Modernizing Gifts Storm with Modal Double-Faced Cards
- Andreas Reling
Nowadays, every new expansion comes with powerful cards liable to change decks that have looked the same for ages, even in nonrotating formats like Modern. Zendikar Rising is no exception to this trend. This article examines the impact of the new modal double-faced cards on Modern's Gifts Storm archetype.
Modern Gifts Storm is a deck as old as the format itself. While it took a while for Gifts Ungiven to become the premium combo engine in its line-up — essentially until Goblin Electromancer saw the light of day — the list has remained largely unchanged ever since. Storm players only got slight upgrades here and there, sometimes in the form of better lands like Spirebluff Canal and Fiery Islet or in another cost-reducing creature such as Baral, Chief of Compliance.
Zendikar Rising, however, saw the print of a big game changer in the new modal double-faced cards, prime examples being Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle and Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge. If you remember Duel Masters, also made by Wizards of the Coast — in this game you could choose to play every card as a mana-producing resource or use it as a spell or creature, whatever was printed on the card. The idea behind it was to avoid mana screw and mana flood by giving the players the decision to use their cards however they saw fit in any given situation. The goal was to have fewer games where a player can't keep up because they have a bad draw and to make the game overall more interesting and fun.
In Magic: The Gathering, on the other hand, being mana screwed or mana flooded is a risk that directly impacts the decisions you have to make while building your deck. A player has to know how many lands their deck needs. If they want to make their deck run as smoothly as possible, they need to do thorough calculations. This represents part of the challenge of Magic, and it's also part of the fun. While tossing in a handful of modal double-faced cards decreases the chance of being flooded or screwed, it adds new challenges to deck construction and especially adds gameplay decisions, which should give us food for thought for years to come. I'm happy this new mechanic will make deck building more interesting going forward, but I also think that some strategies benefit more from these cards than others do.
Why are MDFCs So Good for Storm?
Gifts Storm is a deck that wants to win as fast as possible while giving the opponent few opportunities to interact and stop you. You need a lot of different pieces to execute the combo, namely: a cost reducer like Goblin Electromancer, a bunch of mana rituals like Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, or Manamorphose, and a slew of cards to keep going or a single Gifts Ungiven. For that reason, Gifts Storm traditionally includes a number of cantrips like Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and/or Opt to sculpt a good hand in the early turns. This approach doesn't leave much room for lands. Since you want to end the game as quickly as possible, most lists only ran sixteen to eighteen lands in the past. This made the deck quite inconsistent with regard to using all its land drops and led to many games where you awkwardly had to waste your mana and cantrips on finding lands. While it doesn't require much mana to initiate the combo, your chances of going off fast and savely increase directly with the number of lands you have in play.
Sure, you can cast a cost reducer off of two lands and untap for the third turn and win off of those permanents alone. But if your creature gets removed from the battlefield, you want to hit your third and fourth land as well to cast Gifts Ungiven or Fact or Fiction on your opponent's end step to refuel and to go off again on your fifth turn. There are also games where you fail to draw a creature and need every land possible to execute the combo while restricted on mana sources.
Having Silundi Vision and Valakut Awakening in your deck gives you more virtual lands, makes you mulligan less and hit more land drops. The spell side on those cards might not be as good as cards ran in the past, but they're acceptable spells that help you find the missing combo pieces or keep going for a big storm count within your combo attempt. Also, getting a discount on their mana cost via the creatures makes them more attractive here than anywhere else. The deck did include comparable spells in the past like Peer Through Depths, Desperate Ravings, and Pieces of the Puzzle. The added option to simply play them out as tapped lands means they're far better than they look at first glance.
How the Deck Could Look Going Forward
Grand Prix champion and storm aficionado Timo Schünemann had posted a first draft of the list, and I took a lot of inspiration from it. To make room for the new modal double-faced cards, I simply cut all the previously played cantrips. We don't need to cantrip for lands anymore as we hit our land drops more naturally with a virtually higher land count, and since Silundi Vision and Valakut Awakening can help turn unused cards into the missing Past in Flames, Gifts Ungiven, or the last needed mana ritual, I figured we didn't need the additional card selection. This way we can play more cards that progress our game state instead of wasting mana.
|The New Gifts Storm|
I've been a big fan of splashing green for a while, since the sideboard cards Veil of Summer, Weather the Storm, and Ancient Grudge are simply too strong and efficient not to play. So I wanted to try out a green main-deck card in Explore — which takes advantage of the higher land count and has great synergy with the cost reducers. A second turn Explore lets you cast Gifts Ungiven on the third turn and hopefully execute a lethal string of spells on the fourth turn even without access to a creature, which adds more resilience and consistency to the deck.
On another note, using Jegantha, the Wellspring as a companion has become mandatory for me. The number of benefits this card brings outweigh the loss of the fifteenth sideboard slot by a lot, and having Explore makes it even better as you now can cast it on turn four in a lot of games. The Elk buys time, draws a counterspell, ramps you into your combo — if left unchecked — or simply wins in four attacks against opponents that are not prepared to beat a 5/5 when their sole post-sideboard strategy is to shut down your combo.
A nice trick you can do with Jegantha is also to put it into your hand and cycle it for another card with Valakut Awakening, which essentially adds "3 mana: draw a card" as text to your spell. Izzet Boilerworks increases the repertoire of neat tricks as well, as it plays nicely with Explore and also lets you pick up Silundi Isle or Valakut Stoneforge when you've played them as lands earlier but have run out of action in the meantime and need additionals spells.
Results So Far
Since I no longer play online, I only had one opportunity so far to test out my ideas, but that one went pretty well. At the weekly Modern tournament in my hometown, Rosenheim, the deck proved unstoppable until the finals, where I lost against Azorius Stoneblade in three very close games that could've gone either way. I have to admit that I faced good matchups in Tron, Dredge, and blue control. But what I realized quickly was that the new decklist requires fewer mulligans and offers more draws where you hit your first four land drops and go off with protection on the third or fourth turn, capitalizing on the strengths of the archetype and mitigating its central weakness — which is that you durdle around in some games for too long.
I'm not sure yet if Silundi Vision is not simply better than Valakut Awakening as you're often looking for one missing piece and need all your hand cards anyway. Whether Explore is the correct way to push this deck or not is a controversial topic as well. It needs further discussion and testing, since adding green spells to the main deck stretches the mana base a lot, but in theory, I like the idea and will continue to explore it further. I'm interested in your opinion too! What do you think about this quite experimental list? Have you tried something similar or think I'm completely wrong? Let me know in the comments!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.