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The Chained to the Rocks Experiment


Grim Lavamancer
Are we really going to do this? Heroes find it difficult to believe.

How many cards do you have in hand?


None? Are we actually going to do this?

Draw and pass.

Hold on. End of your turn activate Grim Lavamancer to . . . 

Yep yep.

Heroes draw: Bloodstained Mire.

Oh spit1 . We’re doing this.

I had played the last round of Swiss just so I wouldn’t be on the draw against Dave. Against this opponent, sitting across the table from me. I squandered the play with a soul-crushing stall-on-one; somehow I had taken Game 2 without a 1-drop.

And now?

Another em effing stall-on-one in Game 3. Six games against him on the day, three of them stalls on one land. Including the last game of the last round of the tournament. You know, this game. Damn it! Yet . . . 

Something around turn seven and I had finally drawn my third land, and my first Mountain. I surveyed the battlefield. Nope. No Ghost Quarter to be seen.

Thank God for Grim Lavamancer! We’re doing this!

The Hand of Heroes:

Just making sure . . .  Still no Ghost Quarter. Check.

Your life?

“I’m on six.” Dave’s on six. OMG! We’re doing this!

I play the Bloodstained Mire and fetch for my first Mountain of the game. I check again. No Ghost Quarter. Still no Ghost Quarter.

Chained to the Rocks, targeting your Courser of Kruphix.

Heroes deplete their life total by two. That’s what Eidolons do to Heroes and Villains and innocent bystanders alike. I have two Inspiring Vantages up and nine points of burn in my hand. If all goes well I’m not going to have mana to activate Grim Lavamancer this turn anyway.

Send everybody!

It is Game 3 of the Finals of the last Modern PPTQ. The only Modern PPTQ I could get to this year. My opponent is on six life. I am sending 5 power including a Grim Lavamancer into the — and I must say I approve of this name — Red Zone. I have nine points of burn in my grip, including both of my most flexible cards.

We’re doing it.

We are em effing doing it.


Would you like to draw into Top 8?


I don’t think I can.


What do you mean? If we draw, we are both going to make it.


I mean, I don’t think I can draw intellectually. It just makes no sense to me. If I lose now and don’t make it and if I make it and lose an hour from now . . .  that is exactly the same result to me.


You don’t value Top 8 at all?


I only value the slot. I value Top 8 to the tune of five packs, which is to say, zero. I would gladly give up 100% of my winner’s prize for the slot! Here’s my problem:

Noble Hierarch
The guy who beat me Round One [Dave] just drew into Top-three seed undefeated. He drew with my apprentice Roman. Dave is playing a Bird/Elf [Noble Hierarch] deck. If he is on the play against me I only have four cards that interact with him on turn one. If I win the lottery and Lightning Bolt his guy I’m behind already, and if I don’t he’s going to brickwall my 1-drop anyway. That is a disaster. I need to be on the play.

I wouldn’t admit this to him, but Roman did win his Regionals with my Burn list last year. And we’re playing same-74. I basically never lose to him but he did in fact beat me at FNM last week and has not let me hear the end of it for the past eight days. There are only two decks left in this tournament that — no disrespect to you — I actually care about and they both just drew into a position where if I draw with you, I am likely to play one of them first round. I have to play.

I 2-0 Jacen but quick. In Game 1 he plays a Fatal Push, a Terminate, and a Liliana, so one ok card and two unplayables. I assume he didn’t know what deck I am? Otherwise why keep? Weird.

Weird thing: I reveal a Watery Grave with a Goblin Guide but he never plays it, opting for his nth basic Swamp instead. Weird.

Game 2 it turns out the Watery Grave was not in fact a Watery Grave but a Polluted Delta I had mis-seen. He’s not Grixis? Jacen plays Lightning Bolt, Relentless Dead, and Phyrexian Obliterator?!?

Oh well, Obliterator might not trigger Eidolon of the Great Revel, but Chained to the Rocks works just the same there.

2-0, 4-1, First Seed, play through Top 8, etc.

Strategic note:

Granted, I assumed Jacen was playing Grixis Shadow, which I feel like is a great matchup. But even if I lost the flip, I put myself on -5%. Seeing that I value Top 8 and not-Top 8 equally (assuming I lose somewhere in Top 8), playing with Top 8 on the line is a no brainer. I am trading a maximum of -5% in one match for somewhere between +5% and +45% (aggregate) throughout Top 8. That’s insane leverage!

If you care about winning the tournament, rather than just cashing five packs, think about decisions like these that can pay off later, in return for a little bit of risk in the short-term.

Jacen sneaks in at 7 anyway!

Grand Prix Top 8 competitor and sometimes Top 8 Magic co-host Matt Ferrando loses the Grixis not-mirror but sneaks into 8!

Eidolon of the Great Revel
“I can’t even imagine losing to a Burn deck.”

Matt had not only told me this before our Top 8 match, but had said it to me on at least three occasions on the day, starting at deck registration.

The problem is, I couldn’t imagine losing to Shadow.

On pure skill, Matt was probably the best player in the room; probably better than even Our Hero. I once lost a PTQ (no P-, no R-) Finals up a game because I couldn’t imagine how my opponent could weasel out of the situation I had put him in (but he was able to figure it out).

If I couldn’t imagine losing to Grixis Shadow — and I lost — that would, in part, be a failure of imagination on my part. A poor way to lose for the Resident Genius :(

I had quickly beaten a stock Grixis Death Shadow in Round Two. Understanding Burn to be a good matchup for him, he asked if we could practice more, and we played six more games. I took every one of them. In one game he cast three — three — copies of Collective Brutality, two with double escalate and one off a Snapcaster Mage (so mad value all around). In two of the games I never played a creature but Eidolon of the Great Revel, and even then only after turn four. I won every single game and none of them felt close.

“I can’t even imagine losing to a Burn deck.”

But why?

“Okay, I can imagine losing, but only if I draw my Shock lands and not my Fetchlands2 because then I won’t be able to get my basics.”

I had heard Death's Shadow players recount their side of the matchup for a year. The Burn deck just made them faster.

Do most Burn players just not know how to pulse their spells? I just didn’t cast Lava Spike on Turn One if I knew my opponent was Death's Shadow. If you burnt them, they got fast. If you didn’t, they had to use their own mana to either go low or fill their graveyard. It was much easier to beat a player who only had 10 life, than to knock a player to 6 and watch him kill you in two swings.

Really: I just held my turn-one Lava Spikes. Roman posited not attacking with turn one Goblin Guide! Me? I would cast all my 1-drops in one turn and either blitz them or chump block while sending instants at their self-depressed life totals.

The problem: Matt was, again, probably better than me; and lots of guys like Brad and Gerry (definitely better than Our Hero) seemed confident on the Death's Shadow side.

2-0. Uneventful.

I did start on Goblin Guide and Matt did start on Watery Grave. I drew a ton of one casting cost spells in Game 1 and landed double Eidolon in Game 2.

Burn only needs to put together seven spells to win an agnostic game of Modern. Functionally it only needs to draw five to win an average game, and needs to land only two or three to beat Death's Shadow if it pulses correctly. They just have to be the right ones. The skill is getting the right ones to land.

“Heroes never die!”


Maybe this hero will never learn the truth about the Death's Shadow matchups.

Heroes: Bring me Shattering Spree

Apprentices: I don’t know if I have enough.

Heroes: Okay. But if you don’t bring me Shattering Spree, they’re going to be Kor Firewalkers.

To wit:

Roman Fusco is the defending Regional Champion for New York.

He famously beat Dan Ward with a well-placed Deflecting Palm on Griselbrand. Dan’s deck was so good WotC banned it two weeks later!

This starts at the sweet final play, but feel free to watch the whole match; Dan’s deck is a masterpiece.

Searing Blood
Side Note: Breaking // Entering Combo? Approach of the Second Sun? Why is it that when someone asks who the best deck designer in the world is, no one ever says “Dan Ward”? The guy has consistently been one of the most impressive producers of new deck ideas in the world from my perspective, for about a year. Weird.

Like me, Roman had won a Modern PPTQ last year with same-seventy-five.

We were playing same seventy-four today; and only because he didn’t bring me the g-d Shattering Spree.

As I always do before sleeving up an Eidolon of the Great Revels, I called the world’s foremost expert in incineration, Patrick Sullivan, to consult.

PSulli got me to play Searing Blood. I made every argument to play Forked Bolt (because I wanted more one casting cost spells) which PSulli dismissed with “Forked Bolt stinks, Searing Blood is broken.”

I also attempted to register a Wear // Tear which was dismissed with “You don’t even have four Path to Exile. Play four Path to Exile before any Wear // Tear. I would rather lose than play Wear // Tear.”

I didn’t want to play four Path to Exile.

The problem is that Path to Exile often comes in against “fair” opponents with good early game blockers. The worst thing you can do against a Courser of Kruphix — or my God, a Noble Hierarch — is to Path to Exile it. You’re almost certainly going to lose that game, mitigated only by playing Path on your own turn while trucking with a Monastery Swiftspear.

Enter: Chained to the Rocks

Chained to the Rocks is unreal!

Not only is it a “Path to Exile” that has no card advantage downside, it has the upside of being playable only on your own turn. That keeps you from accidentally playing it on the opponent’s turn, either getting blown out by their interactive spells with compromised mana, or missing a point — or points — of Swiftspear damage.

Chained to the Rocks is the absolute best removal card this strategy can play against Reality Smasher. Think about the delta on Path to Exile (minus two cards) and Chained to the Rocks (not minus any cards). It’s great against both Jund and Grixis Death's Shadow, and against any and all Tarmogoyf decks, because you can play it early without utterly conceding the middle turns.

Like Inspiring Vantage before it, I think Chained to the Rocks will be the next lasting Staple Our Hero injects into the Modern Burn archetype.

I only like 59 of my starting 60.

I can’t wrap my head around Shrine of Burning Rage over Eidolon of the Great Revel main deck (trade the best card in Modern for a card with 2.5 times the mana cost and no text), but I think Le Briand was correct in going down to 11 fetchlands. I had multiple games where I ran out of fetchland targets, and that is exacerbated in games against Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile.

This is what I played:

This is what I would recommend going forward:

I realize that some people don’t own all the fetchlands. If you in fact own all 16 Red fetchlands, don’t play Arid Mesa (another time). IT ACTUALLY MATTERS. If you have to play Arid Mesa due to card availability, make -1 Arid Mesa your cut to 11 (again, another time).

Basically one fewer fetchland, and one Shattering Spree in place of one Kor Firewalker. There is an argument to play zero Kor Firewalker now that we have Chained to the Rocks tech. Straight Boros has a nice little advantage over the Naya builds with even one Stomping Ground in Game 1 for reasons I won’t go into now, so there is less pressure from that direction than you might think (though not no pressure because I think Burn is the best deck).

Unlike the last go ‘round I didn’t play Relic of Progenitus. Two reasons:

  1. If you actually care about fighting Dredge, I would recommend Anger of the Gods
  2. I in fact once executed on the “I wonder if Relic of Progenitus will trump Tarmogoyf” experiment in an actual sanctioned Magic: The Gathering tournament. It turns out it does in fact trump Tarmogoyf! I lost to his sideboarded Planeswalkers and then actually had to win Game 3 (which I did, because Tarmogoyf). I did it already so you don’t have to.

Searing Blaze
When I heard Matt had lost to a Grixis Delver in the last round of Swiss I became very excited. A deck with Delver of Secrets (he in fact Delve’d both ways), other Wizards, and a ton of 2-4 casting cost permission seemed like the best possible matchup to me.

So I was horrified looking over my left shoulder during my Matt-match to watch Roman succumb to Snapcaster Mage beatdown 0-2.

On one hand I was very happy to be playing against Grixis but obviously super sad for my friend. He got somewhat flooded in Game 2 and, visibly upset, made a catastrophic unforced fetch. The fetch, which probably seemed like a good idea to thin his deck with two other fetches in hand, turned his Searing Blaze into a sorcery. Roman ended up getting caught by a Mana Leak. A Mana Leak! In Game 2!

I watched his opponent, too. On one turn he both fetched for a tapped Watery Grave and cast a Thought Scour. Though he executed in the right order, this brought him down to a single untapped Blood Crypt. I audibly yipped. I don’t care how flooded Roman was; Anyone who would tap like that into four untapped Boros mana was someone I wanted sitting across the table from me.

My match against the Grixis deck was uneventful. My Goblin Guide revealed not one, but 2 Mana Leaks. That settled it. I played chip shot and stranded his mana every turn, two points at a time, until he was forced to give me the open.

I realized from watching him play sideboarded against Roman that my opponent would leave in all his Delvers and Snapcaster Mages. That made sideboarding academic.

Instead of siding out Searing Blaze like I would against Death's Shadow, I sided in Searing Blood. Snapcaster Mage is the absolute worst card you can keep in, Control v. Burn. I think it’s actually worse than Street Wraith! Not only does Snapcaster Mage trigger Eidolon of the Great Revels multiple times, it is effectively -4 mana. This means you will almost always give the Burn opponent a huge opening to land every spell in his hand if the game goes long. If you’re anywhere in the 12 or less range, that means you will often lose on the spot.

It’s worse that you turn on all the Searing Bloods and even the un-kicked Searing Blazes by playing 1/1 and 2/1 Wizards.

“Nice Standard card.”

—Ben Friedman

The card I played was Inspiring Vantage.

I can’t say it was a competitive match. Ben was not kind in his recollection of it, or me.

That day ended up pretty frustrating. I had been 100% to win Utah RPTQs previous to this one, and was forced to defeat my host, good friend, PT Top 4 Competitor, and Utah’s resident Magic God, Aaron Muranaka, Round One.

Who had the last laugh? Ben got the Q. I, at least, could point to the fact that my apprentice took Inspiring Vantage tech Staple in Modern. It was so good no one even considered sleeving up Wild Nacatl any more. So . . .  Ben :(

I learned a harsh lesson about losing the flip to a Bird/Elf deck, though. While I had drawn two Searing effects against Ben in Game 2, he drew even more Noble Hierarchs and paced me into oblivion with his bigger spells.

Come Round One of the PPTQ we are discussing today, I faced a Bant CoCo deck played by Dave Round One. I won the flip and got Game 1.

Game 2 I stalled on one and he demolished me with his quick Bird/Hierarch draw.

Game 3 was competitive, but he was playing basically the anti-me deck. Not only did he exploit my low fetchable-basic count with not only Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter but Aven Mindcensor; he went off with Courser of Kruphix, Ramunap Excavator, and Eternal Witness for multiple copies of Blessed Alliance.

Between Ben and Round One, I knew I had to be on the play against him if I was going to take Top 8.

Game 1 of the Finals was miserable.

I kept yet another awesome one-land hand.

Bloodstained Mire
Monastery Swiftspear

Rift Bolt
Rift Bolt
Rift Bolt

Goblin Guide
Lightning Bolt

If I draw a land there is almost no way for him to win. Sixteen points of burn that can be deployed inside of turn three with at least six points of guaranteed creature damage. Even if he had Courser of Kruphix, the game would be over before he could gain a meaningful amount of life with it.

I did not draw my second land — another fetch — until turn four, and Goblin Guide had already revealed Aven Mindcensor. I had a desperate decision to make. Fetch main phase to land Lightning Helix (or suspend double Rift Bolt), or suspend one Rift Bolt and guarantee an ineffectual fetch when he eventually tapped mana (I at that point had no 1-mana instants). I opted for one Rift Bolt and the pass.

He gave an opening with not Mindcensor but CoCo, and we were soon into Game 2.

Grim Lavamancer served me well in both two and three.

In case you were wondering, this was my one-land gamble in Three:

Inspiring Vantage
Monastery Swiftspear

Searing Blaze
Searing Blood
Searing Blood

Goblin Guide
Grim Lavamancer

So yeah, basically too good to ship. Again.

Which brings us back to the start. At the end.

Collected Company
Dave had no guys, but one card in hand.

All mine tapped. If they all landed, there was not a card I knew of that could save him. He started to tap . . . 

 . . .  For the only card in his deck that did not trigger a lethal Eidolon two.

Collected Company.

Collected Mother Loving Company.

Courser of Kruphix + Knight of the Reliquary.

I did some quick math. Oh, how I wanted to Searing Blaze that Courser. But I was low enough that I would 100% die to the Knight crack back. Lightning Helix to finish the Courser (post-combat, of course, so as to save two, myself).

Dave was on five and I still had a ton of fire in hand, three lands in play, and my trusty Grim Lavamancer.

What could it be on top?

Another Collected Company.




I ran the math. He’s still dead to Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, or a land.

Eternal Witness and Aven Mindcensor. Path to Exile on my Grim Lavamancer. Ghost Quarter via Knight for my Chained to the Rocks. Another Ghost Quarter came from somewhere. Courser? My Guide? Doesn’t matter.

Stuck on one.

Stuck on one again. And I thought we were doing it :(

Talk about a failure of imagination! There was no card in Modern that could now save Our Hero.

“Good match. Good luck in the RPTQ, Dave.”

“You would have gotten me if you had just drawn a land. It was a good keep.”

“I know. But I didn’t. And that doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it Magic.”

And that was that.

Argh. 1-2 in a PPTQ. Nice use of a Saturday.

“Thanks for the games.”


“Are you going to drop?”

“Nah. What am I going to do all day? I’ll keep playing for fun. Anyway, I like my deck. Good luck.”

“Heh. 0-2 isn’t getting anywhere.”

“0-2? What do you mean?”

Oh my God. I was paired down. I was paired down? And neither of us . . . 

“Look, I’m not asking for charity or anything, but . . . ”

And he did the right thing.

And I finished first out of the Swiss.

“Heroes never die!”


Sure, losing the finals sucks. But Our Hero had been playing on borrowed time for five hours at that point. Hard to complain about playing your favorite deck, and playing great, all day, right?

Never mind. Still sucks.



1 Heroes, in this spot, did not in fact think “spit”.

2 For all things fetchlands, go to www.fetchland.com ← OK few things fetchland, but lots of things awesome.

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