The Burn Primer
March 8, 2024

An Introduction to Burn

Welcome to the world where nothing matters except for speed. This ain’t your momma’s red deck. Sorry Paul Sligh but no Ironclaw Orcs here. It’s the 2020s and that means we get to play with broken cards and kill our opponent before they have a chance to breathe.

This is a deck for people who played Sonic: the Hedgehog as a kid. The people who think playing control is like saying “My race car doesn’t have flames on it”. The ones who understand what it means to live life to the fullest. The Johnny Knoxville, Evil Knievel, Buster Keaton types who would never let a good opportunity to put on a show go to waste.

You already know why you’re here. You clicked on the link. The last thing a Burn player should do is waste time so let’s get right into it.


It’s Burn. What do we do? We kill our opponent. How do we do it? By any means necessary.

This article is for $30 vintage, if you would like to learn more about the format, check out its Wiki.


The Creature Suite

I like my creatures how I like my coffee. Cheap, fast, strong, and gets the job done. If it’s not going to immediately start making that pesky little number on the other side of the table drop faster than the Dow Jones during Covid, I don’t want to even think about it.

There’s a reason Burn in other formats doesn’t play powerful cards like Ragavan or Dragon’s Rage Channeler. They don’t immediately deal damage. If I play a Ragavan on turn one and my opponent immediately untaps and casts a Swords to Plowshares I essentially wasted my first turn and likely made the rest of my hand significantly worse. If the same situation happens with one of our beautiful little hastey one drops the worst case scenario is we got in for any amount of damage whatsoever. As the old adage goes, “The only life point that matters is the last one.”


Goblin Guide


The best of the best. The Michael Jordan of aggressive creatures. The Willie Mays of one drops. Coming down and immediately crashing in for two damage and beating out just about every other one drop in the format in terms of stats to boot makes it an irreplaceable cut. And at only a dollar a piece? Playing less than four is a felony I’m pretty sure.


Now, like all of us, Goblin Guide isn’t perfect. He has flaws just like everyone else. Occasionally giving your opponent card advantage and digging them deeper to their action spells can come back to nip you in the bud. But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret as long as you promise not to tell the blue players okay? Pinky swear? Alright here goes. You know those cards your opponent has been drawing all game with that sly little smirk? They don’t matter.

Think of it this way, your opponent is at ten health on turn two after you hit them with Goblin Guide into double burn spell. Goblin Guide drew them a land both times and got them into their pocket of action. Their hand consists of three lands, a White Plume Adventurer, a Palace Jailer, and a Seasoned Dungeoneer. Your hand is two Lightning Bolts and a Fireblast. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out how this game is going to turn out.

Monastery Swiftspear


Goblin Guide’s cool younger sister. A relatively recent addition to Burn, she has worked hard to establish herself as the best Burn threat and in all honesty she might just deserve it. Swinging for three to four damage as early as turn two is far from unheard of. Her biggest issue comes in the fact that at a base level she only has one power. This makes her a worse turn one play than Guide in the face of removal, a worse topdeck later on, and sometimes the more creature-heavy hands can neuter her potential a good bit.

Don’t let these downsides dissuade you however. There are few hands I wouldn’t keep solely off the back of turn one Swiftspear. A mulligan to five that consists of one Swiftspear, two burn spells, and two mountains is better than a lot of sevens you might end up keeping.

Eidolon of the Great Revel

The day Eidolon of the Great Revel became playable in Budget Vintage was a day where I felt joy only a mother could feel after meeting her newborn child for the first time.

One of the most solid creatures in the game in terms of raw damage output. It slices, it dices, it juliennes, there’s nothing it can’t do. Being a Pyrostatic Pillar that’s able to get into the red zone is absolutely insane. You can expect this little guy to represent anywhere from four to ten damage in a game depending on the matchup. And thanks to his 2/2 stature, getting locked under him at a low life total is near impossible. Either swing into your opponent’s board to bait a block (or worst case get in for two free damage) or bolt him yourself and let loose your barrage of lightning.



Hot Shots

Setting the Stage

What makes a good burn spell?

You see those little red dots in the top right corner of the card? Each of those should equate to around three damage a piece. Now, it’s notable to mention that the 1:3 ratio has a lot of caveats to it, but it’s a good general rule of thumb to follow. Look at a card like Lightning Strike for example. The conversion rate of two mana for three damage makes the spell comically inefficient to slot into a turn when the goal is to cast as many hard-hitting spells as possible. On the other end of the spectrum we have Lava Axe. A card which deals a whopping five damage directly to your opponent’s skull. No frills necessary. Unfortunately at five mana, the conversion rate is an abysmal 1:1 with no extra upside making it far beyond unplayable and into the “horse balls” category of card.

The Leads

Lightning Bolt

You Know him, you love him, the grand-daddy of all burn spells. The greatest of all time. It’s Lightning Bolt! The epitome of red mana. Our classic 1:3 ratio at instant speed and with no restrictions is unbeatable in terms of value. You always play a full playset, and you never board them out.


Chain Lightning

It’s like a stereogram of a Lightning bolt. Stare at it long enough and it looks like the real thing! Sorcery speed bolt with a “downside” is the next best thing to the real deal. I think in my lifetime I’ve seen exactly three Chain Lightnings ever get copied. It’s not something you really have to worry about unless you’re in a particularly wacky position.


Lava Spike

It’s Chain Lightning, but you can’t misplay. Always have to go face. At $1.50+ a piece it’s a bit of an investment, but the price is paid off in full by having access to a spell that is always hitting that magical 1:3 spot.

Rift Bolt

Lightning Bolt (on a time share). Almost always the best bolt to play on turn one as it gives you the option to untap and kill your opponent’s one drop if necessary without wasting your better burn spells. There’s also some neat use cases combining the free cast with Monastery Swiftspear, getting your first prowess trigger of the turn and still having all your mana to go wild.


Skewer the Critics

The most recent and clunkiest addition to our selection of Bolts. Having to be combined with something else makes it difficult to use and at times an awkward top deck. But the versatility of flexible targeting and more often than not being a simple one to cast. Still leagues better than something like Shard Volley would be in this slot.


The Mana



The best fuel a red mage could ask for. 18-20 of these puppies and your opponent is cruisin’ for a bruisin’. Running as many mountains as possible to leverage Fireblast to its fullest potential is extremely important and makes the cost of inclusion of other lands significantly higher.


Fiery Islet

A red source that draws you cards! The worst thing that can happen to a Burn deck is the classic mana flood. And if you’re me, that happens often. Fiery Islet is a great option to help prevent flooding and smooth out your draws a good deal. The lifeloss is certainly not irrelevant when you’re putting yourself under Eidolon and Vortex, but it does enough work that at least one copy is often worth the drawbacks. Any more than one or two and Fireblast quickly becomes significantly less consistent.


Barbarian Ring

While it has identical downsides to Fiery Islet, the upside for Ring is pretty substantial. Having two uncounterable, colorless damage is extremely powerful if you can pull it off. Being able to kill things like Sanctifier en-Vec or Burrenton Forge-Tender in post-board games is something the opponent almost never sees coming.

Threshold is something that on paper seems easy to establish with how many cheap spells you have available, but in practice seven cards might as well be a billion in a lot of cases. It’s really only ever turned on in conjunction with Fireblasts, which Barbarian Ring makes harder to use in the first place.

Fighting the Firefighters

Sideboard Philosophy


There’s only a couple of situations that are particularly dire that you should be prepping for in your sideboard. Decks that race you, and decks that ruin you.

Decks that race you include combo/interaction check decks like Oops All Spells, Hypergenesis, Dredge, or High Tide. These decks can kill you before you even get your feet off the ground, and often aren’t able to be interacted with in the ways fairer decks would. Being prepared for these is a necessary evil as they’re extremely difficult, but not impossible to surmount.

The decks that ruin you include the likes of Enchantress, Azorius Energy Field Combo, and occasionally Thopter Sword. These prison strategies shut us down as their primary game plan, not to mention what they might be bringing in out of the board. The only real way around this is to try to pound through as much damage as possible before they can get their engines online.


Tormod’s Crypt

When it comes to graveyard hate, Crypt or Ravenous Trap are really the only real options available. Being able to interact for 0 mana means not only can you establish your hate piece on turn one, but you still have mana open to apply pressure as well. Trap is better against decks like Oops and Dredge, but Crypt has the added utility of being good against various fairer graveyard-based decks like any Asmo or reanimator shenanigans that might be running around.


Pyrostatic Pillar

Hey! I’ve seen this one before! Someone cut off Eidolon’s legs!

Pretty simple gameplan when it comes to Pillar. If Eidolon is good in the matchup, bring in Pillars. It is going to be dealing insane amounts of damage against storm-based combo, low to the ground aggro, the mirror, and all similar matchups. Against lists that have ways to deal with the effect, like High Tide, they still need to expend resources in order to do so which puts them behind on their gameplan, and gives you more time to kill them.


Searing Blood

Same reason as why I’m playing them maindeck. The blowout potential of killing a thing and hitting their face at instant speed is huge and helps deal with a lot of aggressive decks that are able to overwhelm you.

Smash to Smithereens

All my homies hate artifacts. From Thopter Foundry to Thought Monitor to Cookbooks Smash hits them all. It’s your Searing Blood but for Artifacts. Classic two-for-one. What else could you ever want?


The Filigree Sylex

Catch-all permanent hate against hyper-aggressive decks’ one drops, Leyline of Sanctities, Energy Fields, or anything else that makes your life difficult. It takes a bit of investment to really do its job but the potential for Sylex to win you the game cannot be ignored.


Bonecrusher Giant

There’s a lot of matchups where creatures are king. Against decks that don’t play a lot of removal like Mono Black Aggro or High Tide you’re more likely to win the game by establishing an overwhelming board presence. The added benefit of Stomp stopping damage prevention helps you push through Energy Field, Solitary Confinement, and friends.

Other Options

It would be impossible for me to list every possible sideboard option here, so instead I’m gonna rapid fire some cards I’ve registered in the past or at least wouldn’t be embarrassed to play and what I’d bring them in against.


Grim Lavamancer 

Solid option against both aggro (to keep the board in check) and control (to go face and make their counterspells worse). The first card I would include if I were to redo the sideboard with new stuff. It is extremely good and more than worth its thirteen cent price tag.


Weathered Runestone

Poor man’s Grafdigger’s Cage. Two mana is just a bit too slow against the decks we want it for. If Thopter-Sword/Tinker specifically is taking over your meta it’s a fine choice. Against anything else it doesn’t quite make the cut.


Anger of the Gods

Another solid option that I go back and forth on including. It’s the best board clear red has to offer at its price point. It’s really a meta call more than anything else. Are you expecting a lot of Mono Black and Affinity? Probably pack it. If not, skip.

By Force/Shattering Spree/Pulverize/Ancient Runes

All perfectly fine anti-artifact cards that are bogged down by their price tag. Outside of that, the powerful two-for-one in Smash to Smithereens is hard to beat. You can blow up the opponent’s things but you still have to kill them at the end of the day.



With its recent reprinting in Ravnica Remastered, Skullcrack has become a real contender to knock Bonecrusher Giant out of its spot. I haven’t playtested with it in that place much, but I assume it’s quite good. One of the most common cards players pack to deal with Burn is Blossoming Calm and stopping the life gain from it can be extremely relevant. Definitely worth trying.


Exquisite Firecraft

If you’re expecting a lot of control absolutely pack some Firecrafts in your bag. In some control games, if they get a chokehold on you it becomes pretty much unwinnable. With Firecrafts around you’ll always have some sort of an out, however slim. But at a hefty dollar a piece you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.

Sideboard Guide


Vibes: Favorable

The Plan:

+ Bonecrusher Giant and Smash to Smithereens (if you feel like it)

– Flame Rift and Searing Blood

“What do I do?”

8 Rack is a pretty solid matchup. Like any other matchup the nut draw can ruin your day but other than that you’re gonna crush them. Keep your instant speed Burn close to your chest and cast your sorceries as soon as you can to keep your hand sized maxed out the best you can. They’re maybe doing three damage a turn to you with their racks and you’re definitely dealing at least three with a decent topdeck.

You want more creatures in this matchup more than anything. 8 Rack’s go to removal is Smallpox which gets worse the more big guys you play. Being resilient to Defile as well is just gravy. Great option.



Vibes: Even

The Plan:

+ Smash to Smithereens

– Flame Rift and Lava Spike

“What do I do?”

Time for a good old fashioned footrace. Face is the place. Kill them dead. Absolutely do not let a Cranial Plating stick around especially with a Vault Skirge in play. That card is the #1 leading cause of death in people turns 3 – 5.



The combo matchup is an extremely interesting one. What you lack in interaction you make up for in fear. As long as you look like you’re killing the opponent on your next turn, chances are they’ll believe you and try to go for it whether or not they really should be.

Budget vintage combo decks (with some exception, we’ll get there) are shooting to kill you on average between turns three and four. And whadduya know that’s when you’re looking to kill them too! Game ones are often going to come down to the die roll, so simply just get lucky.


Creature Combo 

Vibes: Favored

The Plan:

+ Searing Blood and Filigree Sylex

– Flame Rift

“What do I do?”

Kill their creatures that kill you! (i.e. Devoted Druid usually) Mostly treat this as an aggro matchup. Hold some amount of creature interaction as much as you can just in case, then kill them as soon as you get the chance. Don’t overextend unless it’s closing the door.


Graveyard/Turbo Combo 


The Plan:

+ Tormod’s Crypt/Ravenous Trap (if applicable)

– Searing Blood and Flame Rift

“What do I do?”

Pray your opponent has a heart attack after resolving mulligans and before anyone notices tell a judge they conceded the match.


Storm Combo 

Vibes: Slightly unfavored, close to even.

The Plan:

+ Pyrostatic Pillar

– Searing Blood

“What do I do?”

Hope they didn’t have the nut draw, then race them. That’s really it. The most common storm combo you’re going to find by far is High Tide, a deck that I am intimately familiar with. If they came prepared for you, expect Blue Blasts out of the board but usually don’t feel the need to play around them. You don’t have the time. And if one of the cards in their hand is Blue Blast that’s one card in their hand that doesn’t kill you.

Storm is the poster child of “going for it too soon.” If you can pressure them hard enough to force them to try to win before they’re ready odds are they’re gonna stumble and give you even more time to melt their skin off. Post-board when they presumably brought in something to deal with your onslaught, they have more dead draws than ever while going off.



Vibes: Even to Favored

The Plan:

+ Filigree Sylex and Bonecrusher Giant

– Searing Blood

“What do I do?”

Don’t let them take over the game no matter what. Put the pressure on. Depending on what you think they brought in against you, keep hands accordingly. Hands based on Goblin Guides, Eidolon, and Giants beat Spell Pierce and hands full of noncreature Burn beat wraths. It’s usually better to lean on the creature starts against control. Often they won’t get to cast their wraths in time and if they do they’ll be shields down against your Fireblast and Friends. Additionally, the scariest card out of the board is more often than not Blossoming Calm which is a rough one for sure, but extremely beatable with a swarm of creatures.



Vibes: Unfavored to Even

The Plan:

+ Filigree Sylex and Bonecrusher Giant

– Flame Rift

“What do I do?”

Creatures are key in this matchup. If you can take the initiative or monarchy (and more importantly keep it) that combined with your usual pressure should be more than enough to take over. Just make it to the Trap room and you’ll be golden. Postboard things become a little more complicated as any respectable player knows the menace of Burn will come prepared. Taking the initiative gets far more difficult facing down pro-red creatures. But the same philosophy applies. Kill ’em dead.


Mono Black Aggro 

Vibes: Favored

The Plan:

+ Searing Blood, Filigree Sylex, and Bonecrusher Giant

– Flame Rift and Lava Spike

What do I do?”

Kill Nighthawk Scavenger as soon as it hits play. That card is an absolute menace and will entirely ruin your day. Other than that you’ll be just fine. Your clock is way faster than theirs and while discard is decent against you, Inquisition of Kozilek is nothing more than a beefed up Healing Salve. Once you’ve traded one-for-one with each other your topdecks are significantly more impactful than theirs, as yours represent damage now rather than later.



Vibes: Take a guess

The Plan:

+ Filigree Sylex and Bonecrusher Giant

– Searing Blood and Flame Rift

“What do I do?”

Prison is predictably rough. Something like Martyr Proc is actually marginally favored as they don’t have a simple A+B combo that fully locks you out like Energy Field does. The best thing you can hope for is to kill the opponent before they get their feet off the ground. Once you do get locked out there’s not a lot of hope. Your sideboard cards will do a lot of work if you can get them to resolve, but that’s about it.


RB Lurrus 

Vibes: Favored

The Plan:

+ Pyrostatic Pillar and Bonecrusher Giant

– Flame Rift and Lava Spike

“What do I do?”

This is a similar situation to your Mono Black aggro matchup. You’re much better at trading one-for-one than they are most of the time, and you have better topdecks after the fact. Don’t let a Lurrus stick. Your opponent having the card their deck is named after is usually not a very good plan. Their deck is easily overwhelmed if their opponent goes fast and that’s all you’re built to do.


Sailor’s Bane

Vibes: Favored

The Plan:

+ Bonecrusher Giant

– Searing Blood

You’re almost always winning game one. Their counterspells feel bad to cast and you’re going to overwhelm them before they can even establish a board presence. Which means you need to be prepared to take a game on the draw in game two. If you can dodge Blossoming Calms you’ll be fine. If not, it might take an extra turn or two to get the job done. If, god forbid, game two doesn’t go your way that means you’re in the driver’s seat for game three and there’s not much they can do.


The Mirror 

Vibes: Even (But favored now that you’re a better Burn player after reading this)

The Plan:

+ Pyrostatic Pillar and Bonecrusher Giant

– Sulfuric Vortex and Flame Rift

“What do I do?”

Win the die roll. Draw better. Be smart. If you do lose the die roll, don’t be afraid to trade with their creatures. You’re more than likely going to win the game on the stack vs on the ground. Bonecrushers are going to do double duty in this regard, killing a Goblin Guide and also locking down the board can be enough to win a game on its own.


Arsonist’s Lullaby 

Sample Decklists 

Was designed for a specific metagame, not
necessarily suggested for a blind large event.

Additional Burn resources 

Mike Flores’s Philosophy of Fire. One of the greatest strategy articles of all time. Everything you could ever want to know about red cards you’ll find here from one of the greatest of all time.

The Essence of Burn is a fabulous article breaking down the nuances of Burn and the inner workings of aggro in a way I could never.

Live your lessons. The best way to put everything you’ve learned up til now into practice. Live for Burn, die for Burn, sleep for Burn. Gotta go fast.


Tips and Tricks 

  • You’re not really an aggro deck. You’re a combo deck. Except what seven cards you use for your combo don’t matter at all. You have inevitability. Eventually they’ll die. Just have to keep pushing.


  • Kill Priority:
  1. Your Opponent
  2. Silver Bullet Creatures
  3. Cards that are going to win your opponent the race
  4. Your Opponent


  • Cast your expensive spells first. Firing off a Flame Rift or Searing Blood before your bolts is counterintuitive but it allows you more flexibility in later turns. Casting a two mana spell on turn two allows you to cast another one plus a bolt on turn three, using your mana more efficiently and not leaving you with four mana worth of spells on turn three. Always be thinking ahead.


  • Hold on to your instants until the last possible moment. If you’re able to win on top of a counterspell or Blossoming Calm. If these are cards you’re expecting, hoard your instants like a dragon’s gold until you can fire all of them off in succession. Your cards are much easier to cast than theirs.


  • Eidolon is slowing down your opponent more than you think it is. Everyone is playing the most efficient options they have. In a format without pitch elementals, Leyline Binding or Force of Will there’s a good chance you’re affecting every card in their hand, whether they show it on their face or not.


  • On that note, always look like your opponent is dead. Strike fear into their heart. Mostly it’s true, they’re often one topdeck away from dying. But even in situations where you know you’re on the backfoot, if you have the slightest chance to get in their head and make them slip up, do it.


  • I know it goes against everything I’ve been saying so far, but slow down a little. Every turn stop, analyze your hand and think to yourself “what is the most efficient route to killing my opponent this turn or setting myself up to killing them next turn?” Really think about it. Sometimes the answer is more complicated than you think. You might find yourself really jumping through hoops to deal that last two damage.


  • Bolt the Bird. Just do it. Suck it up.


… All You Get is a Bigger Fire 

Final Thoughts 

Burn has gotten a reputation as being a “braindead” deck of sorts. Something that a new player could easily 6-0 with if given the chance. And while I’ll be the first to admit it’s far from the hardest deck to pilot, but this sentiment is mostly given from people who’ve only ever lost to Burn. It’s an easy deck to win games with, an extremely difficult deck to win tournaments with.

It’s an archetype near and dear to my heart, and is certainly one of the most powerful options available in the 30V format. It offers a lot of flexibility and inevitability in matchups that would otherwise be downright oppressive. Burn is a kind of litmus test for a metagame. It’s a fair assessment that if Burn is good, a metagame is healthy. It means games are going to turns 3-5 and aren’t doing such outrageous things during those turns that the game is already lost. As much as people love to whine and moan about losing to it, Burn is as fair as fair decks get.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a better understanding of what makes Burn tick and had a good time learning so. More than anything, thank you for being a fan of the Budget Vintage format and helping our community grow, that means more than anything.

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