Storm is just way too fun to put down.
This is my effort to be rational. I need to convince myself that the time has passed and I need to do things other than cast Dark Ritual every time someone asks about playing Legacy.
Archetype by archetype, I’m going to go over what has changed since the days I first played Storm around Grand Prix Columbus 2010 and now to drive Storm back down the totem pole.
The most prominent tempo deck of the era was Merfolk. While it had Force of Will, the deck was very creature heavy and leaned mostly on the soft disruption of Cursecatcher, Daze, and Wasteland to win games. As a result if you ended up with a bunch of basics in play and made a lot of mana, a Merfolk opponent was hard pressed to do anything about your combo. While it was certainly possible for Storm to lose, the majority of the time you were able to find all the pieces you needed and kill in time with disruption backup.
Canadian Threshold (RUG) was the next biggest tempo deck. The deck was pretty much the same as it had been back at the format’s inauguration at Grand Prix Philadelphia. Werebear turned into Tarmogoyf, Serum Visions became Ponder, and Fledgling Dragon became Vendilion Clique, but those were small upgrades. When I played Ben Wienburg at Grand Prix Columbus, the big issue with the deck was easy to see. Game 1 I found enough discard to run him out of counterspells while he floundered to find a threat to close and keep up mana, and game 2 I killed him when he tapped out for Tarmogoyf early.
Finally, there was Team America (BUG). Between Hymn to Tourach, Thoughtseize, Force of Will, and Stifle, that matchup was a complete disaster. You could beat the more controlling variants without Stifle pretty readily, but there was no way the tempo list was anything better than three to one in their favor.
Merfolk is pretty much dead. No offense to Greg Hatch and his SCG Invitational Top 8, but he apparently can win with any blue creature these days. Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull was bad, and Snapcaster Mage on Swords to Plowshares was worse. By the time Terminus rolled around, it was laughable.
Canadian Threshold is now RUG Delver. Delver of Secrets solved the biggest issue the deck had with Storm, which was applying a cheap and early clock. While Delver is still slower than Merfolk ever was, it has Ponder and Brainstorm to find interaction. Very few games are free rolls. In return, Storm got Gitaxian Probe, which enabled Cabal Therapy and in turn lessened the issues the deck had with Stifle.
This has created a pretty tight equilibrium between the two decks. RUG Delver players say they beat Storm, and Storm players say they beat RUG Delver. But really it’s about a coin flip. Sometimes Storm catches RUG tapped out early, and sometimes RUG gets the drop on Storm and finds the right mix of everything.
BUG has actually become much easier. Instead of the deck being forced to interact using discard and counters, it has been able to branch out with better threats and Abrupt Decay. You no longer have to fight through the insane amount of hate the deck previously put up, and their secondary clocks have actually slowed down relative to Tombstalker. It’s a fight, but you can go toe-to-toe with them.
Most of the midrange decks of the era could be described as pseudo-degenerate decks like Lands and Life from the Loam. Most of them tried to do things that weren’t really interactive with the stack, which meant they weren’t interactive with Storm. They operated on a different time frame and couldn’t race Storm.
This was also known as the bye.
There were also B/G Rock decks. They also sucked for all the reason Rock decks have ever sucked. They did nothing powerful and played situational cards.
This category is almost identical.
The B/G decks have gotten much better on a fundamental construction level, but it doesn’t help much. Jund is a legitimate attrition deck, but too much of it is based on on-board trades. Nic Fit does big and powerful things, but they are only big on the fair deck scale and not on the "take twenty on turn 2" scale. Liliana of the Veil can steal some games where Storm mulligans or draws/keeps poorly, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
The blue midrange decks were all over the place. If it gives you context, Rhox War Monk was in most lists as a threat you could pitch to Force of Will and use to block Wild Nacatl. Their threats weren’t capable of ending a game fast enough, and their answers weren’t dense enough to handle Dark Ritual.
U/W midrange decks picked up threats that don’t require them to tap down mana. Stoneforge Mystic comes down early and provides clock that is only slightly slower than ideal, while Snapcaster Mage allows you to land an attacker while gaining value and leaving up mana. The life gain off a Batterskulled Stoneforge Mystic used to matter quite a bit, but Past in Flames allows you to pretty easily go over the top of that.
Still, neither of these is an insurmountable issue.
The problem that has come up is that blue mages are playing black and building better sideboards.
Let’s take a look at Derrick Sheets’ SCG Invitational-winning list
How many dead cards or clunky threats does he have to leave in his deck post-board against Storm?
I’m pretty sure the answer is zero.
How many of the cards he is capable of boarding in are good elsewhere?
A lot of this would not be possible without Thoughtseize. While counterspells are easily made dead against a lot of decks, Thoughtseize almost always trades profitably in a format as powerful as Legacy, especially now that (spoiler) red aggro isn’t punishing you for paying two life.
This doesn’t mean the matchup is bad. It just means it’s close instead of the previous standard of easy.
That said, you should smash the cascade decks.
Ctrl+F for Force of Will. None found?
Well then, I hope that was fun for you too. Even if they have Force, the lack of other instant disruption makes it very easy for you to sculpt the required cards to win. If you don’t have to spend a card Duressing their Force of Will, you get to build a much more redundant plan against discard. Shocking, right?
Aggro consisted mostly of Wild Nacatl. In fact, Wild Nacatl was borderline oppressive in the format. The other creature options really couldn’t compete with the sheer efficiency of a 3/3 for one, Tarmogoyf, and Lightning Bolt. Even if you demonstrated some interesting edge against combo, it often wasn’t that much better than the clock Zoo provided.
Storm was a bit of an exception on that last front. Storm won almost every game by turn 3, faster than Zoo’s turn 4. That said, it was still just as good as any other creature deck in the matchup. The hate cards that existed at the time were Gaddock Teeg and Ethersworn Canonist, both of which were extremely narrow and too inefficient to maindeck. If you just sideboarded them, Storm easily found a Chain of Vapor or Thoughtseize and won regardless.
The lack of Force of Will in aggro decks spelled their doom.
Aggro is basically dead. All of the issues that apply to Merfolk also apply here. Goblins attempted to battle its way through them on the back of Rishadan Port, Wasteland, and drawing a million cards, but True-Name Nemesis’ recent introduction shut that down fast. If you had problems beating Umezawa’s Jitte before, you certainly aren’t going to beat it when you lose the ability to kill the thing they equip it to.
The lone remaining "aggro" deck is Death and Taxes, which is really just a Stax deck that’s Sphere of Resistance have power and toughness. Stax was never a terrible matchup for Storm, but if that’s the best you can hope for out of what was previously a sector of free wins, it’s a sign the format has taken a turn for the worse.
All the other combo decks were slower than Storm. Sneak and Show could maybe expect an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn attack on turn 3, and that sure is not lethal when it only takes one land to Dark Ritual. Dredge was slow and basically unplayable, as it has been in every format since it left Extended. Elves was a full turn slower with no real interaction.
That’s a lie. One combo deck was good enough to beat Storm: Reanimator. The only problem with that deck was there wasn’t a generic good target. That meant every game where you didn’t draw Entomb you had to pray you had Inkwell Leviathan to their Swords to Plowshares or Iona, Shield of Emeria to their Elves combo.
So you had one deck standing in the way, and it was borderline unplayable against the metagame. Not too shabby.
I blame Avacyn Restored and its eight-drops.
First off, Griselbrand gave the "cheat a guy" decks a breath of life. Sneak and Show gained a creature that immediately affects the board state. Reanimator got a creature that is good enough against everyone, though in the era of Mental Misstep Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur was really close.
Elves also changed drastically. Natural Order didn’t significantly speed up the combo, but it let the deck branch out more. Instead of needing all its Elves to chain, it can afford to spend cards on noncreature interaction.
It’s just not the same. I don’t mind being on the Storm side of any of these matchups, but other things are catching up on the broken scale. The cards that make Storm better are blatantly unprintable by modern standards, but other mistakes can still be made.
There were two varieties of big blue decks: Landstill and Counterbalance.
Landstill looked unwinnable on paper, but in practice Storm was a heavy favorite on a principle from 1997. It turns out if you both do nothing for long enough, the game reaches a point where their cards can’t beat your eight cards. You either drew Tendrils of Agony and kept casting spells until it was enough or didn’t and had do math and set up chains of Infernal Tutor into discard spells to strip their hand.
Counterbalance looked unwinnable on paper. It was. The lists that were really bad midrange decks with Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top could be beat because they weren’t actually decks, but the dedicated control lists were completely untouchable. Not only was the lock nearly impossible to beat, but you were hard pressed to beat a Force of Will floating around a Top three with only discard spells. Boarding something like Krosan Grip was clunky at best and watered down your deck against their other interaction. There was one event where I managed to get a Doomsday plan to work, but once the cat was out of the bag, CounterTop players could easily plan for it.
This might be the only category where things have gotten better.
Somewhere along the line Counterbalance became a winnable matchup.
I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was Cabal Therapy making things a little bit easier to negotiate early on by knocking out a second copy of Counterbalance. Maybe it was Gitaxian Probe making it easier to know when you have to hit or stay and pushing your clock just a little bit forward. Maybe it was Abrupt Decay giving you a semi-reasonable answer to a Counterbalance lock because that one mana matters so much.
Yea, there are some games you just die. Sometimes they have the lock on two and a Force of Will, and you lose. But just as often they are missing a little bit of it, and you crash through.
As for Landstill, no one really plays it anymore.
The Long & Short of It
Back in the day, Storm had a bunch of free wins. Creatures were much worse, making Wild Nacatl a bigger player in the format and forcing people to work much harder to make decks that beat a 3/3 for one. Brainstorm decks were generally built worse and missing a few key cards. Combo was about half turn slower than it is now.
Storm has certainly gotten new weapons in the meantime, but everything else in the format has caught up.
This isn’t to say I won’t ever play the deck again in the future. It’s still unbelievably fun and beats up on a few things that could easily be popular for one reason or another.
The burden of proof has just shifted.
The Pre-Event Question
Why is any deck better than Storm?
Why is Storm good against this metagame?