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What Everyone Gets Wrong About Historic Burn


That Time I Lost to Jegantha, The Wellspring

What do you even think when you see their Companion is Jegantha, the Wellspring? If the nineteenth land in draft could be re-cast as an Ikoria Companion, it would be Jegantha, right? I mean... Has anyone ever even tapped Jegantha for mana?

The Wellspring is a "free" 5/5 for five mana that asks relatively little of you to play. Just be some kind of Green or Red. I think the most impressive Jegantha I had ever played against, previously, was in Standard; where it ended up fodder for a Priest of Forgotten Gods.

But in Historic?

Jegantha is a relatively common add for Red Decks. For Burn decks. It tells you a lot about your opponent when you see Jegantha, though. No Goblin Chainwhirlers, for one.

They opened on a couple of Soul-Scar Mages, then followed up with a pair of Thermo-Alchemists. I dutifully traded Shocks for Soul-Scars, and either Wizard's Lightning or Skewer the Critics for Thermo-Alchemist.

I'm definitely losing to that Jegantha, I thought; even before they summoned it to grip for three. This is going to be the best Jegantha ever.

It was.

I traded, again dutifully. We both drew one card off the top of our decks. He was left with a 5/5. And killed me with it.

In Game 2 I sided out Goblin Chainwhirler. He inexplicably sided in Goblin Chainwhirler (despite just beating me with a card that was now invalidated by its presence). Won with a lucky topdeck in the third, largely on account of going first.

This was one of the most instructive quasi-mirrors I'd ever played. I was new to the Historic format, but still thought I had my boots laced pretty tightly on deck choice and in-game. But Red Decks remain Red Decks. You can both have a worse version overall and make inexplicable decisions that blunt what edge you do have and still roflstomp even an experienced opponent.

This taught me the first important thing that people get wrong about Historic Burn:

They Don't Play Goblin Chainwhirler

All other things held equal, it's nice to have Jegantha, the Wellspring available. I certainly lost to theirs! The problem is that if you go this direction, you don't get to play Goblin Chainwhirler [main deck].

It's difficult to explain how good Goblin Chainwhirler is if you weren't playing Standard two summers ago. It's bonkers. It's Plague Wind that leaves the best body on the battlefield. There are people who play not only Llanowar Elves, but Paradise Druid, and Blood Artist... Often all in the same deck!

But more than that, Goblins is deck; full of not just 1/1 creatures; but 1/1 creatures that fuel the synergies of their other creatures!

But what about everybody else, MichaelJ, you might ask. Good question!

Imagine these maniacs with Thoughtseize; you know, a card that costs actual mana but also doubles as a Shock you don't have to cast (replacing the Shock they might have just taken). When one of these maniacs casts Thoughtseize on you... Often the best card in your hand (which they, probably correctly, take) is Goblin Chainwhirler. So even in the matchups where it doesn't seem very good, Chainz might still be your best card.

The mirror - arguably the most popular archetype in Historic right now - is another good example of this. I thought the rrr Goblin might be a mite clunky given my sideboarding strategy, but my opponent won with theirs coming in, despite the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of 1 toughness creatures. It's a little bit titanic. Even when it's not Plague Wind, Goblin Chainwhirler nugs the opponent (and their Planeswalkers!) for one, and it's pretty common that no one will be willing to block it. I have it on good account that Elder Gargaroth will often decline to block it.

To wit (though this might change)... At the time of this writing, the representative archetype deck for Historic Burn on MTGGoldfish plays a Jegantha Companion but no Goblin Chainwhirlers in deck or sideboard.

Speaking of sideboard...

They Play Best-of-One

I fielded no fewer than three separate conversations about people playing my Red Deck in best-of-one after I posted it last week.

Why would you possibly play Best-of-One with this deck?

The reason I ask is that this deck has an outstanding sideboard. Like, a really, really effective sideboard. If you look at how haphazard many opponents' sideboards are, it is evident that you will be getting much more value by being able to access your extra fifteen (not even fourteen) than they will.

This is a sideboard that implies plans. And plans are better than cards in isolation.

When I started playing this deck, the top dawg in Historic was Field of the Dead + Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath + Hour of Promise. Certainly, that is a powerful strategy; validated in part by the banning of Field of the Dead (again).

But one of the reasons I was able to climb the ladder to Mythic so quickly was that I had such a good plan against that top deck. The Historic Burn deck is already good against that now-banned boogeyman in the main. It's not a cakewalk or anything, but I like your side far more than I like theirs. If you get a curve draw and are on the play, very often you'll end them through one Uro without hardly any resistance.

This is what I sided:

Think about Goblin Chainwhirler and Risk Factor as a straight swap; three for three on mana. You remove a highly interactive card (that is bad at interacting with them) for a card that is difficult for them to interact with. It's just the definition of an awesome swap. When you don't have Goblin Chainwhirler in your deck, you don't have as much hard requirement for Red mana, so it's okay to ease up in favor of Sunscorched Desert. For that matter, Soul-Guide Lantern is very cantrip-ish (as is Risk Factor), which eases your mana requirements generally. So, it's okay to go from 22 to 20.

This is the most common sideboard swap, macro:

I side like this A LOT. There are a fair number of matchups where the opponent is rich in 1/1 creatures; so Viashino Pyromancer becomes an overcosted Shock. Often one Gempalm Incinerator is better than the last Pyromancer, so I toss that in. I actually made Mythic the day after I posted The One Guaranteed Way to Win More Games in Historic by cycling an Incinerator into an opposing Siren Stormtamer. Gempalm Incinerator is not a bad combo with Experimental Frenzy, though it can be awkward with Light Up the Stage. Your Chainz just get more text.

A slight tweak:

This is how I side against Woe Strider decks. I don't care about Woe Strider that much; but Soul-Guide Lantern tends to be better against them than a Gempalm Incinerator that might not have much oomph; even just on the mana.

They Don't Play [enough] Bonecrusher Giants

Most Historic Red Decks you see will play between zero and two copies of Bonecrusher Giant.

I knew coming in that Bonecrusher Giant would be one of my best cards; and it has, predictably, preformed as the best card in the seventy-five against fair creature opponents.

But it wasn't until that Mythic-crowning matchup against Mono-Blue that I realized how dumb the card is.

I got Game 1.

He had three Cerulean Drakes in Game 2. I think I could have won but my wife asked me to do something and I lost concentration for a second. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I even drew the three damage spell I needed. But a Cerulean Drake countered it. I'm sure there was something I could have done better.

And hey?

Three freaking Cerulean Drakes!

So, Game 3 I'm pretty annoyed. Two more Cerulean Drakes. But he was not blocking my Bonecrusher Giant or Goblin Chainwhirler. So they were getting in for DI. Why isn't he blocking? I asked myself. It makes no sense!

... Unless you read the front-side of Bonecrusher Giant!

The same reason I started playing the card in Modern to beat Kor Firewalker works just fine in Historic as well. If damage can't be prevented, Cerulean Drake loses a lot of its defensive capability.

They Don't Play Soul-Scar Mage

Actually, most of them do!

My friend BDM made Mythic a few days after I did, with a couple of small changes. We don't need to get into that right now ;)



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