Burn has long been an underplayed strategy in Commander. It's one of the most iconic deck archetypes in Red and has a rich history in Magic: the Gathering, but it's rarely seen in EDH. Our format has four opponents and we all start at 40 life, so you're faced with a mountain of damage to try to inflict to actually win the game. It can be done, but it's definitely playing on hard mode.
The challenge of doing 120 damage (3 opponents x 40 life each) is pretty big. It would certainly be ridiculous to suggest that red damage spells be automatically doubled to compensate for our doubled life totals but there are ways to make it easier. The burn decks I've seen that have been playable in Commander have relied on tricks and combos with outlets like Comet Storm to kill the table. It's worth noting that Purphoros, God of the Forge might be classified as a burn deck and a well-tuned Purphoros deck can indeed wreck a table.
One of the things that worked so well for Purphoros is the fact that he pushes out damage to all of your opponents at once. Today's commander caught my eye because she also pushes damage out to all of your opponents at once. Unlike Purphoros, she cares about traditional burn spells - instants and sorceries that deal damage to targets. Let's take a closer look.
This 4/4 Human Knight has just one trick up her sleeve. Whenever an instant or sorcery spell I control that targets only a single creature deals damage to that creature, Imodane, the Pyrohammer deals that much damage to each opponent. That might not sound like much, but I think we can break this commander wide open. She might not be a cEDH general, but she'll be fun to play and should be more than capable of wrecking the occasional table.
Choosing My Weapons
There have been a lot of burn spells printed in the history of Magic. When building this list I dug through my collection, so I'm sure I've missed some auto-includes. I'm not exactly an old hand at building Burn decks.
The first thing I want is versatility. I want spells that can deal damage to target creature so my commander can deal damage to everyone.
Abrade can serve as artifact removal, or if I'm in the right situation I can ding some poor creature for 3 and Imodane will deal 3 to each of my opponents. Street Spasm can scale up to how much mana I can produce, so it can be a small burn spell in the early game or a real knockout punch if I'm able to make a ton of mana. It can also be overloaded if I desperately need to wipe the board of non-flyers, but Imodane won't trigger and push out any damage unless the spell targets a single creature.
Shatterskull Smashing can serve as low mana pinpoint removal in the early game. If I put 6 or more mana into the X value of this sorcery it will deal twice X damage. I can split up the damage for it and a few other burn spells in this list, but I'll almost always want to keep to a single target. Shatterskull Smashing can also be played as Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass, a land that enters tapped unless I pay 3 life.
This deck runs 37 Snow-Covered Mountains, in no small part because I wanted to run Skred. This 1 mana Instant deals damage to target creature equal to the number of snow permanents I control. I'm also running Extraplanar Lens as a mana doubler that will let me minimize the chances that I'll be helping a tablemate double their mana. That artifact will have me exile a land and it cares about the name of the exiled land. Exiling a Mountain would let anyone else double the mana made by their Mountains, but Snow-Covered Mountains are less likely to be on a tablemate's battlefield.
Whenever possible I want to conserve mana, so I've included a few burn spells that can be very cheap to cast. Mine Collapse can be played for free on my turn by sacrificing a Mountain. It will deal 5 damage to target creature or planeswalker. Thunderous Wrath is another 5-damage burn spell, but it can be cast for its 1 mana miracle cost if it's the first card I drew on my turn.
Volcanic Wind costs a hefty 6 mana and is a sorcery, but it deals X damage to target creature where X is the number of creatures in play. We've all seen boardstates with dozens and dozens of creatures, so this could be a great way to turn the tables on players who have gigantic armies on the field.
Burn may be back on the menu, but I think it's going to take a little more work to turn this into a winning deck.
Amplifying my Damage Output
I'm running a lot of 3 damage burn spells in this list. I felt obligated to run Lightning Bolt, but not just because it's a classic. It also plays really well with a very specific card in this list.
Radiate is a spell that will target an instant or sorcery spell on the stack that targets only a single permanent or player. For each other permanent or player that spell could target, I'll put a copy of that spell on the stack. Each of those copies targets a different one of those target permanents and players.
What all that means is that if there are four players in the game and 20 creatures on the field, my Lightning Bolt will get copied 23 times. Each of those copies will be its own spell and a copy of a spell I control targeting a single creature can still trigger Imodane. That means I'll get 20 triggers of a spell like Lightning Bolt or Fire Prophecy and Imodane will deal 3 damage to each opponent 20 times!
The reason I'm running so many 3 damage burn spells is that this little trick needs to not kill my commander. A dead Imodane can't push damage out to my opponents, so any spell I copy with Radiate can't be so big that it kills my commander in the process.
Dictate of the Twin Gods is an enchantment that will double the damage any source will deal to a permanent or player. It has flash, so I'll do well to wait until the end step of the player to my right before I cast it. Keeping up 5 mana in a non-blue deck isn't always easy, but this list has so many instant spells that it may happen more often than you'd think. Saving burn spells to deal with problems on an opponent's turn makes more sense than just playing them on my turn.
Fire Servant is an Elemental who will double the damage dealt by any Red instant or sorcery I control. I'm running a few ways to make tokens of creatures I control so that I can try to get an extra doubling effect. Helm of the Host is an equipment that will make a nonlegendary token copy of the creature it is equipping. That's great with Imodane but even better with Fire Servant if I'm able to get two or three token copies into play.
I'm also running Mirage Mirror, Cursed Mirror and Rionya, Fire Dancer as ways to make token copies of creatures, though Mirage Mirror can also copy Dictate of the Twin Gods. Different doubling effects will combine in different ways so I'll need to be careful with how I calculate damage.
Fire Servant and a copy of Fire Servant will mean my 3 damage to target creature will get doubled to 6 and then doubled to 12. Imodane will then push out 12 damage to each opponent, but it will NOT be doubled because it's not directly from an instant or sorcery - it's from my commander. It isn't even commander damage because that has to be combat damage.
Dictate of the Twin Gods and a copy of Dictate of the Twin Gods will mean my 3 damage to target creature will get doubled to 6 and then doubled to 12. Imodane will see that 12 damage and will push out 12 damage to each opponent, but that 12 will get doubled to 24 and then doubled to 48.
Another way to double up your damage output is to make copy your burn spells. Pyromancer's Goggles is a perfect mana rock for this deck, tapping to give 1 red mana and if that mana is spent to cast a Red instant or sorcery spell I'll copy that spell and can choose new targets for the copy. Primal Amulet is a 4-mana artifact that cuts the cost of my instants and sorceries by 1 mana. Whenever I cast an instant or sorcery spell I'll put a charge counter on it. When Primal Amulet has four or more charge counters it transforms into Primal Wellspring, a land that can also be used to copy an instant or sorcery.
Impact Resonance is a 2-mana instant that deals X damage divided as I choose between any number of target creatures where X is the greatest amount of damage dealt by a source to a permanent or player this turn. I can use it to target a single creature so it triggers Imodane. If the situation is right, I can use it in response to someone attacking a tablemate with a huge creature. Even if a 50/50 is blocked by a 1/1 Saproling, I'll be able to use Impact Resonance to deal 50 to a creature and then have Imodane deal 50 to each opponent.
Impact Resonance is especially powerful with a damage doubler in play. Turning a 3-damage instant into 48 damage to my tablemates is exactly what I hope to pull off with this deck. With Dictate of the Twin Gods on the field a Lightning Strike will do 6 to a creature and Imodane will do 12 to each opponent. Impact Resonance will see that 12 and can be used to deal 12 damage to a single creature, which would be doubled to 24, and Imodane would then do 24 doubled to 48 to my tablemates. That'd end up being 60 in total - more than enough to kill most tables if nobody has really gone crazy with lifegain.
Going A Little Crazy
If anyone's going to go a little crazy with lifegain, it might as well be me.
Basilisk Collar and Loxodon Warhammer both give lifelink to the equipped creature. The former also gives deathtouch and the latter also gives trample and +3/+0, but lifelink is what I care about. Even pushing a little damage out to my tablemates can turn into some significant lifegain and can give me a buffer against combat damage. I'm never going to have much of a boardstate with this list. I'll want to use my instant burn spells against incoming attackers and I'll want to gain a little life to survive long enough to pull into something to try to put away the table.
Gaining life can put a target on you, but it's worth it if it buys me some time. This deck isn't going to be great at dealing with tablemates with astronomical life totals, but Grafted Exoskeleton is one possible solution. This equipment will give the equipped creature infect. Infect means that damage is dealt in the form of poison counters, or -1/-1 counters if damage is dealt to a creature. A mere 10 poison counters will kill someone, and this deck should have a decent chance at pushing out 10 damage.
If you're wondering why our "infect number" hasn't been raised to 20 since our life totals are twice the usual number, think about why our burn spells haven't been doubled - or tripled since we have three times the usual number of opponents. We haven't made those changes because these are the rules of the game and the game plays just fine without making arbitrary changes. If you don't like infect, run more interaction and ways to stop players from using it successfully.
Stop... It's Hammer Time
I used to run an old land called Hammerheim so in the middle of my turn I could abruptly say "Stop..." and when I had everyone's attention I'd say "Hammerheim!" and slap that land onto my battlefield. It amused the heck out of me, and Imodane might be a good excuse to start up again. It seems like a fitting way to cast my commander...though that might get tiresome after a few games.
This list feels light in creatures, in card draw and in interaction... until I remember that my bread and butter is interaction. Imodane wants me to burn my opponents' creatures and if I'm careful about my targeting I should be able to kill them more often than not. She'll still push damage out, but killing attackers and key non-combat support creatures is really important.
Pyrohammer Burn | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Imodane, the Pyrohammer
- Creatures (10)
- 1 Birgi, God of Storytelling
- 1 Charmbreaker Devils
- 1 Dockside Extortionist
- 1 Dragon Mage
- 1 Dualcaster Mage
- 1 Fire Servant
- 1 Humble Defector
- 1 Neheb, the Eternal
- 1 Rionya, Fire Dancer
- 1 Storm-Kiln Artist
- Instants (24)
- 1 Abrade
- 1 Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Comet Storm
- 1 Deflecting Swat
- 1 Fire Prophecy
- 1 Heat Ray
- 1 Heated Debate
- 1 Impact Resonance
- 1 Jaya's Greeting
- 1 Lightning Bolt
- 1 Lightning Strike
- 1 Magma Jet
- 1 Mine Collapse
- 1 Outnumber
- 1 Radiate
- 1 Ravaging Blaze
- 1 Rock Slide
- 1 Scorching Dragonfire
- 1 Skred
- 1 Street Spasm
- 1 Thunderous Wrath
- 1 Tibalt's Trickery
- 1 Torch Breath
- Sorceries (7)
- 1 Insult / Injury
- 1 Jeska's Will
- 1 Past in Flames
- 1 Purphoros's Intervention
- 1 Shatterskull Smashing
- 1 Shivan Meteor
- 1 Volcanic Wind
- Artifacts (18)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Cursed Mirror
- 1 Endless Atlas
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Gauntlet of Power
- 1 Grafted Exoskeleton
- 1 Helm of the Host
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Mirage Mirror
- 1 Primal Amulet Flip
- 1 Pyromancer's Goggles
- 1 Ruby Medallion
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Strionic Resonator
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
If you wanted to tune this list up, I think you'd want to narrow your focus to very specific card interactions that you know will kill the table. It's already got some powerful cards like Jeska's Will and Dockside Extortionist, but to get into cEDH territory you need to be able to reliably threaten a win on turn three or four and be able to interact against opponents who are trying to do the same. I see a fully tuned Imodane list as being a high powered build, but not cEDH. This list should be in the mid-to-high power range and can definitely be made stronger.
I think a budget, lower powered Imodane, the Pyrohammer list would be running cards like Guttersnipe and Young Pyromancer and might be built for a longer game with less explosive finishes. I think an explosive, game-winning turn is loads of fun but you might prefer to run cards like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, Electrostatic Field, Thermo-Alchemist and Kessig Flamebreather as ways to add to your slow push of incremental damage. It's a less powerful way to build Imodane, but you'll have more of a board presence.
I've been able to play a bunch of games with this deck, or something very close to it, both online and in paper. I've yet to win a game with it but I've also been in a rather long losing streak. When you play enough EDH you'll likely have win streaks and losing streaks and playing in a multiplayer format means the latter will be longer than the former.
In a few of those games I came achingly close to killing the table and I definitely have some advice for anyone looking to build and play Imodane, the Pyrohammer.
Your best bet to kill a table is to have Dictate of the Twin Gods or another damage multiplier on the field. I didn't include Furnace of Rath or Fiery Emancipation in my first draft but I am definitely going to be slotting those into the deck. Getting your damage tripled with Emancipation means a Bolt will deal 9 to target creature and Imodane will deal 27 to each opponent. I have a copy of that card in a deck somewhere and will need to go search it up so I can get it into Imodane.
You should remember that players do not usually enjoy playing against removal-heavy decks, and this is a deck entirely focused around creature removal. The list in this column does not happen to have a lot of creatures. I wanted to load up more on my burn spells, but that made it easy for my tablemates to knock my life total down through combat. Even if I was only killing creatures that were attacking me, it still pissed them off.
Timing is everything. When all of your burn spells are instants and you have a Dictate of the Twin Gods on the field, you may need to hold back your burn spells if you know someone has removal. Wait for them to cast that removal spell targeting Imodane or your damage multiplier and then you can respond with a burn spell. Your spell will resolve, damage a creature, trigger Imodane to damage each opponent, and then the opponent's removal spell will resolve. If you have to cast your burn spell first, a tablemate can respond with enchantment or creature removal and you'll miss out on your chance to have Imodane damage your opponents.
One of my four Imodane games was against another Imodane deck, which was running cards I didn't run, like The One Ring. It was a bit higher powered, got out to a faster start and eventually won. I played defense for the table, removing his Imodane once or twice, but I was never able to catch up. Another of the games was up against a stax deck and I wasn't able to do much of anything the entire game. Those two games were on Tabletop Simulator, but I also played two games at the LGS I play at. Those games weren't blowouts and I came close to winning one of them.
Imodane is a really interesting and fun new commander but don't think you'll be making tons of friends playing the deck. It's very hard to play burn in multiplayer but this commander might make it viable, and that's no small accomplishment. It's not fun to be up against a "removal tribal" deck and I would advise you to also have other decks in your arsenal that aren't quite as frustrating to play against.
I'm not the only one who will have brainstormed a list for Imodane, the Pyrohammer. She might be the best burn commander yet, and I'm confident there are lots of other interesting builds for her. You should keep an eye out and make sure that you remember that her trigger only happens for spells (or copied spells) that target a single creature. Your burn spells can do other things, but to trigger Imodane they have to target a creature and they cannot target more than one creature.
As this column goes up, I'll likely be on the way home from the Commander Sealed fundraiser in Rochester, New York. Commander Sealed is a fundraiser for the Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline. Each participant will open a big pile of boosters (17 or 18 if I remember correctly) and will build a commander deck from them. We'll be at four player tables and can trade with the other players at our table. It was an exciting, fun time in 2022 and the only game I won over the weekend was a pickup game. Maybe this year I'll even manage to win a game!
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week with a full breakdown of my 2023 Commander Sealed experience!