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Playing with Fire – Boros Burn Updates and Analysis

“’Casually making money in another tournament with Burn. So, in short, nothing has changed.’
Word count 14. Submit for editing and publishing.”

-Tim Hughes

Hello everyone. This week I am going to heed the comments and publish an updated list from my latest Top 8, accompanied by card analysis and some sideboarding advice. While these aren’t my favourite articles to write (I like the more theoretical ones the most), enough time has passed since my last list update, there has been enough demand, and there are so many changes that I actually have something interesting to say.

On RWb Burn and Grand Prix Beijing

The big breakout event for Boros Burn recently was Grand Prix Beijing, which saw three pilots make the Top 8 with variants. While two lists were derivations of lists I had posted in articles here at ChannelFireball (so thanks for reading guys), Sherwin Pu finished second with an innovative RWb variant. Here is his list:

Sherwin Pu’s Rwb Burn, 2nd at Grand Prix Beijing

First up, well done to Sherwin on his excellent result. There is quite a lot going on in his deck list. My findings after a week of testing were:

• I did not like that there were so few creatures in the deck. While there had been growing dissatisfaction in my testing group regarding Ash Zealot (more on this later), the games that you win easily are those where you have a repetitive source of damage. Ash Zealot performs very well against Esper, fine against Mono-Black on the play, and does underperform elsewhere, but cutting them entirely makes the deck even more reliant on its draws than it had been previously. Maindeck Toil // Trouble was an excellent choice for the GP Beijing metagame which was heavy on Esper Control and Mono-Black, but feels really bad when you are facing down a Master of Waves or a Polukranos.

Toil // Trouble makes the deck much less interactive than the tempo oriented approach that I prefer—although this removes the fundamental tension in making decisions in the deck: “do I burn them or their creatures?” as, in this variant, you almost always go upstairs. After playing with the deck for a week, I grew to hate the lack of interactivity. I felt the list robbed me of the opportunity to outplay my opponent and leverage play skill against them. It felt too much like I was just trying to goldfish every game and I have no interest in playing an aggro deck that plays like that.

• The mana base was not good. While I don’t know how well Sherwin faired in Burn mirrors at the Grand Prix, after the Dies to Removal guys tested the deck, we felt the list was pretty weak in the Burn semi-mirror because of how awkward making your land drops will be. You can’t afford to shock yourself to bring lands in untapped because you’ll hand your opponent free wins, which nullifies any advantage that Toil // Trouble may offer. There is also one untapped turn 1 red source too few for the 1-drop plan out of the sideboard to be consistent against control. Additionally, the deck only has ten white sources, which is too few for sideboard plans against Monsters which involve bringing in more Chained to the Rocks and Blind Obedience. These problems possibly could be rectified through some tinkering with the mana base.

• The Satyr Firedancers in the sideboard substantially overpeformed whenever I brought them in, which was a welcome surprise. I have commented in the past that I never liked how my sideboard plans with Firedancer involved reducing the number spells that interacted favorably with them. In this list, you are taking out Toil // Trouble against creature decks where it is more important to interact with the board, which keeps your burn count very high. I am not sure if that is sufficient compensation for how weak this list’s game 1 is against aggro decks, however.

So after a week of testing, I ended up dismissing this variant for personal use. I do strongly recommend it to anyone who is entering an event where the field will be overwhelmingly Esper Control or Mono-Black, but if your local metagame is different or you play online, this deck will not treat you well.

Young Pyromancer: Fine in Legacy, Great in Vintage, Overpowered in Standard

So, I didn’t have a list that I liked, but I had two events coming up over consecutive weekends—not a great place to be. Since winning the Grand Prix Trial for Nagoya, I had grown unhappy with my list. While the core of it was performing well, Boros Burn became well known and games were becoming harder as players were more prepared for my tricks. In particular, Ash Zealot and Searing Blood were getting weaker and weaker, in large part due to Mono-Black returning to maindeck Nightveil Specter, which both cards can be awkward against (although, not when you have both of course) and a resurgence of Mono-Blue Devotion (players had figured out that splashing white was not good).

At the Grand Prix Trial, I had sideboarded in my three copies of Young Pyromancer every round, so my team decided to try it in the main deck. I didn’t have time to test before the first event, but made the Top 8 on only a few hours sleep, so we were obviously on to something. I’ve played hundreds of matches with Young Pyromancer since the card was printed last year and I feel confident when I say that it is very likely the best card in the format not seeing heavy play. The best explanation I can offer is that Young Pyromancer is similar in power level to Master of Waves, at the discounted price of two mana.

Young Pyromancer is weaker against Esper Control when compared to Ash Zealot, with haste being so relevant against removal. Still, Young Pyromancer is an extremely consistent turn 2 play, while Ash Zealot is a mostly consistent turn 2 play, so the gap closes a bit when that is considered. If you can ever untap with Young Pyromancer though, the card is much more powerful. Both creatures deal 2 damage a turn, but Young Pyromancer has the potential to deal more. They are both similarly fine against Jace, Architect of Thought, each being reduced to dealing only 1 damage a turn, but Young Pyromancer has more upside when they don’t have Jace and has an incredibly powerful interaction with Boros Charm against Supreme Verdict. It is easy to forget, but even a single Elemental token will deal a quite a bit of damage if ignored.

Against other decks, Mono-Black Control, Mono-Blue Devotion, or aggro decks without much removal, Young Pyromancer is pretty much busted. These archetypes really, really struggle against Elemental tokens. Mono-Black has no good removal options against an active Young Pyromancer. Hero’s Downfall is clunky and mana inefficient, Devour Flesh will only get a token, and Bile Blight only answers half of the threat. Young Pyromancer embarrasses Master of Waves and provides a very quick clock, allowing you to tempo out your Mono-Blue opponent. Ash Zealot was always so bad against decks that could easily block it while racing your burn spells (primarily Mono-Blue and Monsters), whereas Young Pyromancer is an all-star, playing both offense and defense well. Young Pyromancer naturally leads to longer, more interactive games with more complex decision trees for both players, which I feel gives the better player an advantage and more opportunity to find an edge in close matchups.

After another week of testing, we arrived at the following list (heavily tuned for my local metagame and not for online play mind you), which I played at the Melbourne Games Laboratory $1K Standard Open (the store will now be running these regularly, so if you’re in the area make the journey, these events are easily the best-run independent events around) :

Zemanjaski’s Boros Burn at the Melbourne Games Laboratory $1K Standard Open, Top 8

You can watch my deck tech at the event here:

The deck played incredibly well all day, with my only match loss coming after two double mulligans. C’est la vie. While there have only been small changes through every iteration of the deck, there was a request from r/Spikes that I explain my approach to metagame tuning, so I will provide a brief overview of the conversations we had in our testing group about card numbers.

3 Mutavault in the main deck, 1 in the sideboard. I have been advocating running only three Mutavault for a while now, but there is still a healthy amount of skepticism about the decision. Boros Burn is an extremely mana hungry deck, with a lot of heavy colored mana requirements, and while this particular variant has the lightest requirements of any variation I have played, I value consistency and being able to cast my spells more highly than abstract power level—so while running three Mutavaults is less powerful than four Mutavaults, being able to cast all of your cards on time is more powerful again. In testing, we kept finding that the fourth Mutavault in the sideboard is for matchups where hitting your fourth land drop is especially important—mostly Esper Control and Mono-Black—as being able to advance your game plan while sitting on Skullcrack is the easiest route to victory against these decks, and cutting a Shock for a Mutavault is not a hard upgrade to evaluate.

4 Temple of Triumph, 1 Temple of Malice, 1 Temple of Silence. I know that many readers will be puzzled by how much time I devote in every article and video to discussing lands, but I truly believe that the heart of every successful aggro deck is a functional and effective mana base. This current configuration is my favorite and was inspired by Ariel Nagy’s list from the Top 16 of Grand Prix Buenos Aires. The scry lands are extremely powerful in this archetype, as drawing the right mix of lands and spells—and in the right order—is hugely impactful on how games develop. Besides, the archetype doesn’t mind comes into play tapped lands that much, as you can easily sequence your lines around them, and more scry effects increase deck consistency. While there is an argument for cutting the Boros Guildgates for even more scry lands, this mix is more appealing for the higher overall number of useful colored sources.

3 Chained to the Rocks, 4 Shock, 2 Searing Blood. These are the cards that change in value the most depending on trends in your metagame, since they are either terrific or terrible, depending on what you are expecting to face.

Chained to the Rocks is one of the most powerful cards in Standard, and perhaps the best reason to be in Boros colors. I must strongly disagree with any of the writers who are advocating shaving the number of Chained. While the card does do nothing against Esper Control (which, even with three Chained in the main deck, is still your best matchup) it is outstanding in every other matchup. A timely Chained is back-breaking against Monsters, Mono-Black, or Mono-Blue, and fine against any small creature deck, and against these decks, you want to see at least one every game, hence three copies in the main deck.

Shock has gone up in value substantially with the inclusion of Young Pyromancer, as it is the card that provides the most synergy at the cheapest price. I was expecting more Esper Control at the top tables for this event, so I cut a Searing Blood for a Shock, since it is better in that matchup, while still being OK if only slightly underpowered against any other deck (unless you have a Young Pyromancer or Chandra’s Phoenix around). I was very happy with this number throughout the event. If you are expecting more decks like Mono-Red Aggro or Golgari Dredge, then there is an argument for more copies of Searing Blood, since the damage is a lot like card advantage in those matchups, but nonetheless, interacting for half the mana cost is very compelling as well.

In an environment with more creature decks, I would want more maindeck copies of each of these spells as they are so potent. To make space, I would instead sideboard Skullcrack, your weakest maindeck card against creatures.

Turning to the sideboard, we have:

2 Assemble the Legion, 2 Chandra, Pyromaster. This is your dedicated anti-Mono-Black Control package, although Chandra is useful against other archetypes (Esper and small aggro specifically). Post-Grand Prix Beijing, the anti-Burn tech du jour is Staff of the Death Magus, which is very effective against a Burn deck that is only designed to deal 20 damage and win quickly, but has proven very worthless against a Burn deck able to play a long game. Basically, Watanabe’s strategy was to cut the awkward cards against Burn (Hero’s Downfall and Underworld Connections) for cheap interaction (Duress and removal) and life gain (Staff of the Death Magus). This plan is incredibly effective as they strip away your high impact cards (Skullcrack, Warleader’s Helix, and Chained to the Rocks), gain some life, stall and eventually draw into their high quality cards that you now cannot race (primarily Desecration Demon).

The best way that my play testing group has found to win against this game plan is to play cards that generate card advantage and ways to find them after your hand is ravaged by discard. Assemble the Legion and Chandra are the best two options. Mono-Black cannot beat Assemble unless they are enormously ahead on board, and while Chandra is easier for them to deal with, she comes down earlier and if they cannot pressure her, will provide overwhelming card advantage.

4 Mizzium Mortars. Long-time readers and viewers of my content will have seen a lot of different anti-creature deck technology in my sideboards (we all fondly remember Spark Trooper). The long and winding path of extensive testing has finally revealed to me that the correct choice is at least three Mizzium Mortars. Mortars is the greatest of all worlds—cheap interaction early when you need that (and it kills the most problematic creatures in Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Courser of Kruphix, Frostburn Weird, and Nightveil Specter), synergy with Young Pyromancer (but not Satyr Firedancer, which is the weaker alternative; relying on assembling Boros Charm and Satyr Firedancer to kill relevant x/4s seems silly when you cast just cast Mortars) and if and when games go long (as they often will when you are becoming a much more controlling deck post-sideboard against other aggro decks) an inevitable win condition. The other alternatives are more powerful, but more expensive and thus much less consistent. Finally, Mortars can be a very strong tempo card and that is how I like to play, so the choice was easy.

2 Wear // Tear. These are the most flexible slots in the current 75, so I went with the most flexible options. Wear // Tear is less powerful than Glare of Heresy, Blind Obedience, Peak Eruption (this card is very fun, even if it is a little bit loose) or some other zany option (I have seen a few particularly hopeful red mages sideboard Wild Ricochet for the mirror!), but it hits a lot of matchups and there has definitely been an increase in the number of Golgari Dredge and Hexproof decks in my local area, so Wear // Tear hits both those decks extremely hard while maintaining flexibility against the field. Replace them with whatever you deem most appropriate for your local environment—except Burning Earth, which is terrible in this archetype and isn’t actually good against Esper Control (I suspect most people suggesting it really haven’t tested much or at all).

As always, your sideboard should be heavily tuned toward what you expect to face. If you are new to the deck or new to metagaming, post your questions in the comments and I will try my best to provide advice (but please do not ask for a specific sideboarding guide, that’s not how I approach sideboarding).

Seeing the future through the ashes of our foes

This will very likely be my last bit of content before Journey to Nyx is released. With that in mind, thank you to everyone that contributed to the Boros Burn archetype this season, and to everyone who commented on and watched my work—it was a lot of fun being part of this experience and community effort. Perhaps the archetype will still be viable next season too—I certainly hope so!

You can look forward to seeing my Journey into Nyx Red Mage Review in a few weeks and I want to do some more work with the r/Spikes community as well. Good luck to everyone at the prereleases and at any other events you have coming up. To everyone who celebrates, have a happy and safe Easter period.

Remember, immolation is the sincerest form of flattery.

– Zemanjaski.

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