Hello everyone! Once more, I am here to talk about Legacy Storm combo. What I have today is what some people might consider a primer on the deck. In a way, it is. But it is also not really a primer. First and foremost, this will not let you pick up Storm and do well with it from scratch. The deck does have a steep learning curve and I’m not looking to cover all of the basics. For this to be useful, you should have a general understanding of how the deck works. I am also not going to give you a list of what you should play. If you’re looking for a list to start out with, I’m sorry, this is not where you will find it.
The key with Storm is to be versatile, both in regards to constructing and playing your deck. What I actually want to do is outline the roles each card plays and help you come to your own conclusions as to what you will need to run to be successful with the deck. I am not going to delve into any matchups and how you should play them. What I want this to be is more of a reference list: You have identified a problem with your list. This will tell you what you want to add to your list and also give you an idea what you can reasonably cut without stopping your deck from functioning overall. At least that’s the goal.
I have grouped the cards I think are actually worth playing into categories according to what they do. I do not believe in maindeck cards and sideboard cards. Sometimes you will end up with cards in your maindeck that seem out of place and very specific, sometimes you will have cards in your sideboard that look like they belong in the maindeck. You might end up with a card that you always board out. or another that you always board in. You could even have cards that always get swapped after game one. These are not necessarily wrong.
Now, let’s get to it.
Hard Business – Tendrils of Agony
There really isn’t much to say about this card. In a lot of cases it reads “target player loses the game”. Further, it is very hard to directly interact with a lethal amount of Tendrils on the stack – the only two cards that can do so that actually see play are Flusterstorm and Stifle. In my eyes, these traits make Tendrils the best dedicated win condition in the format.
Traditionally, Storm decks have run only one copy of this card. In decks without maindeck Ad Nauseam however, there is usually at least one additional copy in the maindeck. There are also lists that have additional copies in the sideboard specifically to combat decks that are heavy on countermagic, like Miracles or Canadian Threshold.
These days, two or three copies of Tendrils in the 75 are the norm, although some people still only play one. It’s been a while since I’ve seen or played a list with the full four copies.
Hard Business – Engines
To ensure that you can cast enough spells for Tendrils to be lethal, you often need other cards to help out. After all, you have no means to deal damage to your opponents, so they will often be on eighteen life or more. As you are generally unable to have nine or even ten cards in your hand, you need a way to extend your hand.
The cleanest engine is Past in Flames. You always see what you have when you cast it, as you basically just add all the instants and sorceries from your graveyard to your hand. This will help you win when you don’t have enough castable spells in your hand, or not enough spells at all, for example in scenarios where you trade a lot of resources with your opponents early in the game.
The fact that Past in Flames has Flashback itself is what makes it so good. Past in Flames allows for very resilient kills, coming with a “free” discard spell to beat opposing countermagic (free in this case meaning it only costs 4R). Outside of the lines where you cast Past in Flames twice to beat countermagic, there are also situations where you discard Past in Flames to Lion’s Eye Diamond when casting Infernal Tutor and search for a Cabal Ritual to generate extra mana for your loop.
For a long time, most players had only one copy of Past in Flames, but ever since 2014, people started running two copies more frequently, especially European players.
Traditionally, the engine that has been used the most is Ad Nauseam. It draws you a lot of cards, given a high enough life total, allowing you to assemble a winning hand in most cases, with the probability of success depending on mana floating and initial mana sources left in the deck. Ad Nauseam is also good at letting you win from limited resources.
You almost never see lists running more than one copy of Ad Nauseam, but you also almost never see lists without any copies in the 75.
Hard Business – Empty the Warrens
Empty doesn’t win games as cleanly as Tendrils do, but it’s still a very strong card. In particular, Empty is good because it doesn’t require as many resources as a Tendrils kill. When you go for Tendrils, you generally need at least eight copies, usually eight or nine. Empty can win games with as few as four copies.
This puts Empty in an interesting spot where it’s half engine and half win condition. Empty is often run in slower, more resilient builds as an alternative to Ad Nauseam. You will almost never want to have more than one copy of Empty in your 75.
Hard Business – Tutors
To ensure you end up with the right combination of cards at the right time, you run Tutor effects, each coming with its own limitations.
Infernal Tutor is the staple of those. It can get any card and only costs two mana, making it the easiest to cast. It’s limitation is that you can only get any card when you’re Hellbent, so it often makes you go all-in. Because of its tendency to be your last card, it will generally get business spells.
The exception is if you already have Past in Flames in your graveyard when it resolves. If you need some extra mana, you can get a Cabal Ritual, which you can actually use to cast Past in Flames thanks to flashback. If you already have enough mana to go off, you can get a discard spell to beat an extra piece of countermagic.
To supplement Infernal Tutor, there’s also Dark Petition. Petition is usually seen in lists that run maindeck Ad Nauseam and have a bigger focus on early kills. Petition is clearly worse than Infernal Tutor, but it makes the Infernal Tutor + Lion’s Eye Diamond gameplan much better.
Because Petition does not require you to be Hellbent to get any card, it can act as an Infernal Tutor // Lion’s Eye Diamond split card. If you have enough mana but can’t get Hellbent, you can Petition for a Diamond, if a Tutor is what you’re lacking, Petition also does that, as long as you’re able to pay the initial 3BB it costs.
Burning Wish is a card that is often misunderstood. Allowing you to grab any sorcery card from your sideboard, it often leads to players filling their boards with answers to specific situations. This is not what makes Burning Wish good. Burning Wish’s power is finding business spells.
Having Burning Wish rather than more copy of the spell you’re going to get is useful in two scenarios.
The first is keeping your curve low for Ad Nauseam. This is not really worth the trouble. Lists with multiple copies of Burning Wish have additional business spells, sure. But spell chains involving Wish require more resources overall. For one, you will always need red mana. This will matter when casting Ad Nauseam with zero or one mana floating. Further, because of the exile-clause on Wish, you can’t cast Wish to get Past in Flames, then flash it back to get Tendrils.
I think this use of Burning Wish has become obsolete ever since the printing of Dark Petition, which, despite its higher mana cost, is actually a leaner version of the effect.
The real upside of having Burning Wish is being immune to effects like Surgical Extraction or Slaughter Games. Sometimes players will try to go after your Tendrils to make you unable to win games at all. Being able to board out one of multiple copies of Tendrils for a Burning Wish will allow you to beat one of those effects, but it’s been a while since this was relevant for me. It’s definitely something to keep in mind, but as of now, I consider Burning Wish a luxury that only few lists can afford.
The last Tutor that sees play is Grim Tutor. I didn’t get it before Dark Petition was printed and I certainly don’t get it now. The card is just not good. It doesn’t actually belong in the Storm Box, but I figured I should mention it because maybe someone would think I unintenionally left it out.
Most lists end up running 7-9 hard business spells in the maindeck. The baseline slots are four copies of Infernal Tutor and one each of Past in Flames and Tendrils. Then, there is always at least one extra engine spell; Past in Flames or Ad Nauseam, sometimes there are both. If it’s just Ad Nauseam, there are should also be 1-2 copies of Dark Petition, if it’s just Past in Flames, you will usually find another copy of Tendrils and then either an Empty the Warrens or, rarely, a Dark Petition.
It is often a good idea to have both of these plans, Ad Nauseam and multiple Past in Flames plus multiple Storm spells in your 75. Neither of them is strictly better than the other and which one you want changes with each matchup. Sometimes it even changes between preboard and postboard games, as is the case against Miracles, where you want to have Ad Nauseam game one but as many Tendrils as possible after sideboarding, when you have outs to Counterbalance and don’t have to go for speed.
Soft Business – Cantrips
These will help smoothing your draws, increasing the odds of having the right cards in your hand to end the game in your favour. Brainstorm is clearly the most powerful of these, and I won’t waste any more words on the best card in the format.
Ponder is the best of these to dig for any single card you need. Like the other two, it will show you the top three cards of your library. What sets it apart is the ability to shuffle your library in case you whiff on those three. This will end up winning you games.
Preordain is special in that it lets you put away unwanted cards without a fetchland ready. However, it is generally regarded as worse than Ponder, so usually it will only act as filler.
Ponder vs. Preordain can be an interesting question. Ponder is better most of the times, but Preordain is better when you need to avoid blank draws. This means Ponder will be your preferred option whenever you are looking for fast kills. For some extra info on sequencing your cantrips, check this article: Cantrip Calculations
Soft Business – Pseudo-engines
These two can almost act as engine spells on their own. I have won countless games because I could cast a couple of Gitaxian Probes essentially for free, increasing the storm count without investing relevant resources, and already having Tendrils in hand. It also lets you peek at your opponents’ hands to tell which cards to play around and improve your discard spells, telling you which cards to name with Cabal Therapy and whether to cast discard spells in the first place.
Sensei’s Divining Top is different from the other cantrips in not drawing you a card immediately and being bad in multiples. The upside is that from the moment you land it, you get to have Ponder in each of your draw steps, without the shuffle, that is. It also lets you float important cards at the top of your library to protect them from discard spells, extending your hand in a way similar to Past in Flames.
There are essentially no lists that opt against maxing out on Brainstorm, Ponder and Gitaxian Probe. Preordain and Top are pretty much filler cards and end up occupying up to four slots in the 75. Usually you will find a combined two copies of Top and Preordain in main decks and maybe an extra Top in the sideboard if there’s less than two in the main.
Fast Mana – Bulk
To cast Tendrils and an amount of spells that makes it lethal, you will need lots of mana. Rituals are used to help out here. To be honest, these could also be viewed as engine cards, as almost everything else in the deck. It is an engine deck after all.
Dark Ritual is the one that lets you ramp the most from the fewest resources. I don’t think there is any discussion about running less than four copies in this kind of deck ever.
To reach a critical mass of rituals, Cabal Ritual is used. You often need multiple ritual effects, and as soon as you get the engine going, Cabal Ritual is the best, netting you three additional mana. It’s what makes most Past in Flames chains tick.
To round it out, there is Rain of Filth. It hasn’t always been used much, but it’s been catching on lately. Usually, Rain of Filth is just a Dark Ritual that doesn’t get flashback and is very much all-in. But it also has upsides. When you have four lands, it becomes Cabal Ritual for one mana. With five lands, it becomes absurd. It also enables Threshold for Cabal Ritual as early as turn two, powering out Ad Nauseam earlier. Speaking of Ad Nauseam, Dark Ritual is often very important to reveal and running Rain increases the chances of finding one.
Almost all lists run eight rituals, some run nine. It’s usually four Dark Rituals, three Cabal Rituals and then either another Cabal Ritual or a Rain. Sometimes both of those. It’s been a long while since I have seen a list with two copies of Rain, but it is a possibility.
This is a special card. Lion’s Eye Diamond doesn’t directly cast spells form your hand, but it does pay for Past in Flames’ Flashback. It also pays for spells that you search for with Tutor effects or cantrip into (it works especially well with Sensei’s Divining Top because the Top’s draw ability ignores countermagic). Plus it enables Hellbent for Infernal Tutor, allowing you to ditch lands or useless spells that would otherwise clog your hand. Like Rain of Filth it is the very definition of all-in though, and it becomes worse the less Tutor effects you have in your deck.
Fast Mana – Initial
Superficially just more ways to get extra mana, these two have one important upside: they come for free. This often means you get to leap a turn ahead in going off, using a landdrop that adds storm. There’s not really a reason to run less than four copies of Lotus Petal, and I very rarely board out any of them. There are only few situations in which Lotus Petal is bad and it’s very important with both Ad Nauseam and Empty the Warrens.
Chrome Mox is a more interesting card, aiding in lots of early kills, but usually being pretty bad the longer games go. Considering that most non-Ad Nauseam lists play a slightly longer game anyway, this card only comes with Ad Nauseam and even then it’s rare. It is pretty good there though, increasing the odds of revealing an initial mana source when going off with no mana floating. Still, drawing multiples will hurt too much, so I wouldn’t play more than one unless you are very heavy on Ad Nauseam for some reason.
Interaction – Hand
To ensure that your spells end up resolving, you sometimes need to directly interact with your opponents. Stripping cards from their hands before they can even use them is a good way to do so. Discard spells also have the benefit to be able to interact with multiple card types. Conveniently, discard spells come in black, allowing you to cast them off your rituals, if necessary.
Assuming you can mitigate the drawback of not revealing your opponents hand with Cabal Therapy, it is by far the best discard spell, stripping your opponent of all copies of any one nonland card. This makes a world of difference compared to Duress when your opponent has two copies of Force of Will but just one pitch card or two Flusterstorms with only one blue mana open.
To make it easier for you, the deck runs the full four copies of Gitaxian Probe and some additional discard spells, all of which reveal your opponents hand. If you have not actually seen your opponent’s hand already, you need to be a real surgeon with this card. You can often draw conclusions from the way your opponents are playing as to what they have left in hand. Sometimes, there is only one card that can stop you. Sometimes you have a soul read. Learn to play with the card and it will pay off.
By the way, the flashback does come up from time to time. Be sure to remember that it’s there when you have Empty the Warrens tokens or other creatures.
Of the other two, Thoughtseize has more uses by virtue of taking creatures, but the lifeloss is very real. Which one of these you should run depends on what you expect to face and whether you’re relying on Ad Nauseam to win or not. Sometimes you want a split, sometimes one will be better for your metagame than the other. There is no clear best setup for these.
You will usually want six or seven discard spells total. You often board out discard spells against decks that interact with you through permanent hate primarily, bringing removal spells in exchange.
Interaction – Battlefield
Sometimes, you will have to interact with permanents. Sometimes, your discard will not be enough to stop them. This is where these cards come in. Luckily, apart from Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Counterbalance, permanent hate can generally only be found in sideboards, meaning the incentive to run any of these cards maindeck is extremely low.
Chain of Vapor has been a staple of Storm sideboards for quite some time, simply by virtue of being the cheapest catch-all anwer to permanents. Recently, however, there has been a big increase of copies of Chalice of the Void, which is usually cast for X=1, meaning Chain won’t help much. For this reason, Echoing Truth has started to appear alongside or in place of Chain.
While Daze does not interact on the battlefield, it does interact with the battlefield. It has not yet caught on, but I have been really enjoying this card. Most hate-permanents will come down on turn two. After sideboarding against non-blue decks, your fundamental turn will also be turn two, with a 40-45% kill rate by turn two. Daze helps you surviving until turn two on the draw and will give you extra insurance on the play.
Daze has two very strong things going for it. For once, it does not require any mana to cast, it will only cost you mana the turn after you cast it. This means you will no longer be faced with the dilemma of “discard or cantrip?”. It also solves situations where your opponents have different pieces of hate. If you play against Death & Taxes and your opponent has both Ethersworn Canonist and Thalie, Guardian of Thraben, a discard spell won’t get you very far. Daze, however, will still prevent them from landing a creature on turn two (barring Cavern of Souls, that is).
Another thing I really like about Daze is how flexible it is. Instead of running Dread of Night to beat Death & Taxes and Maverick and Echoing Truth to beat Aggro Loam, you can just cover both with Daze. It has not caught on yet, but I am confident it will once more players try it out.
Abrupt Decay is also almost catch-all, hitting all the relevant hate cards barring Leylines. It has uncounterability going for it, which makes it the best out to Counterbalance and is also relevant against decks like Jeskai Delver, which sport both countermagic and permanent hate. Krosan Grip really only serves as additional insurance against Counterbalance, but it also has other targets, most notably Leyline of Sanctity out of blue decks or Sensei’s Divining Top.
The downside to these two cards is simple: they require you to have green mana, which in turn means fetching nonbasic lands. This is not much of an issue against Miracles, but it can be an issue against decks like Aggro Loam or Eldrazi.
Abrupt Decay is the most relevant of these four cards and you will find three or more copies in almost all Storm sideboard. There is no real limit to how many of the other effects you can find in sideboards, there are lists with as many as eight copies total (usually 4 Decay, 2 Grip, 2 bounce spells), but I have also seen and played lists with just three Decays and I have played with just two bounce spells in metagames low on Miracles.
Somehow, almost all creatures that hate on storm decks are white. This means it’s often reasonable to pack specific answers to them, depending on how often you expect to play against decks sporting them. The two best hosers against them are Dread of Night and Massacre, so let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Dread of Night is superb against Death and Taxes, proactively killing lots of their creatures, most importantly Mother of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Aven Mindcensor. Thalia and Mindcensor are important for obvious reasons, but Mother is also very important because it allows you to use Chain of Vapor on their Phyrexian Revokers and Ethersworn Canonists. It’s also important against Maverick, should that still be a thing where you play, as you can cast it with Gaddock Teeg on the board.
Dread of Night is not, however, a good card against the blue creature decks. This is where you want Massacre. Apart from the fact that a single Dread of Night does not even kill their hatebears, Massacre can also be used to kill nonblue creatures, sometimes significantly slowing their clock. In turn, Massacre is just not reliable enough against Death and Taxes. They have flash creatures, they have Æther Vial and sometimes they even manage to get by without playing a single Plains. Notably, Massacre also makes your Ad Nauseams worse, which is an otherwise strong plan against Death and Taxes.
To sum up, Dread of Night is a sideboard card against Death and Taxes and, to a lesser extent, Maverick. Massacre is a sideboard card against Jeskai Delver and similar decks. Usually, slots on Massacre will be wasted since you already pack Abrupt Decay to bring against Delver.
Depending on whether you expect to play against Death and Taxes, I suggest running either no copies of Dread of Night or at least three. If you don’t intend to use Ad Nauseam in the matchup, it might be reasonable to make a split with Massacre though.
Interaction – Stack
Sometimes you will need to diversify your interaction. That’s where these come in. You can generally find these cards in sideboards, seeing as they’re more narrow. Also, for postboard games most decks vastly increase the amount of interaction they have, meaning that six or seven discard spells might just not be enough to ensure your spells will resolve or to prevent your opponents from going off in combo mirrors.
I want to address Xantid Swarm first, because out of these, it’s the only one that’s entirely proactive. You want to have them against decks that have very few ways to interact with creatures, both in terms of removing them and in terms of not letting them resolve in the first place. Basically, this means you want them against Show and Tell strategies. The benefit of them not casting spells in your turn should be obvious, but it can also be used to flashback a Cabal Therapy in a pinch.
Flusterstorm is unique in that it interacts with the stack and is mostly a defensive card. It’s at its best disrupting opposing combo decks, but it can also be used to force through your own combo, assuming neither Infernal Tutor nor Lion’s Eye Diamond is involved. This means you want it in combo mirrors, but can also board it against blue decks where you trim down on Lion’s Eye Diamond. It’s also worth noting that it can stop Hymn to Tourach, so some players like to board it against decks sporting those. Further, Flusterstorm has good synergy with Sensei’s Divining Top, which is already good by itself in Storm mirrors.
Interaction – Graveyard
Like Flusterstorm, Surgical Extraction and Extirpate are used to combat opposing combo decks, mostly those that interact with the graveyard. They can also be good against decks like OmniShow, where the entire strategy revolves around a single card.
Seeing as I prefer Xantid Swarm and Flusterstorm against OmniShow, I value Phyrexian Mana higher than Split Second. Also, the nonblack cards are more versatile, so Extraction and Extirpate are basically just sideboard cards for the Storm mirror.
Extra Spice – Carpet of Flowers
There really isn’t much to be said about Carpet. It creates a bunch of mana against blue decks, which are coincidentlly also the decks you want to spend the most mana against, between casting multiple Storm spells, resolving spells through tax-counters, casting Past in Flames multiple times and activating Sensei’s Divining Top. If you have some extra slots or need some help in blue matchups, try running one or two copies of Carpet, it might just be what you need.
Lands – Basics
Not being hit by Wasteland can be very important for Storm, as with many other decks. If your opponent has them, you will try to delay their usage to get the most value out of you lands. You also won’t have that many lands in your deck overall, so having your only land destroyed can be a very real risk.
You will usually only want one of each Island and Swamp. Island is more important early, whereas Swamp is better later. Lists very heavy on the blue cantrips sometimes run two Islands, but they risk having too many lands that don’t cast relevant spells in their combo turn. An argument can also be made for a second Swamp, as you will want as much black mana to start your combo turn as you possibly can. Overall, I think the third basic is not needed, but it can be good against decks with Wastelands.
Lands – Fetches
As I said before, you usually want a basic Island first and then a basic Swamp later. For that reason, you will want to run blue fetches primarily. Polluted Delta is a no-brainer, but your secondary fetch depends on your secondary black dual land. In case you don’t actually run a secondary black dual land, you should consider Flooded Strand to be able to bluff Miracles.
Very rarely, you will see lists with up to two copies of one of those, usually Bloodstained Mire. This happens when people feel they need to be able to fetch basic Swamp more often. The reason to run Bloodstained Mire is that it can get both Bayou and Volcanic Island to have access to all colours, whereas Verdant Catacombs can get both Badlands and Tropical Island.
Most lists run eight fetchlands, but I have recently started to cut the secondary black dual land, opting for nine fetches. I think your first eight fetches should be able to get basic Island, but your ninth fetch can also be Mire or Catacombs.
Lands – Duals
Not much to say here. Most of the time, storm lists have two copies of Underground Sea by virtue of being your two main colours, with two more blue duals, usually one of each.
Your secondary black dual is actually the single one card that says the most about your deck. If you intend to board Abrupt Decay against Jeskai Delver, Bayou should be your choice. If you don’t, or have red cards beyond just Past in Flames, Badlands will likely be your choice.
Your goal is to have no lands that essentially tap for colourless mana in your combo turn and not to have to fetch for a colour that only one land in your deck can produce before your combo turn.
In the end, your mana base should consist of eight to nine fetches, four to five duals and two basics. If you have room or incentive to run a sixteenth land, that should usually be a second swamp to hedge against Wastelands. If you do end up running that second Swamp, you can relegate Bayou to the sideboard, as green mana isn’t needed before sideboarding. If you run a Badlands, that should always stay in the maindeck.
Thanks for sticking through with me. If you have any questions that aren’t answered above, feel free to ask. You can reach me here in the comments, over at The Source (Jonathan Alexander) or on Twitter (@JonLX). I will also try to update this whenever new cards become relevant or new technology is found. I also intend to include a section on cards that are frequently brought up but just don’t cut it within the near future.