Flores Friday – Burn Brew versus Monster Island: Flame in the Standard Metagame

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Friday, April 25th – One of the stronger fringe strategies from Extended, Mono-Red Burn, has a number of excellent cards in the current Standard environment. Could it be a contender today? Mike runs the Shadowmoor-friendly burn deck against two of the more creature-packed powerhouses in the modern metagame: Merfolk, and the all-conquering Faeries. Do Mountains hold the key to success in these interesting times?

Spark Elemental is in Tenth Edition? Really?

That was the start of it for me. I started poring over some of the City Championships decks and realized that the Extended “deal three” deck is intact almost in its entirety in Standard. People had been mentioning to me that Mono-Red was good, but I didn’t really understand what that meant (during the PTQ season I basically ignored Standard, and then there was no MTGO at all). I knew there were good cards in Red, but I was figuring for Tarmogoyf decks, Sadin Red, something like that… But really? Mono-Red Burn from Extended? This could be good!

I told Chapin.

Don’t get your hopes up, buddy… you don’t have Shrapnel Blast.

That was his response.

“Well,” I said… “They don’t have Counterbalance / Top, TEPS, ‘Tron, or Dredge.”

Touche… a good point! I still don’t see myself ever playing a Mono-Red Burn brew in a real tournament, let alone a Pro Tour. (We were talking about potential Hollywood ideas at the time.)

“What are you talking about? You played a Mono-Red Burn brew at Worlds. And came in second!”

There was a pause.

What do you want from me? I already said “Touche!”

Speaking of Patrick Chapin, you all probably didn’t notice, but the Innovator just finished executing one of the finest swindles in Magic writing history. I mean, he pulled off a sidestep worthy of “Luis Scott-Vargas at deck selection time right before a domestic premiere event,” this was so good.

You see, Patrick and I battle… or battled might be a better verb. Before Patrick got his weekly column, I “won” about six weeks in seven, maybe a little more (“winning” being getting the most views for a Premium article each week). Patrick went on a tear when he first joined Premium as a columnist (he counts the week before as the start of his actual run, which makes him look better, but you can start at any arbitrary point in the past and get a, you know, objectively fair look at things); Patrick came on with his Korlash deck and his consecutive Korlash articles, and just kept posting first place. I turned it around, though, and won several weeks through the summer, battling to the zero point. I was about to either overtake (my memory) or equal (Patrick’s claim) the first places even counting Pat’s 1AD mark when…

Drafting With Kenji?! What the…?!

Drafting With Kenji didn’t last at number one for long, but it monkey wrenched us right when a critical week was about to occur. Patrick bounced back, and it was boxing gloves again.

Through autumn, he started a little decline and I was knocking down #1s for about three consecutive weeks… Everything looked great… Until…

Two things happened:

1) That *sshole came in second at Worlds. Ironclad. Damn. He was already hard to beat.
2) They started running Premium articles an extra day on the front page. Pat already had a four-day head start on me, but with the extra day on the front page, I don’t know if I’ve ever broken second place since. These days, Chapin is good for 75% at least.

The really beautiful thing about this situation is that your extra weekday occurs after the previous week’s tally has taken place.

But last week…

Oh, last week…

The previous week, I was late. Craig had to scramble and double up a Chapin on Flores Friday. I loaded up MichaelJ Monday with an almost guaranteed first place with my own double up, but…

Remember when I said I used to win about six weeks in seven? Well, there would be the odd week when Limited expert Nick Eisel would qualify for Nationals with Patron of the Kitsune; something like that would happen to shake up the status quo. The other thing, like clockwork, though, was – and remains – “The Financial Value of…” by Ben Bleiweiss. I don’t think I’ve ever beaten a “The Financial Value of…” article. Neither has Patrick. No one beats that recurring article right when a new set comes out.

My double up? Right when Ben was about to strike. Second place. Just like always. And Patrick? Oh, I probably would have beaten Ben this time… but we’ll never know, will we…


I tried to stay as true to the spirit of the Extended deck as much as possible. The costs in Standard are obviously a little higher so I went with the full 24 lands (important, especially when playing with cards like Keldon Megaliths and Shard Volley).

For new cards I went with the obvious Flame Javelin, and tested out Murderous Redcap at least partly based on the evaluations from Paskins and Chapin in recent weeks (he’s a little expensive, and two relevant matchups in, I still don’t know what I think).

This deck doesn’t have Greater Gargadon. I wanted to work from the Extended framework, and going Gargadon meant I would have probably cut a fair amount of burn to play cards like Mogg War Marshal. At that point I probably would have simply morphed to the B/R Bitterblossom Grave Pact deck, which is a completely different idea.

I really liked this sort of deck and decided to start taking test draws on Apprentice. I noticed pretty quickly that I could setup Hellbent Keldon Megaliths, which seemed awesome against Bitterblossom. So I set out to test against a couple of the top decks from existing Standard.

#1 Faeries

I went with the Baltimore winner, which has Vendilion Clique rather than Pestermite. Red played on odds.

Game 1

This duel threatened to grow up into One Game or something. I had no idea how rich the interactions between Burn Brew and Faeries could be, especially in the very first turns, especially when so many of the plays would typically seem scripted.

Red opened on Mountain into Mogg Fanatic.

Faeries went to Paris and opened on Island into Ancestral Visions.

Red followed up with Mutavault into Keldon Marauders, leaving Faeries on 18.

Faeries called Mutavaults and passed.

Red animated and swung with all three.

Should Faeries block or no?

Faeries was gripping Rune Snag, Vendilion Clique, Scion of Oona, and two lands. Red only had one land open, so Rune Snag was unlikely to do anything that turn. If Blue blocked the Mutavault and traded, the Rune Snag would still be there, and it would be Blue’s two lands against just a Mogg Fanatic. As Zvi would always tell me, “I like those odds.”

Not blocking seemed a little sketchy. You are looking at twelve life the next turn versus four cards in the Red Deck’s hand. What’s the upside of not blocking? Scion and Clique can both come out next, but neither card is any good here, not with a Fanatic in play. We eventually decide that it is right to block the Mogg Fanatic to force the activation, leaving only Mutavault, which is bigger than Mogg Fanatic but actually a little onerous on the mana activation; on balance, the two three-drops in grip sudden become non-irrelevant on board.

Soon the Clique comes to play, and sees Flame Javelin, Shard Volley, Murderous Redcap, and Browbeat. With a heavy heart… it just has to be Browbeat. Clique draws into another one! What the?!

There are just too many Red cards looming with a 20-10 Burn lead.


Game 2

How do you approach a second turn Keldon Marauders? The Red open was Spark Elemental into a pair. Faeries blasted the first with Nameless Inversion, then played Bitterblossom turn 3 with two Mistbind Cliques in grip. The first came down chomping Bitterblossom itself and Time Walking… Red, though has Megaliths at this point, Mogg Fanatic already in play, and can blaze to the last point.

I think Bitterblossom turn 2 might have been the better play, but Bitterblossom itself isn’t very good in the matchup, and just killing the 3/3 that plans to deal five points seemed like a decent play… It just didn’t work out.


Game 3

Spark Elemental.

Keldon Marauders.

Take that! Nameless Inversion.

Another Keldon Marauders!


Mogg Fanatic.

Mistbind Clique (nice!)

Vendilion Clique (man!).

Clique ends up taking Redcap, Red draws another Redcap (why does this keep happening?). Shard Volley with a Megalith in play is enough.


Game 4

Faeries got one!

Faeries mulled on the play, Red kept a one-lander and hit a second land on turn 2… and was stuck on those two lands for the rest of the game. It was close, but at the end, Red’s hand was a Shard Volley it was never going to play, two Redcaps, and a Browbeat, none of which could be played.


Game 5

Red mulled on the play, leading to a shootout… Kind of.

Both of Blue’s Sowers got played, one just to stop a Mutavault for a turn when Ancestral Visions had one counter on it (that just turned into a Shard Volley), and the next one went unsuccessfully after a Mogg Fanatic (Nekrataal! Rah!)… Shard Volley #2, sufficient lands, and a Keldon Megaliths Voltron’d together to end this one pretty quickly.


I decided to call the matchup at five games and move on. Faeries literally only won when Red was manascrewed; Red won easily basically any game where it drew land and spells, mulligan or no.

Against the stock version of Faeries – or this approximation at least, with Cliques over Pestermites – Red just has commanding tempo. Red makes a first turn play basically every game, and its second turn play is usually worth 1/4 of Faeries’s life total. Bitterblossom, the ace in most matchups, is both slow and a long term liability due for obvious reasons. The more competitive draws on the part of Faeries occur when Sower can actually be relevant, which is rare, and/or Faeries can stick a Mistbind Clique (this is actually the greatest value of Bitterblossom). Red will gladly spend two spells to kill a Mistbind Clique just to put Bitterblossom back in play; it’s very difficult for Faeries to mount a Bitterblossom-based offensive due to Keldon Megaliths.

Murderous Redcap was a question mark in the matchup (basically in the Sulfurous Blast spot for many versions of Standard Burn); the card was not bad per se but I didn’t really anticipate this… It is a reasonable Sower of Temptation target in this, a non-Greater Gargadon build.

We discussed Redcap versus Bitterblossom at length. I am not sure that it’s even right to shoot a Bitterblossom token with a Murderous Redcap. This will undoubtedly be one of the big strategic questions of the upcoming Standard.

#2 Merfolk

I went with Chris Mascioli version that won New York, but added four Mystic Gates for two Islands and two Adarkar Wastes; they were exactly “good,” not disrupting Ancestral Visions on turn 1, and perfect basically whenever they came up after turn 1.

Red against Merfolk was considerably more interesting than Faeries. Red won the first game on the play, but Merfolk bounced back the next; they traded and traded and it was obvious after five (and a predictable Red win on the play) that it was worth finishing out a full ten game set. The two decks continued to trade through nine; whichever deck went first won every game until the tenth game of the set, where Red broke serve and won 6-4. I thought that was pretty unusual because of how the games went.

On the play, Red would typically win regardless of what Merfolk played. The same cards that might seem ineffective on the draw were like a tidal wave when going first.

On the play, Merfolk just seemed to draw better or more relevant cards (coincidence?). Either it would draw a bunch of Silvergill Adepts or a bunch of Lords rather than control cards, which would allow Merfolk to stall the ground and race back. Quite shockingly, Merfolk could let Red resolve Browbeat when Red was on the draw and it would basically be meaningless (you only need one counter – especially when it is a two-for-one – if the opponent can only play one card per turn, as was often the case with late game Redcaps in hand, or even just a couple of three mana spells).

Games were in general pretty competitive. Either deck could win most games, even though the deck on the play usually had the illusion of an overwhelming tempo victory. Merfolk did better than Faeries for a couple of reasons. The speed and relevance of its drops were just much more appropriate to the task of beating the Red deck. There are times when a Grey Ogre is actually exactly what you need to hold off the other guy, sad as that might be. If one deck goes drop, and the other deck goes drop and draw a card, or drop that is +1/+1 senior, that matters because of potential blocking… Scaring off an attack or putting the opponent into a bad trade or soaking up an Incinerate with a two toughness blocker (which saves a life point, virtually)… Any of those can obtain some amount of value. Also, Red lost at least one game to Stonybrook Angler, which tapped Keldon Marauders on turn 3 (Red needed one point). Mascioli’s sideboard contained Dragon’s Claw… I have no doubt that Merfolk can and even should be favored with the right setup.

Another way of looking at it is how efficiently the decks can utilize mana. For three mana, Faeries can play some x/1 creature that barely registers for the deck with Mogg Fanatic et al. On four mana, Faeries can play the same x/1, a 2/2 with a sometimes relevant ability, or a Clique which is admittedly very strong – but Faeries can’t always pull that off due to the fact that the opponent is Red. However, on balance Merfolk can play Lord on three mana with a man in play, or two Lords on four, sometimes going tap crazy at the same time. The matchup exists largely on the board, not in some speculative future. Therefore it was profitable for Merfolk to just throw a million guys down and attack (of course this would change in the face of some Pyroclasm sort of card that my version of the Red Deck did not [any longer] play).

To continue that train of thought given the Sulfurous Blast replacement, play versus draw in the Merfolk matchup can be largely distilled down to one card: Murderous Redcap. It seemed that when Red had the tempo and Merfolk was forced to tap main phase, Redcap was pretty good (even against Sower a couple of times); Merfolk just couldn’t afford to block it even with a board of 3/3s due to Persist. Yet when Merfolk was on the play and had the tempo, Redcap was the worst card for Red… Just too expensive for the deck to be able to play more than one card that mattered per turn; in a lot of those games, stretching just a little bit, the Merfolk deck could have had two or three or four mana Dismiss cards.

So, early conclusions on the Red Deck:

If your main goal in life is beating Faeries, Red seems like about the best option in Standard. I was a little discouraged by the performance against Merfolk, though, which I initially guessed would be fairly close to the Faeries matchup.

The biggest problem I anticipate for Red is the equal and opposite of the Redcap: Kitchen Finks. Kitchen Finks is kind of irrelevant if the opponent is Faeries, Lark, maybe Doran, possibly Elves, certainly Gauntlet, which is why I don’t think of it as main deck in Standard at the default… But Red is going to have a really serious problem with that one in sideboard games. In Extended, Sadin and I were very comfortable playing the Red Burn deck against any Green deck, even those maxed out on Hierarchs (especially after we had main deck Sulfurous Vortex). You could easily beat Domain Zoo on 18 life, consistently winning despite the opponent’s “superior cards” at every position. However, in Standard the Green decks just have bigger and better guys, aggressively costed and paired with accelerators. More importantly, the Vortex proxy doesn’t actually deal damage, so that is a big question mark that has to be evaluated.

Do I still like the Burn Brew? It is certainly fun to play and awesome against Faeries; however, with such a competitive Merfolk matchup, I am a little worried about the decks that can muck the board and race, and certainly there are some very troublesome sideboard cards on three that can spell disaster.

That said, the Shadowmoor cards I tested – another Graven Cairns, a better Char – were very pleasant additions to a game I would have continued to love if they had reprinted Homelands.