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Persistence Pays


So... Credit where credit is due:

Young Roman Fusco, my old podcast co-host and one time New Yorker, has moved to faraway Los Angeles, California.

Over the last several weeks, while I was spending my summer weekends dunking on my 11-year-old on a playground mini-hoop, Roman was doing God's own work with Boros Charm and Inspiring Vantage.

To give you a little context, I went over the Top 20 most popular Modern archetypes; here is my take for Boros Burn:

Category 5 - Overwhelmingly Favorable

  • Mono-Green Tron
  • Ironworks Combo
  • ur Gifts Storm
  • Grixis Death's Shadow
  • Jund

All these matchups are super easy. Keep in mind I lost to Mono-Green Tron in the Top 8 of Regionals this year, so you can theoretically always lose (especially on the draw). But I've heard enough highly competent Tron players throw up their hands and say "Well, you're going to lose to Burn anyway" that I'm comfortable with the rating.

Ironworks Combo is so easy I tried to convince Roman to cut Stony Silence from our sideboard (spoiler: he didn't). If you go first and have Eidolon of the Great Revel they basically lose on the spot. The combination of Eidolon, Stony Silence, additional anti-artifact removal (and in some cases even a well-placed Searing effect)... and the fact that you are actually as fast as they are makes this a smooth ride.

ur Gifts Combo, Grixis Death's Shadow, and Jund all assume a certain level of execution. The bar is not high in the case of Gifts. Did you draw a Lightning Bolt effect? A second land? It's hard to lose. Did you draw an Eidolon in Game 1? It's really hard to lose. Can you still lose? Like, I said... I lost to Tron in a Top 8.

It's difficult to exaggerate how easy Jund is. I once had an opponent, on the play, draw three Tarmogoyfs and lose. BTW Tarmogoyf is supposed to be their good card against you.

Category 4 - They Can Win; You "Should" Win

Burn is probably odd seeming to you. There is a range. If the opponent is also playing Boros, it's theoretically even. If they're playing Naya (more common), you either have to flood or screw to lose if you're playing correctly. Basically, they take a ton of extra damage that they can't avoid. That is the same as you drawing an extra 1-2 cards in Game 1. Like I said, there is a range. If they're playing Wild Nacatl it gets easier, if they're playing multiple Atarka's Commands (i.e. they are literally forced to search up Stomping Ground to play their cards) it gets easier; if they only play two Lightning Helixes, etc. etc.

Humans, Affinity, and Hardened Scales Affinity all pretty much go the same way. You may or may not win Game 1, probably depending on how many one-mana spells you draw. If you draw a ton of one-mana spells and stop on three lands, it won't even look close. If you draw predominantly burn that can't target creatures (Skullcrack, et al), they'll get a lot of percentage. In sideboarded games, you will have an overabundance of one-mana removal spells (most importantly Chained to the Rocks). In the Affinity case(s) you'll have some table snappers in the form of Stony Silence or Shattering Spree. All together with an active Grim Lavamancer, none of these decks can keep a threat on the table. Win with whatever (they're all removal-poor).

Roman claims regular Affinity should be in the "5" category. Affinity players are probably scratching their heads, thinking they should be in Category 2. Maybe we lose Game 1 more than half the time, but side in 12 cards, many of which are auto-wins. One of the most fun sequences is to blow up all the other stuff (often with Shattering Spree) so that you can remove Etched Champion with a one-for-one or Grim Lavamancer. Trust me: This is very fun.

Roman opened up his season with a 1-2, with two losses to Mardu Pyromancer. It took a while for me to convince him how to sideboard. He finished his season (along the way to his win) with multiple wins against Mardu. Basically, side out all your White cards for Searing cards. I play zero White cards in Games 2-3. Go ahead and level me, future Mardu opponents! Basically, you have awesome sideboard cards like Chained to the Rocks for their Bedlam Reveler. Unfortunately, you can get locked out by Blood Moon. It's simpler to just have 100 Searing effects because they need creatures to beat you, most of which have one toughness. Gang up on Kambal if it comes down to it. Cost of doing business! Basically what ends up happening is they have a ton of Young Pyromancers and / or Lingering Souls tokens. You just rush them with one Swiftspear and make them take three for every x/1 they put into play. Play around Collective Brutality to help preserve threats. Damage adds up faster than they can get their advantages going. If Gerry disagrees with me... I guess he disagreed with me on the Five-color Mono-Blue Dragons matchup even though he was also the mage who gave me the Master of Waves I used to beat Red repeatedly. Knock on wood: I have never lost this matchup in a tournament.

Category 3 - It Can Go Either Way

  • uw Control
  • Infect

If uw gets their stuff, they're probably going to beat you. If they don't respect your cards - and you sequence correctly - you're going to make their Sphinx's Revelation and Timely Reinforcements look kind of silly. It will be a moral victory as well as an actual victory. This deck has a LOT of slow garbage (Gideon Jura come on). That is where a lot of your percentage comes from. But if they get their stuff? You get stuffed like my eleven-year-old on the mini hoop.

Infect you should win. It's almost a 4. If THEY sequence right? And you draw a lot of 2 mana removal? Double-plus un-good. Generally I'd say uw is mostly them and Infect is mostly you... But Infect is one of those matchups that you feel like you are supposed to win but you don't actually win all the time and the margins are razor tight on your losses but there are more losses than you'd like to admit have occurred.

Category 2 - You Don't Want to Play These Decks

I've beaten Eldrazi Tron but it has never felt good. Same on Dredge. I think they're "supposed" to win. I've won mostly by tricking them into giving up a massive amount of tempo and if they played a little more conservatively blah Blah BLAH. This is what happens when you only win by gambling with a Deflecting Palm against a hasty 5/5 you don't want to target or perhaps a costly Conflagrate. I ALREADY TOLD YOU I THINK THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO WIN.

Hollow One is a deck that gets a little extra attention from YT. It is the sole reason we have Shattering Spree. I mean we had Shattering Spree before, but swapped it out for Stony Silence, but it returned in the most recent list as a singleton. The theory is this: If you are ahead most of the time, like Burn is, you just want your cards to come out in the most boring, most predictable, least exciting, least volatile way possible. You don't want exciting things to happen. That's why I hate Roman's solo Deflecting Palm. He loves talking about that Palm. "I won Regionals by Palming Dan Ward's Griselbrand" is a true statement. Two years later it doesn't mean you are supposed to keep playing ONE Deflecting Palm, padawan! However, if you're behind, like you are against Hollow One, you want exciting things to happen. Because if something exciting happens, it usually means you destroyed them somehow. A two-for-one or better on Shattering Spree qualifies. Literally!

When Roman told me what made Top 8 last night, I told him to dodge the Hollow One deck and he was set. He dodged it... In Top 8 and Top 4. But in the Finals? He drew Shattering Spree and easily undid the opponent God-Draw. It's not impossible to keep pace generally (Chained to the Rocks on basically anything is fine, especially since their meaningful cards are often more than one card, practically speaking) but they're way ahead Game 1, especially going first.

Category 1 - It's Going to be a Looooong Day (or a short one)

  • gw Hexproof
  • Jeskai
  • 8-Rack

Roman SO didn't want to play gw Hexproof, he asked me before Saturday's PPTQ if he should sideboard Ensnaring Bridge. I responded with a slur.

Here's the problem: They have a Seal of Primordium

Seal of Primordium hits Eidolon of the Great Revel, worst case. They're bringing it in. There's no point in trying to beat them that way. Better to just hope you dodge Hexproof.

Jeskai and 8-Rack are awful and awful. Jeskai is like uw Control with Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt. Do they take a medium-bad matchup and just add your two best cards, one of which is like a three-for-one against you? WHY YES THEY DO.

I've only ever beaten 8-Rack because they do stuff like Duress me instead of Funeral Charming or Inquisitioning or Raven's Criming me for my last card (has actually happened)... And I was sandbagging a Mountain or something. So I save like 1 point of The Rack damage and win the race by one point. True story. This matchup is so miserable. I'm kind of shocked this isn't one of the most popular decks in Modern.

Roman's first loss in the Finals of a PPTQ this season (first of three such appearances) consoled him that no one plays 8-Rack. According to the popularity scale on MTG Goldfish, about three-tenths of one percent of wizards summon Shrieking Affliction, so not quite "no one". It's not a top-20 deck; but it's an awful matchup.

Okay that's Mike's take.

Notably unrated: br Vengevine, Bant Spirits, wu Spirits

I've just never played any of these decks so I don't want to say. Roman 2-0'd the Vengevine deck Sunday and assures me that the Spirits decks are just slower versions of Humans.

"They do have Spell Queller," he noted; but it's not like we suddenly don't have Searing Blaze. Roman beat Spirits repeatedly with Searing effects with Rattlechains on the stack. In the dark I would rate Vengevine 3 and Spirits in the 4-5 category.

What happened with Roman?


Young Roman played seven PPTQs this season. He made Top 8 of four of these, Top 4 of two of them, and the Finals of the other two.

Two weeks ago, after Grand Prix Los Angeles, he asked me if he should quit Magic. He was extremely frustrated at so many near-misses, and he saw multiple players he knew - none of whom were him - qualify.

I told him to go back to our first podcast together; the article that helped inspire him to win his Regionals. In How to Win a PTQ, I talked about missing a qualification for a stupid reason (I didn't hear the round called) and decided to quit. Then I won a PTQ the very next day that led to my first money on the Pro Tour.

Reinvigorated, Roman did a double PPTQ weekend; a rare Top 8 miss on Saturday, but his win on Sunday.

He played Boros Burn in all seven tournaments. This was the final version:

The main deck is largely what we've been talking about for... Forever. We went back up to 20 lands, but Roman would side down to 19 on the draw in some matchups.

I have to say I dislike both the Forked Bolt and the Deflecting Palm in the sideboard. Both should be Chained to the Rocks.

Me: Forked Bolt is terribad. This is coming from someone who once cut Lava Spike to play 4x main deck. That's how I know it's terribad!

Roman: It won me my Humans matchup in the Top 8. If it were Chained to the Rocks, I would have lost.

Me: I can't imagine a situation where that is true unless you were dead on board and you ripped it when they were at 2.

Roman: ...


Roman: At least I didn't play 4x main deck. Now that would have been terribad.

The other 73 cards have my seal of approval, with a possible second Shattering Spree over the second Stony Silence. I like it very much for the Hollow One matchup and I think the cards are both overwhelmingly good against Affinity. Shattering Spree is worse against KCI, and I can respect respecting them... But KCI is a great matchup whereas Hollow One is a rough matchup, if you grok.

Tournament Rundown:

1-2 Drop

  • L - Mardu Pyromancer
  • W - Jeskai Control
  • L - Mardu Pyromancer

Weirdly, Roman lost to very good matchup Mardu Pyromancer twice, but beat nearly-unwinnable matchup Jeskai! He overrated White removal against Mardu, not realizing how consistently you can rack up damage against their small guys.

Lost in Finals

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

Top 8

Literally everything went the way it was supposed to go. Nice comeback from the 0-1 start!

Lost in Semifinals

Top 8

  • W - Bant Spirits
  • L - Abzan Company

Nice little sneak-in with two losses on this one. Remarkably unimpressive for a Top 4 finish, though.

1-2 Drop

  • L - Bant Spirits
  • W - Jund
  • L - Mono-Red Prison

Roman: It wasn't my day.

Mike: I don't even know what Mono-Red Prison is.

Lost in Semifinals

  • L - Mardu Pyromancer
  • W - uw Control
  • W - ur Storm
  • W - Affinity
  • D - Jeskai

Top 8

  • W - KCI
  • L - Jeskai

Roman: I've liverally never lost to ur Storm.

Mike: I've literally walked away as you tapped out with a Lightning Bolt in your hand.

Roman: What I meant was, I didn't lose to Storm in this tournament.

Nice to see the padawan skillfully draw with Jeskai to make Top 8. Less nice to see him actually have to face the hated Lightning / Lightning opponent once there.

4-2 Drop

  • L - 8-Rack
  • W - Mardu Pyromancer
  • W - Tron
  • W - Humans
  • W - Bant Company
  • L - Humans

A Round One loss prevented our hero from being able to draw into Top 8 on Saturday. I told him his unlikely loss to Humans was actually just the dramatic buildup to a win the next day.

Notably, this is the first tournament he took my advice on how to sideboard against Mardu. #sickburn

No, really - "Burn" is quite sick!

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Top 8

Some notes from our PPTQ Champion:

  • Yeah, yeah, yeah - sideboarding correctly against Mardu is key. Just have all your burn spells. They only have 4 Bedlam Reveler, so even if they get ahead, they can't actually put you on a clock easily. You can kill everything else, often at a profit.
  • I got to Shattering Spree two Hollow One! This is much better than one Smash to Smithereens.
  • I felt very favored versus every creature deck. 8 Searing effects and Path to Exile / Chained to the Rocks makes it very difficult for them to keep a threat on the battlefield. You can just win with whatever.
  • Affinity is only a bye because you can side in 12 cards. But you can side in 12 cards.
  • I concede Chained to the Rocks is generally better than Forked Bolt, but I didn't want to side in too many cards that don't deal damage. As Mike noted, the fact that Forked Bolt deals damage was pivotal to my winning in the Top 8.
  • Deflecting Palm is incorrect and more of a pet card than anything else.
  • I went 67.4% over these events, not counting the one bye or two intentional draws.
  • I wouldn't have won all of these matches if I had Stomping Grounds or Destructive Revelry in my deck. These cards are absolutely terrible and I can't fathom why people still play them. I could have easily lost any of these creature matchups starting at 2 less life, or having to fetch for a Green source in the Affinity matchups I played. I can say with confidence the 75 was near perfect except for the sideboarding differences Flores and I had. I'm okay conceding that Chained is better than Palm, but I do like the Forked Bolt and was happy numerous times in Humans/Spirits/Company matchups where it either killed two creatures or killed one and dealt my opponent one (usually killing a Noble Hierarch). [Oh wow. Am I convinced? Birds of Paradise + "get ya" is nice. -mf]
  • How to win a PTQ is still extremely relevant to today. I played well, made a great deck choice / sideboard choice (mostly) and got lucky where I needed to. I didn't win off luck alone and neither did I win off pure skill alone. I was not the most accomplished player in the room. However, I noticed small mistakes my Top 8 opponents made and was able to play around the cards they telegraphed having in their hand. For example, in Game 1 against br Hollow One in the finals, my opponent lead on an untapped Blood Crypt. I had a Swiftspear in my hand but declined to play it and instead Lava Spiked. My opponent had no choice but to go back to his turn, wasting 2 life which ended up costing him the game. I think the common misconception with Burn is that you have to mindlessly play out your creatures and spells and hope you win. This is entirely not the case and it takes precision and thought to correctly play the deck. As Mike pointed out to me, you never have control of the order in which you draw your cards. HOWEVER, you have complete control over the way you sequence them, and this tournament showed me that I had a good grasp on that concept. I think without channeling my inner "How to Win a PTQ" in these events my win % would not be this high. Although I wasn't winning for the first 7 tournaments, I did find myself in Top 8 or close, with two events being flubs. It was definitely heartbreaking losing in the finals the first one I Top 8'd in the season, but my stars aligned when I was able to clinch my Finals victory. Burn is great, Flores is great, Magic is great. [Aw shucks, thanks! -still mf]

Great job Roman, and good luck at the RPTQ!

Burn is great, Magic is great; the other guy the jury is still out. ;)



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