My name is Lee Marino. I’m a red mage hailing from Denver, Colorado. A few weeks ago, I burned down the World Magic Cup Qualifier in Lincoln, Nebraska, playing one of my favorite decks: Burn. After work on Saturday, local heroes Brandon Nelson, Nick Connell, Eric Weeden, and I all piled into Eric’s car and started the 7-hour trek to Nebraska, a trip that included highlights like the “who has more cows on their side of the car” game that I wisely did not participate in.
We expected the metagame to be mostly Jund/UWR, with some Infect and Affinity thrown in. We also knew some Death’s Shadow Zoo would be represented at this tournament as well. The car contained great guys and some great friends, and we all had the common goal of bringing this invite home to Colorado. We slept in a halfway decent hotel, and after a halfway decent breakfast, we were at the WMCQ.
Why Play Burn?
Burn’s Position in the Current Metagame
Burn has very few bad matchups right now, as there is nothing really degenerate going on. There are no Birthing Pods, Eldrazi, Cruises, Blooms, Twins, or other cards that once made Burn a poor proposition. Jund, UWR Nahiri, and other slower midrange decks make easy prey. The unbanning of Wild Nacatl gives another aggressive creature that is great against Leyline, most sweepers, and is green to combat red-based hate. Not to mention that almost all decks in Modern play fetchlands/shocklands, which gives you a free Bolt per game.
Increasing Power Level
Back in my day, I was playing cards like Keldon Marauders and Hellspark Elemental! The burn deck has slowly made its way to the top tier by steadily gaining power cards one set at time. Gone are the days of clunkers Flame Javelin and Flames of the Blood Hand, introducing new power cards Atarka’s Command, Boros Charm, Swiftspear, and Eidolon! These cards are considerably stronger than the ones of yesteryear. They offer the deck more punishing starts, faster goldfish kills, and increased consistency. If you haven’t respected this deck in the past, it’s time to start because it’s the real deal.
Free Win Potential
I have played a lot of Jund in Modern, slowly grinding my opponents out by gaining incremental advantage over several turns. Sure, it feels satisfying to win those super interactive games, but why play fair in an unfair format? Hands where you’re on the play with 2 lands, 1-2 dudes, and 3-4 spells generally means your opponent is dead. No painstaking grindfest required! Free wins are available in Magic, and you should take them. Free wins also set you up in a better tournament position by keeping you fresher in between rounds. You’ll have plenty of time to grab food, get fresh air, use the restroom, catch Pokemon, etc.—the choice is yours!
The main deck is identical to Brandon Burton’s list on Magic Online (a.k.a. Sandydogmtg). He’s one of the best red mages around, so using one of his lists as a starting point is never going to steer you wrong. This is his main deck from a recent online PTQ, which is perfect. I made one change to the sideboard—I added a second Deflecting Palm instead of the 4th Path to Exile.
4 Wild Nacatl: You should probably play Nacatl on turn 1 if you can. Note that if you Atarka’s Command that it gets out of Bolt range—sometimes it’s better to mind-game your opponent if they have mana open.
4 Goblin Guide: Second choice on turn 1 to Nacatl in most situations, it’s still extremely powerful on the play. One thing of note: If your opponent shocks themselves and leaves up an obvious Bolt, don’t just send the poor guy into it, giving up a free land. Treat him right.
4 Monastery Swiftspear: Good to haste in on a turn when you’re casting some spells. Not as good as the others on turn 1 but still a fine play. Don’t try to get too cute holding spells to pump her—it’s wrong most of the time.
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel: Eidolon can be very punishing on turn 2 if your opponent is wasting time casting something like Serum Visions. Never miss your triggers and sometimes it’s best to fire another spell in response when they go to Bolt it to cut off something like Snare or Remand.
1 Grim Lavamancer: Not great in multiples, but a great grind card, and great against most of the creature matchups, Affinity and Infect especially. If you’re up against a slow deck, try to get your value out of him as soon as you can before he gets blasted.
Rift Bolt: Generally speaking, Rift Bolt is your worst spell. I only run 3 in my list—normally it’s correct to suspend it as early as possible after your creatures so it doesn’t get caught in your hand or on suspend to allow your opponent another untap or draw step.
Atarka’s Command: This is a great card because it gives you protection from incidental life gain, but also can be super punishing if you have a couple creatures and your opponent blanks on removal. Against something that doesn’t interact with your board very well, this card can be a real knockout punch, dealing a huge chunk of damage for just 1 card.
4 Searing Blaze: Don’t leave home without these! Some Burn lists will try to steer you wrong and play less than a set. I’d play 5 if I could! These are extremely important against other aggro matchups like Zoo, Affinity, Infect, and Merfolk. You deal yourself a fair amount of damage, so this is one of the best ways to break serve on the draw, or put the final nail in the coffin on the play.
4 Boros Charm: Don’t forget the other modes on the card—the double strike can be used to fight Leyline, and the indestructible can be used to save your Eidolon or other guys in combat. 4 to the face is pretty good too.
3 Kor Firewalker: This is good enough to run just to beat the other burn decks. It’s also a great side in against Bushwhacker Zoo.
2 Skullcrack: This gives you access to 6 of this effect post-board against decks bringing in life gain against you. It’s also not a terrible replacement for some Nacatls on the draw against UWR and Jund when they just kill all your guys.
3 Destructive Revelry: Self explanatory—just don’t bring it in cold without a good reason.
2 Lightning Helix: This is good against aggro decks and Burn. It also lets you side out all the Searing Blazes against noncreature matchups. Sometimes on the draw against Jund it’s better to side out some Nacatl because these are harder to interact with than your guys.
3 Path to Exile: Clears ‘Goyfs, Master of Waves, Kalitas, Kitchen Finks, and other tough customers. Don’t forget to side it in to answer Kor Firewalker in the mirror. This also gives you a cheap removal spell against Death Shadows and infect guys.
At the WMCQ, it’s crazy to think I started with a round 1 loss and then won the next 10 straight matches to win the tournament. Most of my matchups felt pretty good, the easy ones being Tron, Scapeshift, Grixis Control, and Jund, with closer ones being Bushwhacker Zoo, Infect, Dredge and UWR. Overall the deck felt great and I didn’t face a ton of hate in the tournament—most of the time, the only thing that counted was how many dedicated sideboard slots each deck had against you. If you are looking for a great deck for the upcoming PPTQ, give Burn a shot. It’s great! Burn will always be good in Modern as long as fetchlands/shocklands make up most mana bases.
It was awesome to have some great friends with me when I cast the last Bolt because the win was an emotional one. I am beyond stoked to represent team USA this year! Also, shout-outs to local grinders Brandon, Eric, and Nick for making up the winning car and being great dudes, and the Denver Magic scene for being awesome. I’ll see everyone in Rotterdam!