The Challenge of playing control in Commander by Andrew Raines

The Challenge of Playing Control in Commander

One of the greatest things about playing Magic the Gathering, is that there is so much to the game itself.  With seemingly endless card choices, a variety of formats to play in, and a wide array of archetypal strategies, there is something for everyone.  Magic players over time gradually learn the intricate details to different types of decks: where it flourishes, its strengths, its weaknesses, and the best cards to further a deck’s strategy.  With so many variables involved in Magic, there of course are going to be cards, decks, and strategies that sit above the rest.  While many of these all stars and MVPs can see play across multiple formats, due to the different ban lists and nuances of different formats, these top card picks waiver just as much as strategies do when you move from one format to the next.

One such variant is the strength of control in the format known as Commander or EDH.  A newer player to EDH might assume that if decks in the format have access to cards to like Counterspell, Force of Will, and Mana Drain, that control would be strong and consistent much like decks in the Legacy and Vintage formats.  Despite this line of reasoning, this is not the case.  Control, while still a strong archetype, faces many challenges in a multiplayer game of EDH that it does not have to deal with in any other format.

Before I begin to explain my argument, it is important that you understand the clear distinction between a true control deck vs a pure combo deck or value deck in EDH.  Many decks in EDH that sport blue in their color palette use it the way it was intended, as a support color.  Often times, commanders such a Kruphix, God of Horizons or Riku, of Two Reflections will run a handful of control spells to support their line of play which is often ramping and drawing cards into large amounts of value that overwhelms the other players at the table.  Decks like these will employee many different types of cards and are what I would call a “good stuff” deck.  These decks are usually some of the most fair, simply playing strong spells in their color identity as they try to kill their opponents whether it be through combat or a combo.  These decks are not control decks.  It may seem that way at times when they draw so many cards, but they often only ever use counter magic and other control elements for things that directly threaten their game play.

While control and many other decks often try to end the game on a combo, their primary goal is not to combo off.  A pure combo deck is easily identifiable by the deck structure.  They will often run approximately 32 lands where as most decks are on 35 to 38 lands.  They will run a large sum of fast and free mana such as Dark Ritual, Mana Crypt, and Lotus Petal, they use as many cheap tutors as possible to enhance the consistency of their deck, and make use of low converted mana cost counter magic to help protect their combo such as Dispel, Mental Misstep, Negate, Force of Will, and Pact of Negation.  These decks look to close out a game as fast as possible.  With the capability of winning turn one, true combo decks in EDH hope to never see the game go past turn four.  Examples of these decks are General Tazri Food Chain, Thrasios, Triton Hero/Tymna, the WeaverProtean Hulk, and Scion of the Ur-DragonHermit Druid/Necrotic Ooze.  These decks are also not control decks.  Control decks are playing the long game and do everything they can possible to make it past turns 4, 5, 6, and beyond.

An honest and full-blown control deck will almost always win with a combo of some sort.  The combo will be extremely limited, and will not be the focus of the deck.  Control decks in EDH will often play some amount of land or artifact ramp, a ton of card draw, and then as many ways as they can to inhibit their opponent’s ability to play the game.  There are several types of control in EDH including counter control, board control, and probably the most potent staxx/prison control.  However, unlike other constructed formats, control decks in EDH don’t have the luxury of being able to play multiples o f a card.

While it is easy to find another ramp spell or creature to abuse, there are an extremely limited number of strong and efficient draw, counter, and removal spells. Control decks have to analyze the pace of the deck their playing and build accordingly.  Trying to navigate the waters of surviving the early game, stabilizing in the mid game, and taking over in the late game, just like control decks have always done, is no easy task when only using one of each card.  This must be accomplished through varied converted mana costs of card advantage spells and versatile answers to different types of threats.  The problem of not being able to run multiples of cards in EDH for control is only worsened when the notion of three opponents is introduced.  Having to control multiple people at one time is the second reason why control is so difficult to play in EDH.

Each opponent (in a typical pod of four) is probably playing a different type of deck and a control deck is suppose to be ready for all of it.  With so much variance, control decks are faced with balancing cards like Vandalblast and Creeping Corrosion with the use of targeted removal such as counter magic and spells like Swords to Plowshares and Return to Dust.  Control players in EDH must often make quick decisions about the threat level of any spell any player plays while considering the notion of what another player might do when the control deck has less resources during their turn than anticipated.  The reason? Because more often than not, when someone does find a foothold against a control deck in EDH, they will use it to kill the control player while they have the chance.  Which is another reason why playing control is difficult in EDH. Playing control in EDH will most often make you the initial and primary target of the other three players.

People often consider EDH to be somewhat of a casual format, playing by the philosophy that decks should be more focused on themselves than what other players are doing.  Whether or not you agree with this idea, for many people, when they see you are playing a form of control in EDH, they will try and band together with the rest of the pod and kill you first before continuing with their game.  For a more seasoned EDH pod or play group, players should recognize the importance of having a control player at the table to help keep the other players in check.  A smart EDH player will sit and wait for the opportune moment to move ahead of a control player when they are distracted by what someone else has done the turn or two before.  For experienced players, if you see someone targeting the control deck with no real reason other than that they are playing control it means one of three things.  Either that player has the means to handle the rest of the board, are preparing to win the game, or both.

Politics of an EDH pod are very important to pay attention to when playing control.  Trying to remain as neutral as possible helps you survive to the late game but is never easy when telling players ‘no.’ When a pod sees you counter one player’s spell but then also sees you disrupt another player’s combo, you will be quickly viewed as an ally.  Go overboard and stop too many players and you will be seen as a bully.  The same is true if you pile drive your opening seven into the dismayed face of the person directly to your left.

With practice and much trial and error you can play control in EDH; but, if your playgroup is filled with experienced players who are not new to the format, do not think it is going to be a cakewalk.  Control requires extensive knowledge of many cards, the practice nuance of negotiating your way through a multiplayer game, a well trained eye for assessing threats that are attempting to resolve and connect with their intended targets, and the hard work required for refining your deck.  However, the end result is an incredible EDH control player who can pilot a deck with deadly precision.  To quote a friend of mine “The oppressive fist of blue doesn’t crush you, it wears you like a glove” and that should be your goal every game.

Draft Basics by David Gattis

Draft Basics

David Gattis

Draft is one of my favorite formats. Both of the main limited formats, draft and sealed, primarily revolve around creatures and combat, with a sprinkling of combat tricks and removal thrown in. This is because, in a limited card pool, you don't have the option to focus on an extreme linear strategy like burn or combo and you don't have enough sweepers and efficient control spells to run a focused control deck without creatures. Everyone has to pay attention to creatures and combat and games are won and lost on the battlefield. As a result of this, almost all decks end up having somewhere between 15 and 20 creatures in a 40 card deck. Where drafting differs from sealed is in the draft itself, where you have a lot more control over what cards end up in your limited card pool.


Knowing what you are doing during the actual draft is the first and most important step at succeeding in the format. Each draft format is different so you will have to learn the relative card values of the specific cards in your draft format. However, there are some general principles that hold true in most draft formats.

Opening Bombs Is Great. However, just because you open a fantastic bomb doesn't mean you should ignore the signals in the packs. A great bomb is just 1 out of 40 cards that you have to put in your deck and there isn't any guarantee that you will draw it in your games. The point is that reliability and synergy can trump bombs. I've won many drafts with no bombs in my deck. However, there is nothing better than a reliable, synergistic deck with a great bomb or two as well. Generally bombs come in the rare slot although some uncommons also get to be considered bombs. You have to get a feel for what the bombs in each format are, generally through experience, although some of them are just completely obvious. If you open a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in your Battle For Zendikar draft you should know just by looking at it that it is a bomb and will be the best card in your deck.

Good Removal Is Really Important. As I said above, most of your deck is going to be creatures. You generally have room to play somewhere between 2 and 8 non-creature spells. It's really important that these non-creature spells are really impactful on games. You can't afford to waste a slot in your deck something that isn't going to have an impact. Therefore, it is generally really important to prioritize drafting good removal. I feel like the quality requirement for removal is much higher than for creatures in draft. You can get away with playing some not great creatures and be fine, but your removal has to be good. I'd like to provide a real world example of this. Let's say you are a couple of picks into the second pack of a Battle For Zendikar draft. After the first pack you are firmly cemented into the black/white lifegain synergy deck. You get passed a pack that has a Complete Disregard and a Drana's Emissary among other cards. The Drana's Emissary is the perfect creature for your deck. However, I would likely take the Complete Disregard in this spot. Unless you got completely overloaded with great removal in the first pack (unlikely) you will really want an effect like Complete Disregard and although Drana's Emissary is really great in your deck, it is also more replaceable than the Complete Disregard. The chances of more Complete Disregards or similar cards getting passed to you is much lower than the chances of more decent creatures getting passed to you.

Take Curve Into Consideration. It can be really hard to look at a pack that has a good 5-drop for your deck and decide to take the medium 2-drop instead. However, that is exactly what you should be doing some of the time. A good curve is really important in limited. You will probably want a few 5-drops or above in your deck to add some late game power. However, having decent things to do in the early to midgame is really important. You need to have enough reasonable plays at 2 or 3 mana so that you don't fall behind. Obviously the specific draft format will dictate whether 2-drops or 3-drops are more important. For example, in M15 draft the 2-drops were great and were very important because the format could be really fast. Battle For Zendikar draft is slower and 3-drops end up being more important. The point is that you should pay attention to making sure that you draft creatures and spells that will enable you to build a deck with a good curve and allow you to use mana efficiently. To that end, I recommend checking your picks. In MTGO you can look at your picks whenever you want throughout the draft. In real life I recommend picking up your draft pile in between packs and reviewing it. I even recommend sorting the playable creatures by casting cost so you can visually see how your curve looks. Don't let the other people in the draft rush you. You can take 30 seconds to figure out how your draft is going and what you need to prioritize in future picks.

Pay Attention To Signals. This concept is huge. Every draft format has a handful of viable archetypes and some tend to be better than others despite R&Ds best efforts. However, that does not mean that you should always force your way into the best archetype in every draft. If there end up being 3 people at the table all trying to draft the same archetype then you end up fighting with each other and non of your decks end up great. Meanwhile, there will be somebody at the table who is the only person drafting a different archetype which may not be as good generally, but since they are the only one in it, they get all the best cards and their deck ends up great. Obviously, you would rather be in the latter position if you can. The best way to make that happen is to pay attention to signals. Of course you can get lucky and the archetype you decide to draft from the beginning will be open. That doesn't always happen though. Sometimes you will open a bomb in your first pack, get passed a couple more reasonable cards from that color, and then realize that that color has disappeared from the packs entirely and some other color/color combination still has great cards in the pack. Generally, it is really important to pay attention to what is in the packs pick 3-8 in the first pack. You have to keep an open mind when you look at the cards and not get tunnel vision. If you are going to switch colors or archetypes, sometime in that pick range will probably be the right time to do it. Sometimes you can even speculate during this portion of the draft and take a really great card from a different color than you have been taking just in case you end up switching. By about pick 9 though you should know what is coming and you should commit to your strategy. Remember, abandoning your first few picks, even bombs, is the right thing to do if you end up in a stronger deck instead.

Building Your Deck

Now that you have drafted your pool you have to build a deck. For better or worse, the cards in front of you are what you have to work with to build the best 40 card deck you can.

Creatures/Spells. When you drafted your deck you probably got a pretty good idea of what kind of deck it would be. You may have drafted an aggressive strategy, or a controlling strategy, or a ramp strategy. Either way what you need to do now is figure out which configuration of cards gives you the best chance to win. Make sure you keep your overall strategy in mind during the deckbuilding steps. Achieving synergy can lead to a much more powerful deck than just a pile of good cards. The first thing I do is start a pile of cards I know that I won't play. This will include off color cards and maybe some on color cards that I know are just for sideboard purposes or just aren't good enough to go in the deck. Then I lay out all of my creatures and arrange them into piles by casting cost. Sometimes this can be a little tricky, for example I would usually put a creature with morph into the 3 casting cost pile instead of wherever the actual casting cost would be. Or I would put an awaken card into the pile that matches the awaken cost. After I do that I put all of the noncreature spells into a row. The first thing I do is trim the noncreature spells. Like I said before the impact threshold for a noncreature spell is much higher than for a creature so I'm looking to make sure that all of the noncreature spells are high impact and do something important. I will generally prioritize high quality removal over tricks or other random effects. After I trim some of the spells I count how many are left that I would like to play and then I take a closer look at the creatures. The count on spells I would like to play gives me a ballpark of how many creatures I can keep and how many I must cut. I make creature cutting decisions based on impact and curve. Sometimes I'll keep a slightly lower impact 2 drop and cut a slightly higher impact 5 drop for curve reasons. However, I want my creatures to matter and sometimes Grizzly Bears just doesn't get the job done. Usually I will get myself to a point where I need to cut 1 or 2 more cards and then I will take another long look at the noncreature spells to see if there are any I can live without or if I really do need to cut another creature. During this step is also when I decide how many lands I need to play. Having the creature curve laid out makes it easier to decide how many lands are needed.

Lands. The range of land quantities that I would consider playing runs from 15 to 19. I would only ever consider running just 15 lands in an extremely low curve deck and I would only consider running 19 lands in a high curve deck with a lot of mana sinks probably in a slow format. I have run 16 lands in many a low curve aggressive deck in a quick format like M15. I run 17 lands all the time. 17 is great for most average curve decks. I run 18 pretty frequently if I have a slightly higher curve deck. Also keep in mind that sometimes artifacts or creatures that produce mana are available in the draft. Mana creatures or rocks can be effective in some decks and can sometimes allow you to play 1 less land than you would expect for your curve. However, mana creatures or rocks tend to not affect the board much and so you should be cautious to make sure you will get good use out of them before putting them into your deck.

Colors. Making sure that you can reliably cast your spells is a really important component for draft success. In draft you generally don't get the luxury of the really incredible manabases available in constructed. Therefore, you have to be much more careful. Most draft formats favor 2 color decks. Drafting just 1 color is generally not realistic because you usually won't get enough good cards. So when you draft a 2 color deck you have to build your manabase in the best way possible to support your spells. I have a few techniques that I look when trying to decide how to build the manabase. I usually sort my deck by color. If I have any colorless cards I set them to side. If I have any multicolor cards I count them as both colors. Then I count how many cards of each color I have. Then I try to get a feel for which color has more cards I would like to play early in the game. Then I look for double or triple colored casting costs to try to take those into account. Then I decide how many of each land to play. Keep in mind that eventually you get diminishing returns by adding more lands of 1 color to your deck. For example if I drafted a red/white deck but it turns out that I have mostly red cards and only 5 white cards I could say that I should only put something like 4 Plains in the deck based on the ratio. But if I put 13 Mountains and 4 Plains in the deck I'm not really doing myself any favors. I will definitely be able to cast the red cards but the white cards would be hit or miss. Instead I could run 11 Mountains and 6 Plains or maybe even 10 Mountains and 7 Plains. I would still expect to always be able to cast my red cards but now the chances of being able to cast my white cards goes way up. Splashing a third color into a normal draft format is doable but has a high cost. If some sort of mana fixing is available like Evolving Wilds then it gets much easier. But you then have to prioritize the fixing in order to do something like that. You can also try to do a full 3 color split but that gets tricky and the chances of you losing to color screw goes way up. You should always be aware of the options in the format though. In Khans of Tarkir draft 3 color decks were the norm because all the most powerful cards were 3 colors and there was plentiful mana fixing. In fact the mana fixing was so good that drafting a powerful 5 color deck was feasible.

Playing The Games

Playing draft games is similar to playing constructed games. You generally want to curve out. You want to use your mana efficiently. You want to get card advantage. You want to get board advantage. However, there are some key differences too.

Games Are Slow. On average, draft games are much slower than constructed games and take many more turns. As a result, having to mulligan is really punishing in draft because both players will probably get a chance to play all their cards so having less cards is a big cost. So I try to avoid mulligans in draft much more than in constructed. If I have lands and spells I'm usually going to keep even if they might not be the best spells for the matchup. Slow games also means that choosing to be on the draw can sometimes be correct. I don't always do it, but sometimes with the right deck or the right opponent it is correct. Another thing that slow games mean is that throwing away your resources for temporary gains is really bad. Once you get into chump blocking mode you are probably in real trouble. Throwing away a real card of yours for nothing of the opponents is card disadvantage and not where you want to be in this format because you probably don't have a sweeper to get the card advantage back. Remember though that draft games are just slow on average. Some draft formats are fast and I've had some draft decks win on turn 4 or 5.

Creature Combat Is Important. The vast majority of draft games are won or lost in creature combat. Even if you can finish your opponent off with a burn spell, you probably got most of the way there with creatures. Knowing how to do combat math and determine how to attack or block is a skill and you will rely on it heavily in draft. I see some players being too conservative and not attacking when they should or with creatures that they should because they haven't done the math or because the opponents board looks intimidating. However, you don't want to throw creatures away for no reason, so you should think carefully about how to attack. Remember when blocking, sometimes you can trade a small creature for a large one of your opponents if you double block correctly. For example, if your opponent attacks with a 4/4 you can block with a 2/2 and a 2/3 and your opponent only gets to kill 1 of them unless they have a trick. Trading a 2/3 for a 4/4 feels pretty great. Just remember, when something looks too good to be true it often is which means they often have the trick to blow you out. Then you lose both creatures and all it cost them was the trick. Just be aware of what mana is available to your opponent and what cards in the format they could have that would be bad for you. Play around them if you can but sometimes you can't. On the other side of it look for opportunities to blow your opponent out in creature combat using a removal spell or trick. If you can attack into the above scenario with something like an Outnumber to kill the 2/2 at instant speed, all of the sudden your opponent loses both creatures and all you did was use the Outnumber that you might have used on the 2/2 anyway.



Drafting is great but requires a lot of different skills. You have to learn how to actually draft a good pool, you have to learn how to build a good deck, and you have to learn how to play your decks well. When all three elements come together you can have a great draft experience and a lot of fun. I find drafts to be very challenging and stimulating which is why I keep coming back for more. I hope that you will do the same.

Abzan Charm in Standard by Nicholas Fields

Abzan Charm in Standard by Nicholas Fields:


Are your Utter Ends constantly costing 4 mana? Are you failing to make Siege Rhino pay the Ultimate Price? I have got your solution! Now featuring Abzan Charm, with 3 amazing modes!


It should be no surprise to anyone that knows me when I say, "Abzan Charm is the best card in Standard." The DTK commands and KTK charms all provide the caster a variety of choices, making them both versatile and powerful. So why would any singular one be any better than the others and why a charm with only three choices instead of command where you can pick two modes out of four?


Versatility and Potential Downsides:

Abzan Charm has the best modes consistently. In a format as diverse as KTK Standard you need removal and card advantage. Very few cards, outside of planeswalkers, can provide this versatility. This is where charms and commands come in, specifically Abzan Charm. The issue is you are often committing to a strategy by playing a charm or even a command. These cards happen to be very color intensive as you already know. As you can see below, we can finally eliminate the impracticality of putting a charm in an off-color strategy. We instead replace that problem with Magical Christmas Land, where any amount of colors is possible.

Five-Color Bring to Light

1 Clever Impersonator

1 Gilt-Leaf Winnower

4 Siege Rhino

4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer

1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death

4 Abzan Charm

2 Disdainful Stroke

2 Murderous Cut

1 Sultai Charm

1 Utter End

4 Bring to Light

1 Crux of Fate

1 Languish

2 Reave Soul

1 Ruinous Path

1 Ugin's Insight

2 Forest

1 Island

1 Plains

1 Swamp

3 Bloodstained Mire

1 Canopy Vista

1 Cinder Glade

4 Flooded Strand

2 Lumbering Falls

4 Polluted Delta

1 Prairie Stream

1 Shambling Vent

1 Smoldering Marsh

1 Sunken Hollow

2 Windswept Heath

1 Wooded Foothills


Now that we have discovered that we can play charms and commands, let us talk about Abzan Charm.


Pain, but Gain:

You draw two cards and lose 2 life. A complaint I hear from newer players is, "...but that deals me damage/makes me lose life." This is true, but as the saying goes, "No pain, no gain." This is most true when black decides to be blue and draw cards. This mode helps you out-grind your opponents. Sure you may be losing life, but you gain the abilities to: continue hitting land drops, dig for powerful late game spells, and use your mana every turn. While you are doing this, your opponent may have mana left up or worse, be missing land drops and fall further behind. A win is worth the price. If you are still worried about it, spoiler, we play Siege Rhino and other cards to recover this life.


Handling Scary Creatures:

Exile target creature with power 3 or greater.  In a land of Makindi Sliderunner, Siege Rhino, Hangarback walker, Deathmist Raptor, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, having Abzan Charm on your side is a powerful weapon. Being able to answer early game red beaters along with some of the hardest creatures to deal with in the format brings diversity out in a single mode of Abzan Charm. You just can't Ultimate Price a Deathmist Raptor and be rid of it for good, not to mention Gideon is indestructible, Siege Rhino is multicolored, Hangarback Walker is colorless, and Ulamog is… Ulamog.


Combat Tricks are a Treat:

Distribute two +1/+1 counters among one or two target creatures. This is probably the least used mode; a fair amount of times removing a blocker or netting cards is sufficient. Let’s ponder a scenario real quick: just last week at FNM, I was able to defeat two opponents by placing simply one of two counters on a Siege Rhino to trample over a creature and deal lethal to my opponent. This could be considered a "win more" function of the card, but this isn't always true. My opponent had the opportunity to block with two separate 2 power and 2 toughness creatures. This would soak up all the damage from the rhino and evade the Abzan Charm from exiling a blocker. Thankfully, with this third mode, rounding out the card as a whole, I was able to swing for victory.


So how do you abuse, or even use, the best card in the format?


Abzan Megamorph

4x Abzan Charm

2x Dromoka’s Command

1x Swift Reckoning

1x Gideon’s Reproach

1x Utter End

1x Mastery of the Unseen

2x Sorin, Solemn Visitor

4x Rakshasa Deathdealer

4x Deathmist Raptor

3x Hidden Dragonslayer

3x Den Protector

3x Siege Rhino

2x Nissa, Vastwood Seer

2x Wingmate Roc

1x Silumgar’s Assassin

1x Whisperwood Elemental

4x Sandsteppe Citadel

4x Wooded Foothills

3x Windswept Heath

3x Shambling Vent

2x Canopy Vista

2x Llanowar Wastes

1x Smoldering Marsh

4x Forest

2x Plains


This is a list that I piloted in two tournaments last weekend to bring in the new Standard rotation. Friday 10/2 I went 3-1-1 at GU, where I lost in the first round of the Top 8. Sunday 10/3 I went to Mt. Airy to try my luck at an IQ/PPTQ. I managed to reach the Top 8 with a 3-1-1 record again. This time winning my first game in top 8 on a mulligan to 6 followed by taking my second game on a mulligan to 5. How did I win both those games? Abzan Charm. The card advantage and ability to get lands for consistent land drops provided me with the ability to both catch up to and eventually take down my opponent. I did however lose in the Top 4 to the eventual victor of the tournament, Abzan Aggro. Again I had to mulligan both to 6 and 5 in game one and two respectively. The thing I learned was that Abzan Charm could lose... to Abzan Charm. After this tournament I added a 26th land to my deck to help limit mulligans due to land-light hands. This brings me to last Friday 10/9 where I went undefeated with a record of 4-0-1 in rounds. I won my first Top 8 round providing me the ability to split the Top 4. What about that Top 4 was so special? Three Abzan decks.


Here is my final list:


Abzan Megamorph

4x Abzan Charm

4x Hangarback Walker

4x Deathmist Raptor

3x Warden of the First Tree

3x Den Protector

3x Siege Rhino

3x Wingmate Roc

3x Dromoka’s Command

2x Ob Nixilis, Reignited

2x Hidden Dragonslayer

1x Swift Reckoning

1x Gideon’s Reproach

1x Mastery of the Unseen

4x Sandsteppe Citadel

4x Wooded Foothills

3x Windswept Heath

2x Flooded Strand

2x Shambling Vent

2x Canopy Vista

2x Smoldering Marsh

1x Sunken Hollow

4x Forest

2x Plains



4x Anafenza, the Foremost

2x Utter End

2x Duress

2x Surge of Righteousness

2x Sorin, Solemn Visitor

1x Duneblast

1x Crux of Fate

1x Rising Miasma


Thank you for taking the time to read such a long-winded article about an uncommon from KTK. Next week I promise to tell you how I came to discover Abzan Megamorph and why you should play it at FNM or your next tournament.


-Nicholas Fields


(Nicholas Fields has been playing Magic: The Gathering at GU since the day it opened. A High Point native and MTG player since 1999, Nicholas has many achievements including: 3 Top 8 IQ performances, Top 8's in over 10 Game Day events, and splitting the finals of every FNM at GU in a month. He would like you to always remember, 8 - 6 = 2.)

Storm Primer by David Gattis

Modern Storm - Primer

David Gattis

Storm is the common name of a blue/red combo deck in Modern. The goal of the deck is to use cantrips and rituals to play a huge number of spells in one turn and then use a spell with the storm mechanic to win the game. I will break down the deck and discuss how it works and some of the most common card choices.


Cantrips are absolutely vital to the success of the deck as you need to churn through your deck and play as many spells as possible on the turn you go off. In order to do that you need to keep drawing cards which is why you need the cantrips.

Serum Visions x4: This is a must. Serum Visions is the best cantrip in Modern since they won't let us play with Ponder or Preordain.

Sleight Of Hand x4: This is also a must. Sleight is not as good as Serum Visions but we need a critical mass of cantrips.

Gitaxian Probe x4: This is a must too. Probe helps provide the critical mass of cantrips while helping in a couple other ways as well. The information can be very valuable and important, letting you know what you have to play around and if you have time to wait or if you have to go off now. Additionally, Probe provides a 0 mana spell which can be HUGE the turn you are trying to go off. Sometimes it just saves your bacon. Be careful though, the lifeloss is a real cost sometimes.

Thought Scour x4: This is another must. This helps fill your graveyard for Past In Flames and makes it easier to activate Pyromancer Ascension. Also the fact that it is instant speed can matter sometimes.

Manamorphose x4: This is a HUGE must. I'm putting Manamorphose in the cantrip category although it could just as easily go into the ritual category. Manamorphose is one of the most important cards in the deck. Like Probe, it is another free spell which makes comboing easier but it does so much more than that. Blue mana can be a real choke point on your combo turn. Generally it is pretty easy to make a bunch of red mana with rituals once you get going, but to continue you will need to draw more cards and for that you usually need blue mana. Manomorphose helps ensure that you will never run out. I almost always try to make double blue mana with Manamorphose if I can afford to.

Flex x3: This spot gets debated pretty heavily by storm players. The most common card for this spot is Desperate Ravings. Another common option is Faithless Looting. Another option I have tried is Tormenting Voice. The important thing is that this flex spot needs to be a red cantrip of some kind. Sometimes you don't find a Manamorphose and run out of blue mana. When that happens you need a way to keep drawing cards with red mana. I have generally liked Faithless Looting the most because it flashes back for red instead of blue and because it adds one more 1 mana cantrip to the deck for turn one. However, a lot of storm players swear by Desperate Ravings.


The ritual section is pretty basic but pretty important. In order to chain together enough spells for storm to be lethal on one turn you will need to produce mana somehow. The rituals help do that, especially with an active Ascension. Several of the best rituals in modern have been banned so we are left with these.

Desperate Ritual x4: Your standard 2 mana to make 3 mana modern ritual. Don't forget about the ability to splice onto another desperate ritual to make a little extra mana though.

Pyretic Ritual x4: 2 mana to make 3 mana. Yeah, 4 more of those.

Once again I could have listed Manamorphose here but I decided to put it with the cantrips. With an active Ascension or a Goblin Electromancer in play though, you net mana making it a true ritual.


These cards are what turn the cantrips and rituals into an engine capable of churning through your entire deck and playing every spell in it.

Pyromancer Ascension x4: This one is really exciting. The redundancy of cantrips and the speed that you churn through them makes Ascension fairly easy to turn on. Once an Ascension is active the deck moves into turbo mode. Can you imagine getting 2 Serum Visions for the price of one? Yeah it is pretty much as great as you imagine. Manamorphose with an active Ascension nets you mana and a card.

Goblin Electromancer x4: Although this only impacts the rituals and Past In Flames along with Desperate Ravings or Tormenting Voice if you play them, it is worth it. You can think of Goblin Electromancer as another ritual. If it saves you 3 mana it has already pulled its wait and anything beyond that is gravy. Having an active Ascension and an Electromancer in play makes things really easy. Unfortunately, Electromancer is the only target for your opponents creature removal so it frequently bites it. For that reason, saving it to play on your combo turn is sometimes the right decision. Remember, Electromancer also makes flashback costs cheaper.

Past In Flames x3: Anybody remember Yawgmoth's Will? Yeah, in this deck Flames is basically Will with flashback! We only run 3 because we don't care about drawing it early and we will usually find one at some point as we churn through the deck. Past In Flames is like the best draw spell ever in this deck. After we have burned through a bunch of cantrips and rituals it is like Past In Flames puts them all back in our hand. Also giving a storm spell flashback is an easy way to shortcut to victory. Remember when casting Past In Flames that it doesn't affect itself. The flashback cost will be what is printed on the card not the converted mana cost. A good plan when resolving a Past In Flames is to pull all of the eligible instants and sorceries out of your graveyard and put them into a separate pile so that moving forward you know which spells have flashback and which ones don't.

Win Condition

Grapeshot x2: We play 2 so we don't have to go through the entire deck to find one. Obviously the point of the deck is to play a bunch of spells and then play Grapeshot to deal a bunch of damage to our opponent. Keep in mind that an active Ascension does not duplicate the storm trigger. It will just create one more copy of the spell. Also keep in mind that casting a Grapeshot and then giving it flashback and casting it again is a really easy way to win if your storm count is only up to 8 or 9. Also don't forget that Grapeshot copies can target creatures or players and each copy can target independently. Using a Grapeshot early defensively is sometimes the right thing to do.


Scalding Tarn x4: This fetchland does exactly what you want. Of course it gets Steam Vents but sometimes you want to fetch for basic lands and the fact that you can do that with Tarn for either color is great.

Blue Fetch x3: Wish we could play more Scalding Tarn but since we can't we need 3 more fetchlands and we would rather have the ability to get basic Islands than Mountains.

Steam Vents x3: Frequently the first land that we will fetch. We usually only need one red mana to get started on our combo turn but we do need it.

Hallowed Fountain x1: This is here to enable some better sideboard options.

Sulfur Falls x2: I have also used Shivan Reef instead but I like Sulfur Falls better because of how it preserves your life total and have not been burned by it very often.

Island x2: After you have the first red source you may want to just fetch Islands to preserve your life total.

Mountain x1: I hate running it but sometimes (against burn) you need to fetch a red source without shocking yourself.

Playing The Deck

I will always mulligan a hand that does not have a 1 mana cantrip and the mana to cast it on turn 1. You can keep a hand with 1 land if it has a couple cantrips. You always keep a hand with 2 or 3 lands if there is a cantrip for turn 1. Hands with 4 lands or more you want to think about and may want to mulligan because getting your critical mass of spells is hard if you flood. You want to cantrip on the first turn every single game. Turn 2 might be more cantrips or you might develop by playing a Pyromancer Ascension or a Goblin Electromancer. Rarely, the deck is capable of winning on turn 2 although it is incredibly hard and always involves Past In Flames. The deck can win on turn 3 a fair amount of the time, for me I would say it has happened about 15% of the time. The deck can win on turn 4 without disruption a really high percentage of the time. What you have to learn with this deck is that you will not have all the information when you start going for your combo. It isn't like Splinter Twin where you look at your hand to see if you have a Twin and an Exarch or Pestermite and maybe some protection like Dispel. In this deck you may look at your hand and see some cantrips and some rituals. You have to figure out how to use your engine to make as much mana as possible and draw as many cards as possible so you will eventually win. It makes for some really complex sequencing lines and sometimes can take awhile to figure out. I will generally try to avoid playing second copies of spells if I can until I have an Ascension in play. For example if I end up with multiple copies of serum vision to go along with sleight of hand or thought scour I will hold the second serum visions in hand as long as possible. That way if I find and play an Ascension it will be easier to turn on. Playing through disruption can be tricky but is doable, especially because of how redundant the deck is. You really get a feel for it after you run the deck through a tournament a few times. This is a deck where goldfish practice is very useful to help you learn the sequence and operations of the deck. However, goldfishing will not help you learn how to play around or through disruption. One tip I have is to grab some spindown dice (preferably a red one, a blue one and one of a different color) and keep them handy to keep track of red mana, blue mana, and storm count. You can do this on paper too but I like using dice. Don't forget that spells your opponent plays count for storm too.


The sideboard fluctuates much more than the main deck. Card choices in the sideboard will depend heavily on what you expect to play against. That being said, there are some fairly standard choices.

Blood Moon x3: This may be the best Blood Moon deck in the format. Using a ritual it can land a Blood Moon on turn 2. If you were able to fetch a basic Island beforehand your deck will barely be impacted at all. Obviously this is a great way to just get some of the decks out there.

Empty The Warrens x3: Most decks will have some options to try and disrupt you after the first game. Bringing in the Empty The Warrens plan is a good way to deal with that. Even without comboing fully you may be able to cast Warrens with storm of 5 or 6 on turn 3 which is just good enough a fair amount of the time.

Wear/Tear x3: This is what the white splash is for. A lot of the hosers that opponents may have access to can be dealt with by Wear/Tear. One of the biggest offenders is Eidolon of the Great Revel in the burn decks. We literally can't win if that card is on the table. Other hosers include Leyline of Sanctity, Relic of Progenitus, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Rule of Law, Chalice of the Void, etc.

Dragon's Claw x3: Burn can be one of our worst matchups because it is just a race and then they get a card that just randomly hoses us called Eidolon of the Great Revel. Dragon's Claw is probably the best burn hate we have access to because we can cast a bunch of red spells too and gain life from both sides of the table. Spellskite might not be terrible in this spot because it also has the ability to protect your Goblin Electromancer or Ascension. Leyline of Sanctity is also a fringe consideration because it could also protect you from discard spells as well but you would have a hard time casting it. Also, with a Leyline in play the burn player can still kill you really fast with creatures.

Shatterstorm x3: Affinity is another deck that can race you so if you're worried that you might play against it much you might want to take these in the sideboard. Using a ritual it is really easy to cast this on turn 3.

Lightning Bolt x3: Lightning Bolt is great interaction in Modern. That is why most decks with red play 4 main. Sometimes you might want some copies to interact with your opponent and give you some breathing room. Also copying Lightning Bolt with Ascension is great.

Defense Grid x3: Helps you win matches against counterspells. I've usually seen these or Blood Moon but not both.

Echoing Truth x1: Depending on how much you expect to see a hoser like Leyline you may want to bring one in. Overlaps with Wear/Tear but sometimes can be better.

I know I've listed more than 15 sideboard cards. I just wanted to show some of the common options and quantities. Also, I am by no means the most expert player with the deck and I may have forgotten something that should be listed here. If so I apologize.



I think this deck is a blast to play although your opponents might not think so. I hope that this primer is helpful for anyone that might be interested in trying the deck. There are other ways to build the deck but what I have covered in this primer the generally accepted best version. With a reasonable draw you ought to be able to win game 1 most of the time against everything except the really fast decks. Then you just have to find a way to win one of the sideboarded games. Good luck!

Online Buylist!

Make sure that you check out our online buylist. Through this feature you can sell us your cards to earn store credit or cash! It is super easy to use, and can help you get those cards you need to finish your deck!


Welcome to!  Thank you for visiting us!  We hope to be your preferred provider for all things related to Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, Yugioh, and/or any other table-top game you may be interested in.  If you dont see it on our website, give us a call!  We can usually track down anything you may need and have it in store within 3 business days.