The Storm Mechanic
Mechanic is a keyword in Magic that refers certain abilities on certain cards. Each Magic set has a couple of mechanics that make the set unique. The Storm mechanic has been in just two sets over Magic’s history, appearing in Scourge (2003) and again in Time Spiral (2006).
Storm is defined as, “a triggered ability that functions on the stack. When you cast this spell, copy it for each other spell that was cast before it this turn. If the spell has any targets, you may choose new targets for any of the copies.”
Wizards of the Coast (WOTC), the company who oversees Magic and designs cards for each set, has said that Storm is one of the two most powerful mechanics (Dredge being the other) that has ever been printed. Us Storm aficionados will likely not see the Storm mechanic printed again because of its power level.
Decks that utilize the Storm mechanic are classified as combo decks, meaning they need to acquire certain cards together in order to win a game of Magic.
The Modern Format
Modern is one of Magic’s constructed formats, meaning that individuals construct their own decks to bring to a tournament. Modern is an evolution of Extended and became an official sanctioned in 2011. Any card that was standard-legal from Eighth Edition (2003) to present can be played in a Modern deck with the exception of a select-few cards that are on the banned list. Modern is also an eternal format, meaning sets do no rotate out of legality such as Standard.
Storm’s Beginning in Modern
Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011 was the first Modern Pro Tour, and its Top 8 featured many blazing fast combo decks. Storm put two copies into the Top 8 both using the powerful enchantment Pyromancer Ascension.
Other Storm decks in Modern’s infancy used Pyromancer’s Swath.
Max Sjoblom’s Top 8 list from Pro Tour Philadelphia is below.
Shortly after the inaugural Modern Pro Tour, WOTC’s banned and restricted update came out. Storm no longer had access to Ponder, Preordain and Rite of Flame as they were put on the banned list.
The Printing of Past in Flames
After the bannings post-Pro Tour Philadelphia, Storm results dwindled for the next several months. It wasn’t until the fall of 2011 that Storm would rise up again. Past in Flames, the four-mana sorcery printed in Innistrad, re-ignited the archetype giving Storm a finisher. Bob Maher, Jon Finkel, widely regarded as the best player in Magic history, and several others played Past in Flames at the 2011 World Championships. Maher’s list from the World Championships can be found below.
The First Cost-Reducer
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in 2012 marked the second Modern Pro Tour. With it came a resurgence of Storm with the printing of Goblin Electromancer.
Jon Finkel chose Storm as his weapon of choice for the Pro Tour. Other Pro Tour Hall of Famers Owen Turtenwald and Huey Jensen also piloted Storm. Finkel’s list is below.
Just like after the first Modern Pro Tour, Storm had to endure another hit as Seething Song was banned to begin 2013. This ban arguably took the longest for the deck to recover from as nothing in the Modern card pool at the time could replace Seething Song. Nonetheless, the deck continued to evolve as Jon Finkel once again brought some new technology in Increasing Vengeance to a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Portland in 2013. His list from the GP is below.
Despite the finish from Finkel, Storm did not put up very many results through the rest of 2013. There were still some dedicating MTGO users winning with the deck, but nothing substantial in paper. It wasn’t until the next Modern Pro Tour, Born of the Gods in early 2014 that the deck came to the forefront of Magic’s Modern World. More on that in a little bit.
Faithless Looting vs. Desperate Ravings
For much of 2013-14, the debate in the Storm community revolved around the cards Faithless Looting and Desperate Ravings. For reference, those two cards are pictured below.
The Channel Fireball crew – Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Reid Duke, etc. – were firmly on the Desperate Ravings plan as it’s card advantage and Faithless Looting is card disadvantage. Finkel said his in article Taking Modern by Storm that “People are too scared of randomness. The cards in the Storm deck have a tremendous amount of redundancy, so you’re rarely in a situation where a discarded card is crippling.”
Andrew Shrout (also known as JohnnyHotSauce on MTGO), Chris Finnell and others believed that Faithless Looting was the better card choice valuing the selection over the card advantage of Desperate Ravings. Shrout wrote about his decision to play Faithless Looting in his article The Worst Kept Secret in Modern. I was firmly in the Desperate Ravings camp during this era of Storm, but I think it’s worth noting that Shrout discussed that both options could be correct depending on how you prefer to play the deck. See below.
In defense of Desperate Ravings – “From watching their replays, I can gather that Jon and Kai prefer to wait as long as possible before attempting to go off, seeing each turn as an opportunity to accumulate additional resources. In fact, this makes perfect sense given their pedigree, as ‘wait until the last possible moment before going off’ was the central tenet of the most broken combo deck either of them have ever played. In this context, milking Desperate Ravings for value to give yourself the most material to go off with seems natural.”
In defense of Faithless Looting – “In contrast, I play Storm like it’s a shootout. I consider speed to be the deck’s biggest asset, and I see every draw step I give my opponent as a potential disaster. I want to get my games over with quickly before my opponents can race me or establish their defenses. When every game is a race, Desperate Ravings seems incredibly clunky, whereas Faithless Looting gives you more precision when sculpting your hand and saves you a mana up front.”
Another Pro Tour Top 8
Back to Storm taking forefront of the Modern world. Chris Finnell piloted the Storm deck below to a Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Born of the Gods in 2014. He played the Faithless Looting build.
This finish gave those in the Faithless Looting camp some ammunition in the debate, but those choosing Desperate Ravings (myself included) continued to emphasize the card advantage engine more. That all changed towards the end of 2014 with the printing of one of the most broken cards in the history of Modern.
The Treasure Cruise Era
Treasure Cruise was printed in Khans of Tarkir which released late September of 2014. While both it and Dig Through Time were serviceable for Standard, both quickly became all-stars in eternal formats like Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Some people (I, admittedly was one) questioned the use of Treasure Cruise in Storm due to the anti-synergies with Delve and Past in Flames.
Reid Duke quickly silenced any doubters by playing Treasure Cruise in Storm at the World Championships at the end of 2014. His list is below.
*I’m not sure why there’s a fifth Treasure Cruise listed in the sideboard. It’s obviously a different card and not relevant to this history page.
Treasure Cruise (and Dig Through Time) did not last long in Modern, however, as both powerful delve spells were put on the banned list in early 2015. The Storm deck referred back to the Faithless Looting vs. Desperate Ravings debate for the rest of 2015 and 2016 with the exception of one list. James Zornes earned a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Detroit with an unconventional list that would prove the origin for Storm lists in the future.
The calendar turning to 2017 proved to be one of the darkest times for Modern Storm.
Gitaxian Probe Hits The Banned List
Gitaxian Probe was no longer Modern legal on January 9, 2017.
“Gitaxian Probe increased the number of third-turn kills in a few ways, but particularly by giving perfect information (and a card) to decks that often have to make strategic decisions about going “all-in.” This hurt the ability of reactive decks to effectively bluff or for the aggressive deck to miss-sequence their turn. Ultimately, the card did too much for too little cost.” – Wizards of the Coast Banned & Restricted Announcement, Jan. 9, 2017
I understood this banning from WOTC, but what frustrated me at the time was Storm wasn’t the biggest offender of the card. Modern Infect had become the most successful deck, and the early stages of Modern Death’s Shadow also played the card. It felt like Storm was getting punished for the crimes other decks had committed.
The immediate replacement to Gitaxian Probe was Peek, which is basically the same effect at instant speed for one blue mana instead of Phyrexian mana. It sounds like such a small difference, but in my testing and others I’m sure, it was a huge downgrade. The biggest reason being Pyromancer Ascension, one of the engine’s of the deck basically since the dawn of Modern, was now much more difficult to “turn on” (two quest counters) and get the benefit of copying all instant and sorcery spells cast. In a format as quick as Modern, Storm just didn’t seem like a viable choice for success. In the weeks after the banning and the first time ever (in my opinion), Storm wasn’t a playable deck in Modern. Luckily, Storm didn’t have to wait long to return to Modern prominence.
The Chief of Compliance Brings New Hope
Aether Revolt released at the end of January of 2017, and vaulted Storm back into Modern prominence with the printed of Baral, Chief of Compliance. This second cost-reducer fit right into the Storm deck alongside Goblin Electromancer. The looting ability on Baral is nice, but the fact he cheapens the cost of all instant and sorcery spells was huge. Furthermore, it gave Storm access to eight of this type of effect instead of four. The addition of this card, alongside pain-free land Spirebluff Canal, changed the way Modern Storm decks look.
Other than the addition of Baral, Chief of Compliance, what exactly changed? The biggest shift in the direction of Modern Storm has we see it in 2018 compared to previous is the deck has gone away from Pyromancer Ascension as a primary engine for the deck. The second cost-reducing, two-mana creature allowed the deck to shift to Gifts Ungiven as its engine alongside Past in Flames. Previously, Gifts Ungiven had been floating around the fringes of Modern Storm, but it wasn’t quick enough due to only having access to four cost-reducing creatures.
So what does Modern Storm look like currently? I’ll delve (no pun intended) deeper into that in the Gifts Storm tab on this blog, but here is a list from Caleb Scherer, a player on the Star City Games Tour that plays Storm almost exclusively. He’s been an advocate of the archetype for a long time. Everyone has their own preferences for specific numbers, but the list below gives you an idea of what the shell of current Modern Storm looks like.
To summarize, Storm has displayed a lot of resiliency throughout its Modern history. The deck has survived and adapted despite several key components being banned over the years. As I said above, I believe that the deck has been playable and able to win matches its entire Modern life except the month between Gitaxian Probe being banned and Ixalan hitting the shelves. I find that not only has Storm been resilient as an archetype, but it’s also a resilient deck to play. Comparative to most dedicated combo decks in Magic, Modern Storm does not fold to very many things. It’s an extremely rewarding deck to play.
I’d like to give a shoutout to Saffron Olive, the editor of MTGGoldfish, for his article Deck Evolution: Modern Storm. Some of the information here was taken from his article. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s worth the read.
There you have it, a detailed and chronological account of Storm in the Modern format. Thanks for reading!