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Archetypes Across Formats: Burn

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM, Legacy, Modern, Standard

With every format in Magic, some archetypes or strategies remain the same. You will see control in almost every format. You will see aggro in most too. With its recent success at an SCGOpen last weekend, we are going to talk about an archetype that has been around for a while, and in literally every format. Burn.

The goal of a burn deck is fairly simple. Use cheap, hard hitting spells that cause your opponent to take tons of damage until they are dead. Some say it is linear, but at the same time choices are needed in order to win. What if your opponent plays a creature that has to be answered? Do you hit them or the creature? When is the right time to cast those spells? Main phase? End of Turn? While the idea of burn is simple, some of the choices may not be.

What about burn makes it a deck people actually want to play? One of the most popular appeals I’ve noticed is the price tag. Usually, depending on the format it might take a few hundred, if not thousands of dollars to build a deck that can be consistent enough to win. Most of the time, some of the best burn spells are commons, or uncommons; Which means usually when building a burn deck it will cost a lot less than something else where you have to buy expensive rares, and mythics.

Just think about it; One of the best and most popular burn spells ever printed is Lightning Bolt. Average price for that card is 1-2 dollars for the cheapest one. Sure, you can bling out your deck and get fancier, older versions; But to those who are on a budget it helps that they have the option for a cheaper version.

What makes Legacy. and even Modern decks so expensive? The lands. I’ve seen players drop thousands on lands alone, while to be consistent at the worst you’d need to spend 50-200 dollars for lands in a burn deck. On a Budget? Who needs Fetch lands!

We are now going to look at Burn decks across the formats, starting with Tyler Winns standard burn list that won him the SCGOpen last week.

This deck has been around for a few months now. What sets this version apart from the others? A few things. For starters, Tyler spoke of 1 card doing tons of work last weekend, and that was Wild Guess. Who woulda guessed that this red draw spell would see competitive play, but I can see how it would have been a huge heavy hitter for him. The ability to chuck maybe an extra land to draw 2 extra cards could be huge. Especially if you need that last bit of burn.

While standard has tons of great ways to deal your opponent damage, access to more cards makes other formats usually faster. What am I playing come Modern season in the summer? You guessed it. A Burn deck. Let’s look at it.

Like I was saying before, the more access to cards from the past the faster the deck gets. My version features a few standard mainstays though. Boros Charm is one of the highest damage 2 drop burn spells modern has. And Skullcrack? Super strong against decks that gain life all of a sudden, and put them out of range. I like to nickname this deck Bolts, because of the insane amount of “1 drop deal 3 to target player” spells in the deck. Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, Lava Spike, Bump in the Night, and Shard Volley for a total of 17 Lightning Bolts.

The only downside to expanding into further formats, is the need for a good mana base if you aren’t mono colored. I didn’t have to, but I included Fetch Lands in order to thin my deck out of lands and to mana fix into the colors I needed. This deck has every chance of winning with just Shocklands and basics.

While my list is Multicolored for extra range, Legacy burn decks usually come in one color. Red. Let’s take a look:

This version recently went 4-0 in a Legacy Daily. This deck like my modern one, depend on really cheap burn spells to get the job done. The difference between Modern and Legacy (at least at the very surface) is a ton of extra sets, with those sets comes Price of Progress. Price deals damage equal to two times the number of Nonbasic lands each player controls. Without a Fetchland on the field, this deals nothing to you when it resolves. Your opponent however, is usually a different story. Like I was saying before, all kinds of people drop real money on lands alone, so they are obviously going to play those lands. Tundra, Underground Sea and more all count as nonbasic, so you normally deal quite a bit of damage with this spell. This version also takes advantage of Young Pyromancer, to get tokens in for extra damage.

Burn is probably one of the cheapest Legacy decks around. This list runs Fetch lands, and that is about the most expensive thing for a burn player to buy. Sure, you don’t need it; But land filtering is a huge part of being consistent in eternal formats, so it is usually advised.

Can you believe that even a format with only commons has a burn archetype too? That’s right. Pauper Burn.

Most of the better burn spells from Legacy and Modern are in fact commons. Even Lightning Bolt itself is included in this format. The pauper list is a little bit less consistent only because of it’s inability to filter lands the way that lists with fetch lands can. None the less; Burn as a archetype is even powerful and popular in the pauper format. Surprisingly the pauper format is pretty expansive. At the same time, it is every common ever, so the card pool is pretty large.


Playing burn can be rewarding in many ways, but every once in a while you’ll have an opponent that complains just enough for you to wonder whats so bad about it. Coming from someone who has had experienced with players who weren’t so happy that their 200-300+ dollar deck lost to something that barely cost a 4th of that. What is the complaint that most players have? The deck seams very linear.

For burn decks, (well with any deck actually) the goal is to kill your opponent. Sometimes depending on the format depends on how fast, but usually it isn’t very interactive with your opponent. Sometimes a burn spell has to be wasted on a creature that might kill you, and sometimes those burn spells require a creature to be killed to deal any damage. This is the reason that a few players will have an issue losing to this type of deck; It’s like playing a 1 person match sometimes.

Enjoy playing burn? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the deck and how you feel about complaints some players have about the deck. It definitely isn’t the only archetype around, but it is one that appears in literally every format. Have an archetype you’d like to look at through the formats? Comment below and I’ll take a look.




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