What do shock lands, fetch lands, and spells like Thoughtseize, Mutagenic Growth, Gitaxian Probe, and Dismember have in common? They hurt to use, and in Modern, the ubiquitous presence of these cards creates a virtual starting life total of less than 20. Decks with Thoughtseize often end their first turns at 15 life after cracking Verdant Catacombs for an Overgrown Tomb to cast the discard spell, and decks like Grixis Delver commonly play their shock lands untapped to cast Delver of Secrets on turn one after paying 2 life to spy on the opponent’s hand with Gitaxian Probe.
See, Burn doesn’t care about Thoughtseize, and Burn certainly doesn’t care about Gitaxian Probe or a little ol’ Delver of Secrets. Stripping a Lightning Bolt from a Burn player’s hand means very little when his or her deck is packed to the brim with redundant spells and effects like Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, and Rift Bolt.
And you know what would make Burn even better? Some sort of modular spell for 2 mana that allows you to use any two of four incredibly punishing abilities . . .
. . . Maybe something like Atarka's Command.
While Burn decks in Modern come in a small variety of flavors, the most common by far is R/W with a light green splash for Destructive Revelry and Ancient Grudge out of the sideboard. By adding a few more green sources, Atarka's Command becomes eminently playable alongside Burn’s other best card, Boros Charm.
The primary battle strategy of any Burn deck is to count to 20 (or, as previously mentioned, an even lower number depending on the matchup). How we reach 20 is relatively simple in theory, but not in practice: We cast burn spells at the most opportune moments, and we attack with our suite of creatures. While the route to victory is as linear as they come, the path is fraught with intricacies, and timing is everything.
Before we go on, check out this list from Magic Online user FrankC13:
Naya Burn ? Modern | FrankC13
- Spells (27)
- 1 Shard Volley
- 3 Lightning Helix
- 3 Searing Blaze
- 4 Atarka's Command
- 4 Boros Charm
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 4 Rift Bolt
- Lands (19)
- 2 Mountain
- 2 Stomping Ground
- 3 Sacred Foundry
- 4 Arid Mesa
- 4 Bloodstained Mire
- 4 Wooded Foothills
Optimized for use with the new Command, this list is shooting from multiple angles in order to achieve victory. With Atarka's Command, the mode we’re always looking to use is the first: We want to deal 3 damage to each player. There will be times when it makes more sense to use two others, but our Burn deck needs to do some burning first and foremost. Of particular interest is the wording on this mode, which just happens to trump Leyline of Sanctity, as it doesn’t target any particular player. Burn players like to share the love, you know? Very passionate people, those red mages are.
Monastery Swiftspears or Goblin Guides, for example, Atarka's Command becomes a 2-mana deal-9-damage-to-target-opponent spell if we choose to pump the team and deal 3 damage to each opponent. The very thought should either make you gag or squeal with glee, depending on your color preferences.
Atarka's Command has an interesting synergy with Searing Blaze, too, as it allows you to nab a landfall trigger at instant speed. While this is surely a corner case—you need 4 available mana and a land in hand, and your opponent needs a creature that you really want to make dead—it’s one worth noting.
Finally, being able to prevent life from being gained is extremely relevant in the mirror matchup, as we’ll see when we take a look at the sideboard. Spoilers: I’m looking at you, Kor Firewalker and Lightning Helix.
Stepping away from the Command for a moment, let’s look at the two Grim Lavamancers and their importance in Burn decks. With twelve fetch lands and a whole cache of burninating spells, putting two cards in the graveyard each turn is cake for a Burn deck (or maybe roasted hotdogs; look, I’m really hungry—sue me). The Lavamancers serve an important role—they exist to take out small threats so that your burn spells can be directed where they ought to be: the opponent’s face. This is particularly important against archetypes such as Infect and Affinity, as both decks rely on fast, yet tiny, creatures to win.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is perhaps the most skill-testing card in the deck. Given that each and every card in our deck triggers the Eidolon’s ability, we’re in serious trouble if we don’t play smart and conservatively where it counts. However, the vast majority of opponents in Modern are also at the mercy of the Eidolon, and as such, the 2/2 Spirit serves as a major source of damage that requires an answer and yet punishes the opponent for answering.
Most of the rest of our spells are relatively straightforward. Monastery Swiftspear and Goblin Guide are highly efficient turn-one threats that will handily defeat opponents who neglect to take them seriously. Lightning Bolt is the premier removal and burn spell in the format, and Rift Bolt, Lava Spike, and Shard Volley act as effective pretenders. If you’ll notice, we’re only rocking a single copy of Shard Volley, as we’re too reliant on having all three colors online at all times. Sacrificing a land can be a potentially devastating loss. Searing Blaze is perfect for taking out creatures and burning thy opponent’s face. (How dare the opponent play creatures against us, right? The nerve of Magic players these days!)
Oh, and as for Boros Charm, 4 damage for 2 mana is ridiculous. While the other two options won’t come up too often, they will come up—it’s just a matter of when. But that 4 damage is what it’s all about.
While Lightning Helix is a nigh-omnipresent card in Burn decks, it’s particularly important in variations with three colors. With five shock lands and a need to cast Boros Charm and Atarka's Command on time—as well as taking plenty of damage from Eidolon of the Great Revel—Naya Burn can deal quite a lot of damage to itself. This is most relevant in the mirror, as it makes Burn into the very deck it preys upon: the one with a starting life total of less than 20. Helix helps to shore up this weakness, so we’re rocking three copies in the main deck. But keep in mind that Atarka's Command can turn Lightning Helix into a measly Lightning Strike.
Speaking of the mirror, we have four copies of Kor Firewalker in the sideboard. Remember what I said about our color requirements being particularly important in this iteration of the deck? With Kor Firewalker’s casting cost of double-white, we’re going to want two copies of Sacred Foundry out as soon as possible, which potentially means inflicting a whopping 6 damage to ourselves in the first few turns of the game. Luckily, the Firewalker will usually keep us alive as we exchange fire magic with the opponent. And if he or she happens cast one of his or her own, Atarka's Command happens to have that clause about stopping players from stopping players from gaining life for a turn. Suddenly, the Firewalker’s most relevant ability ain’t so pretty.
Destructive Revelry for dealing with Affinity, Leyline of Sanctity, Spellskite, Blood Moon, and so on. As a 2-mana spell that deals with an opponent’s threat or point of protection while dishing out 2 damage, it’s about as efficient as we could possibly ask for.
Combust is a beautiful spell that says, “Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your Pestermite.” (Make sure you sing that to the tune of Avril Lavigne’s song “Girlfriend” whenever you cast it.) But it also says no to cards like Siege Rhino, which can be a source of grief for Burn decks everywhere.
While Burn is a linear archetype that essentially seeks to win the same way each game, it has proven to be an intricate and cerebral deck that requires caution and finesse to pilot effectively. The addition of a strong third color has only further served to establish it as one of the foundations of the Modern format, and it will continue to put up competitive numbers for the foreseeable future.
Stay safe out there, and keep your salve close,
P.S. If you ever lose or scoop to a Burn deck, I’d like you to look your opponent in the eye and say with the utmost sincerity, “Sick burn, brah.” Trust me.