Fight Everything With Fire: 1st Place At StarCityGames.com Open: DC

Austin Yost did the unthinkable and won a Legacy Open with Mono Red Burn! He has had continued success with the deck but hadn’t won an Open until now. Read why mono-Mountains can get there.

Before we get too far into how to cast Lightning Bolts 101, I want to introduce myself really quickly.

My name is Austin Yost, and I’m a recent college graduate out of Denver, Colorado. For now my hobbies include hating my job as a retail associate and playing Magic.

Magic was not my first card game. I played some Premier events for the old Lord of the Rings card game with some success, but the game died rather splendidly around the time I turned 14, and I needed something new. So I learned how to play Magic during Ravnica—although it did not last long. Protective parents, meet my first rare out of a booster pack…Blood Funnel. They’re over it now.

So I left competitive cards for a few years to be a teenager and all that. Somewhere around the time Rise of the Eldrazi was released, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I found myself with some free time and spare cash. A few months later, I was playing at PTQs with my playset of Jace, the Mind Sculptors. When I came back to Magic, one of the big parts of it was that I wanted to compete at competitive level events, so I had a lot of work to do. That first year involved a lot of 0-2 drops. Last year during the Caw-Blade fiasco, I was watching the online coverage and got to see Patrick Sullivan crush some people with Goblin Guide. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Everybody loves the underdog it seems. Or all the love for the burn player in top 8 on Twitter might imply that. I have seen that term used plenty of times in the last few days to describe my victory at the StarCityGames.com Open in Washington D.C.

I really want to dispel this underdog myth. This deck has to be the dog in every matchup, doesn’t it? Not at all. My opponent in the finals, Joshua Cho, first turn contained cards worth more than my entire deck. Does that matter? Not at all.

Burn is not doing the most powerful thing in the format. And it cannot stop its opponent from doing anything overly powerful unless you count killing them very quickly. But that hardly makes for unfavorable matchups across the board. In a room full of maverick and non-combo blue decks, I have never felt like the underdog. This version of burn has put up very good results for me on the Open Series. I purchased it the day of the tournament in Vegas and since then have played in three Opens and the Invitational. I made top 8 the first Open in Vegas, did marginally going 5-4 in St. Louis, made top 32 at the Invitational, and won the Open in D.C. That does not sound like an underdog to me. Maybe I’m better at counting backwards from 20 than everyone else, though.

The Open Series over the last year or so has created a much more stable Legacy metagame, one that this particular version of burn is set up to beat. I played a couple Opens with combo Elves before I switched to burn and got tired of losing to Force of Will, Daze, and all their friends. Not anymore.

Daze is easy to play around with lots of one-cost spells. Force of Will is just a huge amount of card disadvantage. It is good at stopping one critical spell, not at stopping seven of them over 3 or 4 turns. Blue decks have a huge issue with Mono Red, and Mono Red is generally faster and more consistent than any other fair decks and even some unfair decks. Those are some general reasons I chose to play burn. I know a lot of people want explanations for specific card choices so let’s do some of those. Here’s the whole list for reference.

Burn Spells
4 Fireblast
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Flame Rift

This seems very straightforward so I do not want to spend too much time on it. It is a lot of variations on Lightning Bolt and a few odds and ends with Price of Progress and Flame Rift to round it out.

Price of Progress—clearly insane against all the three-color decks that show up at the top tables and still has applications against many decks like Maverick or even Affinity that decide to skimp on their basic land count. I’ve had people Wasteland plenty of their own lands just to save some life. It’s a very hard card for people to play around when they only run one or two basic lands.

Flame Rift—this is the most controversial of the spells I believe. Many people prefer Magma Jet in this slot for the scry ability. The reasoning is usually that you do not want to draw too many lands off the top late game. People are always a little scared that they will get flooded out, especially with running no fetches in this version. My message to everyone playing burn is to stop being so scared. Figure of Destiny and Fireblast give you plenty of things to do with your extra mana. Playing this deck is about being confident. Chew your gum with some authority.

3 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
3 Hellspark Elemental
3 Keldon Marauders

Goblin Guide—Obviously the best, most aggressive one-drop a Mountain can buy. No red deck should leave home without this guy.

Figure of Destiny—This is the redheaded stepchild I hear a lot of other burn players rip on. First off, blue players seem to be much more scared of him than Guide. Figure will meet Force of Will more than any other card in the deck; that has at least been my experience. Other people may prefer Grim Lavamancer in this spot. I want to keep myself as consistent as possible: no fetches to get Stifled, no non-basics or dual land splashes that will get hit by Wasteland. Without those, Lavamancer doesn’t have fuel for a couple turns. Figure is the most aggressive one-drop in Mono Red besides Guide, so he gets the win. We’re trying to keep it simple and beat face.

Keldon Marauders—Guaranteed two damage, possible five. Either hits for a big chunk or eats a Spell Snare instead of your Price of Progress. These guys are my favorite creature and can be relevant as blockers against Tarmogoyf while still getting some damage in.

Hellspark Elemental—Three damage that runs through counters, what’s not to like? I know he’s kind of anti-synergistic with Barbarian Ring, but as long as you’re conscious of what’s in your graveyard and what your end turns are going to look like, it’s nothing a burn player with a brain can’t handle.

17 Mountain
2 Barbarian Ring

I mentioned not wanting to get Stifled or Wastelanded earlier, and here we are with the craziest part of the deck. In a format where you can run fetches and splash whatever you want, I like to keep it simple. 17 Mountains.

Barbarian Ring—This is actually a burn spell that can also add mana when necessary. Most importantly it is uncounterable. Do not run it out into Wastelands if you can avoid it; save it for when control decks start stabilizing behind counters. Threshold is hardly an issue, especially in long games where this card is the MVP. It won me at least a handful of matches including my quarterfinals against Nick Spagnolo.

4 Faerie Macabre
3 Pyrostatic Pillar
4 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
3 Smash to Smithereens

Faerie Macabre—These slots were originally Relic of Progenitus or Tormod’s Crypt, which were for Dredge and Reanimator. Dredge is not a bad matchup at all, as Keldon Marauders and Hellspark Elemental will keep them from getting many uses out of Bridge from Below by dying on their own. However, Relic and Crypt can be countered by Force of Will or Pithing Needled in the reanimator matchup, which is what I really wanted these slots for. Faerie is hands down the best versus them as made evident in my semifinals match versus Antonio Fedon. Uncounterable, gets rid of the guys you care about in their yard, and sometimes even gets to come beat their face in if they are trying to use Exhume. If reanimator starts to die off because of Grafdigger’s Cage, I can see changing these to something else but, for now I would stick with Faerie Macabre.

Pyrostatic Pillar—My only loss in Swiss was to Robin Meeker-Cummings who also made Top 8 with Perfect Storm. This won me game two, but I lost game three before I could even cast a spell. The match was the only one that day I felt an underdog in. I think Mindbreak Trap may be better than Pillar in this respect and could see dropping these and the Red Elemental Blast for four Mindbreak Traps. Pillar does however give you something to side in for less common decks like Elves combo, which I had to beat to make Top 8.

Pyroblast—Good against most blue decks. I only side in as many as I have cards to side out. Just jamming four or five blast effects in is hardly right. See what cards are bad and good versus your opponent. Bring these in to protect your good cards. Also bring these in to counter Show and Tells.

Red Elemental Blast—Should not have really been in there as a one-of, but I had an extra slot and an extra blast with me. It was only really good versus the Hive Mind deck I played against where I brought in all five blasts and countered three Show and Tells and a Force of Will in game two.

Smash to Smithereens—Instant-speed kill for Batterskull and Umezawa’s Jitte that also bolts their controller. Doesn’t get much better than that. It can be Spell Snared, which is something to look for, but you should bring in Pyroblast or Red Elemental Blast against Stoneforge Mystic decks anyway.

After winning, it may be wise to invest in some Chaos Warps to deal with any surge in sideboard Leyline of Sanctity. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and people still won’t take Mono Red seriously.

So that was the list, and these are the games. Ready…fight!

Round 1—Brad Jarman/AggroLoam

He led game one with Mox Diamond, Wasteland, and a Life from the Loam. I played turn one Goblin Guide, and we had a little laugh about how I’m “that guy” before resolving the trigger and sending him to 18. The next few turns involve some burn spells and finally him tapping his Wasteland so I can Price of Progress for six and Fireblast him for the rest of his life.

Sideboard: nothing. It is a good matchup, and all my cards were good versus him. I considered Smash to Smithereens but did not see myself smashing a Mox over just playing another burn spell.

Game two goes about the same as game one. We had a chat about how both our decks are designed to fight the big decks in the room, but he was not set up to fight me very well.

Round 2—David Applegate/Affinity

David won the die roll and led with Ancient Tomb into Arcbound Ravager and was very disappointed to go to 16 off of my turn one Goblin Guide. Ancient Tomb did half my work, and we went to game two.

Sideboard: -3 Hellspark Elemental +3 Smash to Smithereens. Hellspark is bad versus non-blue creature decks in general, especially ones with Frogmites to block him. Smash seemed to be super good.

He mulliganed to six but unfortunately drew seven cards and looked at them. David quickly called a judge to resolve the situation. The judge asked us both what happened and ruled to put two cards randomly on top of David’s library to which I quickly appealed since David had looked at the cards. The Head Judge gave the ruling I expected of shuffling the two cards in. Ancient Tomb once again did David in. Despite the whole situation with the judge, David was a friendly opponent, and I wished him luck the rest of the day.

This round I noticed next to me someone also playing with a lot of Mountains. He mentioned that he saw a list make Top 8 in Kansas City and Las Vegas, and it seemed cheap. I explained that I was the one who made Top 8 in Las Vegas, and he asked to talk sideboard plans once he was finished with his match, which I was happy to do. We both maintained pretty similar records until the last few rounds of the day where the other red player, Dennis, met some unfortunate matchups at the hands of David McDarby.

Round 3—Jonas Sinacola/Hive Mind

Game one he killed me the turn before I kill him. The specifics I do not remember and generally are not that important in combo matchups. Just a race that I usually lose.

Sideboard: -4 Price of Progress -1 Fireblast + 4 Pyroblast + 1 Red Elemental Blast. Price gets sided out against one- or two-color decks where it is marginal, and Fireblast is the worst in multiples so I took one out to make room for all the blasts for his Show and Tells.

Game two he opened with DOUBLE LEYLINE OF SANCTITY. I could see myself at X-1 already. I had three dead cards in hand, some lands, and some blasts. We played draw-go until he tried to Show and Tell, which I Blasted; he cast Force of Will pitching Brainstorm, which I also Blasted. We did draw-go some more, which is not something I ever want to do with my deck, but life gives you lemons sometimes I guess. He took some damage from fetches and 3 or 4 damage off of Lim-Dul’s Vault. So he was at 12 life going to my turn. I drew a Goblin Guide to put him to 10. Guide revealed Pact of the Titan, which I had mana to pay for. He cast a Hive Mind.

So at this point he had two cards in hand, one of which I knew was a Pact. The other had to be Hive Mind, which could kill me. If he had another Pact, I would already be dead. Fortunately for me I had a Flame Rift, which bypassed his Leylines. Goblin Guide put him to 8. Flame Rift and the Hive Mind copy finished him off.

Game 3 I landed a turn-one Goblin Guide and relied on two Pyroblasts in my opening hand. Guide and some burn spells did the damage while blasts kept me from losing.

Round 4—Jean Hugues Cormier/UR Delver Burn

Game 1 I did a better job of burning than he did; the matchup was pretty straightforward and in my favor. I really dislike these UR decks which just seem like slow burn decks with some Brainstorms and Snapcaster Mages for flare.

Sideboard: -4 Price of Progress + Pyroblast

Game 2 he had some very bad mulligans, and I won very easily

Round 5—Robin Meeker-Cumming/Epic Storm Combo

Game 1 he killed me very quickly with a flurry of Rituals and Burning Wish to find Tendrils of Agony.

Sideboard: -3 Price of Progress +3 Pyrostatic Pillar.

Game 2 I played a Goblin Guide and a Pyrostatic Pillar he could not kill me through. Game 3 he went off on turn 1.

Round 6—Matt Devine/Maverick

I won two games very quickly. About eight minutes for the match. I felt like Maverick was a good matchup because they have no counters for Price of Progress and rely on non-basic lands. Stoneforge for some lifegaining equipment like Batterskull or Umezawa’s Jitte is really the only chance they have.

I had Smash to Smithereens for all his equipment game 2.

Sideboard: -3 Figure of Destiny, + Smash to Smithereens. Figure is rather bad against Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, so he often makes an exit against white decks.

Round 7—Eric Gosse/BUG Delver

Game 1 I won quickly and am not very sure on specifics. There were lots of burn spells involved.

Sideboard for Game 2: – 3 figure, + 3 Pyroblast

Game 2 he won in a nail biter with Tombstalker making the Hellspark in my hand not quite lethal.

I noticed he had a lot of black removal and not a lot of countermagic, so I went back to my original 60 for game 3. I won by topdecking Barbarian Ring with him at two and most likely a counter in hand.

Round 8—Matt Kent/Elves

I sat down for this round and waited for Wesley Wise to show up, since that was who the board said I was matched against. The round started, and I called a judge who informed me they were fixing an error in the reported results of the last round. While I waited, some players came by and asked why I was the only player at the top table. I explained that the top table drew, and the others where all feature matches. I joked that I never get feature matches because I play burn. They asked to see my deck, and I obliged while I was waiting. They were big fans of burn doing well and wished me luck. The judges brought Matt over, and we began. I won the die roll and played turn-one Goblin Guide, and we joked about all the fuss we made to the judge about getting a reasonable time extension. I took game 1 mostly off the die roll.

Sideboard: – 3 Price of Progress + 3 Pyrostatic Pillar

Game 2 he took the turn before I killed him. The opposite was true of game 3. Elves seems like an easy matchup, but there are lots of decisions, and you need to know when to kill their mana creatures and when to just point things at their face.

Round 9—Calosso Fuentes/RUG Delver

I heard Calosso talking about dream crushing last round, so I was not taking my last “win and in” round as a sure thing. He sat down and said we were playing. He explained that he wanted to have momentum going into top 8. I played very loosely/badly but still won game one and offered the draw, which he accepted. He was right about getting momentum though.

Quarterfinals—Nick Spagnolo/BUG Control

We sat down and began shuffling. Drew Levin walked by and asked where the interesting decks were, to which Ali Aintrazi replied, “Mono Red Burn is right here.”

Nick joked, “There’s no way you’re playing Mono Red.” I flashed him the bottom of my deck to prove it; he saw a Mountain, and there were some loud expletives that followed. I rolled double sixes to go first; he rolled snake eyes. “Foreboding” is how he described it.

Coverage of the match can be found here: http://www.starcitygames.com/events/coverage/quarterfinals_nick_spagnolo_vs.html

Bolting his Liliana of the Veil in game 2 was a big error, but besides that I played well, and it was a good matchup for me. Nick did give me the best soundbyte of the day. My turn-one “Chain Lightning you” was met with “Are you a real person?!” Turn one Bolt you, or a small deviation of it, is rarely the right play, but it was there, and it felt awesome.

Semifinals—Antonio Fedon/Reanimator

I was happy to hear that I was finally going to be on camera and not very happy to have it be against my worst matchup. Stay confident, play well is all I thought. I have gotten games against slow hands, especially if they do not get to Entomb to find Iona, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, or Empyrial Archangel. Their other targets are not particularly dangerous, as Antonio found out game one. Reanimate can also be rather dangerous for them. So I just did what I normally do and got lucky. I did.

Game 2 I snap kept an opener with Goblin Guide, Faerie Macabre, a Mountain, and some burn. Having Faerie in my hand made the game feel unlosable. The game went as planned short of me forgetting that Exhume brings back my Faerie Macabre.

Coverage of the match can be found here: http://starcitygames.com/events/coverage/semifinals_antonio_fedon_vs_au.html

Finals—Josh Cho/RUG Delver

I was going to win. As soon as I beat Antonio, I knew that. Out of all the tournaments matches I have played in, I have a record of 11-1 against RUG if we count my draw against Calosso that day as a win. My only loss was in Top 8 in Las Vegas, and that was off a decision to keep a bad hand on my part. I knew I had it. I wanted that trophy so badly.

I played well and got there just like I expected. The only questionable play was in game two when I chose to Chain Lightning Josh’s 2/3 Tarmogoyf before casting my Goblin Guide. The other option was to cast the Guide, swing both in, hope he blocks, and then I Chain his Goyf. I decided I wanted to take the first play, which had more potential reward. If he did not have the Lightning Bolt, his Tarmogoyf dies; I can cast Guide, swing, and have two creatures still in play. Unfortunately he did have the Bolt, but I still had plenty of action in my hand, and it was still worth the risk probably.

If you are interested in any more specifics the match coverage can be found here:


And the crowd goes wild! Or at least the crowd on my phone did.

I had not played any Legacy since I fell apart on Day 2 of the Invitational in Charlotte to spiral all the way out of Top 8 and Top 16 contention. But I had a lot of fire going into D.C. I lost the last round of the Invitational to some guy with miscut beta lands and a foiled out Stoneblade deck. Every burn player’s generic nemesis.

Somewhere in that match he said something like, “You don’t play a lot of Legacy? Is that why you play burn?” An innocent question perhaps, but deep down it felt like all the stupid comments people have about the deck. All the comments about how budget it is, like that somehow makes it worse, or how only bad players play it. All of which are wrong. I play Mono Red because it is a good deck; it’s a fun deck; and I play it well. And I was out to prove it.

My friend lent me $141 and some change to buy the deck in Las Vegas. Since then I’m up a sweet trophy, about $2000, and two qualifications for StarCityGames.com Invitationals. My tournament match record with the deck is 24-9. Burn may be budget, and it may not be the absolute best deck in the format or the most powerful. What burn is not is an underdog in the current metagame. If you want relatively cheap deck, a deck that is consistent and preys on all the decks you should plan on seeing at the top tables of an Open, try out some Lava Spikes and see how it feels.

Overall this weekend was one of the best of my short Magic career. One of the biggest goals I had for this year was to win an Open and qualify for the Invitational again after ending last year at a heartbreaking 19 points, just out of Level 3. It felt good not to just win, but to do it with a deck I love and one that proves you can be successful without all the bells and whistles if you play well and make good metagame decisions. The Open Series has been a great place for me to play competitive Magic more or less every weekend if I want to, and I have noticed a huge increase in my ability to play well as I play in more and more Opens. Playing at a competitive level as often as possible has done wonders for my play. I am hoping to make it out to the Richmond and Cincinnati Opens next month and would love to see some fellow red mages out there showing people just how good mono-Mountains can be. Just don’t do it against me; it’s a terrible mirror.


Until then,
Austin Yost

P.S. Want to give quick shout outs to Samuel Davis for the original list that mine has only made slight deviations from. As well as a huge thanks to Zachary “Big Meat” Fager for spotting me the original cash for the cards. One of the coolest parts about finding success in Magic lately has been all the new friends I have made around the country, just for slinging spells. It’s really a great community.

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