Last week I analyzed some of the most successful Esper Control builds, which ended up being pretty useful information given that Esper dominated both of the major tournaments since then (SCG LA and GP Cincinnati). The main deck I recommended at the end of the article was nearly identical to the list Kyle Boggemes won the Grand Prix with, which improves my confidence in the method. My confidence that I can pilot a control deck, however... Well, let's leave that for another day.
The big question for this week is, "How to beat Esper?"
Since one of the toughest matchups for Esper among the other top decks is Boros Burn, this week I am going to analyze Boros Burn in the same way that I analyzed Esper Control last week. The goal will be to find the best positioned version of Boros Burn for this coming weekend.
The seven builds I will compare today are as follows:
1. Vidianto Wijaya's Top 4 build from SCG Los Angeles2. Ariel Nagy's Top 16 build from Grand Prix Buenos Aires3. Lucas Paletta's Top 16 build from Grand Prix Buenos Aires4. Redzone91's first place build from the 3/15 MTGO Premier Event5. Christopher Lam's Top 16 build from SCG Los Angeles6. Neil Hartman's first place build from SCG Seattle7. Mafmaf's first place build from the 3/14 MTGO Premier Event
Let's start with the creatures.
All seven builds ran four copies of Chandra's Phoenix, which is not much of a surprise. It's a hard to deal with evasive threat with haste that synergizes with the burn plan of the deck.
Everyone but mafmaf ran the full four copies of Ash Zealot as well. It is a bit surprising to me that mafmaf omitted Ash Zealot. It doesn't synergize well with Burning-Tree Emissary, but I suppose the Emissary is more important than the Zealot in his higher creature density build. Young Pyromancer and Satyr Firedancer allow mafmaf to maintain a board presence while killing opposing creatures with burn spells. He is a bit more vulnerable to Supreme Verdict for this reason, but he seems generally better positioned against decks where you want to target creatures with your burn spells.
Mafmaf is also faster with seven one-drops (four Rakdos Cackler and three Firedrinker Satyr). Interestingly enough, despite being the deck that is best able to make use of the indestructible mode on Boros Charm, he is also the only version that does not run Boros Charm. The reasoning for this omission is likely that he wants all of his spells to be able to kill a creature, thus taking full advantage of the Satyr Firedancer.
Hartman and Lam each ran two copies of Stormbreath Dragon while everyone else decided to have their curve stop at Warleader's Helix. The dragon is another potent threat against control decks and gives the deck a legitimate way to finish a game when the opponent is able to somehow Stave Off the burn plan. The cost is that you'll frequently have an uncastable do-nothing in your hand until you finally hit five mana. I like the first copy but I think I'd rather have the fourth Helix over the second copy, and six cards that cost 4+ is too many for this deck.
Hartman is also the only player to run Boros Reckoner, and he runs the full four copies. Boros Reckoner is great against aggressive decks and pretty miserable against control. To make room for the dragon and the minotaur, he cut Shock and Skullcrack. Shock and Reckoner are each great against aggro and not great against control while dragon and Skullcrack are great against control and not so great against aggro. So these two packages seem like a bit of a push. I default to the majority here and run the burn package over the creature package, with the minor concession of running a single dragon over the third shock. I'll say more on this decision later when discussing Shock.
Now let's talk about the spells.
Everyone ran the full set of Lightning Strikes, but that is where the consensus ends.
Mafmaf was the only player to cut a Magma Jet. He also cut a Warleader's Helix and all the Boros Charms, Skullcracks, and Shocks in order to fit 22 creatures into the deck. Unless you are playing mafmaf's creature heavy version, it does not make sense to cut a Magma Jet.
Hartman cut a Searing Blood in favor of a third Chained to the Rocks. This is reasonable if you expect a lot of larger creatures such as green monsters, black demons, or blue gods. Otherwise you're cutting your best anti-weenie card in the deck. This certainly seems like the slot to cut since Chained to the Rocks and Searing Blood are aimed at removing creatures and are not very good against control decks with few creatures. In Hartman's build it makes more sense since he has Boros Reckoner to help stall an opposing Ground Assault and he would need to remove larger creatures in order for his Boros Reckoners to get through in combat. So cutting a Searing Blood in favor of a third Chained to the Rocks makes sense in his build, but otherwise it's pretty clear that you want four copies of your best weapon against aggro decks.
Boros Charm is the most cost-effective burn spell in the deck and serves a dual purpose of being able to save your team from a Supreme Verdict if need be (though this second scenario admittedly does not come up very often). It's a four-of in every build except mafmaf's, which in his case solely has to do with space and needing enough cards to synergize with Satyr Firedancer. In the heavier burn versions, Boros Charm is the best burn spell in the format and a slam dunk four-of.
Everyone ran four copies of Skullcrack except the two versions with a heavier creature focus (Hartman and mafmaf). This makes sense because the more all-in you are on the burn plan, the more important it is to Stifle opposing life gain. Similarly, the more creatures you have, the more ways you want in your deck to deal with opposing creatures so that yours can get through in combat for damage. Skullcrack combats opposing life gain and does not clear out opposing blockers. Therefore the two builds running more creatures cut them while everyone else ran four and did not Think Twice about doing so.
Everyone ran Warleader's Helix. The question is how many? Wijaya, Nagy, Paletta, and Redzone91 each ran the full set of four. Lam and mafmaf ran three while Hartman only ran two. Since mafmaf and Hartman are less reliant on burning out the opponent, they can afford to shave some copies of the biggest burn spell. The other decks not so much. Lam and Hartman were the only players running Stormbreath Dragon, which is another card that sits in your hand alongside Warleader's Helix while you are stuck on two or three lands. So it makes sense that they would each shave some number of Helixes. In my opinion Warleader's Helix and Boros Charm are really where the deck gets most of its edge. Those are the two cards you really want to draw the most, so I think running four of each is correct. The majority of the successful lists agree.
Shock is the most contentious spell in the deck. Only five of the seven lists run any at all and one of those five lists has only two copies while the others have three. As I've said already, Shock is very good against aggressive decks and not so good elsewhere. Given that Esper Control and other slow decks seem to be rising to the top of the metagame, this looks like the best place to do some shaving. So I'd like to borrow Marc Lalague's shave machine and use it here on the third Shock. This makes room for the one Stormbreath Dragon I want to run.
Chained to the Rocks is another card that almost everyone agrees on. Redzone91 is the only player to cut it, in favor of Blind Obedience. Hartman added the third copy over the fourth Searing Blood because of the Boros Reckoners in his build. Everyone else ran two. Blind Obedience is good against control decks, allowing you to extort each spell you cast, and it will also buy you some time against haste creatures while delaying blockers for a turn. However, I think Chained to the Rocks is more important because it gives you more game against the creature decks. If you're the heavy burn version, you're already good against control. Maybe sideboard Blind Obedience, but in the main I would run a couple Chained to the Rocks instead.
Hartman ran 24 lands to support his double dragon and quad minotaur while mafmaf's lower curve allowed him to run only 22 lands. Everyone else ran 23 lands. Everyone ran four Sacred Foundry and four Temple of Triumph. The biggest debate is whether to run three or four Mutavault.
Wijaya, Nagy, Lam, and mafmaf ran four Mutavault while Paletta, Redzone91, and Hartman only ran three. Hartman was already adding a 24th land in order to support Boros Reckoner, so that explains why he would not run the fourth Mutavault. Mafmaf looks to attack more than any other deck, so that explains why he would have the fourth Mutavault. That leaves the other five decks which are split 3-2 in favor of the fourth Mutavault. So the matter is settled: we tear one of our Mutavaults in half and run 2.5 Mutavaults.
Next let's consider the number of tapped lands each build runs. Wijaya, Paletta, and Hartman each run a pair of Boros Guildgates and no other tapped lands. Redzone91 runs a third copy of Boros Guildgate. Lam and mafmaf only run a single Boros Guildgate and no other tapped lands. Nagy runs one Boros Guildgate, one Temple of Malice, and one Temple of Silence. I can understand the power of the scry mechanic when you're on the burn plan and it is very clear what you are looking for (burn or no?), but aside from the four on-color Temples, I don't think the payoff is worth it. I would rather have the fourth Mutavault in order to attack instead of scry. The point being that if I need the land, I want it untapped instead of tapped, and if I don't need the land I would rather attack with it than half-cycle it by scrying one and gaining a useless extra land. Hence I think Vidi has the perfect mana base.
First let's talk about the fringe cards that only saw play in one or two builds:Wild RicochetFlames of the FirebrandPithing NeedleHammer of PurphorosFated ConflagrationWear // TearPeak Eruption
Wild Ricochet is a maverick style card, especially for the mirror. It is high variance and narrow, so when you pull it off your opponent will be prone to tilt off, flip tables, and break things within arm's reach. Most of the time it will just sit in your sideboard though. If you're the guy (or gal) that loves nothing better than causing people to flip tables, then run it. If instead you're a spike, it's not worth the slot. The fact that it's in redzone91's sideboard at least tips us all off as to what kind of player he is. He probably takes screenshots of his opponents ranting and posts them to Facebook for all his friends to laugh at (btw who does that anyway?).
Flames of the Firebrand is a solid card against aggressive decks, but given the nature of the format right now, Shock seems like the better card against aggro decks right now.
Pithing Needle is good against Planeswalkers, but walkers aren't very good against the burn deck. Domri Rade is good with Courser of Kruphix I guess, but might as well just run another burn spell instead though if that's what you're worried about. I suppose if you're running mafmaf's creature heavy list, then Jace and Xenagos are a bit of a problem.
Hammer of Purphoros is another anti-control card similar to Goblin Trenches. The plan is to slowly grind them out with Golem Tokens. I don't like this plan though since many of your creatures already have haste and control decks already lack targets for their Detention Spheres. More often than not I would rather draw a burn spell than a Hammer of Purphoros, which leads me to believe it does not belong in this deck. It makes the most sense in mafmaf's list since Rakdos Cackler and company are pretty bad topdecks against control decks without it.
Fated Conflagration can handle a walker or a monster, which is reasonable for Hartman's Boros Reckoner strategy but pretty miserable everywhere else. Do you want to kill a walker? Pithing Needle costs one mana. Do you want to kill a creature? Chained to the Rocks costs one mana. Most burn builds don't care about the former, so using this spell to kill the latter makes it way overpriced here.
Wear // Tear can stop a Detention Sphere at an inopportune time, especially one locking down a pair of Chandra's Phoenixes or Ash Zealots. Detention Sphere is already pretty bad against us though, as is Chained to the Rocks. So I'm not sure I like this card. There is very likely a card I'm not thinking of that makes this a reasonable sideboard slot, but I can't think of it and we need space, so…
Peak Eruption is a pretty solid card in the mirror, Lava Spike-ing the opponent while keeping them off Warleader's Helix mana. It's also reasonable against GR Monsters and other decks running red shock lands and big spells. If you run any, I think it's correct to run multiples as mafmaf ran three. In his deck you gain value out of Young Pyromancer from it as well, but all things considered it's a clunky Stone Rain with narrow applications and I therefore don't consider it worth a slot, at least in the burn-heavy builds.
This brings us to the cards that are spill-overs from the main deck:
SkullcrackChained to the Rocks
While everyone but Hartman and mafmaf ran four Skullcrack main, they both at least had them in the sideboard. The card is just too important against decks running life gain, and become especially important in post-board games when opponent's board in life gain cards like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Archangel of Thune, Fiendslayer Paladin, Unflinching Courage, etc.
Nearly everyone ran three to four copies of Chained to the Rocks in their 75. Most ran two main and two board. The card is very efficient at doing what it does and I would not play less than four in my 75.
Redzone91 ran a pair of them main deck over Chained to the Rocks. I don't advocate doing this, but I do like it as a sideboard card against control decks and decks with haste creatures, especially when the opponent is on the draw. Just being able to extort for damage is a powerful ability to have, and it comes down early enough to fit into your burn plan quite nicely. It's just barely good enough in my opinion, so I would not run the second copy, but the first will be good in the matchups you board it in against.
The trooper is great against decks that rely on sorcery speed answers and it is also very good in races if you can connect with it. We already run four Warleader's Helix and a Stormbreath Dragon, so I'm a bit hesitant to run any copies of it, but much like Wild Ricochet the threat of it can swing games. Given that we also decided to run the fourth Mutavault and already have five cards with mana costs of 4+ in the deck, I would not run any Spark Troopers.
It's great against creature decks (assuming it lives) and terrible against non-creature decks. The nightmare is drawing a bunch of Firedancers and not enough burn to actually kill the creatures. Hence I am only running three copies instead of the full four, rounding out the rest of my anti-creature slots with removal (Chained to the Rocks and Mizzium Mortars).
Speaking of which, Mizzium Mortars is our answer to Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Stormbreath Dragon while also essentially being a fifth and sixth copy of Chained to the Rocks. This isn't entirely true since it doesn't kill things like Desecration Demon or Polukranos, World Eater, but those cards are less bad for this deck than they are for other decks in the format. Mizzium Mortars can handle most of the things you would want Chained to the Rocks to get rid of and, as already noted, two important things it can't.
Viashino Firstblade and Firedrinker Satyr are great cards out of the sideboard in this deck because it forces removal-heavy opponents to leave in all their removal spells that were so bad against us in game one. So after they lose game one, do they board out all those dead cards that cost them the game? If so, we punish them with more creatures. If not, then we replay game one and burn them out again. As this sideboard strategy becomes more well-known it will lose some of its efficacy. Nevertheless simply the threat of it forces the opponent to play a guessing game that favors us in multiple ways.
Given the above analysis, this is the build I would recommend for this weekend:
I like the low creature count as it makes so many cards in the format bad (Supreme Verdict, Jace, heavy removal decks), etc. Going on the burn plan seems to be the best plan for game one, then adjusting according to what the opponent is doing (or likely to be doing) for the next game(s).
The main deck is pretty streamlined. My only real quark is cutting a Shock for a Stormbreath Dragon. This is mostly a metagame call where aggro decks are on the decline and control decks are overly popular.
The mana base doesn't really do anything cute. It allows us to cast our spells. The biggest decision I had to make with the lands was whether to run the tenth mountain or the fourth Mutavault. I chose Mutavault because it helps more when flooding and will help us cast Warleader's Helix and Stormbreath Dragon just as easily as Mountain would. The drawback is not being able to cast Ash Zealot on the second turn as often, but this means we kept a two-land hand, which is therefore likely very burn-heavy and we're probably in good shape anyway without needing to cast the Zealot right away.
For the sideboard we have Firedrinker Satyr and Viashino Firstblade against decks that look to board out a bunch of the removal spells that caused them to lose game one. These will replace Chained to the Rocks, Searing Blood, and Shock against Esper. Some number of Magma Jets would come out against Black Control decks instead of Chained to the Rocks. Mizzium Mortars would also come in against decks running Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
We have Satyr Firedancer, Mizzium Mortars, and Chained to the Rocks against creature-heavy decks. In those matchups we could take out Boros Charm and Skullcrack, unless of course they have life gain we need to stop with the Skullcrack.
Overall Boros Burn is a great deck right now and the build I recommend is especially good against Esper Control. Hopefully this analysis has helped you to better understand Boros Burn and to guide you in the right direction for fine tuning your list. How will it do in the TCGplayer Diamond events this weekend in Waco and Hartford? My guess is it will do well!
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter