Players piloting Storm: Kai Budde (14th), Gaudenis Vidugiris (12th), Tom Martell (21st), Rich Hoaen (26th), Jon Finkel (96th) [Overall record: 30-15-3]

Storm

So I’m playing the deck everyone “expected.” The funny thing is that I wasn’t expecting to play Storm after Wizards announced the Modern unbannings. Back in 2011, when I took the train to Philly for my first Pro Tour in years, I played it in large part because it was so uninteractive. I’d been out of Constructed Magic since just before Mirrodin was printed, which was the bookend of the new Modern format. I didn’t want to play long games involving cards my opponents had been playing with for years, so a quick, difficult to play combo deck was exactly what the doctor ordered. It didn’t hurt that it did very well in the relatively extensive testing I did before the Pro Tour. I went 8-1-1 in the tournament, but sadly my 3-3 draft record kept me just out of Top 8.

While I didn’t make Top 8, Wizards' banning of Rite of Flame, Preordain, and Ponder, coupled with my record, made me feel good about my deck choice. When Past in Flames was printed, the small part of my mind that recognized Constructed Magic as a format registered that it would be good in the Storm deck, but I forgot about it until Pro Tour Seattle in late 2012. I tried to make it work, but it wasn’t until I added Electromancers to the deck that it really became viable. I did well, going 8-2 (but sadly 3-3 in draft again), but the team as a whole only put up a win % in the high 50s.

Then they banned Seething Song. So the dream was dead, right?

Not exactly. I ended up at GP Portland under protest, since The Pantheon stopped by there en route to PT San Diego. Since I didn’t want to put any effort in, I took my Storm deck and replaced the Seething Songs with Increasing Vengances and Peer Through Depths. After a strong showing that ended with me two double-mulligans and a four-outer away from Top 8 (I know, woe is me), I thought this deck might still have some potential and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward 14 months to this Pro Tour. I was pretty sure Storm was still good, but I thought the unbannings would really hurt it. Deathrite Shaman is good against Storm, but the two decks it’s most prevalent in—Jund and Pod—were good matchups, while I assumed Faeries would be a bad matchup. I’d never played in the Faeries era, but creatures and counters with access to discard didn’t sound like something I’d want to play against. Still, I decided to try playing some on Magic Online and found that not only was the matchup not bad, but I was actually somewhat favored. I also made a serendipitous discovery—Gaudenis had the deck built on MTGO with Blood Moon in the sideboard, and it was awesome.

The other thing I learned is that with Electromancers in the deck, I really didn’t need that many rituals. I cut the Vengances, Peer Through Depths, and one Grapeshot, and replaced them with Thoughtscours and the deck was complete. With Blood Moon added, I finally felt like I had a good sideboard. So I packed 75 cards (OK, really 90 just in case), and flew to Valencia.

Storm is without a doubt the most skill-intensive deck I have ever played. You have to make dozens of small decisions every game, and each one of them has a small impact on your expected win rate. When you add up all those small choices over the course of a game, and over the course of a tournament, they have a major impact on your win rate. This exact type of small decision-making leading to big edges is one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Magic, and I’m disappointed that Wizards has made a concerted effort to move Magic in a different direction. Never before have I played a deck this much and still regularly questioned my choices. By the time this is posted, you may have even watched me make a mistake or two on camera.

The deck is much more resilient than most people realize. It has two main lines of attack. The first is Pyromancer Ascension. An active Ascension with 4 mana and a Sleight of Hand gives you a reasonable chance of winning. Add a Manamorphose to the mix and you’re a huge favorite. That’s the easy way, but sometimes you don’t draw an Ascension.

The second line of attack is an Electromancer/Past in Flames hybrid. It is possible to win with either by itself, but it’s a lot easier with both. Seething Song generated two additional mana, but Electromancer often generates five times that. Your opponent can tap out turn two and then you play your third land, cast Electromancer followed by a ritual, and combo off. I have won these games without casting Past in Flames, but most of the time I reach one of them first. Sometimes, of course, you can win with just Past in Flames, a bunch of spells, and a Grapeshot—but it’s a lot harder without an electromancer.
After sideboarding, your opponent will bring in all sorts of hate, but they have to draw the right answers to your threats. You also get to bring in another line of attack in Empty the Warrens. Empty is great against Zoo because it’s usually enough to win by itself, but even if it doesn't it buys you a ton of time. It’s also great against control decks that try to wait and counter your critical spell. Instead of casting a Past in Flames, you just Empty for eight or ten tokens and their counter is worthless.

Storm is also an incredibly difficult deck to play against. By now most of the Pantheon have learned through experience, but most of our opponents in the Pro Tour will be unfamiliar with many of the situations they’ll be put in. Coupled with Gitaxian Probe, which might be my favorite card in the deck, you have tons of opportunities to outplay your opponents. Every round ends up being much easier than playtesting. For those of you interested in playing the deck, look for a more detailed article on optimally playing Storm coming soon.