A Pleasure to Burn


“Some men just want to watch the world burn.” – Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight

“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.” Jim Butcher, Blood Rites

“Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire.”
—Jaya Ballard, Task Mage (and the true Pyromaster).

Here’s the thing about fire. It is the first and best example of man’s superiority. It is what separates us from the beasts. Fire is the tool wielded by the Almighty as his ultimate punishment. Fire is the most important secret ever stolen from the gods. Fire is the instrument that turns marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate into confectionary crack cocaine. Fire is both the bane of the creatures of the night and the ever dancing flame of knowledge. Long before we could communicate through the electronic transmission of words via a vast series of tubes called the internet, every story or tale worth telling was told over the flickering wisps of a crackling fire.

Fire, at its most basic level, is the closest any of us will ever come to true magic.

I was never the kid that got caught playing with matches… but I get the sentiment. There is power in fire. While the, “you play with fire and you’ll piss the bed” chatter may have cast a lifelong shadow on my ability to let loose and burninate things, I’m definitely down with the occasional desire to just build a blaze and sit back to watch it burn.

Young Pyromancer makes me think someone at Wizards is quite the little fire bug.

When Young Pyromancer was first spoiled, I was unimpressed. Even when noted Magic writers started popping out articles left and right, filled with excited chatter about the little two drop that could, I was nonplussed. Some even went so far as to say he was the fabled red two-drop to join in the “cycle” of Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Stoneforge Mystic,and Dark Confidant. I didn’t see it. Young Pyromancer just seems too fragile and unreliable. I cast a Pillar of Flame and get a lonely 1/1, wow, big deal.

But, on the way home from a disappointing 2-2 drop at my first Standard PTQ in years, I started talking with Bryan Auxier, one of my local teammates. We were both overly fed from BD’s Mongolian Grill and we started going over the M14 spoiler. Bryan mentioned that he was excited for Young Pyromancer and I admitted that I didn’t get all the fuss. I gave him the same scenario as above, the small benefit you might eke out with a Pillar of Flame here and there, and how I didn’t think it would be relevant.

“Yeah, but I was thinking of playing him in Modern.”

There’s a type of blindness I can sometimes develop as a brewer, and I’m sure it’s something many of you have experienced. Brewer’s Blindness (trademark pending). Especially, when I’m trying to gear up for a “big tournament” (hey, a PTQ can still be a big tourney for some of us). I had been focusing so hard on Standard, trying to guess the metagame, trying to figure out the best deck, working through the matchups, that any new information couldn’t permeate this bubble. If it wasn’t Standard, or relevant to the Junk Reanimator matchup, I didn’t care. I couldn’t properly judge its worth. Sure, other articles had suggested Modern implications, but I was in the fog of competitiveness. Young Pyromancer was a future consideration. Now, with Brian making the suggestion after I had gone through the tournament fire and emerged on the other side, I could actually see what everyone was saying.

Obviously, Young Pyromancer is nuts.

Brian and I spitballed most of the deck in the car on the last couple of miles of our trip. He threw a quick proxy version of the deck together and gave it a whirl. I was impressed. 95% of this deck is his, so if you like it give him the credit.

While most of the deck mimics the Storm lists already played in Modern, there are a few notable changes. Young Pyromancer has opened the door for a Burn at the Stake combo win. Given that Modern is a format built around fetch lands and shock lands, you often need only six creatures in play to win with Burn at the Stake.

Beck // Call: One of the engines of the deck. If you get to resolves this with a Young Pyromancer in play and some spare mana, you should win the game (barring an egregious flood of land draws). Letting a storm deck cantrip on each of its spells is unbelievably strong. Still, there were too many hands with multiple Beck // Call to warrant running the full set.

Desperate Ritual/Pyretic Ritual/Battle Hymn: Playing less than two full sets of the Rituals feels inherently wrong, but I just can’t find a way to make them all fit. But boy, does Battle Hymn feel broken at times. You haven’t lived until you’ve added 20 red mana to your mana pool with one spell. Despite its flashiness, it’s possible we should be running the full set of rituals and cutting a Battle Hymn instead (for consistency’s sake). Currently, I like the explosive version. Plays very well with Past in Flame. Just remember to make your token before you resolve Battle Hymn, lest you short yourself a mana or a creature.

Other cards I’m considering include: Simian Spirit Guide, Forbidden Orchard, Kher Keep, Augur of Bolas, and Goblin Bushwhacker.

Here’s an example of one of the first games I played with Brian. I was on Kiki-Pod:

My turn 1: Stomping Grounds, Birds of Paradise.

Brian turn 1: Steam Vents tapped.

My turn 2: Grove of the Burnwillows, Birthing Pod, taking 2 damage.

Brian turn 2: Mountain, Ritual, Ritual, Young Pyromancer, Gitaxian Probe, Manamorphose, Manamorphose, Battle Hymn, Faithless Looting (discarding a land and a Past in Flame), Krenko’s Command, Battle Hymn, flashback Past in Flame, replay everything, Burn at the Stake for 60+ damage.

The next game was a bit better for me, as I died on turn three.

Now, this is hardly standard operating procedure for this deck, but as I discovered from a few quick games/matches, you MUST respect the fact that this deck is always about to go off. It’s like a virgin on prom night. Any turn after the first (and even the first if I could figure out a way to get Simian Spirit Guide in on the action), this deck is capable of killing you on the spot, in a variety of ways. You may die the martyr’s death at on a toasty pike, or you may fall victim to 30 frothing Goblin tokens. The deck doesn’t require the Burn at the Stake combo to win, it is equally capable of just making 10 creatures on turn two and passing the turn.

Despite my early misgivings, Young Pyromancer is powerful. I do still think it doesn’t belong in the rarified air of Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, etc (mainly because it’s such a “build your deck around me” card), but I do now believe that we will see the card making a splash across multiple formats. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a hot year.

If you like my suggestions, you can follow me on Twitter: @travishall456. I throw around random observations and deck ideas every day. You can also hear me on the Horde of Notions podcast each week, discussing deck ideas for FNM level events and the PTQ grinders.