*Disclaimer – The majority of this article are opinions of mine (and some people I talk with regularly) about how Modern Horizons is going to impact Storm. People are welcome to disagree as I’m not the letter of the law. Just throwing out my thoughts and predictions ofnhypothetical paper.
The much anticipated Modern Horizons set, the first set designed specifically for Modern that is bypassing Standard, has had its full spoiler completed last weekend. Before we delve into some Horizons cards, let’s take a look at where Storm is currently in Modern.
I would argue that Storm was in a bad spot pre-War of the Spark. I mentioned that in a posting a couple of weeks ago, but Storm felt like it was paying for the sins of Arclight Phoenix. Meaning, both decks function on a somewhat similar axis with cantrips and the graveyard. Other decks would play hate cards like Chalice of the Void, Damping Sphere and even main deck Surgical Extraction to fight Phoenix. The problem is all of those cards also hit Storm. Since that point, a Pro Tour has happened and War of the Spark entered Modern!
What did the Pro Tour do?
In my opinion, Humans rose back up to the top of Modern, which vaulted Grixis Death’s Shadow down a peg. Humans isn’t the best matchup for Storm, but it’s certainly not as bad a good Grixis Death’s Shadow pilot playing the deck.
What did War of the Spark do?
The real answer is we don’t completely know as it takes an eternal format like Modern a while to adjust. But these two cards have already seen a lot of play.
Both of these cards have seen Azorius Control rise up to the top of Modern. Both have very powerful static effects that can really hamper the powers of some Modern decks. While both of these cards do hurt Storm, we can combo through them, especially if our opponent taps out on turn three. Mainly though, UW Control, which even with the new toys above isn’t a bad matchup for us, being a deck (along with Humans) has pushed Death’s Shadow decks out of the format, a very good thing for Storm.
War of the Spark did give Storm a couple of cards to think about. Ultimately though, I don’t think either ends up in our deck in its current configuration. Finale of Promise is another engine card, but it relies on the graveyard, meaning it’s much more effective main deck than postboard as our graveyard becomes much less reliant. Casting it for three mana yields us two cantrips (Opt and either Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand) while casting it for four yields a ritual and a cantrip. Neither of these options sound very exciting to me. Secondly, Ral, Storm Conduit does make all of our spells ping the opponent, but that only helps in situations where we are “not fully going off”. Additionally, planeswalkers have always been difficult for Storm to protect.
Modern Horizons Cards for Storm
I’ll start with the auto-include, and it comes as part of a “Horizon Canopy” cycle of lands that features the enemy color pairs. Fiery Islet provides Storm with an ability to turn flooding into drawing a card or two, which can be the difference between winning and losing a game in a combo deck.
Most Storm decks should play at least two of this. There’s been a debate in the Storm community to play fetch lands or not. For those who don’t play fetches, this card should auto replace some copies of Shivan Reef. For those who play fetch lands, I believe this card will slot in to replace non-Scalding Tarn fetch lands. Unless you’re a strong advocate for Blood Moon, Fiery Islet’s presence means the end of non-Scalding Tarn fetch lands in Storm in my opinion.
Next are these two blue instants above, both of which I think will find homes in Storm sideboards. First, is Flusterstorm, which is NOT the same in Modern as it is in Legacy. Legacy is over 50 percent Brainstorm/Ponder/Force of Will decks. Additionally, a lot of the format features decks that use instants and sorceries. Modern is not that way. It is much more creature based and many feature artifacts, enchantments and plansewalkers. As such, I don’t think Flusterstorm is going to see that much play. Magic players and content producers who are much smarter than me – Emma Handy of StarCityGames, as well as Luis Scott-Vargas and Matt Nass of Channel Fireball, all said Flusterstorm is overrated.
Rebuild is a catch-all answer to artifacts that I think is a slight upgrade from the Shatterstorms and Hurkyl’s Recalls of the world. It does cost one more mana, but it has the option to cycle if you don’t need it in a situation. Additionally, it doesn’t target an opponent, which is relevant a non-zero amount of time.
I’d also like to mention the card to the left. Though subtle, Shenanigans gives Storm a guaranteed way to get a shatter effect a turn after casting Gifts Ungiven. Also noteworthy, this interaction gets around Grafdigger’s Cage.
The next card that’s generated a lot of buzz is Fact or Fiction. Specifically, with a lot of the Storm community I’ve talked to, is the comparing this card to Pieces of the Puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at both of these cards.
First, both Fact or Fiction and Pieces of the Puzzle are card advantage and card selection at the same time. Additionally, both dodge the graveyard Fact or Fiction is the better card advantage option as you are guaranteed to get three cards at least if you want. Pieces of the Puzzle, on the other hand, is better selection as you can get the best two instants and sorceries in the pile. I said this on social media, but I think which one of these to play (or a split in some number) is one of the most intriguing decisions Storm has once Modern Horizons is legal.
The Argument for Pieces of the Puzzle
First, Pieces of the Puzzle cost one less mana, which is very relevant in a format as quick as Modern. Getting to cast Pieces of the Puzzle a turn earlier than Fact or Fiction is a BIG deal. Second, Pieces of the Puzzle gets the best two instants/sorceries in the pile. Not letting the opponent have a choice is relevant a non-zero amount of the time. Third, Pieces of the Puzzle is better during the combo turn as it cost less mana and gets two specific cards if, say you need a ritual and a pay-off.
The Argument for Fact or Fiction
First, despite being more more mana, Fact or Fiction is an instant, which can be relevant, especially against an opponent playing counter magic. Second, Fact or Fiction will get you more card quantity as you are guaranteed at least three cards. Third, Fact or Fiction gets any card, not just instants and sorceries. This can be relevant when looking for mana bears or lands (specifically thinking of the control matchup as an example).
I could be drop-dead wrong here, but that’s what you sign up for when you make predictions! I think that if Modern remains very quick and linear, I think Pieces of the Puzzle is the better option, due to the selection. If Modern slows down, I think Fact or Fiction is the better option, due to the the card advantage.
Going one step further, I’d give the edge to Fact or Fiction on what will ultimately shake out. I think Modern will slow down a touch after Modern Horizons, though that may be wrong with the London Mulligan rule entering the format in 2020. Additionally, I think if I end up being wrong, it’s because of the mana cost of Fact or Fiction, not the lack of selection/letting the opponent pick your piles with Fact or Fiction.
Next up are these two beauties and to be completely honest, I don’t have a good read on either of these cards. I could see both being very good, not even played or somewhere in between.
I’ll start with Aria of Flame. We haven’t seen anything exactly like this card, but a couple of enchantments, Pyromancer’s Swath and Pyromancer Ascension, come to mind that can be at the very least a loose comparison. All three are enchantments that if left unchecked, will win the game. Both Aria of Flame and Pyromancer’s Swath kill around the same speed, but that’s assuming a Grapeshot is cast with Swath (the card requires you to discard your hand for those not familiar). Additionally, Aria of Flame doesn’t require a combo in a single turn. In theory, it feels sort of like a ticking time bomb (pseudo Shrine of Burning Rage out of red decks). Further, Aria of Flame feels better than Pyromancer’s Swath. The comparison of Pyromancer Ascension is a little more loose, but again, both serve as engines for Storm. In general, I think Ascension is much more powerful and has the better ability to win the game on its own once turned on. But that’s just the kicker, Ascension needs to get two counters on it to do anything, which involves the graveyard. That drawback is much worse than Aria of Flame’s gain 10 life. To conclude, I think that Pyromancer Ascension is the more powerful card, but Aria of Flame fits in better as a sideboard option for slower matchups as it doesn’t need the graveyard to get going (something I LOVE have access to in postboard games). I could definitely see this being played alongside Empty the Warrens as an alternate win condition.
Echo of Eons, a new Timetwister effect for those who have played Magic since the mid 1990s. There’s no doubt that getting a symmetrical draw seven effect for three mana is absurdly powerful. The question I have is two-fold. One, how often would this effect win the game? And two, how difficult is it to setup? As I’ve said above and other times on this site, one of the reasons Storm is so potent as a combo deck is its ability to transition to a kill that doesn’t need the graveyard in postboard games. Because of this Echo of Eons would likely need to be played as an engine in the main deck. In order to do this, I think current Storm lists would need to change pretty significantly. A couple of things I’ve thought about in order to make Echo of Eons more reliably flashed back is to play cards like Faithless Looting and Thought Scour as well as replacing Gifts Ungiven with either Pieces of the Puzzle or Fact or Fiction (see above). That’s too much of a change for me to make a prediction with an ounce of accuracy on whether or not Echo of Eons will see play. I reiterate, however, to predict that the configuration of the deck will need to change a lot to get the flashback effect consistently. That answers the second question above. The answer to the first question remains to be seen.
Before touching on cards in Modern Horizons that other decks might play against Storm, I’d like to highlight Everdream, Scour All Possibilities and Collected Conjuring as cards that aren’t quite good enough.
Modern Horizons brought a cool mechanic in Splice onto instant or sorcery that has me very excited for it seeing play in Storm at some point. I don’t think Everdream is it, though, as the mana cost for both casting and splicing is a colorless mana too expensive. Some people have mentioned the splicing combination with Storm cards as, yes, you would draw a card for each Storm copy. That’s a high ceiling (how good a card is when it’s good), but the floor (how bad the card is when it’s bad) is two mana to draw a single card. No thanks.
Scour All Possibilities dashed any hopes of Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) unbanning Preordain as this card is simply that for an extra mana. There was a time when Storm played around with running two-mana cantrips (Shimmer of Possibility, Think Twice, Strategic Planning, Anticipate, Take Inventory, etc.), but ever since Opt entered Modern, the need for that went away. I do think this card would be borderline playable in Modern pre-Opt existing, but not right now.
Finally, Collected Conjuring just doesn’t cut it, mainly due to the fact it cannot cast instants. The only way to make this work would be to play a heavy Pieces of the Puzzle/two-mana sorcery cards, which really waters down the deck in my opinion. Playing a playset of Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Pieces of the Puzzle, Scour All Possibilities (as an example) and three copies of Storm spells (Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens) gives the deck a total of 19 sorceries. Using a hypergeometric calculator, we can deduce that the probability of Collected Conjuring hitting two or more sorceries is just 62.6 percent. All that effort for missing more than one third of the time.
Modern Horizons Cards for Storm to Watch Out For
In this section, I’ll go over some cards in Modern Horizons that I think will see Modern play that will impact Storm. Cards like Seasoned Pyromancer, which I do think will be playable, won’t appear here as it doesn’t affect Storm much at all.
The first three cards I’d like to discuss are “hatebearer” type cards in Unsettled Mariner, Ranger-Captain of Eos and Giver of Runes.
Unsettled Mariner is the real deal. It generates a mana tithe for everything that targets the opponent or ANY permanent the opponent controls. Yes, that includes copies of Grapeshot. Additionally, it’s a changling, meaning any tribal deck that can support its mana cost can play it. Herein lies the Mariner’s weakness in my opinion. The mana cost hampers the ability to play it in a wide variety of decks. Mainly, I see Humans and Spirits as the main two decks that will play Unsettled Mariner. Merfolk and Death and Taxes decks could as well, but that means venturing into another color. We did see White Weenie aficionado Craig Wescoe play a “Spooky Taxes” at the Magic Online Championship a couple of years ago. I could see that being the way taxes lists go in the future. To conclude, Unsettled Mariner will see Modern play, and it’s another creature that needs to be killed before comboing our opponent playing it. What does this mean for Storm? It could be playing more removal or bounce spells in the main deck, if this card ends up finding its way into opponents’ 60s. I see it as a staple sideboard card for sure with the possibility of it being played in the main deck.
Next is Ranger-Captain of Eos, a play on Ranger of Eos. While this card’s search effect isn’t the original Ranger, the captain does have a great ability at the bottom of the card that Storm needs to be aware of. This is essentially a time walk as the Silence-ish effect ensures we can’t combo or do much of anything that turn. Who will play this? I’m no Humans expert, but I’ve gotta think this card will be in their 75 in some capacity. Additionally, Death and Taxes style decks as well as Martyr Proclamation and Soul Sisters (which I’ve never felt were quite good enough in Modern) will surely play this as well. Time will tell if Ranger-Captain of Eos will push any of these archetypes into the top couple of tiers.
Finally, we have Giver of Runes. Make no mistake, this card isn’t Legacy staple Mother of Runes as it cannot protect itself. But the style of decks I mentioned in the previous paragraph play cards that the giver can protect that are problematic for Storm (e.g. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter, Kitesailer Freebooter, etc.). Fortunately, WOTC didn’t make this card a Human, but Death & Taxes decks as well as Collected Company combo decks (with Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies) could also play Giver of Runes.
That’s a perfect segue into the next card, Cabal Therapist. Again, this isn’t Legacy staple Cabal Therapy, but with all the creatures in Modern, it could be even better. I don’t predict the therapist to see play in many Modern decks, but the Collected Company/Chord of Calling/Birthing Pod style decks will certainly play this as they are flush with creatures to sacrifice. Not removing Cabal Therapist means our opponent basically gets a hand-hate spell every precombat phase on their turn. Can you imagine this alongside Giver of Runes? Yikes.
If I had to guess, I’d say this is mainly a sideboard card for them that could see a copy enter the main deck as a tutor target for the various green tutors (Chord of Calling, Eldritch Evolution, Finale of Devastation, etc.).
Blue decks also got some new tools in Force of Negation, Archmage’s Charm and Flusterstorm. I won’t touch a ton more on Flusterstorm as I already did above. But to summarize, I don’t think Flusterstorm will see widespread play and will be at must a sideboard card. It is effective against us, but Storm can play it as well.
Force of Negation is part of the new “Force of Will” cycle in Modern Horizons. For what it’s worth, I think WOTC did a phenomenal job with the power level of this cycle for Modern (though I do wish the red one was playable for Storm). I see Force of Negation as a sideboard card for control decks, but will not be a four-of. Being part of some of the control groups on social media, they are predicting leaning more heavily on Dovin’s Veto and not Force of Negation. The only decks I could see this card being played main deck are blue tempo decks. Mainly, Delver of Secrets style strategies have been missing a free way to protect their threats. This along with the printing of Nimble Mongoose could mean a Temur Delver (or Canadian Threshold for those old-school folks) makes its way into the Modern scene. To conclude, Force of Negation will mainly be a sideboard card to be worried about, and if a tempo deck rises, it will see play in the main deck of those style decks. Luckily, we have a new tool in Flusterstorm to fight it.
Archmage’s Charm is a narrow card in mana cost, meaning only a select-view decks can play it, but for those that can, it’s very versatile. I put in on here mainly to show that blue decks that can support the triple blue casting cost (which they might not be able to) will have a counter option on turn three. Previously, these decks usually have counter spells on two mana (Mana Leak, Negate, Dovin’s Veto, Logic Knot, etc.) and four mana (Cryptic Command). Should this card see play, that will change.
These last three cards – Kaya’s Guile, Force of Vigor and Weather the Storm – are miscellaneous options that could see Modern play.
Kaya’s Guile will likely be a main deck option for decks like tokens and Abzan. Three mana for these effects is expensive, but the flexibility warrants the mana cost. Be aware of possible main deck graveyard hate from these style of decks in Kaya’s Guile.
Force of Vigor is another one in the “Force of Will” cycle that gives green decks a great answer to all the various artifact and enchantment decks in Modern. Should you choose to play the wide number of possible enchantments in your Storm build for a tournament, know that this card exists. I do think it would be too narrow to bring in from the opponent’s point of view, however.
Finally, we have Weather the Storm. Yes, an opponent could play this in response to our Grapeshot and gain a bunch of life, but most of the time, Storm can just keep combing and cast another Grapeshot for even more. I don’t think this card is very good, frankly. And for those who suggest we splash for this, I don’t agree at all. Making our mana worse for a very narrow card (mainly Burn and Zoo decks only) doesn’t seem worth it in my book.
The Post Modern Horizons Metagame
I’ll be the first to say, there is absolutely no way to know what the meta game will look like. Modern hasn’t had this big of a shakeup probably ever (save maybe post Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 bannings) as this is the first set designed for Modern specifically. I will list off some decks that I think got some new tools as well as ones that didn’t get much. To clarify, I’m only going to level one here – meaning what archetypes got new cards and what didn’t. I’m not gonna try and delve into level two thinking such as – “Tron got nothing, so that means BGx decks are more represented which means creature decks aren’t….”. Analyzing a metagame is a lot more complicated than just listing which decks got what cards, but I’m not going down the rabbit hole any further. 🙂
Winners of Modern Horizons
Control decks (Azorius mainly)
Creature Toolbox decks (Chord of Calling/Collected Company)
Humans (will be this way basically every set as Humans are printed constantly)
Blue tempo decks (previously not really playable)
Aggro Loam decks (welcome to Modern, cycle lands)
Infect (should Scale Up prove to be great)
Losers of Modern Horizons
Black-Green-X decks (Jund, Abzan, the Rock)
Artifact decks (a lot of artifact hate in the set)
*Thanks to Micah Lupa (@drisoth on Twitter) for coming up with some of these.
Storm’s Place in the Format Post Modern Horizons
Overall, I don’t think Storm gets any worse than it already was (if you’re in that camp) with Modern Horizons in the format, but I also don’t think it got significantly better either. Too much is yet unknown to predict much beyond that. I will say, however, that unless we find out that Echo of Eons is completely busted, the deck’s configuration doesn’t change drastically. As I said above, I think Storm gets the option of another two engines (Fact or Fiction and Aria of Flame) as well as a couple of sideboard cards (Flusterstorm, Shenanigans, etc.) and a great new land in Fiery Islet.
Ultimately, if the format slows down a touch, which I think Modern Horizons will do, that is a small net positive for us. Azorius Control got some new tools, but I still think it’s a good matchup for Storm, especially if control isn’t packing a bunch of hate cards (which there isn’t really a reason to do as Storm isn’t tier one at the moment).
The wrench in this is the London mulligan rule coming in 2020. I could write another completely separate piece on that, but I’ve said on social media that I think it’s a good rule for Magic. The unfortunate part, however, is that less consistent and quicker combo decks (Neoform as a prime example) that play very few cantrips get a lot more consistent. We do too, but the gain isn’t as much. Throughout my time playing Storm, which is coming up on six years now, I’ve always said the deck is unfavored (in a general sense) against three types of decks – faster combo decks, aggressive decks with removal for bears/disruption and prison decks. Here’s to hoping both Modern Horizons and the London mulligan don’t create openings for those!
There you have it, just over 4,000 words on my thoughts on Storm with Modern Horizons. I apologize for the wordiness at times, but for those who’ve gotten this far in this article, thank you! Let me know if I missed something or your agree/disagree with some of my thoughts and predictions.