Deconstructing Fires

Posted in Feature on February 1, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Do you remember when tournament Magic was dominated by a multicolor card with a converted mana cost of 3? No, I'm not talking about the Psychatog deck at last week's Friday Night Magic! I'm talking about "Fires." You know Fires . . . as in Fires of Yavimaya? A 1 ManaGreen ManaRed Mana enchantment fromInvasion? All of your creatures get haste? Sacrifice Fires to give target creature +2/+2?

I know the word "haste" is cleaner and--more importantly--easier to type than "This creature is unaffected by summoning sickness." Still, something about the latter wording really works for me. I guess haste sounds drearily like what it is--a mechanic--while the idea of a creature unaffected by summoning sickness harkens back to my early Magic days, when I still thought of the game as two planeswalkers duking it out high above Dominia . . . umm . . . Dominaria . . . er, where's Ben Bleiweiss when you really need him?

FOUR OF EIGHT

Fires started burning up the competitive Magic scene during the 2000 State Championships. It really came into its own at 2000 Pro Tour - Chicago, where it took four of the Top 8 spots. It didn't win, but it did go on to dominate Standard until key cards from Masques block rotated out of the format. Because of the variety of builds that did well, I couldn't choose which deck to break down, so I took a look at all four of them.

Of these builds, only Rob Dougherty's advanced past the Top 8, but it was still clear from this showing that Fires was a deck to be reckoned with.

The decks have several elements in common. With the lone exception of Pustilnik's version, all of the decks have four Llanowar Elves and four Birds of Paradise--Mike's deck is one Elf short. Mana acceleration was one of the cornerstones of Fires. A turn-one Elf or Birds made for very explosive--and often potent--turns three, four, and five. This would allow you to play Fires of Yavimaya on the second turn, which in turn enabled you to drop hasty bombs on your opponent every subsequent turn.

Blastoderm and Saproling Burst

Blastoderm is a 5/5 untargetable creature for 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana that has fading 3. Normally, this would mean you could get in three attacks in with the 'Derm before it ran out of fading counters. But with a Fires in play, you got four. This alone was devastating against a slower deck. I don't think I have ever seen a Fires deck not run the maximum allowable number of those guys.

Even more unfair was Saproling Burst. An enchantment for 4 ManaGreen Mana with fading 7, the Burst allowed you to remove a fading counter to put a green creature token into play with power/toughness equal to the number of fading counters left on Saproling Burst. At the end of an opponent's turn, you would put three 4/4 tokens into play; on your upkeep they would fade to 3/3 and you would attack for 9, with them fading to 2/2 on the next turn. The problem was that your opponent had too many chances to find an answer, so the card rarely saw tournament play. This was generally thought of as only an okay card in Limited card until Fires was printed. With Fires in the mix, you made three 4/4 creatures with haste that attacked for 12--often by turn four! Fires and fourth-turn Saproling Bursts quickly became known as "The Fix" because players almost felt like cheaters when the combo went off. While you would occasionally see decks with fewer than four Bursts, that was only because it was the most in-demand rare during Fires's reign.

Each of the decks had four copies of Chimeric Idol, as well. Three generic mana gave you an artifact that could be turned into a 3/3 creature if all of your lands were tapped--not a problem for a deck that tapped out every turn to play huge monsters that were--I don't care, I'm going to say it--unaffected by summoning sickness. The Idol was also impossible to destroy with a sorcery unless its controller activated it on an opponent's turn. Wrath of God? Okay, untap and attack you for 3.

Three of the four decks ran River Boas, with Zvi Mowshowitz as the conscientious objector. But the Boa was where the decks' similarities ended. The remaining cards were a cocktail of fatties and burn spells mixed to the taste of each individual player.

Jon Finkel was in second place after the Swiss rounds, his deck full of uncounterable spells. Ironically, he lost to finalist Kamiel Cornelisson's "Counter-Rebel" deck in the quarterfinals. His choice of burn was the Invasion chase rare, Urza's Rage. An uncounterable Lightning Bolt for 2 ManaRed Mana, it also has kicker 8 ManaRed Mana that ups the damage dealt to 10 and also makes it unpreventable. He also had two Kavu Chameleons in his main deck as part of his fattie collection. A 4/4 creature for 3 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana that can't be countered, the Chameleon can also change color for Green Mana. Jon also had a couple of Ancient Hydras and one Rith, the Awakener that he played off a white splash. That splash also let him use the white half of Wax/Wane for nasty enchantments like Parallax Wave and the inevitable Saproling Burst in the mirror match.

Mike Pustilnik--known for his eccentric and highly successful deckbuilding choices--played only three copies of Fires in addition to the seven aforementioned mana accelerators. Mike chose to play with X Mana spells for his burn component--three copies each of Ghitu Fire and Earthquake. Interestingly, Mike often used Ghitu Fire for 1 or 2 to pick off an opponent's mana creatures or Rebels. His other creature choice was Kavu Titan. The 1 ManaGreen Mana 2/2 Titan had a kicker 2 ManaGreen Mana that made it a 5/5 trampler. Mike also had access to a Disenchant in the form of Aura Mutation. This was a clever addition: For Green ManaWhite Mana, Aura Mutation destroys target enchantment and puts X 1/1 Saproling creature tokens into play, where X is the converted mana cost of the enchantment. Even if Mike's opponents didn't have enchantments, he could still Mutate his Saproling Burst when it was about to fade away for five little beaters! Mike lost to Rob Dougherty's Fires deck in the quarterfinals.

Zvi Mowshowitz played the most widely known version of the deck, thanks to his endless iterations of the "My Fires" series on the Internet. Zvi's decision not to play with the islandwalking River Boa was regarded as highly controversial. On the other hand, his inclusion of Two-Headed Dragon was viewed as savvy in a Rebel-heavy field. There were a number of red Dragons in the tournament, but Two-Head was the only one that could not be stopped by a lone prored Thermal Glider. Zvi lost to Brian Kibler, who was playing a red-green-white deck that became very popular for its inclusion of Rith.

The lone Fires semifinalist was Rob Dougherty. Rob's deck was straight red-green with no white mana for disenchants or Dragons. He ran the 5/5 for 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen ManaJade Leech that made all of his green spells cost one more Green Mana. Rob's burn choice was Rhystic Lightning, which does 4 damage for 2 ManaRed Mana unless an opponent pays two, in which case it deals only 2. It was posited that Rob wanted a way to take out Blinding Angel, even if that way was situational. Rob went on to lose to Finkel-slayer Kamiel in the semifinals.

Although Fires of Yavimaya is still in the current Standard environment, it has not seen much play since Blastoderm and Saproling Burst rotated out. The current cycle of Incarnations from Judgment--one obvious card in particular--got me thinking about trying to create a Firesesque deck using only Odyssey block cards.

YOU WON'T LIKE ME WHEN I'M ANGRY

The card that inspired me is, of course, Anger. An underwhelming 2/2 creature with haste for 3 ManaRed Mana, Anger doesn't really shine until it is in your graveyard. At that point, provided you have a mountain in play, all of your creatures--I'm going to say it again--are unaffected by summoning sickness. The first deck I built around this card ended up being very similar to the one Mike Flores built for his Fledgling Dragon preview. It used Mental Note, Careful Study, and Compulsion to gain threshold and hopefully get an Anger into your 'yard for a 5/5 hasty Fledgling Dragon on turn four or five. Then I saw someone discard Anger to a Wild Mongrel on turn two. . . .

This deck is capable of some explosive early turns if you draw Anger. If you don't draw Anger, you still have good cards like Wild Mongrel, Basking Rootwalla, and Arrogant Wurm. This deck's version of The Fix would go something like this: Play a forest on turn one. Turn two is where the fun starts. Play a mountain and Wild Mongrel. Activate the Mongrel and discard a Rootwalla into play with madness and discard an Anger. Your Rootwalla and 4/4 Mongrel now have haste and you attack for 5. On turn three, discard an Arrogant Wurm into play and attack for 8. Add a Phantom Centaur on turn 4 and you'll be shuffling up for the next game.

Most of the cards here are pretty self-explanatory. Originally, my deck had only Wild Mongrel as a discard mechanism, and the deck wasn't going off as consistently. I have seen some versions of this deck that use Rites of Spring, but I really want the deck to be playing creatures every turn, so I settled on Barbarian Bully. A 2/2 for 2 ManaRed Mana, the Bully allows you to randomly discard a card to give it +2/+2 once a turn. Your opponent may pay 4 life to counter this ability--although you still have to discard the card, which is fine in this deck! I really like the subtlety this creature brings to combat. If your opponent sends a 3/3 at you with an untapped Bully across the fence, you can activate the Bully before blockers are declared. Now your opponent has to decide whether to pay 4 life or lose his or her "Hill Giant." And you might just get the added bonus of a creature in play, a Violent Eruption that wipes out your opponent's team, or an Anger in your graveyard. Hey, if you don't like it, play with Rites of Spring.

Phantom Centaur has been called the new Blastoderm, but I'm not sure that Blastoderm won't be called the old Phantom Centaur before long. For the same 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana cost, you get a protection from black 2/0 creature with three +1/+1 counters on it. Any time the Centaur takes damage, you remove a counter and prevent all of the damage. The Centaur will often end up taking three of your opponent's creatures with it by the time it's done. Oddly enough, this fearsome creature is terrified of Squirrels.

Browbeat has excellent synergy in this deck. Preliminary playtesting showed that the deck mounted a fierce early game, but that it would often run out of steam with the opponent clinging on by a precious last few points of life. For 2 ManaRed Mana, your opponent decides to take 5 damage or allow you to draw three cards. Each time opponents deny you cards, it costs them one-fourth of their starting life. If they let you draw the cards. . . .

Anger, Wild Mongrel, and Barbarian Bully

Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, and Violent Eruption are all madness cards that take advantage of the discard abilities of Wild Mongrel and Barbarian Bully. Normally 3 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana, the Wurm is a 4/4 trampler that you can play as an instant for 2 ManaGreen Mana if you discard it. A heinous combat trick becomes even more lethal when it is played and attacks on the third turn! Basking Rootwalla costs Green Mana for a 1/1 that can pump once a turn to 3/3 for 1 ManaGreen Mana. If you discard the Rootwalla, you can play it for free. Violent Eruption does 4 damage split however you see fit among up to four targets for 1 ManaRed ManaRed ManaRed Mana. When discarded, it costs only 1 ManaRed ManaRed Mana. It's a devastating spell either way you pay for it.

I included Call of the Herd in the final spot because it kind of feels like Saproling Burst in this deck. Who am I kidding? Call is one of the best cards in the set. For 2 ManaGreen Mana, it puts a 3/3 green Elephant token into play--and it flashes back for 3 ManaGreen Mana. An excellent follow-up to the turn 2 Angry Mongrel combo, Call of the Herd guarantees that you can keep the pressure on for the next two turns.

Like the Chicago Fires decks, there are a lot of other ways you can build this deck. Instead of Browbeat, you can up the madness count with four Fiery Tempers. You can add Genesis to the deck for a never-ending supply of creatures. Roar of the Wurm also goes nicely in this deck. I imagine that Fledgling Dragon might make an appearance or two in different versions. Whatever you decide to do, let me know how it goes.


Brian may be reached at brian@fightlikeapes.com.

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