Last updated on October 23, 2023
Eidolon of the Great Revel | Illustration by Cyril Van Der Haegen
Lightning Bolt is one of the most iconic cards in all of Magic. Players have been chasing the efficiency of “1-mana, deal three damage to any target” since Alpha. Spells like Lightning Bolt that can target a player often finish out games where creatures did most of the legwork but fell just short of 20 damage.
These decks exist in every format, mixing powerful and efficient creatures with burn spells to win from disadvantaged board states. Pioneer is no different; burn decks have existed since the format’s inception. But it wasn’t until Ikoria that Burn became an on-and-off tier 1 archetype for months.
Lurrus forced players to lean out their decks and commit to playing two colors, specifically white and red. This transformed most of the deck into a powerful shell with some flexibility that still consistently punished midrange decks and any stumbles. Gone were the days of Goblin Chainwhirler and planeswalker threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
This latest change brings me to the decklist as it exists today: Boros Burn.
Wizard's Lightning | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
There was an adage about Burn decks years ago that said the perfect balance was twenty creatures, twenty spells, and twenty lands. This list is just a little off the 20/20/20 plan thanks to Lurrus’ cost restriction. With twenty creatures, 21 spells, and 19 lands, the modern Pioneer Burn deck keeps the memories of Burn decks past while adapting to the changes of the 2020 and 2021 format.
Burn decks traditionally have twelve 1-drop creatures with a flex slot for a 13th. You’ve got an extra 1-drop in this deck to add extra pressure and consistency to your early turns.
All the creatures are either 2-power, have prowess, or can grow to 2 power. This is an important break point for the 1-drops in the list since each chunk of three damage is worth about one card in a Burn deck. You often account for one less spell you need to draw to win if you can connect twice. Connect a third time and often the opponent won’t be able to weather the flurry of burn later.
Ghitu Lavarunner is the weakest 1-drop creature on turn 1 but it quickly scales to match the other creatures. As a 1/2 without haste, you can lean on Lavarunner while using haste creatures on turns 2 and 3 to maximize damage. This 1-drop excels in the midgame as a 2/2 with haste once you have two instant or sorceries in your graveyard. You have an additional haste threat that works as a midgame top deck once the game reaches that point. Not to mention that having the “wizard” subtype is important for ensuring earlier double or triple spell turns thanks to Wizard's Lightning.
Next up are the two prowess 1-drops. Anyone familiar with modern Burn should be well acquainted with Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear. These two threats act as pumpable creatures that reward casting burn before damage. Some of the hardest starts to beat involve a turn 1 Soul-Scar into a turn 2 Swiftspear and Wizard's Lightning, dealing seven points of damage on turn 2!
Soul-Scar also has the wizard subtype which allows for these aggressive starts. Its ability to give -1/-1 counters to creatures can also allow these prowess creatures to turn 4/4 and 5/5 creatures into chump blockers. Soul-Scar is one of the most valuable assets for the Burn deck in dealing with opposing creature decks.
Haste is the name of the game for Burn since top decking 1-drops later into the game can feel anemic without getting in instant chip damage. Zurgo Bellstriker acts as an additional 2-power threat on turn 1 or a repeatable haste threat thanks to the dash ability.
The 1-drops should all have haste in the midgame except for Soul-Scar if you include dash. The important thing is you need one more piece of Burn or haste damage to kill your opponent after attacking with your early creatures and playing the spells from your opening hand. Haste also synergizes well with Lurrus, but I’ll cover that a little later.
While your 1-drops all serve a singular purpose, your 2-drops have a little more flexibility.
Viashino Pyromancer acts as a 2/1 that shocks a player or planeswalker while also turning on key spells Light up the Stage and Wizard's Lightning. This card often acts as a piece of burn late into the game. The four damage is well above rate if you ever deal combat damage with it. Pyromancer is also one of the most synergistic cards with Lurrus since it acts as repeated blocking and burn in racing scenarios.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is historically a staple in red aggressive decks. Being a repeated burn source like your aggressive creatures allows an advantage in matchups where your opponent is trying to match mana costs with your deck. The burn adds up fast against decks like Izzet () Phoenix, Jeskai () Ascendancy Combo, and other aggressive decks, especially when backed by other creatures or burn spells, tightening the vice on their life total.
An element of this card that sometimes causes issues is that the effect is symmetrical. If you recklessly cast spells without working out how the board will shape up after the dust settles, you might end up locked under your own Eidolon, unable to cast anymore spells. This comes up a lot in aggressive mirrors where board supremacy punishes a card like Eidolon. Many Burn players have chump attacked in an Eidolon to allow a flurry of spells to kill their opponent while locked under the card’s effect.
In the matchups where Eidolon is good, like against Storm in Modern, it’s often the best threat you have. Consider this a quick sideboard out in matchups where the card is more likely to hurt you than kill your opponent.
Your Companion: Lurrus
There’s a lot and also not much to say about the effect of Lurrus of the Dream-Den on a deck like Burn. One of the strongest creatures ever printed for linear aggro decks, Lurrus enables late game and flood protection. Burn decks need one more threat or one more spell to win a game that’s slipping away when there’s an element of mirror.
Lurrus makes sure the top of your deck is always something good, whether that’s rebuying a haste threat, Viashino Pyromancer as a burn spell, or a removal spell that the opponent dealt with post-board. These effects mitigate the biggest downside to a deck like Burn: your opponent has better quality draws than you do if the game goes beyond a certain point.
Your cards are all interchangeable and functional but they won’t take singlehandedly over the game like Niv-Mizzet Reborn, Omnath, Locus of Creation, or Thing in the Ice. Eidolon of the Great Revel can be an exception in specific matchups and Lurrus will win almost any game if left unchecked. Having access to such a powerful tool and flood mitigator in Burn is the largest factor in why this deck continues to stay relevant in the Pioneer meta.
Sixteen of your 21 spells deal damage to any target.
Starting with the newest card from Midnight Hunt, Play with Fire is a Shock with upside. I mentioned earlier that Burn can run out of steam and flounder against midrange decks that efficiently answer your creatures. Play with Fire gives you a replacement for Shock or Wild Slash that mitigates non-games early and finds the last spell to kill your opponent late. While scry 1 doesn’t seem like a massive upgrade, the play patterns that Play with Fire enables make a huge difference in your midgame planning.
Boros Charm has three modes and you can use them all in this deck. This spell reads “, deal four damage to an opponent.” Multiple Charms can easily swing any race and it’s the most efficient cost-to-damage in the deck. Most of your burn deals three damage so opponents often try to stay above that life total, forgetting that five is really the only safe spot from a single spell.
Lightning Strike has been a staple in Burn since Theros. Three damage, two mana, goes at any target. Not much to add other than it’s the tool it professes to be.
Wizard's Lightning is the only oddity in the burn package. Twelve of your twenty creatures turn on the cost reduction and Lightning Bolt is too good of a card for Pioneer on rate. You only want to cast this card for lethal when it costs three. There are enough wizards to hold onto this Lightning until you can play it on the same turn as a creature. Even with Viashino Pyromancer, this still costs three total mana to play with the enabler at the same time.
Along with the traditional creatures and burn spells, this deck leverages the power of the spectacle mechanic via Light up the Stage. A staple in red aggressive decks until Modern Horizons printed more efficient engines, Light up the Stage gives you card advantage to help close out tight games, especially by ensuring land drops for land-light hands. Being able to sequence around what types of cards you need by playing them over two turns allows you to use both cards from Light up the Stage. When you only need a finite number of resources to deal twenty damage, less with shocklands, drawing two extra cards should push most hands over the finish line.
Chained to the Rocks is another flex slot in the main deck. In a world where Thing in the Ice, Winota, Joiner of Forces, and Niv-Mizzet Reborn exist, you need a cheap answer to threats with more than three toughness. Especially game 1, these large creatures can stall your offense and prolong the game well past your deck’s expiration date.
The mana base for this deck is straightforward. Every land must tap for red and they can also ideally tap for white. Four Battlefield Forges and four Sacred Foundrys act as dual lands since your life total shouldn’t come into question early. A full playset of Inspiring Vantages round out your mana fixing for Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Boros Charm.
Ramunap Ruins and Den of the Bugbear act as lands that can add just a little more reach to a deck that struggles to use its fifth or sixth mana. Finally, five Mountains allow for a large percentage of your lands to enter untapped for the first three turns of the game.
Tips and Tricks
Soul-Scar Mage | Illustration by Steve Argyle
When deciding which 1-drop to play on turn 1, consider the overall damage each option will do if left unchecked in the sequence.
If you play a Soul-Scar Mage or Ghitu Lavarunner on turn 1, your haste creatures will get in on turn 2 alongside your turn 1 play. If you lead with a haste creature, they get in turn 1. But your overall damage is less since come turn 2 since your non-haste creature can’t attack on turn 2.
Try to establish your board with non-haste creatures and then supplement with haste creatures and spells that can disrupt your opponent’s expectations of blocks and damage calculations.
Make sure the creature you’re pushing through can do more damage than the spell could if you spend burn defending creatures. If killing an opponent’s 2/3 allows you to attack with two 2/3 creatures, that three-damage spell was worth four damage.
Keep these calculations in mind as they often lead to situations where you need to switch roles to suiciding creatures and ending the game with burn or sitting back and ensuring you live long enough to draw additional burn to end the game. This is a major reason that having access to a card like Chained to the Rocks can be backbreaking; it allows you to push through damage without losing burn to the face.
Many games of Burn come down to topdecks, but more importantly, they come down to setting yourself up for topdecks.
I talked about your opponent trying to stay at a certain life total and playing around potential draws. If you can get your opponent to four life, you can Boros Charm as an out to end the game. If you get them to three life, your options now include Boros Charm, Lightning Strike, Wizard's Lightning, and Den of the Bugbear.
If you get them to two life? Well, every burn spell and Viashino Pyromancer instantly ends the game with Eidolon of the Great Revel locking out many of your opponent’s outs. Some creatures like Ghitu Lavarunner and Zurgo Bellstriker can also act as 2-damage burn spells alongside Ramunap Ruins. At one life, the token from Den can end the game, as can Monastery Swiftspear with nothing else also add to the outs.
Keep all these life totals in mind. They can dictate when you should go all-in on firing off burn with prowess creatures attacking. You may need to decimate your board to force through enough damage to put your opponent to three since you’re likely to draw an out before they can swing the race.
It’s easy to win when you have all the damage rolled up and your opponent taps out. It’s the games where you have to take calculated risks and squeeze out that last bit of luck that separate average Burn players from those that consistently win with this style of deck.
Live and Learn
Watch back your games with this deck! Taking notes of every place where damage went matters in your win rate.
Did you attack a planeswalker from 1 loyalty down when its abilities no longer mattered? Did your opponent live at one and you spent a Wizard's Lightning on a blocker where you could have used Play with Fire in conjunction with Soul-Scar Mage to kill the blocker? Did you sequence your creatures correctly? When did you fetch Lurrus of the Dream-Den and what did you do with it?
More than many midrange decks and especially control decks, the number of decisions you must make correctly in a short window makes decks like Burn deceptively difficult to pilot. Review and revise your plays regularly!
Lurrus of the Dream-Den | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
You’re an aggressive deck. If you have five lands, send it back. At four lands you need to have a strong start backed up by Light up the Stage. Ideally you want three lands and four spells with at least two 1-drops.
While you can’t just send back any hand that doesn’t match that description, you need to plan out your sequencing from your opening hand to how you expect to kill. That changes depending on who’s on the play and what you’re playing against, but you have to play under the assumption that midgame is bad for you, especially in game 1.
You should know what your gameplay revolves around post-sideboard. If you need a specific sideboard card, mulligan looking for it. While there are top tier hands without sideboard answers, in some matchups you need the answer to their strategy post-board or they can weather even the best storm from Burn. Especially against decks that can gain a lot of life, it can be hard to ever kill your opponent without a card like Roiling Vortex.
Most of these sideboard cards are focused on answering creature-based strategies and midrange decks. Control decks have a hard time surviving the inevitability of your burn spells so you don’t need to side much in against them. While you do need to learn how to navigate those matchups, they’re matchups you want to face often with a deck like Burn.
Chained to the Rocks
This is a rehash from the comments on Chained to the Rocks in the main deck, but you want to have access to a card that trades one-for-one and allows you to push through damage when your opponent has threats with more than three toughness. Be careful using this on cards that have powerful enters the battlefield abilities since most decks will have enchantment answers for you post-board.
Be aware that, while Chained is incredibly efficient at what it does, it doesn’t deal damage. It’s one of the primary cards that can lead to over boarding with this deck. You want this effect most against decks with true brick walls like Niv to Light.
Burn can play a card like Rest in Peace to answer decks like Rakdos ()s Arcanist or interact with Treasure Cruise decks, but then you can’t use Lurrus of the Dream-Den to full effect. Not to mention that using Soul-Guide Lantern’s cantrip mode in games where you need to exile a single threat like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger can accelerate you towards a final threat or burn spell
Lots of decks that rely on the graveyard in Pioneer right now use the Lantern to win through. If players use it as incidental value, be wary of bringing in Lantern. Again, you can be flexible, but you need to be the aggressor in most matchups.
Unlike in formats like Modern, the spell-based single-turn methods of stopping life gain often aren’t enough to end the game. You need repeated sources of denying life gain, and the game is slow enough post-board that leaving up one mana isn’t backbreaking to your development. Roiling Vortex singlehandedly takes over post-board games. It locks out decks with Bring to Light or Fires of Invention and nullifies most deck’s plan to mitigate your damage through life gain.
You also might like to bring Vortex in against decks that play a lot of removal. You could cut all your creatures except Eidolon of the Great Revel and Soul-Scar Mage since the game will go long and cards like Vortex and other burn spells will kill at a higher likelihood than creatures will against all their removal. One point of damage per turn doesn’t seem impressive until you remember that you’re often looking for one to five points of damage over the course of a game to close out post-board games.
Satyr Firedancer is an interesting card that comes up periodically when other creature-based decks pick up steam. I mentioned calculating if burn spells are better sent at a creature or at the face. Well, what if your burn spells just did both?
Firedancer obviously isn’t a great aggressive card, but it means all your spells deal double damage in creature matchups where your opponent can’t easily remove it. Decks like Naya Winota have a terrible time answering this card, and it makes it exceedingly difficult for them to establish a wide board to kill with.
Searing Blood is fantastic against Elvish Mystic, Spirits, and any deck that has lots of smaller blockers to clog up the board. The best effect in Burn is getting double value out of your cards. If you can kill a creature and deal damage to a player, you’re that much closer to winning.
Blood can stack since the three damage triggers whenever a creature hit with it dies. That means that if you use two to kill a 4-toughness creature, your opponent takes six damage. You can even do this in response to a wrath effect to ensure damage goes through.
While Searing Blood can sometimes get stuck in your hand, it always finds a target given that it can stack.
Kari Zev’s Expertise
Kari Zev's Expertise is a new addition that started seeing play to swing the race against bigger decks like mono green, Winota, and Niv to Light. If your opponent expects to slam a massive threat to roadblock you, the common answer is to remove the roadblock and kill them. The bigger brain play is to take that massive creature and kill them with it.
There are almost no circumstances where something like a bonus 6/6 alongside a free 2-drop won’t kill most opponents. Even a 4/4 will get the job done. There are times this will get stuck in your hand much like Searing Blood, but it should always swing the game heavily in your favor when it does come in.
How to Beat Burn?
Lightning Strike | Illustration by Adam Paquette
The million-dollar question that every brew must answer before it can succeed in a format: how do you beat it?
Start with cheap interaction, preferably with incidental lifegain attached. Play creatures with high toughness that don’t die to three damage. Have an efficient game plan that doesn’t require the game to go on for endless turns. The more streamlined your game plan, the more pressure put on Burn to have the right mixture of creatures and spells.
If you’re threatening to kill them on turn 4 with a blocker or two, it can be extremely hard for Burn to win. Decks that start with Sylvan Caryatid often can get a few blocks off and accelerate into threats that outclass Burn decks. Especially in game 1, being able to efficiently deal with Burn’s creature can lead to bad draws reliant on dealing 20+ damage purely from spells, and that’s tough when you need around seven of your sixteen spells to make that happen.
A major level-up against decks like Burn include understanding when you can race them and when you need to commit to killing them in one or two swings. There are exact moments when the deck on the defensive can pivot to close out the game. Cards like Nissa, Who Shakes the World do a great job of creating threats that are hard to go through and threaten your opponent at the same time.
Less obvious examples are cards like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord that can turn any creature into a threat that drastically changes the race math. While Burn is always the aggressor, there are certain hands where they rely too heavily on spells and don’t establish a board presence. In those instances, racing from the start can make them burn their spells defensively, and it becomes much easier to extend the game and win once Burn starts pointing their only threatening cards at your creatures.
Chained to the Rocks | Illustration by Aaron Miller
Burn gets a bad rap for being an un-interactive or unskilled deck. There are plenty of players who lose to a deck like Burn and never learn how to find the knife’s edge. Burn experts live on.
There are few decks I recommend more than Burn for players looking to understand a format’s texture of. Burn is the great equalizer and often keeps the more degenerate decks in check but rarely passes into tier 0. Understanding how Burn operates and when it’s the right time to break it out can lead to massive wins in bigger events like PTQs and Challenges.
It’s no secret that the trophy leader in Pioneer is a known Burn player, and the deck will often spike a slot or two in top 8 of weekend events. Take the time to learn this fundamental deck, otherwise you’ll be condemned to feel the Thunderous Wrath of those who did.