Norming the Storms

Posted in Serious Fun on June 3, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

To date, we haven't had much time in this column to look at the new set's main rules mechanic: storm. It's a natural fit in multiplayer formats, because it gives a single card the ability to keep up with a larger number of opponents. If you wish you had extra copies of a spell so that you could deal with all the dorks who try to ruin your fun, well, this mechanic's for you.

But which storm cards are the best, and which are mere tempests in teapots? I'd like to share my initial thoughts on the Scourge storm cards, and rank them in ascending order of usefulness in group play.

Before you read on, please make sure you're up on the storm mechanic. Most of the emails I get asking questions about it can be answered by this week's rules corner.

Rules Corner: Storm

Rules for storm from the Scourge FAQ.

502.30. Storm

502.30a Storm is a triggered ability that functions while the card is on the stack. "Storm" means "When you play this spell, put a copy of it onto the stack for each other spell that was played before it this turn. If the spell has any targets, you may choose new targets for any number of the copies."

502.30b If a spell has multiple instances of storm, each triggers separately.

  • The number of copies is set when the storm spell is played. Count only spells that were played (by any player) before the storm spell was played.
  • The copies are put directly onto the stack -- they aren't played. That means the copies aren't counted by other storm spells played later during the turn.
  • Each storm spell with a target allows you to change the target for each copy of that spell. You make that choice for each copy individually.
  • When counting spells played in a turn, you do count spells that were played face down and spells played from zones other than a hand.
  • A copy of a spell can be countered, just like any other spell, but each copy has to be countered individually. Countering a storm spell won't counter the copies of it.

The first part of this (the lesser-ranked cards) will read a bit like a review, so you can get a sense of why the card isn't higher. The second part will use the more favored cards in partial decks; and I'll do up a full deck for my top choice.


There are always a bunch of disclaimers on lists like these, aren't there? "This is just my opinion, your results may differ, etc., etc..."

Heck with that. I'm absolutely right, in every context, no matter what. Failure to agree is, quite simply, failure. Your contrary opinion both disgusts and amuses me.

Now, none of that may be true, but it certainly gets us to the list more quickly, and I think you all can figure out the truth for yourselves.


11. Hindering Touch

When I started this column, I swore to myself that I wouldn't do an article on Mana Leak. I've got nothing against cards like this -- they have their niche -- but most counterspells are mediocre in group play -- and worse, they're dull to write about. Let's move on.

12. Brain Freeze

Whoops, we're going backward. Mill -- even duller! Let's get this machine going in the right direction...

10. Tendrils of Agony

It may have its charms in duel, but in group play, this is almost strictly inferior to Syphon Soul. The only possible advantage it has is its ability to target the same player multiple times. But that's just silly talk. Pay less and use the Syphon.

9. Scattershot

I'm not a designer. I'm not a developer. I'm not even a Wizards employee. I'm just a freak who's never been to Renton and gets to borrow a little space on this website now and again. But I can understand completely why this thing does not target players. An instant-speed damage vehicle that screams "put me at the end of a combo!" is not that interesting to play against.

What I wish is that this had been 2 damage and more expensive. Otherwise, multiplayer enthusiasts have to compare it to Arc Lightning, which is slower but surer, and to Lava Dart, which is more reliable but also has less potential. Scattershot has more finesse than both, and it will have its days, but I think most players are going to stick with the Arc.

8. Astral Steel

Since I sort of like Scattershot, don't take this low personal ranking as an insult. I think white decks should try this one. It's going to save a couple of your creatures at least once every game night, and over time, I wouldn't be surprised if your group actually started to play around it a bit.

In addition, I find that monowhite decks often surprise casual players when they pump the offense of their creatures by more than a point or so -- and it shouldn't be hard to get to +3/+6 at instant speed, which feels much more like something green would do. It's a bit like the Daru Mender -- an unusual ability for the color. (Of course, old-school players remember Death Ward; but that doesn't mean they'll account for it.)

All I'm saying is, you'll destroy creatures and defeat players you're not supposed to more often than you think.

7. Temporal Fissure

For most situations, Rushing River will be just as good in multiplayer. When a massive sorcery is necessary, Distorting Wake will get you what you need for roughly the same converted mana cost. All that said, you will have games when this breaks things open. Like Scattershot, this is a card you should dabble with -- once you have a couple.

This is a good time to talk about sorcery storm cards and your deck design. Keep your other spells cheap and easy. The natural tendency when a new set comes out is to cram as many new cards into all of your decks as possible. Fine, that's fun. But spare a deck where the high-cost Scourge set is only a "splash," if you will, for Temporal Fissure. Think of the low-cost comes-into-play creatures, such as Gilded Drake, Wall of Blossoms, or Stern Proctor. Or while we're on the subject of such creatures, if you have Aluren but not Equilibrium, how about using this for your bounce?

Aluren is going to make a lot of storm cards much better than they look. Also consider alternative-play-cost spells like Submerge and Fireblast, and conditional-free spells like Massacre and Refreshing Rain. (Or Kyren's Legate! Feel the power surge.)

Or, you could just play a lot of expensive Dragons...

6. Dragonstorm

It's flashy and extremely cool, but it hits the middle of the list, as it's obviously specialized and, short of a Conspiracy, your creative options are limited. Yes, yes, play it. But since it's a sorcery, you'll probably have to provide your own fireworks, because anyone who comes to know this deck is not going to go out of their way to help you out with extra spells.

I don't think you folks need me to build you a Dragonstorm deck, do you? (Pssst, here's a hint: you use Merfolk... no, I mean Soldiers!... no, wait a sec, I'll think of it...) Whatever Dragons you start with, consider a Goblin base with Brightstone Ritual. Lots of cheap spells = lots of wondrous Dragons. Overmaster is a natural complement as well.

5. Sprouting Vines

Sprouting Vines, better than Dragonstorm? In group play, I'm going to say yes -- it's more versatile, more likely to give you extra copies, more likely to get you to your goal, and also more likely to get people thinking outside of their comfort zones. Yes, yes, Dragons good. But at some point, every casual player needs to learn the tempo lesson.

This is the card to do it with. It doesn't require sacrifice like Harrow, and its instant speed virtually guarantees you two lands -- more likely three or four. Of course, the lands go to your hand, not to play. What can we do with that? I'll start with the basis of a blue-green-white deck. The upper echelon of the deck is up to you...

Blue-Green Support Base

partial deck

4 Aquamoeba
4 Fallow Wurm
4 Harvest Wurm
4 Sprouting Vines
4 Trade Routes
4 Wild Mongrel

4. Wing Shards

This, to me, is what white removal should look like. White should punish attacking creatures, should have the perpetrator participate in his own punishment, and should not care about the size, color, or type of creature. Sacrifice. Justice. Blind. It all just feels right.

Attacks in many group games tend to be tentative affairs -- "I can spare this one creature to go over there and knock you in the noggin." The threat of Wing Shards actually makes attackers consider committing to more attackers, which makes for nifty play decisions.

Finally, you care a bit less about creatures with haste, as they count toward the storm total when you play the spell.

Even with storm, you may want some way to make sure that there's only one creature coming at you at a time. I'll resist the temptation of Cataclysm or Dimensional Breach (not least because you won't be up to again by the time that Worldgorger Dragon comes for you), but how about this?

Partial Wing Shards deck

4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Dawn Elemental
4 Dueling Grounds
4 Narcissism
4 Wing Shards

Notice how you're guaranteed a storm effect if someone disenchants the Dueling Grounds. Narcissism is not just a negative incentive -- often, a player will attack somewhere else if he or she thinks you might help him or her out. The Rootwalla is to give you an instant-speed vehicle (with Narcissism) to storm your Wing Shards.

More on that technique later.

3. Mind's Desire

A candidate for the best Constructed tournament rare in the set, Mind's Desire screams combo, which certainly has its moments in multiplayer. But as a sorcery, you're likely generating the storm yourself (see Dragonstorm), and that's not really taking advantage of the multiplayer format. Also, these kinds of decks are not easy to repeat-run in group games because they have to devote survival-card slots (for example, creature removal) to combo-support slots (for example, Dream Halls). Hey, wait a sec... did I just mention a combo?

Partial Mind's Desire deck

deck fragment

4 Dream Halls
4 Fiery Temper
4 Mind's Desire
4 Prophetic Bolt
4 Volcanic Eruption

So as I was saying... still a very, very good card. Worth some experimentation at your kitchen table, to see if you can push it past whatever the Pro Tour settles upon.

[Editor's note: The DCI also thinks that Mind's Desire is a very, very, very good card; Mind's Desire has been restricted in the Type 1 format. You can read the complete June 1 Banned and Restricted Announcement here. Of course, Dream Halls is also restricted in Type 1, so this change shouldn't affect Anthony's deckbuilding... Mind's Desire will be legal for play in the Standard, Block Constructed, and Extended formats when the Scourge set rotates in on July 1.]

2. Hunting Pack

Back to the instants -- and the creatures! Hunting Pack gives you lovely 4/4 beasts upon command. Bennie Smith did a whole single card strategy on this. Click here, so I won't go over old ground, except to give you the core of a deck that uses a few more spells Bennie couldn't mention back then:

Partial Hunting Pack deck

partial deck

2 Aether Charge
2 Beast Attack
2 Decree of Savagery
1 Fanatical Fever
2 Ghitu Fire
4 Hunting Pack
1 Seedtime
2 Silklash Spider
4 Sprouting Vines
4 Upwelling

Expensive green instants + Upwelling = a lot less worry about Disenchant and mana burn.

There's no doubt Hunting Pack is expensive. But green can afford it, and you will have games in which more than five Beasts come pouring out. I find that team games tend to have more spells per turn on average, as you have both opponents who want to grill you and teammates who want to save you. So think about Hunting Pack there, because you do want to make sure you get your mana cost's worth!

I'm betting no one guessed my #1 correctly. Hats off to those who did.

1. Reaping the Graves

Not very flashy, I'll admit. I mean, I never play Raise Dead in its pure form, since you just get a card for a card at sorcery speed, which is unspectacular at best. Nevertheless, I see this as the best deal, in multiplayer, for storm. Some of that is the instant speed, and the storm mechanic itself. But there are still two reasons why Reaping is best... reasons specific to this card:

First, the turns that will give you the largest storms are nearly always those turns in which the most creature removal (and responding) spells have been played. Misdirection on your Desert Twister? Go get three dead creatures. Terminate your first creature, nod when you Terminate back, and then Diabolic Edict. you? Go get four. Wrath of God meets Counterspell meets Absorb meets... I don't know -- Mudhole? Who cares, go get five. Removal spells get reactions - someone pumps in response, or bounces, or retaliates. Mass removal spells get even more attention and stack-piling.

If you believe what I've said so far, then stick with the logic a moment longer. A card that retrieves dead creatures is more likely to benefit from multiple copies in a given turn than other sorts of spells. Storm is useful anyway, but when it helps you recover from the most popular sorts of spells out there, it gets a bonus. Recursion and storm go together like threshold and cycling, or the Magic game and pizza, or my dog's hair and everything else in the house.

The second reason sort of sneaked up on me, and it took watching a bunch of Prerelease matches (I'm a judge) to sort it out: Unlike the other eleven storm spells (with the possible exception of Sprouting Vines), it makes virtually no difference when you play this card. Sure, you'll want to try to play it at the end of an opponent's turn because that's just plain good technique - but you don't have to pinpoint an exact moment during combat, or wait until your main phase, or check how many lands are untapped over there, and so on for it to be effective. You can play it in response to a Withered Wretch (good idea!) or at the end of a combat that went bad so you can quickly recast your army or just when you happen to have open and don't want to pass up the opportunity.

Reaping the Graves gives you the freedom you want with a storm card -- you determine when it's best to cast, so that you can balance the storm mechanic with your need to replenish your creature stock.

On top of that, it's almost certain to get you back your two or three best creatures, and it plays right into a color combination (black and green) that has gotten incredibly strong over the last two or three blocks. To wit:


If you don't have four Eternal Dragons yet (and who does?), skip the Dragon-Thrall idea and put in stuff like Nantuko Husk - Symbiotic Beast. In fact, this is a really easy deck to make absolutely rareless, but still very powerful. You just have to make sure you have something capable of handling flyers:


You probably have your own rankings of the storm cards based on your own playgroup and what you value in multiplayer. Please refer to my standard nondisclaimer above! Then feel free to use the message boards to start your own storm.

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