I’ve been playing a lot of Storm lately. With the lack of Workshop decks running around the metagame, it’s been a great time to break out the Dark Rituals. Stormum decks, especially those that are “all in” on combo-ing off, are among the most powerful decks in the format. Let’s take a look at a typical Storm list with Dark Confidant and Lions Eye Diamond:
LED Storm by enderfall
Storm decks can win as early as Turn 1 with a busted draw (such as Land, Ritual, Ritual, LED, Duress, Petal, Tutor) and consistently within the first 3-4 turns of the game. How is the deck able to do this? Let’s take a look at the engine:
Make no mistake– Storm decks are very much centered around Yawgmoths Will. Yawg Will is the engine of the deck. While it’s possible that one could combo off without Yawg Will, most of the time it’s Yawg Will that will be cranking up the storm count for a lethal Tendrils of Agony by replaying the cards that are in your graveyard.
If Yawg Will is the engine of the deck, the two cards pictured above would be the high octane fuel required to run the engine. Dark Ritual is the best colored-mana acceleration in the format. It is simply the most efficient way to build Storm count and float mana. Additionally, Classic is fortunate to have access to unrestricted Lions Eye Diamond (LED). In many ways, LED is a de facto Black Lotus. LED’s restriction of discarding your hand is not much of a drawback, as Storm decks will attempt to empty their hands floating mana to build Storm count and finish with Tendrils. It’s able to do this with the help of this card:
For those unaware, LED and Infernal Tutor combine to create one of the best methods of finding Yawg Will. On MTGO, this is done by holding the CTL key while casting Infernal Tutor to maintain priority. With the Tutor on the stack, you then crack the LED for whatever mana you need (90% of the time it’s black), which empties your hand and allows Infernal Tutor to find any card in your library. You can do the same with Demonic Tutor to gain the mana acceleration from LED. Yes, Storm decks get to play with 5 Demonic Tutors!
What card do you grab with the tutor(s)? Most of the time it’ll be Yawg Will, which can be cast off of the mana created by the LED, at which point you hopefully have some floating mana which can be used to replay any ritual, artifact mana, discard effects, and perhaps a fetch land if you missed your land drop for the turn. Once you have built up a Storm count high enough to kill your opponent and can float 6 or more mana (3 of which have to be black) you can recast the Tutor to find Tendrils to finish the game.
So let’s review the progression here: Cast rituals and artifact mana including LED -> cast Infernal Tutor or Demonic Tutor maintaining priority by holding down CTL -> crack LED with the tutor on the stack -> find Yawg Will -> Repeat step 1 -> cast a tutor the second time finding Tendrils with 6 total mana (3 black) floating -> Win.
Sounds simple, right? Well, like most things in life, it’s slightly more complicated than that most of the time. Your opponents will be actively trying to disrupt your plan. Blue decks will have countermagic waiting to stop you mid-stream and leave you far behind in the game. Workshop decks are the mortal enemies of Storm decks. Post board, opponents might bring in their Leyline of the Void and/or Grafdiggers Cages. Remember when I said that right now is a great time to play Storm? Workshop decks, or more specifically their sphere effects, put a “tax” on each spell a Storm deck tries to cast. Without having to pay that tax, Storm decks can confidently cast their spells while only having to worry about countermagic and/or a Stifle to slow them down.
Protection / Bounce Spells
To combat those speed bumps, Storm decks pack targeted discard effects for countermagic and bounce spells for problematic permanents such as spheres. Duress and Thoughtseize are the best targeted discard outlets available. Duress hits nearly every major threat from blue-based control decks, while Thoughtseize has some added reach for creature-based decks (Lodestome Golem is the most important target, though) at the cost of 2 life. Cabal Therapy is another great option, especially as a way to get rid of a Confidant that is threatening your own life total. Therapy also works wonders with Gitaxian Probe. Unfortunately, it is difficult to include the Probe-Therapy package with Confidant, as deck space is quite constrained. My preference is to have no fewer than five discard cards in my Storm builds. I’m currently running a 3-2 split in favor of Duress.
The bounce spells of choice for Storm decks are Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth, and Hurkyls Recall. Chain is great for spot removal of threats like opposing Blightsteel Colossus, Leylines, Cages, and Time Vault-Voltaic Key locks. Chain can also be used in a pinch for individual spheres. Echoing Truth, on the other hand, is a little more mana intensive, but can bounce two or more similar spheres or even a bunch of zombie tokens from Dredge decks. The real silver bullet against Workshop (and Affinity decks for that matter), though, is Recall. Bouncing all of their artifacts is a great way to regain control of the match and should open the door long enough to combo off. Hurkyl’s Recall can even be used on yourself to bounce all of the 0-casting cost artifacts to your hand to re-play them and increase your Storm count!
Other Win Conditions
Even thought the primary goal is to win off of a Tendrils, Storm decks should also have alternative paths to victory. Because the deck is chock-full of artifact mana accelerants, Tinker is a great two-card win condition when combined with Blightsteel or any of the other robots available. Tinker can also find the missing Vault-Key combo piece if necessary.
Speaking of Vault-Key, it’s included as a sort of an “oops, I win” combo. Taking all the turns is certainly an efficient way to win in Classic. With all of the tutors available, including the combo is a no-brainer.
With the recent printing of Grafdiggers Cage, Yawg Will has yet another enemy to deal with. As such, Minds Desire is a great alternative to casting Yawg Will. Because the cards are exiled instead of cast from the library or graveyard, Desire works around the constraints of the Cage. While it can be somewhat mana-intensive at 4 and 2 blue, sometimes it can Storm into a Vault-Key or a Blightsteel to win the game with as little as 3 or 4 Storm count. It can even be used to Storm into a Tendrils which would likely be lethal.
Bob, or not?
Dark Confidant is a good fit, though far from prefect, in Storm decks. Bob can draw many extra cards if the game goes beyond Turn 3 or 4. Most of the cards in the deck are either 0 or 1 mana. Thus the loss of life is not as great of a factor (though Blightsteel can prove to be a ticking time bomb… fair warning: play enough games with the deck and you will flip it with a Bob). Bob can also beat down and make casting a lethal Tendrils that much easier. Bob also makes for a fantastic wall against opposing non-flying creatures.
That being said, Bob does not immediately help the effort to Storm out in the early turns. Even if you are fortunate enough to cast him Turn 1 off of a Petal or Mana Crypt, you still don’t receive any card advantage until Turn 3 (since he simply replaces himself on Turn 2). I personally prefer using Bob because he provides some insurance in case the game goes long, as his card advantage on Turns 4 and beyond is quite valuable. Against blue decks, Bob is the single best option to rebuild your hand after having some early spells countered. Bob does make mulligan decisions that much harder though. Looking at an opening grip with little Storm business but including a Turn 1 Bob is a very tempting potential keep. (Sometimes, it is the right decision to throw it back and see what your next grip is.) Storm decks have very little interaction with opponents, especially the list I posted above, so losing on Turn 2 or 3 because you couldn’t stop what they were doing can be frustrating. This is why Bob can be difficult to play with.
Necropotence is one of the most busted cards ever printed. In combo decks, there is no single card that can refill your hand quite like The Skull can. Yes, Yawgmoths Bargain is more powerful since the cards go directly to your hand and anything discarded is not exiled (a fact I conveniently forgot during the Classic League Season 4, which you’ll see in the videos below), but at a whopping six mana, it is very hard to cast without two Rituals and some help. Necro can be cast on Turn 1 off of a single Ritual.
Playing with Necro is kind of like having a great life insurance policy. You will always have a full grip, and you can easily draw into your win conditions as soon as your first turn. I like to draw one extra card each turn so that I have 8 cards during the clean-up step. It’s not uncommon to find more than one land in your hand after drawing 4-5 cards. Considering how easy this deck can run on only two lands (ignoring Workshops), discarding land is a great way to dig a little deeper into your deck for the critical spells needed to go off.
Perhaps the single most difficult aspect of playing Storm decks is deciding whether to mulligan. While a lot depends on your opponent’s deck and potential sideboard options they have, there are some basic tenets of Storm decks that I try to adhere to.
When looking at a hand, factor in these things:
1. Do I have enough “business” spells to start chaining?
2. Do I have any protection spells against countermagic?
3. Do I have any way to find 1 or 2, via a Tutor or draw spells such as Brainstorm?
4. How many lands do I have?
Protection was outlined earlier, but it’s necessary to evaluate your opponent’s deck. If the opponent is playing a blue deck, or a Fish deck, you’ll want some number of Duresses or Thoughtseizes to strip their hand of problematic countermagic. During postboard games, if you suspect that they have Leyline and brought it in, you’ll want a bounce spell to be able to regain access to your graveyard.
Naturally, if you don’t have either #1 or #2, Tutors are available to find them. Having one in your hand, specifically Vampiric or Demonic, provides you with a way to find what you need.
If your opponent is playing with Wastelands, then you want to see at least one fetchland or a basic land to protect against Wasteland… especially if you do not have the means to combo out on Turn 1. Getting blown out by a single Wasteland is bad management, so don’t let it happen to you!
Other Storm Decks
Beyond LED Storm, there are also Storm decks built around Gush and Fastbond. The Gushbond engine eschews the speed of LEDs and their interaction with Infernal Tutor for card advantage and control. Let’s look at a recent Gushbond list:
Gushbond by Corran_34 for Season 4 of the Classic League
First thing you’ll notice about this list is that it plays with Force of Will instead of discard. One of the downsides of discard is that you are completely helpless on the draw Turn 1. If your opponent drops a sphere, or Tinkers into Blightsteel, you are toast. Force obviously helps protect you from that. Force requires that you have access to many blue cards, though. Gush provides the perfect avenue to draw cards and use as fodder to pitch to a Force.
Some Gushbond lists will also include between one and four Merchant Scrolls as ways to tutor up Gush and keep the chain going. Merchant Scroll can also find needed bullets such as a Force, Recall, or even a Mystical Tutor.
Gifts Ungiven is another card that should be considered in Gushbond decks. Combined with Regrowth or Noxious Revival, you can select a Gifts package that will guarantee that you find Vault-Key. Your typical Gifts package would consist of: Yawg Will, Regrowth, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key. Any combination of piles that your opponent separates them into will give you the necessary pieces to either play Vault-Key outright or use Yawg Will-Regrowth to play the cards from your graveyard. The best choice for your opponent is to put both Vault and Key in the graveyard, as this will require the most mana to assemble (7 total; 3 to cast Yawg Will, 3 to cast Vault and Key with another 1 mana to activate use Key to untap the Vault).
Of course, the Gift package gets slightly more difficult to arrange if you have one or more of those four cards either in play or in your hand. It’s worth remembering, though, that you can choose a number of cards fewer than four. If you want one or two specific cards in your graveyard, choose that card or those cards you want, then your opponent has to select them to go to your graveyard. This could be useful if you have a Yawg Will in hand and need both Vault and Key. There are many variations based on board state that one could come up with, so many in fact that an entire article could be written just on Gifts packages! There are even instances where you would simply want to Gifts for value to find answers rather than the game-winning combos. This should be enough to get you started, though.
Gushbond Storm decks can also afford to use Planeswalkers since their builds are more controlling in nature. In this build above, both Jace and Tezzeret make an appearance.
Yet another Gushbond list, Cobra Gush, uses the power of the Gushbond engine to power up insane amounts of mana with an active Lotus Cobra. In a deck with so many 4-, 5-, and 6-casting cost spells, Bob seems like a quick way to kill yourself. Lotus Cobra seems to fit a slightly better profile for a deck like this, especially in an environment that has Workshopand Affinity decks running wild.
Playing the deck is a little different. Since it is more controlling, you are looking to set up a board state where you can start Gushing into a lethal Tendrils. You will typically spend the first few turns Brainstorming and countering any threats that your opponent may play. Once you can find a way to get Fastbond and at least 1 Gush into your hand, you are off to the races. Ideally, you’ll draw into more Gushes, Brainstorms or into a trump card like Necro or Yawg Bargain. From there, you are looking to continue building Storm count while digging for Tendrils either from drawing it or Tutoring it up with Demonic Tutor or finding it with a Vampiric Tutor or Mystical Tutor with another draw spell to get it into your hand.
Similar to LED Storm, here is a typical chain to combo out with Gush: Find a Gush and Fastbond using tutors or drawing them naturally -> cast Fastbond and when it resolves, tap the two islands for mana that will be returned to your hand using Gushes alternative casting cost -> draw the cards and replay any lands in your hand -> at this point, hopefully you’ve drawn into another Gush or something else that can keep the chain of drawing cards and floating the mana -> continue until you’ve found Yawg Will or have built up enough Storm count to find and cast Tendrils -> win.
Another Storm deck to consider is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or ‘CTC’. CTC is a Classic version of what is commonly known as “Two-card Monte”. The deck is very similar to LED Storm, but it includes two other game winning combos in Classic: Leyline of the Void-Helm of Obedience and Painters Servant-Grindstone. There is a lot of overlap between the LED Storm and CTC such that the mana acceleration of the LEDs turns them into Black Lotuses (again) when used to activate your Helms and Grindstones. Rituals also help the mana acceleration. Here is a look at the deck as I played in the Ham on Wry event earlier this month:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch by enderfall
The goal for the deck is to find one of your combos as quickly as possible. The tutors help find any missing pieces you might need, similar to how they can grab the win condition for LED Storm. While the deck is resilient to various hate (i.e. there is no silver bullet against this deck), it is subject to clunky draws. There will be times where you draw pieces of each of your combos, but can never find the right combination, be it through bad draws or your opponent’s disruption. On the other hand, there are some nigh-unbeatable draws and its explosiveness, when running well, can’t be beat.
The transformational sideboard is there to throw your opponent off-guard. It can be great against Workshop decks, as Oath just needs to get on the board, but it can also simply blow out an opponent not ready for the drastic change in deck philosophy. When going to the Oath sideboard, I like to bring in all 12 cards (minus the Jailers) and take out:
If anyone else could indicate a better sideboard plan, please let me know in the comments.
In a vacuum, Storm decks are perhaps the most powerful decks in Classic. There is perhaps only one other deck that can compete with its speed, that being Dredge.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum, and threats like Workshop and Affinity do exist. Playing Storm requires a lot of practice for evaluating opening hands and knowing when the metagame is ripe for the picking. Considering how dominant Workshop was for much of 2011, the last few months have been a welcome sight for the combo-player in me.
Going forward, I think Workshop decks might make a small revival. This makes Storm decks a risky play. The Daily Event on 5/3/2012 had three Workshop decks finish in the money. That doesn’t mean one can’t try slinging the LEDs and Tendrils, though it might be slightly better to go the Gushbond route to get your Storm fix in. That, or playing with a transformational sideboard into a Good-Game Oath deck is the best option. Time will tell.
Before I go, as a bonus, I’ve posted the first 4 rounds of the Classic League Season 4 for your viewing pleasure. I know it’s been a while since I last posted videos, but things haven’t quite worked out to provide you with valuable content. That being said, there abound play mistakes. Have at it in the comments!
Whoops. It looks like sound didn’t record for that last one. Sorry about that. I’ll try not to do that next time.
Clan Magic Eternal
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