Boros Burn in Modern
7 Times 3 Damage Equals Win
Modern Boros Burn
Author: Zen Takahashi
Hopefully everybody had a wonderful holiday break, and are ready to take on the new year! Personally, I spent the break at my partner’s parents’ house, which is in the middle of a big farm in a rural area about an hour out of Christchurch (Christchurch is the biggest city in the South Island and the third-biggest city in New Zealand. We live in Auckland, which is in the North Island). I got to spend a bit of time helping out on the farm, which was enjoyable and reminded me of helping out my parents in the garden when I was younger.
Anyhow, this month I was asked to write about Modern, which was perfect for me because I had just finished putting together Boros Burn in paper! Burn has been one of the most popular decks in Modern since the inception of the format, and it’s arguably the most long-standing competitive deck of Modern – narrowly edging out Mono Green Tron, which has somewhat fallen out of favor since Modern Horizons 2 came out.
The reason I decided to put together Burn in paper is because I just felt very nostalgic about the archetype. The first competitive deck I played was Red Deck Wins during Lorwyn/Shards of Alara Standard, which the local tournament organiser would lend to me for Regionals and PTQs, and I have fond memories of pointing Flame Javelins at my opponents’ faces.
In terms of Modern, Burn has funnily enough been a deck that I have never played at a major tournament before, yet it is the deck that I have played the most of after Dredge, as it was my second-choice deck for three major tournaments (Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Grand Prix Brisbane). For each of these three tournaments, I was so close to playing Burn, and I had brought a physical copy of the deck to each event, but ended up never pulling the trigger. Now that I have put together the deck in paper for myself, I have vowed to play it in a major tournament at some point in the future.
In today’s article, I will be covering in-depth the Boros Burn archetype – going over the decklist that I am currently playing in paper and discussions on certain card choices, some tips and tricks to playing the deck, and a sideboard guide against the top decks of the format.
The list I have been playing is very stock, as the archetype has been well established for the past few years. The notable difference is the inclusion of two Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer in the maindeck, which I adopted from Frank Karsten’s list from the Grand Open Qualifier in Amsterdam back in October last year.
His rationale behind it was that Burn decks want to have a creature in its opening hand, as Burn’s best draws generally involve playing a creature or two early in the game to deal some damage, then follow it up with burn spells to close out the game before your opponent can stabilize on board. Without a creature, though, often it can be difficult to deal enough damage with just burn spells, especially if they have any sort of lifegain.
However, with twelve creatures, the chance of you having one in your opening hand is just 81%.
If you play fourteen creatures, though, this increases to 86%. I remember Burn used to play fourteen creatures as it played two Grim Lavamancers, but since Skewer of the Critics got printed, people have cut down to twelve creatures. Taking this into account, I think it is only right to go back up to fourteen creatures, and I think Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is the right choice for now. That being said, if the metagame becomes more creature-centric again in the future, I can see playing Grim Lavamancers being the right choice again.
To make room for the two Ragavans, I cut two copies of Lightning Helix from the stock list. Karsten preferred to cut Skullcrack instead, but I generally dislike Lightning Helix because it is such a liability if your opponent reveals it off their Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Again, if the metagame becomes more creature-centric again in the future, then I can see myself swapping them out for Lightning Helix.
As for the sideboard, it is fairly close to the stock list as well. I like having three copies of Sanctifier en-Vec for the Rakdos Scam matchup, and I don’t think you need Wear//Tear anymore as Leyline of Sanctity is not a popular card. The one copy of Exquisite Firecraft may look out of place, but it is for matchups where I sideboard out all the copies of Searing Blaze and can sideboard in a set of the three-off’s in the sideboard plus the Firecraft to have enough cards to bring in.
Tips and Tricks
The great strength of Burn is that it is proactive. Even if you are paired against a bad matchup or your opponent has a good opening hand, you can come out victorious with a quick start and/or taking advantage of them stumbling. However, you do also want to play to this strength. Burn can play a controlling game well, especially against creature decks, but ultimately your goal in most games is to try to get their life total to zero as quickly as possible.
Think very carefully about how you want to sequence your spells. The games where you draw well, it often feels very easy, and it doesn’t matter much what you do, but it’s the tight games where each of your decisions can matter significantly. Questions may come about whether you should kill their creature or go to their face, or cast a Searing Blaze on turn two when you don’t have another land in hand versus holding it to try to hit a better creature in the future etc.
There is no “right” answer to these questions as they are all contextual, but you just need to think carefully about them. My general rule of thumb is to always ask yourself what your path to victory is, and the whole idea is to try to kill them before they kill you.
Try to interact with their threats as minimally as you can get away with, as interacting with them will only slow you down and eat at your own resources. Also, if you are missing certain pieces right now, think about what your outs are and which you have the highest percentage chance to topdeck into, and plan accordingly e.g. putting yourself in a position to topdeck a land for Searing Blaze to win the game is better than putting yourself in a position where you need to draw a one-or-two-mana three-damage burn-spell to win the game (twenty lands versus fourteen burn-spells).
I almost always keep a hand with two or three lands. One land hands are too risky unless they have multiple one-drop creatures, and you are on the draw, but even then I would learn towards shipping the hand back.
Four land hands are also too risky as it’s just too difficult to put together twenty damage through them as it relies on you to almost never draw another land afterwards.
You may be able to keep four land hands in post-board games if you have a key sideboard card and/or a canopy-land to draw off later. However, it is worth noting that taking mulligans is punishing with Burn as you need a high density of spells to win most games.
When your opponent starts to play bigger creatures than you, there is a temptation to attack into them and finish it off with a burn spell. However, assuming their life total is somewhat low, you are almost certainly better off focusing on burning them out and using your creatures to chump block their bigger creatures if the game turns into a race.
Be careful of how you sequence your lands.
Against other aggressive decks, your life total may be a priority, in which you want to conserve as much of your life as possible and fetch for basic Mountains.
However, against slower decks or combo decks where your life total does not matter as much, you want to maximize your options and have as many colored sources available, for example you may want to sacrifice your Sunbaked Canyon and still have a white source to cast a Boros Charm if you draw into it.
You generally want to play Goblin Guide before Monastery Swiftspear on turn one, as it is likely the better play to maximize damage output. However, it does depend on the context. If you are on the draw, you may want to play a turn one Monastery Swiftspear if you know your opponent will play a 3/3 on their second turn, and you have the ability to play two burn spells on your second turn to swing back with a 3/4 Swiftspear.
Boros Charm is usually used as a burn spell, but against sweepers you can use it to protect your team.
Try to keep fetchlands in play in case you draw a Searing Blaze. On that, you also generally want to hold onto fetchlands in hand as they play well with any topdecked Searing Blazes since it gives you the option of either casting it on your turn or theirs.
If your opponent has one creature in play with three toughness or less, you can cast a Searing Blaze on it, and while holding priority, cast another one targeting the same creature, and you will still get to deal six damage even after the first Searing Blaze resolves and kills the creature.
Rift Bolt cannot be cast if your opponent has a Teferi, Time Raveler in play.
If you have a Roiling Vortex in play, you will also take five damage off it.
If your opponent loses life themselves on your turn, it will trigger spectacle for Skewer the Critics e.g. they crack a fetchland to cast a removal spell on your creature.
If your opponent has a Kor Firewalker or Sanctifier en-Vec in play that you would like to get rid of, you can attack with one of your creatures, and if they choose to block with it, you can then cast Skullcrack and their creature will die as the Protection from Red prevents damage from being dealt, but Skullcrack makes it so that damage can no longer be prevented.
Below is how I would sideboard against the top ten most popular decks in the format right now.
Matchup Guide: Blue-Red Murktide
Matchup Guide: Hammer Time
Matchup Guide: Rakdos Scam
Matchup Guide: 4c Creativity
No sideboarding on the play.
Matchup Guide: Temur Footfalls
Matchup Guide: Burn (Mirror)
Matchup Guide: 4c Omnath
Sideboarding in this matchup largely depends on their decklist. Rift Bolt is bad against Teferi, Time Raveler while Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is too much of a liability on the draw against Wrenn and Six. You may want to keep in some copies of Searing Blaze if they are more focused on Elementals and play cards like Risen Reef.
Matchup Guide: Golgari Yawgmoth
Matchup Guide: Mono Green Tron
Matchup Guide: Merfolk
I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered in-depth one of Modern’s oldest and most iconic decks – Boros Burn! Even if you do not play the deck, it is always good to know what the other side is thinking and how they sideboard against your deck, so that you can be better prepared if you ever pair against Burn at your next Modern tournament!
I am somewhat gutted that the third Regional Championships cycle is Pioneer again. While I do enjoy the format, I think alternating between Pioneer, Standard and Modern would have been ideal. Modern definitely has the biggest player base here, and it’s the format which people are most passionate about, as neither Standard nor Pioneer cultivates as much deck identity for players as Modern does. In many ways, Modern does feel somewhat like where Legacy was about ten years ago.
Nonetheless, with the next Regional Championships just two months away and qualifiers starting for the following Regional Championships, my focus for the next few months will turn back towards Standard and Pioneer.
About the Author
Zen Takahashi is a seasoned writer and mainstay on the Three for One Trading writing team. He is an avid Eternal player from Auckland, New Zealand and enjoys competing in local Legacy events and playing Old School over webcam with friends.
Previously, he was a Silver Pro for multiple years and his results included five Grand Prix Top 8s, a 27th place at Pro Tour Amonkhet, three consecutive online Regional PTQ wins, and he co-created the Modern Dredge deck.
Nowadays though, he primarily plays Legacy, his favorite format, but he also branches out into Pioneer and Modern.
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