It’s easy to see why the mechanic was so named. Storm. As clouds gather on the horizon, the air turns dark and tense, signalling the approach of something momentous. Cards join the stack to be dropped neatly onto the table or into the waiting graveyard and the count moves up.
The rain begins, a pitter patter of droplets forming early puddles on the ground which grow and spill into channels like miniature rivers. Zero cost artifacts, one mana acceleration spells, cantrips. Lightning crackles overheard before finally it strikes. Tendrils of Agony… Brain Freeze… Empty the Warrens…
Explaining Storm to someone who has never played against it or whose experience with Magic is of a more casual nature can be difficult and, for the listener, confusing. Storm decks aren’t like any other Magic deck, they break a lot of established rules and conventions, coming out like violent tornadoes to wreck a tournament metagame or punish a room of ill-prepared victims. For those newer players, the idea of a deck designed not to interact, which tries to cast all of its spells in a single turn doesn’t seem like Magic to them. Not the game they were playing.
The true Storm player might be even more difficult to explain. To look at that, we must go away from the tournament tables, a place that precedes sitting with friends to play a game. We must find some alone time.
Stretching back into the depths of Magic’s past we find many people sat alone with their card collections on a slow day, flicking through folders in the hope of finding something new and original. What these people really want though, isn’t to be delving through cards with nothing else to pass the time, it is to be mid-game, shuffling Magic cards and playing rather than watching the rain fall on the window while music drums on somewhat unnoticed in the background. In the early days, many people tried to find a way to make a decent game of Magic solitaire – something which could be played solo. They tried and, if I’m honest, they all failed. Magic needs an opponent.
There were some pretty good attempts. Mark Rosewater in his early years came up with a few ideas, not the least of which was his “Magic the Puzzling” column in The Duelist which provided a thought provoking puzzle for lonely enthusiasts to enjoy. Not only that, but he published an idea on solitaire Magic which never took off. Good ol’ Maro, always working to drag more fun out of the cardboard. Still, despite his best efforts, he joined the ranks of the unsuccessful.
Until Scourge. Until Storm.
I don’t think anyone in the early days thought of the Storm mechanic as solitaire Magic, but some players sitting on their own in their bedrooms, pouring over cards trying to find the next spark of inspirational insight hit upon one of Magic’s great hidden treasures: mathematics.
The idea of Storm was simple: copy this spell one time for every spell cast before it. A neat little mechanic perhaps. The depth of Storm was something else though, something majestic: find every spell in the format which can be cast for free, or very cheaply, and can draw a card to replace itself. Find a way of casting ten or more spells in a single turn, ending with the Storm finisher. Crunch the mathematics of the game.
To a Storm player, Magic is no longer a game about interactions, about creature combat and kill spells, or clever enchantments and counterspell protection. No; Magic became a solo game with a clock – play everything in a single turn just before you die and kill them while they can do nothing but look on. It became something that had been wanted since the very beginning; a game you could play on your own.
Storm enthusiasts will spend hours playing Magic by themselves. They have to if they want to win with decks which are all about playing cards in a very specific combination. They shuffle the cards, examine the opening seven and contemplate mulligan decisions in a way that the average player cannot comprehend. Aggressively go to six? Sure. Try to win based off a single Brainstorm and fetch land combination? Of course. Play it through making sure everything was cast in the right combination. Test it assuming the imaginary opponent casts a counterspell at the perfect moment. Test it again. See what happens and shuffle up to do it again. Hour after hour of practice sitting alone. Magic solitaire.
And the numbers! Oh, count the numbers. Storm count (of course), but mana, cards in library, the number of cantrips, calculate the chance of drawing a key card and of course keep an eye on the opponent’s life total as it could mean an extra spell needed… It’s a maths enthusiasts dream. Filled with perfection and understanding of the very heart of the game.
Then there’s the cleverness. Storm players find the coolest of cute interactions. Need a few more spells to be cast? Well Hurkyl’s Recall your own board of Moxen. How about Remanding a Brain Freeze to recast it or save it in the face of an opposing Mindbreak Trap? Play Infernal Tutor and then crack a Lion’s Eye Diamond in response… Back in the old days there was even more, with Cunning Wish to get a Cunning Wish which could be cast to get the original Cunning Wish but then some rules came along to stop that loop!
So who is the Storm player? The maths geek who thrives off winning? The girl sitting alone with a Magic addiction and no one to play against? The combo lover who delights in the wonder of stack interactions? All of those, in truth.
Not, however, a person who doesn’t want to interact. For Storm to mean anything, it must be seen; a fierce thunderstorm in the wilderness is impressive, but more cameras capture moments when lightning crackles over London. The Storm player will bring her deck to events and want to spend an evening with a smile on her face as she battles it out against things a little more normal. For her joy in the precise brilliance of her creation is at its best when shared with another. Storm players, like every other Magic player in the world, want to play Magic with other people.
And they want to be stopped; well, they want you to try.
Some might think that a player who likes to win always wants to win, but that’s far from the truth; winning without a fight is hollow. For the Storm player to strike unhindered on turn one or two is not quite perfection for them. No – better that they go full pelt on turn four, fighting through an early Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (very hard) or the full knowledge of a Force of Will in the opposing hand; or forced to try with a shaky hand on turn five, seeing lethal damage spread out on the board in front of them, hoping for a spectacular topdeck off a blind Ponder.
Those are their stories; the moments which make it all worthwhile, and when you sit down to play across from them, it is important to remember that they love their style of play every bit as much as you do. Too often it is easy to walk away from a game versus a Storm player moaning about how you weren’t prepared for such a deck and could do nothing against the onslaught, but don’t take away their joy – they picked the right thing for the match and many hours of practice and love paid off as you were taken from 20 to zero in a single turn. Maybe next time you should consider those Mindbreak Traps and Duresses in the board.
For my part, I remember entering an extended tournament at the very dawn of time with my very fair (and honestly, incredibly weak) creature-based deck. Storm was all the rage and I died round after round to advanced players casting Twiddle on Gilded Lotuses and ramping up enough Storm to cast ridiculous Mind’s Desires into Tendrils of Agony. Then there was that time I was taken out of the top standings of Nationals Qualifiers by Seething Song into Dragonstorm decks. Or that season of losing Legacy events to Reset and Brain Freeze. Or Vintage games where I watched a set of Moxen get replayed post Hurkyl’s Recall. Or those recent Legacy games which see Infernal Tutors fetch Past in Flames. Or Modern where Pyromancer’s Swathe…