Hello and welcome to Treasure Cruisin'! We are doing something a bit strange this month. Normally, tier decks are nowhere near someone's financial reach when they are searching for budget decks. Many players end up settling for something cheaper, which may be less powerful, have a more inconsistent manabase, or simply play cheaper cards in a similar shell. While budget is always relative and varies from person to person, the fact of the matter is that decks built on a budget often feel less powerful. Many players believe that monetary cost is directly proportional to power level; the more you spend, the more you win.
However, sometimes a deck surfaces that is not only at the top of the format but also rather inexpensive. Gifts Storm is one of those decks. While this deck is technically outside of the $250 USD limitation I set for myself, resting at $350, with a few sideboard tweaks it can be brought to under $300. If you're a dedicated drafter, you probably already own a large portion of these cards anyway, as many of them have been reprinted recently. For $350, you can have what is considered by many to be the boogeyman of the format, playing one of the best decks and arguably the best combo deck in the Modern for under half the cost of most top-tier decks. Despite this price gap, it can win faster than most deck in the format, often going off on turn three or four. Additionally, I believe Gifts Storm is still in a good position with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf coming off the banlist. I do need to make an aside and say that this list is not my own. Fellow MTGSalvation staff member and friend, ExpiredRascals, has played this deck for a while, and recommended it to me. With that out of the way, let's break down this supercharged spell powerhouse.
Please view this deck's database entry
for up-to-date pricing information.
You'd be amazed what you can do with an
energy drink and a bag of marbles.
Storm is a spellslinger's dream come true. The idea is to cast as many spells as possible in one gloriously overpowered turn and kill your opponent. We utilize the storm mechanic, which states that for each spell cast before the spell with storm, copy that spell. To facilitate this, we play creatures that decrease the cost of instants and sorceries and play "rituals"—cards that add more mana to our mana pool than their cost—to net mana and help keep our engine going. The turning point of the combo is casting Gifts Ungiven, which allows us to curate piles that give us what we need to continue to combo off.
This is a rather generous simplification of the deck. Storm is a much more complicated deck in practice, so it's not for beginners. There are many nuances, concepts, and even mathematical properties involved in playing the deck, too many for one article, and a lot of information that I personally do not trust myself to explain properly. As such, I strongly recommend reading our very own Gifts Storm primer after reading this. It's a wealth of knowledge and makes learning the deck much easier.
Today we will start with creatures and then move into the different types of spells in our deck, their functions, and when to play them. Because of the sheer amount of information required to play this deck, I will give the basics and leave the more complex lines to those who have mastered this deck.
We only have six creatures, but they are powerful additions to the deck. A playset of Baral, Chief of Compliance and two copies of Goblin Electromancer make our spells cheaper. Most of the time, it is these two creatures that make our combo possible. These creatures allow our rituals to net even more mana so we can cast even more spells. In this way, they could be thought of as enablers.
Despite his legendary typing, Baral is easily the better of the two. Remand is a useful way to finish off our opponent by returning one of our storm spells to our hand, and being able to draw two cards thanks to Baral keeps our hand full. Drawing multiple Barals doesn't hurt too much because it gives us backup copies for when he inevitably eats a removal spell. Any experienced Modern player knows that these two creatures allow us to start storming off on turn three, and if they have an answer to them they will play it. If they don't have it, however, there is a strong chance that they lose the game within the next two turns.
Like any combo deck, we need a way to find our combo pieces. We run three complete playsets of Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Opt. Each one is better at doing something and is best played at different times. It is critical to understand these differences in order to play the deck to its highest potential.
Out of all of our cantrips, Serum Visions digs the deepest (three cards) and is best at finding whatever we need. However, it's also the only cantrip that will always give us a blind card; we have no way of knowing what we will draw, and don't get our card selection immediately. Typically, it is better to play Visions early when hitting a land or a creature is still useful. It is also important to setup our scries with our next few turns in mind. While this may seem obvious, we need to be aware of what we need when we play cantrips.
One of the most difficult aspects of playing Storm is that the general concept is the same in every game, but the recipe is different each time. Sometimes we find ourselves tutoring for mana and Past in Flames, other times we simply dump our hand of mana and cantrips and Storm off naturally. There are multiple paths to victory, and knowing which one you should take depends on the contents of your hand, your board, and how close your opponent is to winning. If the opponent has put us in a spot where we need a card off the top, and we cannot guarantee we will survive long enough to draw it, it would be better to play a second cantrip to draw into it or attempt to Gifts Ungiven into it. In generally, we do not want to shuffle away what we left on top of the deck, but don't be afraid to if it means winning. If we were going to lose anyway, we might as well attempt to win.
These wrist warmups are important for avoiding injuries when you throw twenty grapeshots in rapid succession.
Our second cantrip is Sleight of Hand. It's very similar to Serum Visions in that it is a sorcery and it does not technically generate card advantage. However, Sleight trades away forward planning for immediate card selection. This is important when we can afford to take another turn when collecting our rituals and Gifts Ungiven. Usually when we have three/four lands in play and a creature, we just need need a ritual or two and Gifts to combo off. Sleight helps us accomplish this by giving us what we need immediately. We will never draw blind with Sleight, and while it is certainly possible to whiff on it and see two lands or redundant creatures, it at least guarantees the best of the two while sending the card we don't want to the bottom of our library. Typically, we want to play this after Visions to help us dig for a missing ingredient. Combined, these cards let us see six cards deep to find what we need; one from Visions's draw, two from its scry, two from Sleight, and one from our draw step. This sequence of plays makes keeping one-land hands much more feasible than in other decks. In a pinch, we can set up our Sleight with Serum Visions, but this isn't using Visions to its full potential, so avoid doing this when you can.
Our last cantrip is Opt, and it may be the most flexible of the three. Opt's biggest strength is its flexibility as an instant. For example, we could be playing under the assumption that our creature survives until our next turn when we tap out for a cantrip. If we have all of our pieces, and then our opponent casts a removal spell, we will need to find another creature if we don't have enough rituals to storm off without one. Opt gets around this by being castable on our opponent's turn. If they remove our creature, we can still cast Opt to adjust our plan for our next turn. Opt allows us to adapt our gameplan as new information presents itself, which is an often underestimated ability.
Yes, this is probably the best thing you
could do with splice onto arcane.
Like Storm decks in other formats, our primary way of generating mana is with rituals. We need a high density of rituals in order to chain them together in one turn. A playset of Pyretic Ritual and Desperate Ritual act as eight copies of the same spell. We spend one mana—assuming we have a creature in play—to generate three, a net gain of two. When counting how much mana we will have after casting a slew of rituals, it is better to count in terms of the net gain of floating mana. For example, casting three rituals would be three, five, and seven mana. Without a creature in play, three rituals yield three, four, and five mana.
Since both of these spells are instants, we can get tricky if our opponent tries to remove our creature. So long as we have two untapped lands and a creature, we can begin chaining rituals anyway. This offers quite a bit of insurance against cards like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, which might otherwise thwart our plans.
Sometimes, the splice ability on Desperate Ritual becomes a line to generate more mana out of fewer spells. Remember, splice does not cast the spell we spliced, it simply add its effects to the current spell on the stack. If they counter the spell we spliced onto, we lose both effects, but still have the card in hand. We can play around counterspells without losing too much card advantage. If we draw too many lands, they can still fuel the combo by splicing one Ritual onto another. While this is not necessary for the deck to work, it is an available line of play that should be evaluated should it come up.
Manamorphose is one of the most powerful cards in the deck. It's not a full ritual, but more of a mana filtering card that becomes a ritual with a creature on the battlefield. After slamming all of our rituals on the table, we need a way to filter our red mana into blue mana if we need to. Manamorphose even replaces itself, and if we're flashing it back off of Past in Flames, it actually generates card advantage. Typically, we only need one or two blue mana floating to finish off the game, but if we have a hand full of cantrips when we try to combo off, we can filter more into blue in order to dig for our missing pieces. Red is our most important color, so we need some floating so we can recast all of our rituals when the time comes to finish off the opponent.
Just like how Legacy Storm has Ad Nauseam, Lion's Eye Diamond, and Infernal Tutor as powerful ways to generate more mana and get the last cards needed to end the game, Gifts Storm plays three cards that can represent more than one storm count: the namesake Gifts Ungiven, Past in Flames, and Remand.
Don't just have one card: have all
The most important cards that hold the deck together and help build our storm count are Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames. When we generate enough mana and cast all of our rituals from our hand, we cast Gifts Ungiven. Under most circumstances we get Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Manamorphose, and Past in Flames. Gifts is going to give our opponent a choice; they pick two of those cards to send to our graveyard. The other two go to our hand. The secret to playing a Gifts deck is to ensure that no matter how our opponent splits the pile, the end result is always the same. Assuming we have a creature and some floating mana, we will cast whatever rituals we get, cast/flashback Past in Flames, and recast all of our rituals. This is where the bulk of our storm count will come from. With any luck, we can also cast a few cantrips to find our actual storm spells if we haven't already.
This is a generous simplification of the kill though, because there are times where we need to Gifts for missing pieces that aren't as redundant or replaceable. Maybe a Rest in Peace landed on the table. What do we do then? This is where the hardest part of piloting the deck comes into play: making Gifts piles on the fly. If I had a hard and fast guide on what cards to get, it would be the largest work of Magic literature ever printed. Storm is not a combo deck with defined steps. Rather, you must be able to know when you have enough mana to perform some sort of combo with Gifts, Past in Flames, or both.
Remand is our next card, and while many would think this is used to protect us while going off, in reality it represents another way to kill our opponent with a far lower storm count than the typical sequence. An important aspect of storm as mechanic is the fact that it's a triggered ability. Whenever we cast a spell with storm, the storm trigger goes on the stack on top of the spell itself. We can then respond to the trigger, casting Remand on our own storm spell. This adds to our storm count of our existing trigger while also allowing us to get a second trigger by casting our storm spell again.
Essentially, Remand can double our storm count. This is a powerful tool if we find ourselves staring at a hand full of rituals and a storm spell but no Past in Flames or Gifts Ungiven. This is also far easier to achieve when one realizes that we almost never need to get our storm count all the way to twenty. Modern manabases are mostly comprised of fetchlands and shocklands that chip away at their controller's life total. It's safe to say that most decks will deal at least three damage to themselves based on fetches and shocks. In fact, it's possible that a storm count of seven can win with the Grapeshot/Remand combo; Remand will make our storm count eight, and recasting the Grapeshot is another nine damage. That's seventeen damage from a storm count of nine.
As if that was not reason enough to play Remand, it combos nicely with Baral. Whenever we counter a spell with Remand, we draw a card from its resolution, then a second card from Baral. While we do have to discard, we do not particularly mind because we may potentially be winning the game anyway, or we can setup a lethal Past in Flames. Remand does so much for so little by expanding the deck's flexibility when the pieces don't come together quite right.
Our last card does not allow us to totally manipulate our cards like the previous three, but it does open up some interesting lines. Noxious Revival is a free addition to our storm count that can also let us recycle a card. While we need a cantrip to get the card immediately, simply casting a Grapeshot, Noxious Revivaling it, then casting a cantrip and recasting the Grapeshot can be enough to end games. In a Gifts pile, it can be used to guarantee that we get a certain card. This potential is even greater because we do not have to get four cards with Gifts; sometimes getting three is correct. Revival is not a card that is just useful when storming off, however. We can use it to recover a spell we lost to discard or that we need because we fizzled earlier in the game. It also can be used to save a spell in our graveyard from a Surgical Extraction effect or a cracked Relic of Progenitus. Noxious Revival gives us a small amount of utility and is an excellent multi-purpose spell that can facilitate a kill that no other card would.
The end goal of Gifts Storm is to kill our opponent by actually casting a spell with the storm mechanic: either a lethal Grapeshot or by creating a token swarm from Empty the Warrens. Storm as a mechanic has a few nuances, and these spells have a uses that may not be entirely obvious at first glance. As mentioned previously, storm is a triggered ability. This means that if the storm card itself is countered, we will get the copies. However, there are more layers to the mechanic than that. One of the most important characteristics of the mechanic is that it counts all spells put on the stack in that turn. If our opponent casts a spell on our turn, they added one to our storm count. Additionally, storm checks for the number of spells cast in one turn, and storm copies are not cast, so they do not add to our storm count. With those rules quirks in mind, we can now break down these two cards.
"Oh crap. Did I leave the curling iron on again?"
Grapeshot is the only finisher we have in the mainboard. The most obvious use is pointing it at our opponent's face, but this is merely one application of the card. Because we play Past in Flames, we storm out from our graveyard. This us to use rituals and cantrips to generate a small storm count to Grapeshot our opponent's creatures away if we're facing down too much pressure. It's even fine to simply cast Grapeshot to kill a hatebear like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Gaddock Teeg. Additionally, remember that each copy has an individual target. It's absolutely possible to finish off an opposing Gideon of the Trials and then target the opponent with the rest of the copies to ensure that their emblem does not keep them alive. While these scenarios are few and far between, recognizing that these lines exist help win seemingly unwinnable games.
Our last storm spell, Empty the Warrens, resides in the sideboard. We can expect our opponent to bring in hate for Grapeshot in games two and three, such as Leyline of Sanctity. In order to fight through this hate, we need an alternative win condition. Instead of dealing direct damage, we create a horde of tokens and try to swarm our opponent. Due to this shift, our gameplan changes slightly. Grapeshot is a one-time effect; we have to kill our opponent that turn or else we have to find a way to combo out again. With Empty the Warrens, we only need to make a large number of tokens and swing at our opponent a couple of times to end the game. This option allows us to fight through graveyard hate by no longer needing it to potentially win the game.
However, we also do not lose access to the standard Grapeshot kill by boarding in Empty the Warrens. Having both options post-board keeps us in the game if a strong piece of hate lands, but also gives keeps our main axis of ending the game intact. We can often rush out an Empty the Warrens in the early turns against a combo deck and ride it to victory because achieving the same thing with Grapeshot would take more cards and more turns to set up. Aggro decks can't outrace our goblin tokens, midrange cannot answer all of them, and control strategies have to find their sweepers or succumb to our horde.
The manabase in Gifts Storm is designed to maximize our spell count while having enough lands that we can reasonably expect to find them with our cantrips. We also need both colors of mana as often and quickly as possible. To meet this demand, we run full playsets of Spirebluff Canal, Steam Vents, and Shivan Reef. All of these come into play untapped early. Additionally, we play five basics: two Islands, two Snow-Covered Islands, and a lone Mountain. Why do we split our Islands among two types? Gifts Ungiven only works if we select cards with different names. Playing Islands and Snow-Covered Islands means we can get one of each with a Gifts if we need to. The lone Mountain is there as a target for Path to Exile, and if we already have three lands in play it become the only red source that will enter untapped without hurting us. This manabase has no fetchlands. Typically, the builds that play fetches run eighteen lands, along with having fewer mana producing lands due to the fetches. By skipping them entirely, we get to play more mana-producing lands and more spells, a reasonable benefit in a spell-based combo deck.
As is the case in every other deck, Modern sideboards depend on your anticipated metagame. Combo decks typically build their sideboards to fight specific hate. As such, they become more homogenized because they have to fight a smaller pool of cards. This sideboard is typical of the archetype, and the only real changes one would want to make are minor tweaks. There is a cheaper sideboard available that I will cover shortly. It shaves off $40 to $50 from the budget without dropping the overall power level of the deck.
- As stated previously, two Empty the Warrens are here as alternate win conditions. You'll find yourself bringing these in most of the time, and some lists even run one in the maindeck. It can be clunky, however, so only do it if you find it necessary.
- A trio of Lightning Bolt is for dealing with hatebears and eliminating early aggressive creatures. In the mirror match, you can eliminate opposing creatures to give you the mana advantage.
- Three Pieces of the Puzzle are for games that we expect to go long. Because our graveyard is a resource, putting more spells in there can be a good thing.
- A pair of Shattering Spree are for Affinity, Lantern Control, and any deck that relies on artifacts.
- Two copies of Wipe Away answer cards like Leyline of the Void, Eidolon of Rhetoric and other hate that can stop us from winning. We want to cast this on the opponent's end step on the turn before we storm off. Split second means our opponent can't interact with it unless a triggered ability stops us, so Wipe Away can often guarantee us one turn to win.
- Dual Blood Moons are for decks that need several nonbasics to function. Three-color midrange and control decks, Scapeshift, and more have a difficult time getting off the ground if a Moon sticks early. We can even play it on turn two with a ritual! Even against decks like Tron or Burn, where Blood Moon isn't going to completely lock them out of the game, it buys us enough time to win.
- A basic Island joins Blood Moon as a package deal: when bringing in Moon, bring in the last Island. I would not recommend cutting a land for the Island because we will still want a larger land density in case we need to combo off without a creature in play. Against control and midrange, bringing in an extra land is useful because it gives us an extra mana to go off with.
If you want something slightly cheaper, I recommend something like this:
We cut Blood Moon and Shattering Spree to free up some budget. In their stead, we play the final copy of Pieces of the Puzzle, a Dismember, and two Shatterstorms. Pieces gives us redundancy in long matchups, and some lists play four anyway. Dismember can deal with larger creatures, such as the aforementioned Eidolon of Rhetoric. Lastly, Shatterstorm is just financially-cheaper artifact hate. There are several situations where we would cast Shattering Spree for four red, so this change has no effect on actually dealing with artifacts. If anything, it is merely changing the name of the card we're playing.
In terms of what to do when sideboarding, that is an open-ended question with many possible answers. I found myself cutting two Opts and a Sleight of Hand for the cards we need and a Grapeshot for Empty the Warrens. Interestingly, the deck runs just as well on sixty-one cards, so if you are having difficulty with the last cut, playing sixty-one cards post-board is a fine option. I was just as consistent post-board as I was pre-board because of the sheer number of cantrips we play and would never expect it to affect our draws in any meaningful way.
Upgrades and Adjustments
The list presented here is a full Gifts Storm build. There are no cards missing from this deck that make it better. When you purchase this deck, you are getting a tier-one archetype with the potential to take down a Grand Prix or a StarCityGames Open. In terms of budget cuts, it is not doable outside of the alternate sideboard. Every card in the deck is essential, and while it is possible to tweak some numbers, they would not have a significant impact on the price of the deck. We cannot afford to lose the expensive parts of this deck because they will dramatically decrease its power level. Even playing fewer nonbasics will make our mana inconsistent. Still, for $280-$350, one would be hard pressed to find a deck more competitive than Gifts Storm.
That brings us to the end of this week's Treasure Cruisin'! What do you think of Gifts Storm? For a tier-one deck, it certainly is the cheapest option. It's also useful that it's mostly comprised of recently reprinted cards. Do you think the unbans will affect this deck's ability to compete, or are they nothing to be concerned about? I'm eager to hear your thoughts! Also, I want to again recommend reading the Gifts Storm primer. It's a strong community of dedicated players who will be sure to help you, and the primer itself is far more in-depth then I could ever be in one article. As always, you can ask questions in the comments, PM them to me, or ask on Twitter @CavalryWolfPack, and I will be sure to answer them. Until next time, keep on cruisin'.