Valuable Lessons – Firemind, the Counterburn Apologist

Welcome back to Valuable Lessons. This week, I’d like to discuss a Standard strategy that could be well positioned for the new format. Blue/red decks with an assortment of burn spells and countermagic have been around for well over a decade. These “counterburn” strategies have, generally speaking, sucked pretty hard. However, there have been a few situations where the counterburn deck has proven itself to be quite strong. Is the Journey into Nyx Standard an environment where counterburn can be successful? Today, we’ll attempt to answer that question by identifying what makes for a successful counterburn strategy.

I love this type of deck. Throwing fire, countering the spells that matter, drawing cards… it’s very fun. Unfortunately, we need our card draw to be very powerful. Our burn spells will need to trade with opposing threats, and some threats may even require more than one burn spell. It’s clear that a counterburn strategy needs a board-sweeping effect to stand a chance against aggressive strategies. Anger of the Gods fills this role nicely; allowing us to kill multiple creatures for a single card.

It’s also important to be playing in a format where people are taking a lot of damage from their own lands/spells. The last time I did well with a counterburn deck, a good portion of the field had City of Brass. Nowadays, people have Mana Confluence, shocklands, and Thoughtseize. Could we be on to something?

It’s nice to have a finishing move. Urza’s Rage was reasonable. Erratic Explosion in conjunction with Draco was awesome. Well, Riddle of Lightning is a very reasonable Erratic Explosion, and I can think of a very exciting way to make it deal a whole lot of damage. Enter the Infinite. Blast of Genius is nothing to scoff at either here.

Some may say that playing Enter the Infinite is like having actual dead cards in your deck, and that’s almost true, but hear me out for a second! Revealing Enter the Infinite off the top of our deck with Riddle of Lightning is hilarious, and, incidentally, quite strong in an actual game of Magic: The Gathering. Think about the percentage of time that puts an opponent that’s playing lands into range to die from a single burn spell. It’s actually pretty high. Sometimes, we’ll have to have two burn spells to finish them off. It’s also worth noting that if the game ever gets to the point where we can cast Enter the Infinite then we can almost assuredly win the following turn by leaving another copy of Enter the Infinite as the library and firing off a pair of Riddle of Lightning.

What do we need to worry about? For starters, life gain is pretty strong against this type of strategy. It’s going to be important for us to interact favorably against Sphinx’s Revelation, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and, to a lesser extent, Unflinching Courage.

Our best option is countermagic if we’re looking to contend with something like Sphinx’s Revelation or Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Dissolve is especially nice in a deck like this because it lets us peek at our top card and find out if we’ll be blasting 12 points at the opponent’s face in the near future.

Lightning Strike is an incredibly efficient burn spell, killing Nightveil Specters and opponents. We’ll be playing a full four copies of this.

Uncovered Clues seems like it would be much better than Divination in a deck like this.

Quicken is a great choice for a deck that’s playing with Dissolve, Izzet Charm, and a decent amount of sorcery-speed spells.

Here’s what I expected our main deck to look like:

by Jacob Van Lunen

I was reasonably excited about this deck. After all, everyone loves blasting people for massive amounts of damage with a literal Blast of Genius or Riddle of Lightning.

Then I found something that turned my world upside down. It seemed that Saito had been working on a similar deck. The initial lists seemed like over the top versions of my own deck. Things that were very flashy and not very consistent.

However, an updated list of the “Big Burning” deck revealed a much more streamlined strategy for the deck. Suddenly, we were ramping into our burn spells and playing Jace, Architect of Thought. The deck started looking more like a combo deck and less like a counterburn strategy, but it’s newfound speed and consistency also meant that if an opponent turtled up with countermagic the deck could simply ramp into an actual Worldspine Wurm or Enter the Infinite. Counterburn is always an exciting prospect, but it seems like an aggressive combo route could be much stronger if we have access to burn spells that are this large.

Here’s the list that was posted.

Saito Big Burning

To be honest, I don’t think this deck is good, but it got some cogs moving in my brain and I suddenly felt compelled to concoct a new version of the deck. I’ve been trying to brew with Dictate of Karametra for the last week, and this seemed like the perfect home. End-of-turn Dictate of Karametra lets the deck do some absolutely ridiculous things, including just casting Enter the Infinite on turn six, leaving us with the mana to cast a pair of Riddle of Lightning with another copy of Enter the Infinite on top of our deck the following turn.

I don’t think we need the full 8 copies of do nothing. Sure, our combo may not be as consistent with three Worldspine Wurm, but I feel like we’re already pushing the envelope a bit by having seven cards that cost 10 or more mana in the deck.

We can play Izzet Charm again, meaning that we can pitch excess big spells for more countermagic or removal when we need it. Izzet Charm also makes us better at fighting the war against Sphinx’s Revelation.

I didn’t like having Courser of Kruphix and Elvish Mystic in the deck. By only playing eight creatures, we’re making the opponent’s removal live when we don’t have to. I’d much rather cut the creatures entirely in favor of Anger of the Gods and more spot removal. Lightning Strike is perfect, and this gives us the room to play with Izzet Charm again.

Suddenly, this is a true combo deck. We have everything we need: efficient removal, a good sweeper, strong countermagic, and the capacity to kill our opponent out of nowhere if they tap out (or if they don’t when they’re not playing countermagic).

Here’s the list, in all of its explosive glory:

Big Counterburning
by Jacob Van Lunen

The Standard environment is still in upheaval, and it’s difficult to come up with sideboard plans for playing against decks that seem to change from day to day. We’ll revisit this deck in the coming weeks if it still has potential and figure out our sideboarding plans. Until then, have fun casting end of turn Dictate of Karametra into two Blasts of Genius for over 10 damage.


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