Burn It All Down
By Sean DeCoursey on August 22nd, 2007 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
Xth Edition is bringing a lot of changes to Magic: The Gathering in Standard, and to a lesser degree, in Extended as well. Many people would argue, and could very well be correct in this assessment, that the re-introduction of good, playable manlands from Urza's Saga is the biggest format shifting event to come out of the set. In Extended, this is probably true. In Standard, it’s not even close. Circle of Protection: Red is gone. The end. Finito. Buh-Bye. Story Circle is still around, but it requires a much higher level of commitment to White than the CoPs ever did. The absence of the CoP comes at a time when there is more playable burn in Standard than has been the case in quite a good long while. Not sure about that? Let me give you a rundown. Lightning Helix, Electrolyze, Psionic Blast, Seal of Fire, Incinerate, Sudden Shock, Char, Rift Bolt, Demonfire, Disintegrate, Molten Disaster, Beacon of Destruction, Fiery Temper, Assault/Battery, Guerrilla Tactics, Tribal Flames. This isn't a comprehensive list, and some cards on it (like Guerrilla Tactics) haven't seen play in awhile, but all of the cards listed were or are tournament staples in competitive decks.
Circling out of Xth
Despite this plethora of options, burn hasn't been a competitive strategy for most of its career, even though the card Lightning Bolt is in many ways directly responsible for the 4-card limit on constructed deck design. In older formats, burn will never be truly competitive because Combo will always be significantly faster. In Standard, however, now that the CoP is gone, burn really has a chance to shine as a powerful, playable archetype. Yes, things like Loxodon Hierarch and Darkheart Sliver and Martyr of Sands are problematic, but they are all either answerable or can simply be dealt with by more burn. None of them have the truly debilitating effect of CoP: Red on the deck.
Goodbye and good riddance.
There have been other developments in Standard recently that have helped to "prime the pump" for burn strategies. Red's natural partner, Green, was given card draw and Haste in Planar Chaos. Keldon Megaliths, Zoetic Cavern, and Horizon Canopy were printed, giving the burn deck access to colorless damage, creatures, and draw from its lands. Then Xth hit and added manlands, Incinerate, and removed Circle. Burn decks currently have the best suite of lands to choose from since Rishadan Port and Wasteland were legal.
"So what?" you ask, "I don't play burn" you say. But it doesn't matter that you don't, because you'll have to play against it. The removal of CoP: Red opens up a lot of design space that simply wasn't there before. The mere existence of a card was such a powerful hoser to this archetype that it inhibited it without the card ever even being played. Mainly because everyone knew that if they designed and built a really kick-ass burn deck and played it to victory a few times, others would simply board in CoP: Red and ruin the fun. Not anymore.
So what does the modern burn deck look like?
Of course, that's also not the only way to build it. You could also go with Blue, which would look something like this:
Main advantage for Blue, Ancestral Vision, main advantage for Green, better mana base, better critters.
As illustrated by the two listed decks, there are different choices you can make here. But the skeleton of the deck, much like the skeleton of RDW's is fairly consistent, with only the meta-defined choices differing. I'm not going to say that either list here is perfectly optimized and ideal. I will say that both are very strong and feature the best mana bases (especially the R/g/w version) of any deck since RDWs was seeing a lot of play.
I'd like to go into a little more detail on the mana base for a minute. Many people argue strenuously against including lands that come into play tapped (CIPT) in an aggressive deck. Whether or not that's true really depends on the rest of your deck. And how aggressively curved it is. And how many cheap creatures it has. There is a very large difference between playing an Isamaru on turn one and turn two. There is not a large difference between Suspending Rift Bolt on turn one and turn two. This deck, if anything, is almost midrange, with a curve that reads 1cc - 8, 2cc - 12, 3cc - 12, 4cc - 4. Since this deck has a fundamental turn of six, you can deal with a few lands coming down slow. That said, this deck has the best mana base of anything since the old extended RDW's builds. Just as a refresher, here is that idealization of mana efficiency for you one more time.
4x Bloodstained Mire
4x Wooded Foothills
4x Rishadan Port
The numbers on this run out to a mana density of 0, a mana percentage of 24/40, and a play factor of 97/90/78.
The mana base for Burn as currently constructed looks like this.
4x Horizon Canopy
4x Keldon Megaliths
4x Treetop Village
3x Sacred Foundry
4x Stomping Ground
2x Temple Garden
The numbers work out to a mana density of -4, a mana percentage of 24/40, and a play factor of 92/90/78.
Better Cards, Better Deck
There is another difference, in that the pain factor is significantly higher for the Burn deck, but if you're willing to take the pain, this is by far the best mana base available to any Standard constructed deck.
Proving Wizards will print creaturesIn addition to the superiority of the mana base, I'd also like to point out just how much better the cards in this deck are. Best creature in Magic? Tarmogoyf has replaced Tog, and he's in here. Best burn spell in Standard or Extended? Lightning Helix. Second best? Incinerate. This deck has both. Best Ball Lightning in Magic? Giant Solifuge. (He has Shroud, which means he actually lives to hit the opponent, and sticks around until killed/blocked.) Best Equipment in Standard? Loxodon Warhammer. Other really great high level power cards in the deck? Troll Ascetic, Mogg Fanatic, Treetop Village. The closest this deck comes to filler at any spot anywhere in the maindeck is with Seal of Fire and Rift Bolt, neither of which are anywhere close to bad cards. Good decks are full of good cards. This deck has good cards. And some synergistic combos, too. Best combo vs. control, they tap mana, you burn them.
better than Psychatog since 2007.
The deck doesn't play out like a pure aggro deck because it isn't. It’s aggro control. The sideboard reflects this. Temporal Isolation is chosen over Threaten because it is a reactive card that, for the purposes of this deck, kills any creature at Instant speed for . Loxodon Warhammer is present to make sure that you win the war against anything that's trying to kill you quickly. Trolls also help with this significantly. Cryoclasm is for anything with large numbers of Islands or Plains, Riftsweeper is an answer to Aeon Chronicler, Gargadon, and Detritivore (you're surprisingly vulnerable to him if they can get him going), as well as being useful against Blink decks which like to suspend Cloudskates and Visions. Ancient Grudge is primarily there as an answer to opposing Warhammers and Needles, but they can also be good against decks packing a high number of Signets. The sideboard doesn't run any Needles of its own because you run all of the cards you'd most want to Needle (Treetop Village, Loxodon Warhammer, Keldon Megaliths, Troll Ascetic).
As with any aggro-control deck you need to know when you're the control and when you're the beatdown. I'm not going to cover every single deck in Standard here, there is simply too much diversity in the format for that. Instead I'll try to cover examples of each major deck type that currently exists.
Bringing the Aggro
Decks where you're the Beatdown:
Dredge: Against Dredge you're tactically the control and strategically the aggro, basically that means playing control early and beatdown mid. Burn every single discard creature they throw down as soon as it hits. Eventually they'll get something in the yard either through holding eight cards or Bonded Fetch/Drowned Rusalka. Once they've started Dredging, your main goal is to kill them as quickly as possible. You can't do much about their big flyers, though Trolls can hold off Golgari's and Svogthos' (Svogthi?) on the ground. Blazing Archon is about the worst thing you can see from them, since with a toughness of six its going to require at least two burn spells to kill and Temporal Isolation won't let you attack through it. Your best bet here is to block as much as possible and throw all your burn at their head unless you're sure you can kill the thing and get in a big attack before it comes back. If you can keep their discard outlets dead and get down some beating critters early, you'll probably win. If you can't, it’s a long road ahead: the late game against Dredge is definitely in their favor. Sideboarding: +3 Temporal Isolation -3 Char.
U/B Teachings: Use your burn on their heads during their EOT. Two Seals of Fire in play kills Teferi at instant speed if they try to warp him in to kill Solifuge. Don't commit multiple untargetables to the board at once, make them waste Damnation on singleton creatures. Always force them to counter on key turns, like when they first hit four mana, or when they hit six with a Teachings in the yard. Be careful about unleashing Treetops if they have Urborg out and four mana untapped. You can often force them to Tendrils their own critters if you don't give them targets of your own. This match is fairly heavily in your favor if you play smart, you have lots of uncounterable effects and instant-speed damage. Sideboarding: -4 Rift Bolt, -3 Tarmogoyf, +3 Ancient Grudge, +4 Cryoclasm. They will often bring in Bottle Gnomes, which Grudge does a very nice job of dealing with.
IM IN UR HOUSE GIVIN U BEETZ!
Angelfire: Much like U/B Teachings game one, you can mostly ignore their creatures and just throw burn at their face while trying to kill them as quickly as possible. Game two and three they'll have pulled some dead cards and brought in a lot of things you won't like, so the sideboarding here is a bit more than against most decks. +4 Cryoclasm, +3 Ancient Grudge, +3 Temporal Isolation, -4 Tarmogoyf, -4 Giant Solifuge, -2 Troll Ascetic. This might seem a bit extreme, but they're going to be brining in Aven Riftwatchers and Teferi's Moat to go with a bunch of Vigilance creatures like Lightning Angel and Court Hussar, all of which make it easy for them to stop your Solifuges, 'Goyfs, and Trolls. Here you're mostly in a damage race with the 'Clasms and Grudges providing some mana disruption while you ignore their critters and throw as much burn at their face as humanly possible. They don't have the counters or burn themselves to face up this kind of dedicated strategy.
Glittering Control: Burn their face often and hard. Don't worry about trading on the ground, G/W/X decks' biggest problem by far is a dedicated burn strategy that invalidates the majority of their removal... like this deck does. Sideboarding: +3 Grudge (if you see a lot of signets), +4 Cryoclasm (If you see a lot of actual Plains) -4 Tarmogoyf (they'll have lots of instant speed removal waiting on this guy).
Bringing the Control
Decks where you're the control:
Mono-Green Aggro: This is actually a fairly bad matchup. You can't burn their critters because they're mostly untargetable, you can't block them because they have evasion, and you die quick because they're wearing Cloaks and Armor. Oh, and they maindeck Warhammer. Sideboarding: +3 Loxodon Warhammer, +3 Ancient Grudge, +3 Temporal Isolation, -4 Mogg Fanatic, -4 Char, -1 Rift Bolt.
Discard this, buddy.Rack/X: Kick the burn out of your hand as fast as possible so it can't get discarded, kill every critter they put down ASAP, and hope you can kill them before they get multiple Racks online. Sideboarding: +3 Ancient Grudge, +3 Loxodon Warhammer, -2 Giant Solifuge, -4 Char. After Sideboarding the match improves significantly since you can either destroy the Rack or negate its effects with Warhammer.
Rakdos Aggro: Kill Bob at all costs, if they draw multiple Hit/Runs, you're probably going to lose, watching Solifuge die and taking four at the same time is just devastating. On the other hand, they're pretty much forced into winning with burn because you can keep all of their critters off the board. Sideboarding: +3 Loxodon Warhammer, +3 Temporal Isolation, -2 Giant Solifuge, -4 Char.
As I said before, it's not a complete listing of everything in Standard by any means, but it should help you to see how to play the deck vs. different archetypes and know whether or not you should be playing control or aggro in a particular matchup. Overall this is a very strong, versatile deck with a proactive plan it can engage in regardless of what the opponent is doing. It's also a lot of fun to play, I highly recommend it.
Oh, and if you're thinking the deck won't work that well post-rotation when Ravnica leaves, think about this list, which doesn't include any of the burn or whatnot that Lorwyn will surely have.
By Sean DeCoursey on August 22nd, 2007 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
About Sean DeCoursey
Sean Decoursey is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served with the 2/124th Infantry from 12/02 through 03/04. He attended Truman State University where he was a member of the rugby team which ranked in the top ten nationally three times. Sean graduated with a degree in Justice Systems and now lives in Kansas City, where he works as a Financial Advisor.