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Sparks and Flames: A Johnny's Ode to Burn

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The letter H!ello and welcome back to the Lab! As always, I try to pay attention to the various theme weeks, embracing the restriction as any Johnny would. I was delighted to learn that this week would be Burn Week. Everyone has their opinions on aspects of Magic that they find fun, and for me, pointing a Lightning Bolt at something and destroying it is the Magical equivalent of that warm, fuzzy feeling.

I suppose it's natural that I would be an advocate of burn, since at heart, I'm a red mage. Yes, it's true! I've gone on record saying as much in previous columns. And nothing else on the physical spectrum represents red like the twin elements of fire and lightning being harnessed through a spell to deal heavy damage to something.


I often ponder the color pie. I've devoured Mark Rosewater's various articles on the subject as though they were religious texts, in an effort to understand each color's motivations. So what do I think red's motivations are when it's burning something? Remember, red isn't like black, the color that would always prefer to simply kill something to remove it from its path towards ultimate power. Red is different. Red's spells certainly have the capability to kill something, but whenever Lightning Bolt is cast, for example, it's only dealing 3 damage to something. To me, this suggests a different personality, rather than the crueler "Destroy target nonblack creature" found on Lightning Bolt's Magic 2011 counterpart Doom Blade. It suggests that red's not solely out to kill (although that may happen). Red's out to experience something, and what's more adrenaline-pumping than summoning fire and lightning from your fingertips?

In studying burn as a sub-section of Magic themes that continue to this day, it's interesting to note the various cards that have kept the torch burning. The biggest and most recent piece of news in burn's history was the decision to bring back Lightning Bolt to the core set. I had always regarded Lightning Bolt as a card of ancient, legendary significance (remember, I started playing Magic during Nemesis). The core set staple burn card at the time was Shock. I loved Shock, and I have fond memories of using it to destroy numerous face-down cards during the Onslaught era. Later on, as I said, Lightning Bolt was reprinted, making me a happy, happy Noel. Was I happy because the spell was straight-up superior to Shock? Partly. While I certainly had no qualms about dealing 3 damage, I was more pleased that I had the opportunity to play with such (in my eyes) a legendary burn spell. I'm a proponent of keeping the core set fresh with different cards representing Magic's various sub-sections (burn, life gain, land search, discard, card draw, etc). I like using cards that haven't been given too much love by deck builders at large.


That's why today, I've decided to shake things up, in case this introduction essay hasn't clued you in. I'm going to be looking at my favorite underrated burn cards, both on a flavorful and deck-building basis, and ranking them in both categories. I suppose I'm trying to promote the use of underrated cards in deck building, using the sub-section of burn as a model. Perhaps in the future, I can do something similar with other sub-sections like bounce, discard, and others. Ideally, this article will wind up as a reference of sorts when I'm deck building. If I want to have burn in a red deck (which I usually do) I'll check here for the burn card that would thrive the most for the deck I'm building. So each card that I cover will also have a designated "thriving" condition: For example, Violent Eruption would thrive more if it's madness cost was paid more often (making it cheaper), so it's thriving condition might be a deck with a self-discarding theme (Wild Mongrel, etc). Also, just for fun, I'll mark each card to be Fire or Lightning. I was intrigued by the latest Premium Deck Series: Fire and Lightning, and thought I'd keep track to see which element has the best burn. Just a friendly competition.

Anyways, let's get started! My favorite burn instants and sorceries, coming up! Why didn't I cover creatures that burn things (a la Flametongue Kavu?) because I think of instants and sorceries when I think of burn, but that could be a sequel column for another day. I'm ordering them by damage dealt (so, my five favorite 1-damage dealing cards, followed by 2-damage dealing cards, and so on).

1 Damage

Thriving condition: Decks that like to cast lots of spells.
Level of Underrated-ness (LoU): Medium.
Fire or Lightning: ... Grapes?


Thriving condition: Mana-heavy decks.
LoU: High. (very underrated.)
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Infinite-mana decks.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Eldrazi Spawn decks, or token decks, in general.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Permanent-heavy decks.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


As you can see, those are my five picks for most underrated 1-damage dealers. Moving on ...

2 Damage

Thriving condition: Time counter decks, decks that like to cast spells.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Lightning.



Thriving condition: Any. I love this card!
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: I'll go with fire, due to the explosions in the artwork.


Thriving condition: Decks that like to know the top cards of their library.
LoU: Low. (This card is universally awesome.)
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: This is a sweeper, so decks that don't mind clearing the board of little creatures every once in a while.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: ... Sulfur?


Thriving condition: So many decks ...
LoU: Very high.
Fire or Lightning: Lightning.


3 Damage

Thriving condition: Madness/discard decks.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire


Thriving condition: Decks that don't like full graveyards.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Decks that like to regrow spells, late-game decks.
LoU: High
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Late-game decks, possible win condition
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: According to the new art, I believe it is fire.


4 Damage

Thriving condition: A card this versatile? A lot of deck-building options.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Look at those lovely red symbols! Mono-red decks, for sure.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire


Thriving condition: Anti-life gain decks, goes well in a pure burn strategy.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Fire


Thriving condition: Fun, multiplayer environments. I like using the occasional Un-card.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire


Thriving condition: Madness/discard decks. As a side note, this card might be my actual favorite burn card. Normally I'd rank 'em, but I decided to do this reference instead. Still, I've got mad love for Violent Eruption.
LoU: High.
Fire or Lightning: Fire. (I'm noticing a pattern.)


5 Damage

Thriving condition: Straight-up burn. This card has massive nostalgia value for me, and I'm glad it's been a fixture of the core set the past few years.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: Multi-colored decks, since it landcycles.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Fire.


Thriving condition: As a sweeper—its damn good.
LoU: Low. (Pretty well known.)
Fire or Lightning: Neither ... destruction, I suppose.


Thriving condition: Decks that like drawing cards (so you have a better chance of drawing it after it's been reshuffled.)
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: The art for this actually looks like Lightning, so Lightning. Finally!


Thriving condition: Discard/Madness decks.
LoU: Medium.
Fire or Lightning: Lightning.


To cap off my indulgence in my love of burn, here's a deck I use in real life that contains some of my favorite burn spells. It's a straightforward red-green madness deck.

Noel's Wurmy Burn


If you ever played a madness deck, then this shouldn't seem too difficult. For those who haven't though, here's why I love this kind of deck. Wild Mongrel is a key two-drop, letting me discard anything in my hand—and if I have adequate mana, I can cast my madness cards for a lower price. Between Arrogant Wurm, Reckless Wurm, and Roar of the Wurm, I've got some serious beef that can hit the board relatively quickly.

As always, my suite of burn spells has been tailored by these deck limitations. Lightning Axe can discard things, Magma Jet is just awesome and lets me sift through my immediate library. Finally, Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption just combine to fill me with joy. Greenseeker and Eternal Witness are synergistic as well, the former being another discard outlet and land searcher while the latter picks up any fallen pieces. Borborygmos is a fun, on-color beat-stick.

The underlying theme of today's column is that underrated cards deserve second looks. I've been using burn as my chosen sub-section today, but this philosophy spreads to all of Magic, I believe. Playing with the best card each time is fine, but using cards that don't get attention is something that's important to me. For example, Borborygmos technically isn't an ideal red-green win condition (I could have used a Dragon or something). Still though, it fits in the deck, which is enough for me.

I won't be around next week due to the Thanksgiving holidays, but the week after that I'll be back deck building. I'd be interested to see the reaction to this article. Hopefully there will be a casual audience for columns like this. If not, it's still important to experiment and keeps things interesting.

Until next time!



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