Last week, I extolled one of my favorite cards in Modern Masters: Thundercloud Shaman. Yesterday, I tried something completely different (but related in name) and drafted storm.

I wasn’t playing when Onslaught and Time Spiral were in print. The few times I’ve drafted them, I never encountered a storm deck. I’ve seen a Grapeshot, Tendrils of Agony, or Empty the Warrens for three at most in Limited. Sure, it’s officially the most broken mechanic has ever printed, beating out the Urza’s “free” mechanic and dredge. Sure, Mark Rosewater has a Storm Scale to hint at what may or may not return in future sets (a full 10 condemns the item in question to never returning, just as storm will never return).

I assumed that storm was only good in Constructed; you need oodles of card draw/selection, mana ramp, mana fixing, and storm spells, to say nothing of the fact that you need to protect yourself from your opponent’s stuff.

Then Zac stormed/spliced me to death a few weeks ago.

Then I went from 20 to 0 in a single turn.

Then LSV posted his storm draft.

Apparently, Modern Masters supports several strong storm strategies (say that five times fast!). You can Empty the Warrens for a bunch or Grapeshot with or without Pyromancer’s Swath. You can repeatedly bounce Grinning Ignus to produce prodigious storm counts or splice Desperate Ritual to fuel a series of spliced Glacial Rays or Dampen Thoughts… which can kill on their own or power a lethal storm spell. Even the innocent-looking Lava Spike and Reach Through Mists can be critical role-players in a storm or splice deck.

[I grant that I’m conflating two different strategies. Splice decks do not require storm cards to win, nor do storm decks require splice cards (though Desperate Ritual is a key storm card). However, every dedicated storm or splice MMA deck I’ve encountered is UR and utilizes cards and mechanics from both archetypes.]

People love storm because it is an epic mechanic. You chain spells like you’re a Gatling gun. You dig deeper through your deck than a massive Sphinx’s Revelation would. You produce several times more mana than you have lands. You use all of that mana. Just before the end, it’s five minutes into your sixth turn and you’ve cast nineteen spells. You use the last of your mana and suddenly your Grapeshot makes Urza’s Rage look puny. You killed your opponent, not some summoned monster.

How can you not love something so exciting? Well, let’s find out how my first attempt at drafting storm went.

DraftStorm red version

As in Pokémon (well, the first American release), my draft came in red and blue flavors. Unlike in middle school, I started with the red version. It has almost everything you could want in a storm deck—plenty of win-condition spells, lots of mana, arcane cards to splice onto, and even a Pyromancer’s Swath. It’s a bit short on card selection, but otherwise seems close to ideal.

If you look at the sideboard, you’ll see Cryptic Command and Oona, Queen of the Fae. They’re amazing spells that were cut due to being far too color-committing and irrelevant to storming out. I love these spells; Oona is one of the only cards I’ll easily pick over my man Thundercloud Shaman.

DraftStorm blue version

The blue version plays a slower role, relying on splicing Dampen Thought to win a longer game. It was eschewed for the red version as it was faster, had a lower curve, better mana, and was more focused (plus it had Pyromancer’s Swath to make Grapeshot insane). In retrospect, I consider this a mistake.

The first match did not go well.

Afterward, my friend (and Providence teammate) Dana provided truly insightful advice: Storm is not my kind of deck. I like interacting with my opponent’s board, whereas storm is a deck that wants to count to 20 damage and worry about little else. I wanted to Electrolyze my opponent’s creatures to buy time rather than burn my opponent’s face and necessitate a lower storm count for lethal. Playing storm felt like I was constantly losing the race when storm doesn’t care about the race (unless it’s about to die and isn’t about to win). My mentality was wrong for the deck.

arcane teachings

Perhaps storm or dedicated combo isn’t for me. I sure enjoy watching people combo out (seriously, watch the video clip of me losing to it in an MMA finals), but it’s more a guilty pleasure than something I aspire to do myself. I’ve had fun piloting Zac’s Modern Storm and Eggs decks in test games but doubt I’d like trying to combo out every match in a tournament.

As a primarily Limited player, I won’t have to worry often about encountering heavy combo decks (outside the confines of Cube and MMA). Granted, Spider Spawning was a combo deck in Innistrad, as was Dampen Thought in Champions of Kamigawa. I even enjoyed drafting Spider Spawning once in a while (it’s an exercise in discipline—you have to draft Armored Skaab over Olivia Voldaren), however, I more often enjoyed the challenge of beating the deck than I did piloting it.

As I continue to play and grow, I will have to become comfortable with all styles of play if I want to be a well-rounded player. Control, ramp, and tempo are my buddies, aggro and I are on good terms, but combo and I are estranged. I thank MMA storm/splice for reminding me that one plays better with a familiar and beloved style of deck and that one plays worse when the style is unfamiliar and unliked. I’ll try to turn that 0-1 drop into not just a valuable lesson, but an opportunity for improvement.

This week, I’d love to hear your stories—what decks have challenged you? What’s your preferred style of play? As always, thanks for reading!

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food bordering on the unhealthy.

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