Hello everyone. It's the first Comboist Manifesto Article of my second year! Well, this will probably be the second article of the year, but we can all agree that this is Spiderman's fault and move on. I hope that this year is better than last year, because last year wasn't very good. But there were some articles that probably weren't too painful to read. For example, there was the time that I wrote a whole article about breakfast. I guess I was hungry? Good times.
By Stephen Bahl
||The Comboist Manifesto Volume II, Article 1: Multiplayer Burn Part 1, Wheel in Flames
It seems like I keep telling this story in various places, but for the purpose of this article, I'll assume that it's totally novel. So, I started playing Magic with the original Portal introductory set back in 1997. I guess I was 11 years old at the time. Oh crap, it's 2015 already. How does this keep happening? Someone make it stop! Sorry about that—I get carried away sometimes. Where were we? 1997, right? OK. Like all new players, I started out not having a clue what was going on. As I gained more experience playing the game, I started making observations like, “Wow, this Fireball card that I got from Fifth Edition does a lot of damage if I have a lot of lands out. If I use it and the Blaze card I already have, that's even more damage! So much damage.” And then of course there's, “If I use enough of these damaging spells that directly target my opponent, I don't need to get my attackers past my opponent's blockers because I can just deal all of the damage directly with my spells.” And so, in 1998 or so, I built a burn deck. It was a very, very bad burn deck, to be sure. But it was the start of a deck that I'd modify and test and rebuild. In 2004, I wrote my first ever CPA article. It was about burn decks. That article was downright appalling. If you think this article is bad, you should go back and check that one out. For some reason, it received far more comments than my later, better articles, and half of those comments were by people wondering why I omitted cards that had not even been printed when I originally wrote the article. I still have a burn deck, although it's very different from the list in that article. Quite without realizing it, at some point, I had a burn deck for longer than the younger crowd of Magic players have even been alive. In fact, I'd spent more of my life owning a burn deck than I had not owning a burn deck. So what I'm saying is that Burn and I, we go way back.
A month ago, I posted a thread at the CPA about the latest incarnation of my Burn deck. My list there, which I'm still using, is as follows...
4x Chain Lightning
4x Flame Rift
4x Lava Spike
4x Rift Bolt
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Price of Progress
2x Thunderous Wrath
4x Arid Mesa
1x Barbarian Ring
1x Bloodstained Mire
3x Scalding Tarn
4x Eidolon of the Great Revel
4x Goblin Guide
4x Vexing Devil
Although it still lacks a sideboard, this Burn list is somewhat tailored toward Legacy, hence the maindeck Price of Progress playset. But because I haven't been active in Legacy tournaments lately and don't even really know what my local metagame is like, it's still not too finely focused on Legacy and occupies a strange limbo between a casual deck and a tournament deck. Perhaps this could be considered casual Legacy? I don't know. But that's not the point. I'm not actually here to revisit my original article about Burn from over a decade ago (although I may still do that at some point). Rather, my inspiration here is a comment that CPA member Mooseman made...
I don't play many burn decks, since they are not very good in multiplayer.
I thought about it, and I consider it to be a very interesting problem. Apparently, it's even interesting enough to write articles about! Obviously, my Legacy Burn deck wouldn't be good in multiplayer, but that applies equally to many other Legacy tournament decks. Such decks are built solely with duels in mind. Lava Spike is a fast, efficient way to help take down one opponent, but its utility is very constrained in a multiplayer situation.
On the other hand, Flame Rift packs a punch in multiplayer, but one can't really base a multiplayer Burn deck around it, because it would very quickly backfire, barring the use of some engine that can compensate for the self-inflicted damage.
No. If we want to directly burn our opponents up in a multiplayer situation, what we're looking for is something more like Sizzle.
It might seem like we're finally getting somewhere, but there are several problems with this approach:
-There aren't very many cards like Sizzle, and most of them are multicolored or bad.
-Even dropping a playset of Sizzle isn't enough to actually kill people. One would need to reuse the card somehow, amplify its magnitude, or rely on other damage streams.
-You might get away with casting one Sizzle, but after two, your opponents will probably take notice and gang up on you. It's hard to triumph in multiplayer politics when all you're doing is directly hurting all opponents equally. That would be like proposing legislation to raise taxes on everyone except for yourself: you're going to get shot down. This sort of thing could work if you're countering everyone's spells or destroying their permanents. But dealing damage? No, that's not feasible.
-Sizzle is rather slow. It's more expensive to cast than Flame Rift and does less damage. By the time it can start mattering, other player have plenty of time to work on both offense and defense.
It's problems like these that would lead one to say that burn decks are not very good in multiplayer. I'm assuming that Mooseman was thinking something along those lines when he said that. And the problems are admittedly rather daunting. So how can we overcome them? With the power of friendship, of course! And by “friendship” I mean “combo.” Yeah, I know, you saw that coming.
Using Sizzle or cards like Sizzle isn't necessarily ruled out. There are certainly combos that could make Sizzle a viable approach to a multiplayer Burn deck, and I do want to explore the possibility. It's one of several ideas I pondered while examining this problem. In fact, I suspect that for casual gameplay, there is a great variety of options for multiplayer Burn. For example, if one can keep this guy alive and play a bunch of burn spells, that could probably work...
Or for more of a throwback, there's an old favorite used in various three-card combos for massive damage:
Mooseman invoked the possibility of a slower deck, defending itself with things like Wall of Diffusion, which could buy time for setting up a big combo, even against opponents using creatures with shadow (which apparently comes up in his playgroup).
Those are just a few options that I believe deserve some consideration, but they aren't in the list I made for this article. After all, I think the past year of Comboist Manifesto articles has pretty firmly established what sort of player I am. And so my first approach to solving this problem is the same first approach I use for any problem in my life: use storm! Yeah, admittedly it doesn't usually work. But this is one of the exceptions.
To make Burn work in multiplayer, we don't need politics or spells that damage everyone. All we need to do is make lots and lots of copies of spells that damage single targets, and point them at opponents until they're all dead. It's even possible to do this so quickly that opponents won't be able to stop it. And in the proud tradition of storm decks, we can fully invest in what I've called “Pattern C.” That is, we can chain spells together as they come without needing to build an aggregate of specific cards in order to go off. But before I put a deck together, I made two stipulations...
1. The deck should be mono-red. For other approaches, such as one employing Sizzle, I could definitely see how it would make sense to use other cards alongside red, what with the existence of cards like Breath of Malfegor. But for a storm deck, adding in blue would make this way too easy. I'm lazy enough not to want to go to the trouble of actually building a multiplayer-storm-burn deck using blue, but experienced enough to know that it would be broken.
2. The deck should use instants and sorceries to deal damage to opponents. I could make an exception for a card like Guttersnipe, but that's already rather dubious. And something like Dragonstorm into Bogardan Hellkite is right out. That's not Burn! That's just some other combo.
That really leaves just two cards for a storm kill, and ultimately, I decided to use both of them. First, there's Grapeshot. It's great because it's cheap and versatile, but making enough copies to actually wipe out multiple opponents is asking a lot.
And then there's another card that I'm excited to actually put in a deck. I've never used it before personally, but it seems like a fun card. Ignite Memories does have some limitations (for example, if opponents are playing Hellbent decks or whatever), which is why I also have Grapeshot as a backup. But the real potential for multiplayer burnout is right here.
To get a big storm count for these cards, I'm going to need to draw lots of cards. In a blue deck, this would be easy, but for red, card-drawing spells aren't so prolific. Fortunately, they do exist. In fact, I mentioned the use of one way back in my 2004 article.
That draws plenty of cards, but in order to build a storm count, we also need mana...
When Wizards of the Coast shifted the color pie, they stopped printing Dark Ritual and such, instead giving that effect to red.
So mana won't be a problem. At this point, astute observers may say something like, “But aren't you just talking about a deck packed with mana acceleration, card draw spells, and a storm finish?” Well, yes. Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Do you have a problem with that? No, stop. You're not allowed to have a problem with that. This is my article.
But seriously, this concept may be considered a number of things. Crude? Exploitative? Unfair? Call it what you will. One thing it isn't: ineffective. While I didn't test the idea thoroughly enough to come up with an ideal final product, here's the list I did arrive at.
Wheel in Flames version 1.0
4x Lotus Petal
4x Wild Guess
4x Rite of Flame
4x Desperate Ritual
4x Pyretic Ritual
4x Seething Song
4x Faithless Looting
4x Wheel of Fortune
1x Ignite Memories
2x Past in Flames
While piloting this does require some basic familiarity with storm decks and spell chains, it's mostly pretty easy. Get a little starting mana on the board, then drop a bunch of rituals, chain together Wheel of Fortune, and use Gamble, Faithless Looting, and Wild Guess to ensure that key cards keep coming up, eventually replaying everything through Past in Flames. My cursory testing had this deck go off on turn 2 multiple times, although it could be more reliable to hold off for another turn or two if opponents don't appear to be threatening. This deck can play Ignite Memories with over 50 storm copies (and if one is lucky with Past in Flames, it could even do that twice), following it up with Grapeshots to finish off any opponents that survived Ignite Memories.
Over the top? Yes. I don't really think that this is appropriate for the typical casual multiplayer game. So why write this article? Well, it's a proof of concept, I suppose. But I also don't think it's that far off the mark. This isn't simply throwing the most broken cards at a problem. While a few cards here are true combo powerhouses (Past in Flames is pretty crazy), most of the cards in this deck are pretty tame. Used together in the right proportions (and the ideal proportions might vary a bit from what I've shown), they create a formidable combo deck.
Well, there is the elephant in the room. I may have used Wheel of Fortune in my casual Burn deck back in 2004 without giving the matter a second thought, but as the price of good rares from old sets has risen, considering it merely a good card instead of a big money card is dubious. Wheel of Fortune (3rd Edition) now goes for $15 to $20 on the secondary market, and actually, so does Gamble (although Gamble is just something I threw in to be sure I'd find Wheel of Fortune or Past in Flames if I really needed either). Other than that, my list is a budget deck. Wheel of Fortune is also banned or restricted in tournament formats, of course. With that in mind, I was hesitant to bother considering Wheel of Fortune for a multiplayer Burn deck at all. But I did anyway because I wanted to see if this could do something awesome. And it can. Realistically, if you have a full playset of Wheel of Fortune and your friends will let you play with it, there are way crueler things you can do. As far as this deck goes, I built it to rely pretty heavily on Wheel of Fortune. Red just doesn't have access to that many good card-drawing spells. My decklist, as it stands now, can't simply cut Wheel of Fortune for something else. However, I do think a similar concept could work, perhaps with Reforge the Soul or something. It would have to be slowed down a bit, but most people playing multiplayer games probably aren't looking to use decks that get second-turn kills anyway.
So that's one way for Burn to be effective in multiplayer. In future articles, I want to look at other approaches, particularly ones that don't rely on Wheel of Fortune.