My name is Hugo Lopez, and I am a Spanish player who plays primarily Magic Online (my username is hugo87). I’ve been playing Storm in modern since the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance in 2016. Modern is the only Constructed format I play. Because Storm is the only deck I use, I’ve been able to collect around 2,300 games with it in the past three years. My intention is to write from time to time and share some interesting experiences or situations I’ve faced. My thoughts are intended for those of you who already know the basics and would like to go a level deeper and learn some of the subtleties of the deck. My intention here is to focus on those games where your opponent does actually interact with you, which sadly will be a lot.
Before we start with the first of what I hope it will be a nice series of articles, let me be completely honest with you – do not get frustrated if you lose a lot when you start playing the deck. We have all been there. The good news is this deck is quite prepared to go through all that ‘’unbeatable’’ interaction and win. The bad news are you actually need a lot of practice and losses to be able to find the best lines. Even after all these games, I see the right line after the game or when it’s simply too late on occasion. You really never stop learning with this deck. If you’re one of those players who can’t play the same deck for more than a few weeks, this deck is probably not for you. Storm is a very easy deck to play at a very basic level, but one of the hardest decks in modern to master. It is, however, extremely rewarding if you’re able to get a decent level with it. If you really like the archetype, my advice is give it a change. The deck is way better than most people think when you get to the next level.
Enough with the boring introductory talk, let’s focus a bit. Today’s article will be about how to play around or ignore soft graveyard hate. No, I’m not talking about sideboarding in your Empty the Warrens and/or Aria of Flame and make 20 tokens in the face of a Relic of Progenitus. That’s fairly obvious. I’m talking about beating cards like Relic of Progenitus, Surgical Extraction or Ravenous Trap using Past in Flames, even in preboard games.
The first thing you need to have in mind is that there are only two main cards that shut completely off the graveyard route of the deck – Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void. Those two cards have a replacement effect that makes your spells unable to even touch the graveyard for a second. Grafdigger’s Cage has the same effect, but it’s not as bad for Storm because if it leaves the battlefield, your whole graveyard is still there waiting for you. I don’t want to focus on these “hard” pieces of graveyard hate. Instead, I’d like to focus on ‘’soft’’ graveyard hate, or cards that have an effect that exiles your graveyard or a card from your graveyard basically once. My goal here is to make visible some lines that you might dismiss because a certain card is in play. Let’s see some scenarios I’ve faced in the last weeks to try to understand this. For reference, the deck list I’m using in this article can be found here.
The first thing to keep in mind is the way Past in Flames Works. Since it doesn’t target the instant and sorceries you have in the graveyard, every instant and sorcery you might add while Past in Flames is on the stack will also gain flashback once it resolves. This is the very basic thing to keep in mind for all these lines to work. So, on the actual games:
Scenario 1: Comboing Through a Relic of Progenitus, Nihil Spellbomb or Tormod’s Crypt
Unfortunately the replay crashes after this point, so we will have to figure out how to proceed this turn and the next one. Our opponent is basically sitting on nothing but a Nihil Spellbomb, and we have a good hand that scryed Gifts Ungiven to the top. The play of bottoming the land, playing Goblin Electromancer and a tapped Spirebluff Canal seems correct with the hopes of comboing off next turn. Assuming the opponent does nothing and the mana bear lives, what can we do here?
Most people would simply destroy the Nihil Spellbomb with the Abrade, but what if the opponent’s last card or the card they cycle into with the Nihil Spellbomb is a pieces of interaction? I think there’s a way to play around such a sequence by letting the opponent make the first move.
The idea here, and in basically every scenario where you face one of the aforementioned artifacts that exile your graveyard, is to make a lot of mana, get Past in Flames and three other cards (might vary depending on several factors, we will see shortly) with Gifts Ungiven. Then without passing priority, cast Past in Flames from the graveyard in case the opponent puts in there with some mana floating in your pool. The opponent will then active their artifact exiling your graveyard. Simply let that resolve, and cast instants from your hand while the Past in Flames is still on the stack, allowing all of those instants to gain flashback upon Past in Flames resolving.
In this scenario, having Grapeshot in hand and the opponent at a low life total makes things easier. Because a standard pile isn’t going to work (Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Manamorphose, Past in Flames), I’d start Peer Through Depths and splicing Desperate Ritual on top it, which is a mana neutral play (it costs 1UR because of Goblin Electromancer being in play and generates RRR). If you hit a ritual or Manamorphose (eight hits in 33 cards left after drawing Gifts Ungiven is 77.6 percent), you will have the magical number of 8-9 mana after resolving Gifts Ungiven to combo the opponent.
Scenario 2: Comboing Through Possible Unknown Exile Effects – Ravenous Trap or Surgical Extraction
The way to proceed against possible copies of Ravenous Trap (only in postboard games) or Surgical Extraction (especially against Izzet Phoenix decks) is very similar to the previous example with the difference that you don’t have the public information of a permanent being in play. There are going to be times when you can afford to play around it and times when you can’t. It’s important to distinguish the two.
In this scenario, your opponent has discarded a Ravenous Trap in the early turns with Faithless Looting, so it’s very likely they have another one in hand. You probably need to hit a land with any of those two Manamorphose, otherwise you won’t be able to win through any of the free spells we mentioned. Since we are forced to go for it anyways, you start with Pyretic Ritual in case you don’t hit land with Manamorphose. This also plays around Surgical Extraction if you hit the land because you can respond to it with a ritual into Manamorphose to make some blue mana to able to cast Peer Through Depths in your hand after Goblin Electromancer resolves to hit Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens.
Because you drew the land (as seen above), what do you do here?
Cast all your rituals, cast Manamorphose, cast Peer Through Depths and cast Past In Flames? Definitely not if you smell Ravenous Trap, but even if you don’t, your graveyard is stacked enough! Play it safe! Cast one ritual, cast Past in Flames with R floating, and let your opponent make the first move once again. If your opponent has something, you will see it here 99 percent of the time. The opponent did indeed have Ravenous Trap, but it didn’t matter because after letting the trap resolve, you simply play all the cards in your hand with the Past in Flames on the stack. Your opponent could also let Past in Flames resolve and try to Ravenous Trap you after you cast your first spell with flashback and no mana floating at that point. This still gives you some mana and a card you wouldn’t have had access to with that Manamorphose you’re casting from the graveyard.
Scenario 3: Comboing Through a Game One Surgical Extraction (and Additionally Force of Negation)
Another deck that plays some number of Surgical Extraction main deck on occasion is Azorious Control. The scenario above depicts the following: you’re in the opponent’s end step and deciding which card to take with Peer Through Depths. Given your hand, the first inclination is to avoid the redundant copy of Past in Flames, but what if I told you that it’s the right choice here?
Remember, you’re playing against a deck packing Surgical Extraction and Force of Negation, so having Past in Flames in hand is super valuable. Additionally, having the second plays makes it easier to play around these cards because you don’t need to wait to generate millions of mana and cast Gifts Ungiven.
Some turns after this, you’re lucky enough to find a Gifts Ungiven, which should be more than enough to win the game through everything (with the pile of Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Manamorphose, Peer Through Depths). I like to include Peer Through Depths in many of my Gifts Ungiven piles because my decisions become very flexible based on what I have to interact with.
Ideally, you cast Gifts Ungiven during opponent’s end step with Remand backup to protect it. Be sure to keep the Baral, Chief of Compliance in hand before comboing to avoid a sweeper and do not pick Grapeshot in your Gifts Ungiven pile to play around Surgical Extraction. Once you have a good amount of mana in play and in hand, lets say two more rituals, the party starts. Imagine you have drawn one more land for a total of five lands in play.
You start by casting one ritual (seven mana), it will resolve, you cast your second one (nine mana), you cast your Manamorphose (10 mana), cast Baral, Chief of Compliance (eight mana, which is very important because you will be casting multiple Past in Flames) and cast your first Past in Flames from hand with six mana floating. The best your opponent could do here is Force of Negation, at which point you can let it resolve and cast the second one. You fold to a second force of negation basically, but a Surgical Extraction shouldn’t cause you to stop comboing. This is what happened in this game, and I won it.
I’ll do my best to continue writing a bit and sharing some interesting situations I might face. This could mean a second part with similar situations to what I talked about here, or different common ones. I’ll be glad to share them with everyone and discuss the lines with you / read you opinions.
Until next time, and don’t stop storming!