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Standard Burn Brewing


One of the amazing things about current Standard is the way in which the possibilities of the format keep feeling so open.

Take the most recent Standard Grand Prix weekend in New Jersey and Lille. The Top 8s from these events couldn't be more different, and the differences continue in the Top 32s:


  • Golgari Midrange - 9
  • Jeskai Control - 7
  • Izzet Phoenix - 7
  • Red Aggro - 2*
  • Selesnya Tokens - 2
  • Blue Aggro - 1
  • Selesnya Midrange - 1
  • Boros Aggro - 1
  • Boros Midrange - 1
  • Steel Leaf Stompy - 1

New Jersey:

  • Jeskai Control - 7*
  • Selesnya Midrange - 7
  • Boros Midrange - 5
  • Golgari Midrange - 5
  • Boros Aggro - 3
  • Selesnya Tokens - 2
  • White Aggro - 2
  • Izzet Phoenix - 1

* Winning Archetype

The two events were almost polar opposites, exemplified by the top cards of each event; at New Jersey, the most highly played cards in the Top 32 were Adanto Vanguard, History of Benalia, and Tocatli Honor Guard, compared to Jadelight Ranger, Merfolk Branchwalker, and Duress at Lille.

If you combine the two lists, only including those with either a win or many representations, you'd get the following:

  • Jeskai Control: 14
  • Golgari Midrange: 14
  • Izzet Phoenix: 8
  • Boros Midrange: 6
  • Boros Aggro: 4
  • Red Aggro: 2

While the aggressive decks feel like they are in the minority, if you play online, you'll certainly see them, and after New Jersey, Adanto Vanguard is even more likely to be in your future.

Results like these are one of reasons I really like the idea of playing Burn.

Burn made its way onto my radar because of a list piloted by Andrea94 on Magic Online:

I fell in love with this deck, in concept, the moment I first looked at it.

Burn is near-and-dear to my heart; hell, the very notion of the Philosophy of Fire was mine (though I didn't name it that). If you've looked at the current Standard format with any kind of depth, you probably already know there is very little decent life gain to combat a direct-to-the-face strategy. Importantly, for such a single-minded deck, despite running a higher proportion of damage dealing cards, Burn can still do a pretty excellent imitation of a more traditional draw from a Red aggressive deck like the one that won Grand Prix Lille.

Rakdos Burn is slower for two reasons: the land base is more awkward, and the deck simply has less creatures to provide a recurring damage source, especially Runaway Steam-Kin.

That being said, the deck has another incredibly powerful thing going for it: by running less creatures, it can dodge pesky things like blockers, and, for that matter, the traditional game of Magic in lieu of the odd sub-game provided by a Burn deck which is so much more single-minded.

More recently, someone added a new card to archetype, shifting the list by Andrea94 slightly, but in a way which I found very impressive:

The addition of the Electrostatic Field was a bit of a revelation.

In many ways it reminded me of Lightning Helix in Modern Burn and, in some ancient history, when I ran Kher Keep in a Burn deck back at Pro Tour Hollywood in 2008 in my "Chevy Red" deck. In a field where most Red was Demigod Red, my build (and the build built by Patrick Sullivan) outperformed them, and one small reason was Kher Keep. Kher Keep kept you alive just a few more turns, providing you time for that extra damage. Incidentally, Chevy Red also ran Browbeat.

Electrostatic Field also made one other huge shift in how the deck felt: it made Sword-Point Diplomacy and Risk Factor both feel even more powerful. Just adding in a single damage was powerful.

In Trademark1987's build, I also very much liked the addition of Rekindling Phoenix to the board. Rekindling Phoenix is a cornerstone to the format and it can beat opponents all on its own sometimes. It is also wildly efficient, and is great as a card that can turn the corner between aggro- or control, depending on which mode you need to be in. This is an important element in sideboarded games, where sometimes you just need to take care of an opponent's board because their sideboard plan doesn't make single-mindedly burning their face that effective.

Of course, in both Andrea94's and in Trademark1987's Rakdos Burn decks, there were a few elements I didn't like. Lava Coil felt wrong in the main deck, though I was glad to have it in the board; anything that was taking time off from killing the opponent felt like a mistake, unless it were in the vein of Browbeat. Granted, you could discard it to Risk Factor, but even so, every time I draw the card, I just felt like I was on the wrong plan. Neither deck ran enough creatures for me, so I was looking for a few more.

The solution for this felt pretty simple: play four of both Fanatical Firebrand and Electrostatic Field.

Finally, four Cinder Barrens was necessary, and at the same time, too much, especially in conjunction with Dragonskull Summit. More basics isn't an option. On the other hand, the Black requirements of the deck are pretty minimal, and even at 20 lands, flooding is still an occasional problem (whereas land-light hands seem like they get mitigated by Sword-Point Diplomacy); a single Evolving Wilds made the grade over a Cinder Barrens. I've been loving it, and I'm now trying to figure out if even more Cinder Barrens should be Evolving Wilds. This is especially the case because I've added in Experimental Frenzy.

Experimental Frenzy is phenomenal in this deck, but it is definitely at odds with Sword-Point Diplomacy and Risk Factor. In the end, due to its high mana cost and the conflict it has with those two cards, I've decided to only play a single copy. I'm flirting with a second one, but haven't taken the plunge yet.

Here is where I'm at with the deck:

I feel really great about 53 cards of the main deck; I'm still figuring out the Risk Factor/Experimental Frenzy/Cinder Barrens mix. The sideboard also feels really powerful. I already discussed Rekindling Phoenix, so I'll touch on the rest.

Lava Coil is basically just a necessary evil. Some creatures just need to get out of here, and Lava Coil's ability to exile a creature has proven its utility.

Fiery Cannonade shines versus tokens, be they from Selesnya or Boros. In addition, there are plenty of other decks where you just want to get in a small sweep effect.

Phyrexian Scriptures hits a bunch of problems at once. Sometimes, Wildgrowth Walker simply gets too big. In addition, there are plenty of decks with creatures that also make use of their graveyard. Despite being vulnerable to being removed, the fact that it can leave behind a body is also important. One very important factor though, is that the delay can be a huge delay; the opponent is incentivized to not act for a full turn in developing the board, which can give you a full extra turn to draw a final burn spell and kill the opponent.

Banefire is just a great means to end the game versus control.

One strange possibility with how this deck plays, is that it is fully capable of boarding in twelve to fifteen cards and becoming a kind of midrange control deck by taking out all of the eleven cards that don't affect the board (Sovereign's Bite, Sword-Point Diplomacy, Risk Factor). If there are other cards that feel weak in a matchup, those could come out as well in that transformation. This kind of transformation is not unprecedented, either, as in some matchups you just need to control the board; in those games Banefire can be a huge deal, as it packs such a wallop

Right now, Rakdos Burn is my third favorite deck to play (behind Izzet and Abzan Midrange), but, that being said, it is first in my heart. Just imagine what it will look like when we get proper Rakdos cards from Ravnica Allegiance.

Let the world Burn!

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan