, doesn’t mean you should always cast it first. Often you’ll get in situations where you need to dig for a specific card, and cast Serum Visions. Being able to cast Gitaxian Probe after Serum Visions means that you will have your pick of the scry cards right away.
Remember that Desperate Ritual can be spliced onto other Desperate Rituals. It doesn’t come up terribly often, but when it does it can certainly be very relevant, especially when going for a Past in Flames kill.
One of the most difficult things to do with this build of Storm is to figure out exactly which cards to delve away for Treasure Cruise. Of course, lands, Electromancers, and Ascensions get exiled first, but beyond that being aware of which route to victory you’re going to take is crucial. Typically, the best card to have in the graveyard is Manamorphose, as it’s nearly always the card you’re looking for when trying to dig for something. But if you’re working on setting up a Pyromancer Ascension kill, you will want to try to exile the cards you’ve already drawn multiples of first, in order to increase the likelihood that you draw copies of the cards still in your graveyard.
Before I ever played Storm in a tournament, Jon Finkel said to me, “You’re going to have some spectacular wins with this deck, and you’re going to have some spectacular losses.” That has certainly turned out to be true. If you’re going to head out into the Storm, be prepared to have some fun and get lucky in some games you have no business winning, but also be prepared to lose some games in unreal fashion that you had no business losing.