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For more discussion on Burn, you can check out our State of Modern series here.

Burn Spells

Lightning Bolt | Nearly as iconic as burn spells can get, Lightning bolt is the first of many four ofs. The flexilibity of hitting any target, as well as instant speed makes Lightning Bolt the best spell in the deck. I could do some sick sleight of syntax and buffer my word count, but Burn players can’t read so what’s the point? (Just kidding, we all love you)

Lava Spike | Worse Lightning Bolt is still a great card, and Lava Spike does not disappoint. While unable to handle board states, three damage for one mana is a rate worth playing. It should be noted that as a sorcery Lava Spike cannnot be countered by Dispel.

Rift Bolt | Heralding from the nostalgia inducing Time Spiral set, Rift Bolt is another variation on Lightning Bolt. Spelling it out for players with its three damage for one mana ratio (as well as having Bolt in its name), Rift Bolt is another four of core spell. While unable to remove Turn 1 plays, Rift Bolt can go towards any target, but lacks an efficient base cost. There are upsides that Rift bolt has over Lightning Bolt, namely dodging Dispel, but it also can be cast through Chalice of the Void on 1. Rift Bolt also has minor value when Suspended on Turn 1, as it can kill an opponents next play. This prompts some players to hold back their threats, giving you tempo attached to a Burn spell.

Skewer the Critics | The third variation on Lightning Bolt, Skewer the Critics is a recent addition from Ravnica Allegiance. Like Rift Bolt, Skewer is never a one mana spell on Turn 1, but can pair with any other burn spell for its reduction. Spreading out the converted mana cost of spells mitigates the effectiveness of Chalice of the Void. Play four copies for maximum burninating.

Boros Charm | Deviating from the one mana for three damage Holy Grail of burn requires significant upside. Boros Charm gives that upside, as protecting an Eidolon or giving a Monastery Swiftspear first strike are relevant upsides. Just kidding, it’s just another burn spell. Point it at the face.

Lightning Helix | Like Boros Charm, Helix sees play as a, well, four of due to being another Burn spell with upside. In this cast, Lightning Helix gives Burn the ability to race opposing aggressive decks by buffering its life. It’s also a “free” spell to cast against an opposing Leyline of Sanctity, as you can target yourself to trigger prowess.

Searing Blaze | The final four of burn spell in the list, Searing Blaze is more akin to Lightning Helix than to Lightning Bolt. While it does not gain you life, it has the remarkable ability to damage both a creature and its controller. Such a powerful card is not without its drawbacks, as it cannot be cast well through a Leyline of Sanctity and requires landfall to have been triggered.

I Can’t Believe it’s not Burn Creatures

Goblin Guide | As much as Burn would love to not play any creatures, we do not have enough Bolt variants to justify that. Thus, we’ll play one of the best aggressive creatures ever made — Goblin Guide. In some matchups, Goblin Guide represents the best Turn 1 play, as it can deal two damage every turn. In others, it’s simply a chump blocker and a potential card drawn for the opponent. Still, 2/2 hate for one mana is an exceptional rate, and no optimal lists plays less than four.

Monastery Swiftspear | Creatures in Burn are polarizing, as they turn on otherwise dead removal spells. In this way, creatures are like interactive removal — they have higher upside, but without the “guaranteed” damage. Monastery Swiftspear mitigates this somewhat, as prowess allows it to grow outside of Bolt range fairly quickly. The trade-off is a weaker base body, but still one worth playing. Like Goblin Guide, you play four and you don’t look back.

Eidolon of the Great Revel | While not a one drop, Eidolon gives Burn an anti-combo card combined with an incredibly powerful proactive game plan. Many matchups revolve around Eidolon, and it is the only card in the deck that can lock opponents out when you’re ahead on board. Entire sideboard plans revolve around Eidolon, and while it is weak in some matchups the upside is more than worth it. Eidolon also gives a way to kill through Leyline of Sanctity or countermagic.

Grim Lavamancer | The singular flex slot in the list, Grim Lavamancer is a slow but versatile threat. While it does no damage immediately, it is the only way to utilize cards in graveyard, able to convert used lands and spells into free burn spells. One copy is sufficient in the main deck, though more copies are important if Infect and Hierarch decks become more popular. Sideboarding Grim Lavamancer is also a common sight, as it mitigates the drawback of having a 1/1.

Support Cards

Sunbaked Canyon | This new addition from Modern Horizons, Sunbaked Canyone gives Burn access to just a little more fuel in the late game, while still fixing for White mana early. I would start with four copies, though the life may matter, so pay attention to how much of a drawback multiple copies are.

Snow-Covered Mountain (Modern Horizons) | An adequate display of your tough masculinity for choosing to play Burn, this is the second best Mountain option available. While there is not strategic reason to play Snow-Covered lands, it signifies that you’re format aware.

Snow-Covered Mountain (Coldsnap) | Easily the best Mountain option available due to the sky doggo chilling in the art, the Coldsnap variant is the best choice for foiling out the deck.

Snow-Covered Mountain (Ice Age) | While an incredibly detail rich artwork, much of the midwest can just open their window and look outside, making the art less appealing. However, it has the old frame, showing that you’re a smart person for choosing the OG versions. Despite how good they all look, the correct decision is to play all three. One of each lets you fetch whichever one tilts your opponent more, giving you a slight advantage.

The Sideboard

Path to Exile | With large creatures able to race Burn, Path is an important sideboard tool. An early Tarmogoyf or a mid game Death’s Shadow can kill in just a few turns, and removing high power creatures can give Burn time to finish an opponent off. It should be noted that Path also gives Burn a way to directly remove a Kor Firewalker or Auriok Champion.

Rest in Peace | With graveyard decks serving as a poor matchup for Burn, packing Grafdigger’s Cage or Rest in Peace in the sideboard gives access to powerful sideboard plans. I’ve chosen to play three copies in this list, due to an uptick in the amount of Bridgevine decks.

Searing Blood | Sometimes you want six copies of Searing Blaze, and Searing Blood offers the perfect opportunity to explore that side of yourself. A couple copies are default, though some lists choose to play zero copies in order to fit more graveyard or artifact hate.

Skullcrack | Life gain destroys Burn, and Skullcrack gives you a way to fight through even the most powerful effects. While sometimes in the main deck, the speed of the format necessitates sideboard play. Note: Skullcrack can kill creatures with Protection from Red if they block one of your creatures.

Smash to Smithereens | Removing artifacts is important to Burn, as the deck is unable to race certain board states. Additionally, having an answer for Chalice is necessary, despite only playing a single copy. Play more Smash if there are more artifact decks in the metagame.

Stony Silence | A different version of Artifact hate, Stony Silence is Burn’s equivalent of Rest in Peace against Hardened Scales. With explosive board states and easy life gain, that matchup is tough for Burn. However, Stony Silence shuts off the entire engine of the deck — no Arcbound activations and no Steel Overseer.

Wear // Tear | Serving as the only removal spell for Leyline of Sanctity, as well as additional removal for Chalice, Wear // Tear is a versatile sideboard addition. I would play no less than one copy.

Sideboard Strategies

  1. Board out 2 drops first | Maintaining a smooth curve is critical, and many of the two drops are conditional. Boros Charm is weak when racing, and Searing Blaze is weak against control. Swapping these out for Skullcrack or Searing Blood is what I would start out with.
  2. Don’t be afraid to hedge | Bringing in a single Wear // Tear in case the opponent has Leyline is a decent way to board if you’re not sure. The same goes for Skullcrack against a variety of decks.
  3. Don’t overboard | While it may be tempting to bring in ten or so cards in some matchups, Burn needs a way to win the game. You can’t win by removing the opponent’s creatures, so you need to have enough Burn spells to close them out. Balancing interaction versus proactive plays is a skill to be aware of.
  4. Trim creatures against removal heavy decks | The creatures are much worse against decks with an abundance of cheap removal, as well as against decks that put huge bodies on board.

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