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Jun 30 2016

Michael Montano

The Modern Learning Curve: Burn

The Modern Learning Curve: Burn

Welcome Back to the Modern Learning Curve! The continued mission of this series is to provide players with an affordable window into the format that can be sleeved up for your first trip to a local game shop’s modern night and upgraded to a consistently competitive build. This week we bring you a powerful staple of a deck that has been a constant threat to the metagame since the inception of the format: Mono Red Burn!

Since the early days of the game, a deck full of aggressive red cards that aims to deal direct damage to an opponent has remained a constant threat, always capable of stealing the game away from your opponent before your they can mount a sufficient defense or attack of their own. The basic game plan is to assemble and play a critical mass of burn spells to take your opponent’s life total to zero in the early stages the game, before big-mana spells can be cast and complex strategies implemented. The relatively straightforward nature of this deck does not imply an inferior strategy in any way, rather, it suggests a deck that is powerful in the hands of any player, but requires a skilled pilot to navigate the toughest match-ups and still come out with a win. Best of all? It only takes about $35 to begin your journey down the path of the Burn mage.

The Game Plan


There isn’t much in the way of deception here, as our goal is to assemble 20+ damage worth of cards and play them out in the most effective way we can. Sound simple enough? Well contrary to the salty opinion of some players, Burn isn’t a mindless deck that only needs luck to find success; it is a powerhouse that requires a wise pilot to find clean and efficient success. While the game plan is always the same, bringing your opponent’s life total down to 0, how we get there can vary and requires critical analysis of potential play lines and combat math. With that said, let’s look at some of the cards that make up the core of our stripped down list.

Creatures
Despite the direct damage nature of this deck, a few creatures help us get there as quickly as possible.

Keldon Marauders
This creature spell does some serious work, pinging in for 1 point of damage upon resolving, and another when they either remove it or the time counters disappear. In the meantime, you have a couple opportunities to block and a window to swing in for 3…making this card worth a potential 5 points of damage!

Spark Elemental
Trampling in for 3 damage for 1 mana makes this an affordable-living burn spell that is removed from play once the turn we play it on ends.

Hellspark Elemental
For 1 additional generic mana this creature does a great impression of a Spark Elemental, but gives us the ability to bring it back from the graveyard for another shot at getting 3 damage in.

Non-Creature Spells

Lightning Bolt
This is the quintessential burn spell and represents everything our deck is about: 3 damage for one mana embodies an efficient game clock and easily accessible spot removal for many of the most dangerous creatures in the format.

Skullcrack
Life gain strategies can become a real problem for a deck merely looking to count to 20, so a full playset of this card is a necessary defense with a 3 damage bite attached to it.

Magma Jet
This card allows us to look at our next two draws and attempt to optimize the following turns. The additional 2 damage is a nice bonus.

Burst Lightning
While a simple 2 damage spell is enough to ruin the aggressive plan of some creature based decks, the potential to deal 4 damage when the mana is right can often mean the game.

Our other non-creature spells, Lightning Strike, Shock, Shard Volley and Devil’s Play are budget burn spell options that help us reduce your opponent’s life total without completely reducing your bank account.

Sideboard
Nothing too fancy here, but some key defense will help you stay strong during games 2 and 3.

Smash to Smithereens
Artifact hate with a bonus 3 damage? Yes please!

Dragon’s Claw
They say to fight fire with fire, and this analogy is not lost in this format. Sometimes edging out your fellow burn player requires an extra bump in your life total, and this card does just that every time you or your opponent casts a red spell.

Electrickery
Hyper Aggressive creature strategies try to get out ahead of us before we can deal leathal damage, so this card is included to keep those pesky Elves, Goblins and White Weenie creatures at bay.

Tormod’s Crypt
Because the last thing you need is a graveyard’s worth of problems coming out at you just as you are looking to close out the game.

The Super Budget list hits all the high points of Modern burn while keeping the price tag as low as possible. But after setting a few opponents on fire, you are likely to notice this build sometimes falls just a point or two of damage short from finishing the game before our opponent turns it around on us. Well, if you have the burn fever, an additional $25-$30 makes some key upgrades available.

Creatures

Monastery Swiftspear
This creature puts in work the turn it comes out, and if it sticks around, can easily swing in with a 3/5 body the very next turn. The consistent and potentially potent threat this one drop is invaluable to this deck.

Non-Creature Spells

Lava Spike
Another way of dealing 3 damage to the face for , a solid Burn spell.

Rift Bolt
As I’m sure you’ve notice, three damage for 1 mana is the golden standard for a burn spell, and this card meets these standards, albeit in an odd way. By suspending this card, you avoid having to pay the full 3 cmc and instead pay just to cast the spell next turn without any additional mana requirements. Suspending this card with a Swiftspear on board makes for an automatic 1-2 threat the next turn without having to pay any mana. Top decking it late game can be just fine, as hard casting it becomes an attractive way of finishing off our opponent.

Exquisite Firecraft
This spell sits at the top of our curve for good reason: dealing 4 damage that is (almost always) unable to be countered is an amazing way to close out a game.

Sideboard

Anger of the Gods
Small aggressive creatures can still get in your way, and this just plain gets rid of all of them.

This build contains a few simple upgrades that can improve your consistency and make you an even bigger threat to anyone sitting across from you. However, if you want to get competitive and try to win some packs at the next local Modern event, there are a few more upgrades and tweaks you can make to help get you there.


This list tops out at around $220 and comes complete with a minor color splash for both power and utility. While fully powered, we manage to avoid some of the pricy mana bases other multicolor Burn builds rely on for utility, while also avoiding falling flat to enchantments like most Mono R builds. Let’s take a closer look at the specifics of our powered up 75.

Creatures

Vexing Devil
Dealing with a 4/3 turn one is something most players don’t want to do, so much so they are likely to opt for taking the 4 damage instead of letting this guy stick around. At worst, this guy is a 4/3 body for 1 red mana, and doesn’t allow your opponent to filter their deck every time we attack, unlike another popular option in Goblin Guide, whose downside I find a little too painful sometimes (helping your opponent hit their land drops is a bad time.)

Abbot of Keral Keep
This prowess equipped creature has the upside of potential card advantage; when it comes into play, you exile the top card of your library and you can cast it for its casting cost (or if it’s a land, you can put it into play if you haven’t played a land yet this turn).

Non-Creature Spells

Atarka’s Command
Life gain effects can throw a huge wrench in the plans of the Burn player, and so the ability of this card to prevent your opponent from gaining life is another skull crack effect that can stifle your opponent’s countermeasures long enough to tick them down to zero. As far as getting damage through, this can either boost your creatures on board or deal a direct 3 damage to your opponents face, either way, fitting right into your game plan. This card alone is worth the splash for Green.

Sideboard

Destructive Revelry
The other reason for splashing Green, this card can help get rid of the biggest thorn in our deck’s side: Leyline of Sanctity. Many people will mulligan to a Leyline thinking it will kill our strategy, but blowing it up and dealing 2 damage right away (and possibly swinging in with a creature we dropped turn 1 can shut that sideboard plan down. Also comes in handy against Spellskite tech and Affinity.

Grafdigger’s Cage
An upgrade to Tormod’s Crypt, this card helps keep our opponent from cheating in a card from their deck or graveyard, tripping up many dedicated strategies.

Leyline of Punishment
This card shuts down dedicated life gain strategies like Soul Sisters and sideboard tech like Feed the Clan.

*Note: the absence of mass creature removal speaks to our accelerated clock and spot removal options. As with any sideboard, it should be tailored to your local Meta; for example, if life gain is relatively absent from your local shop but small aggressive creature decks rule the roost, a return to Anger of the Gods or a playset of Searing Blaze would be more appropriate than a playset of Leylines.

Final Thoughts
This deck is always a powerful choice for new and experienced players alike, and allows for the nuanced lines of play that let you fully explore your skills while avoiding the hefty investment other top strategies of the format demand. The biggest words of advice I can give someone looking to pick this deck up as a way of introducing themselves to the format, do not let a loss to a top tier deck and/or a more experienced player discourage you; as your skill and experience increases, so will your effectiveness with this deck, as well as familiarity with the common decks and strategies of the format. Get out there and feel the Burn!
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment bellow and we will see you next time on the Modern Learning Curve!

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Michael Montano

Michael Montano

I've been been entrenched in Magic: The Gathering since Core Set 2014 and my passion for the game has only grown since brewing my first deck. By no means a high level player, I simply aim to share what I've learned in the past few years with those who are new to the game yet eager to learn all they can. I'd also like to introduce a couple original ideas to the ether and share my general enthusiasm for the game.
Michael Montano

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