This weekend, I packed my bags and headed for greener pastures in Oklahoma City. My preparation for Modern included a number of decks, but as there were only a few days before the event, I had narrowed my choices down to Abzan Company and a U/W variant (either straight U/W or Jeskai). As I started to favor a Hallowed Fountain deck, I scoured online reports and lists to get an idea of which flex slots people were playing and which sideboard cards were most popular.
The thing that stood out to me the most in this search was that some lists had no realistic shot at beating a Burn deck. I played a number of Modern tournaments and GPs by this point, and I had not faced Burn, when I usually face two copies per event. Having these auto-losses concerned me. With a single copy of Timely Reinforcements and no Kitchen Finks or Leyline of Sanctity to be found, this matchup did not seem winnable.
I searched other lists to see how strong this trend was, and it was consistent. Leyline decks were barely a part of the format. Even Company decks that could infinite combo with Kitchen Finks were often not playing the card. The matchups you least wanted to face while playing Burn weren’t major players in the format, and the closer matchups were consistently cutting the good cards! Removal spells went from cheap answers to Roasts and Dismembers to fight Gurmag Anglers and Eldrazi, and I saw many lists for black decks that just had 0 copies of Collective Brutality in the entire 75!
As I read through reports on Modern, the same trend continued. Corey Burkhart noted how terribly his Grixis deck performed versus Burn. Sam Black, while calling Lantern the best thing since sliced bread, noted that his version was even weaker to Burn and that was a poor matchup. Good Shadow players have always noted that the Burn matchup was favorable for them, but if they cut too much that could change, and I felt that Burn wasn’t just favored but heavily favored against inexperienced Shadow players.
So that was it. I sleeved up Burn for the GP. I think it was one of the best deck decisions I’ve ever made for a tournament, although the result didn’t reflect that. I got paired versus great matchups all weekend and only felt that an opponent could have been favored against me in a single match. I played far from optimally, fetching when I shouldn’t have and I didn’t always know what my cards did, but the deck was great. I bricked off in a few key spots, but 11-4 and 35th place was a solid result. My list wasn’t anything extraordinary, but I’ll break it down quickly.
Having a 1-drop in your opening hand is valuable as these repeated sources of damage add up. There are plenty of 1-mana ways to kill a creature in the format, but Path to Exile isn’t a favorable one and they often have to take damage from a shock or make their mana worse by getting a basic to use Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push. Goblin Guide is the best turn-1 play since it’s the most damage, but Monastery Swiftspear will often be better every turn after. I was happy to have 2 Grim Lavamancer in my deck as it’s a powerhouse against the many creature matchups in the format such as the mirror, Affinity, Elves, Company, and Humans.
Eidolon of the Great Revel might be the best card in the entire deck, but that advantage is compounded when you’re on the play. On the draw, it will come out against aggressive strategies as you’re too far behind to play a 2/2 on turn 2 where they’re already ahead and you need to cast more spells than them. This card locks Storm-style decks out of the game.
Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike are your cheap burn spells that let you efficiently trade mana and cards for damage. Rift Bolt is in many ways the weakest card in the deck, as being forced to suspend is a big drawback and 3 mana is a lot to spend to actually cast it. If you’re unsure what to cut, it’s usually Rift Bolt.
Searing Blaze is either the card you most want to see or the worst draw in the deck depending on the matchup. Against decks without small creatures, it’s the first cut, and if you don’t have a land drop to make, it’s incredibly weak. When you’re killing something and they take 3, there is nothing more powerful. I played 3 copies of Searing Blood in the sideboard as this effect is unbelievable in creature matchups, and if those are popular in your area, play the 4th.
Lightning Helix gives you some ability to race. At 2 mana it’s still efficient enough that the effect is worth the playset. Boros Charm can deal the most damage, and trading a single card for 4 damage is well above the curve.
Skullcrack is the only spell in the deck that gets less than 4 main deck slots, but that could easily change based on the metagame. This is your way of turning off something like Etched Champion by stopping damage from being prevented when it blocks (you still can’t block it or target it with red spells even after Skullcrack), and it makes cards like Finks and Thragtusk much less problematic. It also only deals 3 damage and has no other modes with no ability to kill a creature, so it’s your weakest card in a number of matchups. Having more copies in the sideboard is great, and I would love a 4th there, but I felt it was most important to have haymakers in the sideboard since this was a GP and I wanted to be able to capitalize most on skill advantage and lose to as few hosers as possible.
It’s for that reason I ran the full playset of Destructive Revelry. This is your answer to Leyline while also being incredible against Affinity and Lantern. This is your only realistic way to beat Bogles, and you probably still need to get pretty lucky, but at least you’re not drawing dead.
Access to Rest in Peace is great, and it’s very possible you want a 3rd copy in some metagames. The issue is that it’s a spell that doesn’t impact the board or deal any damage, so overloading on them can be problematic. Shutting down delve creatures, Tarmogoyfs, Snapcasters, and Dredge decks are all fantastic, so it just depends where you want to give up your equity.
All in all, I was thrilled I chose to play Burn at this GP and felt it was the perfect choice to attack this specific metagame. There’s no doubt that Burn is a powerful deck, but it can be beaten pretty easily if people are prepared for it. While the metagame remains relatively unprepared, it can be the best choice in Modern.