The Eye of the Storm

Storm has been my default choice for Legacy tournaments for a very long time now. I always felt the deck was quite well-positioned and also allowed me to leverage play skill in a lot of matchups, making for a very strong deck — only if my opponents brought decks that actually had the tools to beat Storm and played well would they have a decent shot at winning. Of course, from time to time, I would face someone who decided they didn’t want to lose against Storm. For example, I once played against a guy who sideboarded Orim’s Chant, Ethersworn Canonist and Leyline of Sanctity in his Miracles deck. That match wasn’t very interesting.

Over the course of the last couple months, I learned a lot about deck selection, and I don’t think Storm is a good choice right now, at least for most tournaments. What I want to do today is go over the metrics I use when choosing a deck and how things are looking for Storm right now.

In Magic, there are two forms of interaction. First and foremost, we have card to card interaction. If I have a 2/2 and you have a 3/3, your creature will beat mine in combat. Pretty simple. Then we have player to player interaction. If I attack my 2/2 into your 3/3, you can block or not. This is where things get interesting. Why am I attacking with my 2/2 here? I might have a combat trick to kill your creature. Or I might have a Wrath of God which will kill my creature anyway, so my attack is free. I could also be bluffing, trying to get an extra two damage in.

Realising that your 3/3 beats my 2/2 is not hard. It doesn’t take any skill to see that, power and toughness of our creatures are printed on the cards. But correctly assessing my attack is much harder. Most of the time we don’t know the contents of our opponents’ hands, so we have to base our decisions on imperfect information.

Let’s look at something that’s more relevant to Storm. If I control a Meddling Mage naming Cabal Ritual you simply can’t cast Cabal Ritual. But if I’m holding Spell Snare instead, you can. And if you do, how do I know if I should counter it? There’s no way to tell whether you’re trying to bait the counter to resolve an Infernal Tutor later or just need the mana from Cabal Ritual. However, there are some clues to be picked up, which brings me to my next point.

When making decisions with imperfect information, we also have two choices. We can play the odds or we can play the player. If you open a turn one kill with your Storm deck, the only card that could stop you is Force of Will. You have no way to know for sure if I have it, but you could calculate the odds of having at least one of four copies in a seven card hand. Do you think your chance of winning a longer game are lower than my not having Force? Then you go for it.

Or maybe we are playing game three and you remember I thought a little longer about my opener for game two on the draw, which didn’t contain Force, but was fairly strong otherwise. With my current hand, I snap kept, so it’s highly likely I do in fact have Force, because it’s the only way my hand could be better than in game two.

Of course, even though I do have the Force here, I might use it on the wrong spell. This leads us to Storm-only territory.

When I started playing Storm, the majority of interaction I had to face was in the form of various counterspells. Unless your opponent will counter literally all of your spells, there is always a way to win through countermagic. They might default to saving their counters for your big spells, but you have Tendrils in hand already. Or maybe they will go after your ritual effects when that’s what you have most of. Or you are making them use their counters on the wrong spells by playing them in an unusual order or saying something that makes them misevaluate the situation.

There were also decks like GW/x Maverick and later Death & Taxes, which relied on permanent-based hate to stop Storm. For the most part, these were very easy to beat, because not only were they light on interaction, they also couldn’t do anything before turn two, making it not too hard to race them.

Then, Deathrite Shaman was printed. Deathrite itself is not a problem, but it made discard a much more important factor than it was before. With discard, you almost always have perfect information, so it’s not hard to pick the correct card, assuming you have a basic understanding of what you’re up against.

To allude to what I talked about in the beginning of the article, discard makes for very clean card to card interaction. While counterspells make for interaction similar to blocking without knowing your opponent’s hand, discard spells will bring things down to a level of “what beats what”. Obviously, Storm is a little more complicated than combat with just two vanilla creatures, so it’s not impossible to beat players who play worse than you do just because they pack discard. It is certainly not as easy as it is with just counterspells though.

Even in a world consisting of countermagic, discard spells, the occasional Counterbalance and some creature decks, games involving Storm almost always favoured the player who made better decisions in-game. Over the past couple years, a lot of players have told me they don’t like Storm because of how non-interactive the games are. My response has always been that I liked Storm because of the huge amount of direct interaction between players.

This has changed. With the rise of Dig Through Time, it has become much harder to grind through blue decks. They are now much better equipped to really deal with all of the Storm player’s relevant spells. It has also become much harder to gain information from a read, because players can now essentially mulligan in the middle of a game.

Further, the surge of OmniTell has put combo decks in the spotlight. Players are more wary of them now, and are trying to gain an edge by deck construction. Blue decks have started playing more permanents to hate on combo, and a highly disruptive version of Aggro Loam has surfaced. Even more extreme, MUD has become a real factor in some metagames.

As I said before, it’s almost impossible to use permanent hate incorrectly, so games often revolve around one player trying to deploy such a permanent and the other trying to remove it. Sure, both players still try to maximise their resources, but in a way that’s clearly lacking interaction.

In a vacuum, that’s not necessarily a reason to stop playing Storm. If the margins to be gained from tight play are small, that’s not a problem if you have considerable deck advantage. If everyone is playing Death & Taxes, well yes, most games come down to variance, but the matchup favours Storm so heavily that it doesn’t matter.

In a world of Sensei’s Divining Top, Flusterstorm, Ethersworn Canonist and Dig Through Time all in one deck, however, that is a problem. I know this is an exaggeration, but I have no interest in playing Storm in a metagame where over half the time, if I don’t win the game before my opponent takes their second turn, I can no longer win the game.

Please note that I’m not saying you should absolutely not play Storm right now, it’s simply that I no longer default to playing Storm. Storm is still a strong deck. It is very punishing to an opponent’s clunky draws or risky keeps. There are still metagames where it’s the best choice (just look at Eternal Weekend, the Top 32 lists are incredibly soft to Storm). Whenever Storm is not on the radar, it can’t be too bad to show up with it, because you will have considerable deck advantage.

But right now, you will often have neither deck advantage nor the opportunity to beat players on the back of mind games. There are other factors in deck selection, but these are the most important ones. I knew about a month before GP Lille that Storm wasn’t a great choice, but I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up another deck and get enough reps in to be comfortable playing it, so I stuck with Storm and it went horribly. Ironically, Lille was very kind to a lot of Storm players, but I still think it was a bad choice for the event.

Thanks for reading.

J

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