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Beating Down in Modern


The Modern PTQ season is in full swing, and the metagame is shaping up nicely. There are enough decks out there to suit any player’s style. Today, I’m going to talk about one of the more aggressive strategies in the format: Boros.

Boros has been doing very well lately, making Top 8s at numerous events, and it has even won a PTQ. Here’s the decklist that won the online PTQ on January 15, 2012:

This deck is super-powerful and fast. All of the creatures are very efficient and either hit the opponent the turn they come down (Chandra's Phoenix and Goblin Guide), or attack for a ton of damage (Plated Geopede, Steppe Lynx, Figure of Destiny). Grim Lavamancer is a great role player. It can either remove cheap blockers so you can attack for a lot of damage or it can deal the final points of damage to the opponent. Figure of Destiny just becomes better as the game goes longer, and it is usually tough to remove once it becomes a 4/4.

It’s important to be able to trigger landfall every turn, so the list plays the full twelve fetch lands. The two Boros Garrisons allow you to replay a land once you are out of them, but they are very slow and don’t allow you to curve out. I did not like the Boros Garrisons in my testing. Since there are only twenty-two lands in the deck, there will be times when you need to hit your third land-drop untapped in order to play either a Chandra's Phoenix, or a 2-drop and a removal spell—or even pump Figure of Destiny—but the Boros Garrisons won’t allow you to do that. I would cut them from the deck, but I know some people who really like them, too.

The removal package gives us eleven burn spells that all do 3 damage, plus four Path to Exile—arguably the best removal spell in the format. Searing Blaze is amazing, because usually you will remove the opponent’s best creature, while dealing 3 damage to the opponent, and attack with a landfalled creature or two, dealing damage equal to roughly half of your opponent’s life total. From there, it’s pretty easy to burn out your opponent. There aren’t the full set of four because they are dead cards against decks that play no creatures, like Storm. I feel that the majority of the decks in the format play creatures, so I would like to see a fourth copy of Searing Blaze in the sideboard at least.

One thing to note is that there are seven potentially dead cards against creatureless decks, so it’s important to mulligan aggressively if you know that’s what you‘re up against. On the plus side, Path to Exile allows you to ramp your own mana if necessary, and it can be a cute trick if you need to trigger landfall.

As for the sideboard, I feel that this particular list needs some work. I don’t like sideboards that are all three-ofs. They seem thrown together, and it looks like there isn’t much thought behind them. Let’s talk about each one individually.

Combust is a very important card in the Boros sideboard. The only way you have to beat a Deceiver Exarch with a Splinter Twin on it is Path to Exile, but the Twin player will usually have Dispel or some other answer. Combust is an uncounterable answer against Twin, and there really isn’t much the opponent can do about it. In addition, it can be a good card against Bant—it can kill problem cards like Baneslayer Angel or Hero of Bladehold. Bant is not a very popular deck right now, but you never know.

Disenchant is a very versatile sideboard card. I don’t think there are too many enchantments worth killing right now (there’s Splinter Twin, but we already talked about how to deal with that). There are, however, a ton of artifacts worth killing. There are Swords, Birthing Pod, Vedalken Shackles, and Affinity cards, to name a few. If you are going to kill just artifacts, Ancient Grudge is better because of the card advantage it provides. With eight red fetch lands in the deck, it’s very easy to play one Stomping Ground and splash for Ancient Grudge. Ancient Grudge is also the perfect card against Affinity, so it seems to be the best way to go. I’d play at least three in the ’board.

Refraction Trap is a very cute card, but it’s pretty narrow and doesn’t really do enough. It’s okay against the mirror, burn, and maybe Storm, but it‘s very situational. It’s the first card I would cut from the sideboard.

Shrine of Burning Rage is the ultimate finisher against control. Control players will side in a lot of creature removal against Boros and will usually have no way to remove a Shrine. By the time he stabilizes at between 7 to 10 life, he is dead to the Shrine. It’s great against the blue Delver decks and the Caw-Blade decks. Just watch out for Engineered Explosives.

The last sideboard card in the list is Volcanic Fallout. Fallout is excellent against mono-blue Faeries, Affinity, and Delver decks. It can even potentially be good against Melira combo, because it can kill the Melira while its controller is going off. Overall, it’s a great, uncounterable spell.

There are quite a few other cards worth considering for the Boros sideboard. The first is Ranger of Eos. It’s a great card against both control and aggro because of the card advantage it provides. I played a lot of Zoo and Boros back in old Extended formats, and Ranger was always a very important sideboard card in the mirror. It’s definitely worth considering.

Blood Moon is another good card for the Boros sideboard. It doesn’t hurt your mana base all that much, and it can just cripple some decks. For example, there are a lot of midrange strategies like Jund, Bant, Caw-Blade, and other three-colored decks like Melira or Junk-style decks that just lose to a resolved Blood Moon. Just be sure that if you play it, fetch your basic Plains as early as possible. Blood Moon is a card that is amazing in aggro decks, and Boros is no exception. Depending on what your local metagame is, it could be an auto-include.

Storm is a deck that is rapidly increasing in popularity. It has been Top 8’ing PTQs left and right. A few weeks ago, Storm was nowhere near the top tables, but times have changed. Because of that, we have to at least consider Ethersworn Canonist. The problem with this card is that it’s just not a good answer to the Storm combo. Storm players have plenty of ways to kill the Canonist, and then they can go off easily. Because of that, I don’t think it’s worth it to include in the Boros sideboard.

The next cards to consider are graveyard-hate cards, such as Relic of Progenitus, Tormod's Crypt, or Scrabbling Claws. This usually depends on your metagame. The cards are helpful against Melira combo, Gifts combo, Living End decks, Life from the Loam decks, Martyr of Sands decks, and to a lesser extent, Storm, if the player is relying on Past in Flames to win. Of these options, the best card is Relic of Progenitus, because it removes the entire graveyard and lets you draw a card.

If I were to play Boros in a PTQ, here’s what I’d play:

I added a land because the sideboard has more mana-intensive cards. Blood Moon, Ranger of Eos, and Shrine of Burning Rage all made me want to play more lands. I also cut the Boros Garrisons, so adding the extra land seemed right.

I cut a Grim Lavamancer from the maindeck because it’s a card that you never want in multiples. It’s rare that you’ll have enough cards in your graveyard to activate it twice in one turn. Even if you can, chances are you won’t have many cards left in your graveyard to activate it again.

The sideboard has two Shrine of Burning Rage for the control decks and two Ranger of Eos for the mirror and decks with a lot of removal such as Jund and Zoo. The Ancient Grudges are obviously for Affinity, but as I said earlier, they are also good utility cards against decks playing mana-intensive artifacts like Swords, Isochron Scepter, and the like.

Volcanic Fallout is for the Delver matchups. The U/B Delver deck that has been becoming popular doesn’t play a single creature that survives a Fallout. It has Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mages, Vendilion Clique, and even Delver himself. If this deck becomes one of the top decks, I would even play a fourth Fallout—the card is also great against Affinity, the mirror, and mono-blue Faeries.

Here’s a brief explanation of the sideboard plan:


+3 Volcanic Fallout

+3 Ancient Grudge

−4 Chandra's Phoenix

−2 Figure of Destiny

Chandra's Phoenix is way too slow against Affinity, so they are the first cards to come out. Figure of Destiny is a bit mana-intensive in this matchup, so they are an easy card to cut, too. If you are on the draw, you can take out two Goblin Guide instead of the Figures.


+3 Blood Moon

+2 Ranger of Eos

−3 Grim Lavamancer

−2 Lightning Bolt

Jund plays a lot of removal and ways to generate card advantage, so this matchup is really a grind. The Ranger of Eos help to keep up with all the card advantage. Jund is also cold to Blood Moon. Unless the opponent fetches his Forest and Swamp early, with a Blood Moon in play, Jund won’t be playing many spells other than Lightning Bolts. The Grim Lavamancers come out because they are a bit slow and usually die before becoming active. They also don’t really kill a lot of creatures in the Jund deck. The only targets are Bloodbraid Elf and Dark Confidant, and the burn and Paths take care of those creatures just fine.

Delver and Caw-Blade

+3 Volcanic Fallout

+2 Ranger of Eos

−4 Goblin Guide

−1 Chandra's Phoenix

These are the matchups in which the Grim Lavamancers shine. All of the opposing threats are small. If you’re playing against the R/U/G version of Delver with Tarmogoyf, you can control what cards you remove from your graveyard to keep the ’Goyf small. Removal is also important in these matchups—the opponents play very few threats. They do have a ton of removal, so the Rangers help here, too. These matchups play out very much like mono-blue Faeries, so the sideboard plan is similar. I’d probably side in Grudges over Rangers though, because Faeries plays Vedalken Shackles.

Splinter Twin

+2 Combust

+2 Ancient Grudge

−3 Figure of Destiny

−1 Lightning Helix

In this matchup, it’s important to keep a hand with a way to deal with Deceiver Exarch. The 3-damage burn spells aren’t too helpful, but at least you can throw two spells at an Exarch . . . or even a burn spell plus Grim Lavamancer. The Ancient Grudges are to deal with Spellskites, which could be a problem if you don‘t draw your Combust. The slowest creature is Figure of Destiny, and the slowest removal spell is Helix, so they are the cards that come out.

Combo (Storm, Pyromancer Ascension, Hive Mind, etc.)

+2 Shrine of Burning Rage

+2 Ranger of Eos

+3 Volcanic Fallout

−3 Path to Exile

−4 Searing Blaze

The problem with the combo decks is that they are a turn faster than Boros, so it’s very difficult to win. The Shrines help to deal a lot of damage all at once, but they are pretty slow. All of the cards that kill creatures must come out. The replacements aren’t great, but it’s really the best we can do. It’s really not a good matchup. Luckily, Splinter Twin is the combo deck of choice, so you might not face Storm very often, or at all.


+2 Volcanic Fallout

+2 Ranger of Eos

−4 Goblin Guide

This matchup is all about trading creatures and gaining card advantage. The Goblin Guides are pretty awful here, since they just die to everything, and you really don’t want to give your opponent free lands. Be sure to play Fallout very carefully and watch your life total. It’s also really important to play around Lightning Helix at all times. The life-gain it provides can greatly swing the game in the opponent’s favor.

Bant and Other Green-Based Decks

+3 Volcanic Fallout

+3 Blood Moon

+2 Ranger of Eos

−4 Goblin Guide

−4 Chandra's Phoenix

The Volcanic Fallouts really shine here because these decks both play little guys and planeswalkers, such as Elspeth, Knight-Errant. These decks have mostly nonbasics, so Blood Moon is pretty good. They have Path to Exile as a four-of, which makes Chandra's Phoenix very underwhelming. The Goblin Guides also come out because it doesn’t really do anything after turn three—it will just be outclassed by something bigger.


These sideboard plans are meant to be a guide and are not set in stone. Of course, if the Jund deck you are playing against has more basics than usual, maybe Blood Moon is not the right call. If the Boros deck you are up against has Sword of War and Peace, you better get those Ancient Grudges in there. The sideboard plans here are useful, but it’s important to adapt your deck based on what cards your opponent is playing and what cards you expect he will bring in against you—not just on what archetype you are facing.

Next week, I will be in Hawaii testing for the Pro Tour, which is in two weeks. I am going to be at a beach house with a bunch of players, and we are going to be doing nothing but drafting, testing Standard, and hanging out at the beach. Hawaii should be a great time of playing Magic and having fun. I’ll still have an article next week, and I hope to have some spicy new Standard or Modern brews with some new cards from Dark Ascension. Until then, good luck qualifying for the Pro Tour!

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter@AllWeDoIsWinMTG, and be sure to check out my videos at http://www.allwedoiswinmtg.com.

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