With the dust settling from the upheaval of Urza’s Saga block rotating out of Type II and Invasion cycling in, the Standard environment emerging is drastically different from the plays of yesteryear. No longer will cries be heard as Masticore or Morphling hits the table, or as players realise they are facing beatdown from a 19/19 minion token on turn 2. No, we can now sit back and chill during games that, thanks to the reign of control that has poured down over Type II, now actually last longer than a burger in a crowd of Ethiopians. So where are my ramblings leading. Well in the emergence of this new and colourful environment, I felt compelled to produce a report on my own variation of a deck that has been the focus of a lot of attention within the past month or so, mainly because it wins but also because it is practically the only beatdown deck that can survive the raging storms of the now control dominated environment. I am of course talking about Fires. For those not in the know, this deck makes powerful use of a red/ green enchantment from Invasion called ‘Fires of Yavimaya’; an enchantment costing 1RG, that gives all creatures you control haste, and which can be sacrificed to give a creature +2/+2 until end of turn. The simple idea behind the deck is to use mana acceleration to cast big green or red fat that can attack as soon as you cast it. This leads to a pretty darn quick beatdown and causes your opponent real headaches. So, to the deck. I’ve decided to provide a decklist followed by my reasons of choice of various cards to hopefully allow you to appreciate just how powerful this deck is. Feel free to counter – argue my choices, constructive criticism is always welcomed.
Fires of Yavimaya
1 Rith, the Awakener
3 Ancient Hydra
4 Saproling Burst
4 River Boa
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Fires of Yavimaya
3 City of brass
3 Karplusan Forest
SB: 4 Armadillo Cloak
SB: 3 Kavu Chameleon
SB: 3 Tangle
SB: 3 Tsabo’s Decree
SB: 2 Hurricane
Lets start with the mana accelerators of the deck. There really isn’t any need to go into any great detail here, it’s pretty obvious that a deck using big fat is going to use Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise. I decided not to use Utopia Tree or Vine Trellis in these spots because whilst their higher toughness make them far less susceptible to burn, they need to be cast turn one to gain mana and subsequent creature advantage over the opponent. 4 of each is therefore a given.
Next, the creature ‘fillers’ as I like to call them. These are middle ground creatures between the cheap mana accelerators and the expensive fat of the deck. Chimeric Idol is a superb choice to fill this gap because assuming you cast a Bird or Elf turn one, you can have one of these babies in play turn 2. A 3/3 for 3 is always a sweet deal but being able to stay standing after a Wrath of God, Rout, Earthquake etc. is just damn harsh.
Then the other ‘filler’. There really is no dispute over the use of River Boa, however as I am aware of the apprehension of a few players to use this creature in a Fires deck, I’ll tackle the argument now. Basically some players feel that whilst River Boa is an excellent 2 drop, it doesn’t belong in Fires. The argument is that you’re just going to be casting something better or more efficient each turn. If you drop a Bird turn one, you’ll play either a Fires or an Idol turn two, followed by Blastoderm, rounded off with Saproling Burst turn four for the kill. Where’s the need for River Boa? The need arises from the fact that Fires is built on a mana curve, that is, the deck is built to be able to play something every turn, thus maximising its resources and efficiency. You only have a 2/15 chance of drawing either a Fires or Idol in your opening hand. Whilst it is likely that you will draw either of these, I’m sure you’ll play many games with them absent from your opening hand. Not being able to play something turn two or three destroys the advantage the deck is supposed to give you. However, if you have a River Boa in hand, you can stick to the mana curve and get a pretty darn good creature in the process (I hear a blocker for Blastoderm or Jade Leach every turn that doesn’t die is quite good!) Plus not leaving regeneration mana later on in the game is not really a problem when you’re beating down with Blastoderms and hordes of rather angry Saprolings. Once again we’ll use four Idols and four Boas.
Now we come onto the real fun of the deck – the muscle. If we are using an enchantment that gives our creatures haste, we need creatures that will use this mechanic to its full. There are no better creatures that do this than some of the faders from Nemesis, namely Blastoderm and Saproling Burst.
Blastoderm is an excellent creature even without Fires, if you say otherwise, you’re wrong. The only snag with having an Untargetable 5/5 for four is that it wont come without a price – that price being that it can only attack 3 times potentially dealing 15 damage. If only it could attack once more…wait if it has haste, it can! You see my point. I decided to go with only 1 set of four drops in this deck since if you don’t draw a Blastoderm you will probably have another 1, 2 or 3 drop in your hand that can be played.
Next, Saproling Burst. The biggest problem with this green enchantment used to be that it either got disenchanted, or the saps were blocked by bigger creatures, died, then got smaller next upkeep. If Fires is in play when you drop this baby these problems disappear. The reason being is that you have the element of surprise on your side, you only have to play it when the opponent is tapped out of creatures and lands likewise, then you simply remove 3 counters and attack for 12. 12 damage for 5 mana, ‘nuff said.
The final creatures are in there for amusement and to provide the finishing, crushing and often humiliating blow. Rith. He flies. He’s a 6/6. He makes 1 sap for each permanent of a chosen colour in play for 2G. Did I mention he only costs 3RGW? (You can shut your mouth now) I added Rith primarily cos he kicks ass but also because I wanted to take a piece of casual play environment and rub it firmly in the face of a sanctioned tournament. Plus he’s the only flier in the deck, which I figured could prove invaluable.
The final creature of the mix is Ancient Hydra. Ok, he doesn’t make the same use of Fires that Blasty and Burst do, and he really hates burn, but generally you wont use him as a creature – you’ll be far more interested in his ability. Ancient Hydra is a brilliant creature. He allows you to remove multiple blockers before combat, and because his ability doesn’t force him to attack, you often get the chance to. Directly dealing damage to weenies proves invaluable when it means that the path is clear for a creature rush. Plus, you have many options available. You can either remove enough counters during your next turn to kill off any potential blockers and charge; you can sit and wait until your opponent tries to Armadillo Cloak his creature and respond by killing it; or, during the next upkeep after you cast the Hydra, you can put the fading ability on the stack and respond to it by pulling off all 5 counters and dealing that last lick of damage to your opponent. The sheer versatility of the Hydra makes him an excellent addition to the deck and rounds off the creature base nicely.
Now we come to the non-land, non-creature component of this Fires deck. I really don’t have to explain why there are four Fires of Yavimaya in the deck – the deck’s designed around it for Christ’s sake. However this still leaves 6 slots available. The first 3 are to accommodate the much needed enchantment removal that a lot of Fires decks are curiously missing. I’m talking about Wax/Wane. This is where white is splashed and you’ll be glad of it when you’re staring down the barrel end of a Teferi’s Moat or Story Circle. Wax/Wane is a very versatile card. A lot of the time, it wont be necessary to remove an enchantment and similarly many occasions do not require pump. However there is very rarely an occasion that calls for neither, and the ability to put this card to many uses makes it an excellent choice. This card can often turn the tide of a game that would otherwise be lost.
The final maindeck addition is Armageddon – the only real form of board control in the deck. Most Fires decks (in fact every Fires deck that I have come across) stays away from this card but I fail to see why. You are not always going to be able to get a 4th turn kill. The mistake that most people make in building a deck and choosing what cards to use is that they assume they will get a perfect draw every time – NEWSFLASH, you rarely ever get a perfect draw. Most Fires players would gladly stick with a hand that only had one fattie if they had a Fires and Bird in there as well. People will argue over the point in wasting one turn in nuking every land, then several more turns rebuilding their mana supply when they could be killing their opponent. Speed will not always pull through. If you have two mana creatures and a couple of lands in hand and play, you will be in a much safer position after you Armageddon than if you had played a load of creatures and hoped for the best. Most of the time, you’re opponent will never recover from an Armageddon – they can however, do something when a creature hits the table. Decks need stability – a back-up plan – for when things go pear shaped which they will do from time to time. Armageddon provides that stability in Fires.
I really can’t be bothered to explain my land choices. The only thing I will stress is to NOT use the Invasion tap-lands. This deck is built for speed, lands that come into play tapped aint gonna help that. Also, I have decided to use a couple of basic mountains instead of more pain-lands to, well, avoiding taking pain. Getting killed by your opponent is one thing; getting killed by yourself is another. Plus, having extra pain-lands didn’t make a noticeable improvement to the deck; it only made it more expensive to build!
If you’re still reading, congratulations. You must have a very long attention span, be really sad or really like my article. Hmm… I’m guessing it probably isn’t the latter. But I digress. This final section is devoted to the sideboard of the deck, probably the area that took the most deliberating and play testing to get into its current format. As you can see, I’ve splashed yet another colour – Black, for Tsabo’s Decree. You can probably tell I don’t like Rebels, or more importantly, I don’t like playing against them. I actually “borrowed” the idea to sideboard the Decree from Brian Kibler who ran a similar deck (minus Fires) at PT Chicago recently. I thought it pointless to use earthquakes as some Rebels have Protection Red whilst others fly (Thermal glider has both). Tsabo’s Decree not only gets around this by just downright nuking every one of the buggers but also destroys their hand of backup Sivvi’s and the like. Just try recovering from that! It may be a bit overkill to include 3 copies of a card designed to destroy really only 1 deck but in playtesting, I found that Rebels were really the only deck that give decks like this a run for their money.
Next, we come to the other problem this deck faces, fliers (no it’s not a typo of fires). With only 1 maindecked flier and 3 maindecked ways of getting rid of them (the Hydras) this decks needs an alternate solution. What better than Hurricane? Not only do you wipe their board clean but you also can deal them some pivotal damage. This also warrants sideboarding against other creature-based decks like rebels because if you can’t beat ‘em out of the game, burn ‘em out.
Then there is always the problem of creature-less control namely blue/ white. It is commonplace here to find yourself locked by Teferi’s Moat and Story Circle. Then enters the Kavu Chameleon. Boy does white/ blue control hate Chameleons. Not only can they not be countered, but they are practically immune to Circles and Moats because they change colour! They are also good sideboards against black removal because you can change their colour in response to them playing a removal spell force it to fizzle.
The final sideboard choices are predominantly for the mirror match (playing against another Fires deck). The first is Tangle. Boy is there a debate over Tangle or Simoon. Well, this is my take on it. If you sideboard in Simoons against Fires, at most you’ll kill a couple of mana creatures and a River Boa. If you’re lucky. Whilst this can be devastating early on, you are relying on drawing a Simoon within the first couple of turns. Later in the game, this card does diddlysquat. Tangle on the other hand allows you to completely wreck your opponent’s plan. One, if he taps out of creatures to attack he is screwed for at least two turns. Second, if he attacks with Blastoderm or Saproling Burst, his onslaught will sit there doing nothing for two turns fading away. This can be agonising as the Saprolings will attack next as 2/2s or 1/1s and second because Blasty will probably only get one last attack. I can see the argument however of using Simoon over Tangle against Rebels, but Tsabo’s Decree just does the job a lot more effectively.
Now to the final card of the deck, don’t worry you’re almost there. Armadillo Cloak. It’s cheap; it hurts and will give creature-based decks fits. Not only can you enchant your own creatures with it, but you can also neutralise your opponent’s creatures by enchanting them instead (they deal combat damage, you gain that much life). Be wary of the ruling, if you enchant one of your opponent’s creatures and it deals you lethal combat damage, you die. For the Armadillo Cloak to work, the creature must first have dealt its damage. The ability then goes on the stack after combat damage has resolved. If you took lethal damage, that’s it, game over, the ability doesn’t trigger. So be aware of this when playing Cloak. And that was the last of the cards that went into this version of Fires.
Well, that about wraps this article up. I hope you found it inspiring and if you have any suggestions to improve the deck or counter-points to any of my arguments, I’ll gladly tell you why you’re wrong. But for now, enjoy building and playing the deck (or a variant thereof) and who knows, maybe I’ll see you at a tourney some day.