I recently won Grand Prix Atlanta with Legacy Storm. I have dreamed of winning a Grand Prix and qualifying for the Pro Tour since I was a kid. To do so playing my favorite deck in my favorite format was a dream come true and an experience I will never forget.
I’m not going to recap all my games. Just like any person who wins a tournament, I made some good plays, made some mistakes, and got lucky when it counted. Mostly I just played bread-and-butter Storm games. I cast a few cantrips, cast a few discard spells to take some counterspells, and won by tutoring for Past in Flames around turn 4. That is what Storm does, and it is really good at it.
My actual matches from the Grand Prix were:
- 2-0 Bye
- 2-0 Bye
- 2-0 Sneak and Show
- 2-1 Humans
- 2-1 Moon Stompy
- 2-0 RIP Helm Bant
- 2-0 Golgari Depths
- 2-1 4c Snow Control
- 2-0 Temur Delver
- 2-0 Temur Delver
- 2-0 Temur Delver
- 0-2 Burn
- 2-1 Golgari Depths
- 2-0 Jeskai Mentor
- 0-0-3 Intentional Draw
- 2-1 Hogaak
- 2-0 Burn
- 2-1 Temur Delver
Playing Storm is a lot different than playing “Magic.” The things you care about in a normal game are not the same as the things you care about with Storm–you play on an entirely different axis than other decks. For this reason, Storm also has a high learning curve. I won’t pretend it is the hardest thing in the world, at the end of the day it is just another deck, and a deck that can win on the first turn of the game will have its fair share of free, easy wins. But it did take me a long time before I was comfortable enough with the deck to play it in large tournaments, and a lot longer after that before I started winning. This article will seek to lessen the learning curve by covering the decklist and giving insight on key cards, providing tips on how to play the deck, and finally providing a sideboard guide with matchup analysis against the most popular Legacy decks.
Ad Nauseam Tendrils Storm
4 Polluted Delta 4 Misty Rainforest 2 Underground Sea 1 Volcanic Island 1 Tropical Island 1 Bayou 1 Snow-Covered Swamp 1 Snow-Covered Island 4 Brainstorm 4 Dark Ritual 4 Thoughtseize 4 Duress 4 Ponder 4 Preordain 4 Cabal Ritual 4 Infernal Tutor 1 Dark Petition 2 Past in Flames 1 Tendrils of Agony 1 Ad Nauseam 4 Lion’s Eye Diamond 4 Lotus Petal Sideboard 2 Abrupt Decay 2 Veil of Summer 1 Xantid Swarm 2 Flusterstorm 2 Chain of Vapor 2 Echoing Truth 2 Hurkyl’s Recall 1 Massacre 1 Empty the Warrens
These cards are important and different enough to each go over individually.
Infernal Tutor is the most important card to draw in the deck. You should rarely shuffle this card away with cantrips, and should keep most hands that have it. The key interaction with this card is with Lion’s Eye Diamond. Before casting Infernal Tutor, you announce you are holding priority, then cast the spell and activate Lion’s Eye Diamond, this gets you hellbent while also providing you with 3 mana to use on the spell you are tutoring for. Getting hellbent without Lion’s Eye Diamond is often an interesting puzzle, and something you should keep in mind several turns in advance. Extra copies can be used to reveal cards from your hand that you need more copies of, most commonly discard and fast mana–just be careful of doing this post-board because of Surgical Extraction.
Dark Petition acts as the fifth tutor. One thing nice about this card is that you don’t need to be hellbent to use it. Keep in mind that extra tutors can be used on your combo turn to net 1 mana by searching for a Lion’s Eye Diamond or a threshold Cabal Ritual. Spell mastery is easy to achieve but can sometimes be a bottleneck, especially against Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb, and instant-speed Bojuka Bog.
A lot of people dislike this card because it can lose you the game. I rarely lose the game after resolving this card at above 15 life. Not counting the converted mana cost of Ad Nauseam because it will be on the stack, the average cmc of the Storm deck is .95. I would guess I usually reveal about 10 cards with Ad Nauseam to try and stay above 5 life. Not every 10-card hand will win the game, but if you have a mana floating you often can win or at least refill your hand and then win the following turn. Notably, Ad Nauseam is an instant, and casting it on your opponent’s turn comes up a fair amount. The most common bottlenecks on an Ad Nauseam combo turn are the initial black mana source or becoming hellbent, so try and keep a Lion’s Eye Diamond in play if you already have mana floating or a land drop left. Ad Nauseam is often your best tool for beating graveyard hate or racing a combo opponent.
Past in Flames
This is the primary engine of the deck. You play two copies of this card because it is extremely powerful to draw, but extra copies don’t do much. If it any point you have drawn Past in Flames, pause and check to see if you can win the game. I consider casting 3+ cantrips to be winning the game because you are very likely to find a payoff. The most commonly missed lines I see when watching people play Storm all involve Past in Flames.
Notable things that drawing Past in Flames enables:
- It can act as a discard spell if you have excess mana and a discard spell in your graveyard. Your opponent will be forced to counter both the initial Past in Flames, as well as the flashback.
- It allows you to beat discard spells like Hymn to Tourach by just playing out your artifact mana and at any point finding Past in Flames.
- It lets you draw 3-4 cards off your cantrips, and then sits in your graveyard next turn to combo.
- It allows you to use your tutors to find extra mana or discard because you already have your tutor target in hand. This comes up most commonly where you cast Infernal Tutor, and then use Lion’s Eye Diamond to become hellbent, discarding Past in Flames, tutor for a Cabal Ritual, cast it, then flashback Past in Flames and win the game.
Tendrils of Agony
You need a way to win the game, and this is the best one. It can sometimes act as an engine on its own by casting enough spells into a Tendrils of Agony that is already in your hand. This is extremely resilient against counterspells, but requires casting multiple cantrips or Infernal Tutors on one turn, or for your opponent to have a low life total. If I have drawn Tendrils of Agony, I will often save my cantrips until I have 8 cards in hand and then try and win that way. Don’t forget, Storm is a trigger that you need to announce and that your opponent can Stifle.
Playing the Deck/Tips and Tricks
Storm has an average combo turn of 3.5. What makes it so powerful is that although it can win on turn 1, it prefers for the game to go as long as possible while it accumulates resources and uses discard spells to disrupt the opponent. The deck has 4 paths to victory:
- You want to use a discard spell early to see what your opponent’s plan is and what cards they have that interact with you, and then use your cantrips to sculpt a game plan around the path of least resistance.
- When comboing, it is easiest to think of your pieces of mana in terms of net mana. Saying Dark Ritual costs 1 to make 3 is an extra step–just think of it as netting 2.
- Try not to mulligan. I tend to keep any hand with a blue land and a cantrip, or a payoff spell, and mulligan any hand without one of those. It is easier to count to 10 when you start with 7.
- If you are looking for a specific card it is better to lead on Preordain, then Ponder, then Brainstorm.
- With only 2 lands in play, fetching before Preordain is often correct, so that you can cast a spell that you draw and save your top card.
- You almost never want to fetch before Brainstorm or Ponder.
- Try and save your Brainstorms for as long as possible, and make sure you have a shuffle effect. Storm has a lot of redundant cards and being able to shuffle away excess amounts of mana, payoff, lands, or discard is crucial. Getting Brainstorm-locked (having to redraw the two cards you put back) will almost always lead to you losing the game, but don’t be afraid to Brainstorm on turn 1 if you are close to a win.
- You can hold priority on cantrips and use Lion’s Eye Diamond to cast cards that you know are on top of your deck.
- Aggressively shuffle away mana. 31/60 cards in the deck make mana, so you will likely draw it at some point. Any extra mana is a waste of a card.
- Drawing too many lands can prevent you from getting hellbent, so keep this in mind while casting cantrips and try to not save lands in your hand.
- Try and save a discard spell for your combo turn. You don’t want to Thoughtseize something that doesn’t matter and then have your opponent draw a Force of Will.
- You can Thoughtseize, but not Duress yourself in order to become hellbent for Infernal Tutor.
- Every spell in the deck can act as a discard spell if you convince your opponent that is your bottleneck. I often cantrip before playing a land or cast a Dark Ritual with no intent to combo in order to bait my opponent into casting a counterspell. You usually know your opponent’s hand while they do not know yours, abuse this information asymmetry to lead your opponent into making mistakes that benefit you.
- When deciding if you should try and combo, always ask yourself “does it get better for me?” against fair blue decks, it often does get better, against other decks it often does not.
- Play Snow-Covered basics. It’s silly, but it won me a match because my Humans opponent named the wrong card with Meddling Mage, assuming I was on 4c Snow Control.
- Cast your artifact mana against discard decks if it is the best card in your hand (Lion’s Eye Diamond often is) so that they can’t take it.
- Flusterstorm does not prevent you from getting hellbent with Infernal Tutor, it just adds one blue mana to your combo turn. What you can do is cast Flusterstorm targeting any of your spells, and then have all copies of Flusterstorm target the original copy. Choose not to pay, and your initial spell will resolve.
- You can use your bounce spells to bounce your own artifacts to build Storm count.
- If you have a turn 1 win, go for it.
Matchups and Sideboarding
While sideboarding with Storm, it is important to not disrupt the engine of the deck too much. Generally, you want to swap discard for removal spells, trim extra payoffs that don’t line up as well against your opponent’s deck, or trim on fast mana in matchups you expect to go long.
Legacy has a huge metagame, and I won’t go over every deck, but I will try and cover the most common decks you may face at a tournament.
This is one of Storm’s best matchups, and one of the biggest draws to playing the deck right now. You win this matchup by making most of their cards into blank pieces of cardboard. Try not to play into Daze and Spell Pierce, fetch out basic lands to play around Wasteland, and use your discard spells on their hard counters. Some expensive spells come out because they are bad against soft permission, graveyard hate, or your opponent attacking you with creatures. They can rarely beat 8+ Goblin tokens, and so Empty the Warrens comes in to combo quickly through soft permission. Abrupt Decay can answer things like Null Rod, Grafdigger’s Cage, or Delver of Secrets.
The key to this matchup is being patient and making your land drops. If you try and combo blind or early, you will likely lose. Let the game develop to a point where comboing is the only option, then win.
This matchup hinges entirely on if they play Counterbalance or not. If they have Counterbalance, the matchup is tough. If they do not, the matchup is good. Past in Flames and Dark Petition come out because of Rest in Peace, and you shave extra mana because you expect the games to go longer. Green cards come in to answer lock pieces and as extra disruption.
Another one of your best matchups. You are faster than them, can play out artifact mana to play around discard, and conveniently have 4 anti-lock piece cards that also bounce Marit Lage.
4c Snow Control
This is a strong matchup, just be patient and position yourself into a point where you can win through multiple pieces of disruption. Try to not get blown out by discard spells or Snapcaster Mage.
Sneak and Show
This is a close matchup, but Storm comes out slightly ahead. You can’t beat their best hands and they can’t beat yours, but discard is better than countermagic in combo mirrors because you can proactively take their combo pieces or their disruption.
The mana base of Storm is built with Wasteland in mind, so you can often board out the Swamp against combo decks. Preordain comes out because you don’t want to durdle for too long, and a Past in Flames comes out because of Grafdigger’s Cage. Flusterstorm is strong against Show and Tell while Chain of Vapor can answer Leyline of Sanctity or Grafdigger’s Cage.
This matchup changed a lot with Veil of Summer. Try and not get blown out by that card, but mostly my plan is to hope my opponent doesn’t draw it because you are rarely winning a game in which it resolves. Play out your artifact mana, take the cards you wouldn’t want them to take with your discard, and hope to draw better.
Death and Taxes
A good matchup. Their clock is just too slow, and Storm is more than capable of winning through a single hatebear. You are taking out Preordain because it is the most cuttable card in the deck, and Past in Flames and Dark Petition because they are poor against Rest in Peace. Empty the Warrens is a good way to go under a hatebear, just keep Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull in mind. You bring in a ton of removal for the games where you can’t go under a hatebear. It is very important to make your land drops, and trust me, you can combo through Thalia–just double count your mana.
Chalice of the Void Decks
You might be wondering if Storm had any bad matchups except for Counterbalance. Yes, it does. Chalice decks are extremely tough matchups. The same cards come out as against Death and Taxes. You have a lot of answers to Chalice, but when they turn off your cantrips it can be hard to find and cast them. Try and get lucky and cast Empty the Warrens or win the game as early as you can. Because Storm can win on turn 1, no matchup is impossible, but this is as close as it gets.
It still hasn’t fully sunk in that I won a Grand Prix. Storm is the most powerful deck in Legacy, and if you put in the reps, it can be incredibly rewarding. The format is currently in a midrange arms race, where all the fair decks are trying to out-value each other. During the Grand Prix, many of my opponents tapped out for cards like Wrenn and Six, True-Name Nemesis, and even Hexdrinker. I have been on the same 75 since Core Set 2020 came out, and plan to play this exact list at both Eternal Weekend and GP Bologna. In a metagame where people want to tap out for fair threats, Dark Ritual will continue to be very powerful.
Thanks for reading everyone, make lots of skulls, and don’t forget to hold priority!