Luck Skill Victory – Red/Green Burn/Beats in Extended

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Wednesday, January 14th – As Grand Prix: Los Angeles approaches, LSV takes a look at one of the decks that’s currently flying under the radar: Red/Green Burn/Beats. Basing its strategy on the popular Burn Deck Wins, and upgrading its potency with a collection of powerful animals, could this aggressive deck break out a Top 8 performance this weekend? Read on to find out!

It seems to me that Extended is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially with Grand Prix: Los Angeles in just a few days. In recent forum posts, some people have expressed the desire for additional coverage of decks beyond the top few (Faeries, Zoo, etc), so today I am actually going to be covering a slightly off the radar deck. My inspiration for this article actually came about as I played at a Grand Prix Trial this past weekend (just for practice mainly, although helping my friends win byes also seemed like a reason). Between the trial and a subsequent tournament at the site, I played against 5 Mono-Red Burn decks in a total of eight rounds. That is certainly a lot of Lava Spikes, and it got me to thinking about why this deck is so popular. There are a number of factors, such as cost to assemble the deck, the perceived ease of playing it (although it seems to me that any deck takes some skill to play, even one as simple as the “all burn spell” deck), and just the general metagame factor of good matchups against the decks one wants to beat.

While I personally wouldn’t play the deck, that doesn’t mean I think that nobody should, and there appears to me an almost strictly better version available for those who want to light up their opponents. The fundamental strategy of the Burn deck is that all of its spells (and even some of its lands!) damage the opponent, and eventually will overwhelm whatever answers they may have to straight burn. By playing only creatures like Mogg Fanatic, Spark Elemental, and Keldon Marauders, even traditional removal spells aren’t very strong, as damage is generally dealt either way. The following deck does lose a little bit of that immunity to creature removal, but the upsides seem to vastly outweigh that. The original decklist is as follows:

This is the decklist Adam Prosak used to Top 8 a MTGO Premier Event a few weeks back, and might look pretty familiar to those of you who haunt the Extended 4-man queues online. It has spread very quickly, as many people come to the same conclusion that I have about it replacing Burn. The main difference between this and the classic Burn deck (something like the list Finkel played at Worlds) is the creatures. Four Nacatl, four Kird Ape, and four Tarmogoyf seem to directly go against the theory driving the Burn deck in the first place, that all your spells do direct damage and are mostly immune to creature removal. I don’t think that is necessarily the case, or rather, that these particular creatures do a good job of pretending to be burn spells.

On turn 1, a Nacatl or Kird Ape is going to do far more damage than the Lava Spike or Spark Elemental the burn deck normally plays. In the case of Nacatl, you are often looking at upwards of nine damage before the opponent does something to stop it. That is barely even comparable to the three damage maximum of the spells Mono Red has to offer. Tarmogoyf doesn’t offer quite the same fast damage potential, but it is such a powerful card that even its relatively slow nature can be overlooked. The absurdity of a two mana 4/5 or 5/6 being thought of as slow is pretty funny, but I don’t think it’s an incorrect assumption, especially in a world populated by Spell Snares. I know that when I am playing against Burn (whether it is with Faeries or Cloud or even Elves), the turn 1 burn spell is just not impressive. On the other hand, a turn 1 Nacatl or Ape does infinitely more damage, and puts me on a much greater clock. I will talk more about this when I get to matchups, but having the potential for an actual fast aggressive draw cannot be overlooked.

Besides the creatures, the mix of Burn spells gets an upgrade. Lightning Helix continues to be awesome, as drawing multiple Helices is always pretty crazy in any sort of aggro mirror. Seal and Incinerate are both solid, Seal pumping up Goyf and generally preventing any Jitte shenanigans out of Faeries.

One interesting addition is Molten Rain. It has been a while since Molten Rain has fallen, and it is sure to strike fear into the heart of any control player. Normal Burn can’t really take advantage of it, since Molten Rain is at its most deadly when there is a creature-based clock on the board, but this deck certainly can. Especially if it isn’t expected, a timely (read: turn 3) Molten Rain can completely devastate the opponent. I remember the old Gifts Rock against Boros matchup was very favorable to Rock, unless Boros had the Molten Rain. Especially on the play, Rain serves as both a Time Walk and an additional two damage, even discounting the possibility of manascrewing them. Defensive cards like Baloth or Glen Elendra Archmage do little if they are delayed until the game essentially ends. Especially given that Faeries’ main path to victory against aggro is sticking a Jitte, stopping their fourth land drop is pretty insane.

Lastly, Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] is basically just the three-mana-four-damage spell of choice here. I don’t think the buyback really occurs enough to count on, and actually is one of the cards I think should be cut to make room for some Sulfuric Vortex. Vortex is the most frightening card in Mono Red, as both of the control decks I have played (Faeries and Death Cloud) are fine against Burn UNLESS they have a Vortex out. All of a sudden, Jitte/Finks/Baloth aren’t outs anymore, and the game becomes virtually unwinnable. Vortex as a hasted 2/2 that prevents any of the cards the opponent plans on beating you with is pretty crazy, and I think not playing it seems like a mistake.

The manabase is good, with some basics to reduce pain and allow sideboarded Blood Moons, as well as a few Mutavaults for some manland beats. One interesting note is that there is no basic Plains, so when the Blood Moon effects come in, Lightning Helix should probably go out. The risk of drawing a mostly useless Plains outweighs the utility in having it for Blood Moon protection, and it is easier to just side out the four White spells in the deck.

The only changes I would make besides turning Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] into Sulfuric Vortex are to the sideboard. I like a sideboard of:

4 Blood Moon
4 Ancient Grudge
3 Choke
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sulfuric Vortex

Since I am advocating this deck as not only an alternative to the Burn deck but an upgrade, I will go over the more common matchups with an eye to not only how they are for this deck but how that changes from the normal Burn matchup.

Faeries (Mono U or UB)
This matchup is one of the main reasons I like this build more than the Mono Red deck. When I am playing Faeries, I love playing against Burn. The games usually go about the same: they play a bunch of Burn spells, most of which I don’t counter, as keeping Vortex off the board is the only thing I care about. I usually get to pretty low life, but they eventually run out of gas since I am refilling with Thirst or Ancestral Visions or two for one’ing them with Spellstutters. Once a Glen Elendra Archmage sticks, the game is essentially over. A Jitte makes it faster, but Mutavaults plus assorted Faeries also do the trick. Without a recurring source of damage like a Nacatl, I have so much time to assemble my various win conditions (Archmage, Spellstutter plus Lab, Jitte plus any creatures). If I could play against Burn every round, I would, and basically did last weekend. On the other hand, Nacatl Burn (or whatever the deck should be called) is much more troublesome. It forces me to keep in removal like Engineered Explosives, and can present a very fast clock. Additionally, because I have to tap out to deal with the turn 1 Ape or Nacatl, it is much easier to resolve a Vortex or a Molten Rain. Against Mono Red, I never tap out when they could play a Vortex, since that is really the only card I ever flat out lose to. Against this deck, tapping out is unavoidable, since I can’t let the animals hit me over and over again under most circumstances.

Sideboarding against Faeries is tough, since there are so many different builds. I will try to give a general guide, but pay very close attention to what they could have, since slight changes in their deck drastically change sideboarding for you.

Choke: You want Choke unless they are running the Japanese version with eight U/B lands (Secluded Glen and River of Tears).

Ancient Grudge: Add in Grudge if they have Moxes, Shackles, and Jittes, but not if they have just Jitte. I usually would bring in 2-3 Grudge, and never the full four.

Jitte: I don’t like Jitte unless you are playing against the version that has only Jittes as artifacts, since Grudge is too likely to be dead then.

Vortex: Finally, a simple rule. Always bring this one in.

The cards you take out also differ, based on what they have. If they have Threads, Goyfs can easily go. This may be hard to determine, so I would probably take out Goyfs unless you know for sure that they don’t have Threads. After Goyf, the next weakest card is Incinerate, although Molten Rain is also a good candidate. You don’t want to end up with too many three-drops, especially when the Chokes happen to be coming in.

Here is where this version loses some ground, as the straight Red version does have a better game against Zoo. Still, you take less pain than Zoo and have more burn, so the matchup is still in your favor. Making a bad matchup (Faeries) much better is definitely worth making a good matchup not as good but still favorable. You also have sideboard access to the devastating Blood Moon, which is a nice trump in this matchup. Marauders are particularly good at blocking here, which gives you time to burn them out. They either trade a Nacatl for the Marauders or skip two attack steps, either of which is great for you.

This isn’t as complicated as Faeries, since Zoo has fewer variations that change how you board.
+4 Blood Moon, +3 Umezawa’s Jitte
-4 Lightning Helix, —3 Seal of Fire

As I mentioned before, the Helices have to leave because of the Moons. Molten Rain is actually good, both to punish their multicolored manabase and to hit the one basic Plains they might fetch out in anticipation of Blood Moon. Once you get the Plains, they can no longer Oblivion Ring the Moon, and are pretty locked out of casting anything useful.

This is just a race, since you have no real way to stop their combo. You do have minor disruption in the form of Molten Rain, but that won’t go too far. The maindeck Firespouts and Explosives from Swans does make your creature additions worse, but the turn 1 guy is still going to get a few hits in. If you can resolve a Goyf it will do a reasonable job of beating down, but Spell Snare and Leak make that difficult. Overall you would probably rather not face Swans, but Faeries is doing a pretty good job of preying on Swans at the moment.

+3 Choke, +1 Sulfuric Vortex
-4 Seal of Fire

I wouldn’t call the matchup horrible, since it is reasonable for Swans to just not find both combo pieces before you kill them, one of my main complaints about the Swans deck. Sadly, you have little control over this, but it will happen some of the time.

This is another matchup where Wild Nacatl and company are much better than the straight burn spells. Since Elves goldfishes faster than Burn, Burn is forced into the difficult position of having to waste spells on the random elves, which stops Burn from winning in any sort of timely fashion. Nacatl Burn, however, gets to do something like play a one-drop on turn 1, then Fanatic/Seal an elf and play another one-drop. This lets you hit for something like five a turn while burning the elves, making a pretty bad matchup into a salvageable one.

+3 Umezawa’s Jitte
-2 Sulfuric Vortex, —1 Tarmogoyf

Goyf just gets chumped, and isn’t a good draw later in the game (as opposed to Keldon Marauders). Molten Rain is actually good here, since if you are doing your job in killing their guys, hitting their light manabase can really hinder any comebacks.

Nacatl Burn has the edge in this matchup compared to normal Burn, for much the same reason as the elf matchup. Affinity is generally faster, so you are forced to deal with their guys, making a creature-based clock that much more valuable. Also, Tarmogoyf is insane against Affinity, regularly being a 5/6 or 6/7, which can either hold off their ground guys or just pound in. Game 1 is still pretty tough on the draw, since you have no way to stop a Master from hitting. On the play you can at least burn their guys to turn off Springleaf Drum and Molten Rain a Seat of the Synod. Much like most of Affinity’s matchups, sideboarding helps Burn much more than it helps Affinity.

+4 Ancient Grudge, +3 Umezawa’s Jitte
-4 Molten Rain, —2 Sulfuric Vortex, —1 Keldon Marauders

Post-board you have answers to all their big threats, and Jitte to mop up any further resistance. Just watch out for a timely Spell Snare and you should be fine.

Death Cloud
Nacatl and company are a bit of a risk here, since they do turn on all of Cloud’s previously dead removal. On the other hand, all of the removal is still pretty inefficient (Putrefy, Damnation, Crime/Punishment, Explosives) in dealing with one- and two-drops, so you will likely still do a bit of damage with your guys. As long as Nacatl gets a single hit in, it’s better than Lava Spike would have been, costing them a card and some mana to deal with it. Vortex and Molten Rain are golden, keeping them off their strong late game. Since Molten Rain has been gone from the metagame this whole season, some Golgari Rot Farms have even been spotted in Cloud. Molten Rain one of those early and you probably can’t lose.

+1 Sulfuric Vortex
-1 Seal of Fire

Blood Moon is usually not good enough here, so just stick with the maindeck. You are already pretty well set up at dealing with Death Cloud (the deck, not the card, which is generally too slow).

Here you are still pretty even. The life loss from your fetches is mostly offset by Lightning Helix, especially if you are good at not playing any duals untapped. Tarmogoyf is awesome, since it provides quite a fast clock, as does Nacatl. Molten Rain can be pretty good at hitting their manlands, and you have less Sulfuric Vortexes in your deck gives you less dead draws. If you don’t draw any Tarmogoyfs, this could get ugly for you, since then you are pretty evenly matched except you have a more painful manabase, but Goyf should speed you up enough to make up for that.

+3 Umezawa’s Jitte (unless you know they have Smash to Smithereens in their deck post board, so maybe take out the Jittes once they see them)
-2 Sulfuric Vortex, —1 Molten Rain

You don’t have a great sideboard here, but neither do they most of the time.

All-In Red
You are pretty vulnerable to a turn 1 huge guy, but so is everyone. If you have a chance to play some ground dudes, often Deus of Calamity won’t even be able to break through, and you have enough burn to kill Demigod. Seal of Fire helps greatly, since turn 1 Seal lets you Incinerate, Helix, or Seal Demigod on turn 2 to kill it. Play around Moon by fetching the Forest, and this matchup should be pretty easy.

+3 Umezawa’s Jitte
-2 Sulfuric Vortex, —1 Mogg Fanatic

I like Molten Rain against them, because once you deal with the first large threat, you want to cut off their ability to run out a second one. In particular, the second Demigod is almost always game.

I am not going to go so far as to say that I personally like this deck, in the sense that beatdowns aren’t exactly my thing. I think the deck is definitely good, and I really don’t see a reason to play Mono Red Burn over it besides cost. It is true that this deck is significantly more expensive to assemble, which I don’t think is an insignificant reason. I like that Burn is a very viable deck that also costs less than 30 or so dollars to make, but for those interested in upgrading, the RGW version is the way to go. I know as a control player, I would rather face the Mono Red version every time, so take that for what it’s worth.

Wish me luck in LA!