Modern Storm in the Age of Main Deck Surgical Extraction


Modern Storm 4-26-19


Its been a while since my last update here on modern storm and in that time the dominance of Phoenix and Dredge has waned a bit and now they share their “tier 1” status with Tron, Humans, UW Control, and GDS. Of course many other decks have risen in stock as well but here what we can gather is that modern has adapted to the threats of Dredge and Phoenix, similar to how it handled the breakout of GDS 2 years ago. Granted here it means there is now an emphasis on main deck and lots of sideboard graveyard hate which modern hasn’t really seen before.

As for how it has affected storm we now are much more focused on the Remand + Grapeshot line over our traditional combo sequence. In my previous update I had leaned towards multiple Unsubstantiates and no remands to combat the speed of the format head on but here now we are trying to rely more in an instant speed reactionary setup plan before comboing (by using Peer and Remands). The remands also are more useful when going off as well since we can cycle them on our own spell or even turn it into a sort of Chart a Course with Baral out. The main matchups where this gives us a leg up are against Tron, UW Control, The Rock, Phoenix, and Dredge. Against Phoenix and Dredge this may seem a bit weird due to Unsub being great at bouncing Thing in the Ice but Phoenix isn’t on average as fast as well think (such as attack for 6-9 on turn 2) and also requires casting 2 cmc spells to really get that velocity which are great to remand. Plus they usually have a “big attack/go off” turn where they tap low or out with just Surgical or Bolt to interfere with us.

This leads me to the other changes in our main deck first of which is the inclusion of Peer through Depths. I initially started testing with main deck Pieces of the Puzzle to help combat the massive increase in main deck graveyard hate and didn’t feel bad about it but was still not completely satisfied with the consistency especially when we didn’t have a bear in play and the constant choices of to leave up mana or cast pieces during our turn. I know that in the past I have championed running “any card” selection spells such as Shimmer of Possibility and Strategic Planning but here since we are focusing so much on the ability of instant speed to respond to our opponents plan and us usually needing a very specific instant or sorcery during going off (usually in the face of graveyard hate) so the possibility of missing is worth it. Also we get the benefit of being able to use our bears as “lightning rods” even better by having more ways to “combo off” a bit more in response to a removal spell on the bear.

Last is the removal of Empty the Warrens from the main deck. This was not as much of a remove for the sake of not being good in the main deck anymore as a choice of having to cut something for the rest of the current configuration. In it we want to have 7 bears in addition to the cantrips, remands, and Peers so the only real place i could find to keep it was in the same slot as Repeal. I sided with keeping the Repeal as it gives us a more cohesive instant speed plan and gives us a nice out to main deck permanent hate that stops Grapeshot. This does of course come at a small price to our GDS, UW Control, and GB Rock matchups though preboard.

In the sideboard there hasn’t been as much of a shakeup but there are a few new changes. The first and most minor change is the 3rd Empty over the 4th Pieces as without the Empty main I still want to have 3 copies and with the Peers we can function pretty well with only 3 Pieces in fast heavy graveyard hate matchups. Next is the removal of counter magic which has been replaced by a 3rd Grapeshot and the return of Echoing Truth. I have been unimpressed with the counters out of the board for against matchups such as Phoenix and have been happy relying on Remand to just buy time if needed and have wanted to be able to strengthen the “Remand + Grapeshot” lines more there. Also with the resurgence in humans and other creature based aggro having another “lawen mower” is very helpful. The Echoing Truth is also a nod to including no Unsubstantiates as now we have a clean answer to board in there as well that can function as a cmc independent catchall for when Repeal fails. The last change is the removal of Dismember for Flame Slash. This is mostly due to the life payment out of dismember being problematic against Phoenix and Burn but still wanting a card there that will also function against those plus humans.


Izzet Phoenix

Hate: Surgical, Ravenous Trap, Dispel, Spell Pierce

In: 1 Grapeshot, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Flame Slash, 2 Empty the Warrens, 3 Pieces of the Puzzle

Out: 4 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal, 1 Sleight of Hand, 1 Goblin Electromancer

Preboard: Here their main plan is to execute which ever of their plans that gives them the fastest start against us is while holding up minimal reaction for that window turn. This is commonly either a bolt or or Surgical so we should be playing a reactive game until this point where we try to set up either a huge turn to be able to brute force through a surgical (usually via gifts with enough floating we can then flashback PiF right after before priority is given to the opponent) or to have a nice Grapeshot + Remand kill. I would like to note here though that the remands should be valued quite highly and not just used for tempo as they are vert good for combo turns by not just remanding Grapeshot for the kill but to also protect our bears since they commonly tap low as mentioned on said window turn.

Postboard: Here not much changes on their side except they have more copies of graveyard hate cards (Surgical and Ravenous Trap)  and they gain a few 1 mana counterspells. For us meanwhile we gain a more resilient main engine in Pieces over gifts and now that we have Empty we can produce another angle of attack only it just requires making sure there is no Thing in the Ice to stop it in time. Note here though that we are still “the control” so that there is no clear plan A to force before we even start playing postboard, it is still quite dependent on the direction the opponent takes most of the time.


Hate: Relic of Progenitus, Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger’s Cage, Thought-Knot Seer

In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 1 Grapeshot

Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal

Preboard: Here it is just a big race where we will slam a bear on turn 2 almost any chance we can (with few exceptions) and we just try to combo off on turn 3. Note that this will entail a lot of “hope you don’t have the Karn/natural Tron” type plays that we just have to jam into. Beware that the opponent does also have many Relics main that can come down any turn so it is still important to always keep the Remand + Grapeshot line in mind when sculpting and casting Remands.

Postboard: Here the opponent will gain a lot more graveyard hate so then we are more reliant on the remand + grapeshot lines. They also have more removal for our bears but we are still on the slam a bear on turn 2 unless there’s a good reason plan. We board up on the grapeshot here since they also bring in TKS so we are better insulated on the build up for grapeshot + remand lines too.

Azorious Control

Hate: Counterspells, Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace, Damping Sphere, Relic of Progentinus

In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 1 Wipe Away, 1 Grapeshot

Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual, 1 Goblin Electromancer, 1 Repeal

Preboard: Here our main plan is to make land drops and not fall behind there as we have inevitability in the matchup. Also we are almost always looking to jam a bear early as they have little removal outside of Path to Exile (which also ramps us and plays into our make land drops strategy). We are here just looking for the right window which the opponent will most of the time have to give us (usually by tapping low for a Jace/Teferi) and then just capitalize on our mana advantage to kill them. Here we also sometimes will cast Gifts end of their turn to also produce a counter fight we intend to lose to produce the same effect.

Postboard: Here we have Empty as another angle of attack against them that isn’t commonly use for a go big and hope it wins line but instead as small waves of attacks (ie empty for 4-6 goblins) that force the opponent into sub games they need to solve with expensive answers such as Supreme Verdict or Detention Sphere. Thus then forcing a window for us to then go off with grapeshot. Also important to note is that these mini waves while probably not lethal by the time they are handled do make the double grapeshot/grapeshot+remand lines much easier to accomplish as the opponent will likely be at 13 or less life.


Hate: Leyline of the Void, Damping Sphere

In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 1 Echoing Truth

Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal, 1 Remand

Preboard: Here it is a pure race where we really just hope they don’t have the crazy present 8+ power on turn 2 draw or to play around Conflagrate. Other than that though they have no instant speed interaction so we just hope to either stick a turn 2 bear or turn 3 bear plus remand to buy time/combo off.

Postboard: Here they now gain meaningful interaction for bears in Lightning Axe while also making our graveyard very unreliable due to Leyline. Thus we do switch over to Pieces and Empty here. One thing to note though is that due to Creeping Chill Empty the Warrens have to be for large quantities here a lot (12+ Goblins) most of the time to clock the opponent in time.


Hate: Hate bears, Damping Sphere, Grafdigger’s Cage

In: 2 Lighting Bolt, 2 Abrade, 1 Grapeshot, 1 Flame Slash, 1 Echoing Truth

Out: 3 Remand, 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual

Preboard: Here it is all about how interactive the opponents draw is and whether or not we can jam a bear on turn 2. Besides Grapeshot we have no good interaction main deck to go against them so we typically just try to execute our combo or mow down their whole board with Grapeshot. We are a bit weak to them with this build game 1 due to the many remands, no Unsubstantiate and no empty. So if you have any opportunity to use a remand for any value its almost always correct to take it.

Postboard: Now we board in a lot of removal so we take on the control role and just try to kill everything interactive as well as keep their clock in check. By siding out the rituals we make sure we are less likely to flood out with nothing to do as we are trying to extend the game. We are still all about jamming bears on turn 2 as it gives us our best weapon vs Thalia and maximizes our ability to dig for removal if needed. Note here that they now commonly bring in lots of artifact based hate so the abrades are extra valuable. Also this generally slows them down as they have a less consistent deck and thus we still can maintain the plan of answer creatures then just deal with sphere later.

Grixis Death’s Shadow

Hate: Discard, Stubborn Denial, Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb

In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Grapeshot

Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 3 Remand, 1 Repeal

Preboard: Here they will be attacking us on many axis starting on turn 1 so we will have to hope to survive a while. The biggest part of the matchup preboard is determined by their draw and how fast they get out a 4+ power threat to turn on Stubborn Denial. One thing to note here though is due to their life total being <11 much of the time we can piece together lots of low resource and/or bearless kills against.

Postboard: Here they now mostly just gain graveyard interaction but we gain Empty as just 4-6 goblins is commonly enough to threaten death to them quite quickly. Also Pieces is a bigger upgrade to Gifts then usual are we not only dodge graveyard hate but we dodge non ferocious Stubborn Denials easier and Disdainful Stroke. Again here the most common way we will lose is due to a threat by turn 3 from them with backup. Note though that here we are leaving in the bears unlike in many previous board strategies, this is due to them boarding down to 4 removal commonly, them being unable to counter bears with their current choices in counter magic, ease with which sticking one lets us “mini” go off from heavy discard starts from the opponent, and the chip damage from attacking not being irrelevant.

Golgari Rock

Hate: Discard, Scavenging Ooze, Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb, Grafdigger’s Cage

In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade

Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 3 Goblin Electromancer, 2 Baral, Chief of Compliance, 1 Remand, 1 Sleight of Hand

Preboard: Here we will have a medium amount of graveyard hate to fight though game 1 in the form of Ooze but also have to always be aware of Nihil Spellbomb as it is seeing lots of play in the main deck. We typically here are just looking for windows to go off as the opponent is just trying to 1 for 1 us into the ground until a Goyf or Ooze kills us. The main plan is to tyr and set up a time we can EOT Gifts withe no graveyard hate on board and then just win the next turn as they don’t have any non on board ways to graveyard interact in the main typically. Also to note though is that being willing to use a grapeshot to kill early creatures is totally fine as even though it will likely get exiled it wont be surgicalled so we still have a way to win and the ooze/bob early will usually invalidate most of what we do later.

Postboard: Now the matchup gets a bit better for us as we now have Empty to either create a subgame to solve (6-8 goblins) or just make a big one and hoe they don’t have the answer. This is a better strategy here than against Control due to them not having cantrips to dig for or incidentally see along the way during the game. They do now have surgical but unless my hand is quite well set up to use it soon I would still expose Grapeshot early to kill a Bob or Ooze. We do minimize this need though by boarding in Bolt and Abrade. Also note that since we are more Empty heavy and their usual answer is Pulse holding back a bolt or abrade on combo turn instead of getting more goblins is correct a fair amount of the time.

Amulit Titan

Hate: Bojuka Bog, Negate, Pact of Negation

In: 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade

Out: 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Peer Through Depths, 1 Repeal

Preboard: This is a pure race where they do have main deck interaction with Bojuka bog but without a Tribe Scout it is only sorcery speed so can still be played around. Basically this plays out similar to a faster Tron matchup from our perspective. So the whole game should center around landing a turn 2 bear, but one small difference from this to the tron matchup when considering whether to jam or hold up remand it is here much more often we hold up remand if they have the ability to cast a titan the next turn with amulet in play.

Postboard: Now they gain ways to interact with our bears in Path to Exile but we are still on the racing plan. We also gain ways to Kill scout and Azuza so if we can do that and we are getting pathed we have hopefully slowed them down enough to then be on the same speed as us thus giving us and edge due to Remand. Also even though we are still racing we must give consideration to any untapped blue and if they have 5+ mana with 2 or more of it being blue due to Negate and Pact.

Hardened Scales

Hate: Grafdigger’s Cage, Damping Sphere, Surgical Extraction

In: 2 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Abrade, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Wipe Away, 1 Shatterstorm

Out: 3 Remand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual

Preboard: Here they have no real way to interact with us outside of Walking Ballista so we are on the jam bears and hope to not die on turn 3 plan a lot. Also since their deck is slower than normal affinity and has a lot of 2 drops sometimes it is correct to hold up remand instead since they are typically quite bad in the faster matchups we can still find a way to time walk them more often that we’d expect

Postboard: Now instead of fearing basically nothing we are expecting to always see a fair amount of hate so we turtle up a bit and side out some rituals to function similarly to hoe we do against humans post board. The major difference being that they have welding jar so bounce goes up in value and that we have a “game over” button in Shatterstorm


Hate: Eidolon of the Great Revel, Rest in Peace

In: 3 Empty the Warrens, 2 Lighting Bolt, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Flame Slash

Out: 1 Sleight of Hand, 3 Remand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Repeal, 1 Peer through Depths

Preboard: Here the strategy is mostly to hope for no Eidolon or have the answer to it ready all while in a racing scenario. Barring that though we will just want to set up a fast kill and if we have drawn multiple bears to hope they don’t have searing blaze and to use them as “healing salves” to extend the game as burn has a harder time dealing 23+ damage

Postboard: Now we again gain the extra plan of Empty and a quick one for 10 + goblins is usually enough. We are weaker to their pure burn based draws now but are much stronger against Eidolon or Rest in Peace due to Empty. We are also more able to handle the Eidolon draws similar to game 1 due to the extra removal, but this matchup is still quite unfavorable to we just have to hope these small edges can get us there.

4 thoughts on “Modern Storm in the Age of Main Deck Surgical Extraction

  1. Hey Caleb,
    thx for sharing your thoughts. I just started with Storm in Modern and your page is a great help for getting comfortable with the different matchups.
    Thank you very much.


  2. Awesome updates, I really appreciate them. One question, against humans and hardened scales why board out one pyretic and one desperate ritual instead of just two pyretic? Are you worried about meddling mage or surgical extraction more than the opportunity to splice into arcane, especially when adding two peer through depths?


    • Thanks! Glad they’re able to help 🙂
      As for the rituals though that is correct in the reasoning for why I board out one of each, also to add is that we are less likely to have a problem with gifts (Incase we say draw 2 pyretic) but that is a much lower concern. While the splicing does come up more now with peer it is often not the difference between winning and losing too often as we are also in a control role post board in those matchups. So we will want to dig for removal or just the spell that wins the game a lot which will usually be good enough, rather than have a slightly better mana engine when combining off.


  3. Thank you, Caleb. You carry your build through it all. You are “Hall of Fame” status in regards to your devotion not only to MTG but to your build. I can say without a doubt those of us that play fetchless Storm can admit if it wasn’t for you this build may have faded away a long time ago. But you fought and continue to fight. Taking this to the LGS this coming Friday and I’m Storming with confidence… because of you.


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