Early in our testing for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, the prospect of playing Storm in Modern came up. This was my reply:
"Storm has been pretty bad for a while, and then we get Damping Sphere and a likely high splash graveyard hate environment. I never played against Ironworks, so can't really add there, but I'd be surprised if even a really good matchup moved Storm up to where we want to be. It's mostly a deck that I've given up on forever."
A month later, we were playing Storm at the Pro Tour. How did this happen?
First, I'd remembered Storm as being bad against Humans, but Billy Jensen thought the opposite. So, I went back to our stats from the last Modern PT, looked at my results, and found he was right. Humans had been a bad matchup for Mono-Blue Living End, which I'd also played a lot, but not Storm. Keeping records during playtesting is a great thing - you must be sure not to overgeneralize from small samples (and usually however many matches you play, it's still a pretty small sample), but sometimes you have recollections that are simply untrue.
Second, I got unexpectedly lucky with my internet. I was in Colombia for a wedding with internet that was too bad to play Ironworks, our most likely deck at that time. So, I played some Storm for some fun and to get a feel for the metagame and because it's the only deck I completely own on my main account. I didn't even worry about being secretive because I definitely wasn't going to play it at the PT, and I didn't even bother to edit the deck from my previous version.
Storm is a metagame deck. It excels against decks that lack either a clock or disruption but has a really hard time against decks that have both. The nightmare deck is Grixis Death's Shadow since they have a fast clock, creature removal, discard, and counterspells to boot. The other really bad matchup for Storm is Burn, as they have a really fast clock, can kill Baral, Chief of Compliance/Goblin Electromancer, and often have Rest in Peace in their sideboard to attack the graveyard. However, in the time between the last Modern PT and this one, Grixis Death's Shadow and Burn had moved from being major parts of the metagame to fringe decks, something which held true at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary.
The final version of the maindeck we registered was one card off from my initial list. Billy Jensen held me down until I agreed to play a Repeal maindeck:
"I don't consider that a problem."
In the end he convinced me, because in addition to his superior strength, size, and cunning, he pointed out that if we made top 4, our opponents would have decklists and would know that naming Grapeshot with Meddling Mage was a game-winning play. Therefore, we went from seven cost-reducers to six plus a Repeal.
The sideboard work was mostly done by my teammates and the Ultimate Genesis guys, and they stayed with a basic strategy that I think is important.
Most of the time after sideboarding, you're siding down to one copy of both Past in Flames and Grapeshot, which is usually enough to win, but you also have the Empty the Warrens plan just in case. Additionally, there were multiple one-of answers to hate cards to take advantage of Gifts Ungiven while also playing around Meddling Mage.
I wanted to take a moment to talk about a couple maindeck choices that may look surprising. The first is Pyromancer Ascension. Mediocre Storm players have hated this card for years, and I really don't understand that at all. Yes, it doesn't contribute to your absolute fastest draws, but when you play actual games of Magic, it does so much. You win most games either by getting a cost-reducer in combination with Gifts Ungiven/Past in Flames, but it's almost impossible to win without putting together both cards. An active Pyromancer Ascension is almost always a win as well and because there's a lot more creature removal out there than enchantment destruction right now, an Ascension versus any deck without a very fast clock is often a win on its own.
The second card I want to discuss is Remand, one of the most polarized cards in Storm. Remand is absolutely terrible against Humans, Burn, Grixis Death's Shadow, and other decks that rarely spend more than two mana for a spell. But against Ironworks, Mono-Green Tron, and all shades of control, Remand can be an absolute backbreaker. If you're in a format where Remand is terrible, Storm is probably not a great choice (except the 60% Humans metagame), but it's probably not a card you're usually going to want to play more than two copies of anyway.
My Pro Tour
My final record with Storm at the #PT25A was 9-5, and I think overall - on what was a disappointing tournament for our teams - our Storm results were pretty good. This is actually my worst performance with Storm at a PT, having previously gone 8-1-1, 8-2, and 7-3 the previous times I've played it. I do love the deck, but I think it's important to only play it in the right metagame and have a really good idea how the matches play out after sideboard.
Playing the deck itself is pretty interesting for two reasons. First, it has a lot of little choices. The twelve blue cantrips all include selection and Gifts Ungiven can often take that level of decision making to another level because it makes you think about what your opponent thinks you need. Also, because it still comes up sometimes, you should always cast Serum Visions over the other options on Turn 1. Additionally, you should be pretty aggressive about cycling Manamorphose, especially when you don't have anything to cast. You don't cycle it 100% of the time, but having observed other Storm players, I can confidently say that it's cycled much less often than it should be.
Second, the straightforward goldfish approach is relatively simple, but when playing against an actual opponent, things become much more complicated. This is why it's vital to play real matches. When playing versus a phantom opponent, turn 2 cost-reducer into turn 3 Gifts Ungiven is a pretty straight forward win. But while you're usually supposed to play out a cost-reducer on turn 2, sometimes it's correct to play it out later as the first part of your combo. This is one of the main reasons why it's usually correct to play a turn 2 Pyromancer Ascension over a cost-reducer--because it doesn't give your opponent a chance to sequence their removal properly.
Yes, of course, they can leave mana up for creature removal on your turn, but if they do so it really slows things down. The sideboard games become even more tricky and are very hard to evaluate when you both know each others' sideboard plans. I think, because of this, Storm is one of the decks where playing leagues on Magic Online helps the most, so you don't go too far down the rabbit hole of adjusting to your opponent's adjustments.
How To Sideboard
I've included how to sideboard with Storm in a variety of matchups, but even moreso than with other decks in Modern, the exact choices on how to sideboard are contextual. These suggestions are based upon my understanding of the most common sideboard plans in the current metagame, but I would change things if I saw certain sideboard cards (or lack thereof) from my opponents. If you make changes to the sideboard, you should definitely be more afraid of over-sideboarding rather than under-sideboarding. As mentioned earlier, always leave in one copy of both Past in Flames and Grapeshot, as that leaves you the ability to just go off and win if things go your way.
For extra fun, you can usually practice playing around Surgical Extractions your opponents could potentially have. What this means is when going off, don't Gifts Ungiven for a Grapeshot unless you must, and in those cases, don't pass priority before you announce the Grapeshot from your graveyard. Similarly, you can avoid getting your Past in Flames exiled via Surgical Extraction when you really have it all and have the mana to cast Gifts Ungiven main phase and immediately follow it up with the Past in Flames, but Surgical is never worth playing around if it actually reduces your chances of killing them this turn.
Out (on the draw):
In (on the draw):
Out (on the play):
In (on the play):
VS Mardu Pyromancer
VS U/W Control
VS Jeskai Control
VS Hollow One
VS Mono-Green Tron
Gamers Helping Gamers
Because I don't have the opportunity to write too often nowadays, so I wanted to take the opportunity to plug Gamers Helping Gamers. Because I was able to win a total of $22,000 between Pro Tour 25th Pro Tour Anniversary and the Silver Showcase, $11,000 of that will be going to Gamers Helping Gamers, with a little more than half of that going towards a scholarship award. Gamers Helping Gamers really is a great cause that me and the rest of my team is very passionate about, so if you'd like to learn more about it, we'd really appreciate it.
In case you missed it, Brian David-Marshall helped us highlight our scholarship winners for 2018, Carter Newman and Clay Spicklemire, two very impressive young men. Carter and Clay showed from their applications that they weren't only very bright people with excellent test scores - there are a lot of those in Magic - but they also wrote phenomenal essays which showed empathy, critical thinking skills, and maturity beyond their years.
I remember myself at their age, and both Carter and Clay are light years ahead of me, which means I know they'll be worthy recipients of this award (we even got a Grand Prix win in there too, Clay!) Every year, we get a lot of quality applicants and we hope to continue that run, so if you're reading this and you're going to be a high school senior or an undergrad in college, please apply.
Plus, you get to show how you think and approach problem solving by writing about Magic, something that will probably be a lot more fun than all the other applications you'll be filling out.