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Burning to Eleventh at Grand Prix Pittsburgh


Modern is great.

Burn is great.

Life is great.

Goblin Guide
The last time I had an article published, it was for making Top 8 at the TCGplayer Championship.

Yes, I was playing Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt then, too. At that time, Adam Yurchick had this to say in an article from August 2014: “ . . . [V]ocal local Burn advocate Brendan Reginbald has been putting up constant results in PTQs and beyond, including a Top 8 finish at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship last fall in Columbus.”

You see, I play Burn. I play only Burn. You could say Burn has ignited a fire inside me and other flame-related puns. I like casting Lightning Bolt and turn-one Goblin Guides; they make me happy.

There were no plans to attend Grand Prix Pittsburgh. It was a busy work week for me, and I would have no time for preparation. Then, my friend Anthony Koury told me the play mat was of Goblin Guide.

“Wait . . . what?”

“It’s Goblin Guide!”

“I’m in. I don’t know how, but I’m in.”

Sleep-in special for the win! I could drive the two-and-half hours Saturday morning from Cleveland, and that’s what we did.

I knew I was on Burn, but there are so many variations and so many good burn spells to choose from. I glanced around on the Internet to see which Burn lists were putting up results. People were registering Wild Nacatl in their Burn decks. I quickly dismissed the few results I had seen of Nacatl Burn. That wasn’t my style. “To the dome!” is more like it. The combat step is a necessary evil in my opinion, but it’s one I like to minimize. Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Grim Lavamancer—these are on a whole other level from Wild Nacatl. Haste, Pyrostatic Pillar triggers, and abilities that go straight to the dome—those are the real goods. Wild Nacatl is just a 3/3 body. Where’s the haste? Where’s the direct damage? Nope, Nacatl just wasn’t going to cut it for me. I’d play Spark Elemental before Wild Nacatl anyway.

Atarka's Command was a four-of in several decks, especially the ones running Wild Nacatl. Atarka's Command makes a lot of sense if your deck has a higher density of creatures, but I knew I would have only twelve to fourteen. I’m going to catch a lot of flak for what I’m about to say, and that’s fine, but I’m going to say it anyway because someone needs to say it.

Atarka's Command
Atarka's Command wasn’t good enough.

If you’re still reading this, I appreciate your open-mindedness by not hitting the back button and dismissing the rest of my story.

Let me tell you why Atarka's Command wasn’t good enough for Grand Prix Pittsburgh:

  • Zoo was gaining popularity.
  • Burn was gaining popularity.
  • Affinity was gaining popularity.
  • Twin was gaining popularity.
  • Merfolk was gaining popularity.
  • Infect was gaining popularity.

Aggro–combo in general was slowly taking over the format, punishing mulligans, slow starts, and painful mana bases. The Skullcrack part of Atarka's Command is practically useless against these decks. The pump effect is mediocre at best. Realistically, how many times does Atarka's Command deal more than 3 damage in a deck with only twelve to fourteen creatures? You essentially need your opponent to have no blockers and no removal spells. Atarka's Command was no more of a threat to my opponents than a Skullcrack the majority of the time. Are there times when Atarka's Command is awesome? Sure, but at what cost? When I look at those six decks, the last thing I want is Atarka's Command or Skullcrack.

Having two splashes in the main deck comes at a cost. There are going to be times when you won’t have green mana. There are going to be times when you won’t have white mana. Those Copperline Gorges don’t cast Kor Firewalker out of the sideboard. How many lands can you play in your deck that don’t allow for a turn-two Kor Firewalker against Zoo or Burn? There’s a cost to those Copperline Gorges, to those Wild Nacatls, to those Atarka's Commands.

It became clear I wanted four main-decked Lightning Helixes. It would be critical to beating the aggressive nature of the format and allow me to race the decks that were hitting me hard with Tarmogoyf or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. In the past, Burn decks could disregard their own life totals, fetching and shocking their life totals to single digits, casting spells into their own Eidolon of the Great Revels with reckless abandon. Those times are not now.

Burn has to evolve to remain competitive. Being a glass cannon is great—I’ve played glass cannons in many events—but times are different now. Your opponents are as fast as you are. Your opponents are as deadly as you are. It’s a game of inches, and dealing yourself extra damage from your mana base puts you behind.

My core was set:

I saw some lists that played fewer than four Searing Blazes. Maybe that was right two weeks ago or one week ago, but not for Grand Prix Pittsburgh. This was an aggressive format, and playing four Searing Blazes and four Lightning Helixes would give me an advantage against many of those decks.

Crackling Doom
Originally, I had planned on playing Mardu Burn, filling out the rest of the main deck with Bump in the Night and three Crackling Dooms in the sideboard. Crackling Doom? Snap. Crackle. Doom. I originally had four Self-Inflicted Wounds, but the card was underperforming. It was disappointing to see my opponents sacrifice Noble Hierarchs, Birds of Paradise, Voice of Resurgence, and Kitchen Finks. I was aiming for their Tarmogoyfs, their Loxodon Smiters, their Knight of the Reliquary, but alas, the Wounds were not inflicting the damage I had hoped. That’s when I thought of Crackling Doom. It hits Tarmogoyf, Smiter, Knight, Tasigur, and Wurmcoil Engine, it can’t be redirected to Spellskite, it will never hit those unimportant Noble Hierarchs or Birds, it kills big hexproof creatures and big infect creatures—it did everything I wanted Self-Inflicted Wound to do. And it was an Instant! I was sold.

I submitted my Crackling Doom Burn list Friday night, but I wasn’t completely happy; I just wanted to get something registered. Saturday morning came, and Anthony Koury picked me up, and we were off to Pittsburgh. On the way, I received a Facebook message from Tom Klenotic: “Naya is where it’s at.” I was being foolish. Here I was telling myself that two-color splashes in the main was too taxing, and I had registered four copies of Bump in the Night in the main. As time to submit a decklist change was winding down, I made the decision to play Boros Burn with green in the sideboard. I instantly felt better. At 8:40 A.M., I submitted this:

It felt good, strong, and ready to battle other aggressive decks. Skullcrack didn’t feel as necessary against the decks I thought would be popular, and yet, playing two gave me some hope in Game 1 against decks that it could matter, such as Bogles and Tron. Skullcrack being mono-red was key in my mana-advantage strategy.

We arrived on site, and after waiting for my chance to begin playing Magic in round three, I was able to return to what I know best: lighting people up.

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Bye

Round 3: Michael Ingram, Tron

Michael utterly destroyed me. I mulliganed both games to six and kept one-land hands both times, scrying a nonland to the bottom each time. In Game 1, I brought him to 1 life, but a Wurmcoil Engine off the top for him got it done. In Game 2, he had a turn-three Wurmcoil Engine and turn-four Karn Liberated to hit my only land. I tried to Path to Exile his Wurmcoil Engine, but in response, he Nature's Claimed it.


Round 4: Jason Coleman, Affinity

Jason is a good friend; we have prepared for many events together. This was a very unfortunate pairing. In Game 1, he mulliganed to five and put up a good fight, bringing me to 4 life, but he ultimately came up short. In Game 2, I mulliganed to six, but this was mostly a runaway, as he drew little gas, and a Deflecting Palm on his 4/4 Etched Champion gave me lethal damage on my turn with Swiftspear into Boros Charm.


Wurmcoil Engine
Deflecting Palm
Keranos, God of Storms

Round 5: Jon Krisher, Grixis Twin

I won the roll and got to work quickly against his blue-heavy opening hand. Remands were merely speed bumps, and when he cast a Snapcaster Mage to block, it was Searing Blaze’d. It ended in a flurry of burn spells with an active Eidolon, so his counterspells were offline. In Game 2, he switched to a very controlling list, bringing in two Keranos, God of Storms against me. Unfortunately, that game plan didn’t end the way he would have liked, as Keranos is not good at stopping Lava Spikes. He had Deceiver Exarch in hand but didn’t draw Splinter Twin until the turn before he died. He would have combod me on his next turn. He should have cast Exarch at the end of my turn in case he top-decked Splinter Twin, but alas, I’ll take it.


Round 6: Austin Mariani, Bogles

He won the roll and began assembling a fearsome hexproof creature. I had drawn a timely Skullcrack the turn before he played Daybreak Coronet. Lightning Helix kept me above water, gaining me 6 life this game and causing me to win at 2 life. Had I not had two Helixes, and if the Skullcrack had been Atarka's Command, I would have surely lost. Game 2, he put Ethereal Armor and Daybreak Coronet on a Slippery Bogle, but a Destructive Revelry took out both enchantments when I targeted the armor. After that, he played three Kor Spiritdancers in a row with no enchantments to cast before he died to two Boros Charms.


Round 7: Michael Ferguson, Affinity

He won the roll but mulliganed to six. He said this was his first Grand Prix, and I congratulated him on his excellent start. I won a nail-biter in Game 1 when I was dead on his next attack, but Lightning Helix bought me the crucial turn I needed to unload my hand. In Game 2, he was on the infect plan, Cranial Plating up an Inkmoth Nexus. I was at 8 poison counters from the previous turn when his Nexus was an 8/1, but with him at 9 life, I needed him to play another artifact so the Deflecting Palm in my hand would be lethal. He attacked with two Inkmoth Nexus (played one the previous turn) and a Signal Pest, so I couldn’t avoid being poisoned to death, but fortunately, my Deflecting Palm dealt him lethal at the same time, and we ended the game in a draw. He went on to win Game 3, as I drew no copies of Destructive Revelry for the Cranial Plating that he beat me down with. However, in game four, I had turn-two and turn-three Eidolons of the Great Revel against his board of two Darksteel Citadels. I’m not sure what was in his hand, but he conceded without playing a spell.


Daybreak Coronet
Inkmoth Nexus
Spreading Seas

Round 8: Parker Willard, Merfolk

This is a poor matchup for Burn, but close enough that I am not afraid of it. Parker told me how his draws had been amazing all day, running people over and always drawing exactly what he needed when he needed it. I could only hope that his luck would be grabbing lunch during our match and come back for the next round. He completely stomped me Game 1. Wow. Not. Even. Close. He wasn’t kidding about that luck stuff. My mulligan to five on the play didn’t help matters, as I just didn’t have anything to work with. In Game 2, the luck was on my side, as I had a Searing Blaze, a Lightning Helix, and a Grim Lavamancer to keep his board from getting out of hand. Master of Waves was sent on a Path to Exile, and my creatures kept rumbling his way. His Spreading Seas and Sea's Claims were annoying, but fortunately, I only needed white mana, and he targeted the Stomping Ground I naturally drew instead of a white source. Clifftop Retreat being a pain-free untapped white source was big this game and in Game 3. I won Game 2 at 7 life, having gained 6 life from two Helixes. In Game 3, he cast two Spreading Seas, two Cursecatchers, Aether Vial, and Spell Pierce and played two Mutavaults, but without the power of lords and the Master of Waves on his side of the table, these cards didn’t do enough to stabilize the board, and my creatures were able to attack unimpeded.


Round 9: Chris Juliano, Jund

I consider Jund to be a good matchup for Burn, especially if I win the roll and he mulligans to six both games. Both games were not all that close, as he had mana issues that kept him from interacting as much as he needed to. He kept a two-land hand in Game 2 and scried a Kitchen Finks to the top but never drew the third land.


After losing my first match, I went to on win my next six. It was time to check in with my friends, and I found that Rob Cucunato was at 8–1 with Affinity, Roger Bodee was 8–1 with Jeskai Burn, and JJ Moffitt was 8–1 with Jund.

Anthony and I got a hotel, split a pizza, and went to bed early. I lay awake, last checking the clock at 3:08 A.M. My alarm was set for 7:00 A.M., I was already awake when it went off.

Back to the tournament center by 8:30 A.M., we waited for pairings. My lack of sleep was really starting to hit me hard—I had to fight it hard, as there was a long road ahead of me.

Round 10: Pascal Maynard, Grishoulbrand

I won the roll and he mulliganed to six. He kept the scry on top. My hand was one land but five 1-drop spells. I brought him to 1 life before being combod out. Had I drawn a second land, I could have cast the other Lava Spike stuck in my hand. In Game 2, I kept an opening hand of Path to Exile, Deflecting Palm, Eidolon, Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, Stomping Ground, and Mountain. I just needed to draw one of the sixteen white mana sources in my deck. I Didn’t draw one and was combod out on turn three.

8–2 — Again, I lost my first match of the day. I would need to win out as I did on Saturday to earn to the all-important 13–2 record.

Round 11: Lucas Siow, Abzan

I knew Lucas to be a good player, and when he played a Stirring Wildwood on turn one, I knew it would be a battle. In Game 1, he cast Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek, Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, Path to Exile, and Noble Hierarch, but it was not enough to contain the flames. In Game 2, he cast three discard spells over the first two turns and then played Liliana to wipe out my hand. He ultimate’d Liliana, reducing my lands from four to two, and a Scavenging Ooze caused me to concede with him at 16. In Game 3, I began attacking early with two Swiftspears, and they did enough damage that I was able to burn him out after using my Swiftspears to chump-block his Tarmogoyf and Tasigur. Those Swiftspears did 7 damage and then bought me two turns to rip the burn spells I needed to win the game.


Liliana of the Veil

Round 12: Robert Gootz, Merfolk

I won the roll, and he mulliganed to five. Game 1 was over rather quickly when he didn’t draw much of anything, and we moved to sideboarding. He won Game 2 relatively easily, playing a Spell Pierce on a Searing Blaze and Dispelling a Lightning Helix. I fell behind in tempo and couldn’t come back. In Game 3, we had a good battle. He played creatures into my Eidolon, and after Lightning Helixing his two lords, Eidolon attacked through Cursecatcher. Eidolon ended up dealing 10 damage to Robert this game; I gained 6 life from Helix and won at 10 life.


Round 13: Kevin Chastine, Abzan

Kevin was one of the few players who went undefeated on Day 1. I was paired up, as his record was 10–1–1. In Game 1, he cast Inquisition, Abrupt Decay, Tasigur, Tarmogoyf, and Path, but it was not enough to stop my burn-heavy draw. Two Boros Charms and two Lightning Helixes kept the race in my favor. In Game 2, he mulliganed to six looking for something more interactive, but my quick start had him on the ropes quickly. He gained 3 life from a Siege Rhino, but it just delayed the inevitable, as my hand was pure gas from start to finish.


Round 14: Nick D’Ambrose, Naya Zoo

Finally, this was a matchup in which I could sideboard in Kor Firewalker. After eleven matches, my Firewalkers were growing bored. Nick won the roll and ran me over with a hyper-aggressive start ending with a Ghor-Clan Rampager giving his Tarmogoyf +4/+4 and trample. I needed a good draw to keep up with his deck in Game 2, and I got it. Searing Blaze, Lightning Helix, and Kor Firewalker were all key cards to winning this matchup, and they came up big time. Firewalker stalled out his ground attack as Searing Blaze and Lightning Helix took out his Wild Nacatls and Experiment Ones. Once he stopped playing green creatures and his board was locked up by my Kor Firewalker, I went to work on his life total, and three turns later, we were reaching for our sideboards. In Game 3, he mulliganed to six on the play and made a crucial mistake of fetching Stomping Ground over Temple Garden on turn one for his Experiment One. A Kor Firewalker hit my side of the table, and it allowed me to send my burn to his face, holding off a Goblin Guide and a Kird Ape. The first card he drew for the game was Kor Firewalker, but he never was able to cast it, as his Stomping Ground didn’t produce white mana. He died quickly while I gained 13 life from Firewalker and Helix.


Ghor-Clan Rampager
Eidolon of the Great Revel

Round 15: Wing Chun Yam, Naya Burn

I just needed to win the mirror match to make to 13–2, have a shot at Top 8, and qualify for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta. He won the roll and started with fetching a Mountain into a Goblin Guide. His Guide gave me back-to-back basic Mountains, which I played instead of the fetches in my hand. My turn-one Goblin Guide was attacking him right back, but it was revealing cards like Lava Spike and Eidolon of the Great Revel. As we continued to assault each other with burn, the game came down to him needing to fetch for an untapped Sacred Foundry to Boros Charm me twice for the win, as I was at 8 life. However, if he did so, he would be in Bolt range, and I had one untapped fetch land. He decided to not risk it—he Charmed me once and passed the turn hoping I would crack my fetch, leaving me unable to Bolt him in response to the fetch/shock/Charm plan. However, I did not fetch and just untapped. I attacked and then put Lava Spike on the stack. It was now or never for his Boros Charm, and with his Charm on the stack, I Bolted him for lethal. Game 2 started with a Kor Firewalker on his side of the table. It dominated the game, and he won easily at 15 life. In the third and final game, I really needed my deck to give me something good to work with. Wing Chun Yam was clearly an excellent player, playing the best archetype in Modern, and I needed to get the job done. There was so much on the line. I began to fan out my opening seven cards: fetch, fetch, Kor Firewalker (nice!), Rift Bolt, fetch, Kor Firewalker (great!), Kor Firewalker (awesome!). Needless to say, playing a Kor Firewalker on turns two, three, and four on the play was good enough to lock up the match and a 13–2 record.

13–2 — Eleventh place on tiebreakers.

I rose from my chair and received several hugs from my friends. I was on cloud nine. Pro Tour, here I come!

Shard Volley
If you have a chance, take a look at Wing Chun Yam’s decklist. You’ll notice some similarities to mine, and it was no surprise we were playing for 13–2 records—there was no Atarka's Command in his list either. This is how similar our lists were:

Mine: 1 Clifftop Retreat

His: 1 Scalding Tarn

Mine: 2 Lightning Helix

His: 2 Shard Volley

The rest of the main decks were identical. Clearly, these lists were optimal for Grand Prix Pittsburgh.

I’m sure several of you have questions for me, so let me try to preemptively answer them for you now.

Brendan, are you going to play Burn at the Pro Tour in Atlanta?

Great question. Yes.

Brendan, would you make any changes to the deck?

Great question. Burn must continue to evolve. Having four main-decked Lightning Helixes and a less painful mana base were the two big advances I feel I made for this Grand Prix. Keeping my own life total as high as possible gave me the ability to race other decks. Not having to fetch untapped Stomping Grounds and untapped Sacred Foundrys keeps your life higher and gives you more draws. The extra possible damage from Atarka's Command was not missed, as I was able to deal lethal damage quite easily without it. Clifftop Retreat was awesome and another part of the plan to be less suicidal. Our life total matters, and I feel this list showed that Burn needs to be able to do more than recklessly cast spells, but be able to do so without killing ourselves, too.

Lightning Helix
Atarka's Command
Crackling Doom

Brendan, were you really going to sleeve up Crackling Doom?

Great question. Yes, I was. The card costs 3 mana, and I have a very strict policy to not play any spells that cost 3 mana unless they win the game almost single-handedly, and I believe Crackling Doom could be that good.

Brendan, how many Lightning Bolts have you cast in your lifetime?

Great question. If I were to estimate, it would probably be between fifty million and one hundred million.

Brendan, how sweet is the Goblin Guide play mat?

Great question. The Goblin Guide play mat is the greatest play mat of all play mats that have ever been play mats.

Lightning Bolt
Goblin Guide

Brendan, if you could give one sentence of advice to other players who wish to play Burn, what would that sentence be?

“To the dome!”

Props to Anthony Koury for being a great friend and doing the driving. Props to all of my friends who supported this fun run. Props to the judges who make these events possible. Slops to thirty-five-minute intervals between rounds and no side events until late afternoon.

See you in Atlanta!

—Brendan Reginbald

Cleveland, Ohio

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