Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply-entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples means that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Burn.
What Burn Does
Burn isn’t the most powerful deck by any stretch of the imagination, but it plays an important role in Legacy for a simple reason—it’s cheap. In a format overrun with expensive lands like Volcanic Island and Underground Sea, it’s possible to play Burn with nothing other than basic Mountains. For this reason, Burn is a common entry point for new Legacy players, purely due to the relatively low price tag of this deck.
But this comes at a cost. Burn isn’t favored in many matchups (although things are much better than they used to be with Deathrite Shaman banned), and can’t really hope to keep up with some of the powerful and degenerate things other Legacy decks are capable of.
Nonetheless, it is a streamlined and proactive deck with a clear game plan—you show your opponent pictures of fire until they decide to stop playing Magic. In this way, it’s more or less identical to Burn in Modern, although Legacy Burn gains access to some incredibly potent cards such as Chain Lightning, Sulfuric Vortex, Price of Progress, and Fireblast.
While Burn can sometimes play a more controlling role by pointing its spells at creatures to manage the board, it usually wants to simply get an opponent from 20 to 0 at top speed, and can do that at an alarming pace. Generally speaking, there’s not much nuance to the deck, and should you be paired against it it’s as simple as trying to keep your life total as high as possible for as long as possible.
4 Bloodstained Mire 4 Wooded Foothills 11 Mountain 2 Sulfuric Vortex 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel 4 Goblin Guide 4 Monastery Swiftspear 4 Chain Lightning 2 Exquisite Firecraft 4 Fireblast 4 Lava Spike 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Price of Progress 4 Rift Bolt 2 Skewer the Critics Sideboard 2 Ashen Rider 2 Exquisite Firecraft 2 Grafdigger's Cage 2 Pyrostatic Pillar 3 Smash to Smithereens 2 Tormod's Crypt 2 Volcanic Fallout
Burn plays a suite of extremely aggressive creatures, very similar to the ones you’d see in Modern. Monastery Swiftspear rewards you for unloading sorcery-speed burn spells like Chain Lightning and Lava Spike, Goblin Guide can be a useful source of information, and Eidolon of the Great Revel is your best option against fast combo, as most of them aren’t able to go off through it.
One important aspect of Burn is its consistency. Every single nonland card in the deck is there to do a minimum of 3 damage to an opponent (and usually more), and so unlike something like Sneak and Show it doesn’t need to draw particular cards in order to win. So long as it doesn’t flood out, Burn has unmatched redundancy and is very rarely unable to follow through on its game plan.
Additionally, Burn has powerful “finishers” that will end games out of nowhere. Fireblast costing 0 mana can often win games a turn early, and as such is a tremendously welcome source of extra pressure. Perhaps the most impactful card, however, is Price of Progress. Think of what Legacy mana bases look like, and you’ll understand just how much of a monster Price of Progress can be. Nice thousand-dollar mana base there buddy—now take 8!
Conversely, Burn’s mana base is both cheap and excellent. As mentioned, it’s possible to simply play Mountains without giving up all that much—fetchlands are mostly there to fuel cards like Grim Lavamancer or Searing Blaze. Never having to worry about Wasteland, Back to Basics, Blood Moon, or even color-screw means that Burn is all the more likely to enact its game plan with characteristic consistency.
But it’s important to temper your expectations when it comes to Burn. The deck is over-represented in Legacy due to its price tag, and while it’s a great starting point, you shouldn’t reasonably expect to crush all your enemies and see them driven before you. The deck’s overall low power level is effortlessly outclassed by more or less every other established archetype.
While Burn can contest some opposing creatures, bigger threats like Gurmag Angler are a real problem and will end games in short order against Burn’s relatively puny creatures and 3 damage burn spells. Removing something like an Angler is almost always going to be a two-for-one against you, making it relatively straightforward for well-equipped opponents to stymie your game plan.
One of the biggest differences between Modern and Legacy when it comes to Burn decks is the fact that shocklands aren’t generally played in Legacy. While a Modern player might start the game at an effective 16 or 17 thanks to fetches and shocks, in Legacy the duals make for very painless mana bases and so Burn loses a little bit of equity there.
Additionally, Burn doesn’t mulligan well. It needs a critical mass of cards to push through enough damage in a timely fashion, and so mulligans (and discard effects like Hymn to Tourach) are especially punishing. Burn can also lose to itself in this way by drawing too many lands. You never really want to see more than three, and without cards like Brainstorm to filter away useless extra lands, drawing extra lands can be a real liability.
How to Beat Burn
As you might expect, the easiest way to beat an opposing Burn deck is with life gain. There’s not a huge amount of life gain in Legacy—the format tends to operate on a different axis—but if your deck has sources of incidental life gain then you’ll be well set-up against Burn. Cards such as Batterskull, Umezawa’s Jitte, Brightling, or Scavenging Ooze all do good work against Burn.
Hand disruption is extremely effective against Burn, which as mentioned relies on a critical mass of nonland cards that all effectively do the same thing. Even a Thoughtseize can gain you a fair bit of breathing room if it hits something like a Price of Progress, so don’t be afraid to leave them in post-board. The best options, however, are cards like Hymn to Tourach and Cabal Therapy. If you can snag a two-for-one against Burn, you set them back a surprisingly long way.
Other disruption can also help out enormously. Creature removal prevents their recursive sources of damage, which is extremely welcome, as something like Monastery Swiftspear will get in for 6 or 8 with relative ease. Be sure to have a plan against Eidolon of the Great Revel, even if it means sandbagging your Forces for it specifically, especially if you’re playing fast combo and can’t beat it otherwise.
Finally, despite their all-Mountain mana base being immune to Wasteland, the card still has an important application. In a pinch, you can Wasteland your own nonbasic in response to Price of Progress to “gain” an effective 4 life.