My Fires - Part 2
In part one of My Fires, I covered which lands you want to play and which ones you want to avoid. You can view that article here. Today, I'm going to cover some of the basics of the deck - the ancillary cards that make Fires work.
Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves. These are the cards that I was convinced the best deck in the format had to use, even when I didn't know what to do with the mana. There's no other mana acceleration that can compare to them. Going first with one of them often yields a simply gigantic advantage. The problem is the deck has a little too much mana because of these cards, but Rishadan Port and Dust Bowl fix that. In general, Birds of Paradise almost always comes out first. The exceptions to this rule are when it's clear that red mana won't be needed and the Elf will want to attack, situations with Fires of Yavimaya already on the table (when the order is based on getting the right mana at the end), and situations where the Birds are in grave danger. If the most likely case is that the first mana creature will die, then leading with Llanowar Elves lets Birds of Paradise have a better chance to live. The extra point of power from the Llanowar Elves can be important, but the Birds having flying and being able to produce red is normally a bigger concern. The biggest case is where the Llanowar Elves teams up with a Blastoderm and a painland or two. That's the other case where Elf may lead over Birds: so it can team up with the Blastoderm, while the Bird sits in hand to cover Wrath of God, Rout or Perish.
The mana creatures accelerate the deck's mana, but they are also vulnerable. Simoon has virtually replaced Tangle as the mirror matchup card of choice because of its usefulness in other matchups, and the goal here is to kill Birds and Elves and occasionally getting River Boa or Ancient Hydra as well. In general, the deck needs to commit as much mana as possible to the table because it will usually be able to use it, but if it's clear that an extra Bird or Elf can be held with no risk, either against a control deck or against another Fires deck after sideboarding, it's generally wise to do so. Finally, there will be the temptation to sideboard some Llanowar Elves out in some matchups. Resist this temptation; it is a mistake to touch them. At most, one Llanowar should be pulled, and Birds of Paradise should never be looked at regardless of anything, including if Hurricane (which I don't recommend) is being sideboarded in. The creatures are too important. If Dust Bowl is useless and more mana isn't needed that's where to sideboard out mana, but this is an extreme measure and I don't know of any normal matchup where this is worth doing.
River Boa is an excellent card, and it belongs in many decks, but it definitely does not belong in this one.
River Boa. Might as well deal with the conspicuously missing Islandwalker. Do not play River Boa. River Boa is an excellent card, and it belongs in many decks, but it definitely does not belong in this one. Most players probably put River Boa into the deck without thinking too much about it; River Boa is a great creature, clearly the best two-drop in the format, it blocks Blastoderm and Islandwalks against control decks. The problem is, this deck has no use for a two drop. The reason the deck works is because it combines mana acceleration and a ton of powerful cards, whose raw power more than makes up for the large number of mana sources the deck must play. It also works off of using the deck's mana every turn to bring new permanents onto the table, unless there is a danger of overcommitement. River Boa makes all these problems worse. River Boa is a solid card, but it isn't powerful enough to begin compensating for the large number of mana sources in the deck. That's no surprise, it only costs two mana. It hinders the deck's ability to use its mana every turn, because River Boa wants the deck to save mana so it can regenerate. That one mana is going to add up, and it is going to hurt, especially when Rishadan Port is involved. The biggest thing is not to be afraid to trade them off for removal spells or even Llanowar Elves. Even if the Boa could have been more valuable in the long term, the time lost isn't worth it. Back to the pure issue of a two drop, which is a bill River Boa doesn't even always fit because of regeneration mana. On the first turn, most games the deck will play Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise. Sometimes it will cast Assault or do nothing. On the second turn, it then has the option to play Chimeric Idol or Fires of Yavimaya. If there is only two mana available instead of three, either because of an opponent's Rishadan Port, opponent's burn or lack of a creature, then a second mana creature (in case of Port or Burn, or the need to burn last turn) is a better play than River Boa. Using a Rishadan Port is about as good as playing River Boa; if it keeps the opponent from reaching an important mana threshold then it's better. All told, this makes it unlikely that there will be a good time to play River Boa early on. At one point, I actually thought that the key idea I had in the entire format was 'Don't play River Boa.' I might even have been right.
Chimeric Idol. Chimeric Idol serves many different purposes in the deck. The first is to smooth out the mana curve. Without anything at the two level, and with a lot of ways to get to three mana on turn two, it's important to have more than just Fires of Yavimaya to cast at the three level. It isn't a question what the best three drop besides Fires is. Besides just being a really solid creature at 3/3 for three mana, although it is the weakling among the non-mana creatures in the deck, Chimeric Idol dodges most of the cards that attack the deck. It can't be stopped with Teferi's Moat, Story Circle, Wrath of God or Perish, and at three mana it is often possible to get him in under Counterspell itself. Stopping Chimeric Idol requires either a solution specifically for Chimeric Idol like Disenchant, a genuine blocker (the horror!) or the evil, evil Blinding Angel. Against non-control decks, it is just an efficient creature. This is one of the cards that gets sideboarded out a lot, since it is the non-mana card in the deck with the least power. Taking them out can be dangerous to the mana curve, so be careful. The only time they all go is if all 12 Disenchant targets are coming out, otherwise a few stay for curve reasons. They keep the deck solid, and only really come out when the opponent is playing a similar type of strategy; against smaller creatures Idol makes sure the deck keeps up and there's little danger of not drawing enough power. The last issue is how Idol interacts with versions that have City of Brass in them. In general, this is annoying but not serious, although having a lot of copies of Armageddon helps the situation a lot. And of course, don't forget all the standard Chimeric Idol tricks.
Making the deck great
Fires of Yavimaya. The deck is named for Fires because Fires is the card that doesn't mimic something these decks have always done. Normally cards that give haste are not tournament quality, but this one is. The creatures in this deck are all amazing with haste, and Saproling Burst is insane. The general rules for the deck are: when in doubt, play Fires and when in doubt, do not sacrifice Fires. The only case where the deck leads with Chimeric Idol is against control early on, since Idol is a more crucial spell in those matchups. But Fires is no slouch. Some players will be tempted to choose not to counter Fires, on the assumption that they can counter all the creatures. This play is generally only worthwhile against the multiple Fires draw, and there's no way they know that's coming. Multiple Fires don't make Fires a bad card, but it does make the extras overpriced. The second Fires shouldn't come out if there is something else to do, unless the plan is to sacrifice one of them. Knowing the second Fires is in hand is an asset; what would normally be far too valuable to sacrifice for anything short of a Jade Leech now becomes expendable. When debating whether to sacrifice the only Fires, save it no matter what if Saproling Burst is in hand but otherwise generally sacrifice it to save a Jade Leech but not for any less efficient or worthy purpose. The really hard issue is when saving Fires would leave no more creatures, but the creature involved is only 3/3. Don't let the opponent keep the only creature very often, and generally Fires is going to get sacrificed to save that Idol. A lot depends on how the matchup seems. The deck with bigger creatures can afford to make sure it doesn't lose early on. A deck with smaller ones would have to keep the Fires so it could try and make something happen. Then there's sideboarding. It is tempting to sideboard out Fires of Yavimaya against control decks since it is not a direct threat, but this is a mistake unless all the Disenchant targets are being pulled. Fires makes the entire deck a much bigger threat to control. They may let it resolve, but they're never going to like letting it happen. If nothing else, it is a huge help getting around cards like Perish and Wrath of God. If some strange control deck isn't sweeping the board maybe one could come out, but I can't think of a good example of this situation.
Assault and Battery. Most of the time, it is Assault, but a significant portion of the time it is Battery. It's almost never worth worrying about 'wasting' this as Assault when it could be Battery. The Birds must die! So must the Elves. So must the Sergeants. And man, the Rishadan Airships have got to go. Only very late in the game when both sides have all the mana in the known universe is this something to lose sleep over. As long as a card is killed, everything's fine. Of course, it never hurt anyone to make it a 3/3 creature. Battery is cast mainly against control, where Assault is useless. Using Assault instead of Urza's Rage or Rhystic Lightning ensures it will always be a threat. The other edge is that Assault only costs one mana, and that is actually pretty important. The usual issue is the first turn, where using Assault to kill the opponent's Bird or Elf is almost always a stronger play than casting Bird or Elf yourself. Against Rishadan Airships, it will also be much appreciated. Time always seems to be of the essence. The only real problem with Assault and Battery is against Recoil, which kills the token outright and then forces a discard. The trick there is that Recoil is almost always seriously overloaded. Lately, I've been very good at sensing when they were out, at which point they have to use a counter on a card they'd much rather let resolve. In that matchup, this is what gets sideboarded out to make room. In the Grudge Match in New York City, I played only three Assault and Battery. I justified that by having Simoon in the sideboard, which makes up for the deficit in Elf and Bird kill. That let me add a second maindeck Chameleon (cutting Earthquake got me the other). This isn't a happy trimming, but it is acceptable as long as there are reinforcements waiting for game two. It comes down to a metagame call. Against other decks with targets, all four Assaults and all four Simoon would be more than welcome.