The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. Family, cheer, presents, hot chocolate, and of course, Vintage Cube. I’ve been in love with Vintage Cube for more than a full decade, having built and tinkered with my own right around when the concept was originally introduced. My own cube has taken a backseat to other Magic pursuits, but every time the MTGO Vintage cube comes back online, I try to take a bit of time and revel in the nostalgia. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, my favorite archetype and the one I’ll be talking about today is Storm. Here's one of my recent draft decks:
In this article I’ll address what I think the essential pieces of the Storm deck are and how to draft them.
My exact definition of a Storm deck is a little muddy, but the most straightforward example is a deck that leverages mana-generating spells and card-drawing spells to cast many spells in the same turn and finish the opponent with a Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Agony (or Empty the Warrens, but I dislike playing that card).
I also consider decks that leverage the same type of cards but finish the opponent with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a convoluted combo like Palinchron, Heartbeat of Spring, six lands, and an X spell to be Storm decks, even though they may not have a card with the namesake ability. I consider this distinct from the two-card combo decks in cube that strive to interact with the opponent in the early turns, for example many decks built around the Splinter Twin and Pestermite combo. The main difference is that the goal of the Storm decks is to win as fast and consistently as possible, usually with little interaction. The two-card combo decks are often trying to lengthen the game by interacting and will win with their combo in the midgame. If you want to cast upwards of ten spells as early as turn two, then Storm is for you!
Storm decks are composed of four different types of cards: Mana generating cards, Card selection, interaction, and win conditions. The relative importance of each type heavily depends on the current composition of the cards you’ve already drafted. In general, none of the types are more important than the others, and you should draft whichever card in the pack is the most powerful of each type until you have a better idea of what your deck looks like. If you already have Wheel of Fortune, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Fact or Fiction, and Painful Truths then you should consider taking Cabal Ritual over Timetwister, even though Timetwister is a stronger card in the abstract. As for which cards are the most powerful within each type, read on!
Mana Generating Cards
The most obvious examples of this type are rituals: Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Seething Song, etc. It’s important to note that Wizards recently added the tiny red rituals like Pyretic Ritual to the cube. I think these cards are quite bad. A single mana for a full card is a really bad deal (and it’s all red mana, of which you usually don’t need much). The rituals that make at least two mana are actually playable, and even desirable. Rituals are important to be casting on the turn that you win the game, but there are also cards that you can cast while developing in the early turns that will give you mana on the critical turn. Signets, Basalt Monolith, Coalition Relic, or even creatures like Birds of Paradise can be used in this way. These cards are bad at killing quickly, but good at killing consistently. They let you cast your developing spells faster and give you extra mana on the most important turn. They are also a dime a dozen in the cube, so you should not pick them highly. Finally, there are also cards that generate an enormous amount of mana, but are tricky to set up or have a drawback. These are cards like Heartbeat of Spring, Mana Flare, High Tide, Turnabout, or Palinchron.
These cards are among my favorite cards to play in Storm, because then you don’t need a huge number of mana-generating cards. All you need is Heartbeat and Turnabout, and that’s all the mana you need for the entire turn. This reduces the odds that you draw a hand with all mana and nothing to do, and you can use your card selection to find one of your cards that generates a huge amount of mana and win that way. I wheel Heartbeat almost every draft and play it almost every time. My personal ranking for top mana cards (in Storm specifically) is as follows:
1. Black Lotus
2. Lion’s-Eye Diamond
3. Mana Crypt
4. Original Moxes
5. Sol Ring
8. Heartbeat of Spring, Mana Flare
9. Mana Vault
10. Dark Ritual
Lion’s-Eye Diamond is so high because of it’s extremely powerful combination with Yawgmoth’s Will. Turnabout I love because of its potential to generate huge amounts of mana in longer games, get you an extra turn against aggressive decks, and force a counterspell from your opponent by tapping all their lands on their end step. Fastbond is just absurdly broken, and you should rarely pass it.
Card selection generally falls into four camps: cantrips, tutors, card advantage, and draw 7s. Each serves a purpose in the Storm deck, but I think there’s a clear order of importance: Draw 7s > tutors > cantrips > card advantage. Draw 7s like Wheel of Fortune or Time Spiral are by far the most broken, and if your deck has the right composition, you can usually chain them into mana-generating cards, more draw spells, and finally your win condition. You can cast them either after deploying a bunch of mana to set up a kill the following turn, or they can follow up some rituals on the critical turn to assemble enough cards or to find your win condition. Tutors can drastically improve your consistency, and the more broken cards you already have the better they become. Cantrips can be used either when developing or on the critical turn as an extra spell for the Storm spells. If you aren’t actually killing with Storm cards, then the cantrips are less important. Card Advantage cards like Compulsive Research, Painful Truths, or Fact or Fiction are used mostly during the developing turns to set up the raw cards you need to hit a lethal storm count. Card advantage spells can technically be used on the critical turn, but they cost a significant amount of mana and don’t give a great return in number of cards, so I usually try to avoid it. My top card selection cards in storm are:
1. Yawgmoth’s Will
2. Ancestral Recall
3. Wheel of Fortune
4. Demonic Tutor
5. Yawgmoth’s Bargain
6. Time Spiral
7. Vampiric Tutor
9. Memory Jar
10. Mystical Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Will takes the cake over Ancestral Recall because of its unique position of being both an enormous card advantage and mana generating engine. By far the easiest Storm wins are assembling Yawgoth’s Will + Black Lotus/Lion’s-Eye Diamond. The tutors can go up in the ranks if you already have broken cards (like Yawgmoth’s Will or Black Lotus). I think Wheel of Fortune is the best draw7 because it preserves your graveyard and helps mill your opponent if you’re killing with Brain Freeze.
As much as I’d prefer to include no interactive spells in my Storm decks, not everyone will be content to let you do your thing in peace. There are mean, spiteful cards out there like Leovold, Emissary of Trest or Eidolon of the Great Revel that will really put a damper on your sweet combo deck. A tiny amount of interaction can also help a lot in fighting through counterspells. The common theme I prefer in interaction in my Storm decks is that I want it to be cheap. I don’t want my interactive spells to be uncastable on the critical turn. To reach a lethal Storm count, you will frequently need every spell in your hand and the top three cards of your deck, and being stuck with Hero’s Downfall or Mystic Confluence in your hand is a good way to lose. I also really like interactive spells that have secondary uses in the critical turn.
Cards like Repeal and Remand can interact with the opponent or be used to generate storm count. However, because there’s so much interaction in the cube, I do not think these spells should be picked highly at all. Even the best interactive cards are worse than medium cards in the other category. It’s also worth noting that the hand-interactive creatures like Mesmeric Fiend or Brain Maggot are good in Storm sideboards since most people board out their removal against you anyway, and Thoughtseize and Duress are premium for other drafters.
1. Mana Drain
6. Baleful Strix
7. Fatal Push
8. Fire // Ice
9. Lightning Bolt
10. Mizzium Mortars
You generally only need one or two win conditions in a Storm deck (I usually aim for two), but which ones you have can greatly change how difficult it is to win. The easiest way to win is with the two good Storm spells: Brain Freeze and Tendrils of Agony. These spells don’t require an enormous amount of mana to win with, often eleven or so is sufficient. Brain Freeze requires less storm count and is often helped by the opponent drawing cards or you casting Wheel of Fortune, but is unreliable because of the Eldrazi Titans. One common way to kill with Brain Freeze through Eldrazi Titans is to get a really ludicrous storm count, and then use an instant speed card draw spell to kill the opponent. Memory Jar is one of the easiest ways to do this. Tendrils is my favorite win condition because it’s the surest way to win. I hate Empty the Warrens and think it is quite bad unless you have Time Walk or a similar effect to avoid getting your tokens removed before you can win. Turnabout can count, but I often use it during the critical turn to generate mana, so I don’t like to rely on just that. The second-easiest way to win is to get an infinite mana combo in your deck (usually Palinchron and a mana-doubler like Heartbeat of Spring) or at least have a plan to generate a truly enormous amount of mana (usually Fastbond, Heartbeat of Spring, and Turnabout or something similar) and kill the opponent with an expensive, difficult-to-interact-with spell.
I usually pick either Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or an X-spell. X-spells cost more mana, but there are tons of them in the cube so it’s quite easy to pick up one. My favorite one was Villainous Wealth because it was possible to win with only X = 7 or 8 instead of needing to fully mill them out. Unfortunately, Wizards cut Villainous Wealth from the cube because they hate fun. Emrakul only costs fifteen mana, but it doesn’t always immediately win the game and is easier to interact with. If Emrakul is your win condition, you can also try to luck into two-card combos like Show and Tell or Channel. Sometimes I really enjoy playing Storm decks that end up without a Storm win condition because you have to work a lot harder to figure out how to win, and it’s more fun to achieve victory in the face of more adversity.
In the absence of Storm spells and being able to make ridiculous amounts of mana, you will have to settle for incremental kill cards like Young Pyromancer, Guttersnipe, or Monastery Mentor. These cards are really, really bad because you have to play them before you start casting your spell chain, giving your opponent the opportunity to interact. If these are your only win conditions it’s going to be very difficult to win. Honestly, you might be better off just playing Grave Titan and trying to cast it early.
1. Tendrils of Agony
2. Brain Freeze
3. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4. Empty the Warrens
6. Grave Titan
538. Monastery Mentor
539. Young Pyromancer
This is how I like to draft Storm in Vintage cube, but the cube being what it is, I’m sure tons of people have different ideas. Also there’s a lot of spells in the cube, so I might have missed a card or two in the top 10 arankings. If you think I’m off-base about something, think I screwed up the rankings, or just want to chat a bit about the best archetype in the best casual format, feel free to leave some comments!