Modern Musings: Burn Primer Part 3

me

By Justin Alderman

Welcome back to the Wizard’s Cupboard! Last time I discussed the Affinity and Splinter Twin matches for Modern Burn, and today I’ll finish up with the Abzan and Mirror matchups in this followup to Beating The Big Four. So without further ado, let’s dive in and get this ball rolling!

THE ABZAN MENACE

dfhjkmnbv

Abzan Midrange is a powerhouse in the Modern format. Boasting premium removal, hand disruption, and some of the best creatures that Green has to offer, Abzan is a midrange strategy that plans to out attrition you before mopping up with a large threat. Commonly called “Rock,” this deck is based in G/B, and is known for branching out to splash into other colors, such as Red (Jund) or White (Abzan), for more powerful options. Since the printing of Siege Rhino, Rock decks have moved over to the White splash in order support the horned beast, and to also take advantage of Lingering Souls and Path to Exile. And right now, it’s taking up a large percentage of the Modern metagame.

Behold the foul creation!

Creature 13
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Siege Rhino
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Planeswalker 4
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Spells 18
4 Lingering Souls
3 Thoughtseize
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Abrupt Decay
3 Path to Exile
1 Maelstrom Pulse

Land 25
2 Swamp
1 Forest
1 Plains
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Marsh Flats
1 Windswept Heath
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Twilight Mire
2 Treetop Village
2 Stirring Wildwood
1 Vault of the Archangel
1 Gavony Township
1 Tectonic Edge

GAME 1

As powerful as Abzan is, this deck is actually one of your better matchups in Game 1, since its Achilles Heel is its painful and cumbersome manabase. Abzan will usually start on the play by fetching an Overgrown Tomb and casting a Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek to strip your hand, sometimes taking them straight down to 15 in the process! However, once they discover that they’re up against Burn, most of their lands will either be played tapped or fetched up during the end of your turn. This method will decrease their speed, allowing you to jam Burn damage with force or by giving you the opportunity to hold up a Skullcrack or Atarka’s Command defensively so that you can stop their life gain.

That’s all not to say that you won’t lose, but that scenario can be a common one. Some of Abzan’s best openers, especially when on the draw, will allow it to play its manabase as painlessly as possible and start threatening you with an early Tarmogoyf backed up by a Liliana of the Veil. Or worse, another Tarmogoyf. If you can’t end one of these games fast enough, you’ll eventually be brought down by some giant Green creatures and a few doses of lifegain. Lingering Souls is great at clogging the board and will end games quickly if a Sorin, Gavony Township or a Vault of the Archangel shows up to the party. Lastly, Abzan could strip your hand to nothing, rendering you solely to the mercy of your topdecks prematurely. If you give Abzan enough time to start moving, you’re gonna have a bad time.

You best weapon against them is a fast start with Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear backed up by an Eidolon of the Great Revel. Constant pressure is the key, and it’s is usually correct to try to dump your hand as soon as you can before any relevant discard spells rob you of any opportunity. With that said, Skullcrack is still something you would like to hold onto for when they cast a Siege Rhino in an attempt to stabilize. Just bludgeon them with damage as much as you can.

There will still be games where you have to stave off attacks and wait to draw into the final points of damage. Tarmogoyfs, Oozes, Rhinos, Souls, and Tasigur all have the ability to spiral out of control, putting you on the backfoot very easily. When your offense is eventually outclassed, you now must prevent as much life loss as you can afford to. Experience the power of Boros Charm in these situations, as four damage is a considerable chunk to take from them, especially when you can untap and play another one. Remember, for each turn you survive, you have a chance to kill them whenever you draw. Just stay alive.

POSTBOARD

Abzan has the ability to sideboard into some very powerful hate cards against Burn. The color White gives Abzan access to Phyrexian Unlife, Leyline of Sanctity and Timely Reinforcements in addition to the other usual suspects: Feed the Clan, Obstinate Baloth, Batterskull, and Kitchen Finks. Gaining life and summoning an early ground force will be the main plan against you, therefore it is imperative that you have access to at least 4 cards in your 75 dedicated to stopping lifegain. This also has some considerable implications against, since it forces you to play a bit more conservatively, thus leaving you susceptible to discard spells and Abzan’s powerful long game.

Since you’re already configured to effectively fight against Abzan in Game 1, there isn’t much in the Burn deck that’s considered weak postboard. Grim Lavamancer can be an easy cut however, since Abzan is very good at killing everything you can put out. Searing Blaze, while pretty much always live, can be cut to make room for a card that doesn’t have a rider clause, such as Skullcrack, Atarka’s Command, or even Volcanic Fallout (to deal with Lingering Souls and Timely Reinforcements). Ultimately, you’re still looking to be proactive and force them into a corner regarding their life total.

The easiest way to attack Abzan postboard is at their manabase. Molten Rain is incredibly potent when on the play and can just outright steal games. The power of this card cannot be stressed enough, and if you’re in an Abzan heavy metagame, it should absolutely be in your sideboard. One resolved Molten Rain is almost a free win. Two is a kick to the groin.

In the past, common ways to fight Rock decks were by using Relic of Progenitus and Guerrilla Tactics, as it more or less punished the decks for doing what they did best: using the Graveyard to grow their creatures and using discard spells. Nowadays, there are much more effective sideboard options, like Molten Rain, and Burn has tightened up considerably in the creature department. As such, your Goblin Guides, Swiftspears, and Eidolons are still very much good postboard. They can stay in.

Early, constant pressure is still your driving goal in this matchup. Be mindful of any reactive spells postboard, such as Destructive Revelry and Combust, as they will only slow you down. Skullcrack and Atarka’s Command is still the exception, because both are crucial to turning off doses of lifegain.

TIPS AND TRICKS

– Tarmogoyf math can be confusing and annoying. Remember that once a spell resolves, the game state will check to see how large a Tarmogoyf is before damage is applied. So if you played a Lightning Bolt without a prior Instant in the Graveyard on a 2/3 Tarmogoyf, then Mr. Goyf will be a 3/4 when the Bolt resolves, and will be very much alive when the 3 damage is put on him.

– Grim Lavamancer can be used to strategically shrink Tarmogoyfs at the right time, if you’ve paid enough attention to both graveyards. You can also use the Lava Man to keep growing Scavenging Oozes in check by exiling your own critters from the Graveyard. Just pay attention to how much open Green mana your Abzan opponent is sitting on.

– Eidolon has a drawback in that it is both an Enchantment and a Creature, thus making Tarmogoyf even bigger when it dies.

– Be mindful of your life total and creature count postboard when Timely Reinforcements is involved. Yes, it can be completely correct to fetch into a shockland just to Searing Blaze or Lightning Bolt your own creature to prevent your opponent from getting anything.

– You may see a Leyline of Sanctity, Phyrexian Unlife, or Batterskull postboard. You may be tempted to bring in Destructive Revelry or Wear // Tear. Weigh that decision carefully.

– Burn doesn’t care about killing Siege Rhino. It just wants to win before Siege Rhino kills them. Remember that before siding in Combust.

– Path to Exile does not work nicely with Molten Rain, should you be decide to use both.

WRAP UP

Abzan is the best midrange deck in the format for several reasons. Its early game disruption, plethora of kill spells, and early, growing beaters allow it to keep a lot of decks in check, thereby ensuring its place near the top. It’s resiliency, discard spells, and strong sideboard options make it a contender on almost every axis of competitive play. Fortunately, this also ensures that Burn will continue to have a place near the top, since it naturally lines up as a foil to Abzan’s strategy. Since Abzan needs a few turns to painfully setup and grow strong, Burn can sneak in very quickly with bursts of damage. In fact, the games can very much be described as an arm-wrestling match. Burn will take a very powerful start, but there will be a momentary lull where the match can swing around for Abzan. With just a little bit of gas, Burn can slam Abzan’s arm to the table. If not, Abzan will slowly pull your arm the other way and bury you under a ton of weight.

BURN AND THE MIRROR BREAKER

dfghjkj

Burn. It’s certainly out there. You’re playing it. I’m playing it. And, according to the data, so are thousands of other people. Whether you’re playing at FNM, a GP, or on MTGO, you will eventually face this deck. And there can only be one winner.

As well all know by now, a run-of-the-mill Burn list looks like this:

Creature 14
4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Burn 27
2 Shard Volley
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Boros Charm
3 Skullcrack
3 Searing Blaze
2 Lightning Helix

Land 19
4 Arid Mesa
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Mountain
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground

Sideboard 15
3 Destructive Revelry
2 Atarka’s Command
2 Molten Rain
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Path to Exile
2 Volcanic Fallout
2 Deflecting Palm

GAME 1

There isn’t much to be said about the initial Burn game plan, as it’s been discussed at length in Part 1, but there is always one thing to remember: there will be a control role and there will be an aggro role. Typically, whoever is on the draw will be forced into the control role since the only way to get ahead is to eliminate any ground threats before mounting an offense. To just go in blindly flinging spells and attacking with reckless abandon is folly. You will lose, or at best reduce the game to a coin flip. Don’t leave it to chance. Play a real game.

ON THE DRAW

You’ve lost the dice roll and now you’re on the draw. Your opponent leads with a Goblin Guide, putting the pressure on early. What do you do?

In this case, it’s clear cut that you must go on the defensive. Sure, you could lead with a Goblin Guide of your own and start attacking right away (or even leave him up as a blocker) but then you’d open yourself up to Searing Blaze, which would only put you further behind. Sometimes that may be your only option, and it wouldn’t be wrong in that case, but you have to always consider what your opponent could follow up with. It could be a Searing Blaze, and Eidolon, or more Goblin Guides.

The thing is, Burn drives the pressure hard and fast within the first 3 turns. If you can manage your life total and stay in the double digit range by turn 4 or higher, you have a strong chance of turning the game around. Play your shocklands tapped if you can afford to, and be mindful of your fetching.

Ultimately, your objective should be to keep the board clear, even if that means offering up your creatures as trades or running them into blockers. Lightning Bolts, Helices, Searing Blazes, and Rift Bolts should most definitely be used to clear a path for any of your own attackers to break through. It’s even sometimes correct to use Boros Charm defensively to keep your team alive or to use the double strike mode if it means killing an out of control Monastery Swiftspear. Grim Lavamancer, should he survive, will do some amazing work here.

Once the game has reached a lull, then it’s safe to send everything upstairs. These games will usually end pretty close, and they can certainly be nail biters.

ON THE PLAY

You’ve won the dice roll and you lead with a Goblin Guide, only to have his attack trigger reveal a Mountain from the opponent’s library. You suspect that your opponent is on Burn after your Guide gets killed by Lightning Bolt the following turn. Finally, your suspicions are confirmed when your Eidolon is killed by another Lightning Bolt and you are eating 2 damage from your opponent’s attacking Goblin Guide.

What do you do now?

You must keep the up the pressure. If you have the lead in the life total, you must force your opponent to answer your creatures, ensuring that your Burn can always go upstairs. In most cases, it’s probably the safe bet to just play as much Burn as you can during your opponent’s turn so that you can bury them when you untap.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is crucial when you’re on the play, as the incremental damage can just put the game out of reach for your opponent. It’s okay to have some disregard for your life total as long as you can stay ahead, and Searing Blaze is excellent in these situations if you happen to dip below your opponent’s life total. However, with that said, this doesn’t mean you can frivolously hemorrhage life points away attempting to fix your mana. Mind your fetching and shocklands, unless it is absolutely necessary to close the game. Bury your opponent with as much incremental damage as possible.

POSTBOARD

fghjkl,mngf

The postboard games are where the Burn mirror is really decided. In my experience as of late, it can essentially be over as early as Turn 2 when your opponent lands a Kor Firewalker – it is THAT powerful. Kor Firewalker’s mere presence in the format is enough to cast a very large shadow on how you may want to approach the mirror. As it would turn out, a 2/2 bear that can waltz through your team at ease and gain life for every spell cast can be a real mirror breaker.

And while most matches hinge on whether or not you can land a Firewalker, they can also come down to answering one. A lot of decks right now are trying to find a proper balance of actually playing Firewalker and answering one at the same time. A smaller section of the Burn player base is simply focusing on just answering the critter with using Path to Exile and Pyrite Spellbomb. Whatever your plan is, just make sure that you have one. I’ve discovered that I would actually like to be the one playing the Firewalker instead of answering it (however, that’s not to say that I can’t answer one), and when I want to see one in a game, I definitely want to see it early.

Firewalker can drastically change the flow of the Burn match, but dealing with it doesn’t have to just be about “silver bullets” from the sideboard. Skullcrack is a valuable tool for turning off the damage prevention clause of Firewalker’s protection ability, allowing you to kill the creature if your opponent blocks with it. You may even need to block their Firewalker with your own, should the situation call for it. When push comes to shove, you gotta push back harder.

Firewalker increases your win percentage in the mirror, however, it isn’t your only edge. For those on the RWG Atarka’s Command Burn lists, cutting a color can be essential to controlling your life loss. When on the draw, Atarka’s Command can be very costly to set up, essentially functioning as just a 2 mana Lava Spike. Therefore it would behoove you to cut the Green splash entirely if you can (but only if you’re on the RWG deck). Remember your position, since it will usually dictate what cards you’ll want to cut. Another example is cutting Eidolon when on the draw and putting him back in when on the play. You need to do anything you can to take advantage of your position. I cannot stress his enough.

Your concessions for the Burn mirror will usually be 4-8 cards and ranging anywhere from Kor Firewalker (or Dragon’s Claw) and removal options (Path to Exile, Pyrite Spellbomb, Searing Blood, Volcanic Fallout, etc) to defensive measures in the form of Lightning Helix and Deflecting Palm. Even Leyline of Sanctity had been known to be used in the Burn mirror. It really just comes down to which role you’ll have to assume for the following game to dictate what is going to be taken out from the main.

TIPS AND TRICKS

– When playing the control role, it’s okay to sandbag creatures since it will free you up to use your burn spells to keep the board in check. Drop them when the board is clear and go on the offensive.

– Not all Burn decks are equal. Some have more painful manabases than what you may be running. Get an edge by having one that hurts the least.

– Most opponents will slow down to avoid taking damage from their lands. During these times, you can force them to make the hard choice by making them answer a certain creature. If they have to fetch an untapped shockland to play a Searing Blaze to kill your Goblin Guide, it’s good. If they take the damage from your attack and then fix their mana, you’ve still won.

– When in doubt, hold that Skullcrack or Command up. Lightning Helix can sometimes be just enough to turn the game around.

– When a Firewalker is being cast, the time for casting important spells is when the Firewalker is on the stack, waiting to be resolved. Get your damage in while it’s still good.

– If the game is going long and your opponent is still sitting on a couple of cards, then they are usually holding Searing Blaze or a Deflecting Palm. Do not give them an opportunity to cast those cards.

WRAP UP

There’s a reason why Burn is able to thrive right now in the current metagame. A large percentage of the field is taking several turns to set up with a painful manabase, while other decks are attempting to capitalize on that with an aggressive angle. Burn has an edge on both of these strategies because its damage spells allow the deck to shift roles from control to aggressor. None of this is more important than in the mirror, as Burn is also a deck with a painful manabase that it also trying to be aggressive. The fine line is deciphering when it is correct to configure your Burn deck in a more aggressive manner to attack a larger metagame while conceding any percentages to the mirror match. The more you warp your deck to the be the fastest damage punching machine around (such as going full-on Green splash for Atarka’s Command), the less you will be able to change roles for the mirror. And in the end that could cost you.

Burn has always been a metagame deck. When a format is ripe, Burn can strike out of nowhere and steal a win. However, when Burn decks begin to become more common, it’s safe to say that the big decks will start to implement drastic sideboard measures, and concerns for facing a Burn mirror become very legit. When Burn has reached a level of popularity as it is now, it’s probably the right call to slow the deck down to cover its bases in the mirror match.

THE VERDICT ON ATARKA’S COMMAND AND THE NEWCOMER…

mhgfc

After much playtesting with the high-octane RWG Burn build using Atarka’s Command, I can say now that the card is the real deal. Command does it all by punching out absurd amounts of damage, preserving your team, and preventing life gain. In the right metagame, that extra power is certainly worth the cost of awkward manabase.

Note that awkward manabase. And sideboard. But what coherent plan does it have against other aggressive decks?

Creature 15
4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Spells 25
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
1 Shard Volley
4 Searing Blaze
4 Boros Charm
4 Atarka’s Command

Land 20
4 Arid Mesa
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Mountain
3 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground

Sideboard 15
4 Destructive Revelry
1 Rending Volley
1 Deflecting Palm
2 Path to Exile
2 Skullcrack
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Molten Rain
1 Volcanic Fallout

See what I mean?

Now, it is completely feasible to run a RG Burn deck solely to take advantage of Atarka’s Command and Skullcrack, giving you access to 8 anti-lifegain cards in the main. Doing this means that you cannot take advantage of the powerful White splash, but it does make your manabase a lot less painful since you can run Copperline Gorge now.

With that said, I have decided to move on from the Green splash to pursue a more streamlined approach, one that is more consistent in keeping its life total high. As the metagame shifts into a more aggressive environment, the dilemma of having to construct a deck that is forced to move its colors around postboard is a bit confusing. White is still the most powerful splash the deck can play, as Boros Charm is a consistent 4 damage that also has the options to help your ground team, and Firewalker is just a serious beating against the mirror. Burn is becoming increasingly more common and a very aggressive version of Grixis Delver is now beginning to make it’s presence widely known. I don’t make that statement lightly, and both of these decks must be respected moving forward.

Recently, the post-Treasure Cruise U/R Delver decks picked up some steam with the additions of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler, and Kolaghan’s Command. I daresay that the deck now is probably more powerful than it was when Treasure Cruise existed. Capable of a super aggressive start, it can also play the control or tempo game until it closes out with a Banana Man or an army of Elemental tokens. Considering that the deck also sides in 2-4 Dragon’s Claw, it’s pretty easy to see why this deck is certainly worthy of our attention. Do you hurt yourself more just to play Firewalker and Destructive Revelry? Or do you cut the Green (and the pain) to focus solely on White, using Wear//Tear?

The less painful manabase of the strict RW Burn deck has also given me an incredible edge on MTGO, as I tend to often face a lot of Burn decks, especially the newest RWG Atarka’s Command versions. The ability to fix your colors effortlessly cannot be stressed enough. Sometimes, the less you thinking you have to do is enough to get you to win.

After my Atarka’s Command list, I shifted over to this build:

Creature 15
4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Grim Lavamancers
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Burn 25
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
1 Shard Volley
4 Searing Blaze
4 Boros Charm
4 Skullcrack

Land 20
4 Arid Mesa
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry

Sideboard 15
4 Kor Firewalker
2 Path to Exile
2 Deflecting Palm
3 Wear // Tear
2 Volcanic Fallout
2 Molten Rain

So far, it has been very good to me. But as always, nothing is set in stone and the numbers on any specific card could be changed at a whim.

THE FIVE POINT PALM EXPLODING HEART TECHNIQUE

lkjhgfds

Deflecting Palm is a card that is no stranger to sideboard tech. Even though it has been used in Burn boards since its debut in Khans of Tarkir, there are a surprising amount of people that don’t use it, expect it, or believe it should used at all. I want to talk about this.

And I want to set the record straight.

Deflecting Palm, by all accounts, should not even be a contender in Burn sideboards due to its reactive nature, however, it is deceptively powerful. Why? Because its power is in its deception! Seriously, nobody sees it coming and that’s exactly why it’s so powerful. When facing decks that use giant creatures to kill you, it’s exactly what you need to catch up from being behind. Use it. You’ll thank me later. It’s your “catch-all” for the fringe matchups.

So far, I’ve used the card to deflect a massive Cranial Plating attack from Affinity, a lethal 9 point attack from Infect, a thundering 10/10 Primeval Titan attack from Amulet Bloom, a devastating attack from Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in a Goryo’s Vengeance deck, a swing from a 9/9 Death’s Shadow, and a hit from a Wurmcoil Engine against Tron. I have won games that I have had no business winning. I can’t make this stuff up.

Bottom line is this: when you’re on the draw, Deflecting Palm is your insurance. At its worst, it’s a Lightning Helix. At its best, it steals you a game. Ask yourself why you are not playing this card before you dismiss it.

You’re welcome.

ON THE HORIZON, THERE IS SMOKE…

The Big Four have been established, but there is another force in the metagame, which is Grixis Delver. Next time, I’ll go into more detail about fighting that deck, as well as offering some insight and strategy on the common fringe matchups you’ll experience: Amulet Bloom, Tron, Infect, and Merfolk.

And in the meantime, let me know how you’ve been faring with Burn. Has this series helped at all? What are your experiences like facing the Big Four? Any thoughts on innovating the deck further? I wanna know.

Also, your feedback and thoughts on the last article helped immensely. Thank you all that commented and PMed me! I’ll try to keep these articles coming out on a much more regular basis.

Until the next time, light ’em up!

12 thoughts on “Modern Musings: Burn Primer Part 3

  1. Green Samurai

    Definitely agree about removing the green splash. Choosing to go either RW or RG gives up nothing and can prey on the Naya builds that are still trying to do everything.

  2. As a new burn player, this three part primer has been INCREDIBLE.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  3. Hey this is great stuff – thanks for writing it. I haven’t played burn for long but almost day 2’ed in Omaha, and there is always a lot of new stuff to learn. Only a few mistakes I would like to point out – you really should not have gone back for Merle and you should have dealt with Shane earlier.

    Seriously though – look forward to your next.

  4. I’m running your revised R/W deck – one question 20 lands seems quite high is there a reason for this?

    I’m used to seeing 17-19 ish lands.

    Also I dont’ have access to Mesa or Tarn.

    I have the Kahns fetches should I run

    4 Mires
    4 Foothills
    4 Windswept Heath

    OR

    4 Mires
    4 Foothills
    4 Basic Mountains

    • Justin Alderman Justin Alderman

      20 lands is a personal preference of mine. I like to ensure that I’m always hitting landfall for Searing Blaze and I want to hit 3 lands early for when I board in Molten Rain or Fallout. Hope that helps!

    • Justin Alderman Justin Alderman

      Also, your second manabase is a lot better. You always want all your fetches to grab a Mountain, so any non-red fetches gotta go.

  5. Thanks for the quick reply I see the logic behind 20 lands.

    The heath not worth it for fetching sacred foundrys? – guess a bit too fringe.

    May cut down to 2 lavamancers with only 8 fetches I guess.

    Forgot to say great articles btw really helped me out.

  6. Andres Cifuentes

    Great series of articles!! Looking forward to your next one!

  7. Hi, first of all, great articles! What are your thoughts on the nacatl burn?

  8. Im not sure about keeping Eidolon against Abzan expecially on the draw. If they played t2 Tarmogoyf and going to play t4 Rhino Eidolon gonna hurt only you or chumpblock once and nothing else.. On the other side some people consider siding out goblin guides and swiftspears to become simply a deck with a bunch of burn spells and Eidolons which sometimes helps to win the race ensuring you wont topdeck these creatures when your opponent is at 1-3 life points and 2 Rhinos are going to crunch in for lethal nex turn..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *