Want to know how to play burn in EDH? You’ve come to the right spot!

What is Burn?

Burn is an archetype that tries to kill or interact with the opposition through mostly non-combat damage. Earthquake, lightning bolt, and price of progress are all classic burn cards that quickly come to mind to most magic players. It isn’t out of the ordinary for cards like Exsanguinate or Hurricane to see play in EDH burn decks either – the cards don’t have to be red to be considered burn. As long as your opponents are taking damage/losing life in decent chunks you can consider it a burn spell/effect.

Understand the Problems Burn Faces

  1. Players start at 40 life. If you’re playing with 3 other players that means you have about 120 points of life to shred. Players will pay life for spells, abilities, fetchlands, shocklands, etc so you get a little bit of help along the way but it is still a very large amount life to work through.
  2. Your most damage efficient spells (cards such as earthquake, rolling earthquake, price of progress ) also hurt you so managing how much damage you take each turn is important.
  3. If the core of your deck is red then you will probably struggle to deal with non-creature, non-artifact permanents. If your opponents are running combos that don’t involve creatures or artifacts you might need to rely on including another color in your deck to assist you in interacting with them.

The Benefits of Burn

  1. Burn is probably best suited to combat a metagame full of non-flying creatures. This is because cards such as Earthquake, Rolling Earthquake, and similar cards achieve the goal of punishing their boardstates and bringing everyone’s life totals lower. Flying creatures can be a problem because many of the Earthquake effects don’t hit fliers.
  2. Burn has obscure options that people are not as familiar with in EDH that you can use to your advantage: I’m a firm believer that when people don’t know what your deck does or what your deck is capable of you are at a advantage because they will have a much harder time planning against plays that you can perform to punish them.
  3. There are a lot of ways to build a burn deck where you try to defend yourself going into the late game (similar to a control deck) and your splash colors can give you the tools for good control-style spells or alternate finishers.

The Three Main Burn Family of Cards

There are three main paths players take when burning-I mean building burn decks. Oftentimes burn decks will use a mixture of these strategies. Let’s take a look:

Incremental Damage:

Some burn decks act like prison decks and use enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers that can burn players each turn. Most damage-over-time burn decks are trying to play effects that deal damage each turn to all players and bring everyone’s life totals really low. Near the end of the game these decks usually employ instant speed burn spells that can be used to assassinate other players before they die themselves.

Manabarbs is a card that hurts everyone but there are ways you can somewhat get around Manabarbs by playing lots of mana producing artifacts and have a manabase that does not hurt you every turn.

Cards such as Zo-Zu the Punisher or Ankh of Mishra can punish ramp decks that are trying to accelerate or Scapeshift combo you. A lot of decks can’t afford to not play lands or land acceleration.

Citadel of pain can force players to tap out or take damage each turn and Iron Maiden can make players question drawing tons of cards.

Pyrostatic Pillar, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Spellshock punish decks that have a low mana curve or cast lots of spells.

Sulfuric Vortex is especially good because it deals damage each turn and prevents random lifegain effects from sustaining opponents.

Pyrohemia can control creatures on the board and pressure life totals at the same time.

Combo-kills:

Some burn decks try to sculpt the game (drawing cards, playing mana rocks, dealing minor damage to players) to setup for a burn combo turn. Part of the fun of playing burn is that there are a lot of mini-combos you can perform depending on how low player’s life totals are. Here are a few simple combo setups but a lot of these cards can be used in conjunction with each other to find interesting impromptu kills onto opponents who need to die:

Stuffy Doll serves as a good blocker but we can cast Stuffy Doll into a mass creature damage spell to burn out an opponent.

A mana generating spell such as Inner Fire or Mana Geyser plus a buyback enabled Reiterate can create infinite mana. Just add a X burn spell and you have damage output!

Repercussion plus mass damage spells can kill your opponents easily if they have creatures in play – my favorite spell to pair with Repercussion is Blasphemous Act. If you have a damage doubler you double the damage dealt to the creatures, then double the damage you deal with Repercussion. Quad damage!

Heartless Hidetsugu plus double damage can kill players who have a even life total (even you!). If you have Glacial Chasm or a lifelink equipment on Heartless you can survive this near-suicidal combo.

Get players to a low life total then play Glacial Chasm into a mass damage burn spell killing all players but you.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle plus a bunch of mountain triggers. This is generally achieved via a green splash for Scapeshift with the possible inclusion of Prismatic Omen to enable more mountain triggers. Because all the lands enter at the same time via Scapeshift you get multiple Valakut triggers.

Hostility can play well with your mass burn spells (such as price of progress) by preventing damage and generating swarms of 3/1 elementals with haste to kill opponents.

Double Damage Scaling:

Furnace of Rath, Bitter Feud, Gratuitous Violence, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Quest for Pure Flame and Dictate of the Twin gods serve as the main posse for doubling damage for burn decks.

Doubling damage is important for burn decks because without double damage effects it can be difficult to shred through the 40 lifepoints that players are allotted at the start of the game.

The double damage cards have synergy with each other; if we have a Furnace of Rath and Dictate of the Twin gods in play at the same time damage is actually quad instead of doubled. Each doubling instance ads another multiplier. So if we had 4 doubling effects in play damage would be multiplied by 16! (x2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on)

Life Total Management

Part of the fun of playing burn is that you need to worry about everyone’s life totals. In order to clutch out games you will need to think a few turns ahead of everyone else and plan out how you can deal damage each turn in order of reaching your goal of dealing 120 damage total to the other three players. Furnace of Rath effects are two-sided and if you deploy them at the wrong time you can die before you move in for the kill yourself. Understanding your opponent’s possible damage output each turn can help you evaluate how conservative/aggressive you should play.

Don’t forget effects such as Glacial Chasm or Angel’s Grace can allow you to cheat death for a turn.

Typical Burn Commanders

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight : Classic Red/white burn commander. She acts as as flying 5/5 one-sided furnace of rath and is a complete house. Her prevention clause can allow you to burn all players and survive normally suicidal plays. She costs a lot of mana (especially in red/white) but her effect normally swings the tide of a battle. Splashing white gives us access to some of the best hate cards or lifelink cards in the game.

Archangel Avacyn is another decent Boros burn option. Her flash/indestructible clause can be great for blocking and sustaining your life total and you can include creatures such as Children of Korlis to both sustain your life total and trigger Archangel Avacyn at will. Having control over her trigger can disrupt enemy creature decks at will. She’s also a 6/5 when flipped, a real beater.

Kumano, Master Yamabushi : His ability to exile can snipe 1 toughness creatures as well as make creatures that will die go to exile instead of the graveyard. This can be exceptionally strong versus attrition decks. Because his ping effect can hit players if you ever achieve infinite red mana you will win the game.

Vial Smasher the Fierce : Gives you passive damage onto your opponents. Gives you a black splash and the partner mechanic allows for tons of options both in colors and commander utility. This card is making waves in French – I’ve seen several Grixis Vial Smasher decks in top 8 results.

Heartless Hidetsugu : Part of a lot of easy combos Hidetsugu gives us a redundant mono red option for dealing tons of damage to all players. Beware: this card gives you a super negative political modifier.

Keranos, God of Storms : Probably the best blue/red option for burn. He provides value over time (good for a control deck), can snipe small annoying creatures and is indestructible. Players often forget he can turn into a creature so you can sometimes surprise your opponents with a lethal commander kill via damage doublers. Splashing blue gives us access to powerful sorcery/instant tutors, card advantage, and counterspells where needed.

Purphoros, God of the Forge : Typically associated with small weenie-style strategies, Purphoros is a decent burn commander as well because of his ability to play defense/offense when a creature and passively dealing damage when you play your support creatures like Zo-Zu the Punisher or mini-combo creatures like Norin the Wary. You can check out some cool gameplay footage of a Purphoros deck here.

Rosheen Meanderer : Giant (haha) X spell enabler that can pump up fat burn X burn spells. Green/Red gives you access to nearly every Earthquake/Hurricane effect in the game.

Kaervek the Merciless : A good finisher in a black/red deck that lets you get passive damage triggers that you can use to snipe combo creatures or push damage onto your opponents. Splashing into black gives us access to ludicrous cards like Havoc Festival, Wound Reflection, Exsanguinate and Polluted Bonds. Black also gives us powerful tutors and card draw. Mogis, God of Slaughter is also a red/black option.

Wort, the Raidmother : Green for ramp and artifact/enchantment hate and Wort allows us to copy our burn spells. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a conspired Boundless realms to resolve then untap into huge potential for lethal damage. If you like Hurricane it can be good here.

Typical Support Cards

Almost all of the Chandras are very playable in burn decks. They can give you value each turn they survive or trade with creatures in play.

Koth of the Hammer gives mono-red decks the ability to ritual. His ultimate is actually devastating because of its ability to control and end games.

Pyromancer’s Goggles is a mana rock that copies instant or sorcery spells that are cast with that mana. Super powerful and gives burn decks huge play making potential.

Dualcaster Mage, Wild Ricochet, Fork, Reverberate and Increasing Vengeance. These cards can copy your spells but can be flexible.

Because we are playing a deck archetype that is generally capable of making a modest amount of mana its totally possible to run Insurrection and Mob Rule. You can cast Furnace of Rath to bait opponents into playing creatures to attack/block with and untap into the game winning Insurrection!

How do you build burn decks? What options do you enjoy?