Storming Off in Prague
- Andreas Reling
The Modern Metagame is in a constant state of change these days. A few months ago, Andifeated thought his pet deck U/R Gifts Storm has been pushed out of the top decks because of an abysmal Humans matchup, but the tides have changed again. Follow him through his deck choice process and tournament for Grand Prix Prague.
The History of Storm
Back in 2012, I was mostly a Legacy and Vintage Player and I participated in my second Grand Prix Event, which should have been Modern. I was playing Ad Nauseam Tendrils of Agony Storm in Legacy at that time so it was natural to me to try the modern Storm deck first. Storm was already a potent deck and Preordain, Ponder, and Rite of Flame were recent additions to the ban list, as combo decks were too explosive and consistent.
Just a few weeks before Grand Prix Lyon, Return to Ravnica was released and Goblin Electromancer redefined Modern Storm Decks. With the mana reducing ability of that cute Wizard, cards like Gifts Ungiven, Seething Song and Past in Flames finally became the centerpiece of the archetype we know today.
The deck became very popular despite Deathrite Shamans format warping presence and pressure on graveyards in many maindecks didn't stop the deck from becoming the second most played deck on magic online right behind the most dominant deck the format has ever seen: Jund featuring Deathrite Shaman.
The deck consistently won on the third turn of the game and when the DCI decided to add Deathrite Shaman to the banned list they had no choice but also commit some action in order to weaken Storm – Seething Song was chosen for the banning.
Storm went through some rough years after that, but with recent printings like Spirebluff Canal, which improved the manabase, and Baral, Chief of Compliance, who is a strict upgrade to Goblin Electromancer and helps alongside Opt to make the deck even more consistent and fast the deck was right back at the top of the metagame at the start of 2018.
A Changing Modern Leading Up to Prague
I picked the deck up again earlier this year after I had played many other decks and it felt so strong again. Despite so many bannings hitting the deck over the years the deck was pretty well positioned and was invigorated by recent printings. The deck's worst matchup, Grixis Death's Shadow, wasn't showing up in oppressive numbers anymore and a slowing metagame with more Tron and W/U/x Control Decks is the perfect hunting grounds for the resilient, yet fast combo deck. I was winning a lot at my local store and on magic online and was confident I would play the deck at this year's Modern Grand Prix Events.
So far so good, but I didn't know metagame madness was upon the format and when the five-colored humans deck crushed tournaments left and right, I realized my win rate against a deck featuring Meddling Mage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and other disruptive creatures in the main deck was abysmal. I reconsidered deck choices after it became clear that this predator was here to stay and took more and more percentages of the winning metagame.
When Jace, the Mind Sculptor was unbanned and Storm didn't look that great anymore it was naturally for me to play a lot of Grixis Control in order to capitalize on all those small human creatures floating around battlefields and grind them out with Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt and the greatest Planeswalker of all time. But in preparation for Grand Prix Barcelona it became clear that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a real contender to Jace's lonely throne and I switched to Jeskai Control. At that tournament and since then, we could watch UW Control becoming the most popular deck to beat at the moment.
I love it when Modern and Legacy are featured at the highest tables of the game. Pro Tour 25th Anniversary was promising because there where recent bannings in Legacy and drastically metagame changes just happening to Modern. Whenever the best Magic players in the world need to figure out such an old format in change, chances are they are stumbling across something mind-warping and format changing and this time was no different.
Not only is there a new tier one deck in blue-black Death's Shadow now in Legacy, but Team Ultra Pro and Genesis tested together and tuned the Modern Storm Deck to a point where it actually doesn't have an unfavorable Humans matchup anymore.
The list looks like this:
|17Lands||8Other Permanents||35Instants and Sorceries|
|2Island||3Baral, Chief of Compliance||4Desperate Ritual|
|1Misty Rainforest||3Goblin Electromancer||4Gifts Ungiven|
|4Scalding Tarn||4Pyretic Ritual|
|2Steam Vents||2Past in Flames|
|4Sleight of Hand|
|3Empty the Warrens||1Fiery Impulse||2Grim Lavamancer|
|2Lightning Bolt||1Shattering Spree|
This version of the deck can transform into a sort of controlish deck post board that kills many creatures with removal spells, disrupt greedy manabases with Blood Moon, or destroys problematic permanents like Damping Sphere or Relic of Progenitus while sculpting the perfect hand to go off. It also dodges popular Graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace by disrupting the opponent's strategy and not needing the graveyard anymore with many copies of Empty the Warrens for some goblins, which is surprisingly effective against a lot of Modern decks alongside your sideboard cards. On another note, Pyromancer Ascension main deck is just genius in a format full of cheap creature interaction and slower decks that can't interact well with that nasty enchantment.
The deck has an incredible Blue-White Control matchup – according to data gathered from Grand Prix Prague, Storm players won almost 70 % of their matches against Control – and is also favored against new popular choices like KCI. After playing the deck at my local modern PPTQ and just losing to a very good Hollow One Draw in the final, it was clear to me that Storm is very potent right now. It was also the deck I'm most familiar with, so I decided to register the above list for the Grand Prix Prague Main Event.
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: The Rack
If you have plenty of time, this matchup is easy. Your hand cards will disappear quickly, but with lands in play, Past in Flames wins almost immediately given enough Mana.
Round 3: Kiki Chord
My opponent cast some Mana Dorks and Voice of Resurgence and conceded quickly to a big Grapeshot. It dawned on me that this is no Naya Zoo Deck when he cast Wall of Omens. This card essentially confirms that his deck contains Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Chord of Calling, which made Dispel pretty potent.
Round 4: Vizier Company
This deck is very fast but lacks relevant interaction in the early turns and is also not as consistent as Storm. Be aware that Chord on Shalai, Voice of Plenty or Gaddock Teeg is devastating. You have to be fast and disrupt their creatures. Dispel and Lightning Bolt are the best cards against them.
Round 5: Blue Moon
In general, this is a strategy I'm not afraid of at all. Blood Moon and Counterspells without a clock or relevant lock is not dangerous to Storm. Thing in the Ice changes that completely though. The card adds relevant creature interaction since they can bounce Goblin Electromancer or Baral with the flip trigger. Additionally, it's a fast clock that pressures storm while sculpting a hand and Empty the Warrens, which is a very good card against most control strategies, looks like a joke against this card.
Round 6: Elves
Elves is a bit slower than Storm and lacks relevant interaction even post board – this matchup is pretty good
Round 7: Classic Affinity
We had very close and interactive games. The deck is almost as fast as storm and has relevant main-deck interaction in Galvanic Blast and good sideboard options like Rest in Peace, Counterspells, and Damping Sphere. Storm has good postboard cards as well, so this is always a very tight and interesting match.
Round 8: Burn
This is hands down the worst matchup in the format. The deck is probably as fast and consistent as storm – probably a bit less – and brings a lot of removal spells and a hard lock piece in Eidolon of the Great Revel even preboard. I was able to go off on turn three against a resolved Eidolon by killing it before casting Gifts Ungiven with Grapeshot and having enough Mana to proceed. In game three it came down to fading his one draw step with exactly lethal Goblin Tokens in play where about half his possible draws would have won - and I did!
Round 9: Esper Midrange
I knew Stefan Heigerer's Decklist because he is from my local PPTQ area and he just lost the finals of PPTQ Salzburg the week before with this deck. It is a very unusual deck featuring a lot of discard, removal and many more creatures you would expect. We had very close and interesting games but in Game three, my Blood Moon combined with Empty the Warrens was too much for his complicated Manabase and cards that trade one for one.
Round 10: KCI
I haven't played this matchup or deck before (shame on me), but in theory, I felt favored against a slower combo-deck without hard hate cards. After talking to Marc Tobiasch, I'm confident you should bring in Dispel as well if you have seen blue mana sources, since they will side in Negate and Removal for Creatures.
Round 11: UW Control
Storm can certainly lose this matchup when your opponent is as knowledgeable with his deck as Kirill Tsarkov showed in our match, where he demolished me 2-0.
I tend to side in Abrade even if I don't know their list because most of them have two Damping Spheres and, if not, you can just buy time with destroying Snapcaster Mage or Vendilion Clique - it's just too risky to not bring any solutions for this card you can't beat otherwise.
Round 12: Infect
I'm somewhat afraid of this pairing since the deck is quicker than Storm and has good sideboarding options in Counterspells and Graveyard Hate like Grafdigger's Cage. Our sideboard plan includes bringing in a lot of removal and Dispel, since we have a lot of clunky and slow cards that aren't great anyway, like Ascension and Remand, but the deck has good ways to protect their strategy against cheap removal in the form of Blossoming Defense and Vines of Vastwood.
Round 13: Infect
Not much to say here, just got lucky and went faster than him.
Round 14: Storm
If your opponent fetches for Island and casts Serum Vision, Opt, or Sleight of Hand, your heart should beat faster since the mirror match is unforgiving and very savage. Keep fast hands, ignore the possibility of Counterspells and try to be as fast as possible. Bring in Dispel and Lightning Bolt and be as fast as possible!
Round 15: Green Tron
This is exactly the matchup you want to face for a high-stakes match of magic!
The main deck of Tron stands no chance to storms strategy since just everything they are capable of doing is irrelevant. If they can combine a turn three Karn Liberated or turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger with a Relic of Progenitus to buy time they can win, but chances are slim. Postboard they have Thought-Knot Seer, Surgical Extraction and some Spatial Contortion but Storm brings in Blood Moon and should still be favored.
I won the first game and what then happened is unbelievable turn of events.
For the second game I keep Baral, Chief of Compliance, Serum Visions, Gifts Ungiven, Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual and Manamorphose and a Land. I failed to find a second land before a Thought-Knot Seer defeats me in five attacks.
In the last game I'm on the play again and kept Desperate Ritual, Desperate Ritual, Baral, Chief of Compliance, Opt, Scalding Tarn, Island and Sleight of Hand. I failed to find action with my cantrips and, despite the fact that my opponent's first relevant play was turn four Thought-Knot Seer, I lost again. That's Magic sometimes.
My tiebreakers were not decent enough to finish in the top 64 so I ended up in 83rd place, out of 2007 players for no cash prize. Chances to make it with 11-4 where about 25 % so that's not a big surprise, but what boggles me is that with a 12-3 record, players finished anywhere between top 16, top 32 and top 64. Playing tiebreaker lottery for $ 1000, $ 500 or $ 250 is really a terrible thing especially since the exact same prize payout structure was used for Grand Prix Copenhagen earlier this year where only 753 players competed for the same prizes.
I really hope Wizards will announce some changes to the Grand Prix Payout for the upcoming year since it's been needed for a long while now. Anyways, I'm really happy with my finish, especially considering I was able to play my pet deck and posted a ~ 70 % win rate at a tournament of this level. It's always a blast to play your pet deck and I felt very lucky. Right after my match against Tron, where I probably lost $500 or $250, I was able to have a nice conversation with my opponent about our match and laugh about what happened. I'm pretty happy to be in a mental state where, regardless of whether I lose or win, it doesn't change the fun I'm having playing magic – even when the stakes are high.
Let me know in the comments what Modern Deck is your favorite, what you think a good Grand Prix payout structure would be, or if you struggle to deal with hard losses at tournaments on an emotional level.
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