So, you want to play Magic: The Gathering Legacy: Storm
Magic: The Gathering Legacy is an amazing format. The card pool is deep and varied, which leads to a rich and diverse metagame; no other format offers the same diversity of viable decks.
That being said, people who are new to Legacy often have a particular kind of deck in mind when they think of Legacy – the infamously broken turn one storm combo decks! This article will (hopefully) dispel some of the myths surrounding this mysterious archetype, introduce you to a few of the lists you might see, and give you the basic preparation you need to play with or against these powerful decks.
First, let’s look at the basic Storm mechanic. From Wikipedia:
When a player played a spell with storm, he or she puts a copy of that spell on the stack for each spell successfully cast before the storm spell this turn. For example, if the storm spell was the fifth spell played in the turn, four copies of the spell are put on the stack, so the player gets five instances of the spell.
Sounds simple, right? Play some spells, cast your Storm card, win. Let’s meet the contenders.
Two of these cards will effectively win the game the moment they are cast (or more strictly, when they resolve). With a storm count of 9, Tendrils of Agony will drop an opponent from 20 to zero (remember that the actual card counts as well), while Grapeshot will do the same with a storm count of 19.
The other three cards don’t actually win when they are cast, but win soon afterwards. Brain Freeze will deck a person with a storm count of 18, which will kill them then next time they draw a card (such as at the beginning of their turn), Empty the Warrens will kill an opponent in your next attack phase after a storm count of 9, and Hunting Pack will do the same after as storm count of 4.
It might be tempting to hold one of these cards out as better than the others, but each has their own advantages and disadvantages (such as colour, storm count, casting cost, etc) that gives rise to different decks, and we’ll take a look at a few of those decks in a moment.
Before we do that, however, let’s look at the disadvantages of playing storm.
1) You are fighting your deck as much as your opponent. Chaining together a bunch of spells is tough. In almost every case, you don’t have sufficient cards in your hand to actually reach the desired level of storm, so you also need to draw more cards that help you go off. That means that you rarely know, when you start to combo, if you will be successful. Sure, you can build your deck to maximize your odds, but at the end of the day, each attempt to combo is a leap of faith, and you can easily lose to your own deck.
2) It takes a very, very long time to get good at playing Storm. Did I mention that chaining together a bunch of spells is really difficult? Storm players need to make a huge number of play decisions in a single turn, starting with whether they keep their hand or mulligan, and even a single wrong decision can effectively end the game. Playing a storm deck is demanding, and exhausting. When you look at the Storm players winning tournaments, you typically find that they have been playing their deck for a very long time. Bryant Cook, the father of TES (The Epic Storm) has been playing his deck, through thick and thin, for about 6 years, so when he top 8’s at a GP, he’s earned it. I’ve been playing my storm deck for nearly two years, and I think I’m only just starting to play optimally.
3) Storm is easily disrupted. While it can be fun to walk all over aggro decks with poor sideboards, the truth is that one counter or discard spell at the right time can wreck a Storm deck. This leads us to the next point…
4) The turn one win is quite rare. Because Storm decks are so easily disrupted they often pack anti-disruption cards. This helps them go off, but it slows them down. While some ‘all-or-nothing’ decks still go off (or fail) on turn one quite regularly, most Storm decks go off between turns two and four.
Still, playing a Storm deck offers a completely unique play experience, and for some players there is simply no substitute. Other decks simply appear boring and one dimensional by comparison. For a dedicated Storm pilot, turning men sideways will simply never be as exciting, or as interesting, as building a storm chain.
Enough about Storm in general. On to the decks!
Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT)
1st place at a 200+ player tournament in Netherlands on 2010-11-14
This Blue/Black deck is the standard against which all other Storm decks are measured. It works by finding and then playing Ad Nauseam, which then allows you to draw most of your library (because almost all the spells cost 0 or 1 mana). From there you play cheap spells (most of which produce mana) until you have enough storm to cast Tendrils for lethal damage.
Like most Storm decks, though, ANT has backup plans. If life is low (perhaps against Burn or fast aggro) it can instead create an Ill-Gotten Gains loop to generate storm without paying life. In the sideboard it also has an Emrakul-Shelldock Isle combo. Because Storm decks are easy to disrupt, they like to have more than one way to get there.
ANT is generally considered the easiest Storm deck to play, so it has been very popular in the past. The reason it is seen as â€œeasy mode is because the draw engine, Ad Nauseam, is so powerful. If you can actually cast (and resolve) it, it’s really hard to not win.
When playing against Ad Nauseam you generally want to target the engine itself with your counters or silence effects, whether that is Ill-Gotten Gains or Ad Nauseam. This forces them to commit resources (acceleration) to the combo attempt, making it more difficult for them to try going off again next turn.
If you are relying on discard to shut them down, you will need to play on a case by case basis, but generally forcing them to discard their engine or their tutor for the engine is a good plan.
3 Ingot Chewer
4 Xantid Swarm
1 Diminishing Returns
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Hull Breach
1 Shattering Spree
This Red/Green deck is probably the fastest of all the Storm decks, with some pilots reporting a 70% turn one ‘win’ rate. This is a bit misleading, though, as Empty the Warrens, even when cast on turn one, will not actually kill an opponent until turn two, three, or even four. In Legacy, that’s a long time to find answers to some 1/1 tokens!
Belcher also does not have much of a draw engine, which means it needs to win with the cards in its opening hand. Mulliganing is therefore a huge part of playing Belcher, and storm counts tend to be quite low, so Empty the Warrens is unlikely to win the game in just one attack phase.
Belcher does have another win condition, though, which is much faster. Goblin Charbelcher is usually lethal damage if the pilot has enough mana to find, cast and activate it. If there seem to be a number of qualifiers in the sentence, it’s because there are. While Belcher is probably the fastest Storm deck, it is also probably the most fragile. It runs little or no counter-disruption and, as mentioned above, has no meaningful card draw or filtering. This makes it a difficult and inconsistent (if explosive) deck to pilot, although it’s sheer speed allows it to avoid much of the combo hate that it’s slower sisters have to deal with.
Because of Empty the Warrens, disrupting Belcher is a bit of a gamble. Once they reach four mana (a relatively easy task) they can simply cast EtW and ride it to victory, while still having the potential to try going off again. Generally, then, it’s better to disrupt Belcher earlier rather than later. Although it is tempting to try and force the pilot to commit as much as possible to their combo, this can easily backfire.
It’s also worth noting that playing against Belcher requires you to play like Belcher. The Belcher pilot will mull aggressively into a (hopefully) winning hand. Their opponent needs to mull equally aggressively into a disrupting hand. Because most players are quite poor at mulling, Belcher often wins in the face of decks that ought to have been able to shut it down.
9th place at a StarCityGames Legacy Open tournament in Denver, Colorado, United States on 2010-08-22
4 Thorn of Amethyst
2 Imperious Perfect
1 Joraga Warcaller
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Leyline of Lifeforce
2 Gleeful Sabotage
This (almost) mono Green combo deck wins by playing Glimpse of Nature followed by cheap mana-elves. After essentially drawing their whole deck, the pilot then plays Grapeshot for lethal.
At first glance, this deck seems like it has no alternative win condition, until you realize that playing 20 elves in a single turn is an alternative win condition. This deck can easily switch gears and become an aggro beatdown deck.
Like Belcher, this deck lacks counter-disruption and significant (non-combo) card draw/filtering. While this leaves the deck as draw dependent as Belcher, it is still not as vulnerable to disruption – the pilot is putting real creatures onto the board with each spell, which can start attacking, or can act as blockers while the pilot searches for the cards he needs. The trade off is speed; Elf Combo is typically a turn two-through-four win.
Elf combo is popular, however, because it is one of the cheapest Storm decks to build, and still plays â€œreal magicâ€, making it more intuitive for a non-Storm player.
The key spell here, of course, is Glimpse of Nature. Any disruption should be targeted at that card, first and foremost. Unfortunately, this deck can be pretty savage even without Glimpse, and Heritage Druid (ridiculous mana production) and Archdruid (simply stupid mana production AND pump) are dangerous in their own right if there are several elves on the table.
Because this deck is very creature dependent, board sweepers like Pernicious Deed and Engineered Explosives can be very helpful, but don’t underestimate the deck’s ability to bounce back from a wrath effect.
1st place at a 300+ player tournament in Madrid, Spain on 2010-10-10
1 Brain Freeze
1 Comet Storm
1 Echoing Truth
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Wipe Away
1 Words of Wisdom
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
This mono Blue Storm deck starts by playing High Tide, and then a series of draw spells and spells designed to untap lands to generate enough spells to find and play a Brain Freeze and deck their opponent.
Because the deck depends on land drops, it is a turn two or three deck, but it is much more resilient than some of the other decks we have looked at; depending on the build, the deck can actually pack a fair amount of counter magic to protect the combo. Blue also has unparalleled card draw/filtering, making the deck very consistent.
As an alternate win condition, Emrakul appears in the sideboard. High Tide based combo decks can generally produce far more mana than other Storm decks, so hard casting Emrakul is a real option.
As with most of the previous decks, there is a ‘ok’ card that should generally be targeted for disruption – in this case, High Tide. Without the additional mana produced by each Island, the deck can no longer generate enough mana with its untap effects to pay for the draw spells.
General Storm Hate
Throughout this article I have referred to the disruption that I am assuming each player packs for the Storm matchup. I cannot stress this point enough, though, as most decks that ignore this matchup will simply be stomped on. Storm decks are not unique in this way; there are a number of savage Legacy decks that require specialized hate. One of the marks of a good Legacy player is the way he prepares his limited sideboard space to deal with these various matchups.
Your options include:
1) Counter Magic. Whether Daze, Mindbreak Trap, or even Force of Will, properly applied counter magic will shut down most Storm decks. Storm pilots know this, however, so they run anti-disruption, either in the form of their own counter magic, or through discard and silence effects. As such, these cards are not guaranteed to win you the match, even if you have them in hand, but even just forcing your opponent to deal with your disruption first can buy you the time you need to put the game away. If you play Blue, this is probably your best option.
2) Silence Effects. Similar to counter magic, silence effects simply shut Storm players down part way through the combo. This leads to them wasting their earlier spells. Not quite as fast as counter magic, but available in White rather than Blue, and vulnerable to preemptive discard strategies.
3) Discard. Storm decks are notoriously bad at dealing with discard. Because they need to play a series of spells in the right order, forcing them to discard a key card can stop them in their tracks. Discard is slower that counter magic, but it’s also harder for Storm players to avoid. If you play Black, seriously consider some discard in your sideboard.
4) Hate Bears. This category is even slower than discard, but even tougher for Storm to deal with. Examples include Aethersworn Cannonist, Gaddock Teag, and Meddling Mage. If you can survive long enough to drop the hate, you will probably win.
5) Permanent Hate. Simaliar to Hate Bears, this category is for non-creature permanents, such as Counterbalance, Trinisphere, and Chalice of the Void. Although the distinction seems minor, a Storm deck needs completely different tools to fight a resolved artifact or enchantment compared to a resolved creature.
6) Leyline of Sanctity. Technically, this is also permanent hate, but it is also very fast, coming onto the table uncounterably on turn zero. This can really ruin a Storm player’s day, but don’t expect it to solve all your problems; most Storm decks have an alternate win (like Empty the Warrens) that does not target. You have made their life more difficult, but not impossible.
None of these will stop a Storm deck forever, but you don’t need to shut them down completely, you just need to delay them long enough for your own strategy to win you the game.
Other Legacy decks
The decks above are just a sample of the Storm decks out there. Others include, Iggy Pop, Solidarity, Spanish Inquisition, Doomsday Tendrils and TES. However, these decks are all far more difficult to play than the decks included above, and (with the exception of TES, which is enjoying a surge of popularity due to Bryant Cook’s recent results) tend to be quite rare. The lists I have included are generally lists that are winning major tournaments at the moment, so you may well see them across from you or consider playing them.
Thanks for reading,
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