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By: Motu, Aaron Kahler
Jul 06 2009 8:24am
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How good is Pauper Storm Combo?  I've been asking that question over the past several weeks as readers have continually mentioned the deck in the comment threads.  While the deck has enjoyed some success, I must confess my general attitude toward the deck has been one of disrespect.  However curiousity eventually got the best of me and I settled in to run a fifty-game set with the deck in order to provide some hard empircal data with which to better analyze the latest in the TPS series (The Perfect Storm, The Extended Perfect Storm, The Pauper Storm). 

Method to the Madness

I wanted to determine how many opening hands the deck can keep, whether the average goldfish was turn 4 as advertised, as well as the chances of killing turn 4 off a mulligan.  In order to get appropriate data I wanted to run 25 solitaire games on the draw, followed by 25 solitaire games on the play.  In order to test games on the play with MTGO I mulliganed my opening 7, drew for t1 and then decided whether I would keep or mulligan.  If I had to mulligan I would start another game with an additional mulligan and repeat. (Does anyone know a better way to do this?)  Since the games were solitaire they were all done with the maindeck.

I used the following decklist:



The Results

On the Draw:

12/25 turn 4 kills - 48%

Kills off a single Grapeshot - 3

On the Play:

11/25 turn 4 kills - 44%

Kills off a single Grapeshot - 2


23/50 turn 4 kills - 46%

Kills off a single Grapeshot - 5 - 10% of games, 22% of kills

16 mulligans in 50 games

37 of 50 opening hands kept - 74%

3 out of 13 mulligans produced a turn 4 kill - 23%

20 of 37 7-card hands produced a turn 4 kill - 54%


The most telling conclusion from the data set was the importance of sample size.  If I had been running 10 game sets instead of twenty-five the results would have looked drastically different.  Eight of the first ten games on the draw were turn 4 kills and it was looking like Pauper Storm Combo was ridiculously consistent until it only picked up four of the next fifteen.  I believe 50 games to be a large enough sample to produce results with a small variance but would not be shocked to find a change of 4-6% over a larger sample size.

With only 14 lands invasion sac lands (Geothermal Crevice, Ancient Spring, Irrigation Ditch, Sulfur Vent) and 4 Lotus Petal I was surprised to find such a large percentage of acceptable seven card hands.  In the fifty games I was able to kill with only a single land in play twice and came one point short of a turn four kill off a single land after a mulligan to four!  Having Ancient Spring to enable a turn three Words of Wisdom to dig for additional land was rather strong and I wish in hindsight I had kept the percentage of kills following a turn 3 Words of Wisdom which my gut tells me is rather high.

Bobby Fischer was a chess prodigy.  Apparently searching for him was an arduous process.  Grapeshot might not be good at chess, but is equally arduous to search for.  It is quite difficult to stitch together a storm count of nineteen to be able to win off a lone Grapeshot. With no way to tutor up the storm spell I found myself often fizzling due to only finding a single copy of the card in the top half of my deck or at times digging 40 cards deep and losing without a Grapeshot in sight.  If I were to begin to make any adjustments to the list I'd try cutting Compulsive Research for Peer Through Depths and Careful Study for Ponder.  While Careful Study is better the turn you are attempting to combo, being able to Ponder on turn two following a turn one Ancient Spring seems like it might be worth the swap.

Manamorphose being a hybrid makes this deck viable.  Geothermal Crevice and Irrigation Ditch both produce when sacrificed and the ability to cast Manamorphose off the and convert it into a relevant color () accounts for at least 10% of the turn 4 kills.  Before the 50 game set I hadn't even considered the implications of being able to cast Manamorphose off but it became clear early that if Manamorphose were a red spell the deck either wouldn't be viable or would have to take on a much different form.

Pauper Storm Combo isn't the deck I'd choose to run if I knew I needed to win turn 4 since the average goldfish is going to rest closer to 5 than to 4.  Additionally the impact of a single mulligan impacts the deck rather drastically, cutting the turn 4 goldfish percentage in half.  Prismatic Strands is a nightmare game one when backed up with a decent clock in the form of Slivers or assorted dorks. 

When playing against the deck the number of single Grapeshot kills implies that targeted hand destruction like Duress is best directed at the storm sorcery the vast majority of the time.  Deep Analysis after board can mitigate against the likes of Ravenous Rats, Shrieking Grotesque, and Blightning, but a single Grapeshot out of the deck makes winning a good bit more difficult for TPS unless they have brought in Empty the Warrens.

Life gain appears to be more relevant against the deck than I had initially reasoned.  Most games were won by dealing exactsies or a point or two over which leads me to believe that gaining four to six life might add another turn to the deck's goldfish.  All of this combined leaves me wondering whether the better "combo" deck of the format is the two card combo of Mountain + Random Burn Spell. 

Video Commentary 



The Difficulty of Life With a Single Grapeshot



Hide and Seek with Grapeshot



Land is for Losers

The 50 game set with Pauper Storm Combo has settled many of the questions I had about the deck.  It's more consistent than I believed it to be, however with an average goldfish above 4.5 turns I don't believe one can justify running the deck over the more straightforward burn deck unless the meta shifts towards decks filled with blinking Aven Riftwatchers and other life gain.  I hope the data has been helpful to you in sizing up just how seriously you have to take TPS and how to best attack it.  Until next week, when you lose to a single Grapeshot after your opponent mulligans just shrug and enter the Scoop Phase.


I can attest that Ponder is by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 11:33
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I can attest that Ponder is quite useful in this deck. I'm surprised you didn't compile any data regarding T3 kills. I find myself going off on T3 about 10-20% of the time.

I should add that moving one by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 11:35
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I should add that moving one ETW to the maindeck is a smart move; it functions as storm spell #5 and sometimes saves your ass when you would otherwise fizzle.

Meh storm is either a turn by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 12:00
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Meh storm is either a turn 1-3 kill, or your dead. Answer's exist(Echoing Decay for ETW, Dawn Charm or Prismatic Strands for Grapeshot) and identifying the key cards to a storm deck is a no brainer. Does it win yes, but but it win consistently not no imo.

Storm combo by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 12:01
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I haven't had a chance to check out the videos yet, so they do not influence my comments.
My biggest issue with this article is that you start talking about Solitaire games, but those do not matter in Magic. Yes, while Storm is the deck best equipped to Goldfish in Pauper, you never really go into why (other than to say to see if you can kill on turn this enough of a reason- I don't know).
These numbers are all great except they have no bearing on actual play. Storm is one of the decks in Pauper that everyone has to prepare for (especially during an event). While Solitaire is important for learning when to mulligan, going off in these situations is far different than going off under pressure or in the face of interaction. How many of those hands could have beaten a Duress or Distress? A well timed counter?
This is a great first step, and I hope that the articles that follow go on to examine how the deck works when set up against an opponent who is prepared to interact.

"3) The Fundamental Turn of by Motu at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 12:56
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"3) The Fundamental Turn of Pauper is Turn Four. I have said it before and I will say it again- Turn Four is the Fundamental Turn. This is the turn by which combo and aggro will often goldfish....Your deck, and by proxy you, should have a plan for this. Can you win by turn four? Can you establish dominance? If the answer is no, then I would seriously consider reconsidering your deck for competitive Pauper."

Obviously goldfish = solitaire. The data is rather useful I believe in determining whether the fundamental turn is indeed turn 4 and whether Storm Combo is a viable deck in the format -- i.e. "How Good is Storm Combo"

It's pretty rare that you by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 13:24
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It's pretty rare that you actually die on your 4th turn. Slivers can goldfish with their best draw, obviously, but other decks' fourth turns are more like "a solid board position with several cards in hand," or "tendrils online," or "ready to counterspell two spells."

Those things would be bad if you were planning on winning with 1 critical spell or a series of creatures, but as everybody knows, that's not what this deck does.

You typically have more than four turns to kill with storm, and unless you're staring down lethal damage or a shinobi, there's no reason to try to go off (and can usually wait 1-3 more turns)

There's always something with by Lenney (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 14:39
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There's always something with you, eh Spike?

:/ by ghweiss at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 12:59
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1) I disagree with Alex. Storm Combo in Pauper is almost completely undisruptable, so why not get goldfish data and take it with a small grain of salt? Sure, you might eat a single Distress, but compare that to the games where you aren't forced to go off until turn 6 (or later) because your opponent has a slow clock. More than any other deck-in-context I've ever seen in my life, this one is all about solitaire.

2) The lists I've seen generally have a couple Shred Memory, which is a huge omission from your discussion (if not from your decklist). You spend a lot of time explaining how the deck's weak spot is finding copies of the card Grapeshot, so you should at least explain why you chose not to play the best card for fixing that problem.

3) You should play 1 Island in the deck. It is like a Lotus Petal that doesn't sac itself, thus helping you cast draw spells before going off.

4) I don't know why you save your Ideas Unbound to cast last when you're going off, but it seems wrong to me. You get the most information by resolving those, such that you can plan how to use your other resources. Casting all your rituals first seems wrong in the same way, because you don't know if you will end up with more than enough mana but short on lands to discard to Careful Study and Compulsive Research.

Solitaire on the Play by whatisfgh at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 13:03
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"In order to test games on the play with MTGO I mulliganed my opening 7, drew for t1 and then decided whether I would keep or mulligan. If I had to mulligan I would start another game with an additional mulligan and repeat. (Does anyone know a better way to do this?) Since the games were solitaire they were all done with the maindeck."

What I do, and you can only do this is you have personal restraint, is base you mulligans you your opening 7, and just play like you don't know what the right most card is in your hand. Ie. you don't count your draw on turn 1, as it's the card you are "drawing" on turn 2 and you don't count the the card you actually draw on turn 2.. etc

only works if you think you can be honest that you aren't playing with that knowledge though. (hehe, I suppose if you can't be honest a postit note on your screen could hide it .. at least until you start playing things ;D)

list by speks at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 13:04
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I don't claim to be a storm expert by any means, but your decklist seems far from optimal.
you mentioned in your article that there is no way to tutor for grapeshot, but there is, shred memory, which you chose to run in the sb rather than maindeck for some odd reason. I think shred memory will make those 10 storm double grapeshot hands much more consistent, rather than playing so much draw spells and going straight for 19 storm single grapheshot.
I dunno, but from my experiences playing vs storm, it seems to go off turn 4 undisrupted almost every time, even turn 3 kills once in a while. I don't doubt your data so i'm guessing the decklist you used could be better optimized.

decklist by Motu at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 13:37
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I'm certainly no storm expert, as I mentioned in the article I merely grabbed what appeared to be the most recent placing list over at PDC.

storm combo conclusions by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 13:42
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I've been playing a fair amount of pauper recently. I managed to take down the first pauper weekend event with my B/u control deck. (I'm a very competitive player)

Nice article,
A good start to beginning to play/understand storm combo. Needing 2 grapeshots to combo early and vulnerability to targeted discard naming grapeshot are nice insights that I can confirm from playing against the deck a ton of times.

I don’t really like the emphasis on goldfishing and going off turn 4. I can identify good storm combo players by how long they wait before they combo off. This is matchup dependent of course but I have definitely played against players who try and go off turn 4 when I have 0 pressure on them.

Naturally your conclusions are biased towards 4 turn games. I’d say 4 turns is not the duration of the vast majority of pauper games (of course it does happen). I don’t agree that the deck is very vulnerable to life gain. Riftwatcher into okiba-gang is going to be problem because you are losing 2 cards, you don’t care if they are just gaining life. If you play 50 games going off on turn 8 instead of 4 you won’t have a problem doing 25-30 damage.

Personally I would recommend storm combo over mono R burn. I’m fairly confident that the average pauper play is not prepared to play against a good storm player. Mono red is a not really my style and a bit to linear for my tastes, at least storm has multiple angles of attack.

my take by whiffy at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 16:21
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Really good article I thought. I think that goldfishing is a more then acceptle way to veiw combo. The first step in playing a deck like storm is figuring out how to play your deck. Playing live games for your first step in testing will skew the results negativly. First off you don't actually know how to play your deck, so you will react incorrectly under pressure and lose games you could have won if you knew the fundamental turns of the deck, which are hard to acquire when live. The only think that could make this article better is a part 2 where you bring a tuned version of tps into actual testing, IE the 2-mans to show how the deck works when not facing an empty chair.

I agree that the lack of Shred Memory is huge, and that the deck can't be nearly as consistent with out it. While I am not even at novice level when it comes to knowing the pauper meta game I do now how to play combo, its easy you just ignore the other decks. Here is my list that I run in 2-mans every once in a while.

4 Chromatic Sphere
3 Compulsive Research
4 Ideas Unbound
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Words of Wisdom
4 Irrigation Ditch
4 Chromatic Star
4 Ancient Spring
4 Manamorphose
1 Flaring Pain
4 Rite of Flame
4 Dark Ritual
2 Shred Memory
4 Grapeshot
4 Sulfur Vent
2 Island
4 Lotus Petal

3 Pyroblast
1 Flaring Pain
2 Echoing Truth
3 Early Frost
2 Empty the Warrens
4 Deep Analysis

It gives up a touch of the draw for more consistency and protection in shred memory/flairing pain.

Is there anything to do in by Parabola01 at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 17:31
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Is there anything to do in the mirror match other than try to combo off first?

Solidly done by walkerdog at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 18:06
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I like the approach. I will mention that Turn four is a lot higher % than 50 in my testing with the deck; closer to 75. The bigger fight to me was figuring out if I could kill on turn three. You TYPICALLY can with a double-grapeshot hand, which, as you mentioned, is usually the key to winning with the deck.

Misplaying the deck by Anonymous (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 18:40
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Since mana can be tight, you want to maximize your mana by casting the Spheres as you go. This ensures that you can filter any mana without losing it, and draw cards for free.

Spike is wrong. This is an by raining (not verified) at Mon, 07/06/2009 - 22:53
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Spike is wrong. This is an excellent deck to goldfish with - particularly if you want game one results. Even though they are aware of what deck you are playing the second you drop your first land, they just don't have the hate available, nor could they mulligan to defend (Distress, Krark-Clan Shaman, Prismatic Strands, etc.) Furthermore, they will generally be busy trying to get their offense (or defense) established, which you can just wait for a good time that they are tapped out or close to it so you can go off without anything standing in your way. In that manner, it is very much goldfishing because any damage or board presence that they have will be for naught as you just storm them out. Fair article, but the decklist is poor.

Goldfishing by SpikeBoyM at Tue, 07/07/2009 - 07:59
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I let my bias for playing interactive decks cloud my post. Is Storm a deck you can goldfish with for practice? Yes, and alongside burn it is the best deck to goldfish with for practice.
However, how many of those hands could win through a Distress? MBC/MBCu are heavily played, and Distress is a strong turn two play out of both.
Also, if I see someone lay a sac land turn one, I immediately change my game plan to compensate for storm. Pre-board it may not matter, but any edge is valuable.
Also, how many of these games were conducted post-sideboard? Just curious.

Yeah.. His statistics look by Lenney (not verified) at Tue, 07/07/2009 - 12:34
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Yeah.. His statistics look like they're all for Game 1 situations. I would bet the numbers would change drastically with certain matchups post SB.

"Since the games were by Motu at Tue, 07/07/2009 - 13:42
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"Since the games were solitaire they were all done with the maindeck."

i don't get the point of your by Anonymous (not verified) at Tue, 07/07/2009 - 19:00
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i don't get the point of your comment motu.

They were asking how many by Motu at Tue, 07/07/2009 - 22:11
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They were asking how many games were conducted post SB and so I quoted the last sentence before the deck list which stated that all the games were played without SB since they were solitaire. Data collection becomes less useful and harder to obtain once you bring SBing into view since each data set is only useful in a single matchup since you side a differently against MBC than you do against Slivers etc.

Great article...I had often by Anonymous (not verified) at Fri, 07/10/2009 - 16:36
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Great article...I had often wondered what Storm's average goldfish is.

One thing I've noticed about this deck is that it has the highest incidence of horrible misplays of any Pauper deck I've seen. A lot of people have fizzled against me in the queues because they didn't count their colored mana correctly or something like that. Definitely not a deck you want to pick up with no practice.