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Build a Better Burn Deck
By Stephen O. Bahl
Tee-hee, thatís alliteration. Speaking of which, letís talk red decks, and along those lines, burn decks. Among the most potent of casual red decks, burn decks are both numerous and various. Well, as the title of this article suggests, what weíre here to do right now is analyze the casual burn deck and, hopefully, improve it.

One card Iíve seen used in burn decks by new players and veterans alike is Shock. While itís not a shockingly bad choice (I couldnít resist the terrible pun), I do not use it in my own burn deck. Am I the omniscient god of burn decks? If you want to believe that, Iím not going to try to stop you. Anyway, letís present some choices for what could go in a burn deck then (and some that should not).

Shock R
Instant
Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Itís cheap, fast, has no drawbacks, and can target anything. Well, what else is there?

Lightning Bolt R
Instant
Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

Strictly better, but we can only use four of it. So, if weíre already using four Lightning Bolts (and itís a common from the 1st-4th editions of the base set, so itís not hard to find) is Shock our next best option?

Incinerate 1R
Instant
Incinerate deals 3 damage to target creature or player. A creature dealt damage this way can't be regenerated this turn.

A highly used burn card in combination with Lightning Bolt, Incinerate adds one to the casting cost, but retains the 3 damage. ďIs 1R for 3 better than R for 2?Ē is the obvious question. Consider that in a burn deck, the amount of damage you get for each card counts. Also consider the difference between a 3 toughness creature and a 2 toughness creature. Shock can take out a Hypnotic Specter, thankfully. But really what weíre looking at is Shock being able to kill Grizzly Bears versus Incinerate being able to pick off a Hill Giant single-handedly. Hopefully, if your opponent is using these exact creatures, you shouldnít have to worry too much about it, though. Granted, you could play two Shocks to do one more point of damage than Incinerate, for the same cost, but also twice the cards. And Incinerate prevents creatures that it damages from regenerating. This can be very useful against certain decks, obviously. Yeah, Incinerate is looking better than Shock right now.

Kaervekís Torch (and the other red X spells)
These spells are among the most frequently used in bad burn decks. They quite simply cost too much for what they do-in burn decks, that is. They can be fun with cards like Channel, of course, but thatís a different deck.

Chain Lightning R
Sorcery
Chain Lightning deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Then that player or that creature's controller may pay RR. If the player does, he or she may copy this spell and may choose a new target for that copy.

Chain Lightning is a burn deckís second Lightning Bolt. Its second ability is not seen all that often, and its sorcery status does weaken it slightly, but itís still 3 damage for R, an excellent deal. The drawback here is that Chain Lightning was only printed in Legends and is hard to get, generally. But itís worth it for a serious burn deck and easily merits four slots.

Seal of Fire R
Enchantment
Sacrifice Seal of Fire: Seal of Fire deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Seal of Fire is enchantment version of Shock. Its ability to show up early on, then activate for no mana cost makes it not only better than Shock, but-well, a lot better than Shock. The difference is bigger than it probably appears at first.

Fireblast 4RR
Instant
You may sacrifice two mountains rather than paying Fireblastís mana cost. Fireblast deals 4 damage to target creature or player.

Fireblast should be an obvious 4 of in not only any burn deck, but almost any mono-red aggressive or even semi-aggressive deck. Fireblast speeds burn up quite a bit. My current burn deck is capable of third turn kills because of it.

Pyrokinesis 4RR
You may remove a red card in your hand from the game rather than pay Pyrokinesis' mana cost. Pyrokinesis deals 4 damage divided as you choose among any number of target creatures.

Another spell with an affordable alternate casting cost, like Fireblast. Unfortunately, Pyrokinesis can only target creatures. Burn decks need to damage players directly.

Scent of Cinder 1R
Sorcery
Reveal any number of red cards in your hand. Scent of Cinder deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the number of cards revealed this way.

Well, just about every non-land card in a burn deck is red. Second turn Scents for 4-6 damage to your opponent are possible (but not guaranteed). Itís not unreasonable to claim that Scent can easily pull off 5 damage for 1R. The sorcery speed and revealing of cards is negligible for such a deal. However, this is assuming that the Scent is played early on, with a few exceptions. Burn decks are notorious for emptying their hand sizes down to 0-2 cards. Itís not so good then. But speaking of emptying your handÖ

Sonic Burst 1R
Instant
As an additional cost to play Sonic Burst, discard a card at random from your hand. Sonic Burst deals 4 damage to target creature or player.

Randomly discarding a Lightning Bolt would be a real waste, true. But what about an extra Fireblast? In truth, there are many situations where the only card in your hand will be a Mountain. Usually unnecessary once 2-3 lands are already out, and easy fodder for a card that deals 4 damage for 1R at instant speed.

Volcanic Hammer 1R
Sorcery
Volcanic Hammer deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

This is an example of a weakened Incinerate. 3 damage at Sorcery speed for 1R-why bother? Itís worse than Shock (but not by all that much).

Flare 2R
Instant
Flare deals 1 damage to target creature or player. Draw a card at the beginning of the next turn's upkeep.

Another bad card; this one assumes some how that increasing the casting cost of a burn spell and then decreasing the damage is worth the spell replacing itself. Flare is not quite the worse burn spell ever, but it is the worst one Iíll bother to mention here.

Flame Jet 1R
Sorcery
Cycling 2. Flame Jet deals 3 damage to target player.

A Volcanic Hammer that can only target players, but it does have cycling. It is probably a better choice than the Hammer itself-still not an optimal choice.

Flame Rift 1R
Sorcery
Flame Rift deals 4 damage to each player.

Flame Rift sounds like Flame Jet, but has a better picture and is also a stronger card. It hurts you as much as your opponent, but in a burn deck you donít really care what your life total is when you win, just how quickly you can do it.

Mogg Fanatic R
Creature Ė Goblin 1/1
Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic: Mogg Fanatic deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

One of the few creatures that fits well in burn decks, and most of the others are goblins as well. This one is the best though. It gets a creature on the board to attack, which can be useful in drawn-out games against creatureless decks or block which can save some you some damage. In the end, itís at least one instant-speed damage also, thanks to its ability.

Keldon Champion 3R
Creature Ė Barbarian 3/2
Haste, Echo. When Keldon Champion comes into play, it deals 3 damage to target player.

Not bad in different decks, but in burn, its casting cost, echo, and lack of evasive abilities add up to make it significantly less formidable than it might be in other decks. Keldon Champion isnít so much a creature I see mistakenly used in burn decks as a good representative of such creatures. There are plenty of others, including various goblins (which might be ones that are good in goblin decks or sligh-type decks) and some creatures which are just plain bad, like Kris Mage.

Ball Lightning RRR
Creature Ė Ball-Lightning 6/1
Trample, Haste. At end of turn, sacrifice Ball Lightning.

Ball Lightning is among the most devastating red creatures. Its triple R casting cost is easily affordable in burn, and it usually ends up either hitting the opponent for 6 (a great deal for RRR and the investment of only one card) or crushing their creatures, which served as either attackers or had useful abilities. It does have its weaknesses though. Prodigal Sorcerer, Bottle Gnomes, etc. can make playing a Ball Lightning look very stupid-unless you kill them first, which wastes burn cards. Ball Lightningís rarity makes it annoying to get four of it, but it has fortunately been printed in several sets.

Fork RR
Instant
Put a copy of target instant or sorcery spell onto the stack, except that it copies Fork's color and you may choose new targets for the copy.

Easily among the greatest red instants, Fork is a versatile card to use in a burn deck. It can copy any of your own burn spells, or a spell played by and an opponent. One finishing maneuver I frequently use is to tap two mountains for mana, sacrifice them to play Fireblast, then use the mana to Fork my Fireblast: dealing 8 damage to my opponent for two mana and two cards. Of course, if your opponent is playing some powerful instants or sorceries already, those are perfectly good choices for Fork. Its versatility is great, but it is a rare, and a more expensive monetarily one than Ball Lightning, but well-worth four slots if you can get four of it. The next two cards (Wheel of Fortune and Cursed Scroll) I will mention are also rare and usually hard to get.

Wheel of Fortune 2R
Sorcery
Each player discards his or her hand and draws seven cards.

Hopefully, you only need to refill your hand once in almost any given game. Wheel of Fortune is a power-play that only needs two slots in a burn deck, but is a life-saver in several games.

Cursed Scroll 1
Artifact
3, Tap: Name a card. An opponent chooses a card at random from your hand. Reveal that card. If the card is the named card, Cursed Scroll deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Cursed Scroll is certainly powerful, and punches through defenses like Circle of Protection: Red, you might run across. Unfortunately, it is also not a terribly fast card in burn decks and is better suited to slower deck deck-types. If you have it, throw one or two in your burn deck (assuming you have room for it and all that), but itís not anywhere near as good in burn as the other money-rares (Wheel of Fortune, Fork, and Ball Lightning if itís from The Dark).

Hammer of Bogardan 1RR
Sorcery
Hammer of Bogardan deals 3 damage to target creature or player. 2RRR: Return Hammer of Bogardan from your graveyard to your hand. Play this ability only during your upkeep.

Better than the other Hammer, but this oneís sort of slow. It falls under that same category with Cursed Scroll, but moreso. A quick burn deck isnít mana-intensive enough to support the recursion of Hammer of Bogardan without slowing down your ability to use all the other burn cards in your hand.

Final Fortune RR
Instant
Take an extra turn after this one. At the end of that turn, you lose the game.

Donít worry, the chunk of rare cards ends here. Final Fortuneís power to speed up your kill is promising, but it is too situational. It is either a last ditch effort or is used when you know you can kill your opponent next turn, but donít have the mana to do it this turn. One or two copies could be used, but itís not the best choice in my burn deck, the way itís set up. Other burn decks might want this card though, I know.

Black Vise 1
Artifact
As Black Vise comes into play, choose an opponent. At the beginning of the chosen player's upkeep, Black Vise deals X damage to that player, where X is the number of cards greater than four in his or her hand.

Iíve not often seen the mighty Black Vise being used in burn decks, really. It can certainly be good though. Played first turn, a Vise can do almost half the work for you, in some circumstances. But other times, the damage from the Vise comes out to zero-total at the end of a game. Vise can be good, but is usually left to less aggressive decks.

Thunderbolt 1R
Instant
Choose one - Thunderbolt deals 3 damage to target player; or Thunderbolt deals 4 damage to target creature with flying.

A common sight in casual burn decks, it is not the best. Thunderbolt is still better than Volcanic Hammer, but it can only hit flying creatures and players. There is no reason to limit ones burn spells to those when Incinerate is available, unless youíre desperate to fill up your deck or are particularly afraid of Serra Angel. This card falls under the same category as Shock, Flame Jet and many other cards too numerous to list here: potential choices if you canít get anything better. Well, weíre trying to build a better burn deck hereÖ

Sandstone Needle
Land
Sandstone Needle comes into play tapped with two depletion counters on it. Tap, remove a depletion counter from Sandstone Needle: Add RR to your mana pool. If there are no depletion counters on Sandstone Needle sacrifice it.

Burn decks tend not to use much mana acceleration. Iíve been using Sandstone Needle in mine since the card was printed. Its coming into play tapped and not being usable for Fireblastís alternate casting cost are well-worth the added speed it can give. Playing Ball Lightning second turn is one example.

Okay, Iíd love to cover more cards here, I really would, but then this article would be monstrous in size. Letís move on to the decklist. Iíve used almost all of the above cards in my burn deck at some point. My deck changes all the time and will likely change again soon, in my ongoing effort toÖ

Build a Better Burn Deck

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Chain Lightning
4x Seal of Fire
4x Incinerate
4x Flame Rift
4x Fireblast
4x Fork
4x Mogg Fanatic
4x Ball Lightning
2x Scent of Cinder
2x Wheel of Fortune
1x Sonic Burst
2x Sandstone Needle
17x Mountain

Yeah, obviously some Mox Rubies could replace the Mountains and all that. Weíll work on the mana base later; I was trying to focus on the burn spellsÖ

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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