For the last week and a half I had been testing standard for French Nationals. Since Jérémy Dezani and Tomoharu Saito, my two teammates for the Team Pro Tour coming up in two weeks, won't be playing any Standard until then, I was assigned the task to explore the new format and have a tournament in before I get to play standard at the PT.

So I started looking for new decks and Jérémy suggested I tried Mono-Blue Storm. I thought it would be a little complicated to play but I had enough time to prepare so I gave it a shot. After a couple of leagues, and a few hours spent watching Marc Tobiasch (DiabloSC X)'s stream on Twitch I got the hang of it (or so I thought) and locked the deck for Nationals.

With the traveling and preparation for the Pro Tour ahead, I thought I would record a series of videos for my next article ahead of time so you had something to watch while I was I on my way back. So I started recording, commenting my plays at the same time as I usually do. I was not happy with the first matches I taped. I was making mistakes or being boring, since going through the thought process before each play while talking at the same time proved to be too hard. I played more matches, trying to get used to it, spent a whole night trying to put together enough interesting videos for you, without any success. So I decided I would write something up instead, but that should have been a first sign I shouldn't have played the deck in a real-life tournament.

While I was making the last couple of changes to the list, I faced Oliver Polak-Rottmann in a Magic Online league, preparing for Austrian Nats, playing Storm as well. We exchanged our thoughts about the deck and I told him I would play it at my Nats. He said "that's ballsy, I would never take that deck to Nats. This is my last match with it."

That should have been the second sign.

On his side, Gabriel Nassif had been playing and streaming the deck as well (Yellowhat on Twitch), and also decided to play it. He would stay at my place for the duration of the tournament, since it was being held very close to Toulouse, so we could work together on the finishing touch. That was also a chance for me to give him and other Magic players a Jiu-Jitsu initiation class (and that was awesome!)

A lot of other French PT regulars also decided to play it: Pierre Dagen, Remi Fortier, Louis Deltour, Julien Henry, comforting me in my choice. We even believed the deck would dominate the tournament.

The strategy behind the deck was explained brilliantly by Jon in his short preview video last month and I feel like I don't have much to add to it to explain the basics. So if you're still wondering how the deck works, have a look. The decklist he suggested at the end of the video isn't far from what I ended up playing.

And so you have an idea of how it plays out:

So is the deck actually good?

I believe so, otherwise I wouldn't have picked it. Would I play it again? For the first time in a while, I would answer with the negative here. Had I had to play French Nats again, I would not play Storm, for a few reasons.

The deck started to pick some interest among competitive players, so much that a lot of the most experienced ones decided to play it. The others had a plan. While the deck is resilient to a lot of things, there are a few cards and strategies that are hard to beat. Cards like By Force, Manglehorn, Cleansing Nova or main deck Forsake the Worldly were around for the occasion. Some Grixis Midrange decks that usually keep their Abrades in the sideboard decided to run them main. White-Blue Gift decks, that are usually super easy matchups, decided to run a couple of Negates in the main, making it much more difficult. Then there's the fact that some players decided to play Stompy specifically to beat Storm as Steel Leaf Champion is very hard to race, as it comes down very early and you can't block it with Thopter Tokens.

Also, the deck is hard to play. After all the games I played online, I thought I was ready to play it with paper cards. It turns out, it's just more complicated. The logistics related to the various triggered abilities can really mess with your game. You have to keep track of the storm count, putting tokens in play every time you play an artifact, write down your life total with Reservoir, think about your Inventors' Fair during upkeep, draw your card off Prismatic Prism (even though that one sounds obvious, when you have to pick up your pen to write down your new life total, reach for a token and turn the storm count, there's a chance you just forget about drawing a card).

Making the right play is also complicated as you have to think up to 15 moves ahead. The math behind Aetherflux Reservoir isn't too hard to grasp, but in situations where you don't know if you have enough spells to win on the same turn or if you need to bounce your opponent's threats, you need to write everything down and resolve the equations. If Aetherflux Reservoir is already in play, it's fairly easy. I usually take a few seconds to write this down:

Spells Cast – Amount of life gained

1 – 1
2 – 3
3 – 6
4 – 10
5 – 15
6 – 21
7 – 28
8 – 36
9 – 45
10 - 55

Things get complicated when you don't have Reservoir in play. For example, you play a couple of Ornithopters, a Mox Amber and Cast Baral's Expertise on the three artifacts and then cast Aetherflux Reservoir for free (that's a sequence that happens quite often). The first spells you will cast will gain you six life and you have to use a new chart.

6-6
7-13
8-21
9-30
10-40
11-51

You can go off without any safety net (not writing anything down), but why not make sure you have it when you have perfect information and make sure you reach 51 life and not 49 or 50? Which leads to the last and most important point…

Time. Even though this deck looks like a combo deck and can win quite fast, as soon as your opponent starts interacting, there are a lot of things to consider. As mentioned above, all the little triggers that you yield automatically on Magic Online make you waste precious seconds and energy each time. You don't control your opponent's clock, since as we all know, we play on the same 50-minute clock in real-life tournament, so if your opponent starts thinking a bit about their next move, there's very little chance you to finish three games at all.

I played five rounds at Nats and went 2-2-1. I beat Grixis Midrange (an easy matchup), White-Blue Control (tricky but fine), lost to Esper Control (lots of counters and Forsake the Worldly main deck, tough matchup) and Mono-Green (Manglehorn in the sideboard), and drew against Blue-Red The Mirari Convergence. All matches were played in two games and except for the match against green, and I would never have had the time to play a third game. I won 2-0 against both Grixis and White-Blue, lost to Esper 0-2, and split the first two games against Blue-Red, with less than five minutes left on the clock at the end.

So if you decide to play the deck, you have to know exactly what you are doing in every situation and practice the sequences with actual cards, a pen and tokens to make sure you don't waste any time. Otherwise, you can't drop a single game (lose one and you're doomed to draw the match at best).

For the brave ones out there, here's the sideboard guide I used during the tournament:

Steel Leaf Stompy

+3 Karn, Scion of Urza
+3 Aether Meltdown
+1 Padeem, Consul of Innovation

-3 Aetherflux Reservoir
-2 Ornithopter
-2 Glint-Nest Crane

This is probably your worst matchup. Steel Leaf Champion is a super-fast clock and can't be blocked. They have artifact removal in the form of Manglehorn, Vivien Reid, and Thrashing Brotodon. Padeem is a little slow to reliably protect your artifacts as you first need to stabilize the board.

The best way to do that, as against other aggressive decks running a lot of artifact removal after sideboard, is to switch to the Karn plan. Instead of winning with Aetherflux Reservoir, you'll be making Constructs over and over again. Play Karn off a Statuary, play Paradoxical Outcome to bounce it to your hand, play it again, make another Construct. In the best-case scenario, you'll end up with bigger creatures than your opponent and a couple of swings will be enough to win the game.

Exclusion Mage is an option to gain some time (probably a good one that we didn't have). Aether Meltdown buys some time as well as Baral's Expertise. Blossoming Defense can really mess up your plans if that's your only option to survive.

Red-Black

+3 Karn, Scion of Urza
+1 Aether Meltdown
+1 Tezzeret, Artifice Master
+1 The Antiquities War

-3 Aetherflux Reservoir
-1 Baral's Expertise
-1 Paradoxical Outcome
- Ornithopter

With hand disruption coming in for Red-Black in addition to Abrade, the matchup becomes a little harder. The Karn plan should work better, but the option to keep the Reservoir is also possible.

Grixis Midrange

+3 Karn, Scion of Urza
+1 Nezahal, Primal Tide
+1 Tezzeret, Artifice Master
+1 The Antiquities War
+1 Negate

-2 Baral's Expertise
-3 Aetherflux Reservoir
-2 Ornithopter

This matchup is hard to lose. The only games they have a shot at winning are the ones they start with double Glint-Sleeve Siphoners. Otherwise, they'll have a hard time dealing with all your threats.

White-Blue Gift

+2 Negate
+1 Baral, Chief of Compliance

-2 Ornithopter
-1 Baral's Expertise

Also a pretty easy matchup. Their gameplan is just too slow and they don't have efficient ways to interact with you. Once you know they board in Negates, it's not too hard to navigate around them.

Control

+3 Karn, Scion of Urza
+1 Nezahal, Primal Tide
+1 Tezzeret, Artifice Master
+1 The Antiquities War
+3 Negate
+1 Baral, Chief of Compliance

-2 Baral's Expertise
-3 Aetherflux Reservoir
-2 Ornithopter
-1 Mox Amber
-2 Glint-Nest Crane

The control matchup could go either way. If they draw the wrong end of their deck, no counters, and if you manage to deal with their Teferi, you should be able to win. After board with Negates and a more reliable win condition, you should have a better shot. Nezahal is the absolute bomb in this matchup. Be very careful with the clock. This matchup takes a long time, so if they're getting ahead with Teferi and Azcanta and you have nothing, consider conceding and save some time.

A lot of us believed Storm would be the breakout deck of the tournament. It was not. Zero in the Top 8. That was quite a disappointment. It did better in the Netherlands where Daan Pruijt made the national team by winning the tournament, piloting his version of the deck.

If you feel up to the challenge and believe the metagame would be friendlier where you are – Grixis Midrange, Gift decks, less Mono-Green, try it out and maybe it will work out better for you. It's definitely a strong deck that deserves respect (and specific sideboard cards to beat it!)

- Raph