Sometimes you die a glorious death with your sword held high. Sometimes you’re just target practice.
I have greatly appreciated the feedback on my recent work, be it critical, positive, or in varying amounts of each. When all is said and done, I am still a Magic neophyte with much to learn. In this, your comments help me improve both as player and a writer. For that I say thank you to everyone.
This weekend past, I competed in Grand Prix Melbourne, Australia’s largest ever Grand Prix, with 902 competitors. While I only very rarely play paper Magic, this was such a big opportunity that I had to take part.
Before the Event
Due to my work schedule and other commitments, I normally work alone when deckbuilding. I’ve always found it easier this way, gaining most of my practice through Magic Online Daily Events during my downtime. However, I wanted to do as well as possible at the Grand Prix (for obvious reasons), so I made an effort to reach out to other respected red mages for some much-appreciated assistance. Josh Silvestri, Keith Ambrose, Collin Schwartz, Matt Lazenby, and the red mage god himself, Patrick Sullivan, each answered my call for help.
In the month leading up to Grand Prix Melbourne, we worked on improving the Boros Burn deck that had been seeing fringe play online up to that point. We were interested in the deck for several reasons, and surprisingly, the biggest among them was not the two new powerhouse cards from Born of the Gods. Why then? Well, we felt that Burn would be very well-positioned in a field that was meant to be dominated by GR Monsters, our decidedly worst matchup. Sounds crazy, right? Perhaps, but all successful red mages are at least a little crazy, if not outright insane. Our logic was that the other main decks in the format, Esper Control and Mono-Black, both of which are excellent matchups, would configure themselves to beat GR Monsters for us, pummeling the monstrous menace in early rounds. It turns out we were right, and I faced GR Monsters only once, and Esper and Mono-Black a staggering ten times!
After extensive testing and discussion, this is what we finally settled on, following a final message from Patrick on the morning of the tournament:
Boros Burn by James Fazzolari, 23rd place at Grand Prix Melbourne
[ccDeck]4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Chained to the Rocks
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
4 Searing Blood
3 Warleader’s Helix
1 Boros Guildgate
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Chained to the Rocks
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Satyr Firedancer
3 Spark Trooper
3 Viashino Firstblade[/ccDeck]
Three players used the exact deck list that I posted two weeks ago. Combined, we went 43-17 (71%) at the Grand Prix, where the most popular deck in the field was our worst matchup. I am extremely happy with that result.
Thoughts after the Event
By now, many of you will know that I started the tournament with a perfect Day One record of 9-0, only to come up short on Day Two and finish 11-4. Unfortunately, a game down but in a winning position in game two of my round 10 feature match, I received a game loss for incorrectly shuffling my deck in a way that could have given me an advantage. Rather than give my account of these events, Mackenzie Stratford, the judge who issued me the loss, has been kind enough to comment on the situation:
“I was the table judge for the video feature match during round ten of Grand Prix Melbourne. A few turns into game two, I noticed that some of James’ cards were orientated differently to others in his deck. At this stage I paused the game to have a quick look at his deck, and there were seven cards upside down, four Firedrinker Satyr, and three Viashino Firstblade. I quickly brought this to the attention to the Head Judge, Level 4, Chris Richter. Chris and I had a chat with James about the upside down cards, and it turned out that he had shuffled these cards into his sideboard the incorrect way. Unfortunately for him, his sleeves were not fully opaque, so we could see the orientation of the top card of the library at any given time.
The head judge and I don’t believe that James had done this intentionally, or was cheating in any way. However, due to the potential for advantage to be gained, the penalty associated with a marked cards infraction with a pattern in the cards that are marked, is a game loss. As James was a game down in the match, this penalty ended the match.”
-Mackenzie Stratford, Sydney L2
After the game loss (again, which resulted in me losing the match) live on stream at the start of Day Two and following an undefeated run the prior day, I was heartbroken. I very rarely play live, and honestly, I’ve only now begun to realize how ignorant I am of the subtleties and nuances of offline play. To give an example, my round one opponent helped talk me through shuffling a sleeved deck, something I had never done before. Frustration over the game loss affected me throughout the day, and I quickly fell to 9-3. Most of my opponents were extremely understanding and supportive, trying their best to give me the time to get my head back into the game. One opponent even took me to a local cafe for a coffee after our match. Subsequently I was able to somewhat right the ship and win enough games for a respectable finish, but it really stung to be a single win outside of the Top 8. It’s going to take some time to shake that one off. Still, I cannot speak highly enough of the players and judges at the event and I still look forward to playing live again.
I have decided not to write a round-by-round tournament report for the event. In the 15 rounds that I played, I faced Esper Control a whopping eight times and Mono-Black twice. While some interesting things happened and there were some challenging moments, many of the games can be summed up with, “opponent gets desperate and taps out for arbitrary creature or Sphinx’s Revelation and dies,” or, “beat opponent to death with Mutavault(s), while holding up Skullcrack.”
Since these matches mostly play out the same way, it’s easier for me to give observations on the matchups in a broader sense. Explaining which cards I played and why, combined with my notes on sideboarding and the intricacies of key matchups, seems a more effective use of all of our time, so let’s go with that, shall we?
I feel that most of the deck doesn’t require explanation; indeed, the little explanation needed has already been covered in my last article. However, as the day progressed and my deck began to get attention, there were understandably a lot of questions about certain cards and specific matchups. I want to address them here as best I can.
Is Ash Zealot Even Playable?
The short answer is yes, very. The longer answer is that right now, the card is very well-positioned. Against the three-color control decks, which often require a few turns before obtaining a functional mana base, a turn two [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd] can be anywhere from 4 to 8 points of damage. If she can get in more than twice, or if your opponent has to answer her at sorcery speed (with [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd]) then the game is likely just over. Away from control matches, Ash Zealot plays well on defense against small creature decks, and the threat of first strike damage plus removal makes her effectively unblockable against midrange creature decks. In Burn, you basically need to deal 3 damage per card to have a reasonable chance of winning and Ash Zealot was consistently dealing at least 4 damage.
How Good Was Searing Blood?
Probably the best card in my deck all weekend, despite the preponderance of control decks. That is just how powerful the card is: it’s worth running four despite being nearly dead against one of the most popular decks at any given event. Not only is it completely backbreaking against Mono-Black, but you can still make it work against control when they land an Elspeth or enter “desperate Mutavault mode”; though, you will absolutely want to side out some copies afterwards. Against any creature deck, multiples are basically unbeatable. I would continue to play four in the main, even if it does mean giving up a few points against control.
What’s the Deal with Viashino Firstblade?
I really enjoyed the attention and interest that this card generated. Many players watching my games wanted to pick it up and re-examine the text box (including both Marshall Sutcliffe and Randy Beuhler!) and decide for themselves whether it was good for me and my deck. Honestly, the card overperformed and was easily the best card in my sideboard all weekend (though admittedly, I faced a lot of control decks—then again, that’s why they were there.) Viashino Firstblade replaced [ccProd]Toil // Trouble[/ccProd], which I had run previously and without much success.
Essentially, if you resolve a Firstblade on turn three against Esper and it enters combat unmolested, the Firstblade will dominate the game. If your opponent wants to play [ccProd]Jace, Architect of Thought[/ccProd] and +1, then you ignore the planeswalker and keep swinging, effectively making the card read, “1RW: Target opponent loses 5 life and discards a card.” The best use for their Mister Beleren, generally, is to -2 him as much as possible him and get ahead on cards, as tapping out and spending four mana to gain 1 life a turn is awful against you. Having a 2/2 body in play prevents them taking that line unless they want to throw their Jace away while leaving themselves completely defenseless. After landing a cheap creature, you may proceed to play everything afterwards at instant speed, or, if your opponent needs to kill the Firstblade with a sorcery, resolve something else freely. I don’t see myself cutting this card.
OUT: 2 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd], 4 [ccProd]Searing Blood[/ccProd], 1 [ccProd]Shock[/ccProd]
IN: 4 [ccProd]Firedrinker Satyr[/ccProd], 3 [ccProd]Viashino Firstblade[/ccProd]
The key to this matchup is simple. The goal is to play as many spells at instant speed as possible, while storing [ccProd]Skullcrack[/ccProd] in hand. You whittle away your opponent’s life total slowly with Mutavault and haste creatures or end-of-turn burn, all while never allowing them to freely tap out. Eventually they will get desperate and have to make a move, and hopefully that is where you blow them out and end the game. If you have a choice between a turn one [ccProd]Firedrinker Satyr[/ccProd] or a turn two [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd], it is better to lead with the one-drop—Ash Zealot retains much more value as the game goes long. If your opponent is representing an obvious removal spell or a counterspell, just keep running [ccProd]Chandra’s Phoenix[/ccProd] into it to deplete their resources. I have had opponents [ccProd]Negate[/ccProd] a simple [ccProd]Shock[/ccProd] so that I would not revive two Phoenix(es?) from the graveyard.
Whatever the control player’s end game—be it [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Archangel of Thune[/ccProd]—you need to keep enough resources in hand that you’re threatening to burn them when they tap out, and still untap with enough spells to threaten lethal burn. If you can do this you actively blank their winning strategy. One last note is that if Esper and other three-color decks continue to increase in popularity (recent additions being BUG Superfriends or Jund Monsters) then I will want to find room in my sideboard for [ccProd]Burning Earth[/ccProd] again.
OUT: 4 [ccProd]Shock[/ccProd], 1 [ccProd]Magma Jet[/ccProd]
IN: 2 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd], 3 [ccProd]Viashino Firstblade[/ccProd]
In testing we found this matchup to be effectively a bye, and at Melbourne we had more or less the same experience, running 6-1 versus it. If they are on the Pack Rat plan, they play straight into your removal package. If your opponent opts for the control role, they become very weak to Chandra’s Phoenix. Nightveil Specter was previously a huge problem, but the addition of Searing Blood changes that entirely. They’re a slow deck that doesn’t present a quick clock and all of their relevant cards occur at sorcery speed, playing directly into your game plan. We still cannot decide whether we like the Satyr Firedancer plan against this deck – I found it to be very swingy, and opted to bring in Firstblades, which get through Specter, Gray Merchant and most Pack Rat board states. More testing will reveal the optimal strategy, though it may turn out not to matter.
OUT: 4 [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd], 4 [ccProd]Skullcrack[/ccProd]
IN: 2 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd], 3 [ccProd]Satyr Firedancer[/ccProd], 3 [ccProd]Spark Trooper[/ccProd]
Our strategy in the matchup was ultimately to disrupt their curve as much as possible while simultaneously racing. Sideboarding strategies that involved trying to actively control the board with cards like Boros Reckoner proved very ineffective during testing. Eventually the Monsters player will just go way over the top of any resistance you can muster, so it is imperative to present a real clock, quickly. Chained to the Rocks for tempo and Warleader’s Helix for the massive life swing are your best friends in this matchup. For the Grand Prix we tried to make Spark Trooper work and found reasonable success with him, but moving forward we want to explore other options. Firedancer is just absurd against this deck, letting you entwine your spells into direct damage at your opponent while concurrently removing their large creatures such as Polukranos and the otherwise Helix-proof Stormbreath Dragon.
Moving forward, I will be working with the same team to improve the Boros Burn archetype to the best of our ability. I enjoyed it so much that I want to play it throughout the rest of the season. With more time and input, I believe the deck can be even more substantially improved. My testing videos here on Channel Fireball seem to have been well-received, so if there is enough interest, I would love to record more (and with fewer mistakes next time, hopefully!)
I will also endeavor to play a bit more live Magic in preparation for events, to prevent such an embarrassing outcome in the future. Probably worth investing in some new sleeves, too! Maybe LSV would be kind enough to send me some CFB sleeves.
Before the conclusion of this article, I want to sincerely thank everyone who supported me before and during this event. From my testing group who put in so much work, my friends who came and supported me on the day of the Grand Prix, and my gracious opponents who tried so hard to help me get back on track, to you all I say thank you. What was most surprising to me was not how well I did in the event, but rather how many people approached me over the course of two days to ask me about the deck or talk to me about my articles. I do not consider myself a player of any renown, and I was incredibly honored to be told what an impact I had for some players. Those meetings have left me motivated to not only bounce back from this performance, but to try harder and do better in the future.
Until next time, take three on your end step. Untap, draw, take lethal.