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Priemer’s Primers: Basics, Bolts, and Burn

Written by Tyler Priemer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Priemer’s Primers: Basics, Bolts, and Burn

Tyler Priemer

Tyler has been playing TCGs for nearly 20 years. A long brewer with a knack for Legacy, there's nothing he loves more than making crazy decks a reality

Do you want to destroy your friends in a Legacy tournament, but you don’t want to fork over thousands of dollars for cardboard? The initial cost of Legacy staples is one of the biggest deterrents for newer players these days, and it is the battle cry of people claiming it’s a “dead format”. But what if I told you that you can build a tournament-competitive deck for roughly $200? You may be thinking I’ve lost my mind, but for the price of one Underground Sea you can build Burn.

Mono-Red Burn is one of Magic’s oldest archetypes, and one that maintains a presence in nearly every format. While most Legacy decks look at their opening hand and ponder whether they can properly interact with the opponent, or whether they have the right cards to do their combo, Burn is thinking about how quickly they can set their opponent on fire. It’s a very straightforward deck. There isn’t a lot of trickery, but Burn can hit hard, fast, and consistently enough to make it an excellent choice for players getting into Legacy.


In Legacy, Burn’s viability hinges on one card: Price of Progress. For the bargain of 1R you get an (on average) eight damage punch in the face at instant speed. The majority of “fair” decks in the format tend to jam as many nonbasic lands as they can to make their mana as consistent as possible. When Legacy staples like RUG Delver and Deathblade are running zero basic lands, Price of Progress is an undeniable powerhouse. It’s the reason Wasteland is a $70+ card, and it’s the same reason why Price of Progress is terrifying.

Another of Burn’s strengths is the incredible redundancy in its spells. WotC loves printing “3 damage for R” variants, and you’re there to take full advantage of that. From Lightning Bolt to Chain Lightning, Rift Bolt to Lava Spike, there are plenty of ways to dome your opponent. Because of this, very often you can look at your opening seven cards and see 12+ damage staring back at you. Factoring in opposing fetchlands, Thoughtseizes, Ancient Tombs, and Gitaxian Probes, your opponents won’t have very long to wait before they’re dead.

While Burn is fairly straightforward, it does have a bit of trickery in the form of Fireblast. For the price of two Mountains (because let’s face it, if you’re casting this for 4RR, something has gone horribly wrong), you can deal 4 damage to a creature or player. While coincidentally enough damage to kill a Batterskull token, Fireblast is predominantly used as a finisher after a fiery flurry of flames aimed at your opponent’s face.

Burn also runs some of the most efficient damage-to-mana cost creatures in the game. Read Goblin Guide for a moment. That 2/2 in the bottom right corner is deceptive, as a turn 1 Goblin Guide is often worth 4-8 damage on its own. Unlike in Modern, where there are plenty of creature decks that can block it, Legacy Goblin Guide demands an answer from an opponent that may have to dig hard for one.

Every turn they don’t kill it is another 2 damage in addition to whatever else you’re throwing at them. More traditional Burn decks also run Keldon Marauders, which is the equivalent of a 1R Lava Axe should it connect with an attack. Some lists also run Hellspark Elemental which, like its cousins Ball Lightning and Spark Elemental, deals a large chunk of hasty, trampling damage, and like big brother Hell’s Thunder it can be Unearthed to do even more damage later on. These hard hitting creatures demand attention immediately and allow you to conserve your burn spells for when they’re at their most potent.

One recent development in Burn is running Sulfuric Vortex in the maindeck. Once strictly a sideboard card, it has gained more maindeck appeal due to the rise in Batterskulls, Griselbrands, and Deathrite Shamans in Legacy. Gaining several chunks of life is something Burn really doesn’t handle well, so shutting off all life gain and shocking everyone on their upkeep is a solid solution. Three mana is a lot to ask of this deck, but slam it down against a Batterskull once and you’ll see how worthwhile it is.


Sideboarding is very metagame specific, but due to the limited options of being mono-Red, there are several cards that are just staples. First and foremost you will need a set of Pyroblast. Not want. NEED. This is your counterspell against fair decks and what allows you to force Price of Progress through counterspells. Also, being able to counter Geist of Saint Traft, True-Name Nemesis, or Show and Tell is just icing on the cake. Pyroblast is pretty much your only way of trying to fight counter-heavy decks, and learning when to use it is one of the first skills a new Burn player should practice. If you’re finding a lot of Blue in your metagame, you can even go deep and throw in some Red Elemental Blast, potentially going up to a whopping EIGHT anti-Blue spells. With Blue’s rising popularity as the “fair” colour of choice, it may be a necessary evil.

Speaking of Show and Tell, you have two options that commonly see play: Ensnaring Bridge and Ashen Rider. Ensnaring Bridge stops Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from attacking, as you will almost never have a full grip of cards, as well as the added bonus of being actually castable should they be on the Sneak Attack plan. Ashen Rider, on the other hand, shuts down Show and Tell with ease, but is a dead card against the Sneak Attack plan. However, Ashen Rider is also live in the OmniTell matchup, whereas Ensnaring Bridge is next to useless. It’s a metagame call, but any Burn deck should be running at least one of these cards in their sideboard.

For particularly creature-heavy metas, you have the option of running Searing Blaze. This guaranteed two-for-one can pick off creatures like Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, or Delver of Secrets while still dealing damage to their face. The only major caveat of Searing Blaze is that it works best in a deck full of fetchlands. While fetchlands significantly increase the price of the deck, they aren’t absolutely necessary to play Searing Blaze. Most of the creatures you’ll be killing are X/1s to begin with, and you can still cast it during your own turn to kill something bigger. I typically wouldn’t recommend it as a four-of, but if you suspect the metagame to be full of creatures, Searing Blaze can be a godsend.

Your graveyard hate is limited to pretty much either artifacts like Relic of Progenitus or using Surgical Extraction. Personally, I advocate Surgical Extraction because it’s easier to pick apart combo decks like Tin Fins as well as giving you information about your opponent’s hand. It makes sequencing your burn spells much easier, and I’m a fan of anything that makes your job easier. Another option is Faerie Macabre, which has the unique advantage of not being counterable (although it can still be hit with Stifle). While it doesn’t help much against Dredge, it
does work favorably against Tin Fins and especially the Reanimator match, where a turn 1 Iona can shut down your entire deck.

Lastly, we have Smash to Smithereens. Aside from having the best name ever, it is one of the best artifact destruction spells in Magic. Not only does this get around Chalice of the Void, which when on one counter is probably the best artifact-based counter for Burn, you still get to hit the opponent for 3 damage. Getting to shoot anything from Baleful Strix to Umezawa’s Jitte and not lose tempo on your burninating is a boon to a mana-light deck like Burn.


Burn has an incredibly good matchup against the various 3-4 colour decks in Legacy because of Price of Progress. Decks such as Shardless BUG and Deathblade are especially good because they run so few counterspells. You put such a fast clock on them that even casting Price for 6 damage can be backbreaking. While they spend their first few turns setting up their mana, you’re lobbing damage at their face.

As well, slower mono-colour decks like Death & Taxes and Merfolk are also slightly in your favor if you play it smart. You have a much faster clock than they do, and often spending a Lightning Bolt on a creature like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Lord of Atlantis can break their tempo enough that missing the 3 damage to the face becomes negligible. The main issue against Merfolk is that often their creatures get out of Burn range very early on, but fortunately you have Pyroblast to shrink their creatures should you need to.

Another surprisingly alright matchup is Metalworker/MUD. While they do have maindeck Chalice of the Void and the ability to play it on turn 1, after sideboarding you can lean on Smash to Smithereens to handle Chalice as well as any other artifacts that may pose a problem. With Chalice of the Void out of the way, you can use your burn spells to pick off their earliest threats: Metalworker and Lodestone Golem. Metalworker itself isn’t much of a threat, but is the engine that lets them get out of control, so throwing a Lightning Bolt at their 1 / 2 is almost always the best play. Lodestone Golem hurts Burn because it makes your burn spells cost 1 more mana. In a land-light deck like Burn, this gets frustrating fast, so Lodestone Golem is a “kill on sight” creature. Lastly, MUD often takes incidental damage from Ancient Tomb, which can often save you two or three spells just from shocking themselves.


Two of Burn’s biggest weaknesses are Show and Tell decks and combo decks like Dredge and Storm that can combo off faster than you’re able to kill them. In these situations, your game 1 will be dictated by how much damage you can deal in the first three turns. If you are able to do enough damage that the various Ancient Tombs, City of Brasses, or Ad Nauseums in their decks bring them low enough that a Bolt or two will be lethal, you might stand a chance. Postboard things get a bit easier in the Sneak and Show matchup with either your Ensnaring Bridges or Ashen Riders, but it will still be tricky if they’re on the Sneak Attack plan.

With the all-in combo decks, you will be racing them even after boarding. Storm depletes its life total enough that it should be alright, but Dredge and Charbelcher, however, are much harder to interact with. Dredge, while not immune to Surgical Extraction, has enough redundancy in the deck as well as Iona, Shield of Emeria postboard, so you have to hit multiple Surgical Extractions to slow them down long enough. Charbelcher is incredibly hard for Burn to fight as they can just kill you on turn 1-2 with little effort. If Charbelcher is big in your meta, try Pithing Needle and Pyroclasm to fight it, or just bring in the Smash to Smithereens and pray they don’t have enough mana to activate Goblin Charbelcher immediately.


Another one of the biggest advantages of Burn is that you’re essentially buying two decks for the price of one. Roughly 80% of the deck is used in the Modern Burn deck, so with a few minor tweaks you have a deck for two formats on a whim. For those of you on a tight budget, Burn offers the most bang for your buck. As well, the card availability is surprisingly high, with staples being reprinted in M12, Modern Masters, Duel Deck: Sorin vs. Tibalt, and Premium Deck: Fire & Lightning. This takes a lot of the hassle out of putting the deck together which, trust me, can be the biggest hindrance to getting into Legacy.

All in all, I would recommend Burn to anyone looking for their first experience playing Legacy. If you’re on the outside looking in, Burn gives you the opportunity to experience the format firsthand without spending an absurd amount of money, all the while still being able to win. More importantly, playing Burn is just plain fun. You put pressure on your opponent every turn of the game by hurling fire and lightning and pummeling them with goblins. It’s the epitome of Red Magic, and it’s a (Fire)blast to play!

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