Storm Academy: Becoming a Magic: The Gathering Storm Pilot
Recently I wrote an article aimed at introducing new Magic: The Gathering Legacy players to Storm combo. My experience has been that some Standard players are turned off Legacy by their perception of overpowered, turn 1 combo decks. I thought that my article might help make them more familiar with some of more common Storm decks, and make the format seem a little less intimidating.
While my article was generally well received, I’m not sure that it accomplished what I set out to do, as it lacked a certain focus, which is unavoidable when trying to cover such a huge topic (even in a cursory fashion) in a single article.
To remedy that, this is the first of a series of articles aimed at helping new Legacy players learn to pilot Storm decks. While there will be an article specifically aimed at fighting Storm decks, I will primarily be focusing on ‘the next generation’ of Storm pilots.
This particular article is aimed at managing the expectations of new Storm pilots. Far too many people pick up a Storm deck, play a couple of games, and give up because the deck did not perform.
Storm combo is not for everyone
Playing Storm combo properly is difficult, and over the course of a large tournament, exhausting. And frankly, Storm combo is not for everyone.
People often disagree with me on this point. After all, many players have picked up a Storm deck, played a couple of goldfish hands, and pointed out that they can combo out just fine. Unfortunately, these players have completely missed the point.
It’s true that some hands simply play themselves. If I’m playing ANT, and my opening hand (on the play) is Bayou, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Duress, Infernal Tutor, then the hand is almost an auto-win against most decks (although you can still screw it up).
However, very few hands are that good, and there are a huge number of decisions, starting with whether to keep or mull, that go into sculpting a combo capable hand. Add your opponent’s clock and disruption, and you have seriously difficult task on your hands.
This is an excellent article that demonstrates exactly what the above looks like in a real game.
If you are seriously thinking about playing a Storm deck, you should ask yourself the following questions.
Do I have the patience to master Storm combo? This is an archetype that takes months to play competently, and years to actually master. If you don’t like the idea of playing the same deck for such an extended period, Storm may not be what you are looking for.
Am I willing to put in the work that Storm combo demands? Storm pilots are required to consider long and abstract event chains before they even begin to combo. This requires focus and intense concentration. Many players are simply not willing to put that much effort into a card game. If, as some players do, you would prefer to ‘wing it’ and hope for the best, you are never going to be able to play Storm optimally.
Why do I want to play Storm? There are many good reasons to play Storm decks; they are complex, fascinating decks that reward a pilot’s dedication the way few other decks do. However, Storm decks are not the best decks, the most reliable decks, or the easiest decks. If your goal is simply winning, then there are better ways of doing that. You should play Storm simply because you enjoy playing Storm; winning is simply a side-effect of the real goal, which is to pilot the deck well.
If, after all that, you still want to play Storm, it’s time to get to work.
The Practical Training
First, you need to choose your deck. I’m going to gloss over this stage right now, as I will be writing a later article dedicated to this point alone. For now, just consider that each deck plays in a unique way, and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are objectively ‘better’ than others, if the benchmark is winning tournaments, but that benchmark is misleading – it is just as much a sign of how easy the deck is for a non-Storm pilot to pick up and play in the right metagame.
After your deck has been chosen, you need to proxy up a conventional build. There is a lot in that sentence, so I’ll break it down.
a) Proxy, I can’t stress that enough. You may find that you don’t actually enjoy the synergies of the deck you chose, and you will want to be able to switch without wasting your time and money.
b) Keep your build conventional. I don’t care what your rating is, or how smart you are. Nobody can make informed, balanced and sensible changes to something as complex as a Storm deck without at least several months of constant play experience. Go with a build that the community agrees is standard, and (if possible) has tournament results to back it up. Avoid builds that are too current – you want tried and tested, not experimental tech.
c) Keep your build conventional. This one is worth saying again. I have seen too many would-be pilots fail and give up because of the ‘improvements’ they decided to make to the net-deck the found on some random web page. They took an unproven list, made it worse, and then wondered why the damn thing never seemed to work. A Storm deck is a precision machine, with cards interacting in ways that are not always obvious, and you don’t tamper with it without the proper training. If you are really stuck, contact me and I’ll send you a reliable deck list. I have no idea why so many people seem to find this guidance so difficult to follow.
With your conventional build proxied up, start gold-fishing.
Set yourself a turn limit appropriate to your deck, and play those opening turns, over and over again. Teach yourself to combo off by the turn limit on almost every occasion. In particular, try to construct a series of ‘rules’ that will help you mulligan effectively. Such rules might include:
- The minimum number of lands or land substitutes.
- The minimum number of draw or tutor spells.
- The minimum number of mana ramp spells.
- How often can you mull to meet these minimums.
Using my own Solidarity as an example, my rules are as follows:
- My opening hand must contain at least two lands. I will mull to 4 cards to find this.
- My opening hand must contain at least one card filtering spell. I will mull to 5 cards to find this.
- My opening hand must contain at least one combo card. I will mull to 6 cards to find this.
Most players are very, very poor at mulling. The advantage of Storm combo, however, is that goldfishing will tell you very quickly whether or not you are mulling correctly. This is one of the reasons to use a conventional build. You can easily track your own â€œturn Xâ€ goldfish success rate and compare it to the reported success rates. If your success rate is less than more experienced pilots, you know that the problem is you, not your deck.
Goldfishing is something you will never really stop doing. It keeps your sharp, even when you do not have an opponent to play against. Once you can reliably combo by â€œturn Xâ€, start adding conditions. Practice going off a turn earlier. Practice going off when you know your first tutor is going to be countered (unless you protect it). Practice going off after taking 6 damage on turn 2. Learn the capabilities of your deck.
However, you should recognize the limits of goldfishing. When I goldfish Solidarity, for example, Force of Will is essentially a dead card. I never want to see it in my opening hand. But in real play, Force of Will wins me games. As such, goldfishing is a supplement to real play, not a replacement. Additionally, real play will teach you when to break the rules established by goldfishing. I’ll throw my rules out the window against fast combo, when I’ll mull into a hand with disruption over combo pieces (or even land).
The Theoretical Training
As you get yourself up to speed with goldfishing, you should also be going to mtgthesource.com, the premier Legacy forum on the web. Assuming you did not already visit the site when choosing a deck and a decklist (and why didn’t you?), you should then find the appropriate primer for your deck, and read all of it.
Every. Single. Post.
Don’t sit down and do it all at once; that would be a waste of time. But work through the thread. Follow the arguments and developments of the deck. You should know why each and every card in your deck was included, and what the alternatives that almost made it were. You should be able to intelligently discuss how the deck has evolved and responded to metagame changes, and you should have a pretty good idea of what your good and bad matchups are.
The Solidarity thread has over 1500 posts. There is an even longer thread in the archives. I re-read both those threads a couple of times a year. Metagames move in cycles, and the problems you are facing now have very likely been faced by previous pilots, but you can’t check the forums mid-match.
Equally, synergies and card interactions that you might never have come up with on your own will be discussed by the other pilots, and you can learn the myriad tricks of the deck from them. Of course, without the play experience and the context that creates, none of those tricks will really stick in your mind, so don’t skip the play testing just to read the forums.
Strike out on you own – carefully!
Once you are thoroughly familiar with the background and theory behind your deck, can goldfish to a suitable standard and have played in a few tournaments, you should consider modifying your build. At this stage, you should have an appreciation for how fragile Storm decks are, and any changes should be incremental. A card here, possibly a card there, and then rigorous play testing.
It is very unlikely that you will discover new tech (outside new cards being printed). However, if you are familiar with the â€œalso ranâ€ cards that did not quite make the cut, and the arguments for and against them, then you are free to review those decisions for yourself, making up your own mind.
Using Solidarity as an example again, Peer Through Depths was considered and rejected because it did not help make critical land drops. This reasoning was completely correct, but I circumvented this issue by adding more lands to my build. While my build is considered atypical, it is also generally recognized as a valid personal variant based on my play style, and other pilots have experimented with the changes that I pioneered.
Equally, the standard build contains 4 High Tide in the maindeck to facilitate faster combos. When another pilot began testing 3 High Tides main, and another in the wishboard, I found that the tradeoff (less speed, more consistency) suited my playstyle, and I adopted that element of his build.
While I believe that those changes are right for me (and my recent tournament performance supports this), I recognize that they are not objectively right for all other Solidarity players (either of them). But you need to achieve a fairly high standard of play before you can isolate one element of your deck sufficiently to properly evaluate it.
Onward to Mastery
Ultimately, you will only begin to achieve your full potential as a Storm pilot once you have a solid mastery of the deck concepts, a wealth of actual play experience, and a deck properly tuned to your own playstyle. None of these things will happen by accident, and you need to put in the necessary work if you want to get there.
Once you have reached that point, however, you will be able to make the very complicated look ridiculously simple, your bad matchups will become winnable, and your good matchups will become walkovers. You will also be a member of a rather exclusive club (and depending on your deck it might be a VERY exclusive club) that shares a way of playing Magic that most players never properly experience.
In other words, you’ll be a Storm pilot.
Then maybe you should start thinking about which deck you ought to play.