Going into Pro Tour Fate Reforged I knew that since most of Team TCGplayer would be playing in the Grand Prix that were taking place the weekend prior to the Pro Tour there would be a very limited amount of in-person testing time. As a result a lot of time was spent jamming games online and going over how various Modern archetypes would be affected by the recent bannings and unbannings. The anticipation was that Abzan would be the most played deck and that was certainly the case, but because of this it was important to have a great Abzan list before playing it. I just didn't feel like there was a good way to get an edge in the mirror and this was one of the primary factors that went into me declining to play Abzan, though it was a frontrunner for a while. It was the day before the Pro Tour when I finally decided to play Burn.
Burn is a deck that is a scary choice because of all of the potential hate cards that are available, and if those hate cards are present they can be very difficult to deal with. My own teammates playing Zoo were packing Phyrexian Unlife in their boards and the very idea of that is scary. Burn may be the deck with the best game one matchups in Modern, so I knew that it would be important to configure the sideboard in a way that would be able to combat the various hate cards other decks bring in versus Burn. Here is what I played at the Pro Tour:
Burn is a deck that simply wants to play as many of the best burn spells available in the format. This means that there are a lot of four-ofs and not a ton of slots to play around with. First of all this deck has nineteen lands. This may seem very risky and it is true that nineteen lands is a very low land count, but I stand by the choice. Burn is a deck that doesn't mulligan well, and needs a high density of spells to win; in addition all the spells are essentially one or two mana (Rift Bolt is really one mana because of suspend). There are thirteen fetchlands in the deck which not only makes Grim Lavamancer and Searing Blaze better, but it helps to thin lands out of your deck. The other reason for all the fetchlands is to have access to Kor Firewalker and Destructive Revelry after board.
Kor Firewalker is a card that isn't currently being played in all Burn lists, but it gives you a huge advantage in sideboarded games. Having it on turn two is very important which means that having as many potential white sources as possible is quite important. By having thirteen fetchlands there are also essentially fourteen green sources for Destructive Revelry, which is the card I boarded in the most throughout the tournament. Destructive Revelry answers a hate card while also being a Burn spell, and a great card versus Affinity.
I was very happy with the sideboard configuration for the tournament. Having the additional Lightning Helix is another card that comes in versus the mirror, and can come in against Zoo as well. The majority of Team TCGplayer decided to play Burn because we think it is the best deck in Modern right now. We also had a ton of sideboard cards for the mirror because that is a matchup where you can actually make the matchup very favorable by boarding in a lot of cards. Path to Exile is the card we thought was the best out to Kor Firewalker as well as coupling as an all-purpose removal spell versus other aggressive decks, or Kitchen Finks. It does not come in against the Abzan decks without Kitchen Finks though. Boarding Path to Exile means generally you are taking out Burn spells and most of the time this deck just wants to send all burn spells at the opponents face and not worry about creatures in play.
Molten Rain is pretty standard in the sideboard of this deck and is great against Abzan and other decks relying on non-basic lands to win, like Amulet Combo and Tron. It is of course much better on the play, and is less good against the versions of Abzan with early mana creatures. It is a bit risky to play Molten Rain in a nineteen land deck so I definitely wouldn't recommend the full four.
The last card I want to talk about is the one card in the sideboard that may seem a bit unusual, and that is Deflecting Palm. This card can be fantastic in a number of matchups. First off it comes in for the mirror as basically a way to Redirect an opposing burn spell. Against Affinity this can be insane when redirecting damage from a creature with Cranial Plating on it. It is important to be aware that if they have two black up the Cranial Plating can be moved though after the Deflecting Palm is cast, or if an Arcbound Ravager is in play the source of damage can be sacrificed after the Deflecting Palm resolves. The key part about Deflecting Palm is that it doesn't target which means against a deck like Boggles with large hexproof creatures or an Emrakul the Aeons Torn all of a sudden a single Deflecting Palm can Redirect the damage from a huge creature and swing the game in your favor. The last matchup where Deflecting Palm is great is infect. When the infect player goes for the kill you can Deflecting Palm preventing the damage from their large creature and dealing the damage back as a source of regular damage. Cards like Wild Defiance and Apostle's Blessing don't get around Deflecting Palm.
Normally I don't talk about the sideboard before the maindeck but for Burn the sideboard configuration is in many ways more important than the maindeck. One of the more unusual maindeck inclusions is the singleton Grim Lavamancer. This can be a great source of recurring damage and is perfect for matchups like Affinity where it can ping away a bunch of opposing creatures. I don't like playing too many Grim Lavamancers because most of the time you would rather play a Monastery Swiftspear or Goblin Guide on the first turn which can mean the Grim Lavamancer can become more like a turn three play. Since Grim Lavamancer doesn't have haste it also doesn't get in for immediate damage so sorcery speed removal like Liliana of the Veil or Maelstrom Pulse can take out Grim Lavamancer without it being able to get in any damage. Besides the Grim Lavamancer the other creatures are essentially a prerequisite for Burn decks right now. There are times where you shave an Eidolon of the Great Revel or two on the draw just because there are matchups where drawing multiples is pretty awkward.
One of the spells that I played four copies of is Searing Blaze, and it might be the best burn spell in the deck. There are other burn lists that I have seen which opt to play a couple Searing Blazes main and board the rest but this is definitely wrong. There are matchups where having a spell that kills an opposing creatures and bolts the opponent is a game changer. It is true that there are matchups where Searing Blaze is less than stellar but there are very few Modern decks with no creatures whatsoever. Against decks like say Twin, Amulet Combo, Scapeshift, or Tron there are some creatures in the deck and you can usually hold a fetchland until firing off the Searing Blaze as a Lightning Bolt. In other matchups like the mirror, Infect, or Affinity Searing Blaze is your best spell in the deck. Even against Abzan it is reasonable, as nabbing a Scavenging Ooze, Noble Hierarch, or even a Lingering Souls token is good.How I Made Top 8
Next week I will be going into some more detail about the Burn deck and how to sideboard, but I want to talk now about what my experience was like at Pro Tour Fate Reforged. First of all this was my first Pro Tour Top 8 and there have been times when I have thought it would never happen. This is my greatest magic accomplishment to date, and it took a lot out of me.
For my first draft I had teammate Jarvis Yu on my right and Platinum Pro Alexander Hayne to my left. I ended up heading into Sultai as both Jarvis and Hayne were white-red so picking up the other three colors seemed like the natural choice. While this was a straight three color deck it had six non-basic enters the battlefield tapped lands including a tri-land so my mana was quite good. Sultai is a color combination that has the most access to card advantage and I was able to pick up some defensive creatures and a few solid removal spells. The deck wasn't filled with bombs or anything but it was solid, and sometimes a solid deck is exactly what you want to go 3-0.
For rounds four through eight I was playing constructed and in order I played against Burn, Affinity, Abzan, Merfolk, and Affinity, winning each of those matches. None of these archetypes are bad matchups for Burn, and the right cards showed up for me at the right time. Drawing my singleton Grim Lavamancer versus Affinity for example was spectacular. As I went through each of these matches I started putting more pressure on myself, and each one seemed more important. Going into day two sitting in first place is more than I could have hoped for, but at the same time I put pressure on myself because Top 8 eight was suddenly very attainable.
My day two draft was the most nerve wracking draft I have ever participated in. My first three picks in order were: Wild Slash (over Atarka, World Render), Sage-Eye Avengers, and Cloudform. These are all very strong cards and I shouldn't have gotten Sage-Eye Avengers second pick as in my opinion there is no better uncommon. After this start I grabbed a Swiftwater Cliffs and just moved into straight Blue/Red. There was never a terribly strong reason to be more than two colors as having a solid manabase is super important. Yes I won my round nine match by Clever Impersonating my own Sage-Eye Avengers. This was the most clutch 3-0 of my career and put me in a fantastic position to make top eight.
I was able to win round 12 against Jelger Wiegersma playing Blue/Red Twin to virtually clinch Top 8. Who would have thought it...12-0 at the Pro Tour? I never thought that Top 8 would come in this fashion as I had been anticipating more of a sweat. I ended up not playing quite my best magic and getting a little bit unlucky to drop the next three matches and limp into top eight at 12-3-1, which was still good enough for the fourth seed.
My match against Amulet Combo in the Top 8 was certainly stressful as it is one of Burn's worst matchups. You basically have to hope the Amulet deck doesn't draw very well. Games two and three were lopsided and not particularly interesting. Game one I lost but upon further reflection I should have been able to anticipate the line Justin Cohen took to beat me that game, which was on the last turn drawing an untapped land, exiling Simian Spirit Guide, and Hive Minding me out. Losing that game was a tough pill to swallow as the Amulet Combo deck has so many lines available to it and sometimes you lose before realizing exactly what you could have done differently.
In the end Pro Tour Fate Reforged may very well have been the greatest experience of my life. The spotlight was on me and the pressure was at an all-time high, but in the end I am walking away with a Pro Tour Top 8 which I have always dreamed about. The support I have received from friends and teammates makes the accomplishment that much more special. I now have a very real shot at hitting Platinum this year, so hopefully I can keep putting up good results!
Thanks for reading!