Explorations #35 - Pain-Free Fire
After the rules change announcement for M10, people focused quite a bit on which cards were about to become worse. Mogg Fanatic was the flagship example here. Some people did NOT like the fact that this little 1/1 was about to lose his ability to take down a 2/2 in combat or ping away Birds of Paradise while already on his way to the graveyard. Others welcomed the change, wondering what sense did it make for a little Goblin to be able to take down a nearby creature while already struck with lethal damage?
There was a bit of talk about which cards become better with the various rule changes, but this was not as prevalent. I guess it's natural for people to focus on the negative a lot of the time. Mana Drain is probably the most obvious example here. Vintage (and hopefully soon Classic) players are now able to Mana Drain their opponent's spells without having to worry about taking mana burn damage if they don't have Mindslaver in hand to cast.
Another card that got some talk about being better under M10 rules is Braid of Fire.
Today I'm going to build a few different decks around Braid of Fire, another card that gets better with the lack of mana burn courtesy of M10.
Let's break this one down a little bit. Braid of Fire comes down for two mana, and then provides you with a whole ton of red mana throughout the rest of the game. Sounds too good to be true? Well there are (at least) two major factors that have prevented this card from being a major tournament force in the past. I'm going to discuss these briefly.
Braid of Fire provides you with a whole ton of red mana, sometimes an uncontrollable amount of red mana. Back before M10, this lead to a serious problem - unspent mana caused mana burn and an out-of-control Braid of Fire could cause you to burn yourself to death.
There were ways to get around the manaburn problem. In the past players have put together Braid of Fire decks with a manabase that included cards like Mutavault, Ghitu Encampment, Fungal Reaches, and Molten Slagheap. These lands function as manasinks in order to prevent manaburn. Have an extra R, RR, RRR, or sometimes RRRR and nothing to spend it on? Add a few charge counters to your lands, animate your Mutavault 3 or 4 times, whatever you need to do. This is one potential mechanism that can be used to avoid manaburn from their overzealous Braid of Fire.
But of course now everything has changed! We no longer have to contort our manabase and run cards that we wouldn't otherwise want to run just in the mana of having manasinks around. With the M10 rules update, mana burn is no longer an issue. We can have a Braid of Fire in play with 10 age counters on it and not worry one little bit. There's also no decision to be made about if/when to decline the cumulative upkeep. Unless you're in a really weird gamestate, you should be able to just keep Braid of Fire around forever. There's also little worry about running Braid of Fire #2, #3, or #4 out there. In the past these were decisions that needed to be made depending on your currently available manasinks.
This takes care of one major roadblock for Braid of Fire, but unfortunately doesn't do anything about the next drawback...
This is the biggest issue when building something around Braid of Fire, and unfortunately the M10 rule changes don't do anything to fix it. Braid of Fire creates mana during your upkeep. This means that anything you're planning on spending this mana on needs to happen at instant speed. This mana doesn't last through to your main phase, so casting a conventional sorcery or creature is out of the question.
There was a small change made in M10 to how mana pools empty, but it only effects Braid of Fire in a negative way. Mana pools now empty at the end of every step instead of every phase. The main practical effect here is that you can't float mana from your upkeep through your draw step. Let's say you have a bunch of mana generated from Braid of Fire. In the past you've been able to draw your card for the turn and then had a chance to do something before your mana pool empties. Post-M10 your mana pool now empties at the end of your upkeep, so you will not be able to 'float' mana through to your draw step. This gives you one less chance to draw something to spend your red mana on.
Since the mana generated via Braid of Fire only exists during your upkeep step, we are only able to draw from a fairly small subset of cards in a deck like this. This is the major design restriction of Braid of Fire. Let's say you're making a deck that's planning on producing a gigantic amount of red mana. What's something that might jump into your head as a way to exploit this? How about this classic card:
Can't use it since it's a sorcery. Just about every XR direct damage spell printed has been a sorcery. Here's one exception that was printed back in Mirage
One option here is something like Vedalken Orrery.
If you want to go this route, then you're able to turn any card in your hand into something that you can cast during your upkeep. The problem here is that if you don't draw the Orrery, then you risk having a dead hand. Some people love cards like this for casual, but this one just doesn't appeal to me much personally.
I have two major ideas for decks that may be fun though, so let's get started.
Every once in a while I kind of like to play burn decks. This desire usually comes and then leaves quickly, much like my occasional desires to shuffle up Affinity. One problem here is that these archetypes are so lean and mean and so streamlined that it can be tough to find new and interesting angles to mess with while deck building.
It may be tougher to find these angles with well-defined, super-efficient decks - but they're still there. A while ago I was playing in a weekly Legacy tournament and faced against a burn deck running a maindeck playset of Isochron Scepter along with Brainstorm and Fire/Ice. This may not be the most innovative thing that anyone has thought up, but it's certainly off the beaten path of competitive Legacy Burn - and to me that's a really interesting thing.
While thinking about Braid of Fire, I thought about Classic burn decks. Take a look at the following deck, which is probably not as good as the straightforward Classic burn deck - but seems interesting to me... and hopefully is interesting to someone reading this.
The idea here is run a bunch of staples of Classic burn paired with the combo of Winter Orb and Braid of Fire. Winter Orb is strong mana/resource denial, and runs well with a deck like Burn that is able to live well off of just a couple of lands. Pair this with Braid of Fire and a deck full of instants, and we should be able to keep our hand continually empty even under the Orb.
So we gain the ability to stunt our opponent's resource pool while hopefully still casting our own spells. What do we lose? We lose eight deck slots that could have otherwise been used for burn (four to Winter Orb, four to Braid of Fire). Not only do we lose these slots, but the remaining slots are drawing from only instants instead of instants, sorceries, and creatures as discussed above.
This does a couple of things. First of all it raises the average casting cost in the deck a bit, which is bad under Winter Orb but good under Braid of Fire. In response to this fact the deck above runs twenty-four lands, which is a lot for a burn deck. I'm not sure if this is the correct number or not, needs testing. Winter Orb/Braid of Fire also forces us to run a few cards that may be less than optimal. Do we really want four maindeck (Flames of the Bloodhand)? Probably not. There's probably a better version that runs fewer instants and more sorceries and creatures, but I went extreme in this direction just to show the point of the deck.
Note that in the deck above there is one major example of anti-synergy: Winter Orb and Manlands. I knew I had to run a bunch of lands in this deck and wanted there to be some additional utility, so I split eight slots between manlands (Mishra's Factory) and then Barbarian Ring. I don't think having four manlands total will be too much of a problem under Winter Orb, and I've found that sixteen Mountain is enough to support Fireblast. That is, it's enough in a conventional Burn deck. The land balance may need some tweaking here.
This deck is obviously a bit of an underdeveloped idea. Maybe I'll develop it further at some point, but for now I just wanted to throw this idea out there. Maybe someone will find it interesting as an alternate take on Burn. Winter Orb is one of my all time favorite cards, and one that I feel is really underused in Classic and Legacy these days. I guess I'm always looking for a chance to get this card into a deck. Might be fun as something casually competitive if you don't want to play straight-up burn? Maybe you could even run Manabarbs here, although now I know I'm being completely crazy =)
Ok now it's time to move onto the deck I want to focus on for the majority of this article.
What To Do With RRRRRRRR?
Alright so for now let's forget about Winter Orb, and let's forget about Vedalken Orrery. Let's focus on working out a list of cards that we could actually use for Braid of Fire mana for. Imagine it's turn five or six and we've got one or two Braids of Fire in play... then what can we do with this mana? Which cards complement this strategy?
One thing to note is that we're talking about Extended or Classic here, since Braid of Fire is an Extended card. Time to brainstorm a list...
This is a long time casual favorite, who doesn't love the ability to generate a 5/5 flying creature per turn? The problem here is obviously that we need seven mana per dragon.
Grows our Braids of Fire at double speed, adds the additional mana each time around.
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Costs five mana to get going. Acts as a win condition with the ability to ping our opponent and shoots down creatures Masticore-style.
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Not only can we use Braid of Fire mana to unmorph Red Akroma, but we can also pour this additional mana into her firebreathing ability.
Requires eight mana, but we can flash this guy out during our upkeep. He's back in M10.
Figure of Destiny
Seems like an awesome option here, although this guy is obviously very expensive cash-wise. With Braid of Fire, he'll be gigantic in no time.
Staff of Domination
Assuming we've got a ton of mana, this card can do a lot for us. Gain life, tap/untap, draw cards, whatever we need.
Rakdos Pit Dragon
Only costs four to bring down, which is pretty reasonable - and extra red mana turns the Pit Dragon into a monster. He's obviously a lot better if we're going to be Hellbent often.
If we've got enough mana then we can remove counters from Jinxed Choker at the beginning of our upkeep and then add more in time to send the Choker off to our opponent.
We need thirty total mana for this to work in chunks of three mana at a time.
We need one hundred total mana for this to work, although it doesn't have to be in chunks of three. How long does it take to get one hundred mana from Braid of Fire? Let's say you cast the Braid on turn two:
Turn 3: 1 R
Turn 4: 3 R
Turn 5: 6 R
Turn 6: 10 R
Turn 7: 15 R
Turn 8: 21 R
Turn 9: 28 R
Turn 10: 36 R
Turn 11: 45 R
Turn 12: 55 R
Turn 13: 66 R
Turn 14: 78 R
Turn 15: 91 R
Turn 16: 105 R
Assuming you pump all of your Braid of Fire mana into Helix Pinnacle, then you'll win after turn 16. Let's say you cast one Braid on turn two, and then one Braid on turn three.
Turn 3: 1 R
Turn 4: 4 R
Turn 5: 9 R
Turn 6: 16 R
Turn 7: 25 R
Turn 8: 36 R
Turn 9: 49 R
Turn 10: 64 R
Turn 11: 81 R
Turn 12: 100 R
If we get two going, then we should be able to win after turn twelve... assuming that I didn't screw this up somewhere!
Discussed above, direct damage that we're able to cast during our upkeep.
Instant speed for a little more than Volcanic Geyser.
More instant speed X direct damage, but with a pretty big drawback. Flashback is great though.
This isn't an X spell, but it is an instant and you can cast it either for a little or a lot.
Awesome anti-aggro card, cycles away when we're not interested.
Hammer of Bogardan
We can use Braid of Fire mana to bring this card back into our hand each turn.
Just like Morphling, this guy isn't nearly as awesome with the post-M10 rules update.
Ashling the Pilgrim
Braid of Fire should help this Pilgrim grow up to huge sizes, and clears the board if necessary.
Last week I talked about Manabarbs, and this may be a card that we can run in this week's deck. Check out this link here to read about it.
It's kind of cool how the cumulative upkeep of Braid of Fire feeds directly into the cumulative upkeep of Magmatic Core, but this would be way cooler if this could hit players.
Cool way to keep the battlefield clear, strong combo with Stuffy Doll.
These cards were used in old Braid of Fire decks as a manasink to avoid manaburn, but are probably still good just to store up mana for when we need it.
All three of these phoenix variations provide recurring win conditions.
Alright, there are a ton of options here. I'm going to throw together a deck that uses a whole bunch of different options, and then I'll refine this down after some test games.
This deck uses storage lands, Mind Stones, and Braid of Fire to power out some powerful cards like Red Akroma, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, Torchling, Rakdos Pit Dragon, Figure of Destiny, and then spells like Volcanic Geyser and Urza's Rage. I should run a full playset of Figure of Destiny, but I've only got two copies. Let's test this baby out.
Game 1 vs BU Control/Mill
I start off with Ashling the Pilgrim and then Braid of Fire, my opponent plays Tolaria West, Dimir Signet, and then Solemn Simulacrum. I get in there with the Pilgrim and cast Figure of Destiny, but then Damnation clears the board. I cast Rakdos Pit Dragon, but Remove Soul takes care of my threat.
By this time my opponent has played out another Signet as well as Traumatize and Glimpse the Unthinkable. I've got two (Molten Slagheaps) and one Fungal Reaches, which I'm charging up ASAP. Haunting Echoes and another Glimpse the Unthinkable which completely depletes my library. I'm able to use a combination of Lightning Bolt, my storage lands, and a huge Starstorm to bring my opponent down to one life during my upkeep.
Analysis: Even though this was a loss, it showed a bunch of elements of the deck working pretty well. I had to deal with some powerful control elements (Damnation, Remove Soul) and still almost pulled it off. My library was depleted in a HURRY.
| Game 2 vs Mono Blue Control
My opponent plays Sensei's Divining Top, I play Ashling the Pilgrim but run into Counterspell. I get Braid of Fire into play, morph Akroma, Angel of Fury, and then run Rakdos Pit Dragon into another Counterspell. My opponent does a whole bunch of library sifting with Top, but can't find anything significant.
Braid of Fire lets me unmorph Red Akroma quickly and I attack a few times for the win.
Analysis: This control matchup went a little bit better. Pit Dragon drew the Counterspells and my opponent presumably had very few outs to Red Akroma.
Game 3 vs Burn
I start out with Figure of Destiny and my opponent comes in for three with Spark Elemental. I cast Braid of Fire, Mind Stone, and then lay down some storage lands - storing up mana. I take another Spark
Elemental hit, but by this time I've accumulated a ton of mana. I get in a few hits with Figure of Destiny, who eventually takes Shock and then Incinerate. I cast Urza's Rage with kicker followed by Volcanic Geyser for the win.
Analysis: I ended up burning out the Burn player in this one, although it didn't seem like he had a fantastic draw. This was a really good little showing of what this deck can do - cast a small creature and turn it into a threat, fire off gigantic x-spells, and kicker Urza's Rage. It's also always a good sign when your Burn opponent is using his spells/win conditions on your creatures.
Game 4 vs Mono Blue Ninja Control
My opponent's first turn is Seat of the Synod, Ornithopter, and Shuriken. I cast Figure of Destiny and then Ashling the Pilgrim back to back, growing each of them big enough to take down the Ornithopter. Double Unsummon returns both of these guys to my hand, and Remove Soul prevents Figure from returning back to the table.
I do manage to land Mind Stone and then re-cast Ashling the Pilgrim without Remove Soul making an appearence. Ornithopter grabs Shuriken and takes down Ashling, which is ok with me because I have Akroma morphed and coming into play. He casts Ninja of the Deep Hours, but it's too late.
Analysis: This one went pretty well. Without the double Unsummon and Remove Soul I think I could have just won by beating down with Figure of Destiny and Ashling the Pilgrim, but Akroma always gets the job done. Note that all of this was done without Braid of Fire making an appearence.
| Game 5 vs Mono Black Manascrewed Control
I get Figure of Destiny and my opponent plays Carrion Feeder and Festering Goblin. I cast Braid of Fire and then Figure of Destiny goes down to Festering Goblin. I play out some storage lands and cast double Mind Stone. He casts another Festering Goblin and then I use Starstorm to clear the board. Figure of Destiny number two comes into play and he's an 8/8 within one turn, beating down for the win.
Analysis: Beating down with an 8/8 Figure of Destiny within one turn of casting is pretty cool, although my opponent was stuck on Swamp plus Cabal Coffers for most of the game. Bummer manascrew.
Game 6 vs UW Control
I keep a lame and slow hand that I probably should have mulliganed. The first few turns are the battle of Coastal Tower vs Mountain, which generally doesn't go well for the non-UW Control deck. On turn three I have a hand of Akroma, double Rakdos Pit Dragon, Torchling, and Starstorm.
I run Rakdos Pit Dragon out there and Cancel takes care of it. I cast out another one and it sticks. I run a THIRD one out there and it sticks also. I don't want to cast Akroma since I'm afraid of the Wrath. Austere Command clears out both of my creatures, I'm glad Akroma wasn't one of them!
I drop Braid of Fire and decide that now's the time for Red Akroma. My opponent plays Honden of Seeing Winds and then takes a hit from Akroma. Austere Command number two takes out Akroma along with his Honden and my Braid of Fire. I cast Figure of Destiny which gets Hindered and then stick Torchling. I get in there for five while my opponent casts Compulsive Research. He casts Decree of Silence and I respond with a big Volcanic Geyser, which combines with Torchling damage for the win.
Analysis: This game was a lot of fun. I cast a bunch of cool aggressive spells, he cast a bunch of cool control spells, and my deck's gameplan ended up coming on top in a really close one. I won 20-0, but it was a lot closer than that. Getting out from under Decree of Silence is not easy for any deck, and if that last Torchling hadn't made it to the table then finishing the game would have been very tough.
A Few Different Looks
Alright so I've played a bunch of games with this deck, so what has it taught me?
First of all, Figure of Destiny is an absolute beast. I'm sure you already know this by now, but the little 1/1 is just amazing in this deck. Not only does he come down for just a single mana, but he can instantly eat up all of your spare Braid of Fire mana. It's not uncommon to charge him all the way up to 8/8 in a single turn. If you own copies of Figure of Destiny then run as many as you have!
Ashling the Pilgrim is another one that has shined in this area. Creatures that can come down reasonably early and then charge up have a lot of strategic advantage over creatures that cost a lot of mana to bring out, even if the more expensive creature brings powerful effects to the table. Akroma has also worked out fantastic. Much like Figure of Destiny, this giant Angel comes down pretty early and then charges up without too much trouble. Between Braid of Fire, storage lands, and plain old Mountains it's not too hard to get six mana together for the unmorph.
Something that hasn't worked out too well in this deck is the quantity of reasonably expensive creatures like Torchling, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, and Rakdos Pit Dragon. These guys are ok, but I've had several games with them sitting around in my hand. I think this deck is a bit heavy in this department.
Out: 1 Torchling, 1 Kumano, Master Yamabushi, 2 Rakdos Pit Dragon
This opens up a full playset to add to the deck. There are a few different directions that we could go. If we want to draw on last week's deck, then how about something like this?
Out: 2 Starstorm
In: 4 Manabarbs, 2 Mind Stone
If this mana denial plan sounds like fun to you, then it's also possible to try out something like this:
Out: 4 Manabarbs, 4 Fungal Reaches, 4 Molten Slagheap
In: 4 Armageddon, 4 Sacred Foundry, 4 Battlefield Forge
The basic idea here is to forget about the storage land plan and instead attempt to land Armageddon (or Ravages of War) to crush your opponent's land development while Braid of Fire keeps you going.
Let's go back to the first version of the deck and figure out what we need to do to make a budget version. First off, the manabase is already very cheap so that's always a good starting point. Here's a brief rundown of the expensive cards:
Braid of Fire ($3) - The basis of the deck, hopefully you bought these before the M10 rule changes for a fraction of the cost.
Figure of Destiny ($23) - Obviously this one is super expensive, will be tough to replace.
Starstorm ($1) - Not too expensive and somewhat difficult to replace since we need to find an instant. Volcanic Fallout will save you a ticket on your playset, Sulfurous Blast is cheap, and Martyr of Ashes is another good option.
Staff of Domination ($2) - Not really central to the deck, didn't even draw it in any of the test games. Maybe it's really good?
Lightning Bolt ($2) - A bit expensive now, but will come down now that it's printed at common in M10.
Urza's Rage ($2.50) - Volcanic Geyser and Ghitu Fire are cheap replacements here.
So here's what's coming out, including a couple of creatures I wanted to remove earlier anyways.
Out: 2 Figure of Destiny, 2 Staff of Domination, 3 Starstorm, 2 Urza's Rage, 2 Rakdos Pit Dragon
And here's what I'm going to add back in:
In: 1 Sulfurous Blast, 2 Ghitu Fire, 4 Beacon of Destruction, 1 Ashling the Pilgrim, 1 Akroma, Angel of Fury, 2 Marty of Ashes
This deck moves up to the full playsets of Ashling the Pilgrim and Akroma, Angel of Fury - which stood out in the original deck. They're both legendary so be careful, but I want to maximize the chance to draw these strong cards. Beacon of Destruction is a card that I probably should have used in the original deck, it's a super strong burn card that goes back into your library to hopefully be drawn again. Sulfurous Blast and Marty of Ashes take the place of early creature control.
Let's try this one out a little.
Game 7 vs Mr. Mulligan
I absolutely HATE people who go 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, concede. Such a bummer!
Game 8 vs Mono Black Control
He starts off with Shizo, Death's Storehouse into Sensei's Divining Top. I get Braid of Fire and then Hymn to Tourach takes out Kumano and Akroma. I cast Mind Stone and then morph Akroma number two right into Dash Hopes - so I pay the five life. Akroma gets in there and I cast Ashling the Pilgrim. My opponent drops Cabal Coffers, but is taking some heavy damage. Another Dash Hopes on Beacon of Destruction doesn't get the job done, and I finish him off.
Analysis: Everything in the budget list worked as well here as it did in the full deck. Ashling and Akroma were both ridiculous threats and I'm 99% convinced that Beacon of Destruction should have been in the original list all along. Just because it isn't an X burn spell doesn't mean it isn't a big burn spell worth playing. Lesson learned!
Game 9 vs Marty of Ashes Quitter
I play turn one Mountain into Marty of Ashes and my opponent conceds.
| Game 10 vs UWR Something Combo
My opponent plays turn one Shivan Reef into Sage of Epityr. I cast Ashling and then Braid of Fire. I start getting in there with my ever-growing Ashling, and my opponent transmutes Dizzy Spell for Wild Cantor. I guess he's playing some kind of combo deck? He has a Plains in play, so I guess it's something with Enduring Renewal. I beat him down with Ashling for the win.
Analysis: I could have had Akroma online also, but I wanted to keep mana open for Lightning Bolt in case there was some way for me to disrupt his combo. I know there was a small chance of this, but in case he made a mistake I was ready. It never came up and Ashling beats down hard.
Game 11 vs Mono Black Something
I cast Braid of Fire and my opponent brings Forcefield into play. I get Mind Stone plus Ashling the Pilgrim, but Engineered Plague comes down naming Elemental and takes care of my Pilgrim. I morph Akroma and my opponent concedes.
Analysis: Another weird concession... My plan was to hopefully distract him with the beatdown and then focus on doing damage with direct damage, but unfortunately I never got to see if this would work or not.
Game 12 vs RBG Equipment
I get Fungal Reaches and start building up storage counters. My opponent gets Vivid Marsh, Rakdos Carnarium, Lightning Greaves, and a whole ton of non-basic lands. I morph Akroma and cast Ashling the Pilgrim while my opponent brings out Sword of Light and Shadow, Tenza, Godo's Maul, and then Aether Vial. I don't bring Akroma online so that I can use Lightning Bolt or even Volcanic Geyser to prevent some creature from getting all of that equipment (including shroud from Lightning Greaves).
I swing with the 2/2 morph and growing Ashling the Pilgrim, finishing off my opponent with a Volcanic Geyser for eight. He never got a creature into play.
Analysis: It seems like things could have been scary had my opponent managed to get a creature into play, but it never happened for him. I had some action to prevent things from getting too bad, but something like Troll Ascetic would have been a nightmare.
Game 13 vs UW Control
I get Ashling the Pilgrim and my opponent cycles Renewed Faith. I bring Mind Stone into play and pump the Pilgrim. Secluded Steppe gets cycled, and then Isochron Scepter comes down with Counterspell. I get Kumano into play while he's tapped out, and continue to get in there with Ashling the Pilgrim.
Boomerang returns Kumano to my hand, and I can't get him back out with that Scepter in play. Thankfully I'm able to continue to swing with Ashling the Pilgrim for the win.
Analysis: This is the second time in a few games that I've run into a problematic artifact. Maybe it makes sense to run something like Ingot Chewer to give ourselves a few outs in these situations? The Chewer isn't totally dead as a creature in case we decide to cast him, but he is obviously not ideal.
This budget version definitely brings some serious game to the table, and keeps all of the themes from the original deck running strong. Losing Figure of Destiny is a major loss, but other than that the budget version is probably even an improvement over the original. Beacon of Destruction is definitely one card that I missed during the original deck construction, and is extremely strong in this strategy.
There are a few different ways I can think to take this strategy. One weakness of the deck is that it plays off the top, there's no real way to draw or filter cards. One way to fix this without making many changes is to add something like Sensei's Divining Top. The original list I made had Staff of Domination, which can somewhat fulfill this role but it extremely mana intensive. Another strategy here would be to splash in something like blue. Maybe splash for Brainstorm and Paradox Haze? Maybe Ponder?
So there's a cool deck with a whole bunch of different potential variations. Let me know in the comments or through email if you've come up with any other cool directions to take a deck like this! Also remember I'm always taking submissions for casual deck doctor! Join me next week for something involving M10 cards, instead of just an M10 rule change.
Thanks for reading!
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