With no more Standard Grand Prix before the new year, this week we’re going to tackle a deck that’s been picking up steam in the Eternal formats: Storm Combo. Saturday morning is this month’s Magic Online Championship, which features Legacy. One could reasonably argue (if you add up all the astounding benefits that come with qualifying for the end of the year championship) that of all the Legacy tournaments that exist these days, the MOCS is the one with the biggest grand prize. If you’re playing the event, you’ll want to be well prepared. If you’re not playing but are a simply fan of Legacy, then you’ll want to keep a close eye on what happens once the Magic Online grinders sink their teeth into the format.
Lately I’ve been playing a ton of Legacy, both online and in paper. I’ve noticed some subtle differences in the metagames, the most important of which is that the fastest, most brutal decks in the format are extremely popular online. Reanimator and Dredge are out there in force, but foremost among these decks is Storm Combo. (Storm also happened to put two players in the Top 4 of the last SCG Legacy Open).
Of the commonly played Legacy decks, Storm has the fastest kill. Through tutors and blue cantrips, it has a remarkable ability to see a lot of cards quickly, and therefore achieves a level of consistency that’s scary for such an explosive deck. It can fight through permission spells and discard, and most permanent-based disruption is too slow to reliably shut it down.
A typical game with Storm might look like this:
That’s fairly innocuous. You might not even know what your opponent is up to just yet.
Turn 2: Duress. Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond. Cast Infernal Tutor and respond by sacrificing Lion’s Eye Diamond for red mana. Search for Past in Flames, cast it, flashback the Rituals, flashback the Infernal Tutor for Tendrils of Agony.
Many games against Storm, it simply won’t matter what you do.
You can try to mulligan until you find a Force of Will, but that’s a card that Storm is well prepared to beat. You’ll need a lot of disruption, you’ll need to attack from multiple angles, and you’ll need to either win the game, or lock the Storm player out quickly. Even if you do all of this, you won’t be safe every game, but at least you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance to win.
What to Do
• Identify quickly that they’re playing Storm. Blue fetchlands, Volcanic Island, Underground Sea, Gitaxian Probe, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Cabal Therapy are all cards which are also found in Grixis Delver—one of the most popular decks right now. However, there a few cards that should set off warning bells. If your opponent fetches for a basic Island or Swamp, then they’re probably not playing a Delver deck, and Storm should be on your radar. If they cast Preordain, it means that they’re maxed out on Brainstorm and Ponder and still want more cantrips—something you don’t commonly see in fair decks. If they cast Duress, why wasn’t it Thoughtseize? They care about their life total, and they don’t care about taking away your Baleful Strix. You don’t get a lot of turns against the Storm deck, and you want to play the few that you do get with as much information as possible.
• Clock them. Playing against combo involves walking a delicate tightrope, where even the tiniest misstep can send you plummeting to your doom. Should you hold up mana for Spell Pierce, or should you cast your Delver of Secrets? You’ll often need to be bold and establish some kind of board presence, even if it means simply crossing your fingers that you’ll get another turn. If you take a chance by casting your creature or your Counterbalance in the early turns of the game, then you’ll earn yourself the luxury of sitting back on open mana later.
• Hedge your bets during sideboarding. Be prepared for your Storm opponents to sideboard in a variety of different ways. The deck list I’ve offered today features Xantid Swarm and Empty the Warrens to surprise unprepared opponents. Other players might be packing Carpet of Flowers, City of Solitude, Dark Confidant, or any of a dozen other curveballs to throw at you. Keeping lots of cards like Swords to Plowshares and Abrupt Decay in your deck after sideboarding is also a bad idea, but if you can avoid being completely cold to Storm’s sideboard cards, you’ll win more games. Something like Engineered Explosives or Golgari Charm can be a nice catch-all.
• The best cards against Storm: Permission spells, discard spells, graveyard hate, Counterbalance, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Null Rod, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Ethersworn Canonist, Gaddock Teeg.
What Not to Do
• Don’t rely only on permission. If all you have to combat the Storm deck is permission spells, you’re going to be easy prey. They’ll be able to take their time, sculpt a hand, and then rip you apart with Duresses and Cabal Therapies. Your permission needs to be accompanied by a fast clock (like the Delver decks), or other forms of disruption.
• Don’t rely only on discard spells. If you’re playing a deck like Abzan, Jund, or Pox, then you have a lot of great tools to help you survive the early turns of the game. Thoughtseize is great against Storm. Hymn to Tourach is great against Storm. Even Liliana of the Veil can be a useful tool against Storm. However, if this is all you have, then the Storm player will just put mana sources into play and wait to topdeck a haymaker like Dark Petition or Past in Flames, and you’ll be dead at the drop of a dime.
When you’re dealing with a deck as fast as Storm, you’ll have to accept that some games will be beyond your control. You can’t always mulligan to a fool-proof anti-Storm hand. You can’t always play your early turns without leaving yourself vulnerable. However, if you come prepared with a strong sideboard, and a mix of multiple types of disruption, then you’ll have the tools you need to give them a fight. Combine that with thoughtful gameplay, and make sure to give them as little room to maneuver as possible.