“I knew I wanted to play Zoo instead of Burn because Mental Misstep basically invalidated Burn as a deck.” – Patrick Sullivan, June 2011
So Patrick Sullivan was wrong. Allow me a moment to set the scene:
Going into Gen Con this year, I was without any decent finishes in Legacy. I almost always end up playing combo and the deck usually has Doomsday, Tendrils of Agony, or both. I enjoy the complexity of those combo decks—proper piloting of ANT or Doomsday Tendrils is really difficult (especially against blue) and for some reason, I can’t get enough of that challenge. Having said that, the mistakes you make with those types of decks will usually cost you the game right away. Unsurprisingly, I have been mired in a sea of mediocrity of late. Picking the right deck for the tournament is the goal but I often let my favorite deck at the time push out the better metagame choice.
Fast forward to Gen Con: after a 2-2 finish (another leap into the sea of mediocrity) in the Vintage Champs on Friday, I had no idea what to play for Legacy. I have slowly amassed a pretty comprehensive list of Legacy staples and am fortunate enough to be able to make nearly any deck I desire. My brother kept asking me what I was going to play and I kept answering, “I’ve got time.”
My brain told me to play Hive Mind as it simply has to be the most powerful deck in Legacy right now. The problem was that I knew every person in the room would be ready for the Hive Mind boogeyman. I wasn’t looking forward to fighting Angel’s Grace and what was likely going to be a sea of blue all day…it just didn’t feel right. Not to mention I didn’t really want to deal with complicated Pact stacks and judge calls every round.
My brother, wise as he is, kept pushing the burn deck I have had lying around for months. We had talked about adding Brainstorm like Adam Prosak and his crew had done for one of the SCG Opens. Even though Brainstorm could obviously help your late game draws, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. This deck plays so few lands that I could get Wastelanded right out of the game. I had a feeling (and correctly so, it turned out) that I couldn’t afford to tap a land for mana without it directly or indirectly lowering the opponent’s life total. When Saturday morning rolled around I said, “screw it, I’ll play burn.” I had to swallow my pride too, because people associate the deck with beginners or players who don’t have the money for a “real” deck. This is not my situation, but I prepared myself for the inevitable ridicule that would surely ensue.
Let’s get to the list and an explanation:
The list is nearly identical to Patrick Sullivan’s top 8 list from SCG Open LA. He ran an extra mountain to get to 21 land. He said he wasn’t drawing enough land. When I joined him at 21 land, I drew too many. With this deck, you want to hit 2 land drops (or three at the most) and then you never want to draw another land. If I were to go to 21 land, I would actually cut down to six Mountain and play 15 fetches. For this tournament, I replaced the land with a Sulfuric Vortex. Sullivan hasn’t been big on the Vortex but I imagine that is because older versions of this deck were running four in the maindeck. Two is the absolute most you should be playing between maindeck and sideboard. The miser’s Vortex won me at least two games during the day so, unsurprisingly, I like it somewhere in the deck. I replaced the 8th Red Blast effect with a Chaos Warp; mainly because before the tournament started I had visions of every one of my opponents jamming four white leylines into their deck in games 2 and 3. One Chaos Warp isn’t going to solve that problem very often, but I was pretty sure I didn’t need eight blasts. In the future, I think I would up the Chaos Warp count to two but your mileage may vary. By the way, white leyline is difficult to beat, but it’s not actually impossible. Your Price of Progress, Flame Rift, and Sulfuric Vortex can still do good work. Use your burn to clear creatures and rip lots of Figure of Destiny!Searing Blaze is insane, as is Price of Progress. Figure of Destiny is below average, but I do think he’s the best option for creature spot 9-11 in the deck. I sided him out frequently against decks with early blockers and removal because he continually underwhelmed. As soon as you pump three mana into him to level up, they Swords him. Every time. Let’s jump into what I can recall about each round:
Round 1: Danny Blaine with Goblins
I lose the die roll (which I did almost every round) and Danny has a pretty insane draw. Lackey, Stingscourger on my blocker, Incinerator off the top for another blocker…a few Lackey connections and he’s got game one. I’m not too worried, as I had tested this matchup a lot. They have a fantastic long game and you have a fantastic short game…keep the game short. Only occasionally is it right to spend burn on their creatures…I often consider burning Lackey, but past that, you have to race them to the dome.
For games 2 and 3, Searing Blaze comes in, Price of Progress out. One of the final two games I just roll him due to a bad keep on his part. The more competitive game involved him landing double Warchief through Lackey activations but only having 2 lands. He has 2 Ringleader in hand and I decide to fry both Warchiefs (which is right in this case because it will double time walk him at least). He misses land drops some more but lands a Vial. I get there in time. 2-1
LESSONS TO LEARN: Deciding between burning them or their creatures can be a difficult decision. NEVER FORGET that you are a COMBO deck, NOT an aggro deck. You have finite amounts of damage you can deal and you have no way to draw extra cards. Every Lightning Bolt on their creature is a Healing Salve for their life total. As you test the deck more, you will find that sometimes ignoring their board completely is the best way to win.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games
Round 2: Brad Sheppard with UW
I seem to remember Brad running a more controlling build and not seeing Stoneforge Mystic. This would be my first match against Mental Misstep, the card Patrick Sullivan thinks invalidates the burn deck entirely. Not much that I remember about this match other than I went to the dome early and often. Game 2, he sticks Jace and is fatesealing me every turn while within burn range. He is about to ultimate me so he bottoms a Lightning Bolt. I rip Sulfuric Vortex instead and it’s over. 2-0
LESSONS TO LEARN: I responded to a Clique before he had chosen the target. Amateur move on my part, but Brad is kind enough to point it out afterwards.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games, 1-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 3: Bing Luke with UW Stoneblade + Spellstutter Sprite
We chat beforehand and I tell him I played vintage champs yesterday. He says after the match that he was shocked to see me playing mono red since I was a vintage player. Game 1 I kill his turn 2 Stoneforge that got a Batterskull. I throw a hailstorm of burn at him and it sticks—including a 6 damage Price of Progress. Game 2, he got a close one with Batterskull which as I recall, culminated in placing it on a Spellstutter Sprite. Game 3, I pull out all the stops. Killed his Mystic, land double Grim Lavamancer, but eventually he lands a Batterskull. I get two extra turns without his life gain as I block with Lavamancer and have it burn itself before damage. I then stick Sulfuric Vortex to his extreme dismay and that’s game.
LESSONS TO LEARN: Kill the Stoneforge. Just do it. If the Batterskull hits on turn 3, you almost certainly lose. If it lands naturally on turn 5-7, it’s probably pathetic against you. Also note that Sulfuric Vortex is insane against Batterskull. My favorite time to cast Price of Progress is when they tap out for a desperation Batterskull on turn 5-6. They have already used so many counterspells that it’s going to stick and it will do 6-8 damage. 2-1
3-0 matches, 6-2 games, 2-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 4: Brian Reeves with Merfolk
Brian’s a nice guy and we play 3 very close games. I think I played a little loose in this one. I know the Merfolk deck inside and out, but I just blanked on him being able to Vial in a Lord of Atlantis on a random turn to mess with my combat math. He missed a vial trigger once too. I guess we’re even. He rolled me in game one thanks to creature pressure and a Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. My Lavamancers go nuts in game 2. In game 3, on the draw, I had a 7 card hand with 3 red blasts but no lands. Can’t tell you how close I was to keeping that! Game 3 takes a while and I keep expecting him to Dismember my Lavamancers, but without that, it’s too hard for him to win. He sticks a Kira and also lands a Jitte. He confirms with the Judge that the first equip attempt is countered thanks to Kira. On his turn, he has to equip twice to get it to actually equip, but when he attacks I roast Kira since my burn on Kira will no longer be countered this turn. That was the backbreaker. He said he boarded in Chalice of the Void but didn’t see them…which is good news for me! 2-1
LESSONS TO LEARN: Merfolk is tricky to play against and always has game. When there’s an active Vial, you can often figure out what creatures are in their hand by how they attack. You have to resolve Grim Lavamancer in this match. Other than Dismember (which is quite risky to play against you due to the loss of life) they can’t interact with it. Board out Price of Progress against them…sure, they have 8-9 nonbasics, but it’s just not good enough. Not to mention, a good player will expect it and hold Wasteland untapped to waste his own Mutavault in response.
4-0 matches, 8-3 games, 3-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 5: Micah Greenbaum with Aggro Loam
I recognized Micah’s name right away as the winner of an SCG Open a few weeks back. I was not surprised to see cycling lands and Life from the Loam right away. I figured the matchup was actually ok for me since their deck was pretty slow (Aggro Loam is kind of a misnomer). However, when he played turn 3 Devastating Dreams in both games, that was all she wrote. I was without lands in a land-light deck and, although he was under 10 life both times, he also had early Tarmogoyfs so he could apply pressure as well. Without Devastating Dreams I win easy; with Devastating Dreams and pressure, it’s rough. 0-2
LESSONS TO LEARN: I’m not sure there’s anything to learn from this match. I don’t think there’s a card I could have brought in that would have changed this result. Winds of Change? Seems awful…I just can’t interact with Devastating Dreams. And I remember keeping a 2-land, 7-card hand…there’s no way I mulligan that hand to find MORE lands.
4-1 matches, 8-5 games
Round 6: Ned Douglass with Team America/BUG
We get deck checked right away. He is clearly annoyed and says that he can never get his deck properly randomized after a deck check. We get our decks returned without incident. We keep our draws and as the game plays out, it is clear that he kept a 2 Wasteland draw and didn’t see a colored land before he quickly died. I guess Ned was right about bad luck after a deck check. In game 1 he tried to Mental Misstep a Rift Bolt suspension. I explained that he couldn’t; unfortunately for him I now knew that it was in his hand. Of course, I rip a Grim Lavamancer off the top. I bait the Misstep with a burn spell and then resolve the Grim after he spent the Misstep. Note that paying 2 life to Misstep a burn spell makes me want to laugh out loud. You can’t imagine how many times that play happened. Game 2, he just barely gets there with Goyf and Tombstalker (he was on 2 life). Game 3, I resolve a 6 point Price of Progress as his deck has 1 or 0 basic lands. Pretty sure this matchup is fine for me. 2-1
LESSONS TO LEARN: Resolve Price of Progress against BUG/Team America. It will do 6-8 damage easily.
5-1 matches, 10-6 games, 4-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 7: Max Jacob with NO RUGProgenitus was stuck in Max’s opening hand. He had to make the mighty play of Natural Order for Tarmogoyf. I raced double Goyf like my deck does. Game 2, he Natural Orders for Kitchen Finks first, then Natural Orders the Kitchen Finks into Progenitus. That saved him in game 2 (but I still had him to 1). In game 3, he gets land screwed and my deck does what it does…quickly punishes any amount of inconsistency. 2-1
LESSONS TO LEARN: Progenitus can be raced. That being said if they pass the turn to you with Dryad Arbor and 2 other lands or Hierarch and 2 lands, I STRONGLY consider burning the creature. It Time Walks them if they have the Natural Order. If they have several creatures you can’t really afford to burn them all and you have to race. The good thing for you is that their best draw is turn 3 Progenitus and you won’t die until turn 5. You really can race that depending on your draw and how many counters they drew. The matchup is swingy and razor-close, but it’s certainly not bad.
6-1 matches, 12-7 games, 5-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 8: J.T. Henricks with UW Stoneblade
J.T. is a good player who played in Nationals. He also seems to be good friends with Todd Anderson who was watching the match. Game one I remember casting Price of Progress for a lot, him playing Standstill, me breaking it right away, and just generally adding to 20. Game 2 goes really long. I hold the Batterskull off until the later turns. I buy a turn or two by blocking with Lavamancer and killing it before damage…EOT I Price of Progress which he counters. I untap and go for the Flame Rift for the win. He has one blue open and Spell Snares it. Batterskull puts it away. He was thrilled with this win and was oozing with confidence for the third game. I just had a smirk on my face because he was very fortunate to get a third game. After seeing so many Mishra’s Factories and equipment, I bring in a few Smash to Smithereens for the third game. I mean, who knows, right? He draws cards off Standstill and I don’t care at all. He plays Meddling Mage and asks for responses. I KNOW he’s going to name Price of Progress which isn’t in my hand (I’m gripping Smash to Smithereens and Fireblast) so I let it resolve. He names Price of Progress. Next he taps out for Batterskull. I Smash to Smithereens and Fireblast and he’s very dead. He is very very upset about Smash to Smithereens. It was at this point that people were starting to bird my matches and call me the people’s champ for playing burn to the very top tables. It was hilarious…they really wanted me to top 8! 2-1
LESSONS TO LEARN: Ignore Standstill. Seriously. It doesn’t matter. Play around Daze when you can (especially for important spells like Lavamancer and Price of Progress), but your deck is so redundant that one burn spell is as good as the next. The counter suite you are facing is often 4 FOW, 4 Misstep, 2 Daze. FOW damages them, Misstep damages them about half the time, and Daze ensures they won’t drop Batterskull until turn 6 at least. Even if they have a Counterspell or two in their deck, they cannot keep up with the number of redundant threats in the long game.
7-1 matches, 14-8 games, 6-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Round 9: Mark Larson with Zoo
Going into the final round, Mark is in 5th place and I am in 6th. We do some math and decide if we I.D. that we could finish 8th and 9th, or 9th and 10th. We decide to play it out. After the fact, with how everything played out, we both would have snuck into the top 8. What can you do? I win the roll for the 2nd time all day and win fairly easily. He is on the play in game two and gets there in time. For game 3, I have turn 2 Searing Blaze on his Wild Nacatl to which he exclaims, “What a blowout!” He proceeds to rip two Lightning Helix which are insane against me (and pretty pedestrian against every other deck). I still might have been ok except I ripped my 2nd and 3rd Price of Progress on those early draw steps. They didn’t look too good against his Plains and Taiga for a total of 2 damage per shot. His dudes got there. 1-2
LESSONS TO LEARN: Perhaps I could have sided out 2 Price of Progress, but I didn’t have much to bring in. I don’t like Figure of Destiny in the matchup so those came out for Searing Blaze already. The Price of Progress aren’t dead. They are just unlikely to do 6-8 damage after they know to expect it. Lightning Helix is rough…you really wish for a Sulfuric Vortex when they are playing that card. Also, as a general comment, since I won the roll to go first a total of 2 times, I really wonder if playing first with this deck is as insane as you would think. In more of a grindy exchange-heavy matchup vs. zoo or even the UW decks who are plowing, countering, and drawing extra cards, drawing the extra card seems really good. In a slow environment (or at least against the more controlling decks in this environment) the easiest way to lose is to not draw enough threats. You have inevitability if you draw gas and can keep drawing more gas than they can counter. I’m not sure I’m correct on actually wanting to choose to go second, but in all my experience playing mono red over the years I have at least as many wins going second—if not more. This probably bears further discussion
7-2 matches (good for 11th place), 15-10 games, 6-0 in matches vs. Mental Misstep
Why Patrick Sullivan was wrong:
He was evaluating the burn deck by adding Misstep to the pre-Misstep metagame. Let me see if I can better explain this. Before Misstep, the Burn deck was a consistent turn 4 combo deck. The only problem was, ANT, High Tide, and any number of other degenerate combo decks killed on turn 2-3 as a fundamental turn. Even Elves, Show and Tell, Doomsday, Painted Stone could all be just slightly faster. Burn was remarkably consistent but not great against combo because it didn’t interact well and could be raced. Then you add Misstep to the format? Now all of burn’s best cards can be countered by the splash damage of Misstep which was being played to combat High Tide, ANT, Painted Stone…everyone’s playing Misstep and burn gets worse. Fast forward to today: the natural predators of the burn deck (i.e., faster combo decks) have been decimated by Mental Misstep. ANT, High Tide, Painted Stone, Elves…all show up in very low numbers. Hive Mind is very good and can win on turn two, but is much more likely a turn 3-4 combo deck if all goes right. And with sideboarded Red Blasts I’m not sure the matchup is all that bad.
So we live in a legacy environment right now that favors long games and grindy blue decks and has made many of the most feared combo decks close to unplayable in this field. There aren’t many decks out there ready to prey on your Burn deck. Also, sideboards are not well prepared against it either. This could all change, but it’s very much under the radar. I had 9 winnable matches at the Legacy Champs playing against a variety of decks. This burn deck is the most consistent and redundant deck you could possibly play in Legacy. It punishes loose keeps and is linear enough that anyone can pick it up with minimal practice. Hit me up with any questions or comments!