Mono-Red tends to overperform in the opening weekend of formats. There aren't as many established decks and people want to take a fresh stab at innovating within the new boundaries. There's no shame in playing "the fun police" if you're trying to win the tournament.
SCG Dallas this past weekend was lit aflame by Team Lotus Box, as Dylan Donegan, Zan Syed, and Collins Mullen all made Top 8. Dylan was the best-performing of the bunch, defeating Collins in the semifinals before falling to Harlan Firer on Four-Color Whirza.
This list of Burn is established as stock at this point and the consensus is in, even down to the singleton Fiery Islet completing the manabase. But things weren't always so cut-and-dried. Let's look over a few of the card choices and see how we got here:
There was previously debate whether to play Skewer the Critics or Skullcrack maindeck. Skullcrack helps in your most problematic matchups and individual cards. Fact of the matter is, if Skullcrack is a necessary card for your maindeck, Burn isn't well-positioned in the metagame. Skewer the Critics is what allows you to more consistently be a Turn 3.5 deck in a format where games are determined on the fourth turn.
A one-of Grim Lavamancer was once commonplace in Burn lists. To complement the lava man, players played more fetchlands, which also helped turn on Searing Blaze. Truth is you don't need that many fetchlands to reliably have landfall for Searing Blaze and the Horizon lands are too good to pass on.
Incorporating Sunbaked Canyon was an easy transition for most previous Burn players to realize. In my early testing, I was playing six total Horizon lands but I'm not surprised to see the dust settle on five being the correct number.
Why Didn't Stoneforge Mystic Stop Burn?
Stoneforge Mystic was the hype card for SCG Dallas since it just came off the Banned List. However, players overestimated the potency of Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull as their solution to aggressive decks, including Burn. Too often over the weekend, the Batterskull was left stranded in the Stoneforge Mystic player's hand while the Mystic itself was met with a burn spell like Searing Blaze. Because of the matchup misconception, many players skimped on sideboard cards for the matchup. Lingering fatigue from Hogaak Summer had players with too many anti-graveyard cards as well.
Tools Against Burn
There are two answers to what beats Burn. The first is a deck that's faster, like a combo deck that isn't creature-based. Infect and Gifts Storm need a small creature on the battlefield like Goblin Electromancer or Blighted Agent to win. Decks like Neobrand or Grishoalbrand don't. If you can play to the stack and largely ignore the battlefield, you're in good shape.
The other way to beat Burn is to be dense on lifegain and sizeable threats. Creatures with four or more toughness are key, since Burn deals damage in increments of three.
I like Collective Brutality in high numbers in both maindecks and sideboards for this weekend and the short-term future. Getting to kill a creature, take a burn spell, and gain two life is huge. Collective Brutality has wide applications, as most decks have some sort of instants and/or sorceries in their deck. At worst, it drains for two life if somehow your opponent isn't playing spells or small creatures.
Kitchen Finks has fallen out of favor recently, as it was just too slow against Hogaak and other graveyard decks. Scavenging Ooze was mainly the tool to help fight them and the artifact decks had players leaning more towards Knight of Autumn. With Burn's resurgence, I can see the more pinpoint Kitchen Finks being the sideboard card of choice.
More fringe sideboard cards that people have been leaving out recently. I wouldn't play Dragon's Claw if I wasn't playing red myself, but it's a good option for decks like Mono-Red Prowess or even a Burn variant that isn't heavily invested in white mana. I like Burrenton Forge-Tender out of the sideboard for any deck that can search it up with something like Ranger-Captain of Eos or Finale of Devastation.
Bursty lifegain is good when the number is high enough. It's not hard to get three cards' worth of value out of your cheap lifegain spell. Just make sure to have something like blockers or a removal spell for their Goblin Guide or Eidolon of the Great Revel.
If I were to play a Jeskai, Naya, or Mardu deck, the first thing I'd do is load up on Lightning Helix. Depending on the metagame, a Lightning Helix can be a stronger card than even Lightning Bolt. This is even truer if Chalice of the Void is prominent.
Burn only plays twelve creatures and the rest of the deck targets you for direct damage. Leyline of Sanctity had been shelved as people reached for Leyline of the Void to combat Hogaak. Even a deck like Twiddle Storm entering the metagame might be enough to move the needle on how many copies of Leyline of Sanctity you want to be packing in your sideboard.
Obstinate Baloth is great against Burn as well as discard like Liliana of the Void. I like running up to three copies in the 75 of a green deck that can reliably produce four mana.
Gaining infinite life is a surefire way to end a game against Burn. Even without fully going off, the blockers from Thopter Foundry as well as a few life points can be enough to stabilize and find more action.
Creeping Chill is the reason to play Dredge in its current, heavily nerfed form. Dredge swarms the battlefield making the removal spells not as effective. Many of Dredge's creatures like Bloodghast and tapped Prized Amalgams can't block, which can be an issue, and Narcomeba tends to just chump block. Still, a good dredge or two revealing Creeping Chills will often buy enough time to establish control of the situation.
Here's a recent evolution of Dredge that forgoes the dredge cards for a better manabase and more targeted mill cards.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 1 Carrion Feeder
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Hedron Crab
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Vengevine
All the Eldrazi creatures match up well against Burn's creatures and spells. Thought-Knot Seer in particular is a beating since it rips their best card (usually Boros Charm) while leaving a huge blocker. Power is relevant here too, allowing Eldrazi to quickly race the Burn player that likely dealt themselves a chunk of damage with fetch/shock/Horizon lands. Eldrazi Temple powers out the monsters which, in the case of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher, avoid the painful ding of Eidolon of the Great Revel.
There are plenty of Invitational Qualifiers around to still get a taste of Modern before the Team Constructed Open in Philadelphia the first weekend of October. Burn is always played in any given Modern tournament regardless of how well-positioned it is. The cards in it don't change very often so players have their copy around complete and ready to go. Given the successful results of Burn from the Dallas Open, I'd lean towards overcompensating for Burn with at least four highly relevant cards like Collective Brutality or Kitchen Finks while still having some strong cards like Scavenging Ooze and Inquisition of Kozilek.
It's time to extinguish the flame.