lashback is one of my favorite mechanics of all time. Why? Because I'm a guy who loves value. When I play Magic, I want everything to matter. I don't want my spells to stop being relevant after I cast them. What do I look like, some wasteful burn player? It's not fair to use a card halfway and discard it forever; I want to use every part of the buffalo.
Flashback does just that. Not only will I cast my spell the first time around, but I'm going to cast it again and give my opponent a tour of Valuetown. Still, I feel like there's a way I could accrue even more value with my flashback spells.
Waste not, want not!
I've received a lot of emails asking me to work on a Burning Vengeance deck since the release of Dark Ascension. The deck gained some interesting tools that might give it some extra power.
Pro Tour Dark Ascension is in the books and two decks have proven themselves to be the front-runners in the new Standard metagame. Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Brian Kibler both found themselves in the Top 8 playing a Red-Green Ramp deck. Jelger Wiegersma and Jon Finkel also had Top 8 berths playing a White-Blue Delver deck that splashed black for Lingering Souls and had a spirit subtheme. You can read more about Pro Tour: Dark Ascension here.
It's going to be very difficult to design a deck that beats both of these powerhouses, but I'd like to make sure my latest Burning Vengeance deck at least has the ability to steal the occasional game from the new defining decks of the Standard metagame.
Secrets of the Dead is the latest iteration of Burning Vengeance. The effect isn't quite as powerful, but it's worth including a few of these nonetheless. Once you've stabilized, a resolved Secrets of the Dead is usually enough to let you out-card any opponent and coast your way to victory.
Burning Vengeance, as a card, is naturally strong against Delver of Secrets strategies. Cards like Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage won't stay around long enough to apply any reasonable amount of pressure. Unfortunately, the decks that play with Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage usually have Mana Leaks, so we're going to need a reasonable defensive plan for the times we can't resolve our Burning Vengeance.
Whipflare seems like the best card in the defensive department. A Pyroclasm effect is very strong in the current Standard format. Additionally, if the deck didn't play Whipflare it would have a nightmare trying to deal with Geist of Saint Traft, one of the most powerful cards in the traditional White-Blue Delver decks. Against the Finkel/Wiegersma version of the deck, Whipflare is just about the only card that can help you stay in the game when your opponent draws Lingering Souls. Whipflare's applications are far reaching: the two-mana red sorcery is an excellent answer to Huntmaster of the Fells when playing against the Channel-Fireball style red-green decks. I'll be happy to include four copies of Whipflare in any of my Standard decks in the coming weeks; it seems like the card is well positioned if it doesn't negatively affect your game plan.
Geistflame is a great spot-removal spell that has a lot of synergy with our enchantments. It's nice to have a lot of spells you can reliably use to deal with a turn-one Delver of Secrets or Birds of Paradise. Geistflame's power-level gets a significant boost once you've resolved one of your enchantments. Unfortunately, Geistflame doesn't match up well against Lingering Souls, perhaps the most powerful card in Dark Ascension. For the same amount of mana, you only deal with one half of the Lingering Souls and its flashback. Perhaps there's a four- or five-color flashback deck that includes Lingering Souls, but I'll save that for another time.
Think Twice is a card I'm always surprised to see in Constructed decks. People seem to love instant-speed card draw enough to invest a lot of mana for a very small effect. When you think about it, you're investing five mana to only be up by one card. That doesn't seem like a great deal of an advantage in a format where people are willing to spend cards on Unsummon effects like Vapor Snag. The format is so tempo based that working your way through a Think Twice seems like a fool's errand. Most people aren't playing Secrets of the Dead or Burning Vengeance, though, and Think Twice becomes a very reasonable and necessary spell if you're going to cast these enchantments. You want to play four copies of Think Twice and cast them on your opponent's endstep whenever possible, because you're not playing the tempo game. It starts to be worth the cost once you have one of your enchantments on the battlefield, but two enchantments on the battlefield turn Think Twice into an incredibly powerful spell.
Desperate Ravings is a superior version of Think Twice for just about every deck that can (and wants to) cast it. Desperate Ravings is especially strong in a deck with a healthy dose of flashback spells. Oftentimes, your random discard is going to result in a flashback spell heading to the graveyard. This might seem like a minuscule advantage, but this small occurrence will drastically increase your chances of winning the game. Remember, we're going to need to work really hard to play a grindy style of game if we want to be battling with the flashback enchantments.
Mana Leak has a well-deserved reputation as the best form of disruption in the current Standard format. Our deck might be controlling, but a blue-red deck has a lot of cards it cannot easily answer once they hit the battlefield. The Titans, especially Grave Titan, Frost Titan, and Primeval Titan, will almost certainly mean defeat if they resolve. We're going to need to bait our opponents into casting these spells into our Mana Leaks. As the game drags on, our opponents might get access to nine mana, though, so I've chosen to include a few copies of Dissipate to ensure we have a reasonable way to counter Titans once the game goes long. I'm going to have an extra copy of Dissipate and a bunch of Flashfreezes in my sideboard to further remedy this problem.
Geistflame isn't going to be enough to reliably deal with the aggressive power of Delver of Secrets. I want to play more spot removal. Galvanic Blast is the perfect card to fit the bill. We need a card that only costs one mana because it's so important that we're able to cast multiple spells per turn as soon as possible. The deck plays a tremendous amount of card-drawing spells, and while this might seem like a good thing, the deck will often spend time casting card-drawing spells while other decks are advancing their board position. Having a healthy dose of cheap removal helps ensure we can survive to the point where all the card advantage we've accrued actually matters.
Altar of the Lost might not seem like the best card, but two mana from a single three-mana artifact is definitely worth it in a deck like this. The flashback cost on a lot of our cards can be pretty mana intensive and we're going to struggle to keep up if we're trying to counter our opponents' most important spells, kill their creatures, and cast our enchantments with just the mana we get from our one land per turn.
Thought Scour is one of the best cards from Dark Ascension. It's a nice cantrip in this type of deck, and milling flashback cards is especially ideal. There's not a lot of room for more card-quality effects in this type of deck, though. I'm only going to play a few copies of Thought Scour.
The deck needs a way to kill people. Burning Vengeance can usually close a long game, but there will be games where you'll be forced into a racing situation. Devil's Play is the perfect game ender for these situations.
Here's the final main deck:
Waste Not, Want Not
You might be surprised that Faithless Looting didn't make the cut. Here's the thing, though: the deck jumps through a lot of hoops to win a long-term card-advantage war. Faithless Looting is card disadvantage. If I have six cards in my hand and I cast Faithless Looting, I end up with five cards in my hand. Sure, I might be able to discard some flashback spells, but I'm not getting maximum value out of them. Faithless Looting is a great card in decks trying to abuse Unburial Rites, but I'm not sure it's the best thing in a dedicated Burning Vengeance strategy.
Despite being extremely budget (Devil's Play is the only rare), this deck can put up a reasonable fight against both Delver strategies and the red-green ramp decks. Unfortunately, the deck struggles to deal with cards like Dungrove Elder and Thrun, the Last Troll. Cards like Phantasmal Image will be important if you want to solve the Thrun problem, but Dungrove Elder will still be extremely difficult to defeat. Your best hope against the mono-green decks is for them to brazenly cast a turn-two Dungrove Elder off a bird or elf, opening themselves up to Whipflare. You could also just be the luckiest person in the world and have them not draw a single hexproof creature or Green Sun's Zenith.
I played a couple games with the deck to see how it operated against the best decks in Standard.
I won the roll and kept Evolving Wilds, Island, Island, Geistflame, Burning Vengeance, Whipflare, and Desperate Ravings. On my first turn, I played my Evolving Wilds. My opponent played Darkslick Shores and cast Delver of Secrets. I fetched up a Mountain during my opponent's endstep, untapped, drew a Mountain, cast Geistflame on the Delver of Secrets, and played an Island. My opponent played a Seachrome Coast and cast Gitaxian Probe for its Phyrexian-mana cost. I drew Galvanic Blast, played a land, and attempted to cast Burning Vengeance; my opponent had a Mana Leak and I had to bin my enchantment. My opponent played a third land and cast Lingering Souls. I drew Secrets of the Dead, played my land, and cast Secrets of the Dead. My opponent attacked me for 2, played Evolving Wilds—playing around my Whipflare. I drew a Mountain, played it, and passed the turn. My opponent cracked Evolving Wilds on my endstep, played a land for turn, and attacked me for 2.
I decided to start using my Secrets of the Dead and flashed back my Geistflame to kill one of the Spirits, drew another Geistflame, and used it to destroy the other spirit. My opponent capitalized on me being tapped out by casting a Drogskol Captain and a Phantasmal Image, copying the captain, thus assembling two hexproof 3/3 fliers that make the Lingering Souls in the yard into something that closely resembles a Broodmate Dragon. I drew for my turn and didn't find another Whipflare. My opponent played another Drogskol Captain and used the flashback on the Lingering Souls the next turn, forcing me to concede.
I learned a valuable lesson from this game. It's not a good idea to tap out after turn five against the new Delver decks because they can oftentimes use Drogskol Captain and Phantasmal Image to create an army of flying Dungrove Elders. I feel like I had a decent grip on that game if I hadn't chosen to use my Geistflame during my opponent's combat step. It's important to know all the interactions in a deck if you want to make the optimal plays in any given game. Making mistakes is part of learning how to play against specific decks, though.
My opponent kindly insisted that I play first. I kept Island, Mountain, Mountain, Thought Scour, Galvanic Blast, Think Twice, and Desperate Ravings. I played an Island on my first turn; my opponent played a Rootbound Crag. I cast Thought Scour during the endstep and milled a Think Twice and a land, then drew a Mana Leak. I drew a Dissipate for my turn and played an Island. My opponent cast a Rampant Growth and I let it resolve. I cast Desperate Ravings on the endstep, drew Secrets of the Dead and Burning Vengeance and discarded Secrets of the Dead. On my turn, I drew a Mountain and cast Burning Vengeance. My opponent cast Huntmaster of the Fells, gained 2, and made a wolf. I drew Whipflare, cast it, and played my land. My opponent cast a Green Sun Zenith for four, but I had the Mana Leak ready. I drew and played an Island on my next turn.
My opponent cast another Huntmaster of the Fells and I let it resolve, then I targeted it with a Galvanic Blast on the endstep and used the flashback on Think Twice to draw a Mountain and get rid of the wolf. I drew another Dissipate and played my land. My opponent played a sixth land and cast Primeval Titan, which I countered with Dissipate; I cast another Think Twice on my opponent's endstep, drew a Burning Vengeance, and dealt my opponent 2 damage. I drew a Geistflame, cast Burning Vengeance, and passed the turn. My opponent attempted Inferno Titan, but I had the second Dissipate ready. I drew Altar of the Lost and cast it. My opponent cast a Huntmaster of the Fells. I used my Altar of the Lost and a land to flashback my Desperate Ravings—with it, I drew Think Twice and Galvanic Blast, destroyed the Huntmaster and the wolf token, and discarded Galvanic Blast—then cast Think Twice and drew Devil's Play. On my turn I drew and played an Island.
My opponent slammed a Thrun, the Last Troll and it became clear I would have to race. I used my Altar of the Lost and flashed back a Think Twice to deal my opponent 4 damage; from the Think Twice I drew Desperate Ravings, cast and flashed it back to deal my opponent another 4 damage to draw a Galvanic Blast and a land and discard Devil's Play. I cast Galvanic Blast, targeting my opponent. On my turn I played a land and fired a massive Devil's Play at my opponent.
Burning Vengeance and Secrets of the Dead are two of the most fun cards in Standard. Abusing the flashback mechanic is a fun exercise for anyone who loves card value. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this deck has what it takes to compete in bigger tournaments. It certainly has enough game to compete at the FNM level if piloted properly. A lot of you were looking forward to a Burning Vengeance deck that includes Dark Ascension and I hope this satisfies your thirst. I'm looking forward to working on Faithless Looting decks in the coming weeks. I hope Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite becomes a bit easier to acquire so I can show you what Faithless Looting is all about.
As always, hit up the forums or shoot me an email with ideas for budget decks or any questions and comments.