I hate trying to master an archetype.
Despite the fact that my primary source of income is coaching/playing/streaming/playing/living Magic, I consider myself a student of the game. Generally speaking, this leads to me jumping from deck to deck relatively frequently in an attempt to gain the most knowledge relative to time invested in learning. My goals in Magic don't really line up with mastering a single archetype, and as a result, I tend to think of additional reps with a deck as having diminishing returns after gaining a reasonable understanding of an archetype.
That's all to say that learning the ins and outs of a deck takes a lot of time, and is hard. At this point I've probably sunk 100 or more hours into messing with Storm, trying out different packages, playing and replaying popular matchups until I figure out what I'm supposed to be doing in them. It's taken a lot of time.
After all of that, I'm still figuring things out.
At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, here's my current iteration of U/R Gifts Storm:
First things first, let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room: I haven't changed the deck very much from my article a few weeks ago. I ran a very similar list in my video series that ended up being a pretty easy 5-0.
I'm confident in a majority of the decklist, and I'll go over the choices that I've made to come to this point.
The manabase is something I've messed around with a great deal and the only card that I'm unsure of is the copy of Sulfur Falls over the third Steam Vents. The motivation for playing the Sulfur Falls is that it is generally a free source of multicolored mana, and one of the most attractive features of this deck is how close to painless the manabase can be against the aggressive strategies. The biggest drawback to playing the card is that it isn't fetchable, and there's a non-zero amount of the time that that is a real liability. Sometimes Polluted Delta needs to get a third red source and two copies of Steam Vents have already been fetched out of the deck. More games are needed to determine which land is better.
Past that, everything else in the lands is done with purpose:
- Scalding Tarn fetches both basics.
- The other fetches are made with signaling in mind. Polluted Delta-into-Steam Vents-into-Serum Visions can look like Death's Shadow. Flooded Strand-into-tapped-Steam Vents can look like Jeskai Control. Hedging a bit between the two lowers the odds of getting wrecked by Pithing Needle or Surgical Extraction.
- The number of basics wanted in the deck is three Islands and one Mountain. This is because it's more common to need multiple blue mana on combo turns, and the Rituals don't generate blue.
- The Snow-Covered Island is in case Gifts Ungiven needs to get a blue source while under a Blood Moon. It allows for piles with Island, Snow-Covered Island, Manamorphose, and another card, guaranteeing a blue source being added to hand.
- Spirebluff Canal is a basically an un-fetchable Volcanic Island in this deck.
If we see a resurgence in Temur Scapeshift or another Misty Rainforest / Steam Vents deck, it may become justifiable to include Misty Ranforest in the deck. Otherwise I think of it as a dead giveaway that its controller is playing a deck with all-blue fetches. From there, it isn't hard to infer the deck is Storm.
A number of Storm pilots waffle between seven and eight "Discount Bears" in the deck, and I've arrived at eight based on a couple of theories I have on deckbuilding with combo decks.
The first is that it is generally correct to max out on the most powerful enablers in the deck. Drawing too many is generally a statistical outlier, but increasing the odds of drawing two or three is going to be better. This leads to a higher number of games being won on the back of having one on the battlefield in spite of the opponent having a Lightning Bolt or two.
On top of the resiliency to removal that comes with redundancy, maxing out on the creatures makes it easier to win through copious amounts of hand destruction. There have been multiple games that I've won on the back of having a handful of Electromancers on the battlefield while my opponent shredded my hand. A single Gifts Ungiven or Past in Flames off the top of the library for a single mana is generally enough to win off a single card. Having draws with multiple creatures transform these rare scenarios into games won rather than lost.
These are what I think of as the "enablers" in the deck. Remand somewhat falls into this category but deserves its own spot. This biggest cards were talking about are Peer Through Depths and Noxious Revival, as Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand being included is a no-brainer in a blue Modern combo deck.
Peer Through Depths is the ninth "true" cantrip that helps set up the combo before going off. It also serves as a way to create a Gifts Ungiven Package of exclusively cantrips. This is particularly useful when playing against graveyard hate. Finding copies of Grapeshot can be rough when playing through a Rest in Peace, but having this Gifts Ungiven pile makes it a bit more manageable:
The other options in this slot are basically Anticipate, Telling Time, and Strategic Planning. Peer Through Depths just provides the most card selection relative to its converted mana cost. Going five cards deep is seriously absurd in this style of instant- and sorcery-based combo deck. The other cards being able to grab lands and creatures is relevant a nonzero amount of the time, but that amount is really giving zero a run for its money.
Noxious Revival started out as something that played awkwardly and I was pretty low on. I was pretty close to giving up on the card, and reader Andrew Boncher urged me to keep trying it. Since then it has continually impressed me with all of the things that it can do.
Noxious Revival makes piling with Gifts Ungiven significantly easier when trying to get a specific type of card. It also can improve the power of a Gifts Ungiven when you already have Noxious Revival in hand. Turning Gifts Ungiven into two Demonic Tutors, Vampiric Tutor, and an Entomb is a big game.
Even during the developmental phases of the game, Noxious Revival can rebuy fetchlands in order to prevent the Storm pilot from missing land drops.
To summarize Noxious Revival's strengths: it adds another layer of redundancy to a deck that wants to be as streamlined and consistent as possible. Drawing multiple copies is rough, but having the single card in a deck featuring ways to search for it is invaluable.
Remand does many things in this deck. Outside of "normal Remand things" we've come to expect in Modern (a la punishing big-mana plays), Remand also serves as protection for our Discount Bears (which make Remand only cost a single mana) and can be a serviceable combo piece when there isn't a Gifts Ungiven in sight. Remanding one's own Grapeshot comes up more frequently than one would expect.
Remand plays an important role in post-sideboard games when graveyard hate is more common. It effectively halves the storm count required to kill with a payoff card, and it's easier to kill someone with a Tendrils of Agony than a Grapeshot.
On the topic of Remanding one's own spells, the frequency that it's done in this deck is startling compared to other archetypes. Swan Song being the only hard counterspell in the 75 makes it harder to fight against countermagic. Remanding one's own spells is a great way to prevent the opponent from drawing a card off Cryptic Command or stranding an important card under a Spell Queller.
Caleb Scherer has been a longtime advocate of a fetch-less and Remand-less variant of Storm, and after playing as many games as I have with the deck, I am confident in my assertion that Remand is secretly one of the most important cards of the deck.
A handful of Storm pilots tend to have a copy of Empty the Warrens in the maindeck, and I firmly disagree with this stance. Despite having a way to tutor for Empty the Warrens in Gifts Ungiven, it is generally better in this style of combo deck to be as streamlined as possible. Drawing two copies of Grapeshot is generally an easy win, while drawing a copy of Empty the Warrens and a Grapeshot isn't a hedge; it's an awkward division in one's gameplan. This completely changes in post-sideboard games, but we'll touch more on that later.
The primary point here is that most decks aren't prepared for a Grapeshot kill, and hedging between the two kill conditions is going to marginally improve a handful of matchups while making the deck inherently weaker against a majority of the field.
This is the card that makes the deck playable in the first place. Since the release of Innistrad, Past in Flames has been a staple in Storm decks as a pseudo-Yawgmoth's Will. In this deck, it's actually better than Yawgmoth's Will. Yawgmoth's Will can only be cast once, and from the hand. In this deck, Past in Flames can be cast twice, or once from the graveyard. With a Discount Bear on the battlefield, it costs the same amount as a Yawgmoth's Will.
It's hard to explain why this card is good without just reciting the card text from other spells in the deck. The short version is that the card allows the Storm pilot to cast enough spells to get to cast a lethal Grapeshot. It turns out that casting twenty spells in a single turn with a maximum hand size of seven can be difficult without getting the graveyard involved.
An entire article could be written about casting Gifts Ungiven. "Search your library for up to four cards with different names" means there are a lot of decisions to be made over the resolution of a single spell. For those who haven't played with the deck before, the objective is to find a set of four cards that don't involve a "wrong" choice. That's to say that, no matter which two cards Gifts Ungiven's caster is handed, they're happy with those cards. These are some of the most common Gifts Ungiven piles.
This is the most common Gifts pile by far. The primary reason is that with six total mana and a Discount Bear, a Gifts Ungiven presents a lethal number of spells. Gifts Ungiven costs three mana, which leaves three in the mana pool. From there, there isn't a combination of spells the opponent can leave the Storm player with that don't result in casting a Past in Flames with enough resources to continue comboing (including, but not limited to, re-casting Gifts Ungiven in order to find a Grapeshot).
This is the default "already have Past in Flames" Gifts pile. This generally signals that the Storm player needs more gas to go off, and even if the opponent leaves the Gifts caster with Manamorphose and Noxious Revival, they can just Noxious Revival a Ritual, draw it with the Manamorphose, and generate mana that way.
- Grapeshot, retain priority and Remand the Grapeshot
- Grapeshot, flash back Remand targeting Grapeshot
- Repeat step 2 for each Remand in the graveyard
- Grapeshot from hand
- Grapeshot from graveyard via Past in Flames
This allows the Storm player to deal upwards of 100 damage within a game if necessary (looking at you, Martyr of Sands).
Alluded to previously, this pile is fondly titled "The Value Gifts." This generally happens when the caster of the spell is clogged on multiple Gifts Ungivens in the hand and just wants to convert them into a bunch of cards. Rather than shooting in the dark and grabbing random combo pieces, it's generally better to grab card selection in these scenarios. This is in order to sculpt one's hand and draws for the next few turns.
As mentioned earlier in the article, this pile is almost more common against decks that play counterspells and graveyard hate, as it exposes the fewest combo pieces to interaction and allows the Storm player to have more control over when they pick their spot to try to go off.
Piling in general with Gifts Ungiven is generally going to be a matter of finding four cards that would be good in a given situation and then accepting the two least-good ones. This can be altered by playing certain mind games with your opponent, but don't try to get too fancy, as it can bite you. Hard.
Empty the Warrens is the other kill condition that the deck can play, and it generally comes in against the fair decks and the decks playing graveyard hate. It takes longer to kill than a Grapeshot, but it takes a much lower storm count and tends to be more resilient during post-sideboard games as a result.
This biggest key to playing with Empty the Warrens is realizing that one isn't required to go all-in on an Empty the Warrens like on a Grapeshot. For example, there isn't an enormous difference between creating twelve Goblins and sixteen Goblins, so it may just be better to create twelve tokens and save the other two cards in hand in case the opponent has a way to deal with the Goblin tokens.
Empty the Warrens is one of the cards that ends up being sideboarded in the most frequently due to its resiliency against hate and potency against the fair strategies, but it is imperative not to bring it in against other fast decks. The reasoning here is that the Storm deck doesn't have time to kill a Burn or Goryo's Vengeance opponent over the course of multiple turns, and having a card that hurts the consistency of the deck in the way that Empty the Warrens does is a tangible liability.
All of these cards are selections that I made over alternatives that were discussed in an article of mine recently. Rather than eat a chunk out of my word count by repeating myself, I'll just direct you to my article a few weeks ago where I discussed the reasons for their inclusion in the deck.
The three Lightning Bolt / one Dismember split is something I'm not 100% positive is the correct distribution in the sideboard, but I am confident in the correct number of slots to dedicate to this style of effect. This basically comes down to how important it is to kill Gurmag Angler and Thought-Knot Seer.
If Grixis Death's Shadow and/or Eldrazi decks see a surge of popularity, this could become a 2/2 split; for now, having a way to interact with Eidolon of the Great Revel, Devoted Druid, and Spell Queller that doesn't cost life is something I'm currently interested in leaning towards.
One of the most common plans when sideboarding is to shave a copy of Past in Flames, a copy of Grapeshot, and two copies of Gifts Ungiven in exchange for the two copies of Empty the Warrens and the two copies of Pieces of the Puzzle as a sort of package deal. The biggest reason for this is a relatively long-winded explanation and involves Gifts Ungiven theory, so buckle up!
In post-sideboard games, there are much higher odds of opponents having graveyard hate and much lower odds of Past in Flames resolving unopposed. This leads to situations where it is significantly more difficult to find specific cards out of one's deck with a copy of Gifts Ungiven.
Imagine a situation where Echoing Truth is the most important card in the deck. Gifts Ungiven will never be able to put Echoing Truth in the Storm player's hand. It's possible that Snapcaster Mage may be a card worth trying in order to create a Gifts pile featuring Snapcaster Mage, Noxious Revival, and [important instant or sorcery], but it seems unlikely that the card is wanted with such narrow applications. This leaves a situation where a different kind of digging spell is required.
Pieces of the Puzzle going as deep as Peer Through Depths while also providing graveyard fuel and card advantage is unbelievable. Even if it isn't guaranteed to always hit the exact cards needed, the luxury of a card like Pieces of the Puzzle is that its caster always has the ability to add the best cards in their deck to their hand. Gifts Ungiven doesn't always provide the same kind of selection.
Pieces of the Puzzle costing less mana than Gifts Ungiven is always incredibly relevant against some of the more tempo-oriented decks in the format. Adding Empty the Warrens to the deck increases the number of four-mana spells, and it's important to look at the curve a deck when sideboarding, particularly when said deck only plays eighteen total lands. This is more a "general rule of thumb" in relation to sideboarding, rather than something specific to this deck, but it is a consideration when exchanging cards between the maindeck and sideboard.
Every deck in the format is going to have some sort of permanent-based hate card with applications against Storm. It might be Chalice of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity, Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Scavenging Ooze, Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger's Cage, or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It could be a laundry list of different cards. Echoing Truth answers just about any one of them for a single turn.
Unless it's known information that the hate cards a deck will be bringing in are all artifacts, bringing in the single copy of Echoing Truth is more or less free and gives the deck a catchall answer to a plethora of tools other players will be using to try and combat Storm.
Modern is such a wide-open format that it feels unrealistic to write out sideboard guides for every single matchup, but I'll touch on the reasoning on cutting some cards. Combine that with the reasoning mentioned on the cards in the sideboard itself, and it should help you piece together how to sideboard against most matchups.
Sideboarding out a total of four creatures is not uncommon in the deck. The creature to be sideboarded out varies from matchup to matchup, but never sideboard out every copy of a creature unless your plan involves shaving seven or more Discount Bears. The reason for trying to stick to a 1/3 or 3/1 split between them is in order to retain the ability to grab two different Discount Bears with Gifts Ungiven.
The reason for changing which Discount Bear to cut based on the matchup is going to have to do with power and toughness sizing. Goblin Electromancer tends to get cut against the decks with removal and the decks where blocking is relevant. Against decks where racing is the primary goal, the extra point of power on Electromancer can be relevant, and I lean towards skimping on Baral.
Shaving a copy of Grapeshot is relatively normal. It's harder to have a big storm post-sideboard, and Grapeshot loses a lot of value as a result. The exception to this is against decks where Grapeshot is a reasonable interactive spell (think Affinity and Counters Company).
There are a number of sideboard plans that involve bringing in seven or eight cards, and it's okay to shave a single Ritual in these cases. Pyretic Ritual is worse than Desperate Ritual because it doesn't have the ability to be spliced, and it's worse than Manamorphose because it doesn't cantrip.
In matchups where racing is important, shaving the most mana-intensive cantrip is more than defensible; it's likely correct. Against something like Burn or TitanShift, Storm doesn't have time to be sinking most of a turn into a single cantrip.
Against the low-to-the-ground decks, Remand loses a lot of its stock. Affinity just goes under the spell. Against decks that are overloading on one-mana spells (not the delve ones), Remand generally results in a tempo loss and doesn't actually prevent a spell from resolving (as they can just cast and recast a spell for the same mana that was sunk into casting Remand).
It's rare that I cut every copy of Remand, as I want it to be available for a Gifts pile, but shaving two copies is somewhat common.
There are two times when one should be looking to shave Noxious Revival: when the opponent is packing copious amounts of graveyard hate, and when one's life total is non-trivial. Outside of those situations, it's better to try to keep the card in the deck. The redundancy it provides can translate to increasing the power of sideboard cards by creating virtual copies of the cards (via reusing already cast copies of cards out of the sideboard).
Go Forth and Storm
All of this encompasses roughly a third of what I wanted to write on the deck, but after already doubling my word count, it seems fitting to advise getting reps with the deck and learning more from there. The deck is incredibly rewarding, and I'd go as far as to call it the best deck in Modern at right now. Until people start respecting the archetype again, Storm is going to have the ability to abuse the lack of proper interaction in people's decks, and that puts it in a great spot for people to begin playing it.
Have questions? Drop a comment down below and I'll do my best to answer as quickly as possible! Happy Storming!