In my review I mentioned that the DotP 2013 decklists were starting to look like halfway decent decks a player might actually build and play in cardboard Magic. So, what I want to do is test that statements validity, by exploring what a real life DotP deck might look like. My caveats are simple:
First, the deck must retain the same overall feel. For instance, a mono-red burn deck will stay focused on burn, while the mono-blue mill deck remains mono-blue and dedicated to mill, even if adding black for Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral would be a boon to the deck.
Second, the deck should include at least one copy of the Planeswalker or Legend the deck is inspired by. In the case of Planeswalkers, it doesn’t matter which version of Jace, or whoever, just that it includes at least one copy of one of the options.
Third, while I won’t shy away from using powerful cards in general, I want to retain the “kitchen table” casualness of the decks. They aren’t going to be decks you’d want to take to FNMs or anything like that. I want them to be good enough to be fun, but also still very much in the spirit of “casual” Magic. So don’t expect to see lists with “4x Jace the Mind Sculptor” or anything like that.
First up, I’m going to look at Chandra’s deck, “Born of Flame”. It’s the one I currently have the most experience with, as I’ve logged over 30 games with it, and unlocked almost all of the cards (I didn’t win ALL the games I played, obviously, or I’d have all the unlocks). Here’s the decklist as it appears in the game, with the unlocks listed after:
1 Dragon Hatchling
2 Firewing Phoenix
1 Chandra's Phoenix
2 Fiery Hellhound
2 Fire Elemental
2 Furnace Whelp
1 Magma Phoenix
1 Prodigal Pyromancer
2 Pyre Charger
1 Skarrgan Firebird
2 Torch Fiend
4 Searing Spear
2 Chandra's Fury
2 Flames of the Firebrand
3 Chandra's Outrage
2 Flame Slash
1 Flame Wave
1 Rain of Embers
2 Ruby Medallion
2x Cone of Flame
2x Fire Servant
2x Obsidian Fireheart
2x Red Sun's Zenith
2x Swiftfoot Boots
3x Flames of the Blood Hand
3x Searing Blaze
Beacon of Destruction
A smattering of solid cards, this is not a bad place to start for a mono Red burn deck. The various Phoenixes give the deck some longevity often missing in Red decks, while there is a fair balance between targeted burn and mass burn. Red decks often run out of gas, especially in Multiplayer games, so keeping the Phoenix theme intact will be very important, but we’ll also try to do more to add some reach to the deck.
In the meantime, there are cards in the deck that are okay, but strictly better options exist (I’m looking at you, Searing Spear). Searing Spear is strictly worse than both Lightening Bolt and Incinerate, but is a perfectly playable card nonetheless. Just like how Shock is strictly worse than Lightning Bolt, yet still saw tons of competitive play whenever it was printed. That all said, while we would be happy playing Searing Spear if we had too, I’d still rather just have the better card. Building Stupid Red Burn without Lightning Bolt, even for casual play, just feels heretical to me, so the first thing to go in is 4x Lightning Bolt.
I’ve already dictated the need to add Planeswalkers where appropriate, so let’s address that. We have three options: Chandra Nalaar, Chandra Ablaze and Chandra, Firebrand. The original, Nalaar, is pretty darn weaksauce, so we’ll skip it for sure. Ablaza saw virtually no play and was never worth much money, so it’s easy to dismiss that incarnation as also weak. However, if we actually stop to think about WHY no one played Chandra Ablaze, it’s really just because she’s rather narrow and specific in function. The planeswalkers that get the most love are the ones that are generically useful, open-ended toolboxes like Garruk Wildspeaker, OR the ones that just happen to fit into an archetype that is already powerful. Gideon Jura was HUGE at one point, because he had a couple of good decks to go into, but he’s so “niche” that when his particular deck fell out of favor, he didn’t have a new home to go to. His second coming in M12 was virtually a non-event despite being widely played the first time around.
So, in Chandra Ablaze’s case, she simply failed to make waves because she pretty much demands to be played in mono Red decks, and the only mono Red deck that was popular at the time basically revolved around casting first turn Goblin Guides and nothing in the deck ever cost more than three mana. She was just a bit too slow and expensive for competitive play, plus the sort of deck she needs to go into to function at full power simply didn’t exist. Where does that leave her for this deck, though? Honestly, I think she could be playable here.
The one really cool thing about Chandra Ablaze is that with all the Phoenixes in the deck, her +1 ability gets a lot more compelling. Especially with Chandra’s Phoenix in particular. Her -2 ability futher helps patch up Red’s biggest weakness – running out of gas. Much of the time, you’ll be activating this ability to get a mini-Wheel of Fortune when your hand is empty, or simply has a couple of Phoenixes you don’t mind pitching anyway.
Chandra Firebrand is certainly good enough, too, but this is a rare chance to get to use Ablaze, so I want to go that route for now.
I won’t dwell much on the rest of the changes, as I covered the main points above. The rest is pretty much obvious stuff – increasing the best cards to 3x or 4x, cutting the chaff, and bolstering what the deck already does best with more of the same.
2x Dragon Hatchling
4x Chandra’s Phoenix
2x Firewing Phoenix
2x Magma Phoenix
1x Inferno Titan
2x Chandra’s Spitfire
2x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Fire Servant
4x Lightning Bolt
3x Seering Blaze
2x Red Sun’s Zenith
2x Flames of the Firebrand
2x Chandra’s Outrage
1x Chandra’s Fury
2x Ruby Medallion
1x Chandra Ablaze
2x Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
My main goal was to avoid burn spells that only hit creatures, or only hit players. Versatility is important. For multiplayer use, a bit more mass burn might be needed, but a couple of Flamebreaks and Magma Phoenixes should do the trick okay. I’d consider Shard Phoenix to be a possible contender here too.
Another cool feature is that we have stuff like Seering Blaze and Chandra’s Outrage that don’t force us to choose between burning opponents or their creatures – we get to do both! Adding more of these could be useful – Arc Trail, for example is another card that can hit a player and kill a creature all at once.
Valakut was added as another way to improve late-game effectiveness, buy turning useless land draws into more Lightning Bolts. Burn spells with Buyback, Flashback or Retrace are also worth looking at if you find you have trouble closing out games that run long.
A Planechase planar deck to go along with the above list:
Aretopolis – Life gain and card draw both help with the whole “late game” issue.
Glimmervoid Basin – Just imagine casting a single Lightning Bolt and hitting every single creature and player for 3…Okay, that's basically what Flamebreak does, but for only one mana!
Izzet Steam Maze – Same idea as above, but more surgical.
Kilnspire District – Red mana. Duh.
Naar Isle – MOAR FIRE!
Panopticon – Draw cards for fun and profit!
Stronghold Furnace – Could backfire, yes, but Planechase is all about living on the edge.
Trail of the Mage-Rings – Yet another way to get more burn for our buck.
Planewide Disaster – Many of your creatures can come back later. Hopefully, theirs’ can’t.
Mutual Epiphany – No Red mage would every turn down the chance to draw 4 for free.