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Upgrading an Old Deck - Part 3

Categories: CasualConstructedStandard

Yeah, I said this was a two-part article and this is a third part. The reason for this is two-fold. First the deck from part two basically, well, sucked. I mean it wasn't totally worthless but seemed to just be adding those extra colors because it could rather than actually because it would make the deck better. Echoing Truth is a pretty decent bounce spell but when you get down to it is still just a bounce spell and bouncing a permanent is rarely as good as actually killing it. Magma Jet is a good burn spell but Echoing Decay can kill pretty much anything it can and there is no shortage of other playable black removal in today's Standard. Meloku is a powerful finisher but so is Kokusho. The deck would be much better as a two-color deck and thus just turns into B/G Controlwhich is already an established tier 1-2 archetype. Since I want something new this just wont do. The other reason I'm adding a third part is because I may have come up with the answer.

This deck once again dates back to the Mirrage/Tempest block era. The deck I speak of is Burning Bridges.

This deck is basically just Ensnaring Bridge and a bunch of burn. This would have been a poor choice when the format was dominated by affinity simply because with 8-12 artifact removal spells in decks Ensnaring Bridge isn't going to stay in play very long. While I think it would be a mistake to count on decks removing all of their artifact removal from the main deck you can count on there being a lot less. Maybe just either Oxidize or Viridian Shaman rather than both plus Tel-Jilad Justice. Burn can also be quite good against some of the top strategies in today's Standard. Burn has historically been pretty good against Draw Go and current MUC will likely be no different. Also not relying on creatures for the kill would make Vedalken Shackles arguably the best card in the deck quite useless. The creature destruction in all the black based decks would also be dead and discard isn't at its best against a deck that wants an empty hand. Just watch out for an early Cranial Extraction for Ensnaring Bridge. White Weenie likely wont be too bad with all the removal and the lack of pro red creatures like Soltari Monk or Silver Knight that would be un-killable for a red deck. I imagine Ensnaring Bridge would also be some good against Tooth though Platinum Angel + Leonin Abunas may be a problem. The deck may also have problems against many of the green based decks and of course any mono-red deck would never want to run into CoP: Red. While I'm not anyone who really has any clue about building tournament decks I think this deck could actually be quite decent in the current metagame.

Now we look at the tools available for building the deck.

Ensnaring Bridge is of course going to be there still.

As far as burn goes there is no lack of playables.

Pulse of the Forge is amazing but may have synergy problems with the Bridge. It is probably still worth running a few copies though.

Shrapnel Blast does much more damage than would normally be possible for two mana. The banning of the artifact lands makes this harder to run but is strong enough that it is worth finding a way to make it work.

For the less exciting burn spells we have things like Shock, Volcanic Hammer, Magma Jet, Yamabushi's Flame, Barbed Lightning, Pyrite Spellbomb, Glacial Ray, Hammer of Bogardan, and possibly Lava Spike and Fireball.

Probably the most powerful direct damage in the original version was easily Cursed Scroll. This card was in practically every deck of its time both aggro and control. We need some sort of recurring damage in our new version as well. Hammer of Bogardan is neat but way to allow for the current environment. It would be much better in some sort of counterburn type deck. Cards like Vulshok Sorcerer aren't good enough for constructed play. After thinking about it for a while the answer became obvious. Isochron Scepter. This is one of those cards that everyone knows is powerful but is hard to find a place for. It really didn't like the artifact destruction heavy environment of the Affinity hating environment. The card disadvantage of losing the Scepter early is not good.

Some mass removal is also necessary. Pyroclasm and Flamebreak are good candidates for this.

I really see three possible directions this deck could go in. The first is to use the Scepter to imprint a good instant burn spell like Magma Jet and run as many imprint-able spells as possible. The second option is to concentrate on abusing the splice mechanic. You can splice onto the pseudo-spell created by Isochron Scepter so something like an imprinted Glacial Ray can be a scary thing indeed. There aren't really any other good imprint-able arcane spells to splice onto in red though so this may not work out too well. The third option is to forgo the Scepter entirely and just use the best burn spells possible. This would be safer if there turns out to be more artifact removal in the environment than anticipated. It would also likely be the most consistent method even if a little slower and less powerful. I'll try and give each of these strategies a try to determine the best choice.

Rough Decklist:

There really isn't much worth imprinting on the Scepter in red beyond Magma Jet or Shrapnel Blast. These are however fine choices. It only takes 4 Blasts to kill an opponent and being able to Scry every turn is super and helps you dig for that Bridge quicker. This likely isn't the best build though so we'll look at the other possibilities.

Rough Decklist:

Arcane Scepter version

This deck looks much better but still might not be ideal. Splicing Glacial Ray onto Lava Spike can really help deal the damage quickly making it easy to finish them off with more burn. I do wish I could still squeeze in Shrapnel Blast but finding space for the artifacts it requires for sacking isn't easy.

Rough Decklist:

This one can deal the most damage the quickest but the lack of the Scepter makes is have less of a long game. I think I might like this version the best but only testing will tell which works the best.

After Testing:

Scepter Version:

B/G Control: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
MUC: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
U/G Control: 1-2 in favor of U/G
Tooth: 0-2 in favor of Tooth
WW: 2-0 in favor of Bridge

The Scepters ended up being disappointing. While there were a few matchups where it was amazing like against white weenie but every other deck had enough ways to get rid of it that it rarely got more than 1-2 activations. If the opposing deck wasn't running any artifact removal it tended to dominate the game. Overall the deck did perform very well. It destroyed white weenie and came out favorably against mono blue control and B/G control. The MUC matchup was actually pretty good but B/G Control likely favors the B/G deck a bit more. Kokusho never showed up in any of the games which would likely make it harder to win especially if no bridge is drawn. Then there was the Tooth matchup. It wasn't even close. While this was the match where Ensnaring Bridge performed the best even holding off the giant monsters the green deck could produce eventually the deck would draw Viridian Shaman and it would be over. I imagine this would be a slightly better matchup if you board in a bunch of land destruction. There was one glaring problem with the deck though. The deck had a very hard time emptying its hand in order to make the Bridge effective. The Scepter just slowed things down too much. Also the burn spells themselves just seemed too weak. There were many games where the opponent would be down to 6-8 life and you'd wish your burn spells did more than 2 damage. Also the deck had mana problems often. The Scepter is a bit mana intensive and often wasn't performing up to its potential. All that said it ended up with winning percentages against all but one of the tier 1 Standard decks which is very promising.

Arcane Scepter Version:

B/G Control: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
MUC: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
Tooth: 0-2 in favor of Tooth
U/G Control: 1-2 in favor of U/G
WW: 2-1 in favor of Bridge

This version is a lot better. While Shrapnel Blast was missed Pulse of the Forge played its role just as well if not better. This burn in this deck on average was much stronger and the deck was also better able to abuse the Scepter. When your plan is to send your burn to the head Lava Spike is good especially with a Glacial Ray spliced onto it. The extra land also helped especially as splicing takes more mana than just going to the head as soon as possible. The Shocks were still kinda meh and should probably be another 3-damage spell. The Scepter was still only good in a few matches and often still only got one activation. Stupid artifact removal. I guess this plus the fact that even Shatter was useful in every matchup except white weenie shows that artifact removal still belongs in the maindeck even in the absence of affinity. The card that was missed the most though was Sensei's Divining Top. This was quite helpful in smoothing out draws and helping to prevent both mana flood and mana screw. The results of the matchups wasn't all that different. WW still got crushed though it did win one game with a double Glorious Anthem draw that also had an active Eight-and-a-half-Tails. This meant it could essentially counter any burn spell for two mana and 2 spells were needed to kill it. Tooth still seemed like a lost cause though it was usually able to get it down to between 9-12 life before dying horribly. Ensnaring Bridge is great at holding off the fatties but using Kiki-Jiki to copy Sundering Titan quickly leaves the deck with no lands which gives Tooth all the time it needs to find the Viridian Shaman to get rid of the Bridge. MUC was still a good matchup. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the absolute best card in the deck, Vedalken Shackles, is completely dead against a creatureless deck. U/G would win if it drew Rude Awakening but the rest of the deck wasn't too scary. B/G wasn't too bad as the burn usually kept a big Death Cloud from being a good idea.

No Scepter Version:

B/G Control: 2-0 in favor of Bridge
MUC: 2-0 in favor of Bridge
Tooth: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
U/G Control: 2-0 in favor of Bridge
WW: 2-0 in favor of Bridge

This is more like what the deck should be. The Scepter wasn't missed at all and the higher quality of burn spells made the deck much stronger. Despite winning all of the test matches I still think Tooth is a bad matchup and only one you can win if luck is on your side. WW still has no chance and B/G was still slightly better than even. MUC was still pretty favorable. I'd like more cards to splice Glacial Ray onto but don't think it is worth adding sub-optimal cards like First Volley. The only red arcane spell that really looked interesting was Blind with Anger but even that wouldn't that exciting if it is just locked down with a bridge.

Final Decklist:

I wanted the strongest burn possible and left out the Scepter which didn't perform well. I also left out Shrapnel Blast since while powerful wasn't always easy to use. This allowed me to not have to use crappy artifacts just to fuel it. Besides Pulse of the Forge and Fireball are plenty good there. Frostling is a good chump blocker and can often go two-for-one and at the least usually trades with something more expensive netting some tempo. I'm not completely sure about the Top yet. The library manipulation is great for a color that has practically none and you always want one in play but it sucks when you draw two. It might be the right call to drop one for another Fireball or something.

After Testing:

I'll be going into more detail with these matchups. I also tweaked the test decks a bit since some of them sucked (the G/B was was especially terrible). I'm also going to be testing sideboarded games as well. I'll be playing best 2/3 then sideboarding and playing another 2/3 match for each deck.

G/B Control:

I had to totally revamp this deck as it was a great big pile. It ran no Kokusho and no Cranial Extraction and had Triskelion as the only decently sized creature. If it couldn't win with Death Cloud it pretty much just couldn't win. That'll teach me to just copy a deck without looking at the actual list just because it got first place at a PTQ. I also seemed to forget to remove most of the artifact destruction out of it and it still featured the 7 maindecked removal spells. I dumped 4 of them for some Kokushos and also threw in Cranial Extraction and Persecute.


Before Sideboarding: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
This was certainly more challenging than against the crap-ass version but still wasn't too bad. Death Cloud was still difficult to use since you need a decent life total for it not to be suicide. There isn't really a good target for Cranial Extraction other than the Bridge itself. I assumed then that you should just name the burn spell you have seen the least of and that does the most damage just so the deck will draw land instead. The one loss was still a close game and the B/G deck won at two life. Any burn spell would have won the game but a Mountain was top-decked. Kokusho is scary but a Bridge can hold it off until another is drawn which thankfully never happened.

After Sideboarding: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
The Burning Bridges had nothing worth bringing in against the B/G deck. The B/G deck brought in Troll Ascetic for Death Cloud. This made the matchup much harder as there were early creatures you couldn't target but thankfully Flamebreak is great for killing Trolls. The one game that was lost after boarding is due to a mulligan to 5. It was still pretty close until Kokusho hit the table.


Unlike most matchups holding the Lava Spikes until you can splice Glacial Ray isn't as good of an idea due to discard. Try not to let Persecute wreck you by casting your burn early. Don't waste your burn on creatures like Solemn Simulacrum or Eternal Witness. Flamebreak will take care of them eventually. Hopefully you will have a Bridge out if Kokusho hits play. If not you better hope you find one quickly as the game wont last much longer. Just don't try to burn it out. Using 2-3 burn spells just to activate its ability is not a good idea. Having a Top in play also makes this matchup seem much safer as it will allow you to find your burn and recover from Death Cloud. Also if you get hit with Cranial Extraction it will let you still find that burn.


I didn't need to tweak this deck as I had done it while building it. Even then I just added a few extra land and some more card drawing in the place of the anti affinity cards that used to be needed. Since this is a decktype I understand well I'm more confident about the list than most of the others.


Before Sideboarding: 1-2 in favor of MUC
Game 1 seems pretty even. The control deck can't afford to let too many burn spells through or it wont be able to live to the late game. The blue deck needs to draw most of its countermagic or it wont be able to keep countering burn.

After Sideboarding: 2-1 in favor of Bridge
I'd say it is still pretty even. The blue deck gets to pull some of its dead cards like Vedalken Shackles for more card drawing but the red deck brought in Boil. Frying all the Islands wasn't actually as bad as it sounds due to the fact that the blue deck was running 9 non-basic lands so usually still had 3-4 mana left after a Boil. In these test games the red deck got horribly mana flooded and in the game it lost drew 16 of the 22 land and still had more than 30 cards left in the deck.


The key to this matchup it to know that there are very few actual hard counters in the blue deck. In the deck isn't running Time Stop there is probably only Hinder this means that it isn't all that hard to force a spell though in the late game as Mana Leak is useless and Condescend requires a lot of mana. Also if they ever tap out to cast card drawing spells fire off everything you have. A good blue player wont tap out though so don't count on that.


I don't expect this to be a good matchup. The burn deck got crushed in practically every other form I've tested it in and I don't see this changing. Sowing Salt may help after boarding though.


Before Sideboarding: 2-0 in favor of Tooth
No change. Tooth is just way too powerful for this deck to outrun.

After Sideboarding: 2-0 in favor of Bridge
The Tooth deck just brought in the forth Viridian Shaman. The Bridge deck brought in Sowing Salt and Arc-Slogger. Weeee, go sideboard. Both games went the same way. Sowing Salt and Urza land on turn 4, slowing down the deck considerably. The Tooth deck would drop a Mindslaver threatening to wreck you the next turn and then the Bridge deck would just win with Arc-Slogger. It was AMAZING! enough that it likely should be maindecked. The only reason it wasn't was because I didn't want it to sit there under a Bridge. Were it not so late in the article this is something I would have tested.


If the Tooth player casts Tooth and Nail you lose. Your goal is to not let that happen. In game 1 your only chance is for them to get a slow start and you to draw all your best burn and kill them quickly. After boarding Sowing Salt makes this much easier as they then need the full 9 lands in play to Entwine the Tooth. They can still hardcast many of their threats so don't think you won. It is still a hard matchup and one you aren't likely to win without luck.

U/G Control:

This matchup probably wont be too bad unless Rude Awakening pops up which will likely win the game.


Before Sideboarding: 2-1 in favor of U/G
One of the losses was due to being horribly mana screwed. Otherwise the matchup seemed pretty even. I'm pretty sure the red deck would have been able to take game three if it had drawn more than two land since it was holding 2 Flamebreak, 2 Pulse of the Forge, 2 Lava Spike, and 2 Glacial Ray at one point which is enough burn to take out anyone. But without being able to cast the three mana spells or splice the Rays the red deck didn't have much of a chance.

After Sideboarding: 2-1 in favor of U/G
The U/G deck brought in an extra Naturalize and a few creatures while the red deck brought in Boil and Arc-Slogger. Once again the third game was decided by mana screw. I'd still say the matchup was fairly even. Boil makes Rude Awakening a bit less scary but the Troll Ascetic that were brought in were less than pleasant.


You want to sty and splice onto Lava Spike if possible but if you expect it to be countered it may be wise to separate them. It is okay to take early damage from Solemn Simulacrum. Being at a lower life total will just make it so you might be able to get extra uses out of Pulse of the Forge. These decks generally don't run any hard counters so getting spells through isn't all that difficult.

White Weenie:

This deck has gotten crushed by the red deck in every version and I don't expect anything to change here. After boarding CoP: Red may change things though. The red deck has no way of getting around that.


Before Sideboarding: 2-0 in favor of Bridge
The white deck still can't handle Flamebreak or spliced Glacial Rays.

After Sideboarding: 2-0 in favor of WW
The red deck brought in Arc-Slogger and the white deck brought in Terashi's Grasp, CoP: Red, and Sword of Fire and Ice. These changes really turned the tables. The red deck just has no way to win with a Cop: Red on the board.


Try and get some card advantage off of Flamebreak. Use the burn spells that deal two damage on creatures but try and save the 3+ damage spells for the dome. Game one is easy but if they bring in Cop: Red it gets much harder in games two and three. Since red isn't really that common in the tier one decks most of these decks may not be running it so it might not be that bad. You may want to bring in the artifact removal if they are running since that can cause problems.


This deck is much better than I expected but after seeing how Arc-Slogger performed when he was boarded in it became clear that he should probably be maindecked. It may actually be wise to have the maindeck be more like a Big Red or Ponza style deck with the capability to board into the Burning Bridges deck as the Bridge was only better than more mass removal or Sloggs when facing down large creatures. Since that is basically just the finishers in the control decks Ensnaring Bridge likely would be fine in the sideboard. Boarding it means you can add a few creatures to the deck. In addition to Arc-Slogger I think Kumano may be worth testing as well. Since this would raise the mana curve a few more land and possibly Seething Song would help. On the other hand one of the biggest strengths of the deck was that your opponent's creature removal was dead. Giving a use to those Vedalken Shackles, Echoing Decays, and Ghostly Prisons may make the deck less good. After all while Ponza is decent in the current metagame Big Red or Sligh style decks haven't faired as well.