R/W Burn In Standard

If burning people out at #SCGNJ appeals to you, join three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Patrick Sullivan as he takes a look at R/W Burn in Standard!

For as solved as Standard was before Born of the Gods, a lot of stuff was hanging around the edges. G/W Aggro, G/R Monsters, various red and green devotion strategies—these decks were regularly appearing in the elimination rounds of the SCG Open Series. A little bit further down the list was R/W Burn. My first exposure to it was at Grand Prix Albuquerque. I took a beatdown at the hands of Joe Demestrio on the first day and watched Brian Kibler get demolished by a different pilot with a similar looking list. Joe went on to finish in the Top 16 with the following:

This deck is kind of my language. Four Anger of the Gods alongside four copies of Chandra’s Phoenix is a capital offense against deckbuilding, but the concept is sweet. Against aggressive decks, you kill all their stuff and kill them with very durable threats. Against control decks, you nickel-and-dime them with burn spells and scry while invalidating large swaths of their cards. This is the theory at least. I built the deck on Magic Online, changed a couple of cards, and went about discovering for myself. I learned two lessons that informed nearly all the changes I made to the deck shortly thereafter.

1. The maindeck is incongruous.

Setting aside the Anger/Phoenix nombo, smaller inconsistencies exist throughout the list. Boros Charm (improperly suited for aggressive matchups) lives alongside Mizzium Mortars and Chained to the Rocks (improperly suited for creature-light matchups). I understand there’s some argument to assemble your deck this way when you have so much scry, but you still have random draws and a random opening seven. It was a challenge to put together a cohesive game plan with these disconnected tools against a large range of opponents.

2. Sphinx’s Revelation is impossible to beat.

Not just literally the card itself (although that card is impossible to beat), but any sort of U/W or Esper list. You simply have too many dead cards in your maindeck and nowhere near enough pressure points to challenge them. A huge portion of your draws can’t beat something like "a counter + drawing a Mortars or Chained," so making any concessions to this matchup game 1 (like Boros Charm) seemed like a giant waste of time.

This is what led to the following list: a desire to get the tools to line up the right way in game 1 and the feeling that the Revelation matchups were so challenging that the entire matchup should be addressed in the sideboard (to the extent that it could).  

While the core of the deck is the same, there are a couple of significant changes here. First of all, Boros Reckoner has moved to the maindeck. A lot of the changes I made to the deck involved making it more cohesive in game 1—"removal backed by pressure" makes a lot more sense than "removal backed up by burn spells," and the deck tries to play the first plan against most decks, at least game 1.

With only Chandra’s Phoenix and Stormbreath Dragon as threats, it was common to draw hands without a creature, and then you’re left spinning your wheels, trading one-for-one with your removal against opposing creatures. This is not a winning game plan, so Reckoner gives the deck an additional threat to supplement all the removal you play. Reckoner is also just a high-impact card in a lot of matchups, making moving it to the maindeck not much of an opportunity cost.

The other big adaptation is moving Boros Charm to the sideboard. Boros Charm is a very powerful card in the abstract, and most people don’t question it in the maindeck. However, Boros Charm is among the worst cards you can play in game 1 against any non-control deck, as you’re more focused on winning with removal and a big threat rather than burning people out.  This comes at a huge cost of winning your first game against control decks, but again I’ve reached the point where I feel like that’s no longer a battle worth fighting.

Your matchup against Sphinx’s Revelation decks is a struggle, as I’ve mentioned. Although you aren’t that bad against Mono-Black Devotion, the creatures are poorly suited against them. This is where the sideboard comes in. Against these sorts of decks, you can fully convert into a burn deck, which is the best axis to fight those decks on. You can usually cut the Reckoners, Phoenixes, and some mixture of removal (Chained to the Rocks, Shock, and Mizzium Mortars most commonly depending on the exact threat base) to bring in twelve to fifteen sideboard cards (I don’t like Assemble against U/W decks, though I know people who do).

On occasion, your opponent will actually be siding in some additional amount of creature removal, which is even better. Against many opponents, you will be presenting your same 60 for the sideboarded games, though Boros Charm often replaces Shock against bigger creature decks. This isn’t the best position, but your maindeck is about as well suited as it gets. Plus most opponents will have little of note for you.

It’s hard to generate a "how to" guide for playing this deck, as the specifics of your hand guide a lot on how you navigate games. In general, your goal is to land either Chandra or Stormbreath Dragon on a stable board, as you play with so much burn that it doesn’t take long for these cards to generate an overwhelming advantage. Unlike many decks that play Chandra (like G/R Monsters), in this deck Chandra’s ultimate reads "you win the game," so you want to be plusing it on most stable boards.

Be conscious of the specifics of your opponent’s deck—Master of Waves and Desecration Demon are tough to answer outside of Chained to the Rocks, so don’t throw around that card liberally if you don’t have to. Same with Mizzium Mortars against decks that might have Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Focus as much on mana efficiency as possible and be very conscious of the sequencing of your tapped lands. Again, we’re trying to set up clean boards for our power cards, so efficient play is the name of the game.

For a fringe oddball deck, there are a lot of variations on it and a surprising amount of content in Born of the Gods. Brad Nelson took his own variation of the archetype to Nashville last weekend.

Brad’s build of the deck has a very solid game 1 against control decks (with Young Pyromancer, Skullcrack, and Boros Charm and no creature removal main) while trying to cheat the creature matchups with Satyr Firedancer, a new potential hit from Born of the Gods. I’m more intrigued by Firedancer’s Modern potential, but Brad is pushing the limits on how good this card can be in Standard. I’m sure that it’s insane against the appropriate decks when it goes uncontested, but Brad is paying some big structural costs in games where he doesn’t have Firedancer or it gets killed. Still, if you want to play a version of this deck with a better game against control decks, Brad’s build is where I would start.

Brad’s build also has a couple of new cards I plan on incorporating into my own build. Scry is quite powerful in a deck like this where you’re very sensitive to your spell/land ratio, so Temple of Malice will probably be added in some number. I nearly played Temple of Abandon in my deck, and Temple of Malice enables the Toil half of Toil // Trouble, which is a nice bonus when it comes up.

Searing Blood is about as well suited to this sort of strategy as a card can be and can replace Shock altogether assuming Mono-Red Aggro, W/R Aggro, and similar decks are on the wane. Incremental damage is so powerful in a deck looking to control the game for some amount of time and then quickly switch gears to end the game quickly. Searing Blood fits right into that sort of strategy, and there’s no end of heavily played targets in Standard, especially as long as Mutavault is a fixture of the format.

A couple of other cards in Born of the Gods are great potential additions. Fated Conflagration answers Polukranos, World Eater and Advent of the Wurm, the latter being among the worst cards you can play against. Flame-Wreathed Phoenix is great to fight G/R Monsters and can act as a supplemental Stormbreath Dragon in a lot of places. Oracle of Bones (which appears in Brad’s sideboard) seems really well suited to pair with Toil // Trouble or Warleader’s Helix. And you have enough black mana through your scry lands to support Mogis, God of Slaughter against opponents who are weak to Gods.

For such an odd duck, R/W Burn has a lot of different ways it can be built, and Born of the Gods offers a lot of potential routes as well. My list and Brad’s list are about as far apart as two decks can be, yet we’re trying to capitalize on a lot of the same incentives. Most builds of this deck are going to struggle against specific opponents (Revelation in my case; I would be willing to bet aggressive creature decks in Brad’s), but early on in the season when the field should be fairly diverse, a lot of opponents won’t be prepared for the type of fight that you bring to the table.

I wouldn’t have minded playing my list against the field that showed up in Nashville (or at least the Top 16 decks), and if New Jersey is anything similar, I believe R/W Burn has the potential to be a powerful, unorthodox, and  fun option, at least early on in the new Standard season.