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Magic Memories: Rite of Flame


The Tentacled One
By now, my enthusiasm for mana acceleration spells is no secret. Before Rite of Flame existed, I'd already used several other "ritual" cards in my casual decks, including Dark Ritual, High Tide, Dark Ritual, Songs of the Damned, Dark Ritual, Culling the Weak, Dark Ritual, Burnt Offering, Dark Ritual, Sacrifice, Dark Ritual, Bubbling Muck, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Seething Song, Dark Ritual, Spoils of Evil, Dark Ritual, Drain Power, Dark Ritual, Metamorphosis, Dark Ritual, Mana Drain, Dark Ritual, Channel, Dark Ritual, Channel the Suns, and, of course, Dark Ritual. Not Rain of Filth, though. I somehow never got around to using that card until many years later...

A lot of Ice Age cards in there, really. More than other sets, anyway. So it was fitting that Coldsnap, the belated sequel to Ice Age, gave us one of the best rituals of all...

I contend that Rite of Flame was, sadly, the last really good new "ritual" to show up in a set. WotC seem to dislike this sort of thing now, so I doubt that's going to change in the near future. But novelty and the direction of game design aside, I'd say that for sheer flexibility, ignoring specific niche applications and combos, Rite of Flame is the second-best burst mana accelerant ever.


The Tentacled One
Like most other "Magic Memories" I've started here, Rite of Flame is a card I don't see too much anymore. I've speculated on the circumstances behind that for some of the others, but for Rite of Flame I think it's pretty obvious. Two format that are especially popular in my area are Modern and Commander. Rite of Flame is banned in Modern and loses much of its functionality in Highlander formats. So of course local players are generally not employing the card in those environments. I'll return the subject of the Modern ban at some point, maybe, but for now, let's focus on the duplicate name mechanic...

A long, long time ago, my Burn deck included Kindle...

I believe that was the first card ever to employ this concept, but it wasn't long before it would appear on another, more powerful card...

I'll gloss over that one because it'll probably be the subject of its own Magic Memories thread at some point. But for a long time, Accumulated Knowledge was king. I used it a great deal myself. WotC apparently like the mechanic enough to bring it back in Odyssey as a cycle of five different cards...

...and to further develop the mechanic, they threw in a couple of creature card that interacted with it...

But only those two creatures. I checked. They didn't do one for each card in the cycle. Well, none of that has anything to do with Ice Age Block and all of it was newer stuff, but the mechanic made a return in Coldsnap for some reason. We got another cycle of five cards, one in each color...

Not that the Odyssey cycle was amazing, but the Coldsnap one is rather weak overall. But Rune Snag is OK in some environments, and then, of course, there's Rite of Flame.


The Tentacled One
Highlander formats have been around since the early 2000's, and the strength of some cards and mechanics has had a pronounced and perfectly understandable departure from traditional 60-card constructed formats. My own introduction to Highlander was the Seattle 150-card version. I noticed that while generally good cards were still good cards and bad cards were still bad cards, there were some important discrepancies. Tutors were already potent, but became even moreso. In a 60-card deck with 4 copies of a card, you're much more likely to find that card than in a 150-card deck with only 1 copy. Of course. So while Demonic Tutor is nice and powerful in a regular deck, it's a godsend in Highlander. Survival of the Fittest has been either banned or a total bomb in every Highlander format I've ever seen. But perhaps it's a little less obvious that staple developmental synergy cards are less effective in Highlander. Um, this isn't a concept I've seen described elsewhere and it should probably be outlined under some form of Magic Theory, but I'm not sure how to do it. Let's see...

What I mean by "staple" is that a deck is built under the assumption that it will be using the effect in question, something that is relied upon to a near-axiomatic extent. So Spidey's Library of Alexandria in his casual control decks definitely would not count. It's quite good and he's almost always happy to see it, but he doesn't really need it to win. He has other options and isn't really primed to go all-in on some "Library plan." If he never draws it or if he does draw it but it gets removed, he might still win with exactly the same general stuff anyway. But usually, Lightning Bolt would be and example for our purposes. I am probably trying to use it early and often, and if I never draw a copy, I'm hoping that I draw other cards that have similar functionality. Usually, I want Lightning Bolt to clear away a blocker or to stop a pesky utility creature. Maybe I use it for something else, like killing a dangerous attacker or a planeswalker. But however I use Lightning Bolt, if I'm not either getting it or something else like it, I'm probably in big trouble. My deck is probably built on the assumption that at some point I'll be able to deal damage to stuff. In a regular casual deck I run 4 copies of Lightning Bolt. In a Highlander deck, I'll only get 1 copy, but I'll also use other cards to do the same sorts of things, perhaps Incinerate, Chain Lightning, Abrade, Forked Bolt, Firebolt, or even something like Fatal Push. I might not draw my Lightning Bolt in a given game, but I don't need Lightning Bolt specifically, just cards that do the same stuff Lightning Bolt does.

What I mean by "developmental synergy" is that the card builds toward a desired outcome with a reliance on multiple cards. And I don't just mean "winning the game." As an example, I'll cite Veteran Explorer, a card I've been fond of in the past. It's featured in Legacy "Nic Fit" decks. These decks tend to deploy Veteran Explorer and sacrifice it to Cabal Therapy, disrupting the opponent and ramping mana for Green Sun's Zenith. They win using some potent interactions. Green Sun's Zenith can fetch an early Veteran Explorer if you don't find one right away, or a second one if you need it. Cabal Therapy can slow the opponent down even without Veteran Explorer. With multiple copies of these cards, a Nic Fit deck can consistently execute its gameplan of putting more basic lands on the battlefield while making sure that it is better than the opponent at using the extra mana. I initially tried to use Veteran Explorer in my Pattern Rector deck because it had similar cards, but I find Veteran Explorer to be lackluster without the redundancy. The card isn't unplayable, but the power it displays in a deck that can use multiple copies and consistently pair them with the right cards just isn't there. I am less likely to have Cabal Therapy in my hand in a Highlander deck, I am less likely to draw Green Sun's Zenith, I cannot use Green Sun's Zenith to grab a second Veteran Explorer, and I can't get a hand with two copies of Green Sun's Zenith. Unlike with Lightning Bolt, I don't really have the option to use other cards that are similar to Veteran Explorer. Even if such cards existed, I still wouldn't have the consistency that comes with multiple copies of the synergies that Veteran Explorer can consistently rely on in other decks. Nic Fit doesn't always play the exact same game: it's a toolbox archetype after all! But it does attempt to consistently construct a specific scenario and without have multiple copies of key cards, that aim is simply not feasible. Notably, Lion's Eye Diamond has never really been a problem in any Highlander format, nor in Vintage with its restriction, and it sees little play. But give people the option to use a playset of the card and it becomes the keystone of a powerful combo deck. Gush is another card that seems to thrive when multiple copies can be used in the course of the same game.

Cards like Accumulated Knowledge and Squadron Hawk happen to be on the extreme end of that spectrum, the most obvious examples of the concept. You could use them in a Highlander deck, but they automatically can never access their full functionality. Perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, we could say there are cards like Tainted Pact, which are relatively awkward in most 60-card constructed environments, but quite powerful in Highlander formats. And that's all fine. It's a specific subcategory of the general trend that cards are better or worse in different environments. A perfectly natural consequence of the the game: if you have different rules in different settings, some cards will perform better in one setting than in another setting.

So I don't really view it as a flaw or a problem and the point seems obvious enough that I wouldn't ordinarily delve into it, except, well...

...Highlander used to be a novelty and with the rise of EDH, it's increasingly becoming a default. A few years after EDH took off, I started to notice that some players appeared to only play EDH, to abandon all other ways to play Magic. And that's fine for those players: they seem to be having fun. But do think that it's a bit disappointing in a game where almost all cards were designed with the 60-card deck size and 4-card rule in mind, a completely different system is taking over. Rite of Flame is just one casualty of this.


The Tentacled One
I didn't pay a lot of attention to Rite of Flame when it first came out, although I did notice that it had some real potential. However, as a combo accelerant in tournament decks, Rite of Flame was conveniently placed in Coldsnap, the set that came out right before Time Spiral. Storm combo in Standard! This was the first, and shall probably stand as the only, era in which a Storm combo deck was prevalent in Standard tournaments.


The Tentacled One
One recurring theme I've touched on with my Comboist Manifesto articles, and probably here in these threads too, is the narrative that the Storm mechanic is heavily maligned as inherently broken and dangerous, something that ruins tournament gameplay by making egregious, uninteractive decks able to win games before opponents can acquire the tools to stop them. It's a narrative I've seen espoused in official articles from WotC and parroted by players, and it's a narrative I emphatically challenge. Major tournament formats have occasionally been afflicted with the dominance of a fast combo archetype, but aside from the exceptional case of the Type 1 format in 2003 following the original release of the Storm mechanic and the widespread adoption of the Lion's Eye Diamond + Yawgmoth's Will mana acceleration engine, those broken combo decks were not Storm decks. It seems like when broken or problematic mechanics are discussed, Storm is always way up there at the tippy-top of the list. And I take issue with that because there's simply no evidence to support it. Despite multiple iterations of Storm-based builds in Extended, despite the availability of the Storm mechanic from day 1 in Legacy, and despite the presence of so many powerful complementary tools in Vintage, there was never some exemplary Degenerate Storm Era to showcase the problem. As scary, volatile mechanics on Magic cards go, Storm has been almost consistently tame. I've described it as producing lots of tier 2 decks.

At some point, I'll (possibly) have finished a full article on this subject. And if I do, an important part of that is going to be the one time that the Storm mechanic made a big splash in Standard. It was fascinating and also kind of revolutionary.

The first time around, most of the good cards for Storm were blue and black. Red was valuable in Type 1 for Wheel of Fortune and Burning Wish (and for the occasional sideboard card), but that was about it. Other than that, red was a poor color for Storm decks. There were two cards with Storm in red...

One was a gimmicky 9-mana spell and the other was an overcosted combat trick. Both were awkward for Storm. At least green got Hunting Pack. Red, along with white, was truly lackluster for a deckbuilder looking to craft a Storm-based combo deck. But the game evolved, and when Time Spiral brought the Storm mechanic back, red was the Storm color. Seriously, all of the new Storm cards were in red. Every single one. And there were some good ones. Aside from the reprint of the formerly underwhelming Dragonstorm, Time Spiral also gave us Grape Shot, Empty the Warrens, and Ignite Memories (and two more obscure cards). But that wasn't all that was on offer for a red Storm combo deck in Standard...

The same set came with a new dragon that could provide a direct damage kill with Dragonstorm...

And it also had cool new "Suspend" cards that could be set up to resolve on the combo kill turn...

The real key to making all of this work, though, was that WotC had shifted the "Ritual" effect from black to red, and they were still printing such cards in Standard. Seething Song was reprinted in Ninth Edition...

And of course there was Rite of Flame. With such a critical mass of Storm-friendly cards in the same color, and with optional help from blue, particularly some synergistic utility from Ravnica Block sets, red Storm decks managed to break into Standard tournament play and rise to the level of...

...adequate. I mean, Standard isn't really in my wheelhouse, but that's what it looked like, and I haven't seen any analysis presenting a contradictory assessment of this. Dragonstorm was a strong deck, but it wasn't even close to dominant. The combo took time to set up and some of the creature-based decks in the format were both fast and disruptive, putting real pressure on it.

When Standard Storm decks lost Seething Song after Ninth Edition rotated out, they moved to a powerful but relatively obscure bit of utility. Like Rite of Flame, it was also from Coldsnap...

If Perilous Research seems merely OK and not really the sort of thing that a strong tournament deck would use, if it seems like in order for it to perform well, it'd require something meaningful to sacrifice, something special that would really make it worthwhile, well...

Oh. Yeah, that works. While I didn't use this combo myself, the application seems obvious enough. And from what little I know about it, this sort of deck continued to rely heavily on Rite of Flame, cementing the card's place as a premier Storm combo deck accelerant.


The Tentacled One
One of the most iconic moments in tournament history that I always see cited is Game 4 of the semifinals of the 2007 World Championships. Pat Chapin and Gabriel Nassif were both playing Dragonstorm decks. Nassif was behind and needed to win the game to get to Game 5, but he got off to a bad start and needed to mulligan to a 4-card hand. Chapin's hand wasn't suited to build toward a quick Dragonstorm kill, so both players built up resources for the first few turns. Telegraphed by Lotus Bloom, Chapin knew that he was in danger from Nassif generating a spell chain and killing him with Ignite Memories, so he set up his own combo kill turn. With Nassif at 18 life (he'd already been hit once with Tarfire on his own turn), Chapin hit him with a suspended Rift Bolt taking him to 15, cast Rite of Flame for mana, then hit him with Tarfire, taking him to 13. Grapeshot dealt another 4 damage, taking Nassif down to 9. Chapin cast Ignite Memories...

At this point, Nassif had to withstand 5 copies. His hand consisted of Ignite Memories, Grapeshot, and Rite of Flame. If he managed to survive to see his next turn, he'd have Lotus Bloom and Rift Bolt cast from the Suspend mechanic, which he could follow up on with Rite of Flame and Grapeshot, taking Chapin down to 13 life and casting his own 5 copies of Ignite Memories. But to get there, he needed Chapin's Ignite Memories to never once reveal his Ignite Memories: even if it revealed Rite of Flame the other 4 times, that'd still take him to 0 life. He also needed Chapin's Ignite Memories to reveal his Rite of Flame at least twice, otherwise the 4 Grapeshot revelations would add up to 8 damage and the other copy of Ignite Memories would kill him no matter what it hit. Helpfully, lots of people did the math after the fact and calculated that Nassif had a 10.7% chance of surviving in this scenario. There were 243 possible configurations of revealed cards, and only 26 of them would not deal lethal damage to him. Nassif wanted to see Ignite Memories 0 times and to see Grapeshot between 0 and 3 times. And when the cards were revealed it went...

1. Grapeshot (Nassif at 7 life).
2. Grapeshot (Nassif at 5 life).
3. Grapeshot (Nassif at 3 life).
4. Rite of Flame (Nassif at 2 life).
5. Rite of Flame (Nassif at 1 life).

He got lucky and survived, but also happened to do so in the most dramatic way possible. I'm not much of a spectator, but I've frequently seen this game cited as one of the most intense moments in the history of competitive Magic, if not the most intense. Which is a little incongruous since it was a Storm mirror match and Storm is supposed to be oh-so-very-unfun, but whatever.

Incidentally, when I mentioned this in the Hypnotic Specter thread...

I don't think that Hypnotic Specter was ever that great against combo decks in the old days either. But perhaps it is worse now compared to historically. I do remember some high-profile Pro Tour game from when Ninth Edition was in Standard and a Hypnotic Specter came in to save the day as a flying blocker against Dragonstorm or some combo deck and bought the turn needed for the aggro player to win the game. But usually, you'd want Hypnotic Specter against control decks. Against combo, it might just not do anything.
...I had zero intention of actually finding the instance I vaguely remembered. But then while looking up that legendary game from the semifinals, I realized that I was thinking of the finals from that same tournament. How convenient for me!

So of course it was actually Tenth Edition, not Ninth Edition. But it was Dragonstorm and I did get the gist of it. Chapin went on to win the fifth game and close out his match against Nassif, so in the finals it was his Dragonstorm deck against Uri Peleg's boring creature-based deck. OK, OK, it was a black/green midrange deck with a white splash for Doran, the Siege Tower. Here's a link. In summary, after lots of back-and-forth, Chapin was able to use Rite of Flame to cast Bogardan Hellkite and burn away the beast token that was threatening to kill him, while also getting Peleg's life low enough that the Hellkite could kill him in one swing, but that meant leaving Peleg's Garruk Wildspeaker alone. On Peleg's turn, he played Riftsweeper and Hypnotic Specter and made another beast token, ensuring that he could block the Bogardan Hellkite and have lethal damage on his own turn. Hypnotic Specter won him the game and the match in its relatively unpopular role as chump-blocker.


The Tentacled One
The Time Spiral era Standard Storm decks powered by Rite of Flame are interesting, and I think between the different combinations they showcase some great tools for how a Storm deck can function. There's a lot more I could touch on, and perhaps I should. It's almost certainly the case that these old Standard decks went on to inspire blue/red Storm in Extended, then later in Modern. And while I haven't seen that much blue/red Storm in casual play, it being perhaps deemed a little cut-throat and also requiring some advanced deck design considerations that don't go into scrubbier decks, I suspect that there's some influence there too. But like I said, I'm not really into Standard and have never really followed it that closely. Sometimes a Standard deck comes along that piques my interest, but I simply don't grind competitive Magic in a way that would make Standard worth it. I'd rather play with and refine my deck over a period of many years, perhaps setting it aside and returning to it later.

But I'd be remiss if I moved on from what I'll loosely call the "Time Spiral era" without mentioning applications for Rite of Flame in formats beyond Standard. It didn't take long for Rite of Flame to revolutionize Belcher decks, and that was my first real experience with the card. And it was part of the basis for "The Extended Perfect Storm." But my favorite development, and perhaps the most important one, was a new Legacy deck called The Epic Storm...

4x City of Brass
4x Gemstone Mine
2x Undiscovered Paradise
1x Tomb of Urami
4x Xantid Swarm
4x Lion's Eye Diamond
4x Lotus Petal
4x Chrome Mox
1x Ill-Gotten Gains
4x Burning Wish
2x Tendrils of Agony
4x Dark Ritual
4x Cabal Ritual
4x Infernal Tutor
4x Plunge into Darkness
1x Diminishing Returns
4x Rite of Flame
1x Empty the Warrens
4x Brainstorm

1x Ill-Gotten Gains
1x Tendrils of Agony
1x Diminishing Returns
3x Empty the Warrens
1x Tranquility
2x Shattering Spree
4x Dark Confidant
1x Earthquake
1x Duress


The Tentacled One
The Epic Storm is probably my favorite Legacy deck. And it's been a small part of the format since 2006, so it's undergone some substantial changes. The only truly consistent features over time have been...
  • Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, and Chrome Mox as mana accelerants.
  • The Lion's Eye Diamond + Infernal Tutor combo.
  • Burning Wish and a corresponding "wish board."
  • Tendrils of Agony and Empty the Warrens as finishers.
  • Brainstorm.
  • I think technically, Duress has always been somewhere in there too, although some versions have run few copies or only run it in the sideboard.
Just about everything else has varied over the years. The rise and fall of other tools in the deck, while it's a topic that interests me, goes a bit beyond the scope of this thread. I'll probably bring up TES more than other decks, though, as it was the one that really got me interested in Rite of Flame as a card and it's the one deck I most associate with Rite of Flame. For most of the history of Legacy, TES has taken a back seat to the more popular Storm deck, ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils). And like I mentioned in my Comboist Manifesto article about Ad Nauseam, the nomenclature here is frustrating because TES tends to cast Ad Nauseam more frequently than ANT does. Again, perhaps that topic is a bit beyond the scope of this thread. Eh, who am I kidding? OK, super-short quick summary version of what happened with that...

TES started out as one of multiple Storm decks that relied on Ill-Gotten Gains, distinguishing itself from the rest of the field by its use of both Tendrils of Agony and Empty the Warrens (other decks might run one or the other, but not both). ANT wasn't built until later, and used Mystical Tutor to consistently find Ad Nauseam. TES incorporated Ad Nauseam as a tool, but continued to use its other tools. At this point, the names made sense because TES, which frequently used Grapeshot at the time, was very much a deck based around different Storm cards and a toolbox approach to winning; ANT was heavily focused on drawing into or tutoring into Ad Nauseam and then using it to get enough cards for a lethal Tendrils of Agony. But then Mystical Tutor was banned and then Past in Flames was printed, so as TES evolved to become the deck better equipped to quickly find and cast Ad Nauseam, ANT evolved bit by bit to use Past in Flames as its Storm engine and to disregard casting Ad Nauseam at all in most of its games. There, that explanation should suffice.

Anyway, ANT has generally been the most popular Storm deck in tournaments. Unfortunately, even though TES isn't really that popular and is actually kind of a cool, versatile toolbox deck anyway, the occasional potential for mana acceleration to line up and give TES a first-turn kill has warped the reputation of Legacy, to the point where most non-Legacy players I interact with have the misconception that these rapid ritual-based Storm kills are what the format is all about. I know this is a source of annoyance for other Legacy fans too, and I'm not really sure why it's so prevalent or what to do about it. Really, TES has never dominated the format and first-turn kills with it are rare. Rite of Flame is good, but it's not that good. Aggro-control and disruptive tempo/beatdown have always been much more prominent in Legacy tournaments.


The Tentacled One
Anyway, an interesting play that has been part of the TES toolbox is to use Infernal Tutor on Rite of Flame as setup for a kill. Ordinarily, Infernal Tutor is paired with Lion's Eye Diamond. But if you don't have it and can't achieve Hellbent, fetching another copy of the mana accelerant that gets better the more copies of it you've played is reasonably strong. In part, it's not so much that Infernal Tutor + Rite of Flame is such a strong combo as it is that Infernal Tutor without Hellbent is kinda a dead card and Rite of Flame is often the target the makes the most of a bad situation. But because TES runs playsets of Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal, as well as generally running multiple copies of Chrome Mox, it's actually reasonably feasible for that extra Rite of Flame (especially if it's #3 or #4) to set up a lethal spell chain, especially with Past in Flames.


The Tentacled One
In a Storm deck or other deck that aims to cast multiple copies of Rite of Flame, the synergy with cards that let the card be recast from the graveyard is profound. In Vintage particularly, the power of Dark Ritual as a mana-production engine with Yawgmoth's Will is well-known. TES achieves a similar effect with Past in Flames. Just showing some quick calculations of total net mana...

First cast
Dark Ritual: 2
Rite of Flame: 1

Second cast
Dark Ritual: 4
Rite of Flame: 3

Third cast
Dark Ritual: 6
Rite of Flame: 6

So, it's at this point Rite of Flame catches up to Dark Ritual. If we resolve a Past in Flames or Yawgmoth's Will, the spells are exiled, and with the number of copies of Rite of Flame in our graveyard shrinking, each recast offers diminishing returns, the opposite of what the card does when cast from our hand. And yet, at the end of the series, Rite of Flame manages to hold parity with Dark Ritual in this instance...

First recast
Dark Ritual: 8
Rite of Flame: 9

Second recast
Dark Ritual: 10
Rite of Flame: 11

Third recast
Dark Ritual: 12
Rite of Flame: 12

It's a tie. And for a mana accelerant, keeping up with Dark Ritual is no small feat. If we're even more generous and allow for a fourth copy being cast from our hand in the same game, Rite of Flame easily surpasses Dark Ritual. But part of why these spell-recasting cards are so powerful in Storm decks is that they convert used ritual spells into both mana and Storm count, while opening up other recast from the graveyard as well, such as Duress. Three copies of Rite of Flame probably won't build to a lethal Storm count, not even all in the same turn and perhaps not even with support from card-drawing spells and other utility. But recast them all from the graveyard and a kill condition is looking much more likely.


The Tentacled One
While TES has probably been the most consistent niche for Rite of Flame in Legacy, the card has also been used in Belcher decks, especially after Belcher decks evolved to use Empty the Warrens as a secondary kill condition. In contrast to Storm decks, which tend to run tutors and card-drawing spells, Belcher isn't as likely to deploy multiple copies of Rite of Flame, so the big advantage of the spell goes to waste. In Belcher, Rite of Flame serves two important functions...
  1. It is part of a critical mass of mana acceleration, alongside the other red "ritual" effects, and the specific power of Rite of Flame isn't so important as having lots of card slots that make more mana and/or bump up the storm count.
  2. Because Rite of Flame only costs R, it can be cast off any of the starting mana-generators in the deck besides Elvish Spirit Guide, and can then fuel the deck's important spells that have a CMC of 2. Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual, and Manamorphose all have potential to advance the deck toward its goal, but they can't be cast off just one Lotus Petal, etc.
Belcher decks would probably still exist in Legacy without Rite of Flame, but the most successful version of the archetype, red with a green splash and Enter the Warrens as a Storm finisher, owes its existence to Rite of Flame. Having played the older Legacy Belcher options, I can say that Rite of Flame was a vital, if perhaps somewhat subtle, revolution for the concept.


The Tentacled One
Perhaps more because of my long-held interest in Legacy as a format than because of sheer coincidence, most of my experience with Rite of Flame has been in either TES or Belcher, the two places that the card found a niche in competitive Legacy. I've dabble with the card in some other casual deck concepts, and I'll examine those, particularly the one that's easy for me to examine because I wrote an article about it. But it seems to make sense to look at Rite of Flame in other tournament formats, not just Legacy...

So, to analyze Rite of Flame in Vintage, well, there are some caveats. To start with, Rite of Flame historically had a reasonable presence as a Vintage-playable card and actually seemed to pick up steam in 2013, then fell off the map in 2014. It's no longer an important card in Vintage. Notably, 2014 was an pivotal year for Vintage, so we could factor that in, but a lot of that was because of Khans of Tarkir, which didn't hit until later on in the year. We could postulate that the disappearance of Rite of Flame was due to delayed effects from sets released in 2013, and that may play a role, but there's nothing definitive there. We could attribute the change to an uptick in Mental Misstep, which naturally preys on the card, but again, that's a tenuous correlation and I think we'd be making a post hoc rationalization there. We could also blame Mishra's Workshop, which actually sounds more plausible, but the timing there strikes me as even worse (the uptick in Mental Misstep didn't ramp up until after Rite of Flame was already out of the metagame, but Shops decks didn't start overtaking the rest of the format for even longer). Alternatively, we could hedge our metagame factors more, just make a more vague assertion about metagame consolidation, but we run into the same problem (the Vintage metagame did get kinda cannibalized, but it wasn't pronounced until well into 2015). With no substantial data-based explanation for a culprit or combination of culprits to explain the disappearance of Rite of Flame, we could turn to faddishness. Knowing me, one might think that's where we're headed: I have been known to attribute some of the features of Vintage in particular to faddishness. But I'm wary of doing that here.

I do think that general metagame consolidation over time and faddishness are probably factors, but to paint a clearer picture of the card's role in Vintage, it is necessary to look at what kind of decks actually used Rite of Flame. The answer is twofold.
  1. Belcher decks.
  2. Rogue decks.
By definition, rogue decks aren't really consistent. They varied over time, and I have seen records online of the card being tried in several different builds. Probably around half of them were some kind of blue/red Storm, but some of the older ones are nonblue decks, and some seem to defy conventional classification. These are just ones that made it into Top 8 results that got preserved on sites I trawl for information, and almost certainly represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what was actually used. But they weren't the "decks to beat" anyway. The evolution of these decks, particularly blue/red Storm, is interesting to try to chart, and I do think I spot some informative developments, but I don't want to blather on too much with my minuscule evidence. I will say that I suspect that Past in Flames provided a potent outlet for the sort of decks that used Rite of Flame, which probably consolidated these decks. At the time Past in Flames was released, Yawgmoth's Will decks was a major consideration and different decks based partially around Yawgmoth's Will were played in the most competitive tournaments. Past in Flames as an unrestricted card reminiscent of the most powerful play in the format was a titillating new tool for deck-brewers, and the synergy with Rite of Flame was obvious. But developments were already underway that would shift the usage of the graveyard in Vintage, and Past in Flames fell by the wayside. Perhaps as Rite of Flame decks had all become Past in Flames decks and Past in Flames decks were abandoned, the dropoff in Rite of Flame appearances was more due to this than due to a strict metagame consolidation.
I was going to address Belcher specifically, but that's probably wrong. Belcher is merely the most prominent in a suite of glass cannon combo decks, and some of the non-Belcher decks in this class themselves used Rite of Flame (including the aforementioned Past in Flames Storm decks). Although I haven't actually produced or viewed charts on this, I do feel somewhat confident in stating that glass cannon combo decks have a tendency to ebb and flow in the metagame over time. When the metagame is fast and features a lot of early disruption, combo players tend to focus on decks that can protect themselves and make room for anti-hate cards like Defense Grid or Hurkyl's Recall. When the metagame starts to slow down a little, more glass cannon combo decks crop up to prey on opponents who are packing relatively few tools to stop them. Rather than looking at Rite of Flame as a "Belcher deck card" or a "UR Storm card", I think I'd simplify it as a "glass cannon combo deck card." It seems to have had a decent share of appearances in glass cannon combo decks even back in 2007, mostly in Belcher decks but surprisingly also in a variety of other fast red-based concepts. But it was very rare in decks like TPS or Gush Storm. Glass cannon combo has always waxed and waned, and Rite of Flame, as a card used primarily in such decks, seems to have followed suit.
Blah, blah, blah, with all that in mind, the proper question might not be "Why did Rite of Flame drop off?" It might be "Why did Rite of Flame never bounce back again?" And when I frame it in that way, I actually think it's an easier question to answer. I'd cite the following factors (in no particular order)...
  1. Belcher decks shifted away from red and became mostly blue. I do see a few strong finishes for red-based Belcher in 2016 and one in 2017, the only apparent results for Rite of Flame since 2013. But most Belcher decks since 2014 have been blue.
  2. Dredge gained enough tools to make it more consistent and more robust than Past in Flames decks, so an extremely fast, graveyard-reliant deck took over that niche and outcompeted the one that used Rite of Flame.
  3. With graveyard hate becoming more prevalent, Rite of Flame was weakened as collateral damage. No one was boarding in or maindecking more graveyard hate to stop Rite of Flame specifically, but the card gets stronger with more copies in the graveyard and if opponents are exiling card from your graveyard for other reasons, Rite of Flame suffers from that.
  4. The advent of Dark Petition, and later the unrestriction of Yawgmoth's Bargain, made red-based Storm decks an inferior option to Dark Ritual decks.
  5. The near ubiquity of Mental Misstep weakened one-drop spells. Again, Rite of Flame wasn't a primary target of this, but was hit as collateral damage.
  6. The rise of Shops decks, which have a lot of first-turn plays capable of shutting down glass cannon combo, put up another barrier against a Rite of Flame resurgence. The restriction of Chalice of the Void mitigated this somewhat, but it was always a bad matchup and it started being a more prolific matchup.
The most damning factor holding back Rite of Flame in the present day is probably that in Vintage, it just doesn't slot well into the reasonably successful blue/black Storm builds or into Paradoxical Outcome decks, and those are the best combo decks in the format. DPS/Bargain and such can make better use of Cabal Ritual, and there just aren't enough strong red cards for these decks to warrant Rite of Flame.


The Tentacled One
And now we come to Extended. Whenever I try to cover a card's tournament history in one of these threads, the Extended format seems to be the place that's likeliest to become a mess. The same card can survive multiple rotations and be used in different ways in different times. It gets even weirder for cards that rotated out and then were reprinted later. I was never really into Extended, but I have seen some very cool decks emerge from the format, and I don't want to just ignore it. So let's see...

Looking back at the record, Coldsnap rotated out of Extended at the same time as Mirrodin Block, Kamigawa Block, Ravnica Block, and Ninth Edition. So it was available in the format for about four years (July of 2006 to July of 2010). In that time, it showed up in a range of decks including aggro, combo, and aggro-combo. Pretty much anything that could use red mana and could use a mana boost akin to Dark Ritual. Roughly in order of appearance, Rite of Flame saw play in...

-Goblins: pretty much exactly what you'd expect if you're familiar with Onslaught Block. Very aggressive, and having your creatures hit the board faster is good.
-TEPS (The Extended Perfect Storm): a deck I've talked about in other Magic Memories threads, powered by Rite of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Chrome Mox, Lotus Bloom, Seething Song, and other mana acceleration. Notably the only major sanctioned tournament deck to employ a full playset of Mind's Desire.
-Demigod Stompy: aggro combo deck with red mana rituals to ramp into big creatures (Demigod of Revenge, Deus of Calamity) or into Empty the Warrens.
-"Bubble" Hulk: a deck that would become better known when it would resurface in Modern, using Rite of Flame to rush out Through the Breach on Protean Hulk (which then dies and sets up an infinite combo).
-Dragonstorm: the Extended version of the Standard deck I already talked about.
-Hive Mind: used rituals to rush out Hive Mind, forcing the opponent to copy a Pact card and lose the game to the Pact's trigger.
-Ad Nauseam: used Angel's Grace to let Ad Nauseam dig up the whole library, a precursor to Modern Ad Nauseam decks.
-Ascension Combo: once Pyromancer Ascension was active, Rite of Flame could generate tons of mana for an Ignite Memories kill.
-Belcher: not as strong as red-based Belcher lists in Legacy or Modern, but still viable.

But the two most important were probably TEPS and Demigod Stompy.


The Tentacled One
Behold, the card that got Rite of Flame banned in Modern!

So, um, I guess that, ah...

I don't know. It's really not bad. I mean, I never want to miss an opportunity to make fun of Modern, and Swath seems rather innocuous by itself, but I guess it actually is pretty powerful. It was used in some TEPS lists, and notably makes Grapeshot much deadlier, even at a modest Storm count. The catch is that because of the "discard your hand" clause, you generally want to cast Pyromancer's Swath and then go off on the same turn, and that's mana-intensive. Running some number of red mana-producing spells helps with that.

Although red-based Storm decks did not dominate Modern, WotC had a stated goal of slowing the format down, and Rite of Flame was one of the best tools for enabling fast kills. So the card didn't last long in the format. Seething Song would later get the axe for similar reasons. I don't want to beat a dead horse (in this thread), so I'll simply note that I do not like the rationale that was/is displayed in curating the Modern ban list. Erik Lauer said of Rite of Flame...

Before Pro Tour Philadelphia, the DCI's stated guideline for the Modern format was to avoid having decks that consistently win the game on turn three. With the results of the Pro Tour in, we are tweaking that goal to not having top-tier decks that consistently win on turn three (or earlier). We also have the goal of maintaining a diverse format.

Seeing the results, these still seem like reasonable goals. The Pro Tour is the highest level of competition, and the best deckbuilders in the world are likely to find the fastest and strongest decks. Many found blazingly fast decks. However, the winning deck could not deliver 20 damage (or equivalent) in less than four turns, and the second-place deck could very rarely do that either. This shows that the format has the potential to meet the initial vision, but it is not there yet.
...and of Seething Song a couple years later...

The DCI's other primary goal for Modern is to not have top tier decks that frequently win on turn three (or earlier). Looking at the results of the recent tournaments, Storm is not the most played deck, but it is among the top tier of decks. Four of the players to get at least 18 points at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica were playing Storm, and Olivier Ruel had a Top 8 performance at Grand Prix Lyon playing Storm. On Magic Online, Storm is the second-most-frequent high-finishing deck in Modern events, at 11.42%, behind only Jund. These results indicate that, while far from dominant, Storm is a top tier deck.

Looking at the results of games, turn-three wins are frequent for Storm, contrary to the DCI's stated goals for the format. The DCI looked for a card that was very important to the turn-three wins but not one of the cards that make this deck unique. We decided Seething Song is the best choice. Even with no other mana acceleration, one can cast Seething Song on turn three and it gives a net acceleration of +2 mana. While there are other options for fast mana, none appear as efficient and reliable on turn three as Seething Song.
So that was the basis for these bans. I give him credit for lucid explanations that appear to be consistent in their vision. I just completely disagree with the value of such a vision in the first place.

And I can't help but suspect that this helped set a precedent: when a Storm combo deck is demonstrably not the best, but could arguably be second-best, that means it's overpowered and should be curtailed by a ban.


The Tentacled One
Remember this article? I do! That became one of my most cherished casual decks and really, as of this time, one of the last 60-card casual constructed decks I actually built. Ultimately, I think of 60-card casual constructed as the "pure" form of Magic, but it seems to be a a dying art in my local community. To be fair, Wheel in Flames was one of those "unfair" decks anyway (and was deliberately always intended to be just that). So really, there's not much else to say about it. I mean, I guess I could say "Wheel of Fortune is fun." Rite of Flame is fun. Past in Flames is fun. Ignite Memories is fun. The deck was a blast to pilot, albeit a rather one-dimensional experience.

Speaking of which, I guess I'm now probably overdue on that whole "I'll come up with other Multiplayer Burn decks" thing. Oops. :oops:


The Tentacled One
The first "Magic Memories" thread I started here was for Dark Ritual. In that thread, Melkor and I both commented on the striking disappearance of Dark Ritual in aggro decks, as for most of the 1990's, the card was strongly associated with black aggro decks. I raised that topic again in the more recent Hypnotic Specter thread, so I don't want to overdo it. However, there's tangential relevance to Rite of Flame, a card that was first printed after the shift of Dark Ritual from an aggro card to an aggro/control card and finally to a combo card had already fully manifested. Because it came out in 2006, Rite of Flame was already viewed as a combo card right away. For tournaments, anyway.

Actually, as an aside, I should note that most of the casual usage of Rite of Flame I witnessed, prior to my own adoption of the card, was in instances of bad, newbish deck design. If inexperienced deckbuilders were still pulling Rite of Flame out of their packs today, we'd see the same thing. Something like "First turn Mountain, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, cast this big dragon." These "living the dream" scenarios are predicated on unattractive levels of variance, and it tends to be inexperienced players who go in for this sort of thing. More experienced deckbuilders are keen to how unreliable these fantasy scenarios are, so they tend to dismiss them and focus on more consistent methods. Except Psarketos. He knows better, but that doesn't stop him. A madman, I tell you!

As another aside, with Dark Ritual falling out of favor in Eternal formats except in Storm combo decks, and with most imitators being less efficient, and therefore only succeeding in that same little niche, I suspect that WotC R&D came to a distorted view of the general power level of mana burst "ritual" effects. As they're some of my favorite cards, of course I find this development unfortunate. Is Rite of Flame too strong for Modern? I'm the wrong guy to ask, as I've been advised, confidently and repeatedly, that Counterspell is too strong for Modern, a statement I find so bafflingly alien that I experience reflexive revulsion at the very concept. So I'll talk about Modern. Of course I'll talk about Modern: it's a popular format and one of my principle values as a person who pretends to be an "analyst" of the game is to encompass a broad scope of different formats/variants/environments/playstyles/whatever. I'll talk about it, but with the dramatic, bold-faced Surgeon General's warning: No one should listen to what this man has to say.

But we've gotten off track. And where the track was leading was back to a highly competitive deck from the Extended format. It was perhaps the longest-running and most successful Rite of Flame deck in the format's history. And it wasn't a Storm combo deck. "And what," you ask, "was this mysterious deck?" To which I respond, "Did you not read Post #14 of this thread? I already mentioned it there." And then you either say, "Oversoul, you're a jerk" or perhaps "Oh, it must be Demigod Stompy." One of those two responses, I assume. Anyway, let's focus on the second one...

Demigod Stompy did use Empty the Warrens, but it wasn't remotely like most Storm combo decks. I called it aggro-combo before, but that's an unusual designation and it didn't have much in common with other decks I've thrown into that category. And unlike what one might expect from a red aggro deck, it didn't use cheap, efficient creatures, nor direct damage spells. But hey, it worked. The real game is more complex than our theoretical classification systems. So, here's a sample decklist from 2008.

3 Magus of the Moon
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Deus of Calamity
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Seething Song
1 Shattering Spree
3 Empty the Warrens
4 Rite of Flame
3 Blood Moon
1 Umezawa's Jitte
2 Trinisphere
4 Chrome Mox
19 Mountain

3 Chalice of the Void
2 Dead // Gone
1 Magus of the Moon
4 Martyr of Ashes
2 Shattering Spree
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Umezawa's Jitte

The concept is fairly transparent, but doesn't really use most of those cards in the way that other tournament decks used them. Rite of Flame, Chrome Mox, Simian Spirit Guide, Seething Song, and Desperate Ritual let the deck consistently jump ahead on mana, deploying threats. From there, Magus of the Moon, Blood Moon, and Trinisphere proactively hinder most responses that opponents would use to deal with these threats. Demigod of Revenge, and to a lesser extent the swarms of goblins created by Empty the Warrens, are "sticky" threats that aren't easily dealt with by a lot of the common answer cards used against creatures. But this isn't a robust, controlling "attrition" kind of deck. It does try to close out games quickly. It just happens to protect itself with some of the same tools that more controlling "red prison" builds also use. Not an archetype that defies description, but one that doesn't really fit into the more common molds. This archetype might be a cousin of the Legacy "Dragon Stompy" or "Mono-Red Prison" decks. Where Demigod Stompy had to rely on rituals to accelerate its gameplan, the Legacy versions have Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. The Legacy decks also employ more control tools, such as maindeck Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge. Demigod Stompy, in contrast was more of an all-or-nothing approach.

Well, Demigod Stompy is interested, but if you are inclined to dismiss it as "just another combo deck" then I'll fall back on Rite of Flame as a staple in old Extended Goblins decks, which were indisputably aggro decks. In both Demigod Stompy and in Goblins, Rite of Flame effectively relived the glory days of Dark Ritual as an aggro accelerant. And the demonstrable success of the card in a role that isn't fast combo is what I think sets it apart from similar cards. Yes, Seething Song is good. And I do love combo decks. But really, only two "ritual" cards in the history of the game have truly proven themselves as strong general mana accelerants that are worth using even when the goal isn't to chain spells into a fast combo kill. Those are Dark Ritual and Rite of Flame.


The Tentacled One
In tournament combo decks, Rite of Flame has had a noticeable connection to Past in Flames. The two really do synergize. But what's not so apparent from tournament Magic is that probably the strongest synergy for Rite of Flame is Wheel of Fortune. My Wheel in Flames deck showcases this. But it's a strictly "casual" deck. Because Wheel of Fortune has generally been banned or restricted in almost every setting, and certainly in every sanctioned format, the gameplay of being able to power out Wheel of Fortune with red "ritual" spells, reload, and do it again isn't something player usually get to experience. And while I used Seething Song, Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, and Lotus Petal in that deck, Rite of Flame is the one that really gets mileage out of Wheel of Fortune. Drawing 7 cards multiple times increases the chances of hitting a second, third, and even fourth copy of Rite of Flame.

I've covered most of what I want to say about Rite of Flame. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a certain rogue Legacy deck I've been following. It's not a major player in tournaments yet and perhaps it never will be, but it is a fun idea and somewhat similar to the other concepts I've talked about. The archetype is known as "Ruby Storm." Red-based Storm decks were once popular in other formats, in part thanks to the acceleration provided by Rite of Flame. But this version takes full advantage of the vast Legacy card pool and some new printings. So with apologies to Modern enthusiasts (OK, not really), I think Ruby Storm takes "your" version of a Storm deck to the next level and manages to be way more interesting.

The deck isn't at all well-established in the Legacy metagame, so exact decklists vary considerably, but it generally squeezes a lot of usage out of some cards that aren't legal in Modern...

I selected printings to show that with the exception of the glorious $200 Lion's Eye Diamond, all of these cards are technically pretty recent printings and could easily be Modern-legal if WotC wanted to allow for that, but they don't want to do that because they want the format to suck.

Anyway, the other thing that makes this whole deck come together is some pretty potent Modern-legal card advantage stuff that the mana acceleration can ramp into...

In the past, I've mostly panned Reforge the Soul and Hazoret's Undying Fury. While I maintain that's fair, and after all this deck isn't actually that good, this deck is really able to make them work.


The Tentacled One

New Modern Horizons spoiler that might be of interest to the sort of decks using Rite of Flame. Especially our Multiplayer Burn Deck!

"When ~ enters the battlefield, each opponent gains 10 life.

Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, put a verse counter on ~, then it deals damage equal to the number of verse counters on it to target player or planeswalker."