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Burn, Baby, Burn: Allegiance Edition


Well, it's official: there might be some reason for Burn fans to rejoice.

Of course, not everyone is dancing on the hilltops.

Our inimitable jefe Evan Erwin is not unreasonable in his worry about a card like Skewer the Critics. Burn, at its core, is all about harnessing the power of redundancy.

These days, most serious players in the game have heard about "The Philosophy of Fire". Way back in 1999, I was traveling to Memphis with Mike Flores when I discussed with him what the concept meant: imagine a "combo" that is only "any 7 spells" and you win the game. I didn't play the Burn-heavy Urza's Block Constructed deck I had with me as a backup, but I showed him what I meant by playing games.

Even without taking much advantage of tempo, even by throwing away card advantage, such a deck would be able to win because, even if life is a resource, if you are single-minded about attacking a vector of health in the game (usually life, sometimes poison, sometimes library size, or much more rarely other things), you can cease making anything else matter.

Creatures are typically the most efficient form of damage, since they can repeat their work turn after turn, but Burn, as an archetype, while inefficient, has power by foregoing opportunities for the opponent to actually interact with it. This is especially the case because often the antithesis to Burn, life gain, is just not a great option to bother playing, since the repeatable damage that comes from a permanent is usually all that much more common. In a similar way, Haste, as an ability, is important, because oftentimes a creature with Haste can act as the best of both worlds: a pseudo-Burn spell in that it gets the damage in before it is interacted with, and yet a repeatable source as well.

So, the printing of a card like Skewer the Critics is fairly important because redundancy in damage like this is actually quite thin. It's going to be an interesting question whether the card can break into Modern, but in Standard, we'll certainly be seeing a lot of the card.

Take one of the most recent iterations of the rb Burn deck:

This specific deck had its 5-0 finish published around Halloween. There have been almost no rb Burn decks that have done well since. While there is clearly something powerful about what this deck can do, it is also a bit impure: you can see, for example, the cards like Lava Coil, which don't follow the plan at all, and Electrostatic Field (as well as the card drawing effects of Sword-Point Diplomacy and Risk Factor), which are being played because the ability to damage the opponent is thin enough that the deck needs to draw out games and get in little dribbles of damage. It runs Sovereign's Bite - a kind of Standard-power-level Lava Spike - which shows how deep rb Burn is willing to go to get another Burn spell.

Of course, the lack of a recent rb Burn finish isn't only something unique to it; the more traditional Red Aggro in Standard has been languishing as well; you have to go back over a week to find a successful 5-0 list.

It could be that these decks are being taken down by Wildgrowth Walker and friends. It could be that all of the Standard players who love Red have decided to depart from Magic: The Gathering Online for the greener pastures of Magic: The Gathering Arena. Whatever the case may be, Red Aggro has not been doing all that well on Magic Online.

The difference between these two decks is not so terribly huge. The two-color deck has only a single extra true "Burn" slot, in Sovereign's Bite, and a pseudo-Burn spell in Viashino Pyromancer (though that card is often in the Mono-Red deck). But, their problems are similar: they need to fight through potentially powerful main deck life gain and also be able to manage the problem of a Drake - either Enigma Drake or Crackling Drake - which represents a huge swing in resources to deal with, not to mention the threat of immediate death. This is especially scary in a world where Dive Down can make a two-card attempt at killing either Drake fail.

The Mono-Red deck, post Ravnica Allegiance, feels like it is going to be hard to break into with any new cards.

Is this the path? I'm not sure. The Skewer the Critics chops into Shock, a Mountain, and a pair of Viashino Pyromancer to make it work. Then, after that, having cut a Mountain, I cut an Experimental Frenzy for a The Flame of Keld, trying to respect the loss of mana. Still, I'm basically building on the shoulders of Etienne Busson's Grand Prix Lille winning deck, so the core is solid.

Perhaps with more spoiled cards, more could come to change the look of the deck, but as a base, that seems solid.

Far more intriguing is going full on Rakdos - after all, we can expect riches to be showered down on the Cult in this new set.

Here is a first take, based on the cards that are currently spoiled:

There are a bunch of new cards in this deck, and not just Skewer the Critics. I'm going to briefly talk about them all.

Skewer the Critics: The inclusion of this card is really quite simple - I think it pushes the Burn count on the deck over the point where it feels reasonable. At this point, with Skewer, you have twenty straightforward 'actual factual' Burn spells, and a bunch of pseudo-Burn spells or weak analogs to it. With all of that in the mix, running the full set will be great.

Judith, the Scourge Diva: She is awesome. While the extra power for your team is fine, it is less great than you might image since the creature count is so low. What is great, though, is the semi-insurance policy you have on damage and the added power of kamikaze attacking for potential victory. It's quite easy to drop Judith into play, get some damage from Judith immediately, and then get another payoff of three or more damage by the time their turn comes around, when you count up the creature death and their potential removal of your Judith. In a game of inches, she is great.

Carnival // Carnage: Blightning is great. Even at an additional mana, the Carnage side of Carnival // Carnage is going to be a powerful payoff. At the same time, there are certainly many occasions where just doing a single damage now is going to matter, so the cheap cost is a huge boon. Expect this to be particularly relevant in a world where Llanowar Elves is all the more popular because of the neo-Fires of Yavimaya, Rhythm of the Wild.

Theater of Horrors: I've shifted the main deck to cut most of the various so-called "Browbeat" effects - Sword-Point Diplomacy and Risk Factor - for immediate damage. One card I've added back in for card advantage is Theater of Horrors. This card is used in lieu of Experimental Frenzy in part because this deck only runs 20 lands, and also because it can be a damage source on its own. The extra Theater of Horrors in the sideboard are for the long-game matchups.

Pestilent Spirit: Here, relegated to the sideboard, is one of the biggest reasons to play Rakdos. Whereas prior to the existence of this card, you would have to pack frustratingly off-brand cards like Price of Fame to deal with problematic creatures, Pestilent Spirit can turn each and every single abundant burn spell into a killer. While you have to be cautious about not getting caught with a dead Pestilent Spirit in response to an anemic burn spell trying to kill a creature, smart play can keep this disaster from happening most of the time. In addition, the fact that the creature itself has Deathtouch means that cruel cards like Carnage Tyrant can be potentially dealt with as well. Finally, Menace serves this card in the deck well as well, since it means that you are all that more likely to be able to push damage.

The full Ravnica Allegiance spoiler isn't out yet. I expect that by next weekend, it will be, so the prospects for both of these archetypes seem quite exciting. Of course, I'm going to be at my friendly local game store, getting my game on at Misty Mountain in Madison, Wisconsin. If you're around, make sure to say hi, and let's burn 'em all up!

- Adrian Sullivan

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