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What's New with Boros Burn?


Two of my favorite articles I've written for Gathering Magic are:

The Chained to the Rocks Experiment, and The Chained to the Rocks Dilemma

You probably know that I am a super advocate of Eidolon of the Great Revel decks in Modern, and am very proud of the work I've done in the neighborhood of, say, Inspiring Vantage.

Over the past couple of years my padawan, Roman Fusco, and I have put up some solid finishes with Boros Burn; the most notable of which is probably Roman's Regionals win. Though both of us have won PPTQs and more. Now that it's Modern PPTQ season once again, it should be no surprise what strategy I am advocating!

Why Burn?

There are two things that get my engines going about playing Burn in Modern. The first one is simply that I own all the cards. This is probably surprising to a lot of you. But at my current age, (42) one of the most important things to me is the amount of mental energy I can muster on tournament day. I have a demanding day job, more demanding hobbies, a family to juggle, and many personal and passion projects. So there is already a ceiling on my tournament day brainpower.

I've won several large events with no cards at the beginning of the day; basically hustling for my seventy-five between the doors opening at 9 am and the first round of the tournament. I've also had terrible experiences. Once, only Matt Boccio and I were the only two players in the room with the card Aether Vial in our Affinity deck. But because of rushed last-minute-ness, I failed to register Arcbound Workers.

With only 56 cards, I took a Round One loss on deck registration. I won the next seven rounds, but lost in the last game of the Swiss to miss Top 8. Matt went undefeated and easily won the PTQ. He handed the physical 75 to Osyp Lebedowicz, who won the Grand Prix the very next weekend.

I know it probably seems silly, but today I just want to minimize the stress and potential unforced losses associated with begging and borrowing cards. This helps me focus my mental energy on playing the best that I can, especially given the ever-increasing complexity of the Modern format. Put another way, if you like this article, you should probably just head over to our sponsor and pick up all the Burn cards you don't have yet ;)

Speaking of which, I think I'm a very good Burn player. This feeling is corrected any time Patrick Sullivan watches me play from behind. But my results seem to indicate that I'm better with Burn than any other strategy, at least in Modern.

What Makes Burn Great?

My personal success with Burn has less to do with my inherent virtue and more to do with the interchangeable redundancy of the deck. The vast majority of the cards all do the same thing, so plotting out your game plan tends to be intuitive if you know the basic rules.

This touches on something that is important to me about constructing Burn decks and sideboards. While I may have designed the most famous singleton deck of all time (Napster) I dislike functional singletons in Burn. I like to try to figure out the best or most appropriate cards, play four copies of them, and then move down the line that way.

It's not just that unique cards or singletons create unpredictable volatility in draws, it's hard to know in what order to play certain cards. Do you use the open to cast your sideboard card on turn two . . .  If you haven't got a clock yet?

On the way to a Pro Tour I once posted a Standard Burn list, and was greeted by a player on Day Two. He had read the article I wrote on the plane and decided to audible to my deck, but not sideboard. He was lamenting a close mid-Day Two loss, showing me the Pithing Needles he had drawn (but were not in my version). There is nothing worse than drawing your sideboard card, but losing because you would have won on the fundamentals of the deck, but now you've drawn two too many cards that don't deal direct damage and don't remove a blocker. Doh! More on this later. For now, here are some things to know.

  1. All fetchlands are not created equal. The best fetchland is Scalding Tarn and the worst one is Arid Mesa. The mental signal for "Scalding Tarn, pass" is Storm while the signal for Arid Mesa is, you know, Burn. If you're fortunate enough to own all the fetchlands, de-prioritize playing Arid Mesa instead of lazily running it. There are no basic Plains in Burn so it doesn't matter that it's in-color. I no longer get any value out of Scalding Tarn because anyone who knows who I am knows I'm casting an Eidolon of the Great Revel on turn two; but you can still get a lot of mileage out of not playing Arid Mesa, I bet.
  2. It's way better to play a fetchland and break for a tapped Sacred Foundry than play Lava Spike on turn one. I once wrote an article about how the presence of Lava Spike is one of the main reasons Burn is so good . . .  But as far as I can tell, every time you cast a first turn Lava Spike the opponent ends up being Death's Shadow. You'll get what you deserve. This ceases to be true 100% the time if you know what your opponent is playing, of course.
  3. The priority for lands (in the dark) is . . . 
    • Inspiring Vantage
    • Mountain
    • Fetchland for Mountain
    • Sacred Foundry
    • Fetchland for Sacred Foundry
    • All this is flexible based on the situation; Inspiring Vantage varies radically in priority after turn three. Generally, though, you want to order and preserve your fetchlands so you can trigger Searing Blaze landfall with the most reliable flexibility. If you're not going to spend all your mana on turn two, it might be better to play a fetchland instead of an Inspiring Vantage just so you can Searing Blaze on their turn. It might be better to smash yourself for three on turn one if you have a ton of Lightning Helixes; the above priorities are in the dark.

  4. Play Goblin Guide on turn one over Monastery Swiftspear most of the time.
  5. While turn one Lava Spike is bad, I am generally fine floating a Rift Bolt on turn one. This is more because Lava Spike is "free" later in the game while Rift Bolt is either all your mana or takes a turn to resolve.

What Are the Changes Since Last Time?

Roman finished second in a PPTQ on Sunday!

Congratulations and condolences, as they say.

He lost a tight one to 8-Rack in the finals. That is a brutal matchup that can go either way. I only say it can go either way because I've personally won it . . .  But winning even once required a combination of perfect execution on my part and a small valuation lapse on the opponent's part. He chose to cast a Duress instead of a Raven's Crime with his last mana one turn that missed; that gave me one life point on The Rack. One! That's how close this matchup will often be. Burn needs a lot of luck; this kind or other.

This is what he played:

As you can see, the principal difference in the main deck was just -1 fetchland / +1 Manamorphose. Which fetchland isn't super material, but no, I wouldn't have preferred cutting Scalding Tarn. If you're stuck playing Arid Mesa I would heartily cut one of those, of course!

I noticed that most of the performing Burn decks from recent Top 8s played 19 lands instead of 20. There was no way I could see cutting a land for a Shard Volley, but Manamorphose seemed great. Not only does Manamorphose kind of stand in for half a land when you're cutting a land, it makes both Grim Lavamancer and Monastery Swiftspear better.

It even has some useful text against Blood Moon decks like Mardu Pyromancer, or can get you White mana in a pinch against Spreading Seas. I'd say we should play more, but I'm not sure what to cut. At some point Manamorphose and Eidolon of the Great Revel are not friends. On another, Skullcrack is by far the weakest card in the starting 60. It seems to me at this point that one copy is just fine. Its cantrip-ness just smoothes out the mana, and while it is generally always useful, it isn't the kind of card you mulligan to or build your strategy around.

The main deck change was slight; not so Roman's sideboard. While I wish the beloved padawan got one more match that day, I can't say liked his sideboard changes.

Modifying Roman's Sideboard

Let's look closer:

Relative to some of the sideboards we've discussed in previous Boros Burn articles, this one has fewer copies of Chained to the Rocks in favor of Rest in Peace, Forked Bolt, and Deflecting Palm. Roman has always played one Deflecting Palm as a nod to his spectacular win over Dan Ward at Regionals, so I'll give him a pass on that one . . .  But not as much on Rest in Peace and Forked Bolt.

Forked Bolt comes in against Mardu Pyromancer and Humans. It is certainly better than Chained to the Rocks against Mardu Pyromancer; or, specifically, the card Young Pyromancer. That said, I don't think it's enough better to actually play. For one thing, if you wanted yet another anti-battlefield card, it isn't that much better; for instance, provided you could cast it [through Blood Moon], Chained to the Rocks is better against Bedlam Reveler. I think that Forked Bolt is dramatically worse against Humans, where you will only rarely get a spectacular result, but will often be lacking against Mantis Rider or anything on the wrong side of too many buffs. I've certainly played Forked Bolt in other decks and contexts, so I don't think it's embarrassing . . .  I just don't think it's better than Chained to the Rocks.

Rest in Peace I don't agree with at all. As a singleton, it's an oddball. The one Smash to Smithereens is like a ninth Searing Blaze against Affinity, or can be thought of as part of a Shattering Spree package; or here, redundant to Stony Silence. Rest in Peace is a singleton with a specific function in the sideboard that no other card accomplishes. To that end, if you like the functionality, I would argue to play more.

Me? I don't like the functionality enough.

I've played Relic of Progenitus in the past. Since, I've been convinced that if you're aiming for Dredge, the best strategy is to side in a bunch more Searing effects and just knock Narcomoeba and out of the way so they can't chump block with it. You need anti-graveyard less when you are dealing damage while getting in to deal damage.

What remains is a card that plausibly comes in against Dredge, Death's Shadow, Mardu Pyromancer, and Hollow One. Personally, I think it's just worse than Chained to the Rocks in almost all of those matchups. If the opponent Delves one time, Rest in Peace is too slow against Death's Shadow; and unlike Chained to the Rocks, it is ineffective against other threats (like namesake Death's Shadow). It just seems too volatile against Mardu and Hollow One to me; worse than Searing Blood and against Mardu, and not really capable of saving you against Hollow One's best draws.

Hollow One just crushes any fair deck with its most explosive draws. Rest in Peace will not only not save you when they go off, it's too slow to ever do so if they are on the play. Chained to the Rocks (or Shattering Spree) will get you farther, especially because you can draw them in any order; while Rest in Peace is only effective if you draw it before they start a discard spree.

Of note: Young Roman lost to Hollow One in the first round of the tournament, before battling back all the way to the Finals.

  • Hollow One -- L
  • Tron -- W
  • Affinity -- W
  • Jund -- W
  • rw Goblins -- W
  • Abzan Company -- W

  • Top 8 -- Death's Shadow -- W
  • Top 4 -- Tron -- W
  • Top 2 -- 8-Rack -- :(

This brings us to Shattering Spree v. Stony Silence.

I much prefer Shattering Spree in the dark, but recognize that Stony Silence is much stronger against Ironworks combo. It's not just that Stony Silence is worse against Affinity (it is, while still effective); it's worse in the deck. My sideboards -- heavy on Chained to the Rocks -- are a little poorer at getting cards into the graveyard than most Burn, so can be slow to catalyze Grim Lavamancer. Shattering Spree is convenient in that it gets another card into the graveyard quickly in a matchup where an active Grim Lavamancer will often just be game. Not for nothing, but Shattering Spree can potentially get you out of the Hollow One unbeatable open in a way no other available card can. That said, I do think current trending in the metagame does warrant Stony Silence, perhaps to the exclusion of the lone Smash to Smithereens. For now I think I'll keep Smash to Smithereens, due to the declining value of multiple copies of the enchantment.

That leaves us with:

I righted the number of Scalding Tarns relative to Roman's list, and cut the unique singletons (as above) for four righteous copies of Chained to the Rocks. I'm a big believer in that card, and think that its presence is one of the main reasons this specific build will perform against Collected Company and Humans decks, relative to the average, boring Burn build. If you think Death's Shadow variants, Tron, Humans, and Affinity are some of the best decks in Modern . . .  You should probably give Boros Burn a look. It is also spectacularly favored in Game 1 of the "mirror" over these goobers who play Stomping Ground for some reason.

Good luck in the Modern PPTQs!

Just remember not to fire off Lava Spike on turn one in the dark :)



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