School is starting, the leaves are changing colors, and Notre Dame almost loses its home opener to a team that lost to Cal Poly the week before. That can only mean one thing: that it’s fall and the Extended season is on the horizon.
More than I can ever remember, I think that this season the established powerhouses are far and away the best on the block. This means that people who know these decks inside and out are going to have a leg up on the competition come Pro Tour: Berlin and the start of the season.
But some of you out there aren’t grizzled veterans, grinding it out at every PTQ and PE that comes your way. Perhaps you’re new to the game, or maybe you’ve only just decided to become more competitive with Magic. What are you to do? I’m here to help catch you up.
To my mind, there are a few decks that separate themselves from the rest of the pack when it comes to being the class of the format. One of decks that I and my playtest group identified early is the burn deck, which rose to popularity during the middle of last season. For reference, here is a list from last Extended season that took third place at a PTQ.
- 3 Flames of the Blood Hand
- 4 Incinerate
- 4 Lava Spike
- 4 Magma Jet
- 4 Shrapnel Blast
- 4 Rift Bolt
- 4 Shard Volley
The idea behind the burn deck is similar to that of the Storm deck, except that instead of trying to play ten spells in one turn you are trying to play six spells over the course of a game, utilizing all of the ways it can muster to try to deal as much damage as possible. Sacrificing artifacts or lands, dealing damage to yourself, whatever. Anything to take the opponent down from twenty to zero.
Another strength of the burn deck is its near invulnerability to creature removal. The creatures in the burn deck have either leaves-play abilities or ways to make themselves useful in the face of removal to the point that Extended all-stars like Wrath of God and Smother are nigh useless.
The following is a fairly comprehensive list of cards I expect to see play in burn decks over the course of the season, and my opinions on whether or not they should be included in your strategy.
Three damage for one mana. Clean, simple, no-frills burn. A perfect fit for this deck. This is almost certainly a four-of in every burn deck. Cannot hit creatures, but rarely do you have to hit a critter to get the job done. Particularly good against Zoo and other decks that rely on the Fetch-Shock manabase.
More no-frills one-mana-for-three-damage burn, but with a few more options. The ability to suspend it most of the time and to hard-cast it when the situation calls for is solid. Another good option. Particularly good versus Doran, which has many scary one-drops and two-drops the burn deck is afraid of.
While it doesn’t follow the three-for-one rule I have set forth and furthermore is a creature and not a spell (gasp!), Mogg Fanatic fills a few important roles. Suppose your opponent plays a Birds of Paradise. Almost certainly the next turn that player will follow it up with a Doran unless you waste a burn spell on it. Why spend so much mana for a burn spell that can do 2-5 damage when you can just as easily sack your Goblin? Mogg Fanatic does a lot of the dirty work. While not a major source of damage, it can still have a big impact on the game. Particularly good against Zoo, Affinity, and Doran.
Yes, Spark Elemental is three damage for one mana, but I personally don’t like it. There are too many liabilities involved, not the least of which is aforementioned Mogg Fanatic. Cards like Doran and Silver Knight also put a hamper on Sparky. Particularly good against decks like Tron, who don’t have early answers to little fast dudes.
In the long and illustrious tradition of “As an additional cost to play this spell, sacrifice something” spells like Reckless Abandon And Shrapnel Blast, Shard Volley certainly fits the bill as a solid performer. With the low land count, I personally wouldn’t max out to a play set, but a few wouldn’t be a poor decision. Particularly good against decks that run Molten Rain or Boom/Bust for sacrificing in response.
Speak of the devil. Two mana for five damage is a lot, a full quarter of the starting life total. This is the quintessential burn spell for the burn deck.
While not the most efficient burn spell on the block, the ability to take out troublesome creatures on a whim and its all around flexibility makes it a good choice. Particularly good against Zoo.
Not that long ago, people were questioning whether to have Incinerate or Magma Jet as the final piece to the burn deck puzzle. There were good arguments to be made on both sides, but in the end most decided that Magma Jet was better in spite of the fact that Incinerate dealt more damage. The ability to set up future draws with gas instead of unusable lands or what have you was invaluable.
I personally love Keldon Marauders in this deck. While a lot of the time it will get killed or chump blocked, it still is a force to be reckoned with. And sometimes it lives the dream as a Lava Axe. Particularly good against Tron and control decks.
Sudden Shock has fallen a bit out of favor with the absence of Psychatog in the format, but being able to Suddenly Shock something like a Sakura-Tribe Elder, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails or pretty much anything else can be a nice tool to have in your arsenal.
I believe that no burn deck should be without Flames of the Blood Hand, particularly now that Kitchen Finks is joining the fray alongside Primal Command, Loxodon Hierarch, and Renewed Faith. Life gain is not highly touted as a solid strategy, but it can spell the end of a burn player’s day if not handled correctly. Flames does that perfectly. Particularly good against Death Cloud and Doran.
While taking two damage can lose you the mirror, the fact that Char can randomly kill an annoying dude like Hierarch means that it will be in burn decks for a long time.
We haven’t seen Flame Javelin in Extended yet, and I am curious to see how it handles. The amount of colorless lands in the deck leads me to believe that Flame Javelin might sit on the sidelines, but it’s worth testing. Watch out for Gaddock Teeg.
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The perfect card for the mirror match, but not as versatile as the previous three options. Will likely be relegated to watching from home.
I saw a lot of these in burn decks getting maindecked by the end of the season with the growing popularity of Ravenous Baloth and the Death Cloud decks. I suspect that trend to continue.
A quick note before I get into lands: I didn’t include any four-drops because I don’t want any in the deck, regardless of how good they are. I honestly can’t see getting up to four lands reliably enough for them to matter, particularly when I am sacrificing them to my Shard Volleys and Shrapnel Blasts.
I am playing Mountains in my burn deck. Is that okay with all of you? I briefly thought about running a Snow manabase for Skred out of the board, but that seems subpar to me, and unnecessary.
Taps for Red mana and is an artifact for our Shrapnel Blast needs. It goes in.
This card is the unsung hero of the deck. The single most important thing about Blinkmoth? It chump blocks. No joke. I have saved many a game by blocking with Nexus and then, after damage goes on the stack, sacrificing it to a Shard Volley or a Shrapnel Blast. Oh yeah, did I mention that it becomes an artifact too?
I am unsure about this card. Sure, it’s another artifact for Shrapnel Blast and it doesn’t get destroyed by random artifact destroyers, but the fact that it’s another source of colorless mana scares me.
I have yet to test Mutavault in this deck, but I imagine it’s slightly above average, meaning not quite good enough. The fact that Blinkmoth Nexi can pump it is hilarious.
Of course, sideboards are metagame based, so instead of choosing what I would use I’ll let you just look on and see what there is to be offered.
One of the first places people go to when they think about the sideboard to this deck is Blood Moon style effects. I think this is wrong. Blood Moon shuts down your best burn spell, Shrapnel Blast, and more importantly all of the opponents you play will see it coming, meaning that they will have answers ready. Still, with the ability to shut down many of the best decks in the format, it’s worth taking a shot at.
Discussed earlier, but worth mentioning here. If you don’t have a few Sulfuric Vortex main deck then you could certainly do worse than having a few in the sideboard.
In the sideboard for the Zoo matchup, it can effectively shut down many strategies. Also, it’s another artifact to… well, you know. But Zoo is a good matchup anyway, so I don’t know if it’s really all that necessary.
A decent answer to Circle of Protection: Red or Story Circle.
A clean answer to Burrenton Forge-tender, Paladin en-Vec, Silver Knight or most any other idiot causing you trouble.
Anti-Dredge tech, if you still are afraid of that sort of thing.
Anti-Affinity, as that match up is a tough one. Wrathing their board on turn 3 (or Armageddoning it) is pretty solid.
Better against Tron than Shattering Spree, but worse against Affinity. It’s a toss-up.
That’s all I got for you this week. I hope you’ve learned a little something about the basics of the burn deck. Thanks for reading.
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