Life, Magic, And The Dreams We Pursue


Life, Magic, And The Dreams We Pursue

Hi, John here from reddeckwinning. It’s been over a year since myself or Davis wrote an article for the site and a lot has happened in that time. Some of you readers have probably been wondering why we’ve been absent and why the Podcast has faded.


Life is really the simple answer to that. For me, it was an easy split, not so much in the sense of wanting to abandon what we’ve created here and all the love and support our followers have given us, but because I needed a different path for a while. I don’t like to beat around the bush when I write, talk to people, or otherwise, so I try to give you the face value of where I’m at whenever I deliver content. There’s a lot of Magic articles out there with run of the mill decklists, and I’m still happy to incorporate that, but let’s be honest if you’re going to take the time to read an article, you want a connection with that author.

The change that came about was multi-fold. I had begun to go through a divorce, my new job at the time was fairly overwhelming and didn’t leave as much catch up time for Magic as I had previously, I was extremely overweight, unhealthy, and tired, and Magic tournaments were grinding me down to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it at all. This was on top of the fact that I had lost some of my closest family members a few years prior. Needless to say, that’s enough I think for most people, and it was enough for me. It was a clear sign that one thing had to happen.

I had to stop. Pump the brakes.

Those kind of things aren’t run of the mill, and while I’m generally a pretty resilient person, I finally hit my limit. I’m also a person that has suffered from clinically diagnosed depression in my life, and while I don’t ever talk about it much or use it as a crutch to make excuses, it certainly is a kind of pain that is real and simply renders the motivation to do things to a grinding halt. For me it was a problem I never thought I’d see recovery from, and was just something I had to deal with or manage.

Thankfully, something DID change, and it improved everything I just mentioned above. Since I was young I have always had a good knack for knowing who I want to be, and being willing to see that change in myself. This time when I had all those issues reach critical mass, I knew what had to be done AND was ready to execute it. I resolved to lose 70 pounds, change my eating, start exercising, and quit being that unhealthy Magic grinder that we’ve all seen plenty of. Part of being able to be good at anything in life revolves around being healthy, and I think a lot of us forget that when we get busy. Plus, having my doctor tell me that all my “levels” were getting bad was a nice kick in the pants too. Additionally, I was going to get off the grid.

I dug around online. Started looking into the canals of Reddit, travel blogger sites, etc to see what reached out at me that would get me away from everything. I found a few bloggers who had some inspiring journeys and a few of them had begun in Asia, which was appealing to me for a variety of reasons. First, I had been to Europe before, and while there’s so many different experiences there I wanted to immerse in a whole-heartedly different feel. Central and South America were options I was strongly considering, but the places I really wanted to go there were a bit more expensive and there was just something about the culture of Japan that really grabbed me. A friend of mine who had lived there for years clued me into how inexpensive it was to fly to Korea from there and how that was also worth doing, so I added that in too even though I knew it would be a monstrous task for one trip.

I put together various Google sheets, planned write-ups, preparations, shot immunizations, the whole nine yards. I went to the bank and got a small loan to combine with the small savings I had. Finally, I booked the plane tickets. Now it was official. I was going to see the other side of the world.

This might not be the answer for everyone, and in fact I think each person’s answer if they need one is different, but it was exactly what I needed. The perfect storm of events, timing, and planned thought. My work was flexible enough that I was able to make ends meet there despite the strain it would cause, but they kinda knew too that I was struggling and some of the things I was going through, plus we all look out for each other.

Burn deck in hand, bag packed to the gills, smile from ear to ear and a whole pile of nerves, I made the plunge last August. Getting off the plane was like walking onto a different planet. There was almost no English even at the airport (thankfully I had studied a little Japanese and had Google Translate), and it felt like being an Alien in a foreign land. It was unbelievable.


I won’t detail the whole trip, but I will talk about the biggest takeaway. One of my resolutions was that being a generally outgoing person and someone who enjoys socializing, I wanted to make sure I pushed myself to do that on this trip. I wasn’t going to “hide” in this new place, especially going by myself. Every single day and night on the trip, I got up early (8am – 10 am usually) and went to bed late. I checked local event apps whether it be Reddit, Facebook, Meetup, things I had come across in person, and I took gambles to try things. And it paid off, because every single day of my trip (17 days), I met new people, had some amazing experiences and stories, and I lived healthy not just in the diet / exercise sense of the word, but also in being who I was with no reservations. It unlocked a confidence and happiness that I had never felt before, and a realization that the key to overcoming pain and being happy (at least for me) was to both be comfortable with who I was around others and not letting life’s problems control life.

Sure there’s a ton of this kind of thing on the internet and that people claim but often most of us find we can’t apply to ourselves. I don’t blame anyone who reads this sort of thing and can’t buy into it. Had you showed me this at the start of 2017, I would have laughed and called it a pile of B.S. or something I could never see happening in my own life.

But it is my life, and it did happen, and now here we are. April 2018. I’ve lost 75 pounds. I exercise regularly and actually love doing it, don’t loathe it or think it’s something that’s too tough or time consuming for my day to day. I eat better, and know how to balance myself in that area (not fad dieting, just being smart about it). I feel happy and full of enjoyment every day, without fail. Not to say there can’t be negatives at time, this isn’t a fairytale after all, but fundamentally it all changed. And it’s almost a new surprise every day, but also just a renewed appreciation for how all the hard work was worth it. The early mornings and late nights working physically and mentally to stay determined and take risks, the mantra of “YOU DO YOU”. Had I known what I know now, I would have done it 10 years ago. But I don’t regret anything from the past because it’s part of the journey and what makes you who you are in life.

Lastly on the life note, the trip was just a jumping off point. It led to many more urges to travel and explore (was already an Anthony Bourdain fan and Magic grinder after all) and to give a better crack at something which has always meant a lot to me. . .

Magic And The Dreams We Pursue

As someone who’s played this game since I was 8 years old and essentially the beginning, and has been grinding qualifiers since I was 15, I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder of unfinished business. I haven’t made the Pro Tour. The Dream. What was I doing wrong. It was actually an easy answer, and still something even today I’m struggling with, but starting to do a little better at.

  • I don’t always play the best deck (I’m a diehard Red mage so. . . )
  • I don’t practice efficiently, enough, or with the right company as much as I should
  • I don’t play enough Grand Prixes

The best deck conundrum can be solved with the help of teammates or deck rentals, and while I could have switched to other decks for my recent run of GPs, I think the Red decks weren’t actually too bad of a choice. Mono Red in Standard has been a driving force this season, and while the numbers have dipped or risen at various times it did actually win the last GP I was at where I also played it. At the Modern GPs, Burn did well and most of the pilots were playing similar lists to me. I’m also a proponent that as long as your deck is Tier 1 or close to it in Modern, experience is so much stronger there than it is in a format like Standard.

Pros might hate the format, because of the coin flips at times or issues with how aggressive some of the decks that win tend to be, but let’s be honest it’s a wildly diverse format at every tournament you see, and there’s lots of dedicated pilots who consistently do well with their craft. I know Burn well, and that is one deck that I will rarely miss the stumbles I make with it, so it’s just up to me to play well.

The practice point is absolutely where I need to make more of a commitment. My recent GP run had a goal of making Top 8, not only to seal the ultimate goal of the Pro Tour, but also because it would mean a minimum of $1,500 which essentially pays for at least 3-4 of those trips. You have to “bet on yourself” sometimes if you’re going to go for the thing you care about the most. Did I get that goal, no, and does that sting financially along with mentally, absolutely, but it was also an experience of a lifetime just like my trip to Asia that I’ll never forget.

The one piece that I did add to my practice measures that helped a lot was to finally play MTGO more. It’s so important in today’s Magic world because not only is MTGO always ahead of the curve but it’s just a place of pure volume when it comes to Magic games. You can play so much more, mostly reasonable competition, and get a good familiarity with what you will see at a bigger event. I also got a ManaTraders account, which was clutch for being able to try a variety of options in a quick amount of time. For those not familiar, their site offers a subscription service for a monthly fee ($30 ish for entry level, and tiers going up beyond that). At the base level, you can afford to rent most Standard decks and some lower level Modern decks (aka Burn), and you get a set amount of “mana hours” to use them on MTGO.

So as long as you jam your league or two and then return the cards, you can check out a new deck after and fulfill your practice needs. Sure, even $30 isn’t cheap, but for short term gains of prepping for upcoming tournaments it beats the heck out of buying some of the decks outright on MTGO which to me is completely unreasonable especially on top of potential paper collections.

Despite playing more of it though, it still wasn’t enough. For me I do best at tournaments when I reach a certain climax of practice, when I finally feel “solved” with a deck or format. Some people are incredibly talented and smart (and often take this for granted) and can figure out these things in a week’s time or less. For me, like a lot of things in life, it takes more time. In reality, I should be making time every single night for one league. I should have a proxy set of decks for both formats and jam the tougher matchups once a night. I should be studying Dominaria for potential GP Dallas Limited coming up. And I should be reaching out to some of the insane available pros who I know in my city (top 25 ranked players like Matt Severa, Sam Black, and simply other fellow teammates who are PT staples).

But alas, life has balance. Workouts, girlfriends, family, friends, work, you know how it is. Still, at the end of the day, these are excuses to overcome, so we’ll see what the next six months has in store. We’ll see if that “knack for knowing who I want to be” kicks into overdrive.

Lastly on the practice note, as I mentioned going to Grand Prixes is hugely important. Knowing that my two byes were expiring in May was the last push I needed to take enjoying life for what it is but also refocus on my dream. A friend told me what I needed to hear back in late January, and it made me begin the run. She was accomplished in her life goal and in the midst of a big successful run herself, and she rightfully called out that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I needed to put myself into a position to win.

Between vacations and Grand Prixes, since that big trip I’ve gone to Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Houston, Memphis, Toronto, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Seattle, and little destinations in and around those places. In every spot, I’ve been determined, I’ve exercised, and I’ve taken in the city as well as the Magic tournament when there’s been both. I’ve treated them as a combination of life enrichment, learning lessons, and taking the mission seriously.

And while the dream isn’t finished yet nor has the cash reward been there, it’s not without it’s merit. To start 7-0 in Toronto and beat the #1 player in the world was incredible, to lock day 2 against a Gold Pro in Phoenix similarly so, especially because of deck design choices I made with that matchup in mind, and to lock two byes again until May of 2019 has been a sealant to knowing that it is important to keep chasing those passions.

The next step of course though. . .

Podcast, Reddeckwinning, Decks, and Conclusions

The Podcast does need to be revived. I know, we’ve promised you guys so much in this vein! But alas, once a week or our original bi-weekly shouldn’t be the crazy commitment we’ve made it out to be. People have expressed their support and fandom and we enjoy it just as much ourselves. Myself and Davis will talk and we’ll work it out, along with getting a basic Patreon template finalized. I’m setting a goal with this like I do with many things these days: May 1st. By May 1st, we will begin regular podding again. Give the people what they want. . . (P.S. – Davis doesn’t know this yet, but I know he’s always down to clown). And while this article has been centered around my previous year, he has plenty to share himself with his work at Pastimes, his move to Chicago proper, and his continued success on the PPTQ circuit. Plus you know that man goes hard when it comes to brewing, I can’t wait to see what crazy Red brew comes out of his madness.

The website? One article a month. It takes time and “Chi” to focus on this kind of writing for me, even if it’s just a decklist article. I can commit to one, also starting May. And if it ain’t me, it can be Davis, a guest mage, or a reader request. But we’ll get that piece rolling too.

Continuing along, where I’m at with Burn right now. I think it’s great, you should play it, it’s as well positioned as ever and the naysayers have no idea what they’re talking about. Sit me down across from anyone with this beast of a deck and I have a great shot to take it to the dome holmes. My current list were I to play a GP tomorrow:

Burn by John Galli

4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
4 Skullcrack
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Helix

2 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountains
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground

4 Destructive Revelry
2 Path to Exile
2 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Deflecting Palm
2 Searing Blood
2 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Quick Points – I like maindeck consistency, which this maindeck basically offers against an open field. In the sideboard I like having positioning against Bogles (Rev, Palm, Bridge), Hollow One (Path, Bridge, Palm, Blood, RIP, Cage), Eldrazi (Path, Bridge, Palm), and then just being honest against the other decks. Depending on meta changes, or if I feel like giving more allowance to the mirror, I’d add back in Kor Firewalker / reduce graveyard hate / Palms. I’m not doing that now because I think the rest of the players are not as big as the ones mentioned above. Humans is insanely tough, so feel free to add more Path/Blood/Forked Bolt to the mix as necessary (or something spicy).

I hope this article resonates with some. I hope it inspires others. I hope it turns off less. But in the end, I hope that each person who has a dream and a thought about how their life should be keeps pushing for that to be. Find your happiness wherever that may lie, and always pursue it.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

Red Deck Winning

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

If there’s one thing that’s resonated the most with me throughout my 22 off and on years of playing Magic, it’s that you have to put yourself in position to win.  Writing this blog and doing a Magic Podcast has been great, but it can be disheartening sometimes when the results don’t come with the effort.  Talking with a lot of high level players, I often hear the common phrase of “well the pros test more than we do” but at least for me I know that’s barely true.  I usually put in several hours a night of play or research, play in events almost every weekend, and have a team that is similarly minded.  I want to make the Pro Tour, and I know part of that is playing even when you don’t want to.

That to me is the biggest step towards trying to make it work.  I’ve felt like giving up the game many times, as the cost and time continually build up, but unless you put yourself in the event and put the time in everything else involved is a waste.

Thankfully this weekend I was rewarded for that effort.  I took Legacy Burn to a 12-3 finish good for 34th place out of 1600 (tie breakers with about 15 other people).  I made some decisions with my list based on testing that paid off handily, and was able to navigate some extremely challenging games from interactions that came about through that practice.

Here was the list that I played:

Burn – by John Galli, 34th GP Louisville (Visual View)

4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Price of Progress
4 Fireblast
2 Searing Blaze

3 Sulfuric Vortex

3 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
9 Mountain

4 Leyline of the Void
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Smash to Smithereens
2 Exquisite Firecraft
2 Searing Blaze
1 Pyrostatic Pillar

The most notable omission here is Monastery Swiftspear.  Current lists you’ll see online are about 50/50 on running him, and it was formerly in my list.  I still think the card is great, helping to race combo matchups and occasionally being quite large on turns where you’re able to “combo” off with burn spells.  But in testing in the current metagame, I often just wanted either less creatures or the ability to interact more with other creature decks.  Grim Lavamancer provides that ability as well as being a thorn in Miracles side when they can’t find a spot removal spell or a Terminus.  Starting a game with a turn 1 Lavamancer is often a nail in the coffin versus some decks like Elves, D&T, and occasionally Delver.  He also is a deterrent to the natural gameplan of those decks, forcing them to make time delay decisions that give you the critical window to burn them out.

Searing Blaze is another card that I ended up playing on the weekend for the same reasons.  It can be a liability against Miracles (sometimes), and non-creature combo, but matchups like Delver and Shardless are very close without it and you don’t have the digging power like they do to get out of difficult spots.

Sulfuric Vortex is a concession to Miracles, it’s the number one card they don’t want to see out of Burn and it’s one of the more difficult cards for them to both counter and remove since it has a three cmc.  Playing three means you can draw it fairly reliably and possibly multiples, but also not enough that you have two in your hand very often.  I boarded it out a lot on the weekend, but it’s still too powerful in my opinion to omit all-together as it’s repeatable damage and shuts down important cards like Jitte.  Usually against most creature decks without a Jitte you’ll just replace it post-board with better options.

The sideboard was where most of the work was put in.  My most common losses at local and bigger tournaments were to the unfair combo decks (Storm, Reanimator, Dredge, Belcher).  Sometimes as a Legacy Burn pilot you have to just ignore them, hoping you dodge and instead have an insanely good setup for the rest of the field.  But this isn’t good for a 15 round Grand Prix.  I knew I’d run into those matchups, and I knew that getting a good finish with Burn meant I couldn’t afford that loss when I might have another loss due to play mistakes or close games elsewhere.

I tested option after option here to find what worked best.  Mindbreak Trap is functional against Storm, Belcher, and to an extent Reanimator (unless they just Entomb > Reanimate), but it’s still conditional on your opponent’s play and not an answer for Dredge.  Furthermore, Storm players can Cabal Therapy it out of your hand and then go off, which is commonly what they’ll do if they expect or probe to see resistance.  Pyrostatic Pillar is good versus Storm and other important decks (Alluren, various creature decks or decks that are slower than you, etc), but Storm can Abrupt Decay it, Cabal Therapy it, it’s too slow for Belcher, and does nothing against the graveyard decks.  I included one in my board for its importance otherwise and because some of the pros were supposed to be on Alluren.

Faerie Macabre is fairly decent against all of these strategies except for Belcher, and is uncounterable (not to mention a surprise), but I really wanted something that could both solve the problem decks as well as slow them down if they have an answer.  With Macabre sometimes they can just rebuild depending on the deck, or you don’t get enough cards to stop them / finish them off with your burn.  Relic of Progenitus and Grafdigger’s Cage both have their applications as well as the former being a consideration against Tarmogoyf / Deathrite Shaman decks, but are usually too slow vs the actual broken combo turns.  When Reanimator puts an Iona or Griselbrand into play on turn 1, that Relic is looking real real bad.

This ultimately led to trying out Leyline of the Void.  The two big risks with it are that you could mulligan yourself out of a game in order to find one and that they could have an answer like Nature’s Claim or Reverent Silence to deal with it.  But it can be played immediately even when they’re on the play, it delays their gameplan, and it requires them to both have the specific answer card as well as the proper lands to play that answer.  And both of those particular answer cards net the Burn player life, which can be a problem for them when trying to close the door.

Ensnaring Bridge falls into this same axis of defense.  It’s a lynchpin to putting up a fight versus Show and Tell, Eldrazi, Merfolk, Tarmo-Delver decks, Reanimator, and anything else that wants to throw giant bodies at you.  It’s fairly easy for Burn to dump most of its hand by turn 3 or 4 if it wants to, and many decks post-board won’t have too much in the way of artifact destruction.  Sure there will be some Abrupt Decays and the like, but you often stretch that kind of removal thin.  And when the bridge lands they have to have the answer pretty quick before you draw into more lethal burn while their creatures do nothing.  I don’t bring it in versus decks with reach (UR Delver; Lightning Bolt), but otherwise it’s a powerful tool that many don’t even realize exists for Burn.

I felt like the current meta was a good time for Smash to Smithereens, and my teammates convinced me to play a third copy which was definitely the right call for Louisville.  Chalice of the Void is one of the toughest cards for Burn to deal with (although certainly not as game over as some think), so to have something capable of dealing with it and at a penalty to the opponent is big game.  It also doubles as another Searing Blaze effect in the D&T and Deathblade matchups where your opponent’s sole gameplan is trying to get a Jitte or Batterskull online versus you.  Shardless, MUD, Painter, and other archetypes also provide good targets, so the card ends up being quite useful depending on what’s popular.  Eldrazi was the biggest threat I was concerned with, where a chalice on 1 can let them end the game fast if you don’t have an answer the turn after they play it.

Team Mox Testing Tournament

On the Thursday before the Grand Prix, my team (Mox Mania ; Madison, WI) had organized a big Legacy tournament.  We normally have $5 weekly events at our shop, but we put the word out for this one to try and make it more legitimate practice.  We ended up with 32 people, and covered most of the major archetypes outside of Lands (no one on hand had a tabernacle 😛 ).  Between that tournament and the week prior I didn’t do very well, going 2-6.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have experience with the matchups or that I felt they were awful, but I was trying various cards out and our shop is competitive so it was just how the cookie crumbled.

Truthfully, I was pretty happy after the tournament.  It had been a learning experience.  I figured out that I was taking some poor lines in certain situations and that some board cards that I had been really attached to in the past weren’t working out properly.  Legacy is such an easy format to have your “pet deck” that you believe in so much and don’t want to change very often that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.  I noticed this the week prior in testing, and continually online leading up to Louisville.

I then used that information to improve.  This is easy to say and easy to read in an article, but I encourage anyone who plays competitively to keep reminding yourself of the importance of it.  It’s one of my biggest flaws as a Magic player at times.  We all think that we are good at this game and know what’s best, but listening to others, processing that information with your own views, and taking seen info and applying it to the future is critical to doing better.  It also didn’t hurt to play constantly leading up to the event as just having things be second nature in a complicated format is a tangible advantage.

The Grand Prix

Our crew left on Friday at 9am, two cars from Madison, one flying in from Seattle, and all total 10 people to arrive at a comfortable Air B&B townhouse in Louisville.  I had never used Air B&B before, and after this weekend I hope to use it everytime.  For $85 per person which covered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, we had a sweet two-story townhouse with full amenities and a 2 minute walk from the grocery store.  Nerding it up to the fullest was our game, board games and Magic till 2am was our shame.

7am the alarm goes off, my housemate and I start making some breakfast for the early risers.  I had two byes but I wake up early for work everyday so it was no sweat to chip in and start the morning with the usual rhythm.  Piles of eggs, sausage patties, granola, bananas, and coffee, everyone was going to have fuel for their best game at this tournament.

Round 1 & 2:  Bye.  That was easy.

Round 3:  BUG Delver

A forecast of the days to come vs Blue decks, where the play / draw is quite different.  On the play you get to lead with Grim Lavamancer or Goblin Guide blind versus everyone, while on the draw you’re usually hoping to have a Rift Bolt so you can play around Daze and deter them from dropping a Delver or Deathrite Shaman, letting you deploy your creatures on the 2nd turn.

Playing around counters is so important versus Delver.  It’s a constant stream of thought during every turn, making sure you keep in mind what each list usually has.  Daze, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, Force of Will.  Brainstorm / Ponder into these.  It’s just so easy for them, and so hard for you.  Oh, they got to Git Probe you and now know your lines?  Happy Day.  Too bad you’re still gonna suck down this Exquisite Firecraft at 4 life in game 3.


Round 4:  Dredge

I google my opponent as I walk to the table.  He has 5-6 quality finishes with Legacy Dredge, so I know it’s going to be an uphill battle.  Let’s hope this sideboard tech pays off.

Game 1 I keep a hand that would be loose versus just about anyone.  I don’t know what happened.  I just found out my opponent is on Dredge and yet my brain glosses over that thought and waits for the demolition crew to arrive.  Sure enough, they do, he goes off Turn 2 and I scoop it up while he counts his Bridge triggers.  Nice guy, but sorry papa don’t have time for that.

Game 2 I open with a great Burn hand.  But no Leyline or Bridge.  Mull.  Mull again.  ANNNND Mull again.  Maybe this plan wasn’t that hot.  But wait, this 4 card hand has Double Leyline, a Guide, and a Mountain.  Rolling Stones Start Me Up starts playing in my head, let’s do this thing.  My opponent has no answer and folds like a house of cards.

Game 3, similar but different.  I see my opponent furiously boarding in cards.  I’m concerned he has Nature’s Claim, but what can I do but stay to the plan.  I have to mull to 4 again but have Leyline, Bridge, Mountain, Bolt.  Sure.  Turn 1 he Claim’s my Leyline.  Uh Oh.  He starts to get his engine going but I’m able to rip a few lands and get the Bridge down.  Then the Burn starts flowing and the rest is history.  Last words “I never thought I’d lose to Burn at this tournament”.  Hasta La Vista Baby.


Round 5:  Sneak & Show

I’m paired against East-West Bowl Pro Mark Jacobson.  We have some small chit-chat and he starts going on about how he’s really a good guy despite some maniacal article from E-Fro.  Alright bud, I don’t even know the article but glhf.

Game 1 is uneventful, he lands a turn 3 Emrakul and I have barely scratched his life total.  This matchup stinks and while I know it’s a “big” deck in Legacy I didn’t expect it to be too popular as its numbers in the last few years have dipped.

Game 2 he plays a turn 2 Show and Tell off of Ancient Tomb and I put an Ensnaring Bridge in play versus his Griselbrand.  He pays some life to draw cards and I wish I had kept my Sulfuric Vortexes in to prevent him from continually reloading.  He gets a swing in, I’m able to get him back down to 5 life, but just don’t have enough left in the tank to finish the job.  Pyroblast can be helpful in this matchup (except against Sneak Attack), but I just didn’t have room this tournament.  It’s Legacy, you have to make your concessions sometimes.  Also Ashen Rider is way too narrow, so please don’t run that card unless your meta is just infested with this deck.


Round 6:   Shardless BUG

Game 1 I keep a one lander on the draw that looks like pure gasoline if I can draw out of it within a few turns (three playable 1 CMC cards).  I don’t draw another land for 9 turns and my opponent glacially nickel and dimes my life total away.

Game 2 we spar for what seems like an hour, trading card for card, turn after turn, until finally I have no choice but to “go for it” on a lethal Fireblast that he has the second copy of Force of Will for.


Round 7:  Reanimator

Another chance to see if the sideboard tech train keeps on choo-choo’ing.  Game 1 Griseldaddy says hello on Turn 1.  Hair grows longer on chest.

Game 2 I mull to 4 and Leyline him out of the game.

Game 3, mull to 5, Leyline, he plays 3 Faithless Lootings, shakes his head, dies.

Hot damn this sideboard is good.  Some Reanimator boards have hate, this guy had none.  Lesson Learned for the future.


Round 8:  Bant Stoneblade / Deathblade

I’m not really sure what my opponent is playing, but it’s not too hard to figure out the things that matter.  He has Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic, True Name Nemesis, and Umezawa’s Jitte.  All of his cards are annoying and I try to put up a fight for a while but he’s able to get in an attack with Jitte at 4 life and it’s a wrap after that.

Game 2 is more of the same, except this time it’s another “go for it” Fireblast versus Force of Will.  I don’t try to play into Forces, but sometimes you have no choice.

Man, where is all this D&T and Miracles that I expected?


Round 9:  Belcher (Ryan Solave, Top 8 GP Indianapolis Competitor)

Normally I’m the bigger guy at the table but my opponent this round looks like a younger version of the Hulk.  He has a beanie cap on and a snide grin and doesn’t look like he’s messing around.  Turn 1 he git probes me, and I never see my turn.  Seriously, this is the end of Day 1?

I have nothing for Belcher and I’m fine with that.  It’s a fringe matchup and you have to pick a deck to just be stone cold to in Legacy, so this one is my poison.  Sure, Pyrostatic Pillar would be great if I could play it, but Game 2 is a repeat of Game 1, only this time Goblin Guide gets to grin while 14 of his kin get put into play on the other side of the table.  Play Mindbreak Trap if you really care about this matchup.  Fortunately for me before my opponent swings for lethal he asks me if I care about playing Day 2.  I tell him yes, and he can see I’m pretty bummed so he concedes to let me continue on.

Sweet!  He elaborates, telling me about how he crushed the Modern side events at the last GP and walked away with a couple of cases worth of booster packs and would rather try for that then grind Day 2 at X-3.  Definitely understandable, and a much appreciated gift.

Ryan Solave, I solute you.  I hope that karma comes back ten-fold after what happened with the rest of my tournament.


We did it! (sort of).  Only 1 of the other people in our 10 person group made day 2 (Zac Forshee ; Storm).  Yikes.  Thankfully everyone is still in good spirits and we go have a quality dinner in downtown Louisville.  This is followed by Super Smash Melee and Cube, mostly going strong into the wee hours of the night as I snooze in the downstairs den.

Day 2

Round 10:  Goblin Stompy

Mountain, Chrome Mox, Exile Simian Spirt Guide, Seething Song, Chandra, Torch of Defiance.  Wow.  That’s a nice Turn 1 sir, I’d shake your hand if I wasn’t about to unravel that opener like it’s my job.  Goblin Guide into Searing Blaze for his Turn 2 creature and redirect to Chandra makes him virtually hellbent against my full grip of photon torpedoes.  Bombs away, let’s play again.

Game 2 I Smash to Smithereens his Chalice and Blaze his Goblin Rabblemaster.  Part of me is really happy, part of me is really sad.  This guy is kind of my hero with these cards, and afterwards we have a good talk about our love for Red and the beauty of a life full of Mountains.


Round 11:  Painter’s Servant

Sweet, another cool Red deck.  Also another one that is quite vulnerable to Searing Blaze and Smash to Smithereens, albeit the combo is still scary.  Game 1 he gets it online early and activates Grindstone, but sadly for him it’s too late.  My Grim Lavamancer exiles the last two cards in my yard and his last two life points.  Game 2 he makes a nice play with Painter calling blue followed by Red Elemental Blast on my Lightning Bolt, but he is buried by extra sideboard Blazes and Smashes.  He admits this is a bad matchup, and it certainly seemed so most of the times I’ve played it.  Perfect example why Burn can be great in Legacy, people just aren’t prepared for it since it isn’t on the radar.


Round 12:  Infect

In Modern, Burn has a fairly good advantage vs Infect despite the matchup still being close because of how powerful some of their openers are.  In Legacy that advantage mostly disappears as Infect gains better counterspells and a more reliable clock, so you really have to assume the control role entirely as the Burn pilot.  This match was one where my 3 maindeck Grim Lavamancers and 2 Searing Blazes (over Swiftspears) paid off, as I was able to get a Turn 1 Lavamancer out both games.  Each games is hair-raising, I have to fireblast myself out of lands in the first just to stay alive and get his last Infect creature off the board, and game 2 I punt viciously three times in a row while Adrian Sullivan watches over my opponent’s shoulder.

It was especially bad when he swings in with an Inkmoth Nexus, and instead of waiting for him to use a pump spell so I can Blaze in response, I just fire off the Blaze.  I mutter swears under my breath (temper, temper) and try to pull myself together.  No John, you don’t want to be “THAT GUY“. I tap the rest of my lands and cast my second copy of Searing Blaze, knowing he has a Daze in hand but not having any other option other than lose.

He doesn’t Daze.  What? “I brainstormed and put it back on top of my library” says my opponent.  Hallelujah, praise be to the gods of fire.


Round 13:  Shardless BUG

My opponent is on the play for game 1, but I have a solid opener of Lavamancer, Bolts, Fireblast, etc.  I’m able to cast Price of Progress for 6 after waiting for him to tap out, and he’s not able to recover later from it.

Game 2 he has a 2/3 Goyf with Instant/Sorcery in the yard and he’s on the backfoot.  I play a fetchland for my third land, immediately crack it, and then realize I’m a dummy.  The Searing Blaze I meant to play is now no longer going to kill the Goyf, and instead I have to ram a Goblin Guide into said Goyf followed by Blazing it off the board.  I get him down to 1, and then he fades death three turns in a row before getting a Batterskull and battering my skull in with it.

Game 3 my play is again fairly loose, but I’m able to work out a spot where I can cast a bolt and then two Fireblasts, the second of which can’t be Forced because he’s at 1 life after the first Blast.  He looks at it and sees this, shakes his head and extends the hand.


Round 14:  UR Delver (Emma Handy)

By far my most interesting match of the entire tournament.  UR Delver was a tough matchup for me in testing despite one thinking that the deck that has burn spells in place of draw spells would be more efficient.  Game 1 I am put into a hole early and am forced to bolt a Swiftspear to keep things from getting out of control.  Emma has a good board against me farther into the game with Stormchaser Mage and a second Swiftspear, and a card in hand.  I have Sulfuric Vortex, Fireblast, Bolt.  Prior to that turn I had been thinking through when to land Vortex if at all since it’s such a liability in this matchup, and fortunately I’m able to do it at just the right moment so I can Fireblast on my turn, have her untap, and die on upkeep with me at 1 life.  Did I mention Fireblast was a broken card?

Game 2 I take the initiative, landing early Guides and Eidolons to quickly put her down to 13 life.  She’s able to crawl back into it a bit, but about midway through the game I look over the cards in my hand and realize that I have her dead in my sights.  I know she has a Daze that was revealed off Goblin Guide, so I extend a Grim Lavamancer into it to draw it out.  I can still pay the “one” for Daze, but she also knows it will cut me off a bolt that turn.  She does Daze, I pay for it, and then later am able to play around the rest of her counters so that I can finish her last 4 life points with an Exquisite Firecraft.

We talk for a while after as she mentions she used to play Burn a lot and overall both of us seemed to enjoy the back and forth of the match.  Definitely one of those that turns the treadmill up to 11.


Round 15:  Shardless Alluren (Pascal Maynard)

Here it was for all the marbles.  The combo deck I heard the pros would be on, versus a famous pro, my little tugboat of confidence pushing along.  I don’t get that nervous anymore, but my hands were definitely shaking during this match.  Game 1 Pascal is on the play and I of course don’t know he’s on Alluren yet.  I see some Shardless cards and think sweet this isn’t too bad.  Then he plays a Turn 4 Alluren.  Shit.

He tries to play a Shardless Agent.  In hindsight I should have been more patient and waited for Cavern Harpy, but alas, Bolt, Bolt, Fireblast, GG.

Game 2, I think I have a great hand as I’m able to resolve both a Turn 2 Eidolon and a Turn 3 Pyrostatic Pillar.  But then he starts to build an army of creatures, beating me down with Deathrite Shaman activations, a Parasitic Strix, and holding the fort with Glint-Nest Crane.  I’m forced to either Fireblast or Firecraft the Strix (can’t remember which) and then realize I’m still dead to a few more Shaman activations.

Game 3.  Please.  Don’t put my fire out just yet.

I draw my opening seven.

Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Fireblast, Fireblast, Mountain, Fetch.  YES.  My draw the next turn is a Grim Lavamancer.  Pascal is immediately on the backfoot, only being able to deal with my Eidolon to see the second one immediately replace it.  He is able to play Alluren.  He goes for the combo. . .

Activate Grim Lavamancer, Bolt you, Fireblast, Fireblast.  Take 13 Homie.

12-3, 34th Place.  Tie breakers for X-3’s went all the way from 12th – 36th place, so unfortunately my early losses bumped me just out of top 32, but this tournament was about way more than that.  It was about effort, concentration, working through every difficult situation to put Burn on the map where it needs to be again.  It was about being able to do something like this when no one around you thinks you can, when every odd maker is stacked up against you.  This one is for the underdog.  This one is for our Readers, our Podcast listeners.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning


  • Kendrick, for driving us 7 hours without complaint.  Your turbo button around turns was great, and you’re always an intelligent ear of wisdom to bounce thoughts off of
  • Colin, because shorts rule, winter drools.  Respectful, cheerful, and ready to Flickerwisp my Sulfuric Vortexes whenever I get too cocky
  • William, team draft homie and a perfect knack for dropping F bombs at the exact appropriate time to make all of us crack up
  • Kyle, team draft homie part deux, keeping our crew looking stylish and helping me break both EDH and Modern in one car ride
  • Hannah, my encyclopedia for Legacy questions, Super Smash button masher extraordinaire, and good at reverberating chairs when excited
  • Matt, the go-to guy when I need to know if my play is suspect.  Teaching me to play faster, better, and have a no bullshit acceptance for what’s good / not good.  Team is much better because of you
  • Pavle, a smart young mage on the rise.  I see a lot of my early years with Magic in you, and I mean that in a good way.  You’re putting yourself in a position to move towards better days, and winning at life too.  Cheers to your approaching graduation and quality Chicago employment.
  • Zac, if there’s a question about Storm, and what it can or can’t do, you will know the answer.  The playtesting was helpful, the Pike’s Place coffee was clutch, and I’m very jelly of your Seattle residency
  • Brendan, despite being able to derail any facebook post at the drop of a hat like the best of trolls, we always seem to get along well in person.  You always are fun, relaxed, and able to switch gears about things which I appreciate as that’s usually how I try to approach life.  That hoody doe
  • Donald, we lit fam.


  • Kentucky Expo Center, your bathroom situation is ridiculous.  Please add extra troughs next time you decide to host a tournament and good god spray some febreeze or something.
  • Judges, when I ask where I can find standings, please don’t talk about me behind my back right in front of me and within ear shot, help your players.  I don’t care if you put up a sign that you think is obvious that no one can see.  To the other judges that didn’t do that, you’re cool
  • The guy next to me in round 14.  Bro, showers are not optional.
  • My round 6.  Has some good conversation with me, beats me, and then asks me if I could tell he was sick.  What?  Dude come on man.  Please don’t make GP Plague Great Again.


The Perennial Underdog


The Perennial Underdog

Choosing to play Mono Red is almost always never the “correct” choice in the eyes of Magic’s most elite.  It’s a sea of underpowered cards that require leveraging difficult aspects of gameplay.  Whether you’re bluffing your opponent into believing you have that combat trick, that last Lightning Bolt, or simply trying to put together enough synergy to overcome their bombs, the battle is uphill.

Today that case is especially true.  Look at a tournament result from the last few weekends, and the closest thing you can see is a dual-color vehicles deck with a pile of rares that isn’t even doing that well either.

But Red is perennially in this position.  The cards always look underpowered.  The opponents will always scoff at them and those wielding them.  And then a PPTQ is won.  And then an RPTQ.  and then a Grand Prix.  And then a Pro Tour.  You can’t get anywhere if you don’t try, if you don’t continue to put your own time into playtesting, throwing away ideas, brewing, and pushing.

What Do We Know?

Lets look at Standard for a moment and see what we can glean.  I’m taking this journey with you throughout this article, exposing my raw thoughts to give you perspective on how I might approach building Mono Red.  There’s no right answer here, and there is some bias in that we are not only pigeonholing ourselves into an archetype, but we also have cards we might like a little more from a flavor standpoint or the direction they take the deck.  I hope that in doing this, the journey is not only entertaining, but also thought-provoking.

The big players in Standard are B/G Delirium, UW Spirits, and to a lesser extent R/x Vehicle decks, Aetherworks Marvel, RG Energy, and BR Zombies.  It’s unfortunate that these decks are all quite powerful, but it’s good that we know our targets.  The lists change minutely, but are otherwise established.  That’s the first building block I’m going to look at, because if you’re just throwing cards together and ignoring what’s across from you, you’re in store for a lot of terrible experiences.

BG Delirium by Brad Nelson; 1st Place SCG Open Knoxville

4 Blooming Marsh
1 Evolving Wilds
7 Forest
7 Swamp
4 Hissing Quagmire

1 Emrakul, the Promised End
4 Grim Flayer
3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
3 Mindwrack Demon
1 Noxious Gearhulk
2 Pilgrim’s Eye
1 Tireless Tracker

4 Liliana, the Last Hope

1 Ruinous Path
2 Murder
3 Grapple with the Past
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Transgress the Mind
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
3 Vessel of Nascency

2 Dead Weight
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Natural State
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Pick the Brain
1 Tireless Tracker
2 To the Slaughter
2 Transgress the Mind

The King of Standard won last weekend’s SCG Open with the most popular Tier 1 deck, so this seems as good a starting point as any.  If we can’t compete with this deck, it’s not worth playing Red in Standard.  The first part I would look at is his removal package:  x4 Grasp, x2 Murder, x1 Ruinous Path, x4 Liliana, the Last Hope.  Grasp is incredibly efficient, and there’s not much we can do about building around it other than beating it on casting cost (aka paying 1 mana or parity on our creatures).  Similarly Murder and Ruinous Path join that group, with us being able to beat them on cost a little more often.  When your opponent spends three mana to kill your one mana spell, you are winning a small important victory.  Liliana makes it so that X/1s are a greater liability, and considering most BG lists run 4, we probably need to avoid playing any X/1s or make the curve so aggressive that it doesn’t matter.  In this case I think the latter doesn’t make sense since Liliana is backed up by these other removal outlets.

Besides beating the removal spells on cost, we can also beat them by gaining immediate value with our cards.  Whether that be an enters the battlefield trigger, or through haste (to dodge Ruinous Path and Liliana).  There are options for these in Red and Colorless in Standard.

Looking at the creatures, we have Grim Flayer being a centerpiece, which eventually catapults into Pilgrim, Tracker, Demon, Ishkanah, Gearhulk, and Emrakul.  It’s important to have a plan for all of them since Traverse makes fetching any one a regular affair.  Just about any burn spell that we’d have access to can beat a Grim Flayer early on, or combo with a creature to kill it later.  The bigger concern here is Ishkanah, as the bodies and toughness make it difficult to find a solution in a single card.  Psuedo-answers that come to mind are Magmatic Chasm, Menace Creatures, Devour in Flames, Threaten Effects, Direct Damage (Reach), Impetuous Devils, Lightning Axe, Nahiri’s Wrath, Pia Nalaar, Key to the City, Skyship Stalker, Thermo-Alchemist, and Thought-Knot Seer / Reality Smasher.  While none of them are clean answers, the aggregate of their forces will be part of a successful plan.

For ETB creatures in Red, this is our current spread: (plus Fleetwheel Cruiser)


Many of these have the potential to be useful.  I’m curious to see where we’re at if we narrow it down to ETB creatures that share one of the abilities we mentioned above


These obviously don’t encompass everything we’d like to do, nor do they completely fill out a curve or necessarily make sense.  But it gives me an idea of “a card” that I might want for a Red deck that wishes to fight BG.

The two ally cards are a tough sell since we have no real support in a single color for this synergistic strategy.  Other cards like Iron League Steed and Spontaneous Artist are overcosted.  This leaves us with a shorter list:


Bushwhacker and Pia work together from a tokens theme, but Bushwhacker is certainly more suited for a small Go-Wide deck versus all the other cards on this list which largely function in a Big Red shell.  Liliana also reduces the value of both cards since it can deal with at least part of the equation.  We saw both of these cards featured together at the first SCG Open of the season in the BR Aggro deck that took 4th place, as well as Sam Black’s RW Tokens.  So they certainly have a spot in a possible build, just not necessarily a big one.

I like the idea of a Bigger Red shell, it’s something both myself and my Podcast partner Davis Merced revisit often.  One of our followers Logan Creen recently made it to the finals of a PPTQ with his version, and it sparked a little fire in me for wanting to take a look again.  Additionally, Thought-Knot Seer appears in the list above which is a card I thoroughly enjoyed dismantling opponents with back when I was playing Red Eldrazi.  I’m going to start there since I have familiarity and always felt it was quite strong

Mono Red Eldrazi Rough Draft

4 Borderland Marauder
3 Scourge Wolf
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Hanweir Garrison
1 Sin Prodder
1 Pia Nalaar
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Reality Smasher
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Combustible Gearhulk

4 Harnessed Lightning
4 Fiery Temper
1 Magmatic Chasm

4 Hanweir Battlements
4 AEther Hub
2 Crumbling Vestige
1 Mirrorpool
2 Ruins of Oran-Rief
1 Westvale Abbey
10 Mountain

4 Galvanic Bombardment
1 Savage Alliance
1 Hijack
2 Magmatic Chasm
2 Nahiri’s Wrath
1 Key to the City
2 Lightning Axe
1 Fleetwheel Cruiser
1 Goldnight Castigator

We could potentially add Chandra, Torch of Defiance or more Sin Prodders, which would allow our deck to pile through a late game better.  I think here I just like a smidge of that effect though as I’d rather still focus on beating down BG before they can Emrakul.  They have a pretty reliable turn 6 Emrakul, which means they need to be close to dead or you have to represent something on the board which makes it awkward to attack.  Maybe we want Incendiary Flow here to present ways to exile their 3 CMC or less creatures and slow down Emrakul, but I don’t like the effect very much outside of BG since it is sorcery speed.

Smuggler’s Copter isn’t a necessity IMO here, despite it being powerful in just about any shell, but it does help us achieve delirium at times with Scourge Wolf.  That said, Wolf easily looks like one of the worst cards in the deck, it’s mostly filling curve here and trying to dodge Liliana.  I’d be happy to try other things in its spot, whether it be something extremely rogue like Bold Impaler, or more burn, or raising land counts.  It’s really the base here that is key IMO to the build – x4 Garrison, x4 Battlements, x4 Seer, x4 Smasher.  A beatdown package with legs, surrounded by extra help in going wide and burn to clear the way.

What if we took the non-Eldrazi route.  The direct damage we have access to is pretty lackluster, but it’s possible the utility creatures and planeswalkers put us over the edge

Mono Red Burn Rough Draft

4 Thermo-Alchemist
4 Sin Prodder
4 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Bedlam Reveler

4 Galvanic Bombardment
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Fiery Temper
4 Collective Defiance
2 Lightning Axe
4 Tormenting Voice

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

4 Bomat Courier
4 Hanweir Garrison
1 Demolish
1 Lightning Axe
1 Magmatic Chasm
1 Bedlam Reveler
1 Mountain
1 Harnessed Lightning
1 Savage Alliance

More of the Burn route here, with a sideboard that can either try to play the long game or transform the deck into something a bit more aggressive.

Before we get too far with these lists though, lets visit UW Spirits for a minute to see what their deck might change in our configurations:

UW Flash by Emma Handy; 7th Place SCG Open Knoxville

6 Island
10 Plains
4 Port Town
4 Prairie Stream
1 Westvale Abbey

4 Thraben Inspector
4 Archangel Avacyn
4 Selfless Spirit
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Spell Queller
3 Reflector Mage

4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

1 Always Watching
1 Declaration in Stone
2 Revolutionary Rebuff
4 Stasis Snare

1 Always Watching
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Fragmentize
2 Gisela, the Broken Blade
2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
1 Linvala, the Preserver
1 Negate
1 Scatter to the Winds
2 Spell Shrivel

This deck looks great on paper and plays out that way too, as being able to execute mostly on your opponent’s turn while also having evasion and removal is tough for anyone to beat.  That said, we again see three mana removal (Reflector Mage, Stasis Snare, Spell Queller) and an overall high curve that doesn’t feature the ability to tutor.  Last season when I was brewing Mono Red and testing with some of our followers on MTGO, we had some good success against Bant (which functioned along similar lines).  Granted, we had some extra tools in Red there, with better one and two drops along with Exquisite Firecraft.

Harnessed Lightning is the first card that comes to mind as being hyper important.  It’s a cheap way to kill any creature in their deck aside from Avacyn and Gideon.  Lightning Axe could serve a role too from an efficiency standpoint, as well as a way to kill Avacyn with her trigger on the stack.  These might be value cards to either add or raise the number on to the previous lists.

Key to the City and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship could be big additions too.  Having a way to bypass an Avacyn turn or chip in the last few points of damage, and having a way to close out a game while also stopping crack-back damage.

From a strategy perspective, going underneath them or burning them out is likely ideal, which puts Eldrazi in a tough spot.  It’s possible you can just power through them and try not to walk into their spells, but the alignment versus what they’re doing isn’t stellar.

So revisiting our Burn list, lets see what some possible changes might look like to better combat UW while keeping honest with BG:

Mono Red Burn 2.0

4 Thermo-Alchemist
4 Sin Prodder
4 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
2 Bedlam Reveler

4 Galvanic Blast
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Fiery Temper
4 Collective Defiance
2 Lightning Axe
4 Tormenting Voice

2 Geier Reach Sanitarium
2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

3 Harnessed Lightning
2 Lightning Axe
4 Bomat Courier
4 Village Messenger
1 Savage Alliance
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Certainly a lot of playtesting ahead to figure things out, but we have a starting point.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Quelling the Conversation – Mono Red with Eldritch Moon


Quelling the Conversation – Mono Red with Eldritch Moon

No one said this was going to be easy.

After winning two pro tours, Mono Red was on top of the world despite still being dogged by many pros for being a simplistic deck.  Whether they liked it or not, Red Aggro was a competitive option that had to be respected as a Tier 1 archetype like it has been at many times in Magic’s history.

But that all changed with Shadows over Innistrad.  Shadows brought with it powerful Green and White cards that supplemented the already great suite from Dragons of Tarkir and BFZ block, and Mono Red’s run clearly came to an end.  Results dropped like flies, and on our Red Deck Podcast we scoured all over the web and with listeners to try and find a sign of hope.  I tested with my team, Mox Mania, at the beginning of the format with just about every conceivable variant I could think of against all of the new Tier 1 strategies, but there just wasn’t a build that could stand up to everything at a reasonable level.

Part of this was the renewed strength of Green, White, and Black, but the other part was what we lost.  Lightning Strike, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Goblin Rabblemaster to name a few were so good at what they could do.  Instead, we received mediocre and unplayable replacements.  We received tease cards like Sin Prodder where it looked like an excellent option, only to have us reminded quickly that Reflector Mage and company still run the show.  And that’s not to even say that cards like Prodder are bad news, in fact to this day I still believe there are proper shells for him, but ultimately there are many drawbacks which can’t be overlooked.  In a way, it’s a blessing because it forces us as Red players to scrutinize the cards more carefully and make sure that our overall build makes sense.

So Whats Changed, And Why Are We Playing Red?

If you play with or take one look at a deck like Bant Company or GW Tokens, it’s easy to see why it’s appealing.  Every card in each of those decks is powerful on its own, late game engines that run into infinity.  I might love Red cards, but as a longtime Magic player that has wanted to be on the Pro Tour since he was a kid, I’m not ignorant of what else is available.  Cards like Reflector Mage and Collected Company are not only sweet, they’re truly impressive from a game standpoint.  For this reason, whenever I do testing I always make sure to run through each of the Tier 1 and 2 options as well, just to be sure I know what they’re doing and what they’re capable of.  This is obvious to most high level players, but maybe not so much to most Red players or most casual players on the cusp of their tournament career.

Approaching SCG Regionals, people (including many Red mage comrades), largely believed Red was still very dead.  We saw the likes of Secret Burn by Max McVety (SCG Invitational Humans winner) in the first Open with Eldritch Moon to try and give us hope, but even he said the deck wasn’t great in an ongoing Reddit conversation.  I tested the deck a lot, along with friends, and while it still attacked from that all important axis that is hard to fight, it felt like something was missing as the games were still too close and didn’t seem to have any leverage points.  Also Dromoka’s Command and Ojutai’s Command were truly punishing.  It was clear though that McVety’s list wasn’t finished being tuned, so I tried a number of things along with other people who are still working on it.  I haven’t shelved the concept entirely, but it needs some tweaking.

And playing Bant is easy game.  Who wouldn’t want to play Sylvan Advocate into Reflector Mage into Collected Company into Spell Queller and sign a match slip.  Or as the PT showed us, emerge an Elder Deep-Fiend into an Emrakul and take someone else’s turn.  I love Magic, and I won’t deny that this stuff is cool, and is pretty amazing to behold.

But damn son, I want my lunch break.  And I want my opponent dead now.

Origins Red was where this needed to start.  Mono Red Aggro doesn’t just show up as an easy option.  The cards look like crap, and anyone who plays at a competitive level sees a Dragon Fodder and laughs at why someone who wants to win a tournament would use their two mana on that versus something like Duskwatch Recruiter.  The answer is synergy, free win potential (FWP), and playing without both a target on your head as well as capitalizing upon decks that do have one.  I was mostly planning to play Red for Regionals anyway, but there was a chance I would borrow something else.  Seeing the PT results breathed a bit of fresh life into things, as it looked like the format would get even slower.  New set with people trying new ideas combined with a slowdown in the format is always the perfect time for Red to strike.

Eldritch Moon also brought us some new weapons, and both their appearance and testing deemed them to me to be real.  That testing, our recent Podcast guest Austin Casey’s build, and Todd Anderson’s work, all made me a believer that there was room here.  We could get underneath Bant and GW, we could control the creatures on the board vs Boss Humans, and we could race the Emrakul decks.

The secret though was in playing style.  Austin mentioned some great points on the Podcast about baiting your opponent into removing or countering your early plays so that you could capitalize with a later play (such as Chandra, Garrison, or Thunderbreak).  Additionally, he talked about being observant of your opponents’ behaviors, their open mana as any good player would do, and just “taking a turn off” when you need to.  Force them to play their Queller early or on something irrelevant, or their Avacyn when you simply pass turn to coax them into believing their advanced board state is the route to victory.  These kind of situations came up a lot during the tournament, and I was able to punish my opponents as a result with the plethora of burn spells available to take down a Queller and get my original spell back or lead them into tapping out and then slamming an Impetuous Devils to make them reel back in their seat.  You also simply start the game before they do, leading with one drops into burn backup while they have a turn 1 tap land.  Classic Burn vs Midrange battle.

So here’s where I ended up for the tournament:

MTG Goldfish Visual View

Red Deck Wins by John Galli; 6-2 for 13th Place SCG Regionals (Milwaukee, WI)

3 Village Messenger
3 Lightning Berserker
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Falkenrath Gorger
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Hanweir Garrison
4 Impetuous Devils
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers

4 Galvanic Bombardment
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Exquisite Firecraft

2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Draconic Roar
1 Mountain
2 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
2 Act of Treason
2 Twin Bolt

I mentioned drawing on Origins earlier, and that was indeed where this began.  We already knew Abbot and one drops were good, especially when backed up by a similar suite of Burn spells.  Being able to clear the road or have finishing reach was of the utmost importance, and this was a big reason why I have the full 12 Burn spells.

Galvanic Bombardment might seem out of place in a field of x/3s, but there are still very relevant targets like Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Duskwatch Recruiter, any of the Mono White Humans creatures, Hedron Crawler, etc, etc.  And since we’re only playing 12 Burn spells, getting spell mastery for Fiery Impulse isn’t easy, nor does that have the option of occasionally killing an Avacyn or Ishkanah as the game gets late. Galvanic Bombardment is also great at leveraging the deck’s tempo advantage, allowing you to double spell often and combine with other Burn to get a truly significant threat off the table.  There will just be many situations where you have three mana and want to both play a 1 or 2 drop along with holding up Galvanic Bombardment to kill the creature they play on their turn.  These types of situations can’t be overlooked, as they’re how you beat decks looking to overpower you past the first few turns.

The other historical place I looked was one of my own decklists.  Back when I started this website, I was on a tear with a Mono Red Aggro build during the heyday of Junk Rites (another grindy midrange deck), Mono White Aggro, and Jund.  I put up a huge amount of tournament wins with that deck, featured in my original article.  While the cards today aren’t the same, the curve and land count could be relied upon, and a lot of the new technology mimic’d the old ones well.  In fact, while cloning is not usually wise, the new cards were finally close enough that in this instance I think it made good sense.  Impetuous Devils is absolutely no Hellrider, but he still hits harder than most Red cards can, and he often can be a removal spell for you too, which numbers wise brings you up to 16 in the deck if you’re counting him.  Chunking your opponent for a few points of damage and potentially clearing their Sylvan Advocate or Gideon + Token is a strong play.

Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder is the most notable omission from my list, and this is where Impetuous Devils and Village Messenger came in.  Devils accomplishes much of what Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder want to do, but it does it in one card.  Both sets of cards also have similar weaknesses, such as Thalia, Queller, and instant speed removal (albeit Devils is worse versus the latter).  But if we’re looking at these cards truthfully, we’re only playing them when we can capitalize on our opponents plays, and that’s often when they’re tapped out or exhausted on available resources.  Both Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder and Devils are the kill strokes, so you need to make sure they’re going to do that job before you decide to play them at all.

Village Messenger is not as obvious.  The main reason I wanted to play him was due to the interest in staying hyper-aggressive game 1.  In my old list, I had Rakdos Shredfreak and Ash Zealot.  We don’t have any two drops like that anymore, so Village Messenger fills the role, and when flipped can be very irritating for your opponent.  In a format where many opponents are playing tap lands and a plethora of three drops but not as many twos, Village Messenger actually can flip a good amount.  And in the matchups where he’s bad, or where you’re on the draw, you can simply side him out (which is often the gameplan).  But most importantly, he brought the list up to 13 one drops, which is just 1 card shy of the probability threshold of getting a one drop in your opening hand the “majority” of the time.  He’s probably the most questionable card in the list, and I could see cutting him to go a little bigger, but he filled his role appropriately on the day.

Hanweir Garrison is a fascinating card.  Yes, he’s like Goblin Rabblemaster in design, but he’s also so much different.  He’s a 2/3 in a world of 2/3s, so he actually helps you block sometimes (or simply attack when you wouldn’t have been able to with a Rabblemaster), and his tokens despite attacking the turn they come in don’t have to later on, so you can conserve your resources if they manage to get Papa Garrison off the table early.

What’s most significant though is the Meld ability.  I found myself in a few situations in the tournament where I was essentially dead.  No way to win the game unless I lucksacked into 3-4 burn spells which wasn’t a likely scenario with my opponent having the advantage in the game.  But Melding Garrison with Battlements COULD win me the game in those spots, as a 7/4 trampler who makes huge creatures can overcome a lot of board states that the Tier 1 decks present.  And it happened, during a match with Bant Coco where he had 3-4 creatures on the board but I drew into the Battlements I was banking on and unleashed the monster.  Yes, all of his sides are still Reflector Mage-able, but that’s just a one turn delay and the argument of “dies to removal” doesn’t invalidate completely the power a card may have.



The sideboard is mostly straight-forward.  The Thunderbreak + Draconic Roar + Land package was borrowed from Todd Anderson’s articles, and is essentially the go big plan post-board vs Bant CoCo and to a lesser extent GW Tokens (it’s still correct to stay a smidge faster vs Tokens).  You cut Village Messengers and Lightning Berserkers (as outlined by Austin on our Podcast), and then if you’re on the draw you can cut some or all of the Impetuous Devils.  On the play, I’d trim on some combination of Garrisons, Abbots, and Devils depending on how you feel or your opponent’s list. Devils and Garrison as mentioned before aren’t great versus Reflector Mage and Spell Queller, and since they’re towards the top of your curve they’re where you’re forced to make some concessions.

The go big package is really nice versus them, because while you still want to maintain your speed advantage (and don’t be afraid to mulligan for a more aggressive keep if you need to), Roar and Thunderbreak allow you to clear more blockers and present ones of your own.  If they are able to break serve with you, Thunderbreak generally puts a halt to this, and allows you to start swinging the pendulum back towards you being the aggressor.  Their fliers are smaller, so it then becomes a battle of you drawing burn spells versus them drawing CoCos and Mages, of which you have far more burn spells.  Selfless Spirit is probably the biggest concern in these spots, so make sure to prioritize killing him early when possible.

There’s many games with the go big plan where you just overrun them too.  One drop into two drop or burn spell, into Garrison, into Thunderbreak is pretty impossible for most of the decks in Standard to deal with.  Several of my Bant opponents saw this and were so far behind that even a good CoCo hit couldn’t get them out of the hot water.  A Dromoka’s Command is never too clean versus Thunderbreak, and the 3 damage usually matters when it’s coming after your early aggression.  I’m considering moving the package to the maindeck, but there’s still a big part of me that wants to stay as aggressive as possible game 1, as this is critical to beating the new Pro Tour decks and keeping pace with Boss Humans.

The sideboard is rounded out with pairs of other cards.  Act of Treason helps you against any deck that durdles for a while before landing one big roadblock, whether it be a delirium Emrakul deck or a Worldbreaker Ramp deck.  Certainly not great against Ishkanah, but there will always be decks in any meta where this type of effect is wanted.

Twin Bolt is for Aggro mirrors, most notably Humans where they might get ahead of you onboard but are a deck full of X/1s.  It’s also just nice to have another instant speed Burn spell and one that is inherently setup to create 2-for-1s as well as go to the face.  You may even want to bring it in versus GW Tokens, but that would be very build dependent and also dependent on how you prefer to play the matchup.

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is for decks that barely interact with you.  Non-Red ramping decks (or even some Red ones if you can bait out a Kozilek’s Return first), Humans, and GW Tokens.  It’s very easy to flip her the turn after you play her in this deck, so you put these archetypes in a position where they need to have their limited amount of removal or they’re facing a card that’s far more powerful than most of their options.  Chandra wins most games where she flips, and it’s easier to get them to fire off their removal spell before she lands when you’re running tons of low to the ground threats prior to her arrival.

You’re already a deck that Control decks don’t want to see, with the one caveat being their ability to Languish and Lifegain.  You play around these as best as you can, and post board you cut non-damage or low-output cards (Galvanic Bombardment, etc) for more threats.  Generally that means bringing in Thunderbreak Regent, as while it dies to Languish it’s still an annoying threat for them and one that lines up against a lot of their creatures such as Avacyn and Kalitas.  You’re playing the cat and mouse game here, hoping to not overextend, bait a Languish, and then punish them with Devils or Lightning Berserker.  You’ll want to be conscious of Exquisite Firecraft, as it’s often the linchpin card vs any flavor of Control deck (counters or not), and killing things like Kalitas, Gisela, or Thalia’s Lancers with it is very pertinent.

Act of Treason is another card that can be outside considered for the Control matchups too, as they are yet another deck that generally has one creature at a time on the battlefield and that creature is often both a roadblock and your end game.


On the day at SCG Regionals I played:
Rd1:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-0)
Rd2:  GW Tokens (Loss, 1-2)
Rd3:  UG Crush (Win 2-0)
Rd4:  Bant CoCo (Loss, 1-2)
Rd5:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-1)
Rd6:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-0)
Rd 7:  Opponent No-Show (Sweet) (Win)
Rd 8:  BG Delirium (Win, 2-0)

Hopefully this article outlines the thought process well regarding my choices and possibilities for future direction with the deck.  I think if anything, I’d like to either add the Thunderbreak package and/or get lower to the ground with the build.  Everything was clicking at the tournament for it, and generally the games I lost were to mistakes I made or the usual things for Mono Red (land flood, being 1 removal spell short, etc).  Bottom line, the archetype is back and in a big way, don’t believe the naysayers.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

The Modern Burn Bible


The Modern Burn Bible

2016-01-17 18_11_27-January 18, 2016 Banned and Restricted Announcement _ MAGIC_ THE GATHERING

Someone just opened Pandora’s Box.  Fellow and future Red Mages, we have work to do.

This format is about to see a major shake up, and rumblings from my MTGO brethren have indicated that the tide is already starting to rise.  I usually have a long-winded soliloquy in my articles, waxing on and off about theory and strategy.  I’m going to keep this one to the point; I’m going to tell you how to play your Matchups, give you a list, and give you the cards to consider as the format evolves.  Note; this article is meant to be bookmarked, saved, printed, or referred to when you need information on a Matchup.  It’s a bit lengthy for a full one-time sitting so don’t feel obligated to do so.  It also would have taken me way too long to go back and link every card, so I leave that up to you (as I assume most of these are fairly common knowledge to Modern players).  Let us begin:

What We Expect In The Next Few Months

Tron, Burn, Affinity, Zoo, Merfolk, Lantern, Jund, Abzan, Scapeshift, Infect, CoCo and Eldrazi all just breathed a huge sigh of relief, re-upped, and reloaded.  Two of the best combo decks in the format are dead, one being the fastest, the other being the most consistent.  This means your sideboards can become tightly focused on Aggro as well as specific Combo decks, rather than being a paintbrush that doesn’t always hit its mark.  Tron is for sure the #1 deck out of the gate because it gets a possible upgrade in Kozilek’s Return and it was always pretty consistent.  Grishoalbrand has room to breathe too, but its more susceptible to hate and not as consistent.

This is great news for Burn players.  I felt Burn was the best deck for a long time, but eliminating a difficult matchup (Bloom) and a close matchup (Twin) from the equation as well as leaving one of the best matchups (Tron) to rule the roost means it’s party time.  You can now focus on the mirror, other Aggro decks, and Tron / Grishoalbrand.

The Auto Includes

These are the cards that should almost never leave your list:

4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
2 Searing Blaze
2 Skullcrack

19-21 Lands, Fetches not exceeding 12

The rest is all up for debate, metagame calls, and the splash flavor of your deck, but the cards above are your bread and butter.  Don’t be foolish and see something cool, thinking it’s good to waver on numbers.  You WILL lose percentage points, and you will likely be making a poor decision or fundamentally changing the archetype you are playing.  Following the guide I will provide my current list, but it is imperative you understand the decisions that go into it.

vs Tron

Keys to the Matchup:
You are usually a turn faster than Tron on average, unless they are on the play and assemble tron on turn 3.  This is a big advantage and why you are the favored deck.  Yes, they have sideboard cards and plans, ranging from more Spellskites, to Nature’s Claims, Feed the Clan, Thragtusk, Platinum Angel, Sweepers, etc, but you also have additional firepower.

Like most matchups, you want to lead with your creatures here, usually Guide into Eidolon, as that maximizes the most damage you’ll be able to do with them and to your opponent in general.  It is likely that they will have a Pyroclasm effect or that your creatures will be invalidated quickly, so the more usage you can get out of them before these events happen the better shape you will be in.

Skullcrack and Atarka’s Command are very important because they prevent lifegain from their payoff cards, while at the same time dodging Spellskite’s ability.  Additionally, Atarka’s Command can at times save your creatures from a Pyroclasm effect, as can Boros Charm.  I like having access to as many of these kind of effects as possible against the Tron matchup if it’s being heavily played.  On the flip side, Searing Blaze and Searing Blood are infinitely less impressive as they often have no useful targets.

Destructive Revelry is your best sideboard card against them, as it destroys over 50% of the cards in their deck for value, including Spellskite which is one of their major means of combating you.  Smash to Smithereens is even more efficient if you both have the room for it and Leyline of Sanctity isn’t very popular.

Path to Exile and Deflecting Palm are both good choices as well.  Path to Exile ensures that you can both survive a Wurmcoil Engine as well as not allowing the opponent to get tokens from it.  Deflecting Palm has bigger upside in that it does more damage than any burn spell of yours could hope to do, but it’s more of a liability once your opponent knows you have it and it’s not as proactive.  Both however, are quite useful in this Matchup outside of not being able to deal with Karn Liberated.  Just remember that your spells need to do a certain threshold of damage all together, so these kind of cards should be kept to minimal numbers if you actually want to close out the game.

Stony Silence, Molten Rain, and Rain of Gore are a bit fringe, but they can each be a part of the equation at times.  Stony Silence shuts off a portion of their digging pieces, and the activated portion of Spellskite.  It suffers by being a Nature’s Claim target and not stopping Sylvan Scrying or Ancient Stirrings.  Molten Rain often prevents Tron from happening or delays it enough that you can burn them out, but it’s slow at 3 CMC and they often will just be able to dig out another tron land again quickly.  Still, if Tron becomes as big as it looks, Molten Rain is reasonable and also doubles at being good against Celestial Colonnade Blue decks.  Lastly, Rain of Gore is a punishing card for their lifegain strategies, but like Stony Silence it also suffers from Nature’s Claim.

Another point to consider in this match is your CMC density and splash colors.  The more 2 CMC spells you have in your list, the slower your Burn deck becomes and thus negates the advantage you have over Tron.  Versions of Burn with Bump in the Night can be attractive when keeping this fact in mind and may be worth switching to if things with Naya just aren’t working out.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Deflecting Palm, Path to Exile, Skullcrack, Atarka’s Command, Destructive Revelry, Molten Rain, Stony Silence, Smash to Smithereens, Rain of Gore, Bump in the Night, Efficiency, Slaughter Pact, Doom Blade, Terminate, Blood Moon

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– Searing Blaze, – Lavamancer, – Helix, (-1 or 2 Rift Bolt / Boros Charm if absolutely necessary)
+ Reverly, Skullcrack, Path, Palm

On the Draw:
Same, although you may want to bring out Eidolon as he’s now a slower liability.  You can also board out 1 Mountain (assuming you’re playing 20 lands)

vs Affinity

Keys to the Matchup:
Game 1 is not great as they are the faster deck, however you aren’t that much slower so you can definitely keep pace with many of their hands.  Vault Skirge, Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, Master of Etherium, and Cranial Plating are the ones to be concerned about and what usually demand answers as soon as you have them.

The issue on the Affinity side is that they don’t always have a great start.  Even if it looks explosive, cards like Signal Pest, Ornithopter, and Memnite don’t do much against you.  Thus, keep your Burn focused on them and do not be tempted to point it downwards just because they fling their whole hand on the board.  And even if they do have one of their payoff cards, you can many times race it if you do the math and sequence your spells correctly.  Even Vault Skirge gaining life is not always a big deal if it’s just a point a turn.  When it becomes equipped with a Cranial Plating or is accompanied by 2 Signal Pests, now that’s a different story.  Don’t forget about Inkmoth Nexus either, a Plating is equally deadly on him.

This is a Matchup where maindeck Searing Blaze / Blood and Lightning Helix truly shine.  Every two-for-one that you can get against them helps your damage race, and any surprise lifegain spell can throw off the critical combat turn.  These games are often over by turn 4 – 6, so one unexpected change can spell the difference.  Similarly, Grim Lavamancer can take over if he’s on the board early, helping you dilute their sources of metalcraft and be a repeatable source of damage.

There’s great debate among Burn players about Eidolon of the Great Revel.  Like the Burn mirror match, he’s often a card that is sided out on the draw.  However, because he’s so powerful and because your opponent won’t always have a fast start even when they’re on the play, he’s still quite good.  Keep a mental note of your opponent’s build in game 1 because if it’s heavy on Thoughtcast and payoff cards it might be worth it to keep him in.  Usually though he’s a quick out.

A few quirks of this Matchup to be aware of.  Atarka’s Command can pump your guys but ALSO gives them Reach.  This is important when your opponent has a Signal Pest onboard or an Ornithopter that they are trying to Plating you to death with.  Galvanic Blast is something most Affinity builds have access to, so like Lightning Helix remember that it can affect the race and play with it in mind.  Your fetch lands and shock lands are a big part of this same race, so be sure to play them appropriately and not take an unnecessary life point that ends up being the difference.

In Game 1 lead with your creatures and slow spells (Rift Bolt, 2 CMC spells) as often as you can as this will allow you to play more single bolt spells later which is important to reaching critical mass on time and maximizing your mana use.

Post-Board you bring in a ton against Affinity with almost any build.  More Searing Blaze / Blood, Revelrys, Smashes, sometimes Path, sometimes Palm, sometimes Skullcrack, Electrickery, etc.  Again, 2-for-1s are great and anything that directly destroys an artifact.  Path and Palm are just OK because if they have the appropriate mana they can move their plating over to a different guy in response.  Both also aren’t proactive so they can just nickel and dime you with creatures sometimes if they expect you have it and are close enough to race.  Electrickery is a very useful tool to keep up with their more explosive draws and can sometimes simply blow them out of the water.

Their plan against you is to bring in more Etched Champions, Spellskites, cheap counters, and possibly cards such as Welding Jar.  Revelry can deal with these in addition to you just ignoring them at times with cards like Atarka’s Command and Skullcrack.  Oath of the Gatewatch brought us Reality Hemorrhage which is about as good a card we could ask for against things with protection from Red.  It invalidates Etched Champion, Kor Firewalker, and Circle of Protection Red, all things which you’re not happy to see.

Boros Charm is one of the worst cards in the match, as other than being efficient it can’t kill any of their guys, costs 2 CMC, and requires you to fetch Sacred Foundry.  It’s usually one of the cards I tend to board some number of out.

Rakdos Charm and Stony Silence are powerful answers if you’re in those colors, so keep them in mind as you’re making your last few board slots.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Electrickery, Destructive Revelry, Smash to Smithereens, Gut Shot, Forked Bolt, Stony Silence, Rakdos Charm, Hurkyl’s Recall, Sudden Shock, Reality Hemorrhage, Path to Exile, Deflecting Palm, Shattering Spree, Anger of the Gods, Flamebreak, Skullcrack, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Lightning Helix

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
-4 Boros Charm, – some number of Swiftspear or Eidolon
+3-4 Revelry, +Helix, + Blaze / Blood, + (Path / Palm and/or Skullcrack if room.  Do not overboard)

On the Draw:
-4 Boros Charm, -4 Eidolon
+3-4 Revelry, +Helix, + Blaze / Blood, + (Path / Palm and/or Skullcrack if room.  Do not overboard)

vs Zoo and GR Aggro

Keys to the Matchup:
Zoo and GR Aggro are tough matchups.  Burn never likes to see quick, highly efficient creatures on the board because creatures like that often win races.  Additionally, it means you have to point your Burn to the ground at times which is the last thing you want to do.

Like Affinity, the more Blaze / Blood effects you have the better off you are.  Their creatures aren’t as explosive, but they are often bigger than yours making yours relatively invalidated unless you can surprise them with an Atarka’s Command.  You do however have the advantage of being more efficient than they are mana-wise and having more reach (burn), which are the pieces to you winning the Matchup.

Because of how creature-centric this Matchup is, be sure to only kill a creature if it’s about to kill you or if you think it’s going to get them some kind of very significant advantage.  All of your creatures are 1 or 2 drops, while theirs can scale a bit and they might get stuck with an awkward turn.

Post-Board can vary depending on your opponent’s list.  Smaller Zoo decks will usually just be bringing in things like Grim Lavamancer, Kor Firewalker, Thalia, Dromoka’s Command, etc.  You’ll be bringing in similar cards to the Affinity Matchup (sans Revelry), so you don’t mind this too much.  If Zoo rises in popularity, it is worthwhile to consider a sweeper effect like Flamebreak or Anger of the Gods, as this is a lynchpin to winning the damage race since some number of your creatures are usually coming out after board.

Bigger Zoo decks will have things like Geist of Saint Traft and Baneslayer Angel, both of which can be difficult to deal with but they are also both generally slow versus you and require a heavy dose of pain from their manabase.  Against decks like this, it may be worth it to bring in additional Skullcracks as they also tend to be lifegain heavy.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Ghor-Clan Rampager, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Lightning Helix, Kor Firewalker (vs GR), Reality Hemorrhage, Anger of the Gods, Flamebreak, Skullcrack (Bigger Zoo), Terminate, Doom Blade

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
-4 Eidolon, – some number of Boros Charm and/or Skullcrack (build dependent)
+ Blaze / Blood, + Flamebreak / Anger of the Gods, + Lightning Helix

On the Draw:
Same as on the play.

vs Jund

Keys to the Matchup:
Jund used to be one of the more favorable Matchups, in fact it was often one I preferred to play against.  They have Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize which are both big liabilities, and most of their spells are either non damage removal or reactive.

This changed slightly though.  Jund decks started becoming spell heavy, running more Inquisitions than Thoughtseizes, gaining access to heavier lifegain out of the board, and pilots are playing more aggressively.  I played Jund for a full season in Modern so I’ve had a solid experience both with and against the deck, so these changes became apparent quickly.

In Game 1, the worst starts are when they have lots of early discard backed up by Tarmogoyf and Liliana.  Honestly the latter two are the lynchpin pieces to them winning, as well as the possibility of a big Ooze lategame.  One noteable point with Ooze though is that you usually don’t have many creatures in the graveyard and they often can’t leave up too much Green mana (or simply won’t have it).

Kolaghan’s Command is a card that is mostly boarded out for them, but its discard effect can be troublesome when combined with the rest of their suite.  You need to fight these spells by being as efficient as possible (as usual).  You’re still the faster deck, so as long as they don’t get down two giant Goyfs it’s not the end of the world.  Get as many of your spells off as you can before a Liliana comes down and then the discard mode won’t matter as you’ll just play whatever you draw off the top.

Post-Board Jund may have access to Feed the Clan, so pay close attention when they have two mana sitting up on your turn so that you can plan your Atarka’s Commands and Skullcracks wisely.  Kitchen Finks and Thragtusk fall along the same lines, so it’s imperative that you keep a life denial option open on those particular turns.

Besides lifegain, Jund can many times have access to sweepers Post-Board.  Cards like Anger of the Gods and Damnation are reasonable, and they potentially can bring in additional spot Removal so they have extra answers to Eidolon and Goblin Guide.  As a result, your plan in turn is to cut creatures post-board and maximize the amount of Skullcrack effects you have.  You want to keep some number in, such as Goblin Guide, but everyone else is fair game to become more direct damage heavy in an attempt to fight on an axis that is unfair to them.

Path to Exile is a good answer to their biggest threats (Goyf, Tasigur, Raging Ravine), so I recommend having some number of them post-board to bring in for this matchup.

Searing Blaze is a mixed bag.  Yes it has targets, but post-board they are generally taking out Dark Confidant so there are even less potentials to go around, and because it’s so conditional it can often rot in your hand where another Burn spell could have represented damage.  I used to board more in, now I sometimes board them out depending on how I feel about their Jund list.  Burn players typically didn’t play cards like Path and Deflecting Palm in the past, so these new role players can fill those previously awkward spots.

This is one of the matchups where Boros Charm can shine a bit.  All three modes are relevant at times, whether it’s pure damage efficiency, stopping a sweeper effect, or double-striking a giant Monastery Swiftspear.  Remember that it has these different modes and is not just a Lava Axe.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Searing Blaze, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Skullcrack, Deflecting Palm (borderline because of Liliana), Destructive Revelry (if they have Courser, no if not), Bump in the Night (speed), Terminate

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– some number of Blaze, – some number of Monastery Swiftspear
+ Path to Exiles, Skullcracks, and (Helix + Palm, optional)

On the Draw:
– some number of Blaze, – 1 Mountain (if taking out Blazes), – your pick of creature if you wish (can keep them in too).  Usually 1-2 Eidolon or Swiftspear
+Path to Exiles, Skullcracks, and (Helix optional)
Note – Blazes can go either way (addition or subtraction) depending on your preference.  Palms shouldn’t usually come in on the draw because of the amount of discard they have reducing your number of direct damage spells

vs Eldrazi

Keys to the Matchup:
A relative newcomer to the scene, this deck has several variants with the most successful versions appearing to be BW and UB.  It’s basically mini Tron, minus the giant lifegain wurm and plus some discard and tokens.  I think the deck is very capable and have played against it with Burn, the matches felt largely similar to Tron in that you’re a slight step ahead most of the time but their disruption and acceleration keep it close.

One advantage over Tron is that while your Blaze effects aren’t ideal because of Spellskite and some unkillable targets, they do have some options, and Eldrazi’s heavy hitters don’t typically one-shot you like those in Tron.

Post-Board depending again on their build they can have things such as Timely Reinforcements, Celestial Purge, Duress, Drown in Sorrow, Disfigure, and Vampiric Link.  So your best plans are to be heavy on Atarka’s Command / Skullcrack, Electrickery, and to play around Timely when possible.  Whether that means taking extra damage from fetch and shock lands or suiciding creatures, it can be a big deal if that’s their route to victory.

Unlike Tron, the Eldrazi deck usually doesn’t have many artifacts besides ones they’re either boarding out or are able to use before you can remove them.  They tend to have some number of Spellskite, but this isn’t problematic enough that I’d want to bring in situational Revelrys unless it’s the UB version and they have the full 4 Skite.

Your creatures are more valuable in this matchup as they don’t have too many roadblocks in the early game and limited removal.  Also, the BW version doesn’t always have sweepers and even against the ones that do it’s typically of the slower variety where your creatures have already done their part.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Skullcrack, Path to Exile, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Revelry (only if artifact heavy), Electrickery, Rakdos Charm (if they are token heavy), Deflecting Palm, Terminate, Doom Blade

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
-Some number of Blaze, – Some number of Lavamancer or Swiftspear
+ Electrickery, Skullcrack, Path, Palm

On the Draw:
Same as on the play, except I’d leave Swiftspear in.  Can cut 1 Mountain too.

vs Collected Company Combo and Kiki-Chord Combo

Keys to the Matchup:
Collected Company decks come in a variety of flavors, with Abzan being the more combo oriented one and Naya / Elves being value oriented.  The gameplan is similar against both as they are mostly Zoo-ish in nature, requiring Blaze and Blood effects as often as possible.

The difference with the Abzan Combo version is that you want anti-lifegain as well for if they go infinite against you (and because of the presence of 4 Kitchen Finks), so additional Skullcracks are demanded.  You also want to have Path to Exile or a similar effect so that you can remove one of their combo pieces if they try to go off before you can kill them.  So basically play like you were playing against Zoo, with the caveat being to hold up certain spells turns 3-6 when you can.  It’s equally important to stay aggressive, as durdling around too much favors their inevitability.

Post-Board they bring in cards like Burrenton Forge-Tender, Scavenging Ooze, Voice of Resurgence, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Lightning Helix, Engineered Explosives, and more Spellskites if they don’t have many in the maindeck.

Due to their threat density and propensity for more hate after board, this matchup can be very close.  You can only sideboard so many cards without making your deck significantly worse, so the order is generally to favor Blaze / Blood / Skullcrack cards, followed by Path and a specific hate choice if you have it.  Rakdos Charm (1 damage to controller for each creature they control) and Grafdigger’s Cage (stopping CoCo and Chord) are some of the best.  Destructive Revelry can be a possible option, but it’s a fine line to tow.  It depends on how much you value killing potential Spellskites, Coursers, or Eidolon of Rhetorics.

Voice of Resurgence is a thorn in your side, but also a blessing if you’re playing Rakdos Charm.  Remember that you can throw burn spells at them during their turn to trigger his ability (it is NOT a may trigger), and then choose the damage mode on Charm to hit them for the kill shot.  This happened to me during a PTQ one time where I hit my opponent for exactly 9 damage when he was at 9 life and I was dead on board.

As for what to cut, your creatures are some of the first to go since they get stonewalled early and are targeted heavily in games 2 and 3.  Because you’re usually bringing in more 2-for-1s you can afford to lose some repeatable damage sources in favor of fighting them solely on the Burn axis.  Eidolon is still valuable when on the Play, but is often too slow on the draw.  Lavamancer is good here at keeping them off of Birds mana and helping you deal with Persist in the early game.  But like other creature decks you face, most Burn spells should go to the face.  Boros Charm isn’t great either, and since you have to make room for a lot of spells it’s best to trim some of them.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Grafdigger’s Cage, Anger of the Gods, Rakdos Charm, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Path to Exile, Destructive Revelry (borderline), Skullcrack, Electrickery (Elves only), Flamebreak

General Sideboard Guidelines (vs Combo):
 On the Play:
– 2-4 Boros Charm, 2-4 Monastery Swiftspear, Guides or Rift Bolts as needed (preferably don’t sideboard that deep)
+ Searing Blazes / Blood, Skullcrack, Anger or Flamebreak, Grafdigger’s Cage, Rakdos Charm (if in those colors), Paths, 1 Revelry (if heavy on Skite / Courser)

On the Draw:
Same as on the play except cutting Eidolons over Swiftspears.  And again please feel free to mise, there’s no need in any of these matchups to cut a full playset of a card.  It’s always good to have some element of a card in  your deck unless it’s truly awful

General Sideboard Guidelines (vs Value):
 On the Play:
Same as Combo except not a big need for extra Skullcracks since you already have a good amount of that effect mainboard and they don’t typically have much lifegain.  It’s possible though that with the future meta Skullcrack might be needed.

On the Draw:
Same as Combo, with again the Skullcrack consideration.

vs Infect

Keys to the Matchup:
Generally Infect is a favorable Matchup but since it is a quick deck you are punished greatly for mistakes.  The most important line to understand is that you want to try to kill creatures at the end of their turn or during your turn.  By doing this, you force them to use their pump spells at times that are not advantageous, and thus dilute their available ways to kill you.

Your life total does not matter in this Matchup, so feel free to go fetch and shock land crazy as needed to play your spells in the most efficient manner possible.  Hopefully you are able to land an early Grim Lavamancer and/or Eidolon as these cards make it very difficult for them to go off on a given turn.

Usually during the match, the Infect player will get in a hit or two for 3-5 poision counters.  This is a point where I see a lot of Burn players worry and try to shoot down a guy in response to a pump spell.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid doing this unless you get a read on your opponent somehow.  Save the burn for the appropriate time, and if they kill you because you didn’t do it in response it was probably meant to be regardless.

This is one of the matchups where it’s OK to point some of your burn spells to the ground.  They are really limited on creatures and that’s their whole game plan.  If you can clear the road of threats, your creatures will finish them off in short order and if not you’re more likely to draw lethal burn spells than they are creatures.

The worst things that can happen to you from an intelligent Infect player is that they will sandbag their cards until they believe they can go off no matter what you respond with, or post-board they will Nature’s Claim their own stuff to save themselves on the critical turn while killing you on their following turn.  Eidolon makes the sandbag plan a little sketch, since if they’re not able to answer him you can just keep attacking until they’re dead, and time is on your side if they wait.  As for Nature’s Claims (and Spellskite), you might keep some number of Atarka’s Command in to combat it (and also pump your team), but it won’t matter too much since you’re focused on killing their threats anyway.  It’s simply important to remember they have that option (which can also kill your Eidolon).

Post-Board you get some glorious weapons in the fight against them.  Path to Exile and Deflecting Palm are both fantastic answers to their Voltron plan, and Destructive Revelry deals with Spellskite, Inkmoth Nexus, and Wild Defiance.  More Searing Blaze / Blood effects can come in, and Electrickery / Gut Shot / Sudden Shock can be blowout surprises.  Just be aware that they are usually bringing in heavy permission (Dispel and Spell Pierce), so if they have blue mana up that’s likely the reason.  These spells dilute their overall plan though, while you’re just enhancing yours.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Sudden Shock, Spellskite, Electrickery, Path to Exile, Deflecting Palm, Rakdos Charm, Smash to Smithereens, Destructive Revelry, Gut Shot, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Blood Moon (borderline / bad), Molten Rain (borderline / bad), Terminate, Doom Blade, Forked Bolt

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– Helix, some number of Boros Charms, Rift Bolts and / or Skullcracks
+ Spellskite, Path, Palm, Revelry, Electrickery, Blaze, Blood, Sudden Shock, etc

On the Draw:
Same as on the Play, emphasizing your overall CMC (thus 2 CMC cards less desirable if making a tough decision)

vs Scapeshift

Keys to the Matchup:
Scapeshift was formerly one of the easiest Matchups for Burn, and many times it still can be.  The Bring to Light version that Jeff Hoogland championed is a bit more difficult to play against, and many pilots have added additional hate for Burn.  Still, their plan is linear and their board is often predictable, so both of these factors make it a matchup you can have a solid idea of how to play against.

Pre-Board you are racing, simple as that.  They usually have Remand and Cryptic Command, but don’t get too cute with their counterspells outside of those two so you typically know when they’re going to happen.  Their kill turn is generally 6-8, which is slower than yours.  The hope is that you can land an early Eidolon to punish them for their incessant digging, while at the same time burning them out.

Post-Board the usual plan for them is Obstinate Baloth, Dispel / Negate, Spellskite, and Sweepers.  Some lists have Courser or will bring in Nature’s Claim.  Pilots of this deck tend to have 1 or 2 interesting cards out of the board (Primal Command), but unfortunately we can’t predict what those will be.

Your usual Post-Board plan is to cut Searing Blaze effects in favor of more Skullcracks.  If you have access to Sudden Shock, it’s a nice way to surprise them in game 2 by hitting their Sakura Tribe-Elder when they leave it up to block as many Scape players do.

Basically if you don’t let them gain life and they don’t have the nut accelerated hand, you’re in good shape.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order) :
Skullcrack, Sudden Shock, Choke, Blood Moon, Molten Rain, Slaughter Games (borderline), Destructive Revelry (only if very heavy on Courser or Skite)

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– Searing Blaze / Blood
+ Skullcracks, Sudden Shock

On the Draw:
– Searing Blaze / Blood and/or 1 Mountain
+ Skullcracks, Sudden Shock

vs Abzan

Keys to the Matchup:
Abzan is similar to Jund, with three important caveats.  They have a turn 3 lifegain spell in Kitchen Finks (usually), a turn 4 lifegain spell in Siege Rhino, and they have tokens in Lingering Souls.  Versus Jund where you just have to worry about Scavenging Ooze (also in Abzan) and maybe Huntmaster of the Fells, this distinction forces you to try and keep Skullcrack / Atarka’s Command up on those critical turns when possible.

Their Post-Board plan for you is almost identical to Jund, with the ability to sometimes have cards like Leyline of Sanctity which they can hardcast if needed.  Don’t worry too much about Leyline, because if anything it tends to be a 1-2 of in their board and is a waste of attention for you when the cards to fight it don’t help you with anything else.  If they land one it can often be GG, but if you’re stuck holding a dead Revelry the same can be said.

I’m still not wild about Blaze and Blood here because it isn’t great against Kitchen Finks and the rest of their targets are very Jundish in nature (aka won’t die) as well as being less efficient than a Lightning Bolt.  I like focusing on the Skullcrack / Atarka’s Command plan and potentially bringing in Electrickery for their Lingering Souls.  Souls can be a means for them to kill you a turn faster, and post-board they could have cards like Timely Reinforcements.  Path to Exile and Deflecting Palm make a bit more sense, as Abzan has more big creatures than Jund does so there’s love to be spread around.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Searing Blaze, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Skullcrack, Deflecting Palm (borderline because of Liliana), Bump in the Night (speed), Terminate, Rakdos Charm (if creature heavy)

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– some number of Blaze, – some number of Monastery Swiftspear (if necessary)
+ Path to Exiles, Skullcracks, and (Helix, Palm, Electrickery optional)

On the Draw:
– some number of Blaze, – 1 Mountain (if taking out Blazes), – your pick of creature if you wish (can keep them in too).  Usually 1-2 Eidolon or Swiftspear
+Path to Exiles, Skullcracks, and (Helix, Palm, Electrickery optional)
Note – Blazes can go either way (addition or subtraction) depending on your preference.  If you bring in Palms, be wary that Abzan still has Liliana if you play too defensively

vs Grishoalbrand

Keys to the Matchup:
I haven’t played this matchup enough to finalize my thoughts on it, but I think the best you can hope for is banking on the fact that your deck is more consistent than theirs.  That said, the new versions of Grishoalbrand are pretty consistent as well as being faster than Burn.  They can gain an obscene amount of life with Nourishing Shoal + Worldspine Wurm and sometimes go off incredibly early due to Simian Spirit Guide and Groyo’s Vengeance.

For some reassurance, I have a friend who plays Grishoalbrand often and he says he thinks Burn is one of the best decks against it.  Part of that might be due to the fact that they need precisely Nourishing Shoal or an effective opener to beat your clock, but I’m still going to hold my breath if this deck becomes popular.

Post-Board cards like Grafdigger’s Cage can force them to just be on the Through the Breach plan, and that will buy you critical time.  If you have access to Rakdos Charm you can respond to their reanimation or Wordspine shuffle trigger by wiping their yard.  Additional Skullcracks will help you fight Nourishing Shoal if you are able to have mana up in time.  Path to Exile can force their hand during the Combo process, but generally doesn’t do much since they don’t have to use the attack step.

Blazes, Lightning Helix, and expensive 2 CMC do-nothings are the ones worth cutting here.  In addition to a lack of time, they have increased discard post-board (Inquisition) so you need to kill them as fast as possible.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle (name the right card!), Rakdos Charm, Skullcrack

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– Blazes / Bloods, Helixes
+ Grafdigger’s Cage, Skullcrack, Pithing Needle, Rakdos Charm, Path

On the Draw:
Same as the Play except that you can cut 1 Mountain instead of a spell.

vs Lantern Control

Keys to the Matchup:
Hard to actually call this a control deck as it’s really just a degenerate Combo deck, but fortunately it’s one of your best matchups.

Game 1 is much like it is for Scapeshift.  You’re simply racing their combo and hoping you can eek out a win.  They can take time to setup, and you can take advantage of that.

Post-Board you can cut the unnecessary Blazes, Helixes, etc, for Destructive Revelry, Smash to Smithereens, Skullcracks, etc.  They’ll be bringing in Sun Droplet or other lifegain, will have Spellskite, and will have Welding Jar and/or Sweeper effects (Pyroclasm).  The plan remains the same with upgrades essentially.  Eidolon is an absolute beating against them, so the more you can get in play here the better.

Be aware that they have Ensnaring Bridge, and outside of Pyroclasm or Pyrite Spellbomb it’s one of the few ways they have to stop your ground attack.  They often lose games in which you get a board presence before they can shut you off.  So use your Revelries to hit the pieces that prevent that, such as Bridge, Spellskite, Lantern, and Sun Droplet.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Destructive Revelry, Smash to Smithereens, Shattering Spree, Rakdos Charm, Skullcrack, Bump in the Night (speed)

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
– Blazes / Bloods, Helixes, some number of Rift Bolts
+ Revelries, Skullcracks

On the Draw:
Same as the Play, except you can cut 1 Mountain instead of a spell

vs Merfolk

Keys to the Matchup:
Burn mages tend to have varying opinions on how good this Matchup is.  I personally thought it was terrible initially, but I’ve come around to thinking it’s actually net positive most of the time.  The scary part is that they can overload the board almost immediately and a Master of Waves can be the end of days.  But you’re still either faster or right on pace with them if you concentrate your Burn to the dome.

One nuance worth being aware of; while your Skullcrack effects aren’t ideal in this Matchup, Skullcrack specifically can kill Master of Waves if they block.  You Skullcrack them, and since damage can’t be prevented, his protection from Red clause does not prevent him from taking damage from your creature.  It’s a loose application, but it occasionally does come up.

Really the only creatures you need to consider killing are Kira (Post-Board so your Blazes are more effective), and a Lord that is going to cause you to die a turn sooner than you should.  Thus, try to not make this move until the last second if possible so you can both throw off their combat math as well as make sure you have enough Burn to kill them.

Grim Lavamancer and Eidolon can both be strong here if they’re able to come down early and work the board.  This is a matchup where having as many Grim Lavamancers in your 75 as possible is rewarding.

Cards like Rending Volley and Combust are effective, but not necessarily helpful all the time.  I still think it’s worth having them, but with the banning of Twin the amount of hate for Blue decks should be kept to a minimum.

Volcanic Fallout or Anger of the Gods can be devastating versus Fish, so if small Blue decks pick up steam these are the first choices I’d consider moving towards.

Full Consideration Pool (Not In Order):
Electrickery, Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, Skullcrack (just keeping maindeck or swapping for Commands), Path to Exile (for Master of Waves), Rakdos Charm, Lightning Helix, Reality Hemorrhage, Doom Blade, Slaughter Pact, Bump in the Night (speed)

General Sideboard Guidelines:
 On the Play:
-3 Atarka’s Command, -3 Boros Charm (can cut Rift Bolts instead and bring in Revelrys if heavy on Spellskite)
+ Electrickery, Blaze / Blood, Path, Skullcrack, Reality Hemorrhage, Doom Blade, Slaughter Pact, Rakdos Charm, etc

On the Draw:
– Eidolon (some number), – Commands
+ (same as on play)

My Decklist

Burn by John Galli

4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Boros Charm
4 Atarka’s Command
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
1 Shard Volley
1 Lightning Helix

3 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
1 Copperline Gorge

3 Destructive Revelry
2 Skullcrack
2 Kor Firewalker
1 Searing Blaze
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Deflecting Palm
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Reality Hemorrhage
1 Lightning Helix
1 Path to Exile


While my list is just what I’m comfortable with at this point, we’re going to see some Metagame shake ups and it may be worth considering a move to a Black version of Burn again.  Gaining extra speed from Bump in the Night can be huge, and sideboard cards like Rakdos Charm are useful if the format goes wide.  Mono Red Burn might even be a possibility, harkening back to the list that Raphael Levy played at a Grand Prix years ago.  His list had Molten Rain, Cryoclasm, and Peak Eruption, making it scary for decks trying to go big.  Blood Moon is a real possibility for Burn at the moment too, although I wouldn’t advise it against decks that are relatively on par with your speed or heavy on creatures.

The important piece of the large puzzle is that you keep yourself at least open enough that you have a fair chance against the field.  Burn players often tend to over focus on Metagame shifts, but this will always be an open format.  Play a list of cards that allow for flexibility while still properly addressing crossover needs.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning 

P.S. – If you have any more questions regarding the deck or strategy, feel free to submit them to us on Twitter for a chance at having them answered on the Podcast in our Mailbag segment.  We are also still running our Giveaway contest of sweet Red cards and accessories, so follow us if you aren’t already!

Twitter: @reddeckwinning and @xxdavisx
Reddit: reddeckwinning

Being The Small Fish In A Big Legacy Pond


Being The Small Fish In A Big Legacy Pond

Legacy is a vast format with a small percentage of the same decks putting up consistent results.  Every once in a while, an established archetype from years ago will pop up in the Top 16, or have some resurgent success based on metagame changes and card releases.  But these are usually blips on the radar, so when brainstorming (no pun intended) for a tournament it’s very important to not get too cute with your choices.

Burn in Legacy occupies a space that, as usual for Red in most formats, is often misunderstood.  It’s easy to look at a typical Burn list and make some strong criticisms when surveying the rest of the format.  Some of the most common ones you’ll hear:

  • Why are you playing a budget deck and limiting yourself to one color when you have access to just about anything in Magic?
  • How do you expect to beat decks with cards or strategies that are considered superior by most of the community in Force of Will, Brainstorm, Delver of Secrets, Stoneforge Mystic, Combo, etc?
  • How are you able to address bad matchups with such a limited card selection available to you?

The first question won’t have an answer that is satisfactory for most, but it will be understandable to those who have attachments to things.  Some people just like setting fires, they like the passion, they like being the aggressor.  Burn occupies all of those things, and this is the most pure Burn deck you can basically play in a tournament.

But furthermore, I believe that Burn is a fully Tier 1 Legacy deck and not the Tier 1.5 that many mages might try to stray you on.  You won’t see as many high finishes because of how narrow it is and the questions above that it presents, but finishes are not the only thing that equate to performance.  Burn is an incredibly difficult deck to master, and most pilots are either inexperienced or not willing to put in the time to make tough choices second nature (or to understand its roles in the Metagame).  A few pilots have taken time to do this, and have won or Top 8’d events as a result.  With the increasing popularity of Modern Burn, I imagine a few more will crossover into Legacy as well in a matter of time.

I think the biggest difference in Legacy over any other format, especially in regards to Burn, is that mistakes are often punished with a game loss.  While playing tight is important no matter what kind of Magic you’re doing, it’s emphasized here because you are playing against an even quicker clock and a format where cards like Brainstorm and free spells will make sure that punishment is dealt every time.  Legacy is all about little moments; places in a game where the slightest variance in sequencing or the ever so incorrect board choice makes all the difference.

In response to the second question, I expect to beat the rest of this stacked field because our deck is (like Burn in other formats) attacking from a specific angle that most decks aren’t naturally prepared to beat.  You are not interested in their gameplan or the life of your creatures, you are simply interested in bringing them from 20 to 0 as fast as possible.  While your opponents gets cards that help them filter to their most important pieces or consistently “go off” on a given turn, you get cards that make your clock either on par to theirs or “break” the game by doing something completely outside of the normal means of combat.  For example, THESE cards:


Sulfuric Vortex is the biggest temptation for playing Legacy Burn.  While it hasn’t always made the 75 depending on what the metagame is doing, it’s usually a key piece and one that you both don’t get to play in other formats and can’t play in most other decks.  There’s nothing more satisfying then slamming this against a Miracles player and knowing the fear you are putting into them as they realize the clock just got a whole lot more consistent, quicker, and their hopes put on a card or two in their deck.  Besides having a repeatable burn source, you take away lifegain which the majority of decks are not prepared to deal with in Game 1.  The matchups where Stoneforge Mystic was going to fetch up a trusty Jitte or Batterskull now face the same difficulties as the Miracles player.  Council’s Judgment or bust, Sucka!

Price of Progress baffles some newer players to Legacy because while they know people play duals and other non-basics, they don’t realize the damage potential and they feel like it’s too much of a liability when the card is dead.  It’s important to get past this belief, as Price of Progress is rarely dead (outside of a Mirror), and in many matches the damage can often reach over half your opponent’s starting life total.  The bigger issue is that your opponent can play around it, but most decks can only do that to a certain extent, and often players will forget about it or have no choice but to extend into it.  It’s a crucial card, and one of the cogs that can keep you in the driver’s seat against a deck that is potentially much faster than you.

Fireblast is one of the most satisfying Red cards in all of Magic, because much like Force of Will your opponent can never feel safe.  Even when tapped out and exhausting your hand of Burn spells and their responses, you could always just “have it”.  And that’s ignoring the pure efficiency of 0 mana for 4 damage which you can’t touch with anything else.

To answer the third question, your sideboard must be educated and focused, and that is all dependent on your knowledge of the format, metagame, and the accuracy of your predictions.  Legacy does have some very lopsided matchups, so sometimes Burn can just be a big dog in the format, but usually there is enough variance that you can dodge the bad ones or accept a loss that you know you couldn’t get out of.  That said, if your list is tuned correctly, you shouldn’t have anything that is strictly unwinnable.  The worst decks are by far the “other” combo decks (Belcher, Storm, Reanimator, Dredge, Sneak & Show, etc) because like you they are playing only their game and are too fast for you to beat on an optimal draw straight-up.  So what becomes more challenging, is deciding if you want to abandon a matchup post-board or decrease your winning percentage against “the field”.

What helps this decision a bit is that Burn is often not a very popular archetype at big tournaments, and as such, the other pillars of the format have their say in what fringe archetypes can or cannot see the light of day.  Miracles, Delver, and D&T (Death & Taxes) can be oppressive enough that if they catch a wave of success at tournaments, some of the ones you’re worried about may disappear altogether.  Even some of the primary staples can be ushered out in this manner, as we’ve recently seen with D&T.  This very move itself has allowed me to shave on cards in my Legacy Burn list and focus more on other areas.  Many people consider D&T to be a bye for Burn, but I know from playing against some of the better pilots in the country that it is a very close match if they have experience with it.

So What Is Our Metagame?

There isn’t a 100% answer to this, and the problem is more difficult to assess in Legacy due to card prices / availability and regional preference.  In a large tournament though, you can at least count on the pillars to show up, with a bigger percentage being decks that have had success the last few weeks or benefited from new card releases.  I usually start by looking at the last two months of StarCityGames Opens and Premier IQs, Grand Prixes, and European results.

More often than not, Reanimator and Dredge are not worth bothering with.  Both decks basically require dedicated graveyard hate, and you rarely have the sideboard room to draw anything reliably that you would put there.  You usually have to get that sideboard card in hand or on the board within the first turn or two, and that’s asking a lot.  Cards like Surgical Extraction, Faerie Macabre, Leyline of the Void, Mogg Fanatic (for Dredge’s Bridge From Below), Grafdigger’s Cage, Tormod’s Crypt, or Relic of Progenitus are the go-tos, and they’re not applicable against 90% of the rest of the decks.  I’ve seen Burn players try and bring in things like Relic against Maverick (to counter Knight) or Snapcaster/Goyf decks, but you’re costing yourself a Burn spell / Creature and it only gets worse as time goes on.  Sure, if you draw it early and your opponent is reliant on those certain pieces to win, it can be effective, but most of the time you’re drawing it too late for it to matter when it could have been that last bolt to the head.  Cards like Leyline are mulligan or bust, and I’d rather just capitalize more on what makes Burn good (its consistency).

The cards that see the most fluctuation in my board are the following:


Searing Blaze and Grim Lavamancer are both fantastic against the creature-heavy decks or anything that presents a decent amount of targets.  These are the spells that up your percentages from 50/50s and 55/45s against decks like D&T, Maverick, Elves, Delver, Shardless, etc.  It’s much better against the non-blue aggro decks because they tend to run more creatures (and it can’t be countered), so keep that in mind when deciding how many you want to include.  Many Burn players were maindecking Blaze in the recent metagame which just baffles me.  It’s a dead card against so many decks, decks where you preciously need that extra damage, and it’s not as amazing against stuff like Delver as some give credit for.  A two mana conditional spell is a lot in Legacy, especially when those blue-aggro matches often hinge on playing around Daze and Spell Pierce.  Grim Lavamancer fares a little bit better, but obviously being a 1/1 creature means that he’s quite easy to get off the board.

I think usually most 75s want some number of both so that you’re not giving away too much against commonly popular decks.  I’d lean more towards Lavamancer, and you could consider some number of both in the main if the meta shifts towards “fair dude decks”, but as it stands, that’s not the game we’re living in at the moment.  Miracles, Delver, Shardless Sultai, and Esper Stoneblade are the top 4 pillars, all of whom demand additional answers.

Mindbreak Trap is one of your better options against Storm and Belcher, but like most hate cards for those matchups they have solutions.  What’s useful here is that you can be tapped out and play it, and since you have a variety of answers at your disposal, it’s likely that they may keep the wrong card or guess incorrectly.  That is of course if you even see your board card/s.  Eidolon is helpful in these matchups, but sometimes they go off before you can get one out, and sometimes even with him out they have Echoing Truth or Abrupt Decay to remove him before they finish.

One way that you can combat some of the combo matchups or supplement fringe board cards is to run Pyroblast.  Pyroblast is never the ideal sideboard card, but it’s probably the most flexible one vs matchups that are difficult or close.  Against Storm, you can counter a Brainstorm, Preordain, or Ponder to interrupt them from going off.  It of course won’t get rid of their existing storm count, but it might prevent them from being able to dig far enough to get to Tendrils or get lethal damage.  Against Miracles, if you happen to have it before they land a Counterbalance you can attempt to counter it, or you can attempt to destroy it if they have to play it naked (no Top).

Similarly, Pyroblast can counter Show and Tell or cantrip spells, making a Sneak & Show player have to have a counterspell of their own or a Sneak Attack.  These again aren’t the greatest ways to answer your problems, but Pyroblast provides enough strength that I think it’s a good time to be playing it.  I also wouldn’t feel obligated to bring in 3 or 4 of them, even just 1 or 2 is a nice addition.  Diluting your deck of damage threats is a concern to always be aware of with Legacy Burn.  Lastly, keep in mind that you can still target permanents with Pyroblast even if they aren’t Blue, it simply won’t destroy the permanent.  This is useful when needing an extra Prowess trigger on Monastery Swiftspear (similar to how you’d play spells into Chalice of the Void or Counterbalance at times even though they’d be countered).

Ensnaring Bridge is the last card that sees some movement depending on the Meta, but in general it’s one I’d play more often than not.  It’s arguably your best answer to Sneak & Show, as cards like Ashen Rider can only be played against the one matchup and don’t help you if they resolve a Sneak Attack. Bridge on the other hand, doubles at being a solid addition versus Delver and less seen archetypes such as MUD or Goblins.  In the case of Delver, they are usually not actively boarding in artifact hate, so it can often steal a game after you exhaust your early burn spells.  Just remember that all Delver decks have access to some hate post-board, so in game 3 (if there is one) it’s probably wise to board it back out.

New Weapons

Some new cards have been popping up in Burn that have made a large impact on the deck.  One of them is my own personal innovation, and the others are ones that I’ve had to try out but have since been thoroughly convinced on their place in the list after success at recent tournaments.

The first (and my spin) is Molten Vortex:


Vortex serves the role of Grim Lavamancer in the sense of repeatable damage, but being an enchantment makes it more difficult to remove for many decks.  Additionally, it turns every draw of yours into a live one and prevents flooding, which is precisely what you lose to playing Burn more than any other obstacle.  I was excited when I first saw the card spoiled in Origins, and was surprised when it didn’t get initially adopted.  Stephen Neal from my area who Top 8’d Pro Tour Origins played one in his sideboard, but that was Standard and this was a card I felt has a better application in a format filled with low toughness creatures and lockout decks.

Against Miracles, Molten Vortex joins your other pesky enchantments (Eidolon of the Great Revel and Sulfuric Vortex) to overload them on targets for Council’s Judgment.  This has been a key turning point for me in making Miracles feel like a good matchup.  They only have so many answers to enchantments, so if you can form a threshold of them it is often very difficult to mount a comeback.  Molten Vortex also sneaks in underneath their combo more often than your other two, so it’s one extra inch in a battle for them.  And unlike Pyrostatic Pillar which requires the opponent to play into your triggers, Vortex is instead actively killing them.

Molten Vortex is very useful against Lands, a deck that would otherwise Punishing Fire the card if it were a creature.  It’s OK against Delver and small creature decks that push you to keep drawing those last few points of damage, and overall it’s been a winner.  The one drawback is that you never want to draw two of them, and it’s better later in the game than earlier, so you’re likely only going to have 1-2 copies in the board.


Exquisite Firecraft was the card that people asked me about the most when it got spoiled.  There were a lot of folks who thought it would be good in Legacy and I initially was not in that camp.  It’s very difficult for anything with three mana tacked onto it to see play, and there’s also always the question of whether or not there’s just a better card out there for the job.

After early tournament results showed that people who placed were playing it, I thought it was only right to at least be objective and give it a try.  I sleeved it up for a win-a-box about a month ago and knew there would be some Delver and Miracles players lurking.

The card was insane.  I knew the scenario that it “should” be good in from speculation, which is that it would be your last burn spell that normally would be countered versus those decks.  But I undervalued the power granted by that situation in those matchups, and the fact that you could draw multiples and just put that game completely into your hands from a percentage standpoint.  And in the Delver matchup, you can kill a Delver himself, which sometimes is the very thing that loses you the race.

Whether you have to shave numbers on it or not to make room for other cards, it’s doubtful for me that I’d ever take this out of the sideboard after now having multiple win-a-boxes under my belt (both of which I won).


Pithing Needle is the last recent addition to the deck and one that I know has occasionally made Burn sideboards before.  The reason it’s being discussed here is because I think it’s applicable against enough tougher matchups and unknowns that it needs to be in the 75 currently.  It doesn’t do damage itself which is a big hesitation point for a card, but like Pyroblast the level of flexibility is unmatched.  Against Lands, you can name Thespian Stage and prevent them from comboing out on you unless they are able to draw an answer, putting them on the Punishing Fire plan which buys  you important time.  Against Miracles it can name Sensei’s Divining Top and come down early before they assemble a prison.  Against MUD it can name Metalworker or Kuldotha Forgemaster to slow them down enough to sneak out wins.  The options are wide open, and so is this format, so it’s about as good a mise as I could ask for.


Sensei’s Divining Top popped up in an SCG Burn list a while back and I was immediately intrigued.  The card made good sense; it can filter to make sure you almost always have a Burn spell or what you need at the ready, and you have fetch lands to make sure your next few cards aren’t getting stale.  It triggers Prowess on Monastery Swiftspear, and it lets you draw an extra card in a critical turn.  There’s few detractors, outside of it not being damage itself (which can be remedied with its two modes) and the fact that it’s bad in multiples.  You can do some fun tricks with two of them and a Swiftspear, but aside from that it fits the role of Molten Vortex in being just that bit of extra sauce you need to get the win.

The Last Piece


Smash to Smithereens is a staple Burn sideboard card that is one of the hardest to decide the number on.  You want it against decks with Batterskull and Jitte (Stoneblade, Maverick, D&T, Shardless) and against decks that are either artifact based or bringing Chalice of the Void / Ensnaring Bridge in against you (MUD, some Delver builds, Painter, Pox, U/B Tezzeret, etc).  The big problem is that the first tier of those decks also have a beatdown plan, so you can’t have too many situational cards that might or might not be correct depending on their hand and line of play.  But the artifacts that the first tier decks run are quite impactful, and the other decks mentioned are back-breaking at times, so you do want some number.

Usually for me that number is 1 or 2, sometimes 3 if the Meta has a crazy shift.  Most Burn players I see tend to run it as a 3-of, but I think that’s just too many when it doesn’t help much against the current 4 pillars of the format.  Regardless, when it’s good, it’s great, so always have it in your decision process.

The List And The Leftovers

Here is where my list would be at if I were taking it to a major Legacy event tomorrow:

Burn by John Galli (Legacy)

4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

3 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Fireblast
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Arid Mesa
10 Mountain

4 Exquisite Firecraft
3 Pyroblast
2 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Searing Blaze
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Molten Vortex
1 Pithing Needle

There’s obviously a good many cards not talked about or seen here, and I’ll try to quickly address some of those:

  • Flame Rift:  Actually considering bringing this back in, Eidolon took its spot but it represents unparalleled damage at its cost and can help you race combo decks better
  • Vexing Shusher:  Often a go-to Miracles / Delver card, but I’ve never liked it in Burn.  It’s just another bear for them to kill and the activated ability requires too much mana and too much work in addition to the condition of it not dying.  I understand why people play it and like it, but IMO not worth it
  • Sulfur Elemental:  When D&T picks up in popularity I like this card more.  Definitely helpful against Flickerwisp which can often be one of the most annoying cards they have against you.  Killing Thalia and Mother of Runes is equally great
  • Dualcaster Mage:  I haven’t seen this guy played yet in Legacy Burn, but I have to imagine it’d be hilarious.  And who knows, it could actually be good.  I’d love to see the look on my opponent’s face when I copy a Fireblast for exactsies. . .
  • Blood Moon:  I’m not sure who this is reliably coming down against and affecting much.  Maybe Lands, 4-color Delver decks and Sneak & Show, but you’re not a deck that wants this slow effect which is better when you have 4 in your list and some way to accelerate it out
  •  Volcanic Fallout:  While this card seems good against Elves, Delver, Deathrite Shaman, and Young Pyromancer, it’s pretty much only good there.  Most of the other decks have too much variance in toughness or it’s killing the creatures that don’t truly matter to the matchup.  I’ve played it quite a bit in Legacy Burn, and it just never was quite what I was hoping for.  It’s another one like Shusher that I can understand why people might like it but just doesn’t make sense for me in the end.  If Delver at some point just starts dominating the format and D&T makes a return from the dead, then I’ll reconsider
  • Skullcrack:  Ah yes, Skullcrack.  This is a card I tried for a while thinking that it might actually be precisely the upgrade Burn would like to have.  In the end, it’s not efficient enough in comparison to the other Burn spells and Sulfuric Vortex occupies the same role while just being better most of the time.  If Vortex sours in the Meta, Skullcrack is a sure-fire replacement, but until that day occurs it’s not worth the room.  It also can be useful if Circle of Protection: Red becomes popular, so keep an eye on that as well
  • Searing Blood:  Completely acceptable as Searing Blaze #5 – 8, especially in creature-heavy Metas.  I’ve at times ran 4 of each, when D&T and Elves were everywhere.  Now is not that time, but your local meta may vary
  • Sideboard Cards Of Other Colors:  I know the temptation is very real, but to paraphrase Patrick Sullivan, those 1 out of 8 games you get Wastelanded will make you think otherwise.  I could potentially see a situation where you have a dual land in the board along with a few cards, but they’d have to be incredibly effective and inexpensive in cost


Burn is Good.  Burn is Great.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning

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