Welcome to the holiday edition of Deep Analysis.
Since we have dropped into the arctic cold this December, I thought I’d try to warm things up a bit.
My first rare card that I’ve ever pulled was Hammer of Bogardan.
This card did two things I loved: recursion and damage.
Sample burn list from my youth (Type 1.5, know known as Legacy):
Red decks come in a variety of flavors (Burn, Sligh, Ponza, Red Deck Wins, Goblins, Big Red). I did an article earlier this year on Skred, a variant of the Big Red. Today’s article will be a bit faster and a bit hotter.
Inside the Fire
Burn, or direct damage, spells have been around since Alpha Lightning Bolt. This set the bar very high for future spells.
There have been other 1 mana 3 damage cards printed since Alpha, but design realized that they needed to not be as efficient. First, they tried Chain Lightning, which might have a drawback, but anyone who plays Legacy Burn will tell you that is no drawback. Eventually in Ice Age, they printed Incinerate, a 2 mana instant that deals 3 and prevents creature regeneration. That became the standard we see today. They eventually scaled back the damage a one mana spell could do without a drawback when they printed Shock in Stronghold. Some of the 1 mana burn spells with a drawback that see play today also include Rift Bolt (which actually costs 2R or a R and 1 turn) and Lava Spike which only hits players.
The 2 mana burn spells bring more cards that deal 3 damage to the table. Some of the more important of these Searing Blaze and Searing Blood. Both of these cards gets to do multiple things: kill creatures and damages players if that creature dies. Modern and Legacy burn decks run some number of one of these to keep the board clear and the damage flowing. In Legacy, the card that keeps rampant mana bases in check is a two mana burn spell from Exodus, Price of Progress. Price of Progress does 2 damage for each nonbasic land a player controls which can add up to a huge amount of damage in Legacy. The other major 2 cost red mana only burn spell that tends to see play is Skullcrack.
Two cards which need an additional color to play are Atarka’s Command and Lightning Helix. Both of these cards are quite effective in Modern burn strategies for different reasons. Lightning Helix lets you swing life totals as you’ll either hit your opponent for 3 and gain 3 life or you will remove a creature from the table and gain 3 life. This makes racing other decks much easier. Atarka’s Command is multiple modes but the ones that get usually used are deal 3 damage to each opponent, creatures your control gain +1/+1 and reach until end of turn, and/or your opponent’s can’t gain life this turn. This one is worth its wait in gold in burn decks sporting more creatures.
There are also some important 4 damage spells that have been printed and that are important for you to know about: Flame Rift, Fireblast, and Boros Charm. Flame Rift has seen some play in Legacy Burn, but it hits all players for 4 damage so you have to play it with caution. Boros Charm has several modes but the one you are using is the ‘4 to the dome’ one. Fireblast is red’s out of nowhere damage spell. While the casting cost reads 4RR, it is usually cast through the alternative text of ‘sacrificing 2 mountains’.
Not All About the Fire
Not everything in Burn decks are straight spells. Many burn decks pack some recursive damage, usually in the form of creatures. Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Grim Lavamancer are usual suspects in Mono Red. Goblin Guide is the most effective 1 drop in Red ever. Eidolon provides a clock in multiple ways via its 2/2 body and the additional damage it deals when a player casts a spell of converted mana cost 3 or less. Grim Lavamancer allows you to remove cards in your graveyard to deal damage to creatures or players. Typically this used to deal with creatures after you’ve used your sac lands and burn on your opponent’s face. Other builds also include Wild Nacatl, Monastery Swiftspear, or Bedlem Reveler. Wild Nacatl tends to only see play in one of the Modern lists that utilizes green and white, typically known as Naya Burn, because of he gets to be a 3/3 in that deck. Swiftspear and Reveler also hit hard due to their Prowess keyword and Reveler even lets you draw 3 cards to help refuel an empty hand.
Another card that can be included in these lists for legacy is Sulfuric Vortex. The Vortex puts a clock on your opponent as well as keeps them from gaining life.
From 20 to 0 in 7 cards or less
With life totals starting at 20, it takes seven 3 damage spells to finish your opponent (assuming no life gain) or two 4 damage spells and four 3 damage spells. With that being said, there are times that you will be under so much pressure that you will have to point some burn at creatures. If you can wait it out and find a Searing Blaze or Searing Blood to deal with the problem and still keep clocking your opponent, the better your chances of getting a win will be.
Taking a Mulligan
The one thing that is especially difficult with this deck is taking a mulligan. Usually, you can get away with a 6 card hand but taking a mulligan below this is extremely dangerous. I have rarely seen a red mage win with a 5 card starting hand.
Playing to Your Outs
Though I recommend this in all matches, this is certainly true with Burn. Pointing burn at a creature instead of going upstairs with it could be the difference between winning and losing.
I’ve watched a lot of players on camera play Burn decks before but few have been as good as Patrick Sullivan. This match below is one that I watch for training. He plays it in a way that if an opponent makes a certain sequence of plays, he wins. I highly recommend watching this match (this is Legacy Burn BTW):
Allow the Flame to Grow
Burn, while being a very linear deck, is quite fun to play.
This deck style will continue to be around as long as Magic is played.