Pros Cover Playing Storm at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary

Pro Tour 25th Anniversary took place earlier this month. Though a team event, several notable players chose to play Storm in the Modern seat at the Pro Tour – Jon Finkel, Seth Manfield, William “Huey” Jensen and Martin Muller all pioneered the same list at the tournament. For reference, that list is below.

Stormat PT25thAnniversary

I wrote a gut-reaction piece to this list in a post a couple weeks ago. The complete post can be found HERE, but I’ll summarize some of my initial observations.

  1. Two Pyromancer Ascension main deck was peculiar. Pyromancer Ascension has been a key engine of Storm decks in the past (see the History of Modern Storm tab), but has fallen out of favor due to the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance and the deck moving towards a Gifts Ungiven engine.
  2. The 3/3 split of Baral, Chief of Compliance and Goblin Electromancer. In the FAQ section, I go over why I believe playing less than four Baral’s in incorrect. I guessed the reason why the pros played a 3/3 split was because of Reflector Mage out of the Humans deck.
  3. Two Grapeshot main deck is less than “stock” versions of the deck over the last several months. You have to make room for Pyromancer Ascension in the deck somehow, and cutting a win condition for another win condition makes sense.
  4. The land base refers back to fetch lands. The FAQ section goes over the rationale for playing fetch lands or a fetchless mana base. Though I didn’t say it at the time in my initial article, the fetch land mana base in this deck makes sense if you want to play Blood Moon and Grim Lavamancer in the sideboard.
  5. I noted Blood Moon, Grim Lavamancer and Fiery Impulse as interesting sideboard cards. Thought Fiery Impluse was strictly worse that Lightning Bolt for nearly any non-Humans matchup.

Since I published that post, several articles have come out discussing playing Storm at the Pro Tour. I’m going to highlight two in particular as both players actually piloted the deck at the PT.

Why I Chose Storm at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary – Written by Jon Finkel and published on the Star City Games Premium side.

Storm in Modern (with video of MTGO League) – Written by Seth Manfield on TCGPlayer.com/

*Since I’m a journalist/public relations professional for a living, I’m not going to just copy and paste both articles (though the TCGPlayer one is free to view). I don’t want to publish information that another credible site (StarCityGames.com) charges people for.

So what did we learn from the articles written by Jon Finkel and Seth Manfield about their deck choices? First, it’s very obvious that the team took the Humans matchup into much consideration when constructing the deck. Seth mentioned on Twitter that, as I predicted, Fiery Impulse was solely a tip of the cap to Meddling Mage as it’s a worse version of Lightning Bolt. He also states that not playing Pieces of the Puzzle opens up more sideboard slots for Humans. Finkel also mentioned Humans, and said he was close to registering a fourth copy of Baral, Chief of Compliance instead of Repeal until a teammate convinced him being dead to Meddling Mage naming Grapeshot game one wasn’t where they wanted to be. Below was the sideboarding plan used to fight Humans.

Out on the Draw: 3 Opt, 2 Remand, 2 Pyromancer Ascension, 1 Pyretic Ritual
In on the Draw: 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade, 2 Grim Lavamancer, 1 Fiery Impulse, 1 Shattering Spree

Out on the Play: 4 Opt, 2 Remand 2 Pyromancer Ascension, 2 Pyretic Ritual
In on the Play: 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade, 2 Grim Lavamancer, 2 Blood Moon, 1 Fiery Impulse, 1 Shattering Spree

*Full sideboard guide is available in the SCG article.

Second, Jon Finkel still loves the card Pyromancer Ascension, and he has had a lot of success with the card at the Pro Tour level. He has nearly always played it in his Storm decks, and as of this last Pro Tour, his record with Modern Storm at the PT level is 32-11-1 (with a 9-5 finish at #PT25A). Below is an excerpt from his article about the card.

“Yes, it doesn’t contribute to your absolute fastest draws, but when you play actual games of Magic, it does so much. You win most games either by getting a cost-reducer in combination with Gifts Ungiven/Past in Flames, but it’s almost impossible to win without putting together both cards. An active Pyromancer Ascension is almost always a win as well and because there’s a lot more creature removal out there than enchantment destruction right now, an Ascension versus any deck without a very fast clock is often a win on its own.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. I agree with him that it’s very difficult to win games without Gifts Ungiven/Past in Flames, but it does happen occasionally, and that occasion nearly always involves casting two Grapeshot (with or without Remand). This is the reason I’m a big advocate for playing three Grapeshot main deck in more traditional builds of Gifts Storm that don’t play Pyromancer Ascension. I also think that with as fast a format as Modern is right now (Bridge Vine, Hollow One, Humans, Burn, etc.), Storm wants to win the game quickly. Pyromancer Ascension seldom wins quickly, as Jon points out. I agree with him completely that against decks that don’t clock you, Pyromancer Ascension is nearly unbeatable if you get two counters on it.

Manfield also talks about Pyromancer Ascension in his article. See below.

“There are a variety of Modern decks that have a lot of spot removal spells and in those matchups Pyromancer Ascension becomes your best card. Without a Pyromancer’s Ascension or a creature on the battlefield it is very difficult to go off.”

I agree with Seth that Pyromancer Ascension is good in matchups that have a lot removal (e.g. Jund, Control, Mardu Pyromancer, etc.), but I disagree with his assessment that it is very difficult to go off without a mana bear. All the deck needs is six mana in play and a Past in Flames in hand or seven lands in play and a Past in Flames in the graveyard. In my experience playing the deck (and by NO means I am I good as any of the people mentioned in this article), it isn’t that difficult to kill someone absent a mana bear. Even if the opponent has removal, Storm can wait until turn four or five in grindy matchups to play the mana bear and gain the cost-reducing effect in response to removal spells or just combo without a mana bear.

About the land base, Seth and Jon have both said that they prefer a mana base with fetch lands. Thinning the deck of excess lands along with the ability to play cards like Blood Moon and Grim Lavamancer, which Manfield calls possibly the best card in the format to fight Humans, are all benefits fetch lands provide. Manfield also mentions the mana base in a “Fact or Fiction” Modern article.

“Perhaps more than any other question I have been asked over the past couple weeks, if playing without fetch lands is the way to go in Storm. I believe that fetch lands do make the deck better. This is a tough concept to fully prove, as the life loss is a real cost. However, the primary argument, is that Storm is a deck that needs a critical amount of spells, and this means not wanting to top-deck lands especially the turn you are going off.

Sometimes finding an untapped fourth land is useful, but I find myself more often looking for a key card like a Ritual or Manamorphose. By playing fetch lands you are able to thin out a couple of lands from your deck, and are thus less likely to draw them later on. Considering the deck is full of cantrips, and you are going through a large portion of your library this is quite relevant. Not playing fetch lands makes flooding a bit more likely. I have a lot of respect for Caleb Scherer and the work he has put into this deck, but I am going to advocate for what I believe to be correct.”

Manfield is referring to Scherer as the SCG Tour mainstay is the first to have pioneered a fetchless mana base in Storm, a deck he works on almost exclusively in Modern. It’s an interesting debate, for sure, but we clearly see the players at the Pro Tour advocating for fetch lands in the deck.

The final question I had, and didn’t address in the first recap, is the absence of Pieces of the Puzzle. Here is Manfield’s defense for not playing it.

We completely cut Pieces of the Puzzle, a card Storm decks had pretty much universally been playing. While the card can be good against some of your grindier matchups, we ultimately deemed it to be unnecessary. With the addition of four Opt and 12 total cantrips it is pretty easy to go through your deck and find specific cards. By cutting Pieces of the Puzzle we were able to dedicate more of our sideboard to fight Humans, one of the tougher game one matchups.”

While I agree that having the full suite of a dozen cantrips does help you find specific cards, some matchups require the deck to just add more volume of cards to Storm’s hand (specifically decks that play hand disruption). Seth does mention this, but said their testing team deemed in unnecessary. I could see that being the case with a deck playing Pyromancer Ascension as it provides card advantage as well. As Seth says, it does free up sideboard slots.

I do think, however, that the ability to play around graveyard hate with Pieces of the Puzzle is very relevant, especially in a format where a lot of decks utilize the graveyard and graveyard hate will show up more frequently in people’s sideboards.

 

In conclusion, I’m really glad that Jon and Seth shared their thoughts on the Storm deck they played at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Discourse on an archetype, whether you agree or disagree with what’s being presented, is a great thing for the community. I also believe that different versions/card choices in one archetype can both be correct at one, depending on how you play the deck, what speed/axis you want the deck to function and what metagame you expect.

Also as is common with most of my posts, I don’t claim to be an expert on Modern Storm. Everyone talked about in this article is a better Magic player than me and all have a great understanding of the deck. All I’m trying to do is present information on the archetype in a centralized location for everyone and weave in a couple of my own observations and opinions.

 

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment on here or Twitter (@StormModern) with any of your thoughts!

Mitch

 

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