Breaking Burning-Tree Emissary

After playing Standard off and on over the past few months, it looks like there are two very powerful things you want to be doing. Casting [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] or casting [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. Both of these cards cause huge swings in the game. Not to throw hate on all the reanimate players out there, but [card]Thragtusk[/card]s for days is just not my cup of tea. When playing with and against the reanimate decks, it always feels like they are a step behind. While they are probably a tier 1 deck, it’s just not something I want to spend time on.

So that leaves us with Sphinx’s Revelation and Burning-Tree Emissary. I worked with Ben Lundquist on his Esper deck that he Top 8’d the SCG Invitational with, and while that deck is very good, it just isn’t that much fun to play 20-turn games where you mill them out.

On the other hand, there is [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. He ends games fast and is pretty fun to play with. When playing Naya Blitz you get to appreciate just how good that guy is. [card]Experiment One[/card] into [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] feels pretty dirty. Being a filthmonger myself, this is something I could get down with. So now that there is a starting point, what is the best possible way to break this card?

It seems like the power resides in playing as many things as possible with it. When you draw 2 of them and chain them into a [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card] you really appreciate how good it is to play multiple creatures in one turn. So with that in mind, you want to have as many powerful green and red one-drops as you can. Then you get to play two creatures off of your Emissary. This lets you jump so far ahead on the board that it’s very hard for your opponent to keep up. Plenty of games have been won doing just this, while racing past opposing [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s, [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]s, and [card]Thragtusk[/card]s.

Here is the list that puts these ideas into action:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Burning Tree Emissary
4 Experiment One
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
4 Dryad Militant
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Vexing Devil
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rancor
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
8 Mountain
6 Forest
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Skullcrack
2 Volcanic Strength
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Threaten[/deck]

The idea with this deck is to play a creature on turn one and attack for 2 on turn two. Any hand with a first turn [card]Experiment One[/card] is pretty insane. Aside from Burning-Tree Emissary, he is your best card.

[card]Vexing Devil[/card] does a lot of work in this deck. Normally I dislike cards like this that give your opponent a choice, but to have another 1-drop to play off of your [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] and to pump up your [card]Experiment One[/card] to a 4/4 is very valuable. [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] and the [card]Rancor[/card] are in there to punch through [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] and other creatures. [card]Rancor[/card] in particular is your best card vs. Jund and Reanimator as it lets your underclassed creatures attack over and over again.

The weakest card is probably the [card]Lightning Mauler[/card]. He gets sided out regularly and is especially bad on the draw. However, what he does works so well with the deck that he made the cut. Having more haste creatures is also very important against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. Still, I could see cutting the Lightning Maulers for some [card]Stromkirk Nobles[/card]. They are exceptionally good vs. Naya Humans which is your worst matchup, and they give you another 1-drop so that you can potentially play two creatures with Burning-Tree Emissary. Unfortunately, they are bad vs. [card]Azorius Charm[/card] decks, so in the end it is probably a metagame call.

There were a few sideboard plans I considered that could possibly be better. I tried to add 2 [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] and 4 [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] to the sideboard for control decks. It was fine, but since their late game is better than yours, it looks like you just want to stay as fast as possible and not try to fight them on that level. Also, against other creature decks there was a sideboard plan of Huntmasters and Thundermaws to just go bigger. But, again, against these decks they tend to have a better late game, so fighting them on this level does not seem ideal. Removal with a streamlined and fast build seems like a much better strategy. If any deck ever stumbles on their curve or land drops, you just run over them. Right now, the only true bad matchup for this deck is Naya Blitz. Their combination of [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] and [card]Experiment One[/card] result in them having fast creatures to keep up with your early game, as well growing bigger to outclass you in the late game once the board stalls.

Here are some game plans vs. the various decks:

Esper Control

Against them you want to just go all-in. Their mana is shaky enough that a turn 4 [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is not a sure thing even if they have it. If they ever stumble on land drops, it’s game. [card]Vexing Devil[/card] is an all-star here as he turns into an efficient, 4-damage burn spell for one red mana. In this matchup, you want to hold back whenever you can afford to. Some hands you will have enough pressure and they will be so far behind that their only out is [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] so you can hold a couple guys back. For the majority of games, however, you just want to overload them.

Their two paths to victory are to 1-for-1 you and resolve a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] to pull ahead or to [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] you and then trade 1-for-1 with the few threats that remain. When you go all-in against them, it takes away the former option.

The sideboard plan is:

On the Draw

-2 [card]Rancor[/card], -2 [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card]
+4 [card]Skullcrack[/card]

On the Play

-2 [card]Rancor[/card], -2 [card]Lightning Mauler[/card]
+4 [card]Skullcrack[/card]

[card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] is just too slow on the draw when you have to push past [card]Augur of Bolas[/card]. On the play you need the haste creatures a little bit less, so taking out a couple Maulers is better. It’s possible that you want to take out 1 Mauler and 1 Rampager. In both scenarios, Rancor is too much of a liability as it leads to blowouts by [card]Azorius Charm[/card].

Naya Humans/Blitz

In this matchup, their combination of [card]Experiment One[/card] and [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] lets them run away with games. Since we do not play any burn, it is hard to race them once their guys get going. Mayor is also a big problem, since it helps their guys outclass yours.

+4 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], +3 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card].
-4 [card]Vexing Devil[/card], -3 [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]

If you can keep their Champions and Experiments off the table you are in pretty good shape. If they are bringing in [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], you want to board out the 4th Cackler and a [card]Dryad Militant[/card] for 2 [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]. They only play 8 Mountains, so they aren’t an always-add, but they do give you a real way to punch past a Reckoner in a stalled board state.

Naya Midrange

+2 [card]Threaten[/card], +2 [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]
-4 [card]Lightning Mauler [/card]

If they are bringing in [card]Centaur Healer[/card] you want to board out your [card]Vexing Devil[/card]s. So in that case, you want -4 Vexing Devil for +3 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and +1 [card]Skullcrack[/card] in addition to the changes above.

RG Aggro

Against this deck, you want your removal to stop their early guys. You have to keep an eye out for [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] from them as that is their best path to victory. If you can [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] up a 3/3 they will have to double up on burn spells to kill your guy, which most of the time they don’t have in hand.

+4 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], +3 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], +2 [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]
-4 [card]Vexing Devil[/card], -4 [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], -1 [card]Rancor[/card]

You should just be faster than them in this matchup and your creatures are slightly better. [card]Experiment One[/card] becomes a real problem for them if left unchecked.

RG Midrange

This deck probably runs [card]Domri Rade[/card] and some [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s. I like to refer to it as the Kibler special. Against this deck, you are really fast and want to keep that pressure with “finisher”-type spells after sideboard in the form of [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] and [card]Threaten[/card].

+2 [card]Threaten[/card], +2 [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]
-4 [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]

It is possible that [card]Rancor[/card] is bad in this matchup as you always want to play a creature on turn 1, but it seems very valuable in upgrading your cheap beaters to punch through and hold their own in Domri fights. They will probably bring in plenty of removal and [card]Thragtusk[/card]s, so play around [card]Searing Spear[/card] with your [card]Rancor[/card] and [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]. Since they only have Thragtusk you do not want [card]Skullcrack[/card], in fact it probably still isn’t good enough if they have [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] too. Their combination of cheap removal, Domri, and life gain creatures is pretty hard to fight if they want to devote the slots to that. On the upside there aren’t a lot of decks that those cards are good against, so it is very unlikely you face all that.

Junk Reanimator

This deck really has a hard time keeping up with you. When they use their turns to [card]Mulch[/card] or [card]Grisly Salvage[/card], that is the window you need to jump ahead in board position. The fact that they have to devote the early game into setting up their game plan, while not developing the board, really plays into your strategy. Their best draws against you are one-drop mana guy into [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] or [card]Centaur Healer[/card] into [card]Thragtusk[/card].

[card]Hellrider[/card] makes it possible for you to even beat those draws. Admittedly, if they have [card]Centaur Healers[/card] the matchup gets worse, but with the format shifting away from beatdown and more toward midrange that seems unlikely. Smiter being a 4/4 is possibly just better against the slightly slower beatdown decks, as it provides a way to hold off an army of [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]s and [card]Dreg Mangler[/card]s. Against you, that just isn’t enough, because you jump out to such an early start by almost always playing a 2-power guy on turn 1. [card]Dryad Militant[/card] is also randomly relevant in this matchup. We play him just as a [card]Savannah Lions[/card], but in this matchup his ability has real value.

+2 [card]Threaten[/card], +2 [card]Skullcrack[/card]
-4 [card]Lightning Mauler[/card]


Against Jund control you want to keep your deck as streamlined as possible. Their deck of Huntmasters, Thragtusks, and cheap removal is rough for you. Your best chance is to make your deck as fast as possible and hope they stumble, which is not that unlikely. Because of their removal the only card I want to board out is Rancor.

+2 [card]Skullcrack[/card]
-2 [card]Rancor[/card]

This is not very exciting, but at least it can give you a little reach. If they don’t have a turn 1 play and have to [card]Farseek[/card] on turn 2, sometimes that is slow enough to let you steal the game. It also looks like Jund decks are slowing down to make themselves stronger against the mirror, this plays right into your hands. If this trend continues, the matchup could easily become favorable.

Against the aggro version you want to be bringing in +3 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and a [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] for the 4 [card]Lightning Mauler[/card]s.


In this matchup, you need to keep your deck as streamlined as possible as well. The plan is to jump so far ahead in board position that [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] is not enough to save them. I have beaten multiple Boros Reckoners in the same game by just pumping up [card]Experiment One[/card] and getting a juicy [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. Your Rancors are exceptionally bad here, so I board them out for 2 Skullcrack.

+2 [card]Skullcrack[/card]
-2 [card]Rancor[/card]

Dragon’s Maze doesn’t really affect the deck. Since we are such a streamlined beatdown deck, we only want 1- or 2-cost creatures to speed the game up. [card]Hellrider[/card] is very hard to compete with in a deck that features this many creatures, so your expensive cards are pretty locked in. [card]Pyrewild Shaman[/card] is cute, but since we want to end the game so quickly it is unlikely we can ever return him. [card]Skylasher[/card] is interesting but may not do enough for 2 mana. Blue decks seem to be on the decline, so the majority of his abilities are irrelevant, and he is fighting [card]Lightning Mauler[/card] for his spot which is already used to fight against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. On the upside, when a new set comes out, players tend to try to do too much and slow their decks down as a result. So the way is clear to apply some beatdowns.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Herberholz


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