lames. Flames everywhere. Bouncing off the walls, crackling from wood to rock to even water, dancing in front of you with their burning silhouettes doing the tango on what remains of the floor.
And it's only going to flare up even more.
I think we all know which Planeswalker is responsible for this.
Some archetypes never seem to go away. No matter how many formats we go through, there always seem to be staples that are, at the very least, viable. Blue-White Control. White Weenie. And, of course, the Red deck.
There are many great things about the Red deck. For some, it's how budget friendly it is. For others, it's the nuances of maximizing damage; many great Magic players (including Hall of Famer Jon Finkel himself) have played the Red deck in a tournament at one point or another, and several people have noted how properly playing the Red deck can be one of the hardest things to do in Magic. Mountains and burn spells is partially how Patrick "The Rainmaker" Sullivan has made a name for himself. It's a deck that is very easy to take to 90% efficiency — and extremely difficult to get the last 10% out of.
And now, with the advent of Chandra, Pyromaster — and some other Magic 2014 goodies — it's time to try setting the world on fire once more. Let's take a look at today's submission from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids protagonist, John Sawatzky.
John Sawatzky's Chandra's Flames
The Battle Plan
Much like there are 10 kinds of people in the world when it comes to binary, there are similarly two essential core structures that aggressive Red decks take.
The first is a more creature-centric approach. In Standard, that would mean using cards like Rakdos Cackler, Ash Zealot, Gore-House Chainwalker, Boros Reckoner. In these decks, your creatures are your all-stars, serving as repeated damage sources, and your burn spells mop up (burn up?) the last few points of life your opponent might have remaining.
The second is a more spell-heavy approach. In this deck, your burn spells do the heavy lifting, going to your opponent's noggin turn after turn, while a few creatures serve as repeated damage sources. While you give up as many repeated damage sources, you do gain something else: the ability to ignore a lot of your opponent's creatures and creature removal. Even if your opponent gums up the ground or is gripping a hand full of Doom Blades, burn spells go up top just as well as Michael Jordan in Space Jam.
Sawatzky's deck is the latter.
Using a few efficient creatures to push damage through, this deck mostly plans to just heave burn spells upwards while you watch the sweat trickle off your opponent's brow. And to top it off, this deck has a couple new tricks up its semi-charred sleeve.
The new Magic 2014 addition of Chandra, Pyromaster provides this deck a repeated source of card advantage. If we go to the stone-slab commandments etched on high by ye olde Michael J. Flores regarding the Philosophy of Fire, you'll find something written akin to, "Thine burn deck cards shall translate to two damage apiece."
If the goal of a burn deck is to make every card worth 2 damage, and you will occasionally, y'know, want to draw lands, then cards which can draw other cards to keep up the damage output — and therefore translate into far more than 2 damage — are quite valuable.
Is the burn approach better than the creature approach? Not necessarily, and the same is true vice versa. They're both avenues to explore — and explore we shall!
What should we keep, and what should we light on fire? Let's take a look at each of the cards individually and investigate!
This Phoenix is a Red-deck staple, regardless of if you're playing a creature-centric build or a burn-heavy build like this one. Not only does it come crashing in the air for 2 points of damage on the third turn and kick off that repeated clock as a sort of wannabe Sulfuric Vortex, but it's highly resilient. In a deck like this it's practically effortless to return it from your graveyard to your hand, making it the gift that just keeps on giving... damage, that is. I definitely want to keep all four.
This little Goblin is good at poking through for a point of damage. Dead or alive, he's good for a point of damage somewhere. However, he's not quite going to deal enough points of damage on his own to match up favorably to something like Rakdos Cackler. The Cackler is a base 2/2, and the damage output he creates is significantly better than the Arsonist.
While we are trying to stay away from too many creatures to keep the focus on burn spells so we don't make our opponent's removal spells and blocking creatures live, the Cackler is an exception. On turn one, it is usually going to be good for at least 2 damage, and on the play it might even smash in for upwards of 6 before your opponent puts an end to your cackling. There's really only room for one more attacking creature spot in this deck, and I'd give Cackler the nod over Stromkirk Noble. I'm happy to make the straight swap over to Cacklers.
Plus, as I learned from Erik Lauer, playing a card named "Cackler" in your deck gives you an excuse to cackle as you run over your opponent.
This new Magic 2014 standout shines in a deck full of spells — exactly like this one here. There are a bunch of people who are trying to do some truly absurd things with the Young Pyromancer — don't miss the honorable mentions list at the end of this article for some examples — but this is the more "fair" approach.
With a Young Pyromancer on the battlefield, each burn spell you cast leverages a bonus 1/1 token. Not only can they be great to put a little more pressure on your opponent, but they can also just block to buy time while you finish unleashing your cavalcade of burn spells.
The more Young Pyromancers the better — in multiples, he gets especially crazy, generating a ton of extra power. And he's a 2/1 to boot! I'm happy to kick his numbers all the way up to four. Welcome to the team!
I already highlighted some of what makes Chandra good above — but let's go a bit more into detail.
Her 0 is certainly good, putting you (likely) up a card. But what about her other two abilities?
Her +1 is plenty reasonable, dropping your opponent's life total by a hair and helping your creatures stomp on through. If you're going to use all of your mana anyway, you might use this ability instead of the +0. And, also, because it builds up toward the ultimate.
In a deck like this, Chandra's ultimate is crazy powerful. It will usually win you the game on the spot, giving you the rest of the damage you need in one fell swoop. If your opponent isn't playing a deck with good answers to Planeswalkers, I would just tick her upward toward the sky and then drop the hammer down with her ultimate.
What's the right number? Well, while powerful, I probably wouldn't want many of my opening hands to contain two Chandras — that would (rather appropriately) make me want to light something on fire. Three seems like the right number here: enough so there's a reasonable chance of seeing one, but not so many that you get clogged on them.
Pyromancer's Gauntlet talks a big game. Promising a bunch of extra damage on all of your burn spells adds up fast. However, it has a crucial issue: it comes down after the time in which you'd want to cast a lot of your burn spells. You could always hold your burn spells, but then you're slowing yourself down and being incredibly mana inefficient.
How much damage is a resolved Pyromancer's Gauntlet going to deal during the course of a game? 4? 6? Maybe more if you want to take the time to set it up, but there are some definite risks associated with that. How much better would it end up being than Guttersnipe or Thundermaw Hellkite?
In the end, I'd rather just play more cards that are going to consistently perform in this deck's game plan. Goodbye, gauntlets!
I'm grouping these all together to talk about as a unit since they all fit under the same taxonomy of "Fireius ignition." The cards in question are: Shock, Skullcrack, Thunderbolt, Searing Spear, Brimstone Volley, and Thunderous Wrath.
The first thing I'd look for here are which provide the best damage ratio, followed by which provide the best effects tacked onto their damage.
The ones that immediately spark my interest are Brimstone Volley, Searing Spear, and Skullcrack.
Searing Spear is a Constructed staple, offering 3 damage anywhere for two mana. It's no Lightning Bolt, but it's plenty good.
Skullcrack follows the similar two-mana-for-3-damage ratio, although the Skullcrack express only goes to uptown. The ability on the spell is plenty good to make up for its inability to hit creatures, though. With all of the lifegain in the format, it's important that you have some tools to fight back, and Skullcrack does that admirably. Designed as a flavorful, resonant, top-down Sphinx's Revelation and Thragtusk hate card, it certainly hits that note.
Brimstone Volley starts to creep into the three-mana range, which is a little expensive — but its damage output is quite strong. With Young Pyromancer around, creatures are going to be dying, so turning on morbid won't be too difficult — and dealing a quarter of your opponent's starting life total for only three mana is what a burn deck is looking for. I'd like to bump this up to four.
After those three, you begin to look at the next level of options.
Thunderbolt is certainly a lot worse than Searing Spear or Skullcrack... but 3 damage for two mana is still where you want to be to start turning the screws on your opponent early on. I'll play four of this.
Thunderous Wrath is usually pretty high variance in Red decks. Drawing it is very weak, while miracling it can be game-changing. Theoretically, this deck can curve a little higher because of Chandra, but there's still no guarantee you're going to ever hit six mana.
After looking at all of the other number of cards that I want, I'm happy with one Thunderous Wrath. You'll rarely have it in your opener, but it can bail you out if you miracle it in the late game. You never risk drawing two this way. (And you will seldom need to cast two even if you did hit six mana.)
Shock is a little weaker than I would like. Although it is good with Young Pyromancer, I'd rather have Vexing Devil. While the Vexing 4/3 doesn't trigger Pyromancer, the damage output on it is so good starting early that it's worth playing in this burn deck.
With all of those changes, that brings the decklist to:
Gavin Verhey's Pyro Red
If you want to scorch people right out of the game — or are just looking for a place to put those brand new Chandras — this is the perfect deck for you.
Note the four Mutavaults that were added in! Lands that can deal damage are always powerful, and in this deck being able to sneak in a free 2, 4, or even more points of damage in the form of a land is going to be quite worth it. While this deck could splash for Boros Charm, Bump in the Night, or similar, Mutavault is a huge bonus you get by being mono-red. While they aren't absolute must-haves if you don't own any, I would try to acquire them for this deck if possible.
If you're looking to tweak this deck more toward a non-burn play style, there are a few options. If you'd like a version more focused on creatures, then you'd want to swap out some of the weaker burn spells for some strong, low-mana red creatures. If you wanted to dip into another color, you could also go for a version touching black for Bump in the Night and Falkenrath Aristocrat.
Have fun playing with fire!
What are some other decks so hot they'll burn your socks off? Let's take a look:
Shao Middle's Strionic Justice
Lars S.G. Solbakken's Power Defenders
Gildor Inglorion's Esper Control
Elliott Dent's Not-Quite White Weenie
HowDidThisWheel's Young Pyromancer of Secrets
Malphen's Tower of Archangel
Takahashi Kazuyasu's Valkas Copy
David Snavely's Burn at the Stake
Kazuaki Yamamoto's Demonic Power 2^7
Jordan "Twiggy" Melanson's Enchantment Aggro
Jonathan Gutierrez's Sphinx-Ghoul Revelation
Malta's RW Tokens
Roy Keck's ÆtheRenFerno
Ghoul's White-Black-Red Tokens
dannyson's Molten Barrage
Darryl Hoard's Bottoms Up
Flare Out, Keep Going
I hope you enjoyed today's look into an inferno! As we speak I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye. In two weeks, we're going to have a very special theme week, and so I have something special cooked up rather than a challenge — you'll have to wait and see what that is.
In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or feedback, feel free to send it my way — I'd love to take a look. You can always find me on Twitter, and if that doesn't pan out for you (although I really recommend getting Twitter as a Magic player — it's incredibly useful) you can always post in the forums as well and I'll be sure to read your comments.
I'll be back next week with a look at competitive Standard just in time for Worlds Week. Talk to you then!
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.