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Building a Burn Deck

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This is going to be a basic overview on how to build or counter a Burn Deck

So... Why build a Burn Deck?

A Burn Deck is a deck that seeks to reduce an opponent's life total from 20 to 0 as fast as possible, usually in the form of instants and sorceries and a few creatures (Goblin Guide is most common creature in burn), and with very little interaction. It is known for its fast clock, especially in eternal formats as a way to punish opponents who use life total as a resource (Shock and Fetch, Thoughtseize, Force of Will).

Another reason to run a burn deck is due to its consistency. Most cards in burn do more or less the same thing: reducing your opponent's life total. Thus, mulligans are less common in burn decks than many other decks. The only time burn is known to mulligan is when starting with excessive lands, as the spells usually have a very low curve, and excess lands means less spells to deal damage to reduce life total.

How to do it...

The first thing to determine is what format your burn deck is for. For Modern and Legacy, a very low land count is optimal due to the extremely low curve, where almost every spell is less than 2 mana. 20 to 21 lands are known to be the most optimal, though some decks play as low as 16 lands, or as high as 23 lands. For Standard, it is very dependent on the sets included, as burn spells in Standard usually have higher mana costs than its Eternal counterparts. In Pro Tour Magic 2015, Matt Sperling's WR Burn ran 24 lands in the top 8, while in Pro Tour Magic Origins, most burn decks ran between 20 to 22 lands. Legacy burn is known to be strictly mono red, while Modern burn has many combinations, usually including white due to Boros Charm and to a lesser extent Lightning Helix.

For the rest of your spells, most of them are likely instant or sorcery burn spells. Depending on the format, the mana curve is either 2 for eternal formats, or 4 for rotating formats (as WotC has decided against printing more cheap burn-to-the-face spells for Standard). Burn decks also run a few cheap creatures that can act as a fast pressure to your opponent's life total.

For the instants and sorceries, you would want as low of a mana curve as possible. You usually do not want any spells with 3 or more converted mana cost. Here is a list of common burn spells:

The few creatures in burn deck are usually of the following:

  • Goblin Guide
  • Vexing Devil
  • Monastery Swiftspear
  • Eidolon of the Great Revel
  • Hellspark Elemental
  • Grim Lavamancer

For enchantments, the only enchantment Burn should play is Sulfuric Vortex, as it shuts down life gain and puts a clock on the opponent. Legacy decks usually play 3 to 4 copies main board. Modern burn has also tried Blood Moon, though I would advice against it, as it is too slow, especially for a deck that wants to win turn 4. 

Sideboard for burn is very dependent on the meta and the format. For example, Legacy Burn is not known to play any artifact/enchantment hate due to the lack of troubling artifact/enchantment in Legacy, while Burn is known to play artifact/enchantment hate due to anti-burn cards, most commonly Leyline of Sanctity and Dragon's Claw. 

Countering Issues 

The number one issue for Burn is life gain. Life gain spells are usually are cheaper and heals more than many burn spells. Thus, life gain can literally be 2 or even 3 for 1. For example, if an opponent was to play Timely Reinforcement, it is essentially a 2 for 1, as it completely negates damage equal to 2 Lightning Bolts. This is easily dealt with by Sulfuric Vortex in Legacy, while Modern usually don't need to worry too much due to very few life gain in the meta. Other problems include Leyline of Sanctity, which shuts down most of your spells, Chalice of The Void at 1, which can shut down all your 1 CMC burns, and Counterbalance, since with Sensei's Divining Top, can counter all your burn spells with a 1 or 2 mana CMC card on top. 

Match Ups

The following match ups are very good for burn:

  • Tron (Usually too slow, only shot of winning is Wurmcoil Engine, and it can be Skullcracked
  • Delver (Delver runs tons of shocks and fetches in modern, each time they shock is a shock you don't have to use)
  • Splinter Twin (Unless the UWR twin deck which is almost extinct in Modern, UR twin, RUG twin, and Grixis Twin don't run any life gain, still uses tons of shocks and fetches, thus only chance of winning is drawing all Dispels and Spell Snare, and/or getting to Splinter Twin combo turn 4 on the play)
  • Jund (Jund really punishes itself with shocks and fetches, Thoughtseizes, Dark Confidants, etc, and without Deathrite Shaman, has a hard time gaining life with only Scavenging Ooze due to lack of creatures, also discard is very bad against burn, and their terminates, abrupt decays, maelstrom pulses, etc, can at most kill one of your expendable creatures)
  • Junk (Slightly worse matchup due to Kitchen Finks and Siege Rhino life gain, but still a good matchup as their removal is terrible against burn, even worse than Jund due to the lack of Lightning Bolt)
  • Infect (Infect is far less consistent and can easily be blown out of a Lightning Bolt on Blighted Agent)
  • Fish (Burn can usually take care of Fish before they are able to stabilize, also Remand is pretty bad against Burn)

The following match ups are very bad for burn:

  • Martyr Proc (Tons of life gain, unless drawing all Skullcracks, is very unwinnable)
  • UWR Control (Counterspells can be significant depending on what they play, but Lightning Helix is very difficult to play around, especially due to Snapcaster Mage. UWR Geist Control is a much more difficult match up than normal UWR control due to its high aggro and cheap spells)
  • Affinity (Affinity is too fast for Burn, though Burn gets better with sideboard)
  • Amulet Bloom (Amulet can be faster than Burn with the right hand, but it is less consistent than Burn, and like Infect, can lose to its own draws, though less often)

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