(Modern) Baral Gifts Storm Primer

mike-thomasMy name is Mike Thomas.  I have been playing magic competitively since Fate Reforged, grinding tournaments in the Oklahoma area with mild success. I started, as many grinders do, in Standard and I saw my first glimpse of success in Dragons of Tarkir with an Esper Dragons list at the SCG Open level with a Day 1 finish of 5-4.  I narrowly missed day 2 by punting my 2 win-and-in opportunities.  I’ve since delved into the world of Modern and Legacy where I was able to cash for the first time in a Premier IQ with Death and Taxes, earning a Top 32 finish. While my opportunity to play in PPTQs have waned with the continual marching of college and professional developments, I have still maintained a competitive spirit playing the game and have worked on tuning the lists of my teammates in Standard and Modern.

After seeing many local players bringing this new version of storm featuring Baral, Chief of Compliance to events, I was inspired to try it out myself.  A bit of testing and tuning has resulted in the following list…


Baral Gifts Storm

Storm is a deck that has been around since the beginnings of Modern and has arguably had the most targeted bans of any deck in the format’s history. From Seething Song to Gitaxian Probe, the Storm archetype has found itself constantly being hindered and nevertheless, the deck has managed to survive.

The premise of the deck is to chain together “rituals”, spells the create net positive mana, “cantrips”, cards that draw cards, and a combination of Pyromancer’s Ascension and Past in Flames in order to recycle the cards in your graveyard to cast a lethal Grapeshot dealing damage increased by the number of spells previously cast in that turn.

During 2016, Modern as a format was in the middle of a rampant increase in linear aggro strategies such as Death’s Shadow Aggro and Infect. Storm typically functions well in a format where no one is trying to interact with their opponents. There was one problem with Storm during this “Linear Summer”, however.  The entire deck was based around 1 card: Goblin Electromancer. With only 4 copies of the card in the deck, and no way to reliably tutor for it, the deck would often times sit on its hands while the opponent would kill them by turn 3. That all changed with the release of Aether Revolt.

With the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance, the deck was revitalized, creating a new zeal in both dedicated Storm players and deck brewers alike. Baral serves as Goblin Electromancer 1-4 with the upside of having an extra toughness and a relevant incentive to play counter magic. This increases the consistency of the deck significantly which has allowed for the deck to take its newest form.

Other recent innovations include Gifts Ungiven.  Gifts is the newest lynchpin to the deck, allowing a hand of a few rituals and a couple of cantrips to tutor for the ability to go off consistently. We go into detail about how to turn this 4 mana instant into victory later in this primer, however the short version of this is that with the proper Gifts choices, you will be able to find Past in Flames regardless of which cards your opponent puts into your graveyard.

Sideboarding Choices
Obviously all metas are different, and that means that the sideboard that works well for me may not have the same results for you. Here is a list of cards that may be substituted into the sideboard, or perhaps even the mainboard.

  • Hope of Ghirapur
  • Negate
  • Pact of Negation
  • Hurkyl’s Recall
  • Ricochet Trap
  • Relic of Progenitus
  • Anger of the Gods

Maindeck Choices

Land
3 Spirebluff Canal, 4 Scalding Tarn, 3 Flooded Strand, 3 Steam Vents, 1 Hallowed Fountain, 2 Island, 1 Mountain

With 17 total lands (4 red sources, 16 blue sources, and 8 white sources), this deck rarely if ever has issues with it’s manabase. We are comfortable with a low land count because we only need 3 lands to go off assuming that we have either an Electromancer or Baral in play. Similar to decks like Death’s Shadow and Infect, more lands lead to more dead draws. Some lists opt for Shivan Reef but I have omitted it to cut down on life loss to increase our odds against decks like Burn. The printing of Spirebluff Canal has helped immensely with this.  We are not so concerned with our fourth land coming into play tapped because we typically aim to win before we need it anyway.

Cantrips
4 Serum Visions, 4 Sleight of Hands, 3 Thought ScourThese 11 spells are key to allowing us to chain together enough spells in order to storm off. Serum Visions is an

These 11 are key to allowing us to chain together enough spells in order to storm off. Serum Visions is an all-star.  It’s inclusion should be unsurprising at this point. Sleight of Hand is powerful because it allows us to dig deeper than Serum Visions and gives us the option of not taking what is sitting on top of the library. Thought Scour plays super well with Past in Flames, cantrips, and in extreme corner cases, messes with an opponent’s draws. I’ve won a nonzero amount of games where my opponent mulliganed to 5 on the draw, scryed a land to the top, and turn 1 Thought Scour kept them off of their land drop which allowed me to win uncontested. Once you learn to view your graveyard as your hand, the “downside” of Thought Scour becomes all upside. While Thought Scour is technically cuttable, it is highly recommended that you play all 11 of these cards, 12 if you eschew the Remand.

Rituals
4 Manamorphose, 4 Desperate Ritual, 4 Pyretic Ritual

If Legacy Storm has taught me anything, it’s that Dark Ritual is a busted Magic card. Which is why we play 8 of them. Manamorphose could also count in the Cantrip section of this primer, however, the mana generation is the more important aspect of this card. More times than not, your Manamorphose will be cast for R to add UU and draw a card, in order to enable the cantrips in your hand/graveyard. These are core to the deck and running all 12 is mandatory.

The Enablers
4 Baral, Chief of Compliance, 3 Goblin Electromancer

The entire reason why the deck functions in the first place. Cheating the mana system is a very powerful thing to do in this format (See: Tron, Eldrazi, etc.).  We play 4 Baral because even though he is legendary, we only need 1 creature in play to reliably go off.  The need to reliably have acccess to this option is worth the drawback of seeing multiples.  Additionally, Baral survives Collective Brutality whereas Goblin Electromancer does not. You could run anywhere from 6-8 of these effects, though the consensus both online and in my testing is that 7 effects is the sweet spot.

The Engine
4 Gifts Ungiven, 2 Past in Flames

Past in Flames is the lynchpin to this deck working. Without PiF, this deck would be dead in the water. That being said, this card is horrendous in multiples.  The fact that it has flashback gives it more reliability versus opposing counterspells. You’re basically running four options in just two copies. Theoretically, you could run three copies at the cost of a flex slot, but I feel that you see way more clunky hands with 3. Gifts Ungiven is such a powerful card, that even resolving 1 copy, regardless of the situation, the game is pretty much over at that point, barring some extreme circumstances. I will go into detail as to how to Gifts in a later section, but 4 is mandatory.

The Payoffs:
1 Grapeshot, 1 Empty the Warrens

Storm cards are Storm cards. There really isn’t all that much to say about them. With Empty the Warrens, if you are playing a deck that cannot answer a large board presence early, it may be correct to burn 4 cards and Empty the Warrens for 5, making 10 goblins and put your opponent on a 2 turn clock. You need a minimum of 2 storm cards mainboard, whether 1 of each or 2 Grapeshot, but any more than 3 is unnecessary.

The Flex Cards:
1 Grapeshot, 1 Remand, 3 Merchant Scroll

There 5 flex slots that you can adjust without affecting the core of the deck. Want to play 3 Remands? Sure! What about some mainboard bolts to kill Infect creatures? Go wild? Maybe a curveball of 4 Tarmogoyfs and 1 Breeding Pool? I can’t honestly recommend it but you bought the Tarmogoyfs, the world is your oyster! The best results seem to  come from lists playing Merchant Scroll and and a 3rd Storm card, however some people see better results with hate cards and extra counter spells.

The Mulligans

In your opening hand, you pretty much want to see the following combination of cards: 2 Lands, 2 Cantrips, 2 Rituals (Bonus points if 1 is a Manamorphose) and a creature. Here is an example of an ideal opener:

This is a windmill slam hand. Feel free to start salivating visibly in front of your opponent.

Now, here is a hand that is keepable, but not great.

You’re missing a few key pieces here, mainly a creature, and a second ritual, but you have 3 cantrips, and you can actively scry away lands, so this is passable.

Now this is a hand that to ship back on sight.

While this hand does look promising, you have no cantrips and if the top 3 cards of your deck are also lands, even after fetching, you’re gonna have a bad time. Cantrips are the most important part of an opening hand and the only reason for keeping a hand without one is if you mull to five and have 2 rituals and a creature. Very unlikely, but it does happen, as with all decks.

A Word of Gifting Ungiven Presents

When you gifts for the first time, the primary combination that you will go for is the following: Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Manamorphose, and Past in Flames. If you have a creature in play and at least 1 red mana in your pool, you will be able to cast Past in Flames regardless of what 2 cards your opponent gives you. If you do not have a creature in play when you gifts, feel free to still go get these cards, especially if you cast Gifts on your opponents end step (Because this card needed to be an instant for some reason) and they’ve tapped out, or will not interact with you on your turn (Ad Nauseam, Titanshift, etc.).

If you are casting Gifts for the second time in the game, you will want to get the following cards in order to maximize your chances of continuing your storm count: Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Grapeshot, and Manamorphose. With all of the mana you’ve floated from flashing back your rituals, you should have no problem getting enough storm to just win the game outright. Obviously, depending on the matchup, you may need to Gifts for things like Remand, or any hate cards you may have, but as you learn the deck, you will begin to see when those times come up.

That’s all the room I have for this week, join me next time as I storm into the sideboard guide.

-Mike Thomas

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