Modern is the format where players can do whatever they like. While there is an established metagame of top tier decks, it’s big enough and open enough that the fringe decks can be fantastic choices for a tournament.
Today I’d like to take a look at one of the perennial dark horse decks of Modern: U/R Storm.
Storm is one of the most degenerate and absurd mechanics ever designed in the history of the game. It all seems fair enough on the surface: Make a copy of the spell for every spell you’ve played this turn…
Magic is all about the management and cultivation of resources. The storm mechanic turns “every spell you’ve played this turn” into a resource that can be exploited with great effectiveness.
Last week I wrote about how Death’s Shadow was the best Turbo Xerox style deck in the format, and what the repercussions of that phenomenon were.
Storm is not technically a Turbo Xerox deck because it doesn’t meet the qualifications of maximizing on cheap threats and efficient answers. But the archetype does share one important dynamic with Shadow in that it relies heavily on card selection cantrips:
The deeper I go down the rabbit hole of thinking about the impact that these cantrips have on Modern the more I realize that they secretly (not so secretly) have a heavy hand in shaping the landscape.
I’ve already pointed out that Storm isn’t technically a pure Xerox deck because it doesn’t really play cheap theats and answers like Death’s Shadow or Delver in Legacy. But it is also important to note that decks always exist in the context of their formats.
Most people would lump U/R Storm into the combo category, and rightfully so. It feels and plays like a combo deck and in most rock-scissors-paper metagames (aggro, control, and combo) Storm will nearly always fill the combo role.
But most “pure” combo decks rely upon interactions between 2 or 3 cards that end the game.
There are hundreds of good examples. But while it is useful to put Storm into the combo camp, understand that Storm decks are in some ways different than typical combo decks.
Obviously, the nuance is only as useful as we make it when theorycrafting but it’s interesting to think about.
Storm decks don’t really have a “combo.” The “combo” is playing 20 spells and then putting Grapeshot onto the stack. I feel like if there were a singular card that said, “your storm count becomes 20” and you played that alongside Grapeshot, it would be more of a traditional combo deck.
If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. But understanding how Storm is different from other types of combo decks is essential to understanding Modern.
The storm mechanic didn’t technically exist in Magic until it was first sadistically conceived in Scourge. The mechanic was so abusable from the get-go that Mind’s Desire had to be preemptively banned in Vintage.
You know something is amiss when it is preemptively banned in Vintage!
They didn’t even need to see the evidence because the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
I would also argue that “Storm” decks existed in Magic before Storm was ever actually created, which is an interesting idea to wrap your noodle around.
GAT, or Gush-A-Tog, was a Vintage deck that got Gush banned the first time around, and that deck had a unique fusion of Turbo Xerox and Storm-like elements. The synergy between Fastbond and Gush (and Yawgmoth’s Will and Black Lotus) allowed the deck to reach a critical mass where it was accelerating on mana and card draw at the same time.
Since there weren’t actual “Storm” cards yet, the deck won with a ridiculously large Psychatog or Quirion Dryad plus Berserk for the slam dunk. Finding Time Walk allowed those creatures to have pseudo-haste.
It is also interesting that both of these win conditions have proto-storm-like abilities that, similar to Storm itself, turn other spells played into a resource that can be cultivated. Quirion Dryad actually has an ability that feels very much like Storm. It isn’t unreasonable to qualify GAT as possibly the most busted Xerox deck of all time, either. Yet, it possesses a unique quality it that pushes it into a different territory that I’ll get to in just a second.
I can actually think of another Vintage deck that predates GAT that also incorporated this strategy.
Academy decks were combo decks that had a uniquely storm quality to them in the olden days.
Academy decks had actual “combos” to win the game.
Most of these cards were restricted at the time, which meant you couldn’t just play a bunch of Academys and Mind Over Matter. The end result was a deck that spewed mana and drew cards, always driving toward that critical mass of assembling the combos.
What Neo-Academy shares in common with Modern Storm (and every Storm deck) is that it was one of the first decks that consistently accelerated mana and card draw to the point where at critical mass the deck could make copious amounts of mana and draw every card in the deck.
If you think about it, this style of deck has more gasoline than it actually needs to function. On a critical turn, a Storm, GAT, or Academy deck can make way more mana than it needs and has enough draw power to deck itself three or four times over.
These decks have big engines that are designed to (once they get revved up) draw and generate tremendous amounts of mana to win the game on the critical turn.
When I think about how to classify Storm decks, I count them as “engine decks” rather than “combo decks” because they are defined more by their ability to rev up and generate resources than they are by assembling an actual combo.
It is also worth noting that for a large portion of Magic’s history, combo engine decks dominated certain axes of the game, especially in Eternal formats. It wasn’t until WotC made a push to “make better creatures” like Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf that Xerox-style decks became tier 1.
You also can’t talk about “engine decks” without giving a nod to Pros-Bloom, which was a deck that was actually legal outside of Eternal! The deck utilized a completely absurd mana/card draw engine that would eventually translate into a gigantic Drain Life.
The key that all of these pre-Storm decks have in common with Storm is that they have a number of cards that work together to simultaneously net mana and draw cards to get to a point where it can win the game.
Storm decks are no different in Modern.
Kazu Negri, 1st Place in a Modern Open
Alongside a slew of Rituals, the deck reduces the cost of all of its spells so that everything it does nets ridiculous amounts of mana.
I’ve already suggested the importance of the Xerox principle of card selection via cheap selection cantrips like Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Peer Through Depths within the archetype. But these cards (the mana Rituals and the cantrips) become a formidable engine when tied together with:
The entire deck is an engine that is set up to consistently cast 20 spells in the same turn and have mana to spare for the storm win condition.
I didn’t need to tell anybody that storm was good. Storm is always good because it is always powerful. The fact that engine decks are so powerful is exactly the reason why Wizards doesn’t make more cards with storm.
These were mistakes.
So they made these ones:
These were “fixed” versions.
Even “fixed” or “powered down” storm cards are problematic because the storm mechanic is the ultimate “payoff card” for an engine-based strategy. As long as your deck has a sustainable engine that can continue to process a steady stream of cards and mana, storm is a viable win condition.
U/R Storm is the modern (pun intended) descendant of one of the most powerful archetypes in all of Magic: Engine-Based Combo. The Modern format creates a space where you can see a lot of the old-school principles of Magic play out in new ways. All the old styles of decks are still there, just with newer card names.
If you are planning on storming people out at your next event, remember that people have been storming since before storm was even a thing! Rev up that engine and count to 20!