On Rebuilding the Deck, we'll take a look at some interesting, but fairly successful decks of the past and try and revive them in Modern or some other Eternal format. Today, we're exploring creating a Burn at the Stake combo deck in Modern.
During the Magic 2014 Standard season, there were a lot of combo decks built around the sorcery, Burn at the Stake. Some of these decks were relatively successful in tournament play. However, as many combo decks are, they can run inconsistently at times - the "draw the wrong half of your deck" syndrome.
Burn at the Stake really only needs a few untapped creatures to be successful. You tap any number of your creatures and Burn at the Stake deals damage to a target creature or player equal to three times the number of creatures you tapped.
For those that wanted to play Burn at the Stake, but hated the inconsistency of combo decks, there was a Boros aggro version called Haste Stake. This deck didn't enjoy a long life due to the fact that half of the cards in this deck rotated out of Standard as of the release of Theros. Still, it was worthwhile to check out the fun interactions that Hellrider, Ogre Battledriver and the token cards provide.
This particular list went 4-0 at a Standard Daily Event on 8/16/2013. It was brewed and piloted by Magic Online user Scrubbi.
4 Ogre Battledriver
4 Young Pyromancer
Non-Creature Spells (24)
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Faithless Looting
4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Lingering Souls
4 Krenko's Command
3 Burn at the Stake
1 Reforge the Soul
4 Blood Crypt
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Godless Shrine
1 Isolated Chapel
1 Slayer's Stronghold
4 Wear / Tear
4 Legion Loyalist
2 Rakdos' Return
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Ratchet Bomb
There's a lot of good stuff here, but since no one in the world is playing this Standard format anymore, we'll have to port it over to Modern. Can we do that and still have it be effective? Also, you may notice that there is already some Black mana in here. We'll be taking advantage of that in a bit.
First, let's see what made this deck work!
As with all of the successful Burn at the Stake decks, Young Pyromancer is the heart of the action in this deck. While the instants and sorceries are far different than a typical Stake deck, they work just as well as any others in creating Elemental tokens off of Pyromancer. In fact, the majority of them are token generators themselves.
Where this deck truly is different, however, is in its inclusion of full play-sets of Hellrider and Ogre Battledriver. Hellrider, obviously has been an aggro favorite for quite sometime and it's not hard to see why, Having haste on a 3/3 is not bad for 2RR. But whenever any of your creatures attack (even if you don't swing with Hellrider himself) upon declaring attacks, each of your creatures deals 1 damage to target creature or player. This damage, in the aggressive decks he has been played in, can often prove to be lethal damage.
The most notable card here, though, is Ogre Battledriver. While he has not gotten much love yet from competitive Standard players, he is very much at home in this deck. While he himself does not have haste, Battledriver gives each of your creatures entering the battlefield +2/+0 and haste, This of course includes tokens, meaning the Young Pyromancer Elemental tokens will enter as 3/1's with haste. While they will not retain their +2/+0 boost, Battledriver makes every one of your tokens that much more dangerous.
This is where the deck really gets interesting. Present are the 4 Krenko's Command, 4 Faithless Looting, 3 Burn at the Stake, and 1 Reforge the Soul common to Stake decks. The Commands give you 2 1/1 tokens plus the benefit of Pyromancer's own token. 4 Faithless Looting helps you card filter, and they are also able to be flashed back. Reforge the Soul is useful for refilling your hand while also possibly dumping your opponent's most useful cards in the graveyard,
But as you've already noticed this is not a blue/red deck with Goblin Electromancer and Battle Hymn, which serves as the primary engine along with Pyromancer with the main win condition in order to reach the amount of untapped creatures for a one-shot kill with Burn at the Stake. No, this is a deck that focuses on tokens, specifically sorceries that only generate tokens. This strategy still interacts perfectly with "Young Pyromancer.
Note that there are no Epic Experiments to help solidify the win condition, nor any draw power beyond Looting to get you the pieces you need for the Stake combo. In fact, looking at the non-creature line-up, Burn at the Stake looks as if it is only a tiny part of this deck's win potential.
Instead, you have 4 Intangible Virtue to instantly make your elemental and goblin tokens bigger. But they are not alone. Full play-sets of Gather the Townsfolk and Lingering Souls allow you to make even more cheap creatures and abuse Pyromancer's token-generating ability. Plus, having access to black mana in the deck means you'll be able to flashback the Souls, making yet another token with Pyromancer! The other part of Lingering Souls is that those tokens have flying, allowing for evasive damage that can easily become quite relevant.
The mana base in this deck is a bit complex. The combination of buddy and shock lands are crucial in allowing this deck to constantly have access to the colors which it needs to win consistently. The 4 Blood Crypts, 2 Godless Shrines, and 1 Isolated Chapel are in here to mainly be able to flashback Souls as well as provide black for the two sideboard Rakdos' Return,
The inclusion of a single Mutavault I find to be a bit perplexing, There's no tribal theme to this deck, so it seems to be in here only to act as one more cheap creature if you need it for whatever reason.
Slayers' Stronghold is a great utility land that gives a target creature +2/+0 vigilance and haste until end of turn. While it won't be used all that often, used on the right creature, it can force an awkward block or two, and if your creature survives, it will still be untapped and able to block..
Deck Strategy and Sideboard
The main goal of this deck is to get out Young Pyromancer along with the many token-producers in the deck. Having out Intangible Virtue makes those tokens scary very quickly. You also have Hellrider to make them ping upon attacking and Ogre Battledriver to give them haste and an extra 2 power until end of turn.
Burn at the Stake becomes almost an alternate win condition, as your tokens may often be enough to finish the game on their own.
The sideboard has some interesting cards in it that definitely help in some popular match-ups, Wear / Tear is a fuse card that would eventually see tons of play in Modern. It's very powerful in that it can for just 3 mana destroy both an enchantment and artifact, Either side of the card is powerful enough on its own, so it easily makes a good play against artifact and enchantment heavy decks. It's also an instant, which is quite good.
The play-set of Legion Loyalist is an interesting and relevant inclusion. It's good in aggressive match-ups where giving your many tokens first strike and trample can really matter. With your tokens becoming bigger through Intangible Virtue and Ogre Battledriver pumps, alpha strikes suddenly become a bit less risky for you.
The 2 Rakdos' Return take advantage of the black mana already available in the deck, and provide a way for you to both discard your opponent's hand and deal some damage to their face, They were great against control match-ups and decks like mono-green and Naya Blitz in past standard formats that depend on combat tricks in hand to do a bunch of their damage. Some of these types of decks still exist in Modern, as well.
Assemble the Legion is another nice way to make tokens, although I'm not sure of the exact match-ups in which boarding this in would be helpful.
Ratchet Bomb is a tricky card in this deck. Since your tokens are all 0-drops, you can set this at one easily. If you find you have to set it to two, keep in mind you'll lose your Young Pyromancers and Intangible Virtues. However, you may find board-states where losing Pyromancer and Virtue actually don't matter if your token army is big enough.
If you already owned most the mana base for this deck, you could easily build it under $100 in either paper or online. The dual lands are the biggest investment. At the time, this definitely qualified as a budget deck. However, besides Pyromancer, Battledriver, and the shock lands, most of this deck as useless in Standard past October 2013.
At the time I first reviewed this deck, I felt that a Modern brew of this deck may work. We've never seen a widely successful version really emerge. There was a Mono-Red Tokens deck built by Corbin Hosler, however. It only runs one copy of Burn at the Stake in the mainboard, and I've refered to this build in trying to port this strategy over to Modern. Still, there is hope that we can keep the core of Haste Stake intact while speeding up the deck to keep its flavor.
What Needs to Go and What Can Stay
Young Pyromancer is awesome and proven in Modern. These guys are staying no matter what. In fact, in that Mono-Red tokens deck we just mentioned, they were the only creatures! Hellrider is a great creature, but he's a bit too slow for Modern at 4 mana. That's not where you want to be in an aggro deck. Also, Ogre Battledriver proved to be a bit too slow even for Standard except in the sort of md-range strategy that Haste Stake was going for. It was mildly effective in that format, but Battledriver simply isn't fast enough for Eternal play. Both of these guys have to go and be replaced with swifter options.
In rebuilding this deck, I considered going a Goblin-oriented route. Legion Loyalist is a Modern playable card. Goblin Guide is proven in Eternal formats. Reckless Bushwhacker from Battle for Zendikar could do a bit of what Battledriver did. Goblin Bushwhacker is a nice complement to that strweatgy that could take the place of Hellrider. I even considered Goblin Rabblemaster. But forcing your Goblins to attack every turn isn't where I want to be at all with this deck. I'd be better off just running Goblins! 8-Whack, which has that name for the Bushwhackers, is actually a decent Modern deck. But that's not what I was trying to build.
We still want to have Burn at the Stake, as that's our main win condition. As 5-drops, we have to consistently build up to these. Reforge the Soul can stay, since it has Miracle and won't always cost us five mana.
Intangible Virtue is fine in White Black Tokens, but not going to work in a strategy that really needs to streamline and focus on building up as much Red mana as possible as quickly as possible. In that line of thinking, as much as I want to keep Lingering Souls, we really don't want to be splashing black for just them. To keep our mana base more consistent, the deck really ends up building itself in a mono-Red direction.
After making all of these cuts, I figured adding 4 Lightning Bolt and keeping a white splash for Raise the Alarm (an instant speed Token producer) and 4 copies of Boros Charm (one of the best spells in Modern in my opinion).
The sideboard had to change entirely. I used Corbin Hosler's board from his Mono-Red version because it has some great things going on in it.
2 Crumble to Dust
3 Defense Grid
3 Gut Shot
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Shattering Spree
Crumble to Dust hits greedy mana bases by exiling nonbasic lands and potentially cutting off a player from one of their colors. Defense Grid makes it near impossible to have opponent's counter our shenanigans during our turn. Gut Shot deals with problem 1 toughness creatures by being able to pay 2 life instead of 1 mana. Shattering Spree can kill a lot of artifacts at once, making Affinity sad. We can tweak the sideboard as we see how this deck needs to cover its weaknesses.
The other way I was going was to go straight combo. We would add in Manamorphose and Battle Hymn to speed up card draw and mana production in place of the Bushwhackers and Faithless Looting. We would also cut the burn for more card draw in Gitaxian Probe and Infernal Plunge will trade a token for 3 more Red mana. Also, we'd be cutting Raise the Alarm and Boros Charm to go straight Mono-Red. In the process we'll add 2 copies of Hordeling Outburst, which costs 3 mana but gives us 3 tokens. The other 2 slots will go to a card from Hosler's deck, Haze of Rage, which not only has Storm to make itself more powerful, but Buyback, as well!
As it turned out, I brewed and playtested three different versions. The first version was an 8-Whack sort of build and it was really not sure what kind of deck it actually was. My second build was about the same as Corbin's, except it had 3 Burn at the Stake and only one Reforge the Soul. I also kept a Boros mana base by keeping Sacred Foundry and adding Inspiring Vantage from Kaladesh. This way I kept in Raise the Alarm, but cut the Bolts and Charms.
At first, I found this build did a LOT better. It won the first match I played with it two games to one. Manamorphose and Gitaxian Probe were awesome. While I didn't get an actual kill with Burn at the Stake, I did deal 15 in one game and finished off the game with tokens. The other game I won I won with all tokens. I won the next match with just beating down with tokens. I kept drawing my Reforge the Soul in my opening hand or off of Manamorphose/Gitaxian Probe, which was extremely annoying. But I did cast it once off of a Battle Hymn. Infernal Plunge was awesome too, helping me to continuous ramp into more token producers. This deck seemed really solid!
But then it started drawing the wrong half of the deck and it kept losing.
My third attempt was to go mono-Red and basically do what Corbin's deck is trying to do, except with 3 copies of Burn the Stake and only 1 Reforge the Soul. With this deck I just drew my Stakes and not much else.
I really wanted to keep the spirit of Haste Stake. But it really wasn't happening. So in the end, I ended up with Corbin's original deck.
4 Young Pyromancer
Non-Creature Spells (38)
4 Battle Hymn
1 Burn at the Stake
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Faithless Looting
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Haze of Rage
2 Hordeling Outburst
2 Increasing Vengeance
4 Infernal Plunge
1 Krenko's Command
2 Past in Flames
4 Reforge the Soul
2 Crumble to Dust
3 Defense Grid
3 Gut Shot
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Shattering Spree
Corbin Hosler's Mono-Red deck can make a lot of tokens and a lot of mana. When I playtested it, the deck relied too much on comboing off, either by getting the one copy of Burn at the Stake, or making more tokens than your opponent can handle. I found too much inconsistency, which is why I wanted to make my own brew in the first place.
Basically, if you want to play a Burn the Stake deck in Modern, Corbin Hosler's build seems to be the best. It can win spectacularly, but lose horribly too, especially when you draw no lands or draw all the wrong cards. But Corbin builds great decks and I've seen what it can do when it's running well. Sharp play, plus a little bit of luck, will let this deck win more than it loses.