Storm is bigger than ever in Legacy. It has made the finals of the last two Legacy Opens and has the most dedicated pilots, like Caleb Scherer, consistently placing well with it. It's a little like Dredge in the sense that it's very powerful when it's not very respected and there's little sideboard hate for it. Even when faced with obstacles, Storm can often deal with them with cards like Chain of Vapor, Abrupt Decay, discard spells, or by simply killing the opponent before the cards matter.
There were seven Storm players of the 121 day 2 competitors of #SCGNJ. Of those, two made the elimination rounds, which is a respectable conversion rate for the archetype. Storm is doing consistently well against varied fields, and its popularity will only rise after yet another successful tournament for it, even though it came just short of the trophy once again. To combat Storm being such a significant portion of the metagame, the rest of us non-Storm players need to adjust our decks accordingly. These are the main ways to fend them off.
Stopping their keys spells will often give you enough time to win with your own strategy. Cheap counterspells like Flusterstorm that you can leave up without much commitment delays their ability to kill you. Infernal Tutor, Past in Flames, and Ad Nauseam are the ones you really want to stop from resolving. Sometimes they'll be restricted on mana with either a low number of actual lands or ritual effects and halting their mana development will be good enough.
Storm requires a critical mass of spells to function, and discard spells stop that cold. Storm is a deck that will always have cards in their hand, so your discard spells will always be live against them. Seeing their hand is also crucial in knowing how much you can progress your battlefield without risk of dying on their turn.
Casting creatures that contain Storm while putting their life total under pressure is one of the best ways to fight them. That forces them to dedicate a card to dealing with your problem threat instead of using that spell slot to go-off. All of these “hate bears” are all basically in the same camp, with Eidolon of the Great Revel being the best since it's guaranteed to get value when removed and make their future Ad Nauseam weak. For Storm to have a volatile metagame, there needs to be more of these cheap aggro-control style creatures in decklists.
These are all good, but won't necessarily close the door on Storm. Disruption backed up by pressure is the name of the game, and given enough time and free draw steps, Storm will figure out a way to weasel out of any given situation as long as they've sideboarded in cards like Chain of Vapor and Abrupt to Decay to deal with them. In decks with proactive gameplans, these permanents can be the necessary wrench in their plans to push Storm off of their game long enough to win.
These are the decks that I've been liking lately and that I think will be good choices to take to a Legacy tournament like the Premier IQ at #SCGDEN.
- 4 Baleful Strix
- 1 Parasitic Strix
- 4 Shardless Agent
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Cavern Harpy
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Dream Stalker
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Meddling Mage
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Aluren is a deck that's very good at beating fair decks like Delver of Secrets strategies as well as control decks like Miracles, while being poor at beating the degenerate fast combo decks like Storm, Elves, and Reanimator. Show and Tell decks are typically fine because you can win at instant speed by putting in an Aluren. Small modifications can be made to Aluren to try to shore up your combo matchups. It involves going to the bare minimum of maindeck combo pieces and “silver bullets” in order to make room for more cards that interact with combo decks.
Gitaxian Probe goes with Cabal Therapy like peanut butter and jelly, and I'm surprised that it's not being played in current Aluren lists. After all, Storm and Grixis Delver pair the two together nicely, and the combo is even more potent in Aluren since Cabal Therapy can be so easily flashed back given all of the incidental small creatures in the deck with enters-the-battlefield effects. There's a small white splash for a maindeck Meddling Mage that can be fetched up with Imperial Recruiter and should have a good chance of naming a card in the opponent's hand with the Gitaxian Probes and Cabal Therapies.
There's one maindeck Ancestral Vision because the first copy of Ancestral Vision is typically the best. Along with Shardless Agent and the ability to Brainstorm it back to the top, we take a page out of Shardless Sultai as another means of generating card advantage at a low cost. Dryad Arbor and Pendelhaven are a couple pages out of my own Infect book as cards I simply love having access to and that provide a lot of mid-game value to combat without having to dedicate a spell slot to them. Dryad Arbor is especially nice to turn a fetchland like Verdant Catacombs into a Cabal Therapy flashback. In a pinch when you're about to miss your fourth land-drop, Imperial Recruiter can fetch it up as well.
The sideboard utilizes the white splash further with another copy of Meddling Mage and an Ethersworn Canonist. The hidden gem of the bunch is Ichneumon Druid, which acts a lot like Eidolon of the Great Revel does. With it out, it's nearly impossible for them to win with a string of ritual effects or with an Ad Nauseam.
Infect players feel like Storm is a bad matchup. Storm players feel like Infect is a bad matchup. The truth is neither side likes a taste of their own medicine: to be at high risk of losing quickly without interacting much. Both decks are capable of extremely good, even nigh unbeatable opening seven-card hands.
To combat the Storm menace, I like a build of Infect that is super-straightforward without the finesse cards that I usually favor like Dryad Arbor, Piracy Charm, Crop Rotation, and Green Sun's Zenith. You want consistent power, and while you lose some ability to outplay people in the mid-game of fair matchups, you further increase the frequency of your best draws and for ending the game on turn 4 or earlier, which is when the majority of your games will indeed end when you win.
This past weekend, I tried out Leyline of Sanctity as my anti-Storm card. It seemed good in theory to stop their discard like Duress and Cabal Therapy and to keep my hand secret against Gitaxian Probe. Tendrils of Agony is more effective than Empty the Warrens after sideboard, so I expected most Storm players to stick with only Tendrils of Agony as their win condition. However, they can get around it with a key Chain of Vapor or Empty the Warrens if they sideboarded it in. Overall, the biggest misstep in the matchup for either side is to oversideboard and to “play scared” of what the other deck is capable of doing. Cards that dilute your deck only give your opponent more time to sculpt their hand. With that said, a tip that I think I've figured out in the matchup after sideboard is to take the draw. Both decks are trying to accumulate a critical mass of combo pieces, and the extra card is often the difference. Again, you have to let go of the fact that you might just die before you yourself can go off, but I feel like the card is worth the risk. Taking the draw is a very corner case situation, especially in Legacy, and I think this is one of the few times when it's correct (and it's probably correct in the Storm mirror too).
Tom Keating's Punishing Abzan deck is a thing of beauty and is clearly capable of beating Storm, as it dispatched Ross Merriam in semifinals before beating Caleb Scherer in the finals. While it looks like a clunky midrange decks on the surface, it has tons of disruption for unfair decks, including Chalice of the Void, which can come down for one on turn 1 with a Mox Diamond and is still very strong when set to zero to lock out Lotus Petal and Lion's Eye Diamond.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is very hard to power through with rituals, and Gaddock Teeg shuts off Ad Nauseam, Past in Flames, and Tendrils of Agony. Every hateful permanent has to be dealt with before the Storm player can go off, forcing Storm to sideboard in the full number of Abrupt Decay and Chain of Vapor to deal with them. This dilutes their deck, ensuring that there's enough time to actually deploy said threats, which makes for a lose-lose situation for Storm.
Burn has been on the decline over the past year. In fact, I used to play against it at least twice a tournament, where now I haven't faced it my last three Legacy tournaments. I think part of this is because Burn is regarded as an introductory deck to the format and Legacy players have been progressively maturing towards more complex decks. It's also one of the cheaper decks in the format and it likely took a while for people to piece together their harder to acquire decks.
Burn will never win before turn 3, but it's capability of winning on turn 3 is high, and it will rarely play a game past turn 5. It's very consistent in what it does albeit not very fancy. Some games will be unwinnable, and Burn will be helpless, but if you're choosing a deck on raw win percentages, I think that Burn has been overlooked lately.
Exquisite Firecraft is the latest addition which can close the door on the popular Miracles deck even through their Counterbalance. Against Storm, we have the unbeatable Eidolon of the Great Revel, as well as additional enchantment (non-creature) copies of it in the sideboard in Pyrostatic Pillar. Mindbreak Trap is a great tool for decks that don't have access to discard spells or countermagic. Mindbreak Trap used to be one of my favorite cards, and I had at least a copy in all of my Legacy decks back when Goblin Charbelcher was the go-to mindless introductory combo deck of choice. Storm does have a significant amount of discard and ability to see your hand with GItaxian Probe to see what's coming, but given the fast clock that you present they're left with little time to tiptoe around Mindbreak Trap if they can't get it out of your hand.
Of course I favor Infect as my weapon of choice, even when Storm is popular. It's malleable enough to shift a few card choices to bump the win percentage against it to something I'm comfortable with. For players new to Legacy, I think Burn is better than ever and has enough tools to have a favorable matchup against Storm. Aluren is a deck that I think is legitimately good, but may have too tough a Storm matchup even with erring towards beating the matchup in mind. Tom Keating's Punishing Abzan is a good choice against Storm, and probably the entire current Legacy field as a whole. A deck like that doesn't win by accident. For this weekend's Premier IQ at #SCGDEN, I recommend Burn or Punishing Abzan if you can get the cards for it.
It can't rain all the time. - The Crow