If you've been following Modern lately, something has probably jumped out at you.
A sharp decline in Boros Burn placements and performance. Coming out of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Boros had shot to the top of the metagame. Lurrus, of the Dream-Den being such a natural pairing with Seal of Fire and Mishra's Bauble doing such great work bridging Lurrus card advantage and the sick 1-drops Monastery Swiftspear (and sometimes Soul-Scar Mage).
But while Boros technically survived the Companion nerf, it has not fared quite so well in the face of certain other incentives to the deck choice in the metagame. You see, the terrible people have set up a world that is exactly wrong for Boros Burn.
Hold up... What is "right" then, for a deck like Boros?
Burn decks in Modern tend to thrive in one of two contexts. One case is just the games where Boros wins on pure goldfish.
- turn one Monastery Swiftspear (19)
- turn two two Monastery Swiftspears (16)
- turn three some combination of Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, and Skewer the Critics [any one mana / three damage burn spells] (-1)
In all the years that I've played Burn decks in Modern I have gotten the three Swiftspear / three Lava Spike draw exactly once; and I missed my third land drop that game. But I'm sure you take the point: Burn decks can kill the veritable goldfish in three turns. There are countless combinations of cards that win in four turns.
So, one big incentive is just to fight decks that can't stop you from winning in four turns. Even decks with fast creature elimination spells can't stop you from, say, just casting a bunch of Rift Bolts and Boros Charms and Skullcracks and never presenting an attacker.
The weird thing about Burn is that it is essentially a hybrid deck. The above is a medium-bad Storm combo deck; but it is also a medium-bad board control deck. Decks like Affinity, Humans, and to a lesser extent Infect have a really hard time leveraging power into twenty damage when all their creatures are killed. Most Boros deck use Searing Blaze, Searing Blood, and Smash to Smithereens to get a kind of card advantage while killing opposing offense one-for-one, but the fix is really in when they start tapping Grim Lavamancer or re-buying Seal of Fire with Lurrus.
Burn deck performance against combo decks varies dramatically by what kind of a combo deck the opponent is using. If it's a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker making a legion of Pestermites... They can kill one of the creatures before it becomes a problem. Knowing this, those combo people would often switch into a different two-card combo, putting a Platinum Emperion in play. Burn could handle a big Artifact Creature... Provided they knew it was coming. Of course, they'd lose otherwise. Weirdly, Burn has a nigh automatic matchup against Storm decks but a steep uphill climb against Phyrexian Unlife Storm decks.
What Burn like never beats is Big Spell creature decks, especially those that deploy a Primeval Titan or Griselbrand with haste. I always found it comical that Oko, Thief of Crowns was ever considered a problem in Modern when it was generally the third-best thing a deck that played it could deploy.
Let's look at three popular decks in Modern to see why the good guys are currently having such a bad time of it.
U/R Storm | Modern | Nextep, 5-0 MTGO Modern League
- Instants (23)
- 1 Abrade
- 1 Izzet Charm
- 1 Spell Snare
- 1 Valakut Awakening
- 2 Cryptic Command
- 2 Force of Negation
- 3 Archmage's Charm
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Remand
- 4 Through the Breach
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Serum Visions
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 Omen of the Sea
- Lands (22)
- 1 Snow-Covered Mountain
- 5 Snow-Covered Island
- 1 Desolate Lighthouse
- 1 Fiery Islet
- 3 Mystic Sanctuary
- 3 Steam Vents
- 4 Misty Rainforest
- 4 Scalding Tarn
Many Wizards or Flash decks are pretty bad against Burn. Even if they can deal with an Eidolon of the Great Revels, they end up taking four damage to do so. Burn can win either way - either with their fast damage-dealing plan, or by their suppression plan. The latter more by forcing the opponent into awkward mana decisions than just by killing their Snapcaster Mages.
But this deck?
If this is the next evolution of decks in Modern... It's b a a a a a d times for Burn decks.
The plan here is just to make an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn... Usually deploying it with haste via Through the Breach. Burn decks generally don't play any flying creatures, so if they use one too many fetchlands, they're pretty much toast. Not that losing all their lands is a picnic.
Note that even Red Deck geniuses who play Chained to the Rocks in Modern have little recourse here. Especially since Emrakul has haste, Chained to the Rocks will be of no more protection against this Protection from Colored Spells monster than Path to Exile.
While a matchup like this Izzet is not absolutely hopeless (you can certainly still try to race, especially going first)... A deck with Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage can keep Izzet alive past that deadly turn three. By turn four Izzet suddenly becomes the faster deck with its Through the Breach combo. Since Boros can't invalidate a hasty Emrakul, it has to lean on the racing plan; which as we've said, is problematic.
The best sideboard plan for a deck like Boros is probably Ensnaring Bridge. This deck plays Abrade MAIN DECK. Not to mention a ton of permission spells and especially Cryptic Command that can open Boros up for at least one good attack.
Which would be enough.
The most popular deck in Modern right now is Uro Omnath. A deck like...
Uro Omnath | Modern | Gabriel Nicholas, 4-1 NRG Series Online Trial 4
- Instants (16)
- 1 Aether Gust
- 1 Lightning Bolt
- 2 Force of Negation
- 2 Growth Spiral
- 3 Cryptic Command
- 3 Mana Leak
- 4 Path to Exile
- Sorceries (2)
- 2 Hour of Promise
- Lands (29)
- 1 Forest
- 1 Island
- 1 Snow-Covered Forest
- 1 Snow-Covered Island
- 1 Snow-Covered Plains
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Field of Ruin
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Ketria Triome
- 1 Raugrin Triome
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Temple Garden
- 2 Field of the Dead
- 2 Mystic Sanctuary
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Misty Rainforest
- 4 Scalding Tarn
Burn certainly has game against a deck like this one, primarily on its racing game plan.
The problems with the matchup long-term, though, are threefold:
- This is the most popular deck in the format.
- Again, Burn can't invalidate its game plan.
- If Uro Omnath really wants to win the matchup, they will.
Burn is notoriously bad at dealing with 4/4 or 6/6 creatures efficiently. I feel like I've won the lottery every time I beat a regular Eldrazi deck; and while their creatures are often card advantageous, it's not like they're gaining 4-6 life every cycle WHILE drawing an extra card.
The bigger problem - in some currently imaginary universe where Burn ascends to its proper place at the top of the metagame - is that if Uro Omnath decides they want to win, they can. Gabriel Nicholas only played one copy of Timely Reinforcements in his sideboard... If Uro Omnath mages decide that Uro's trigger and Omnath's Landfall aren't good enough, they can just play three Timely Reinforcements and never lose.
The only reason Burn can ever compete with, say, Azorius Control decks that play 2-3 Timely Reinforcements is that they have the decency to take forever to win. When you're clocking with one of these Titans-slash-Elementals the game is too short - and too rich in life gain - for a conventional Burn to keep pace.
While it's not currently the most popular deck in Modern, the most reliable engine - and probably the biggest thorn in the side of honest, God-fearing Burn decks - is Oops All Spells.
Oops All Spells | Modern | gyyby297, 5-0 MTGO Modern League
- Creatures (20)
- 1 Phantasmagorian
- 1 Salvage Titan
- 2 Narcomoeba
- 4 Balustrade Spy
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Undercity Informer
- 4 Vengevine
- Sorceries (25)
- 2 Pelakka Predation
- 3 Thoughtseize
- 4 Agadeem's Awakening
- 4 Creeping Chill
- 4 Emeria's Call
- 4 Sea Gate Restoration
- 4 Turntimber Symbiosis
You may have seen a deck like this in Pioneer.
It is far deadlier in Modern at sixty cards than the 77 or eighty you see in Pioneer.
Basically, it works like this: Oops all spells plays zero - count 'em, ZERO - lands. It does play a good number of Modal Double-Faced lands... But those aren't lands themselves on the front side.
Its objective is to cast one of these two creatures:
The immediate effect when you target yourself is to put your whole library into the graveyard. Assuming everything goes according to plan - Plan A, that is - the following things will occur:
- You will trigger four copies of Creeping Chill -- i.e. four free Lightning Helixes
- You will put four copies of Vengevine into your graveyard
- You will flip over at least one Narcomoeba, which, in turn, will trigger multiple copies of Sword of the Meek
Once your three copies of Sword of the Meek are in play, you can sacrifice them to cast the Salvage Titan you bought back with some other assorted artifacts. You don't need it to resolve. You just need to cast it, which will trigger your Vengevines.
Altogether, that's twelve points of free Lightning Helix (with twelve points of life gain), plus sixteen points of hasty Elemental... More than enough to be lethal for a Burn deck.
There are numerous reasons the very existence of this deck is a disaster for Burn's viability in the metagame. The Creeping Chills - namely the zero mana-ness of those Creeping Chills - puts a giant dent in Burn's race plan. But the bigger problem is the sheer speed of Oops All Spells's goldfish.
A land and either of its key creatures on turn two represents the full combo, then and there! A turn two kill that you can potentially mulligan into is just far, far faster than Burn's best draw. So, unlike some of the other decks, Burn can't even race here.
What about the suppression plan?
In eras with different overpowered combo decks, Modern Burn has spent sideboard cards on everything from Kataki, War's Wage to Deflecting Palm to combat big spells. Wouldn't Rest in Peace (and a little luck) do the trick here?
First off, I've always hated Rest in Peace as a solution for Modern Burn. It was never good enough against people willing to play cards like Nature's Claim; and I've seen enough Izzet Phoenix decks just hard cast their hasters to completely lose faith with the card. But let's imagine you really wanted to compete with Oops All Spells and would not only devote 3-4 sideboard slots, but would mulligan aggressively into a turn two Rest in Peace.
Oops All Spells already has you beat!
They just switch combos into a Charbelcher one-shot deck. Is it a little slower? Yeah. they need two cards instead of one. But you've already slowed yourself down by 1) playing cards like Rest in Peace that deal no damage, and 2) are willing to mulligan into such no-damage business spells. Who do you think races in this spot?
For the good guys, that is.
Sadly, I think that Modern is not going to be friendly for our beloved best deck until certain stuff is banned. Hopefully this will occur sometime before I have to play in another paper Modern tournament (which longtime readers know was my favorite). But for now? I guess I'm a fair weather fire god :)