Burning Earth Aggro

April 5, 2015

Alexander West

34 Year old from Seattle
Top 8 GP Montreal
Top 8 GP San Diego
Send me questions to Mailbag@mtgmadness.com

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Burning Earth is going to be the most format transforming card from the new set.

After playing a bit of the new Standard with M14, I can say that Burning Earth is going to be the most format transforming card from the new set. For a while the two best decks in the format have been Jund midrange and Raka (UWR) control. The thing that they have in common? 0-1 basic lands in most builds. Burning Earth mercilessly punishes such decks. It’s not quite as brutal as Price of Progress, but it’s a whole lot better than Anathemancer. If the rest of your deck can do half to three-quarters of the work, a Burning Earth right now will do the rest of it. The format may adapt, but for now it’s the best source of free wins in Standard.

To make Burning Earth work, a deck should be pretty aggressive, so that the opponent’s life total will be under pressure when it hits the board, and to put the resources that might answer it under pressure (like counters or Ratchet Bomb) . Brian Kibler and Craig Wescoe both leveraged aggressive Burning Earth at the Magic World Championships last weekend at Amsterdam, going 3-0 and 2-1 respectively in the Standard portion. I’m going to put both of their deck lists up here, and then a mono-red deck I’ve been crushing with on MODO.

Craig Wescoe’s World Championship Boros:


3 Banisher Priest
4 Champion of the Parish
2 Doomed Traveler
4 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Knight of Glory
4 Silverblade Paladin
4 Sublime Archangel
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben


3 Brave the Elements
4 Searing Spear


4 Clifftop Retreat
1 Mountain
11 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Slayers’ Stronghold


1 Banisher Priest
1 Brave the Elements
4 Burning Earth
2 Fiend Hunter
1 Mountain
3 Nearheath Pilgrim
3 Rest in Peace



Brian Kibler’s World Championship Gruul:


4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Thundermaw Hellkite


3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade


9 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground


2 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Burning Earth
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Gruul War Chant
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Volcanic Strength
2 Zealous Conscripts



Both of these decks are aggressive, but a little further into the midrange scale than where I really want to be to fully exploit Burning Earth. Here is the deck I’ve been sporting:

Burning Earth Red


4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Ash Zealot
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Chandra’s Phoenix


4 Pillar of Flame
4 Shock
4 Searing Spear
4 Brimstone Volley
1 Devil’s Play


19 Mountain
4 Mutavault


4 Cathedral of War
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Devil’s Play
4 Burning Earth



The deck is fundamentally a sligh deck, playing close to the 20 land/20 creature/20 spell mix from days of yore. Magic 2014 has given this deck a lot of magnificent gifts, in addition to the namesake Burning Earth

Chandra’s Phoenix is fantastic, since it has evasion, which lets it ignore the myriad of creates choking up the ground. Likewise, it can be a bit suicidal in its attacks or blocks, and offers a form of card advantage with its ability to return from the graveyard. I love getting into game states like: stalled up ground, Brimstone Volley in hand, opponent’s only flier is a Thundermaw Hellkite, and opponent at 9. Attack with two phoenixes, opponent noms one with their dragon, Brimstone Volley them for 5, get the phoenix back, and then the next turn recast it and get in for lethal. Yeah, the Brimstone Volley was clutch here, but this sort of play comes up pretty often.

Young Pyromancer has been pretty interesting. I almost cut it from the deck, thinking it was the weakest card. It may be one of the weakest, but it is still highly synergistic with 17 burn spells. It plays well as a 3 drop (wizard into 1cc burn spell), as a 4 drop (wizard into 2cc burn spell), and has done some absurd things in multiples. It’s also nice on defense, since now a Searing Spear could trade with a Loxodon Smiter or such. I’ve seen this 2cc card produce 10 power over the course of the game, which is impressive. I certainly remember the game where my opponent was on 14 after casting a Thragtusk, and I just had a Young Pyromancer and 4 elemental tokens on the board, with a Mutavault in my lands, and a Searing Spear in hand. I just bashed in, used the Searing Spear to make another elemental and save my wizard which had been blocked. The rest of the turns I just threw guys into the blender until my opponent was in range of being burnt out by a topdecked Shock

Mutavault is one of the dreamiest cards for aggro decks, and really for any deck. One of the biggest problems in Magic is that if you play too few lands you don’t get to play your spells on time, and if you play too many you flood out. Manlands and utility lands are one of R&D’s ways to try to give us options, playing cards that can work as a spell or a land. Mutavault is, frankly, the best one they’ve printed in the Modern design era. It’s cheap to activate, and a totally fine “creature” in an aggressive deck. This lets this deck play a higher than normal land count for a curve ending at 3cc without being punished for it. Sometimes it’s even like playing a 2/2 with optional echo on the next turn.

Part of what is sweet about this deck is that it is semi-transformational in nature. This is to say that it starts as an aggressive deck, but has the capacity to turn into a midrange deck if it is advantageous. My general sideboard plans look like this:

Go Big: -4 Stromkirk Noble, -4 Rakdos Cackler, -3 Young Pyromancer or Ash Zealot, +3 Devil’s Play, +4 Catherdral of War, +4 Thundermaw Hellkite. The idea here is to become a removal-centric “control” deck, with some big threats to trump your opponent. It is also an effective way to dodge an opponent who has brought in small removal spells or Bonfire of the Damned to get your little guys.

Go Big, v2: -4 Pillar of Flame, -4 Shock, -3 Young Pyromancer, +3 Devil’s Play, +4 Cathedral of War, +4 Thundermaw Hellkite. This is for the reverse situation, where your opponent lacks targets for your small burn spells, but doesn’t have good answers to your small men.

Vs. 3 Color: -4 Pillar of Flame, -1 Devil’s Play, +4 Burning Earth, +1 Cathedral of War. Pillar is the weakest burn spell, and I don’t want to miss a beat playing Burning Earth, so I want one more land. I’ve also experimented with -4 Shock and playing all the Devil’s Plays. The verdict is still out on that.

Vs. Tokens: This one varies quite a bit, but the main thrust is that you want to get +4 Thundermaw Hellkite, and +4 Cathedral of War into the deck. I also tend to like Devil’s play when there are 27 lands in the deck. Hellkite tapping out or destroying Lingering Souls is huge game. Not to mention, with a cathedral or two, they can do some serious damage.

Don’t be afraid to board 0 cards. Often the super-aggressive streamlined red aggro deck is just what you want to be.

There are many other ways to mix and match spells, but these are the 3 kinds of plans I use the most often.

The deck generally feels favorable against any deck that doesn’t play Unflinching Courage or Fiendslayer Paladin. The enchantment is mostly a problem on Hexproof guys, otherwise it’s not a huge deal just to double burn whoever is suited up. Not being able to kill a target with lifelink is a huge problem though, and will eventually be the downfall of this deck if it catches on. (For reference, this deck is probably bad vs. Wescoe’s Boros deck, and in my experience is very good vs. Kibler’s Gruul deck.)

Going forward, other red mages have suggested Hellrider, Stonewright, and Chandra, Pyromaster for this deck. Hellrider would cost us some Brimstone Volley, which is not a change that excites me much. Brimstone Volley is a card that hasn’t had a chance to shine, but is really very good in this deck. A couple Stonewright over a couple Shock or Brimstone Volley makes a lot of sense to me. Giving firebreathing to elemental tokens or Phoenixes is very powerful, and could be a great direction for the deck. (Heck, maybe even Stromkirk Noble is wrong and they should be Stonewrights!) Chandra, Pyromaster is an interesting card that sort of battles with Devil’s Play for slots. They are both card advantage engines, and I’m guessing it would be more about splitting them then either/or. I haven’t any experience with Chandra, but Adrian Sullivan (an expert red theorist) has been playing them for a while to good effect.

That’s all I have this week. Burning Earth is the truth. Play it, play a deck that doesn’t care about it, or play more answers to it, because it’s definitely going to be shaking up the format over the next few weeks.

Good luck out there and happy gaming!


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