Magic But Cheaper: Burn in Every Medium

ServoToken cover one of magic's oldest strategies in his "patented" budget outlook

Calculating Damage

“What’s your life at?” The proverbial question that inevitably passes the lips of every Burn pilot as they consider the most effective use of the remaining three cards in their hand. Burn is a strategy as old as Magic itself, and has permeated into all spheres of the game due to its potency and simplistic approach to taking down a game. One of the first things that we’re told when we first learn the game is that the objective is to reduce the opponent’s life total from twenty to zero, and what quicker path to take than the straight line provided by launching a volley of burn spells at the opponent’s face. Burn is a cornerstone archetype that all Magic players should be familiar with, and today we’re going to look at how to construct the deck regardless of your budget or platform of choice. Let’s dive into Burn in all formats.

Table of Contents:

Burning on a Budget

Starting off is the paper list. As you’ll find there are a handful of routes to take when considering the construction of a Burn deck. For this iteration the focus is on the Wizard creature type, as its inclusion enables the use of the card Wizard’s Lightning, one of the true Lightning Bolt clones we have available in the Pioneer format. The construction follows fairly close to the tried and true burn deck methodology of 20/20/20, or an even split of twenty Lands, Creatures, and Spells each, with the general game plan being to establish a board presence of two or so creatures to push through damage while the burn spells advance the clock and clear out blockers. Many of these creatures and spells will be present in each iteration of the lists covered today. One of the key factors in constructing a burn deck is redundancy, or building such that any one-mana spell can be expected to perform the same role as any other in the deck. This creates extreme consistency, which both helps to negate variance in gameplay, and creates an easier time for the pilot mentally as they play through a multi-round event as there are fewer decisions to make and thus fewer opportunities to make an incorrect decision. 

Burning Online

MTGO provides a bit of a tricky scenario for a burn pilot on a budget, as for whichever reason a large number of the mono red cards are incredibly expensive. Roiling Vortex at 12Tix each, Bonecrusher Giant near 11, Den of the Bugbear a staggering 40. This makes it so that we need to stretch our imagination a bit to find the path of least resistance within the budget so that we’re getting the most bang for our buck. Prowess seemed like an ideal shell to take this list because it enables the quickest yet most rewarding gameplay of any of the variants here. The deck still leans in to that 20/20/20 makeup, but with a much higher focus on the spells of the deck and their capacity to deal damage. Instead of using each piece as a singular unit with flexibility in its objective target, the Prowess version looks to maximize damage output per mana spent, and thus packs a much more dense one-drop suite. The creatures reward the player for casting more spells per turn, which means that cheaper spells are more useful as those rewards compound, and the spells themselves are more likely to further enable the chain by offering card filtering. While Burn decks on the whole focus on redundancy due to relatively high individual card quality, Prowess as a strategy focuses on synergy between multiple pieces instead, which boost general power level overall. This particular list is better suited for Magic Online play as games can be had more quickly and a player’s time can be spent practicing or vying for prizes instead of grinding it out turn after turn. 

Burning in Best-of-One

Moving over to Arena, where similarly to MTGO quick games are generally more rewarded, we have a Best-of-One list that adds a new element to the Wizards package from earlier. Due to the nature of the Best-of-One format, decks participating in it need to fulfill one of two requirements. They either need to do something incredibly proactive that demands an answer immediately, or they need to be able to hang with the decks that are looking to stop those extremely proactive strategies. This burn list looks to fill a little bit of both, as it still packs that quick and aggressive approach that burn is known for. However, the deck shifts upwards slightly, as it looks to have game in the later turns as well. The likes of Chandra and Hazoret as sticky later game threats bring an added level of flexibility to the strategy, making the deck more likely to slot into the control role if need be by focusing its burn spells on creatures and planeswalkers. A deck like this is advantaged in the Best-of-One field due to it being able to compete regardless of what the opponent’s strategy may be, not needing to rely on one niche game plan as its ride to victory.

Burning in Best-of-Three

Finally, the Best-of-Three list. This one also chooses to shift gears a bit in accordance with what’s good and popular in the format at the moment, opting to create a budgeted version of a real list instead of making a deck that’s both budget and off-meta. The popular red strategy is certainly less burn and more red-deck-wins with the number of creatures available, but there is still a good amount of forethought skill crossover required. This version looks to establish its board presence in the early turns, but instead of supplementing it with burn spells to clear the way it instead just looks to never stop pounding on the pressure. Burning-Tree Emissary and Anax, Hardened in the Forge both create tremendous threats in play in the early game, which can be difficult to deal with considering the format’s relatively small pool of interaction. It also looks to take advantage of Embercleave, one of the more explosive options available in the format, to overwhelm moreso than burn’s traditional plan of outmaneuvering. While this may not constitute a burn list by some people’s definitions, the deck is nonetheless extremely quick and resilient. Just think of the creatures as a burn spell that’s a little bit more permanent.

Burning, Everlasting

As far as archetypes in magic are concerned, burn is definitely one of them. It’s a plan with a cult following spanning back decades, with nearly every player having strong feelings towards it one way or the other. As magic continues to evolve and rethink the way that it approaches different strategies and ground rules for which effects can go where, the one thing that assuredly remains is that Mono Red Burn will be the essence of aggression in all formats. Until next time, remember to stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading. 

  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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