Pro Tour Born of the Gods was my third Pro Tour, and it was by far the most overwhelming. It was the first time that I worked with a dedicated team who arrived on site in advance to test intensively. Counting my stop in Paris last week for the Grand Prix, I was in Europe for eleven days, and in that process I’m pretty sure I spent a full two of those days in trains, planes, and automobiles. I saw a lot of old friends, made several new ones, and of course experienced the emotional rollercoaster that always comes with preparing for and playing in a Pro Tour. All in all, I had a fantastic time, but it’s nice to be back in Kentucky.
The Pro Tour itself was both a success and a failure for me. I finished 69th in Valencia, which is a respectable cash finish but not the 25th place or better I needed to qualify for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. I was incredibly confident in Storm as my Modern deck of choice and went 8-2 in the Constructed portion, but a 2-4 performance in Limited (including a disastrous 0-3 draft on day 2) derailed my Top 8 dreams. But the team atmosphere made it so that I was invested in the success of more players than just myself, so after Chris Fennell made Top 8 it was hard not to be satisfied with the Pro Tour’s outcome.
Multi-format events always feel a little weird to me, but for this Pro Tour in particular I felt such a stark contrast between the two. In Constructed, everything went right. In Limited, everything went wrong. As such, today you’ll get both sides from me! Let’s get the introspective "we’ll do better next time" Limited part out of the way before moving on to the "look at this awesome thing we built" Constructed portion.
Coming into my week in Spain, I felt horribly unprepared for Draft. The gap between set releases in paper and on Magic Online meant that I had been unable to do a single draft with Born of the Gods, and I wasn’t particularly confident in my handle on triple Theros, going 1-2 in Draft on the first day of Pro Tour Theros and drafting only occasionally in the months since.
Our team has a couple of Limited ringers, and I made sure to pick their brains aggressively during the week leading up to the Pro Tour. Chris Fennell loathed black and loved green, a sentiment that was echoed by Seth Manfield, Steve Mann, and Marc Lalague. I did about four 8-4 drafts on Tuesday night and tried to be open and experiment, but my own experiences matched theirs. When I was in green, I won. When I was in black, I lost.
I had time for three more drafts on Wednesday, essentially forcing G/W, G/U or G/R in each and ending up with fine decks each time. I had a plan A and intended to do some more drafts looking to avoid green to develop more of a range, but unfortunately I was occupied for the rest of our preparation with settling on a Storm sideboard and bringing Joe and Fennell, who had never played a game with it, up to speed. Those seven drafts ended up being the sum total of my Limited experience.
In the first draft of the Pro Tour, I executed plan A, and things went swimmingly. I drafted a fine G/U deck, won my first two rounds, and then was undone in three games by my neighbor to the right, Christian Seibold, who I had rewarded for giving me the green hookup by passing him a nut R/W Heroic deck in pack 2.
However, the draft on the second day was a train wreck. I first picked a Chorus of the Tides from a pack with no good green cards, took Fall of the Hammer second pick, and then picked a couple of Swordwise Centaur third and fourth. Conversations with some other teams on Sunday suggested that others were not so high on this card, but Fennell had identified it as the best green common in the set. I was more or less locked into either G/R or G/U at that point. The rest of Pack 1 was a little sparse, but I made a huge mistake when I declined on Asphyxiate after it tabled and came back to me eleventh. I simply took it as a sign that everyone else at the table also knew how bad black was and picked some mediocre red card.
Pack 2 went well enough after green was cut so hard from the right, but pack 3 essentially gave me nothing. And in both packs the black was flowing. I was given another opportunity to move in pack 2 pick 4 when I was passed Reaper of the Wilds, but I stuck to my guns. The deck I ended up with was serviceable in that it had the requisite number of midsized bodies and pump spells, but it was obviously mediocre. I expected a 1-2 finish.
I didn’t even earn that.
It was incredibly disappointing to start the second day off with a 0-3 draft, particularly sitting so high in the standings, but I had only myself to blame. I had taught myself to be able to do one thing in Theros/Born of the Gods Draft. When that thing was open, like it was on the first day, I could be successful, but when it wasn’t, I didn’t have the range to enable me to adapt. Joe Keaveny, seated two to my right, posted a 2-1 finish in our day 2 draft with a G/B deck that could have just as easily been drafted in my seat. I should have found the time to do more preparation for Draft the week before, and I certainly will do so the next time I find myself in this position.
I’ve been playing Storm in Modern since its inception. It’s been my go-to Modern deck for Magic Online Daily Events for pretty much the entire time that they have existed. Modern is an Eternal format like Legacy, and one thing both formats have in common is that they reward deck familiarity. If you’ve put in the hours with a Modern or Legacy deck, you’ll be astronomically more rewarded for doing so than you would be by preparing the same amount of time with a Standard deck.
There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon in action. Jacob Wilson with RUG Delver and Thomas Enevoldsen with Death and Taxes come to mind in Legacy. Sam Pardee with Melira Pod, Alex Majlaton with Affinity, and Patrick Dickmann with Twin come to mind in Modern. It’s perhaps a bit of hubris to even suggest it, but I genuinely feel unstoppable when I’m playing Storm, so I believe that I might be approaching the level of these players when it comes to casting Grapeshot in Modern.
The original Past in Flames Storm template, or at least the first one I became of aware of, was Bob Maher’s Top 16 Storm deck from Worlds 2011. I saw his list, tried it out on Magic Online to immediate success, and have been playing and tinkering with it ever since. This is all public information! A little Google fu reveals some of the different tricks I’ve tried out over the years: December 2011 with Desperate Ravings, Leyline of Sanctity, and Early Frost; January 2012 with Hurkyl’s Recall, Combust, and Defense Grid; April 2012 with Faithless Looting and Kiln Fiend; July 2012 with Thought Scour, Ancient Grudge, and Seal of Fire; and more recently August 2013, a list only a few cards off of what I and four of my teammates played in Valencia.
There is no question in my mind that Storm is the most degenerately powerful deck in Modern. If I were objectively in charge of banned list decisions, Past in Flames would have gotten the axe years ago. However, just because it is the most powerful does not necessarily mean that it is the best positioned. Over the last year it has faded into relative obscurity as a result of Jund’s rise to power. Jund, Junk, B/G, and their various four-color cousins were a miserable matchup because of the combination of their quick-ish clock and their dense pile of flexible disruption. Obviously discard is good against a combo deck, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Two of their maindeckable threats, Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman, could eat your graveyard, and two of their maindeckable removal spells, Maelstrom Pulse and Abrupt Decay, could remove both Pyromancer Ascension and Goblin Electromancer. Maelstrom Pulse even answered Empty the Warrens, your go-to trump card against fair decks! The fact that every post-board Charm, whether it was Rakdos Charm, Golgari Charm, or Jund Charm, had a mode that beat Empty the Warrens plus another live mode only compounded the issue.
I genuinely believed that Storm was favored against every deck in the format except for B/G/x. The trouble was that B/G/x represented 40% of the field. I continued to play Storm on Magic Online, where budget is a real limitation for many players and thus B/G/x with its Dark Confidants and Tarmogoyfs and Lilliana of the Veils was kept to a manageable level. The one live tournament I played with Storm, Grand Prix Kansas City, was predictable. I went 0-4 against B/G/x and 7-1 against the rest of the field. So when I was invited by Ari Lax to join his squad to begin testing Modern, I did so with the understanding that I was going to have to kill my darlings and help the team find a new angle to beat the midrange grind.
Then they banned Deathrite Shaman.
In the same motion they also let loose a few new enemies, but they seemed easy enough to beat with a little preparation. This is the 75 I eventually settled on in Spain:
Chris Fennell, Ari Lax, Matt McCullough, and Joe Demestrio all played something within two cards of this 75, and we had a combined record of 27-13 or 67.5%. I ultimately ended up going 8-2 in Modern with this list. Here’s the round-by-round breakdown:
R4: Win vs. Zoo
R5. Win vs. Melira Pod
R6: Win vs. Living End
R7: Win vs. W/B Tokens
R8: Win vs. Melira Pod
R12: Loss vs. Amulet Combo
R13: Win vs. Zoo
R14: Win vs. Infect
R15: Loss vs. Auras
R16: Win vs. U/W/R
Storm is kind of complicated, but I contend that it is not even remotely as difficult to play as most players seem to believe. That said, breaking down this deck card for card and discussing how it’s played would require a whole article to itself. Instead, I’ll briefly go over some of the card choices that differ from the more stock list played by some members of Team CFBP.
The biggest difference in our maindeck is the use of Faithless Looting over Desperate Ravings. A lot of people balk at the idea of a card that nets card disadvantage, but it plays a crucial role in the deck and has numerous advantages over Ravings. Having the front side cost one rather than two makes a huge difference because this deck wants to play a card filter spell on turn 1 absolutely every single game. Turn 1 Faithless Looting is your worst turn 1 play, but it’s still better than doing nothing. A hand in which the only card filtering option is Desperate Ravings however is probably unkeepable.
The random discard is also frequently problematic. While it’s certainly true that there’s a lot of built-in redundancy, that doesn’t mean that you’re never in spots where losing a particular card in your hand will cost you the game, especially when you’re under pressure. Two examples that came up regularly for me when I was playing Ravings were losing the ritual you need to go off with Past in Flames and losing the last cantrip in your hand after you cast Desperate Ravings to turn on Pyromancer Ascension and start going off that way. On the other hand, choosing two cards to discard is much more manageable and can sometimes be used to your advantage to get counters on Pyromancer Ascension faster.
Faithless Looting is absolutely invaluable as a card filter spell that doesn’t require blue mana, as being bottlenecked on blue is one of the most common reasons that you’re unable to go off. To be fair, Desperate Ravings also serves this purpose admirably since it can be flashbacked for red mana with a Past in Flames.
Which of the two you want in your deck is simply a function of what you need the slot to accomplish. Desperate Ravings will net you some extra material when you’re in a grind, but Faithless Looting is a leaner and more efficient tool when you’re in a shootout. We predicted (correctly) that the Pro Tour field would have far more shootouts. If I had to face Jund every round, I’d want Desperate Ravings in my deck. Of course, if I had to face Jund every round, I wouldn’t be playing Storm in the first place.
The maindeck Lightning Bolts are simply a result of how we expected the field to look. We thought Zoo and Melira Pod would be the two most popular decks. Bolt buys you a ton of time against both. I was quite happy with that decision in Valencia, but I have no idea if I’d play them main again with the Pro Tour in the books. Zoo isn’t going anywhere, but it might fall off in popularity a little.
The fourth Goblin Electromancer was one of the cards we trimmed to make room for said Lightning Bolts. Electromancer is a powerful engine piece, but it’s one of the few cards in the deck you never really want two of. It’s also not strictly necessary in any game and in fact is a little overrated relative to how badly your opponents want to kill it. Ari played all four, and I could see myself going back to that.
Our list has eighteen lands, while pretty much everyone else only plays sixteen. I don’t understand this at all, and I’ve been playing eighteen lands on Magic Online ever since Seething Song was banned. Mulligans hurt this deck a lot more than most, and Storm can keep pretty much any one-land hand but almost never any zero-land hand. A land drop is basically a ritual in this deck, so you want to make one every turn, including the turn you go off.
You could use your cantrips to ensure you hit your land drops, but that would be squandering a powerful resource. As a comparison, consider the difference in Legacy between Brainstorming to find land versus Brainstorming to shuffle excess lands away. Having Faithless Looting as an outlet to discard excess lands also makes this choice a lot clearer.
In the sideboard, Torpor Orb is a fantastic solution to a matchup that can be problematic. Being able to stick it on the board whenever you have free mana rather than needing to hold it up to respond to the combo is huge.
We had Blood Moon in our sideboard until late on Thursday but ultimately decided it was only good against decks we were already beating.
I think everyone on my team played an Echoing Truth in the board except me. I maintain that it’s a crutch that only solves problems you can already solve with Empty the Warrens. On Sunday night, Fennell suggested playing a Hallowed Fountain to enable Wear // Tear in this slot, which I hadn’t considered and could probably get behind.
Storm was the most successful deck of the tournament percentage-wise, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I understand that there are certain players for whom playing a Storm deck is simply outside their range, but I can’t fathom wanting to play anything else. I’ll a hundred percent be playing this deck at Grand Prix Richmond and probably at any Modern event I attend until Wizards decides I’m no longer allowed to. It’s a good thing I’ll have such a powerful weapon under my belt because #GPRichmond will be my last opportunity to qualify for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, and after having such a fantastic group testing experience, I’m incredibly motivated to make it back to the Pro Tour and rejoin them.