Last month you heard me championing blue as the best colour in magic, and you’ll still hear no argument from me on that point. However, after Patrick Sullivan piloted Burn into the Top 8 of the SCG Baltimore Open alongside teammates Chad Kastel and Rob Vaughan, I was struck by the elegance and simplicity of his list. I decided to take a break from my regular control-style decks and actually have a dinner break for once, sleeving up 20 basic Mountains for the first time in my life.
I played Patrick’s list exactly, and learned a lot through the course of the day. Without regurgitating the same theories and logic behind burn that you can find on a variety of other articles, here’s my analysis and breakdown of what the deck does well, and where it needs work.
Reanimator is a bye
For them. In the five rounds I played I came across a single opponent on BR Reanimator, and it was a clean sweep from the start despite a few questionable decisions on his behalf. A turn 1 Griselbrand is impossible for us to beat, as would be Iona. I believe Reanimator is probably the worst of the combo decks for us to be matched up against. Against ANT they at least can’t really play Ad Nauseum for fear of us hitting them when they get too low with an unexpected Fireblast or otherwise, altering the way they have to play the game. There are potential spots against Sneak and Show style decks that are also contestable for us, for example we can put in an Eidolon with their Show and Tell, and hopefully they don’t have the Emrakul. In that scenario, it’s not impossible to imagine a position in which they go down too low with Griselbrand and we can sneak in a burn spell to finish them off.
In general though, combo isn’t good. I think Patrick made the right call in choosing not to dedicate any sideboard slots towards combating these types of strategies, as it would only offer minimal help to something that is close to unwinnable. The sideboard slots are better used to shore up matches where we actually have a fighting chance. If you plan to take Burn to an event, you have to accept the probability of getting run over by one of these kinds of decks. That being said, anything grindy or none-immediately threatening generally tends to be a slightly favourable matchup for us.
Fireblast is incredible
Fireblast opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the burn deck. 4 damage is a lot for a single card, and that’s not even the best part. Free spells are always good, and whilst we have to sacrifice two mountains in order to play Fireblast for free, those mountains don’t need to be in play because the game is usually over. I played a game against Death and Taxes in round 2 where he was on 11 life with the following board state.
After I’d drawn the third Fireblast I was a bit concerned at how to close out the game, as I knew he had a Batterskull in hand from an earlier Stoneforge Mystic and was just waiting for the fifth land. Eventually he gave up on that pursuit and played Recruiter of the Guard (going to 9) into a second SFM that he intended to play the following turn. As soon as he played the second SFM and went to 7 Fireblast closed out the game for me at instant speed where not many other options would’ve got the job done.
On top of that, the ability to cast a bunch of spells on your opponents end step, then a few more on your own turn before following up with a ‘free’ Fireblast let’s us get more damage across than we should be able to with our mana. This is invaluable, and I’d have to say Fireblast is the best card in the deck. I wouldn’t ever play less than four.
Price of Progress is also incredible
Whilst not as reliable as the aforementioned Fireblast, and in some cases a completely dead draw, Price of Progress has a lot of potential. Against lands I got as much as 8 damage out of Price of Progress, capitalising on a turn when he tapped out of green and didn’t have the option to Crop Rotation into Glacial Chasm. It had soon become apparent that PoP and GC were the only relevant cards in the matchup.
It also dealt the same amount for me against Cloudpost Eldrazi, which was a really tough matchup given the power of Glimmerpost against burn decks. I was able to get him low in all of our games before he stabilised with a well timed Glimmerpost, and in two of those three games all it took was a top-decked Price of Progress to completely swing the tide back in my favour and close out the match. With the amount of dual lands in legacy, and other utilities like Rishadan Port, Cavern of Souls and Karakas showing up in even the mono-coloured decks, Price of Progress is usually guaranteed to be upwards of four damage. And considering we play a full set of the vastly inferior Flame Rift, this also locks in Price of Progress as one of our best cards.
The creatures were underwhelming
Eidolon of the Great Revel is fantastic, I have no quarrel with that card. But the 1 CMC creatures; Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear, were vastly underwhelming. Even when cast on turn 1, they were usually quickly dwarved by larger opposing creatures (from decks like DnT or Eldrazi) and didn’t connect more than once or twice in those matchups. Against other decks they often just died to opposing one mana removal (Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push being the main 2). Whilst this means we got a card out of their hand, Goblin Guide often helps them replace it with it’s triggered ability. Meaning we haven’t really gained all that much from playing it.
Guide was especially bad against Lands, where my creatures were allowing him extra draw steps on most attacks before eventually dieing to the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo. Swiftspear’s a little better in the sense that it doesn’t let them draw free cards, but is often not dealing all that much damage its self. I still think it’s a necessary evil however for those games where you just need to chip in repeatable points of damage.
I think in hindsight (and this is going to be controversial), I’d cut the Goblin Guide’s
entirely. It was often the worst card in my deck and I’d rather fill the spaces with repeatable damage/removal in the form of Grim Lavamancer. We probably don’t want more than 2 Grim Lavamancer’s though, so we still have 2 spots open. Seeing as though we’re probably playing 6-8 fetchlands to help support our new one drop of choice, a couple of Searing Blaze’s would help to shore up the creature matchups such as DnT or Delver. We already have 6 ‘searing’ effects our of the Sideboard, but game 1 there are some problematic cards from both decks that we need an answer to and sometimes six just isn’t even enough. In two different matchups I boarded in all of the 2 CMC removal spells and didn’t see a single one of theem through the remainder of the games. I think having the extra padding of 2 Searing Blaze and 2 Grim Lavamancer in the main deck would be superior to the often road-blocked Goblin Guides.
All in all, I think the deck’s pretty good. If there’s one format where Burn actually requires some thought to it then it’s without a doubt legacy. There’s a lot of play to trying to make your opponents counterspells as useless as possible and playing around different creatures they present which might make a threat. In general for playing the deck I would stick to the following set of rules:
- Only kill creatures if A: they’re about to kill you, or B: they’re changing the way you play the game too much (EG: a Sanctum Prelate on 1 can be a problem). The only other exception to this is Searing Blaze/Blood, as they require a creature target anyway.
- When you’re trying to set up a kill, do as much on their end step as possible before untapping and unloading the rest of your hand. This minimises the effectiveness of their mana.
- With correct sequencing and some patience we can completely invalidate cards such as Daze and Spell Pierce. A classic example of this is T2 on the play against a tapped blue source from the opponent. Make sure you cast your Lava Spike first and suspend the Rift Bolt second, then we’ve played around the chance of them having Daze/Spell Pierced entirely.
- Never keep a four land or higher hand.
- Upwards of three creatures in your opening 7 is also generally quite bad. The changes I suggested may help to minimise this however.
- You can catch out opponents who tap low with Fireblast and Price of Progress quite easily for huge chunks of damage. It’s often correct to lead with a 1CMC spell in these spots to try and hook them into tapping out or activating fetches, then you catch them with the real damage.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the article. Burn definitely has a lot of potential in the right metagame and I think I was fairly well positioned in this tournament. I ended 3-2 and missing out on sliding into 8th place by a marginal 0.2%, but if things had broken down a little differently it could have been feasible for Burn to stop straight through the combo-light Top 8 of the event. For a full report of the tournament metagame and Top 8 decklists, head on over to The Library at Pendrell Vale.