Good Game. Burn, Baby, Burn

Good Game: Burn, Baby, Burn
by Andrew Hanson

Tomorrow is the big day: it's the Phoenix Extended PTQ. For the past two weeks (since I gave you my Thrilling Zoo list), I've been skipping Tuesday and Friday Night Magics in order to test. There were some changes to be made, and overall, I'm starting to feel pretty confidant with my deck. I only wish I had gotten more chances to practice sideboarding.

But let's begin with what didn't work so well:

This grizzled old man could just be a bear.
Get it? Grizzled? Bear?
Nothing. Wow, that's bold. And not entirely true. Nothing in the deck was straight up bad, but there were some things I was finding weren't good in enough matchups to warrant keeping them in the maindeck. First, Gaddock Teeg. What? Really? That guy is insane. True, against Tezzerator, Scapeshift, Dredge, and, to a lesser extent, Dark Depths, he is awesome. But against Zoo (and I mean all three variants here), Bant, Doran Rock (a friend built it and we did a little testing), Hypergenesis, and even Faeries (it'll stop Repeal and Cryptic Command, a grand total of 4-6 cards in the deck), it's just a mana-intensive legendary bear. Especially considering the rise in popularity of Faeries, I felt I would be better served with him shunting off to the board.

The other card that fluctuated between blowing out and simply removing the out was Thrill of the Hunt. I know, I know. I hyped the card so much last time, and a lot of what I said is still true. Against any deck that runs burn as removal, it's nutty. Against the mirror, it's simply a godsend. Against Tezzerator, Dredge, Dark Depths, Bant, Hypergenesis, and Faeries, it's really underwhelming. Like the Teegster, that's a pretty serious list of decks to be meh against, especially since Faeries is listed in there (that deck is just as awesome as it was in Standard).

There was one other card that was making me angry, not because it was only useful in some matchups, but because it was only useful if drawn at the right time: Steppe Lynx. There were some games where the Lynx was just so insane. I mean, turn-one Lynx followed by fetch lands on turns two and three is nutty. But you know what's not nutty? Ripping a Lynx when in top-deck mode. The Lynx occupied this weird spot as being the best card in my opening hand, but the worst card to draw. And what I really want with my deck is consistency over random explosiveness—if I wanted to rely on sick draws, I'd play All-In Red.

It doesn't play burn spells.
So the first two got shuffled to my extra fifteen, while the kitty got the axe. What wormed its way into the deck? Let me explain by describing my Extended experience last season. Last year, I started off trying to run Domain Zoo (wasn't called Tribal Zoo last season). All five colors, some of the biggest burn spells, and the most techie two-drops. What wasn't to like? Well, it got awkward. First off, the mana base. Oh, sure, it's easy to assemble all five colors, but usually you only have one source of each, with the exception of red, in which case you have two sources. But do you need a green mana? Chances were good that you just used one of your red mana sources, too. Need a black or a white? Using the other, as well (keep in mind, at this point in the season, Domain Zoo was running Dark Confidant and/or Tidehollow Sculler).

The second problem was, in fact, the two-drops. You're supposed to be an aggro deck. You're supposed to drop creatures and swing with them. But when you fill up your board with Gaddock Teeg, Tidehollow Sculler, and Bob, you get reservations. I mean, you certainly don't want to swing a Sculler into a trade—they get their card back, for crying out loud. When your creatures are so techie, they actually get less aggressive, which does not play well with the overall strategy of the deck.

Then, after some utter beatings in Los Angeles (both the Grand Prix and the PTQ that Sunday), I switched decks. But I still wanted to play aggro (I love being the angry mage), I still wanted to play Wild Nacatl and Kird Ape. So I decided to give Naya Zoo a shot. Why? Because it looked simpler. The land base wouldn't be unforgiving. Your creatures would only have one job: kill. And the deck was just chock-full of burn spells. It was twenty land, twenty dudes, and twenty spells, with only a quad of Path to Exiles being the non-burn spells. The deck had so much reach.

Simply sick.
I did well with that deck. In the two PTQs I ran it in, I took it to a Top 8 and a Top 16 finish. Thus, when I got to this season, I wanted to try and run a repeat. There was one problem, though: Sulfuric Vortex had rotated out. Now, you might be thinking, "It was only one card. What's the big deal?" It was one card that shored up Naya Burn's (which was the more accurate name for the deck) two weaknesses: life gain and card disadvantage.

The life gain thing should be obvious—you're running in with one-drops and burn spells. Any life your opponent gains is like card advantage for them. Vortex shut off life gain. Also, with a deck that runs out its threats as fast as it can, you often find yourself running out of cards just as quickly. But the Vortex helped there, too, by burning your opponent every single turn. It gave Naya Burn inevitability.

Without the Vortex, I focused on trying to find something that would shore up those weaknesses. Well, there is nothing like a Vortex in Extended right now. So I started coming up with alternate ways to preserve my aggro rush. That's why Thrill of the Hunt made maindeck originally. And it's why Gaddock Teeg got such a prominent position as well (he shut off Engineered Explosives and all the Wrath of God variants). But there was a big difference between those two cards and Vortex: Vortex was a burn spell.

After continual testing and tweaking, I realized that I kept adding cards that were pushing the deck further and further away from what it actually was: a burn deck. It's not Naya Zoo. It's Naya Burn. And with that, here's my current list:

Naya Burn, by Andrew HansonMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Arid Mesa
1 Forest
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden

4 Goblin Guide
4 Kird Ape
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl

4 Flames of the Blood Hand
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
2 Seal of Fire
2 Tarfire

It's everywhere, man.
First thing you might think is, "Eight three-drops and only twenty land? Are you stupid?" It might seem bad, but consider how many decks in Extended are running Path to Exile right now. It's a lot. And besides, it's not that unlikely to see three lands. In fact, it's pretty normal.

Goblin Guide replaced Steppe Lynx. I have not regretted this. The Guide has been functioning superbly. Turn-one Wild Nacatl and turn-two Guide plus burn is an amazing start. And the Guide is a decent top-deck as he has haste. Very fast, very angry.

The Seal of Fire/Tarfire duo was something I ran last season to power up my Tarmogoyf at break-neck speed. I was hesitant to run it this season, since against the slower Zoo decks, they pretty much only go to the face, and I thought I didn't want to power up my opponent's Goyfs. Boy, was I wrong. So what if their Goyfs get bigger? Mine does, too. And it's actually kind of nice when my Goyf can kill their Angel.

Knight of the Reliquary is a pretty savage dude. I sang his laurels in my last article, too. He's just as good in this deck, as he's a monstrous beater that can ramp himself bigger if need be and he can't be Spell Snared. The only possible cards that could replace the Knight in this deck would be a) Woolly Thoctar as he requires no effort to make meaty, and b) Hellspark Elemental, as he's also counter resistant, and is typically good for 6 damage. Still, I want the Knight as he gives me staying power against midrange decks, and makes me feel midrangey against Tribal Zoo.

Poor man's Vortex? Really poor man's...
Flames of the Blood Hand was a card I went to in desperation, and one I'm not entirely sold on. I mean, jacking an opponent for 4 damage is good, and preventing life gain could be a game breaker (swing into your Baneslayer Angel, Flames you before first-strike damage). But at the same point, it never interacts with the board, and it costs three mana. I do only have twenty lands in the deck, and a playset of a different three-drop already. I think I like the idea of some Flames, maybe only two, which would leave me room for some other, cheaper burn spell. Any suggestions?

In the board, I have a trio of Duergar Hedge-Mages, not Qasali Pridemages. Why? Because I like the fact that the Duergar destroys a problem card coming down, not going out. Not only do they lose something, but I have a creature, too. Also, the Hedge-Mage as a 3 CMC. This is actually an advantage, because it makes him harder to counter (can't Snare him). This is especially true against Faeries, as their Spellstutter Sprites have a harder time getting him. Also, in that matchup, I could, however unlikely, live the dream of blasting their Bitterblossom and their Umezawa's Jitte.

Speaking of which, the Jitte will often be a game breaker in the mirror, or even against the midrange Zoo decks. Those matches will typically come down to an attrition war, and nothing wins those like this stick. I am, however, unsure whether I should run three or two of the Legendary Equipment, as drawing multiples could be really awful. Of course, it could be amazing if my first Jitte nukes theirs, and the second one is for my own personal use. What do you think?

The one card that isn't in my board but I want it to be there is Volcanic Fallout. What is that card good against? The same thing it was good against last season: Faeries and Elves. That blue mage thinks he's safe behind his Bitterblossom wall? Burn it away (and watch all your X/3 or bigger creatures swing in for sick beats). And its applications against Elves, which is a fairly new arrival to the meta, is pretty obvious. But, sadly, I just don't know how to make room for it. Thoughts on the Fallout? Post them in the forums!

What follows is a quick primer on the deck, how I'd play it in certain matchups, and what my sideboarding would look like. Disclaimer: most of these are going to say, "Rush your opponent with creatures and then burn them out of the game."

It's baaaaack.
Vs. Faeries

What is quickly becoming one of the most popular decks in Extended, Faeries is a house, but maybe not against you. It's widely accepted that Faeries' worst matchup is Monored Burn, and you are just a more colorful, stable variant of that deck (which also means a bit less reach, and no trample). The strategy here is pretty much the staple, except this: after you land a few creatures, you stop running them out and just play your burn spells at the end of their turn. This forces them to make awkward plays like countering your burn on their turn, leaving them tapped out for your turn; or just taking the burn in the face, in which case, you just rinse and repeat.

Because that's the best strategy to beat the little blue men, opening hands to mull away are ones without burn in them. You need some kind of removal, or else you leave yourself open to getting Spellstuttered like mad, and all they need is one or two removal spells, and you won't have a game against them.

Sideboarding: +3 Duergar Hedge-Mage, +3 Umezawa's Jitte, -4 Tarmogoyf, -1 Knight of the Reliquary, -1 Path to Exile

The only creature worth Pathing in their deck is a Mistbind Clique, and then only before it champions a Faerie. Even then, that's not that major of a setback (unless you have a burn-light hand), as you can just throw burn at their face in response (and they are probably tapped out, or close to it, from casting the Clique). The Goyfs aren't any worse in this matchup than in any other, but blue has access to Threads of Disloyalty, and you really don't want to lose a Goyf to that. As for the Knight, you are adding in three more three-drop creatures—no need to make your deck too fat at the top of the curve.

Vs. Tezzerator

Cheap, efficient, combo.
Tezzerator is a sick deck. Its worst matchup is supposed to be Tribal Zoo (though I wonder how it fairs against Monored Burn), but even that's not really bad. Tezzerator has the cards to fight off a fast aggro deck long enough to get its combo online, and I promise once it has Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek going, you can't win. Nothing really special about the strategy here, except that like Faeries, your best bet is to make a few early threats, and then use your burn on their end step. Oh yeah, don't over-commit your Goblin Guides. In fact, you may want to save them for after the board sweeper, if you can.

As for mulliganing, there's nothing really special here. Like Faeries, hands without burn could be problematic, but unlike Faeries, Tezzerator doesn't have much for a board presence, instead relying on removal and board sweepers. Therefore, creature-heavy hands aren't that bad.

Sideboarding: +3 Duergar Hedge-Mage, +4 Gaddock Teeg, +2 Relic of Progenitus, -4 Tarmogoyf, -4 Path to Exile, -1 Knight of the Reliquary

Goyf comes out for the same reason as against Faeries. Plus, it takes effort to make him a good rushing creature. A Knight comes out because, again, you're adding in more three drop creatures. As for the Paths, some people advocate leaving them in against Tezzerator for when they board in Baneslayers. It seems like a legit plan, but that Path is so awful against them so much of the time. They have to play a Baneslayer to make it worthwhile. And what if they don't board in the Baneslayers? What if they board in Pulse of the Fields instead?

If you're unsure which Zoo hater they're running, you may want to just board out two Paths and two Flames of the Blood Hand. If you do know, then adjust what you're pulling out accordingly.

Jumps Dark Depths' value by 10,000%.
No, really. It did.
Vs. Dark Depths

This has been a deck largely falling off the radar, but still. Play against it like you play against Tezzerator, and save your Paths for a Marit Lage token. In fact, if you can, use your burn on their end step to try and get them to use all their protective counters, so that you can Path the 20/20 on your turn.

Nothing special for mulling here. Just make sure you have a hand that is fast enough to fight through a semi-early Marit Lage (but, sans Path, there's nothing you can do against a turn two Marit Lage; sorry).

Sideboarding: +3 Duergar Hedge-Mage, -3 Knights of the Reliquary

This is tricky, as Dark Depths lists will have a bit more variance to them than, say, the Tezzerator or Faeries lists. Most of the lists I've seen are very light on counters—they are trying to get their combo out and online. Therefore, your Goyfs are generally safe against Spell Snares, though you may want to still be careful. Some lists run Threads of Disloyalty.

All lists, though, run artifacts. Some more than others (some list run the Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek combo, too). If you're up against a list running a lot of Engineered Explosives, Chalices, and Repeals, then you may want to board in Gaddock Teegs, too. The good news is that, at a quick glance, lists that run stuff for Teeg to turn off also run the Threads, so you could board out Goyfs for Teegs. Either way, you are not boarding out your Paths here.

Vs. Rubin Zoo

Not how I thought this card would be used.
This matchup can be a little brutal. Rubin Zoo was made to beat the faster Zoo decks, after all. And they run Lightning Helix, which can be back-breaking. You need a fast hand here, and hope they keep a creature-heavy hand. Don't let their Nacatls trade with yours (burn theirs), and keep up as much pressure as you can. If they can slow the game down to top-deck mode, you probably lose, which means if they have a burn-heavy hand, it's probably all over.

Sideboarding: +3 Thrill of the Hunt, +3 Umezawa's Jitte, +2 Relic of Progenitus, -4 Lightning Helix, -2 Flames of the Blood Hand, -1 Seal of Fire, -1 Tarfire

It's sad, because you lose quite a bit of your burn, but what you lost didn't do much anyways. You don't need to gain that much life against Rubin Zoo, and they don't run that many X/3 or smaller creatures, so you don't really need the Helixes. The Flames make a decent finisher, especially if you're swinging all-out into a Baneslayer, but how often is that going to happen (never, if Rubin has its way)? The Thrills will help you keep up the aggro by saving your dudes from early burn and by letting you pound through their dudes. The Jitte is just sick in any kind of top-deck game, especially if it has counters on it. Relics are to disrupt the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combo.

Vs. Saito Zoo

This is basically the same as Rubin Zoo, only no Punishing Fire + Grove combo. Which means that the boarding is a tiny bit different. Also, keep in mind that they have four more ways to simply remove a creature off your board, which makes the Thrills a little less good, but still important.

Sideboarding: +3 Thrill of the Hunt, +3 Umezawa's Jitte, -4 Lightning Helix, -2 Flames of the Blood Hand

Let's fight!
Vs. Tribal Zoo

This match is tricky; it's almost the mirror. If you are on the play, it's probably a race, though they may try to play the control deck. If you are on the draw, you probably want to play a little slower, act like the control deck. It'll be really important to kill any of their turn one Steppe Lynxes. And remember, they have two mana burn spells that hit you for five. You don't.

Sideboarding: +3 Thrill of the Hunt, +3 Umezawa's Jitte, -4 Flames of the Blood Hand, -1 Seal of Fire, -1 Tarfire

This matchup, as long as you don't let them bring you into burn range, is going to be all about Tarmogoyf. The Thrills and the Jittes will mean you win the Goyf fights. The Flames are really moot here, considering your opponent is going to jack the crap out of themselves with land. Even if they bring in Kitchen Finks, this matchup is going to come down to big'guns (which makes that inclusion of Knight of the Reliquary kind of cool).

Vs. Bant

I don't want to fight!
This is a matchup I've tested quite a bit, as a friend is playing Bant at the PTQ. It can get pretty rough—if he lands a fast Rhox War Monk, you need to get rid of it. Two-for-one yourself if you have to, just get the Rhino off the board. If you can establish board dominance, use your burn at the end of their turn (they have counters). This is a tough match, but thankfully, you're much faster, and if they stutter at all on the start, you can probably bury them under a slew of burn spells.

Sideboarding: +3 Duergar Hedge-Mage, +3 Umezawa's Jitte, -4 Tarmogoyf, -2 Lighning Helix

This is scary. You're boarding out Goyfs in a matchup that could be determined by Goyf on Goyf action. But here's the thing: they bring in Threads. You do not want to give them a Goyf. With this boarding, their Threads is for a one-drop, your Knights can tangle with their Goyfs, and you still operate on the plan that you are faster, and can hopefully burn them out. Also be wary, some lists may run Kitchen Finks, so if you have a good board, keep mana for your Flames of the Blood Hands up.

Vs. Dredge

Game one is simply a race. There's almost no other way to describe it. If you have a burn spell that can kill one of your own creatures, you may want to hold it just in case (if your creature dies while all those Bridge from Below triggers are on the stack, the Bridges go away and when the triggers resolve, they don't see the Bridge in the bin, which is a requirement, so do nothing). But the Dredge players don't always Dread Return a Flame-kin Zealot; many bring back Iona, Shield of Emeria instead.

Sideboarding: +4 Gaddock Teeg, +2 Relic of Progenitus, -4 Knight of the Reliquary, -2 Flames of the Blood Hand

You aren't going to have time to play your Knights, so they're out. Same for the Flames—at least, you won't have time to play multiples. Of course, if a Gaddock Teeg sticks, you will have time, but that's the time your Nacatls and Goyf are crashing in, so, again, you won't need the extra fat or expensive burn. Again, it's a race here, and don't even think about cutting your Paths—you need them or else you fold to Iona.

One-card combo.
Vs. Scapeshift

This one is also a race, but it feels weird because they've got you on a pretty consistent clock, and are just trying to slow you down until turn four or five. Game one, you're probably going to be on the burn plan, but here's the trick: if they can block a creature, you need to evaluate whether the burn in your hand should be aimed at the blocker (before blocks, do it) or at their face. If they're going to block an Ape or Guide, and your burn is a Bolt, swing in, let them block, and hit their face with the burn. If the critter is a Nacatl and your burn is a Seal/Tarfire, hit the creature. This should be pretty obvious, but do whatever deals the most damage over those four or five turns (and remember, them blocking your creature only stops the creature for one turn—they never make trades as all their guys are 1/1).

Sideboarding: +4 Gaddock Teeg, +3 Thrill of the Hunt, -4 Path to Exile, -3 Knight of the Reliquary

If Gaddock Teeg comes down and you have a Thrill backing him up, it becomes very hard for Scapeshift to beat you. All their removal is burn. Also, the Thrill lets your guys survive a Firespout, too, which could be game. The Paths are obviously bad in this matchup, and the Knights are just slow coming down. You want to play dudes, rush, and burn.

Vs. Hypergenesis

Share the love.
Another deck that has been falling off the radar thanks to the surge in blue decks coming out. I'll be honost here, I haven't tested against this deck at all. Clearly, they may simply have an unbeatable hand, but remember that the Hypergenesis is two sided—you also get to dump your hand. That means, against this deck, permanent (read: creature) heavy hands are best. If you can drop a Goyf or two, a Knight, and fetch land with a Seal of Fire, you may be able to beat whatever they drop. May. If they drop a pair of Angels of Despair, you're probably screwed.

Sideboarding: +3 Umezawa's Jitte, +3 Thrill of the Hunt, -4 Flames of the Blood Hand, -2 Lightning Helix

The Jittes are more permanents you can drop, and the Thrills will actually help you in more ways than you might imagine. They do run quad Firespouts maindeck, and the Thrills can get you through that. Also, if you drop creatures and a land or two from the Hypergenesis, you could surprise them after they assign damage from their Bogardan Hellkites, and save a couple creatures. Who knows?

I feel pretty good about this deck from the testing I've done. I haven't experienced anything that seems like an unwinnable matchup, and I've gotten my sideboard to something I feel comfortable with. So, this is the deck I'll be running tomorrow, and if you have any last minute constructive advice for me, I'd love to hear it in the forums.

Wish me luck!


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