Modern Matchups: Storm Vs. Burn

One complaint Modern naysayers levy against the format is that the format is populated with non-interactive decks.

The term is used to describe decks that focus the majority of their energy on just doin’ their own thang rather than what the opponent is doing. Storm, Burn, Bogles, Affinity, Dredge, Tron, and Lantern are all decks that immediately spring to mind when somebody says “non-interactive.”

I would argue that these decks do interact with the opponent by presenting threats that win the game. The problem occurs when the opponent cannot interact with the threat or win the game first.

I prefer to call these decks:


  1. arranged in or extending along a straight or nearly straight line.
  2. “linear arrangements”
  3. synonyms:
    1. straight, direct, undeviating, as straight as an arrow;
    2. sequential
    3. “linear motion”
  4. progressing from one stage to another in a single series of steps; sequential.
  5. “a linear narrative”

Linear is more accurate to describe these decks. Linear decks interact, but the lion’s share of that interaction will occur along one specific axis that may be difficult for the opponent to interact with before they gain access to their sideboard.

In a sense, Modern has a lot of glass-cannon decks that are simultaneously powerful, resilient, and vulnerable.

Powerful, in the sense that the deck can present a threat or condition to win the game quickly and consistently.

Resilient, in the sense that the nature of the threat(s) are linear and will ignore some forms of opponent’s interaction.

Vulnerable, in the sense that when an opponent does interact with that narrow axis of attack, it has a devastating impact.

I didn’t want to make today’s article about abstract theory but I do want to circle the wagons to create some common understanding of the perspective from which I’ve built my understanding of the matchup.

Storm and Burn are both linear decks by definition, but interaction is extremely important in the matchup.

I’m going to be using my Storm list and an MTGO Challenge list from ABV:


Brian DeMars


ABV, 1st place in an MTGO Challenge

There is nothing wild about either of these lists. I’ve been playing 2 Spell Snare in my sideboard for the past two weeks:

It’s been done before but isn’t exactly common. I’ve been happy enough with it that it has earned a place. It first made its way into the board for the burn matchup, but the card has been useful in other matchups as well. Good card is good.

I’m also a big fan of Flame Slash. Dismember is the more popular choice, but I’ve found the 4 life to be too great a cost for my liking. Flame Slash hits most of the creatures I’m interested in killing: Meddling Mage, Eidolon of Great Revel, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Devoted Druid, and Thought Knot-Seer.

Notes About the Matchup

The most important note about the matchup is that I believe Burn to be significantly favored because it has a significant tactical advantage.

Both of these decks are linear, which means that the majority of their energy is focused on the execution of a primary goal: winning the game. With that being said, Burn is better at interacting with Storm than Storm is at interacting with Burn.

Interact with what you can!

Pro tip! Lightning Bolt is good because it doubles as damage and removal.

The Storm deck is perfectly capable of winning without one of the cost reducer creatures in play, but it isn’t exactly easy.

Storm can easily win on the third turn (which is one of the fastest and most consistent goldfish kills) in the format. A couple of Rituals and a Gifts easily wins the game, assuming that the opponent cannot kill the cost-reducer creature, which is a big assumption.

Storm can win, without a creature but it is much dicier.

The Storm player can generate a bunch of Storm and at the end of it have 3RRU floating and cast Grapeshot, Remand the actual Grapeshot (leaving all the storm copies on the stack), and then cast Grapeshot again.

Assuming that you have seven cards in hand (5 Rituals, Grapeshot, and Remand), it’s only 12 damage. So in order for this plan to work you’ll need to draw some cantrips or trick the opponent into playing during your turn to add to the Storm count. Electromancer is a great way to bait an opponent into adding to Storm!

Speaking of interaction:

Does this interact profitably with Storm!?

Burn already had more interaction and then add this fuel to the fire… the hot, fiery, burning fire…

Storm cannot win while this creature is on the board. Which means that it must be removed for the Storm player to even have a shot.

I maindeck 2 Bolts because creatures like Meddling Mage and Eidolon exist.

Storm does have some interaction with the Eidolon, meaning that Storm isn’t cold to it, but it is the most important card in the matchup.

Eidolon is cheap and must be answered. It’s also a fast clock. If Storm doesn’t have an answer in hand, the Eidolon will punish the Storm player repeatedly for trying to Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand into an answer.

Burn also has a high density of instant-speed burn spells, which means that they get to play mostly on Storm’s turn. They can always be holding up removal for Baral or Electromancer (or at least representing it).

The last piece of the puzzle is that Burn also has the thing that most annoys Storm: a super fast clock. Storm’s best draws culminate in turn-3 or -4 wins (provided the opponent cannot interact with it). Burn is perfectly capable of executing at the same pace.

4x Win the Game Eidolon, 12x Interaction with Storm’s cost-reducer creatures, and an equivalent clock.

When you break it down, it becomes obvious why Burn is heavily favored in the matchup. Tactically, it has multiple edges.


This might be the most important two paragraphs in the article. I’ve played a ton of Modern and I still feel uncomfortable describing win percentages for matchups. Kyle Boggemes once said: “There are three subjects I try to avoid: politics, religion, and Modern matchup win percentages…”

The games vary wildly. No matchup is ever as good or bad as it feels because there are so many forced mulligans and non-functioning hands. Also, the decks are so inherently powerful that they can win quickly if the opponent doesn’t have the right card in the right spot.

Burn is on the draw against an unknown opponent with:

Hand is the nut? Well, not if the opponent was on Storm and had a turn-3 win.

I tend to think about Modern matchups as either close, slightly favorable/unfavorable, or very favorable/unfavorable.

It’s comical to me when people start saying things like: I think deck X has approximately a 52.6% matchup against deck Y. If that is the case, just say that it’s close. More important than trying to talk about percentages (which I think is futile), I’m interested in why and what matters.

I would feel comfortable saying that Burn has a very favorable matchup against Storm. Burn can interact better, it has a fast clock, it’s more nimble (can play on Storm’s turn), and has an Eidolon.


Here is how I sideboard against Burn:



My assumption is that my Burn opponent might board something like this:



From the Burn perspective: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

From the Storm perspective: This does not work—you need to do something else.

Another option for Storm that I’ve been considering:

I think this qualifies as doing something else! The ability to slam a fast Platinum Emperion certainly gives the deck a new dimension. The problem is whether or not the plan uses too much of my sideboard.

How many Madcap Experiment and Platinum Emperion would I need to play? 4 and 2? That’s a lot of cards!

There is also a weird tension between how many Path to Exile and Chained to the Rocks my opponent will bring in if they expect me to be on the Tinker plan. I’ve had a lot of Burn players sideboard in Destructive Revelry for Leyline of Sanctity, which I don’t have, that would hit the Emperion.

If you are on Burn, how many answers should a player bring in for the Madcap combo? Path can at least interact with Baral, which is a strong reason to bring it in without having perfect information about whether or not Madcap is being used.

I also figure that by not having Madcap or Leyline that I pick up some small percentages against anybody who is boarding in answers to these cards. I’m boarding out most of my creatures, and so if my opponent is bringing in Paths, I’m pretty happy about that exchange.

Let’s talk about my Storm plan:

I think Gifts is too slow and Electromancer is too much of a liability (boarding it out also bricks Searing Blood, which people do bring in).

I also feel that Burn is too good at interacting with my combo (cost-reducers) and gets better at interacting with the graveyard (Relic) for me to simply try and power through.

I’ve decided to transform into kind of a makeshift control deck that has a lot of removal and Empty the Warrens to win with. I like the removal because it gives me a ton of answers to Eidolon of the Great Revel (which has to be answered). Bolts and Slashes also hit the other creatures, Goblin Guide, and Swiftspear, which are important, recurring sources of damage and blockers to be moved out of the way if I can only muster a small Empty the Warrens. I like Pieces of the Puzzle because unlike Gifts Ungiven, it finds Empty the Warrens, is a turn faster, and avoids graveyard hate like Relic or Rest in Peace.

I still think the matchup is bad for Storm after sideboard. But I would say that the way I sideboard makes the games less unfavorable. Storm gains more from the sideboard than Burn does.

In Conclusion: Interaction is King in Modern

I think it is really interesting how much is actually going in a matchup between two of the arguably most linear decks in the format! The deck that interacts the most is favored. My approach to sideboarding is to try to get better at interacting in order to regain some percentage points from the enemy.

It’s funny that interacting is so much more powerful than anything else you can do in Modern. Yet, it is one of the most difficult things to do properly because you need specific kinds of cards. You have to match the right interaction to the right threat and the decks play wildly different kinds of threats. People are smart and they play strategies that are difficult to interact with in some generic, obvious way.

I lost to Burn the first five times I played against it in tournaments in a row. Since then, I’m 6-6 in tournament matches.

I spent a lot of energy to understand the matchup and to learn what was important and why it was important. I focused on tactics. I made adjustments to my sideboard and how I used it. I learned to play my deck better.

With all that being said, and all that effort and mental energy invested, I’m not even positive that what I’m doing is necessarily the best possible plan. Maybe I should Madcap Experiment?

Now, imagine that there are also four-dozen decks and those decks each have four-dozen matchups that are as unique and dynamic as this one is.

Imagine how impossibly large that amount of information and experience is. The format also changes and shifts weekly, as other players become better and make adjustments to their decks and tactics.

Or, maybe it’s just two linear, non-interactive decks spewing cards at one another in a neverending lottery of nonsense.

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