Vs Burn

(last updated 5/31/18)


Role:  Control

Best cards (main):   Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Batterskull, Umezawa’s Jitte

Worst cards (main): Phyrexian Revoker, Mirran Crusader

Best cards (side): Ethersworn Canonist, Circle of Protection: Red, Warmth

Revoker targets: Grim Lavamancer

Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Number: 1


Sample Decklists

Joshua Olsen, 8th place at a Legacy Super IQ on 6/19/16

Eric Miller, 13th place at a Legacy Classic on 5/15/16

Deck Strategy and Key Cards

Burn is an aggro deck that is bordering on a combo deck. The catch there is that the combo is ~6 cards that do damage plus a couple of Mountains. Burn utilizes a large number of “Lightning Bolt” clones that all do three damage for a single mana. Since Burn plays so many cheap, efficient ways at whittling down the opponent’s life, it should regularly be able to deal 20 damage by turn three or four. Since most Legacy decks run fetchlands, it more realistically needs to only deal 18 damage; that means Burn will have its opponent dead after 5-6 spells in most cases.

Burn sometimes plays out like a tempo deck. A Goblin Guide or Monsatery Swiftspear on turn one can deal an absurd amount of damage over the course of the game; as such, it is worth it to use a burn spell or two on opposing creatures to continue pushing damage with it. It’s not uncommon for a Goblin Guide to push about six points of damage, which is a pretty ridiculous return on investment. Similarly, an Eidolon of the great Revel can do a surprising amount of damage to an opponent who is constantly casting Brainstorm and Ponder.

Burn has very few ways of truly interacting with its opponent. That means that every game is a race: kill your opponent before they can do whatever broken thing their deck does. Price of Progress is the great equalizer on that front; while not quite as objectively powerful as, say, Show and Tell, this card regularly does 6-8 damage in many matchups, which is a pretty insane. Fireblast is a way to quickly push the last few points of damage, and Sulfuric Vortex provides inevitability against the more fair decks of the format.

The Matchup and Important Interactions

You are the control deck. You need to slow down the game long enough for your controlling elements to take over the game. You will rarely be able to just race your opponent; their cards are far more efficient at doing damage than ours. Thalia is perhaps the most important card in the matchup. Burn is built on the pure efficient of one mana spells; when the average casting cost of their spells doubles, their kill speed halves. A Thalia with Mom backup is bad news for your opponent.

Burn will kill you quickly, but luckily, Batterskull and Umezawa’s Jitte are both great at gaining life back. One connection with either will net you four life. A second connection will likely put the game out of reach for your opponent. In terms of fetching, getting Jitte is a little safer than Batterskull most of the time. It feels pretty bad if your opponent just Bolts your Stoneforge, leaving the Batterskull stranded in your hand. Another thing to keep in mind is that Fireblast will kill a Germ token equipped with a Batterskull, so don’t always assume that you’ve won if you get Batterskull in play. It’s also more common than it used to be for Burn decks to run Sulfuric Vortex in the main, so you might not even get a chance to gain life at all!

The Burn matchup is often won at 1-2 life, so don’t give your opponent any slack. At competitive REL, remember, they need to announce their triggers, and you do not have to remind them. I don’t know how many Sulfuric Vortex and Eidolon of the Great Revel triggers my opponents have missed, but I imagine it is upwards of 100. Without getting into the exact text of the IPG, those triggers are considered missed once something happens that shows that you have moved passed them (e.g. drawing a card, an opponent telling you that a spell has resolved, moving to a new phase). Similarly, they need to announce their triggers for their own spells; if they do not, call a judge to make sure that gets handled properly.

Since games are won on such small margins, it’s often fine to cast Swords to Plowshares on one of your own creatures to gain a little life. This is especially true when you have redundant threats or a piece of equipment that will win you the game if you survive a few more turns. Some threats like Brimaz, King of Oreskos are difficult to remove and present a quick clock, so if you can set those up to close the game, they will do so easily.

It’s common for Burn decks to run 1-2 Grim Lavamancer depending on how the metagame looks at any given time, so that should be your go-to Revoker target. It’s unlikely that your opponent will have other targets, so if you have a second Revoker, throw it on Grim Lavamancer as well.

Sanctum Prelate is usually best played on one to eliminate the greatest number of spells, but that won’t always be true. Sometimes you just need to live for one extra turn to lock up the game; in those cases, it can be correct to name the number that would potentially deal you the most damage, that is, six for Fireblast. In post-sideboard games, two shuts off Searing Blaze and Smash to Smithereens, while three shuts off Ensnaring Bridge and Sulfuric Vortex.

If you fear Burn or have quite a bit of it in your local metagame, you have fantastic choices ranging from Circle of Protection: Red to Warmth to Kor Firewalker. The first two options work particularly well if you are running Enlightened Tutor. I don’t think it’s worth running dedicated Burn hate for bigger events, unless it’s something that has applications elsewhere such as Absolute Law.

Generally, you’ll want to bring in cards that slow down Burn’s gameplan like Ethersworn Canonist as well as any additional removal you have. I like to bring in Council’s Judgment as an out to Ensnaring Bridge and Sulfuric Vortex. I tend to trim Mirran Crusader and Phyrexian Revokers to make room. Mirran Crusader provides a swift clock, but dies easily. Revoker shuts off Grim Lavamancer, but it otherwise very mediocre in the matchup. It’s also fine to cut Sword of Fire and Ice, as it is the piece of equipment you are least likely to fetch. If you have Sword of War and Piece, it will do plenty of work here as well.

Your opponent will likely be bringing in more removal like Searing Blaze and Grim Lavamancer. Smash to Smithereens means that your equipment is a little less likely to stick around (this is also another reason why I like trimming or cutting Revoker). I’m most afraid of Ensnaring Bridge, truth be told, and I will often hold back a Flickerwisp in this matchup just in case something goes wrong. Flickerwisp can also blink a Sulfuric Vortex for a turn so that you can gain some life.

Closing Thoughts
The average Burn player you’ll run into at an event is not going to play the deck anywhere close to optimally. Many players view Burn as a great point of entry for Legacy, as the deck doesn’t run expensive staples and it is relatively easy to convert Modern Burn to Legacy Burn. It’s also common for players to have a Burn deck sitting around that they will hand to their buddies to play when they randomly want to go to an Open or GP. After all, Burn is “an easy deck to play.” I really disagree with that comment, and I wish it wasn’t so common. A single mistake when playing Burn will cost you the match a large percentage of the time. Missing a single point of damage is huge. Missing two or three points over the course of a match will be the difference between a win and a loss.

I say all of that so that I can throw some matchup percentages here. I think that against the average Burn player, D&T is favored by at least 10%, probably more. If your opponent misses triggers or sequences poorly, they are just throwing games away. I encourage you to play all of your games out against Burn, as I’ve won games I definitely didn’t deserve to when my opponent missed an Eidolon of the Great Revel trigger when I was at two life. Against a veteran Burn player who really knows their stuff, this matchup is pretty even, and you’ll really be sweating it. Their aggressive, creature-based draws are going to be hard to beat, but their slower, spell-based draws are going to work out relatively well for you. With mono-white builds, I find myself winning this matchup most of the time unless my opponent has Smash to Smithereens.

Data as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 6-1 (85.7%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 2-4 (33.3%)