It is time for yet another edition of the TES Matchup Battles series and this episode we take on Burn!
Burn is a deck that uses efficient creatures and red instant and sorcery spells to deal direct damage to your opponent in an effort to end the game as quickly as possible using little to no disruption. Burn has long been a strategy, and many of the original “burn spells” like Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning are still some of the best spells in Burn decks today. The goal is to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero from these spells before the opponent can stabilize or execute their own game plan.
Everyone that has been playing legacy for years knows Burn has always been a deck and it’s always been around, but never been a huge part of the meta. There’s a community of Burn players, just like us storm players, who always play Burn no matter the meta and they are known for playing the deck. Burn is also on the budget end of the price spectrum, so it’s a good way to get into the format, and I believe some form of it will always be around. While the Burn game plan isn’t the most complex to understand this matchup can be a little tricky and have some intricacies, so let’s be on the winning side of this matchup moving forward.
How does Burn matchup against TES?
Chain Lightning, Lava Spike etc. etc. – All of their burn spells and creatures provide a very fast clock against us. Burn can kill as early as turn 3 or 4 due to all of their efficient burn spells and creatures, and with the combination of our fetch lands and ways we deal damage to ourselves it can be a fast clock that will make our Ad Nauseam a liability.
Pyroblast, Faerie Macabre – These are the types of random sideboard cards that Burn can bring in. They usually have different forms of graveyard hate or Pyroblast effects. I think this mainly depends on the player whether or not they bring them in against us, but they could, so it’s worth mentioning to be aware of these types of cards. The graveyard hate does get a little better post board than it would against our main deck, because like you’ll see in the sideboard section we bring in Past in Flames, and lean on it over Ad Nauseam.
Eidolon of the Great Revel, Pyrostatic Pillar – The real hate. These cards require a very specific hand and board state to try to win through and will most likely require an answer. There are couple of different ways to try and beat these cards.
1. Combo off before they can cast them. TES is very fast and consistent at killing quickly, and trust me it feels really good to combo off with all the hate in the opponents hand.
2. Use discard spells to strip the hate away. We have 6 discard spells to hit Pyrostatic Pillar and 3 that hit Eidolon of the Great Revel
3. We also have 3 Echoing Truth if either one hit the battlefield.
There is some even better news though! Not all lists play Pyrostatic Pillar, and if they do it’s usually only like 2 or 3. Rarely do they run the full 4.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Ways to win this matchup
Killing Them and the Fundamental Turns –
TES is great at being a fast and consistent deck and being able to kill through multiple different angles like goblins or straight to the life total. In some matchups, one method of comboing is better than others. Burn is one of those matchups where I personally have killed more with goblins than I have with Tendrils. Now, this might just be my play style or what I prefer to do because I try to get under all of their hate and kill them before they’re able to cast their flurry of burn spells. I know some people who also leverage Tendrils as a big life gain spell and then try to kill them a few turns after. This play typically comes from more ANT decks, but we can still consider this line when given the opportunity.
The fundamental turn in this matchup is going to be turn 2. Burn can’t kill us that early, but all of their hate cards come down on turn 2, and we have to be aware of this. The other fundamental turn is turn 4 because that is the turn that Burn can kill us. Keeping these two turns in mind we can’t keep hands with a bunch of lands and cantrips. That hand is great in some matchups, but not this one. We need action and we need it fast before they light us up. Even a little slower hand with discard or a bounce spell is acceptable because we have on their avenues of hate covered. Another option is a hand with a turn 1 or turn 2 kill. Always acceptable and gets under their hate.
-4 Gitaxian Probe, -1 Ad Nauseam,
+3 Echoing Truth, +1 Past in Flames, +1 Tendrils of Agony
So, let’s take this matchup back to the basics. The opponent is ultimately trying to attack our life total with their aggressive creatures and their burn spells. Using our life total as a “resource” isn’t that good of a strategy in this matchup. With that being said it makes it pretty obvious to take out the 5 cards that use our life total. Ad Nauseam is really only going to be good turns 1 or 2, but outside of that, as our life total dwindles, it becomes uncastable without significant risks. Burn is going to be trying to attacking us from two different angles, our life total, and with their hate permanents. Given that, it makes sense why we are bringing in those five cards. The three Echoing Truth are there to bounce any of their permanents at their end step, and then untap and combo off safely or if given enough mana just do it all in our main phase. Since we are taking out our Ad Nauseam engine we don’t want to be down one engine, so we bring in Past in Flames to be able to find it easier than having to go through Burning Wish for it, which could be too slow. Tendrils of Agony is going to be for the same reason. We want to be able to get it quicker and bringing it to the maindeck just allows easier and quicker access to it.
Typically in this series I display an entire match and go into the interesting scenarios, but this time around I played a couple matches to get the highlights of all of them. Let me know which method you prefer moving forward.
In the very first match, the first game, and the second turn I already have a pretty big decision that will more than likely determine who wins the game. I am on the draw and we each have lands in play (both of his mountains are tapped), so I cast my Ad Nauseam from my hand and I begin my favorite part. Flipping the cards over.
I get to a point where I am at 8 life, 36 cards left in my deck, and just need an initial mana source to win the game. I just need a Chrome Mox or a Lotus Petal and I can cast my Rite of Flame to Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony. Typically in any other matchup this scenario is a no brainer. Just keep flipping until we get to 4 since there is nothing in our deck that can kill us at 8, but the problem here is the card Fireblast. If we hit our Empty the Warrens and they have Fireblast then we just lose.
Should we keep flipping or stop and pass the turn? If we pass and survive we have the kill on the following turn.
I kept flipping, and here is why. There are essentially two variables that cost us if we keep flipping.
1. The opponent has Fireblast in hand.
2. We hit Empty the Warrens before we hit a mana source.
If either of these two variables land in our favor we probably win the game, so I took my chances of winning at least one of these. Another reason I kept going is because I thought there was a good chance if I stopped flipping and I passed the turn that I probably would be dead from 8, so I took my chances, and sure enough the very next card was a Lotus Petal. Without trying to be results oriented was this the best decision?
The next scenario (different match) my opponent was on the play and led with Goblin Guide. Down to 18.
This is the content of my hand after I draw my card for turn (mull to 6).
I have the option of casting a Ponder and looking for cards to build a bigger storm for the following turn with the intent of making more goblins, or I could just go ahead and make 8 goblins. This is a matter of what we predict the opponent to do. Will they leave Goblin Guide on blocking duty and point their spells at our horde or will they try and race? In my opinion, I think 8 is pretty close, but I would do it. We are still left with a land and Ponder to look for more action like a Burning Wish to find Grapeshot if for some reason we can’t close it out. This plan could also go bad if they have more creatures and blockers in hand, but it’s what I went with.
The third of final game where we finally get to play against some real hate.
My opponent was on the play and cast one of my least favorite cards to play against in legacy, Eidolon of the Great Revel.
After I sigh, I untap and draw my card, and this is the scenario from my perspective.
This hand can obviously go lots of different directions and has a lot of flexibility. I always like to leave the last scenario open ended, but I’ll tell you what I did. I played my Volcanic Island, playing out all of my artifact mana and rituals, and then cast Burning Wish to cast Empty the Warrens for 5 storm. This made 10 goblins and put me down to 10 life. I figured this was a risky play, but trying to take 2 from my cantrips in search of Echoing Truth is also risky and I think less likely that I win the game. I ended up losing this game. Was this the best possible line and it just didn’t line up in my favor or did I have a higher chance of winning with a different line? Let me know!
As we can tell from these scenarios Burn is a very interesting matchup and has a uniqueness of attacking our life total in a more aggressive away than any other deck in the format, and when our main engine is also dependent on our life total then things get a little tricky. Burn is one of those decks in Legacy that people kind of shrug off and don’t put in any hours testing against it. Maybe because they think it’s a bad deck, maybe because it’s not that popular, but whatever the reason is I disagree. We need to be testing against Burn. It has been around in some numbers for years and I imagine that will continue. I hope you took something away from this article, but I leave with one final thought. Just remember…we are the better Burn deck.