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September 12, 2016

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Burn in Commander

Burn in Commander, get it? Everyone knows you can’t play “burn” in a format where multiple people start with 40 life. Commander just isn’t the game for that. Cube, Modern, Legacy and Vintage, even Standard all usually have decently viable mono red burn decks based around some of the strongest spells in Magic’s history. But you won’t find Lightning Bolts, Lightning Helixes, Lava Axes or any of the sort in Commander decks. You even rarely find big splashy X red spells like Fireball in Commander despite the format’s penchant for making insane amounts of mana.

So for you Red Deck Wins fans who are tired of seeing your Red Deck Lose in Commander, I’ve come up with a couple ways that you could build a deck in which burn spells like the ones you find in other formats actually make sense to run in your 99 and may just surprise your opponents.

A few commanders out there really want to either have you cast a lot of instants and sorceries or just want to push damage as much as possible. We all know the Mizzix of the Izmagnus decks out there revolve around a lot of Counterspells to build up her experience counters then toast her opponents with a big Earthquake or a few big Fireballs. Well instead of a lot of Counterspells why not run a bunch of great burn spells that can make your opponents early turns very frustrating? Lightning Bolting a Burnished Hart can absolutely crush a non-green deck trying to get it’s third colour of mana and can give you the time you need to build up to your game ending X spell.

Or how about a true Red Deck Wins strategy that tries to do nothing but push damage through the entire game? I built a deck for ‘The Commander’s Brew around Mogis, God of Slaughter with all the different damage doublers like Dictate of the Twin Gods and Furnace of Rath and it was incredible fun. Your Lightning Strikes will look a lot better if they’re doing six damage or even twelve if you can maneuver having two doublers out. Not to mention adding Mogis’ ability of taking damage or sacrificing a creature can add up and eventually not give your opponents much of a choice after all.

In addition to the commanders that create a great environment for burn spells, we have a few great legends that create burn spells themselves. Jaya Ballard, Task Mage is a build-your-own-Lightning Strike machine or a miniature board wiper while the seemingly underused Latulla, Keldon Overseer is a Fireball on legs. At the very least these commanders deserve a spot in a deck dedicated to damage.

Using burn spells around a burn friendly Commander is all well and good, but what about using burn spells in non damage based decks? What about general good burns spells that can be played in any deck with red? This is a taller order than suggesting some generals to use but there certainly are red damage spells out there that make a ton of sense to run in your favourite Commander deck.

One card that I often find myself sliding into more and more decks these days is Burn Away. For 5 mana (not exactly cheap, sure) you get to deal 6 damage to a creature and then exile all cards from the graveyard it goes to. Shutting down graveyard recursion is essential in Commander and this card nets you a pretty decent 2 for 1. Kill the big creature and end graveyard shenanigans.

Another burn card I find myself using a lot recently is Burn from Within. You pay for it, but when an opponent’s Avacyn or Eldrazi titan is staring you down from across the table you don’t care that you had to spend 10 mana to kill it. Exiling is absolutely key in Commander and the more you can do it, the better.

Speaking of exiling, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been up against a Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck and just wished I had a single copy of Annihilating Fire or even a Disintegrate in my hand early on in the game to shut down some important utility creature. Both of these are totally viable spells in a format where graveyards can crush you with a single infinite recursion combo.

So whether you’re looking to build an entire burn deck or just make use of the best forms of red damage, the style of play so many have come to love (or hate) is an actual possibility if you utilize the tools red gives you. Damage enhancers, recursion, even artifact spells like Shrine of Burning Rage can get out of control and help a Red Deck Win strategy in any format, even Commander.