Last week I wrote about falling hard for Storm. It’s a decent introduction to the archetype to read before going deep.
The article reads how a person might describe a new crush to their friends. “I know we just met but I’m really feeling Storm. We’ve only been out a couple of times but I feel like she could be the one…”
I made the claim that Storm may be the best deck in Modern. I’ve always known the deck was on a high tier level and Baral was an upgrade.
Even before I focused on learning Storm, I was struck by how difficult it was to put away. It could win in tight spots. I’d go to my sideboard and be aware they had a multiplicity of angles they could attack me from.
Storm can run you over. Storm can grind you down. It is great at doing whatever the occasion calls for.
The deck also does the business of ending the game in one turn, which means that an opponent can never take their shields down. It applies pressure without doing anything.
Quick notes for new Storm fans:
- Storm is hard to play well. Fortunately, it also radiates free wins because it is broken. It’s a “math deck” and requires you to plan and track resources you will need several moves down the line.
- The best decks against Storm can all interact and present a fast clock. Storm is hard to race. Storm is hard to grind out. Opponents need to do both in order to have sustained success (which isn’t easy).
- How you sideboard is important. What you take out and bring in translates to win and loss percentages. Situations often boil down to whether or not the Storm player has the correct cards in their deck to win. Don’t overboard, but don’t skimp. It’s a delicate balance.
I’m planning on taking this list to Columbus this weekend:
The main deck feels perfect, but I won’t pat myself on the back too hard because there are only a handful of flex spots to play around with.
A stock list would have these instead:
I love Lightning Bolt main deck. It is the most used card in my sideboard and solves most of the biggest problems I face game 1, which are hatebears and being raced:
Worst-case scenario, Bolt reads R – Storm 4.
I never want to Empty the Warrens in game 1. In fact, I never want to Empty ever. It’s for when all other routes to victory are locked out as a last resort. It is unlikely an opponent can lock you down like that in game 1 and therefore I’d rather have a more flexible card.
Common Storm Sideboards
There are competing schools of thought about how to build and use the Storm sideboard. I’m going to discuss a couple of sideboard configurations that I used to build my sideboard strategy around.
Both of these sideboards won MTGO Leagues and are sound.
I call this the “straightforward approach,” and it’s common. The Storm deck doesn’t change roles, but gets to upgrade a few spells. It’s a more aggressive approach.
The straightforward approach doesn’t get grindy and doesn’t focus on answers to hate cards. It goes off or it doesn’t.
The list has a Noxious Revival in the main deck, which means that it can Gifts to an answer to a creature or an artifact but not an enchantment.
Another popular approach:
U/R Storm Sideboard
I’ll call this the “puzzlemaster approach” because it has 4 copies of Pieces of the Puzzle.
The deck has more grind, which is important against discard heavy decks. It is also a nice way to dig for narrow sideboard cards to remove hate cards that stand in your way.
Speaking of removing hate cards…
It’s also worth noting that Pieces of the Puzzle means that Gifts Ungiven can be boarded out against decks packing 4 Leyline of Sanctity. Gifts Ungiven targets an opponent, so it cannot be legally cast.
What Do You Bring In?
Sideboarding with Storm is right up my alley because it feels like how I’d sideboard with a Vintage deck. There are a lot of powerful hate cards to be aware of, but there are also a lot of good answers, tutors, and card draw to help you stay up to the task.
After sideboard, Storm has various paths to victory and the opponent will bring in cards that seek to take those paths away. Your job, as the Storm pilot, is to hang around and find a way around whatever they throw at you.
I think of the deck as combo control after sideboard because I want to be efficient at answering hate cards when my opponent plays them. I think of hate cards as threats that need to be answered. The hate cards have so much prohibitive value in play or on the stack and are so predictably being brought in against me that it doesn’t make sense not to plan for them.
Interaction is necessary. The deck is so good that I never want to just pray they that don’t have anything.
As long as you can stay alive and keep the hate clear you can always dig to a Gifts and win the game as long as you keep that option alive.
U/R Storm Sideboard
Easy things first:
I play one in the board but never want to actually cast it. It’s a plan for when there are no other viable plans for winning with Grapeshot. They have too much hate and you can’t muster enough resources to actually go off.
There are people who board up to 3 copies of Empty the Warrens because they want to make a fast Empty. Personally, I don’t like the plan because even when it works, it is still likely to fail. The opponent can play enough blockers to survive or have a sweeper.
Also, people are not surprised by Empty. It’s the oldest trick in the book. If your opponent has sweepers they are in to cover that angle.
I only bring these in for matchups where they are absolutely backbreaking. These types of Tron and Valakut matchups are popular enough that I’m cool with having some “win the game” cards for them.
I want to be more grindy after board and Pieces of the Puzzle is the best option. It ensures that I am +1 card (and both will be spells) and pads the graveyard.
It’s also great at digging for those sideboard answer cards.
Not just a “get wrekt Affinity” card. There are a lot of decks (green, red, and colorless-centric) that can really only interact with you via artifact hate cards. In the blind, assume these Tron and Ponza decks will be bringing in messed up artifacts because they have to interact with you or they just die.
I was thinking about getting a roll of Spree candies and keeping them in my jacket pocket so when I play against Affinity I could pull them out and say, “Would you like a Spree?” Then when they say “Sure,” I’ll be like, “O.K., Desperate Ritual, Spree for 5, blow up all your stuff!”
Wait for it… That was SWEET! Why are you so SOUR?
I would never actually do that. Also, please don’t do that to anybody.
I already have 2x Bolt main deck.
There are certainly creature-based decks that make interacting with creatures important. I’ve found the 4 life drawback of Dismember to be too painful for my tastes.
Flame Slash is similar but more useful against aggressive decks where the life matters. I am also happy, that like Dismember, it is able to kill Eidolon of Rhetoric. I think more decks should be utilizing Flame Slash.
Izzet Charm pulls double duty as removal for hatebears that can also be useful against opposing combo decks. I’ve been happy with both so far.
I want these against other “spell” decks, both of the control or combo variety.
Gigadrowse is a solid card to dig to against permission-heavy decks, since it can tap down all of their mana and the replicate makes it immune to counterspells. It is also a pretty solid little Time Walk on lands and attackers at the start of an opponent’s turn.
The Swan Song spot has some competition.
There are upsides and downsides of all three cards. I think Swan Song is the best, but I’m open to other thoughts on the matter. I know I want the slot to be one of these three cards, but which is best is debatable.
Unfortunately, blue and red don’t have many ways to deal with enchantments outside of bouncing them. Even more awkward, enchantments are the best cards against Storm.
These are tough ones to beat because it is difficult (often impossible) to win with them on the battlefield.
I wanted to be able to Gifts Ungiven for an answer to an enchantment, which is why I have the second bounce spell. With Noxious Revival, I can get an answer into my hand against most non-Rest in Peace enchantments.
A second bounce spell also gives me a better chance of finding one with Pieces of the Puzzle, which is part of my strategy for these tricky matchups.
Wipe Away is also a fine choice. I prefer the 1cc cost of Void Snare but am open to other options. Whatever the card, it cannot cost 2 mana since it needs to also answer Chalice of the Void set to X=2.
Here is a simplistic way to figure out what needs to come in:
- Is the matchup grindy? Pieces of the Puzzle comes in.
- Will they have prison cards that are creatures? Removal comes in.
- Will they have artifact or enchantment hate cards? Bounce comes in.
- Are they a counterspell or combo deck? My counterspells come in.
- Am I likely to get into a situation where Grapeshot won’t work? Empty comes in.
- Does Shattering Spree or Blood Moon flat out wreck my opponent? Obviously, bring it in!
I’ve never sideboarded in more than 8 cards. I’m sure there are situations where it is correct that I’ll discover as I play more, but as a general rule I stop at 8. There will be situations where you answered “yes” to more than 8 cards—pick the best 8 and leave the rest in the sideboard. You don’t want to dilute Storm into a non-functional deck.
What Do You Board Out?
It’s easier to know what to bring in than what to take out because it’s easier to imagine a scenario where a card does something amazing than to understand why a reasonable card won’t carry its weight.
You don’t need so many linear combo cards to actually go off with consistency—the main deck is only packed with them because most decks don’t have meaningful ways of interacting with Storm game 1.
People are not going to Rule of Law you in game 1, but they will after sideboard. The key is that people can’t lock you out game 1 and so you max out on the combo and treat them like the goldfish that they are. Actually, I have 2 Lightning Bolts to zap the few things that people sometimes play that could lock me out.
Things change after sideboard. People have cards you have to account for because you cannot realistically hope to win the game with Grapeshot and 19 Storm while they are on the battlefield.
You know people will have these cards and they will be good if unanswered. The upside is that it takes resources for an opponent to deploy these cards, which slows them down and gives you more time to set up. Hence, I want to be a little bit slower and more plodding in my approach.
Here are cards you can take out and when you might consider taking them out:
Electromancer is a lighting rod for removal that often stays in. I don’t want to draw a ton of creatures, since I only really need to draw one and play it on the turn when I go off. It is a great card to shave.
Remember, even if they kill the Electromancer on your turn, you can fire off all of your rituals in response to get value. These are best shaved against decks with lots of removal. They are best left in against decks that will bring heavy pressure and a fast clock.
If the opponent doesn’t have hatebears that lock you down, I suggest taking these out.
I like to shave exactly 1 against decks that I know have 4 Leyline of Sanctity after sideboard.
The deck can function fine with a few less rituals especially when you are planning on going long against a more controlling deck. The longer the match goes, and the more interaction the opponent has, the more likely you are to flood on rituals and stall on things to do with them.
Remand is a generic “good card” and a reasonable game 1 card against the field. It punishes people for playing expensive cards. There are plenty of decks that are all cheap spells, and Remand is bad against them. For instance, Affinity.
If the average converted mana cost of your opponent’s deck is 1.25, don’t hesitate to take Remand out.
I always leave 1 copy of Remand in so that I can execute the Grapeshot + Remand kill.
The composite average number of lands that Storm plays is exactly 17.5. I start 18 lands. You can board out a land to make room for an extra spell. I suggest doing this on the draw and against decks with a lot of discard or permission where you are apt to run out of gas, flood, and stall.
You can make some space by boarding out Opt. It is the worst of the cantrips.
I’m never in a hurry to board out Opt because the cantrips are really good. There are some racing matchups where you don’t have a ton of time to sculpt and need high impact action. These are the matchups where you can shave Opt.
If you apply these principles to sideboarding you’ll be well on your way to learning the hardest part about playing one of the most challenging (and most rewarding) decks in Modern.
I know it isn’t the typical. These cards come in and these cards come out. Modern is just too big and there are too many decks and too many variables for that to be a productive use of time. In this format, it’s most important to understand what the cards in the sideboard are for and how to apply them on the fly in a variety of situations.
With that being said, if there are particular matchups of interest, I’d be happy to respond and discuss sideboarding plans in the comments below.