Char + Psionic Blast = U/R Counterburn?

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Champs!

So-called “straight” Counter-Burn strategies haven’t been popular in a while. Let’s face it: the tools weren’t there! Countermagic was neutered, and while the burn has always been available to set the world ablaze, both lifegain and efficient creature beats served to stymie the archetype. Nowadays, however, we have a few more arrows to our bow… And so I refine a potential U/R deck over the course of three builds, playing each against U/G Beats, Rakdos, and Solar Flare to see how they shape up!

Char deals 4 damage to target creature or player and 2 damage to you.

Psionic Blast
Psionic Blast deals 4 damage to target creature or player and 2 damage to you.

Or, if you’re old skool:

Psionic Blast deals 4 damage to any target, but it does 2 damage to you as well.

There’s gotta be a U/R Burn deck, amirite?

Traditionally, the Red spells and the Blue spells have never quite seen eye-to-eye. The heat of the flame, the cool of the sea… Diametrically opposed. Fire and water gives us steam, I grant you, but hot plus cold equals nothing but lukewarm. Tepid.

Even though they’re “stabbin’ buddies” on the old color wheel, it seems that combining Blue and Red in a single deck, thematically, has always been a very popular choice. One only has to look at the current Standard metagame — in which playing opposed color pairings is almost as easy as playing mono-brown — to see the plethora of Steam Vent- and Shivan Reef-powered Constructed powerhouses. There are many flavors available, but most include both burn and countermagic in varying proportions, even if they’re not relying on either to win the game.

So-called “straight” Counter-Burn strategies haven’t been popular in a while. Let’s face it: the tools weren’t there! Countermagic was neutered, and while the burn has always been available to set the world ablaze, both lifegain and efficient creature beats served to stymie the archetype. Nowadays, however, we have a few more arrows to our bow. Aside from a possible eight Char-alikes, we have some semi-efficient card drawing and some interesting creatures around which we can build.

There are questions, of course. Is there advantage to be had from setting sail on this particular good ship? With the lifegain and creature-base largely intact, is that enough to scupper the boat? And is it wise, in a format with an acknowledged smorgasbord of burnination, to throw caution to the wind and start the game at a virtual twelve life?

Let’s start in a proactive fashion. While we could sit here and analyse the past to find decent components for a Counter-Burn build, let’s instead just throw something together and see what sticks

U/R Counter-Burn v 1.0

4 Char
4 Psionic Blast

Probably too much, but let’s go with it.

4 Char
4 Psionic Blast
4 Fiery Temper
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Remand
4 Mana Leak
4 Compulsive Research
2 Demonfire
4 Sulfurous Blast
2 Cancel
4 Shivan Reef
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Steam Vents
3 Izzet Boilerworks
3 Island
4 Mountain

First, a few words on some of the card choices:

I chose to run with a preliminary ten Counterspells. Remand is an obvious call, and Mana Leak is a cheap and efficient catch-all in the early game. I rounded out with two Cancel as it’s a hard counter that is relatively cheap, and it’s important to leave as much mana open as possible in order to maximize the chance of end-of-turn burnage.

Burn Suite
Four Char, four Psionic Blast. As I’ve admitted, this does feel too many in theory, but it’s a valid springboard. Volcanic Hammer and Fiery Temper are a sop to the metagame — three toughness is prevalent, with Watchwolves and Kird Apes and Scab-Clan Maulers and the like. The Temper can also be madnessed in the face of discard, something The Rack will definitely bring to the format.

The “three toughness” issue is the reason I’m currently running no two-point burn — I may regret the lack of turn 1 plays (and the “waste” of my mana opportunities posed therewith); time and testing will tell. As a sweeper, Sulfurous Blast seems key — three damage, and it hits players as well? Count me in!

Card Drawing
I plumped for four Compulsive Research, which seems a no-brainer, and rounded out with a couple of Tidings. I considered Careful Consideration carefully (heh!), but plumped with the “devil you know” strategy for the first pass.

As for a metagame… I threw the deck against three decks from a recent Mike Flores article. He’s a mover and a shaker, after all. First up: U/G Beatdown.

Record over five games: 4-1

This felt like a kicking in favor of the burn deck. Going in, I feared multiple Call of the Herd tokens and Moldervine-cloaked card advantage machines… As it happens, the countermagic kept them off anything important, and the Sulfurous Blasts were stellar. We alternated the play, and the U/G win was on the back of a turn 2 Ohran Viper, turn 3 Moldervine Cloak in the face of a tapped Boilerworks. Maybe I should drop the land count (and Karoo count) a little to squeeze in some Signets?

I also thought I’d miss the Shock/Seal of Fire-style burn here, to take out the mana producers… But they were largely irrelevant. I’d take ‘em down with a primary Sulfurous Blast, or I’d off ‘em in the two spot with a Hammer. Still, if other early-guy two-toughness guy decks give me more grief, it’s something to look at.

U/G’s main threat seems to come from a Cloaked guy. In fact, their only true threat is a Cloaked Plaxmanta (5/5), Call token (6/6), or Viper (4/6), as they’re the only fellas out of burn range. I suppose some bounce is in order somewhere — probably Wipe Away in the sideboard to deal with Circle of Protection: Red and other troublesome nuisances.

That felt good. Next up? Rakdos.

Record over five games: 0-5

Well, sh**.

This was awful.

They have efficient guys, card drawing from Bob, and — this is the key part — almost the exact same burn suite as me.

The early men where the killer. I’d spend my cheap burn taking out Dark Confidant and Rakdos Guildmage… And they’d simply throw their burn to my face. The eight Chars seemed overkill, and actively threatened my strategy with their self-harming nature. I sure missed Shock and Seal, believe me. The board sweep of Sulfurous Blast was fine, but slow, and the damage to my own noggin kicked sand in my eyes time and again.

This match is unwinnable with the deck in its current form. It’ll need a large overhaul in order to compete here.

Ah well, let’s try tackling another popular deck: Solar Flare!

The final gauntlet deck for this first pass is ManningBot’s successful build of Solar Flare from a recent mock tournament at Neutral Ground.

Record over 5 games: 3-2

This felt pretty shaky, too.

Two of the games I won were largely due to mana issues. I’m counting them as valid, obviously — if you wanna run such a diverse manabase, then you’ll pay the piper one way or another. The two games won by Solar Flare saw Counter-Burn struggle on mana, eventually suffering to a reanimated Angel of Despair nuking an Izzet Boilerworks.

As I’ve mentioned above, x/5s and above can be a problem. Akroma wasn’t too bad, except that she did reduce the long-game potency of having eight Char-alikes. The Angel can be played around pretty easily, especially (I feel) if we do add some one-mana two-damage burn to the deck. However, the Angel does kick our mana development in the nuts, so Signets are looking more appealing.

While I’ve not tested sideboarded games here, it’s important to know that Solar Flare has a number of completely pointless cards in the maindeck. Wrath of God, Mortify, maybe even Court Hussar… All dead. It’s worth considering some sort of creature-heavy transformational sideboarding strategy, should such tricksiness peel your banana. Bounce is definitely a consideration here too, for Akroma, Angel of Wrath and the inevitable Circle of Protections from the sideboard.

Aside from the opponent-specific quibbles above, there were also a few things to note on the deck in general:

Char and Psionic Blast
As predicted, eight is at least two too many. They clog the hand early, and I hate the idea of having the critical mana-count falling on three and (more likely) six. I’m knocking two off the count for the next pass.

Both Remand and Mana Leak were great, but Cancel seemed to be overkill. I’ll run the straight eight situational counters in the next pass… after all, there’s always the option of sideboard permission should the need arise.

Far too slow. This deck does not control the game enough to allow the luxury of a five-mana sorcery, even if it does net four cards. Careful Consideration, come on down!

Compulsive Research
This didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped, which I found rather surprising. With the Char-alikes sitting at three mana, I hated tapping low to cast it early. Sure, discarding Fiery Temper was nice…

Three? Meh. I hate it in multiples. In fact, I don’t think the deck needs it. It can randomly save you a game if the plan stutters early, but other than that it seems a little clunky. I’ll send it packing for the next pass, but I reserve the right to return to it at a later date.

Land Count
Twenty-two was always skating close to the edge. I stuck on three and four too damn often. Maybe the Signets will help here.

And the new cards to try:

Looter Il-Kor
He damages, and he draws cards (and discards Fiery Temper). Seems quite the value! I’ll give him a run-out in the Compulsive Research slot.

Giant Solifuge
He has many uses. He’s great after Wrath of God, and can be good against Rakdos after sweeping the board.

Let’s take a crack at a new version…

U/R Counter-Burn v 2.0
4 Char
2 Psionic Blast
4 Fiery Temper
2 Volcanic Hammer
4 Seal of Fire
4 Remand
4 Mana Leak
3 Izzet Signet
4 Giant Solifuge
3 Sulfurous Blast
4 Looter Il-Kor
4 Shivan Reef
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Steam Vents
2 Izzet Boilerworks
3 Island
5 Mountain

No room for the Careful Consideration this time around… Let’s hope the Looter Il-Kor shadows his way to a decent amount of cards.

I’m off to test. Go put the kettle on.

Phew! What a session! Did you have a nice cup of tea? I hope so. And if your biscuits went soggy and fell in the mug, you have my heartfelt sympathy.

So, let’s look at the numbers this time:

U/G Beatdown: 3-2

Hmm… Closer this time, but nothing too alarming. The two games I lost were due to turn 2 Viper/Call, turn 3 Cloak, with countermagic for any removal I had turns 4 and 5.

Some notes:

  • I missed the fourth Sulfurous Blast, although I think three is probably correct (now we have guys).
  • Solifuge is a beating, but this we knew.
  • I’m loving Seal of Fire in this matchup. It nukes Looters and batters cheeky Solifuge blockers.
  • Looter Il-Kor seemed pretty good. Then again, he would appear decent against a deck with no removal.
  • The Signets? Unsure. I generally pitched them to the Looter.
  • The matchup still seemed like a favorable one, if not quite as spectacular as before — which is possibly due to the reduction of three-damage burn.
  • I didn’t miss Demonfire. Demonfire you? Not likely.
  • Six Char-alikes seemed lovely.

Okay, next up: Rakdos. *shudder*

Rakdos: 1-4


The changes helped. There’s no doubt there. The thing is, they just didn’t do enough.

Some notes:

  • I think this matchup needs something special. Pyroclasm from the board is a definite start.
  • The Looters were terrible, as I suspected. Bloody Shadow Guildmage!
  • I only drew a Solifuge in two games… He won me one, and was decent enough in the other.
  • Seal of Fire? Approved!

Overall, I think this is a hard match to win with the maindeck cards. Dark Confidant is a kicking… Pyroclasm helps there, but what of the burn? The countermagic seems so much worse than their monsters… maybe I go balls-out and board in Bottled Cloister for the counterspells?

Ideas in the forums would be appreciated here.

Finally, there’s the Solar Flare match.

Solar Flare: 4-1


Some notes:

  • Seal of Fire tech! Two or four points of burn on the table is always a welcome sight. These were surprisingly strong in this matchup, as they brought down the killing turn of the match by a fair amount.
  • Looter Il-Kor, although weak against Rakdos, was another all-star here. He laughs in the face of Court Hussar, and throws Fiery Tempers to the dome like a true champion.
  • The countermagic proves very effective against this deck, especially if they’re resorting to hard-casting their big lads.
  • Again, I didn’t miss the Demonfire. And I didn’t miss the two Psionic Blasts (Thank Christ… they’re very expensive at the moment).

Overall, some nice improvements, but still some work to do. Here’s some general notes on the new build:

  • Can someone please tell me how to build a decent manabase? Oh yeah! Richard Feldman is doing just that today… Cheers, fella!
  • The Signets? Nah. Not convinced. I’ll go up to twenty-three or twenty-four land in my next build, and free up a few more cards for more damage potential.
  • Beating for one with the Looter seems pretty weak in the abstract… I’d love me some Unstable Mutations, if I upped the creature count to something reasonable. Drifter Il-Dal? Haha, sucks n00b.

Right. One more version, and then I’ll wrap it all up…

Some new cards to consider:

Magus of the Scroll
Obviously, I think this guy definitely should get a nod.

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
I like her a lot… but I’m unsure if there’s room for her. I can see her running alongside four Char in a more mono-Red build, but three mana for anything other than an instant is a lot to spend, especially if I’m relying on cheap two-mana counterspells to keep my game intact. I’ll leave her out of this build (preferring the Magus), but I’ll probably return to her in a future article/future testing.

Careful Consideration
Oh, go on then.

Let’s give it a whirl! (This time, I’ll use the cool deck formatting to show you I’m serious.)

If I’m going with the boarding plan of Pyroclasm, then I hope I can afford to drop to two maindeck Sulfurous Blast. I’m unsure on the correct number of Magus… I’d rather not see him early, truth be told.

Back I go to the Ultimate Fight Arena. Talk amongst yourselves while I hack lumps out of the field.

Wow, that was unexpected…

U/G: 5-0


I am the metagame bailiff. I kicked U/G’s back door down and repossessed its telly.

This was brutal.

The first two games, with U/G on the play and sporting a turn 2 Call/Viper and attempted turn 3 Cloak. I had the countermagic and/or removal both times, and went on to win close matchups with the Looter being key.

The other three games? I took out my mobile phone and recorded the scene as I happy-slapped the deck into oblivion.

Absolutely nuts.

Some notes.

  • I never activated the Magus, I never cast the Careful Consideration… I just hit with Looters and Solifuges, and sent the burn to the dome. Great stuff.
  • Twenty-three lands and no Signets seems much better. I never wanted for anything.

Yeah, this matchup seems winnable.

Next, the tricky one… Rakdos. So far, ten games and only one win.

Rakdos: 5-0




I swept the board. Five wins out of five. Insane. The key? Giant Solifuge.

Some notes:

  • I felt quite lucky in two games. In one, I stalled on two mana while “my opponent” (actually me, testing in MWS) drew land after land. There was a single turn in which Ronnie Rakdos could top a three-point burn spell to win the game, with lands coming out of his ass. The draw was Rakdos Carnarium.
  • Solifuge and Seal of Fire were stellar. I never cast a single Sulfurous Blast in all five games.
  • I finally cast Careful Consideration a couple of times. Both times, it did me well. It provided me the burn I needed to win in the turn I cast it, and it also provided me a nice madness outlet for a Fiery Temper.
  • I activated a Magus… Once. It killed a Rakdos Guildmage, when my hand was double Char and Psionic Blast. I won that one (as you already know).

The changes I made for version 3 weren’t designed to improve the Rakdos matchup… very strange. Perhaps the deck ain’t that scary after all. Just as the previous ten matches seemed largely unwinnable, this five seemed unloseable. Maybe the matchup is simply swingy. Win, and you win big. Lose, and you lose big. The Flip-A-Coin Curse of Red-on-Red since beatdown began.

Finally, let’s give the ol’ Solar Flare deck another chance.

Solar Flare: 3-2

This felt very close. In fact, it felt pretty close with the other builds too. Akroma proved her worth here, sadly. She generally trumps a Giant Solifuge. The purple-haired cow.

Some notes:

  • Game 5 of this set was very special. I was up against it, facing Akroma-backed beats, with two Seals of Fire on the board and two lands in hand. My creatures? A Looter Il-Kor and a Magus of the Scroll. Eight mana available. My opponent is on eleven, and I’m dead next turn. I untap, lay a land, and use the Magus to deal two to my opponent (down to nine). I ran in with the Looter (down to eight). I draw a Char, and discard the land. I sacrifice the two Seals (down to four). My Char is Remanded, but I have three mana remaining to take the game and series. I am the r0x0rz, and I am soooo glad I have six Char-alikes in the deck.
  • This match plays pretty slowly. Looter and Magus beats early, sitting on the countermagic. Burn at end of turn, and when the inevitable Wrath comes, Solifuge backed with countermagic and more burn should hopefully do the business.

I think the deck has merit. There are things to test and tweak, naturally, but I’m throwing it out there. Jaya may be preferable to the Magus, and I think this is my next port of call.

The matchups I’ve covered are not comprehensive, obviously. I tried an Aggro deck (Rakdos), a mid-range deck (U/G Beatdown), and a more controlling deck (Solar Flare). The numbers seem optimistically good for all matches. Of course, this is an exercise in improvement, the start of a journey to make the deck great. I’ve got us up to base camp… we’ve now a mountain to climb.

As for other directions… Maybe White can be added somehow, for Lightning Helix and Lightning Angel. This takes the deck in a different direction, and it may be wise to make such a Star-Spangled deck more aggressive in nature, with weenies and suchlike. Still, it’s something to consider.

Will I be playing this come Champs? Maybe. It has promise if nothing else. The metagame is wide open, and trying new things is the only way to travel.

In a vacuum, innovation is easy. It’s when we measure up to the innovation of others… That’s where the Magic lies. Even so, I’m confident that, with a little work, the U/R Counter-Burn strategy can tussle with the best the format has to offer.

If you’ve enjoyed the article, and believe the deck has merit, come debate changes in the forums. I’ll be there, chewing the fat.

Until next time, thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
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