For those who missed it, Drake Sasser won the Star City Games Open in Indianapolis with Gifts Storm. Congratulations Drake!!! He did it with some unique card choices that I’ll delve into. Without further ado!
When asked why he played Storm at the event, Drake said he thought it was a good time to play the deck because others were playing linear strategies and graveyard hate was down (given the success of Urza, High Artificer decks). Boy was Drake right. He ended up play Amulet Titan in consecutive matchups to take down the trophy!
To me, Drake’s list is built to combo people as efficiently and consistently as possible. He opted to play the full eight mana bears and also went up an 18th land, something that I’ve been doing for a month or so leading up to the event. I see too many Storm pilots cut one-mana cantrips (Drake is played eight here) without adding the land. My general rule, which is backed by Frank Karsten’s math in this must-read article, is playing 17 lands requires 10 one-mana cantrips at minimum. If you go below 10 and don’t add a land, the power cantrips in Storm end up trying to search for lands to avoid missing a critical land drop too often.
Aside from that, the other big thing, and I’d argue the signature difference between Drake’s version of Gifts Storm and others we’ve seen in recent months/years, is the addition of Merchant Scroll.
Merchant Scroll popped up in very early versions of Gifts Storm, but we haven’t seen it in quite some time. For those newer to Storm, what exactly is this card doing? Primarily, it ups the amount of payoff cards in the deck as it can search up Gifts Ungiven for a kill. Secondly, it can fetch other cards (bounce spells, counter spells, etc.) in postboard games.
On the number of payoffs, excluding the Grapeshot, Remand, Grapeshot or double Grapeshot lines, most Gifts Storm lists have played six payoff spells in the recent months (4 Gifts Ungiven and 2 Past in Flames). In Drake’s list, he has nine total (4 Gifts Ungiven, 3 Merchant Scroll and 2 Past in Flames). This allows him less games where you can’t find a way to win, whether that’s failing to draw a payoff spell or your one gets discarded or countered.
On the second part of Merchant Scroll, Drake played a single copy of a bounce spell of choice in the main deck – Echoing Truth – which is pretty comment these days. Merchant Scroll allows him to basically play four copies of the effect (of note, Drake won game one of his semifinal match against Amulet Titan because of Merchant Scroll getting Echoing Truth to bounce a Primeval Titan).
So why haven’t people been playing Merchant Scroll all along? It mainly has to do with the speed of the format. A six-mana Gifts Ungiven isn’t exactly good value. I like that Drake has optimized his list to offset this somewhat, however with the full eight mana bears and the 18 lands. Remember, he correctly anticipated playing against a linear field.
Now to the sideboard. First off, Drake responded to me on Twitter says his sideboard was sort of all over the place and needed some re-working. I’d tend to agree, mainly with the singleton copy of Leyline of Sanctity. I’ve never been impressed with the card despite trying it in Storm several times over the years, and playing just a single copy and decreasing your chances to start the game with it doesn’t seem great to me.
Drake wasn’t messing around with the four copies of Aria of Flame. Death’s Shadow decks, mainly the Jund variant (which isn’t as bad for Storm as Grixis, might I add) had really been picking up in popularity. Simply put, the card is an all-star against Death’s Shadow decks. It’s also decent against UW control decks and Whirza decks in the right spot, as both of them really attempt to shut down Storm’s primary game plan in postboard games. Mainly, it’s another avenue to victory alongside Empty the Warrens that people have to be ready for.
What I really want to touch on in the sideboard is the two copies of a Throne of Eldraine common in Mystical Dispute. Storm has played counter spells in its sideboard more often than not over the years, and this was a great call by Drake in my opinion. I’d played a couple leagues with it before SCG Indianapolis and was impressed.
For starters, this card is a worse version of Mana Leak against non-blue cards, but Storm has seldom played that card in the sideboard. When I played it and watched Drake play it, I more curious on how it compared to cards like Spell Pierce and Negate. (Full disclosure, I’ve been in the Negate camp much more than the Spell Pierce camp in the past, if I’m only playing one of the two.).
While there are matches where Spell Pierce is better than Mystical Dispute (mainly non-creature, non-blue decks such as Amulet Titan), I think this card is better in Modern right now for two reasons. One, it’s better against UWx decks, and two (arguably more important), it hits the most powerful card in the most powerful deck – Urza, High Artificer for one mana. That alone has won me several matches against Whirza and artifact decks.
A note on Blood Moon, I’ve been over this card before. It’s very very powerful and can win you games on the spot in the right field. Some people love Blood Moon in Storm while others think it’s unnecessary. I have both played it and not played it in the past.
Absent from Drake’s list is a grindy card like Pieces of the Puzzle or Fact or Fiction, which notably can be fetched with Merchant Scroll. While I think both of these cards are fine in Storm sideboards, Drake, as mentioned by himself and above, expected a field of linear decks without a ton of graveyard hate. In that field, I tend to agree with him that grindy cards aren’t necessary.
One thing I would have liked to see (perhaps in the Leyline of Sanctity slot), is another target for Merchant Scroll (especially given Drake registered three copies) – another counter spell or bounce spell perhaps? But you might want to ask the man himself (@ViralDrake on Twitter) as he won the tournament, not me.
I’ve been working on my personal list with Merchant Scroll since Drake won SCG Indianapolis and I’ll post that on Twitter (@ModernStorm) later this week. It’s awesome to see someone take down a big tournament with Gifts Storm. Congrats again, Drake!