A fresh look at the Burn deck archetype that I like to call Extortion/Burn Control. Being a fan of Control and Burn playstyles, I've always felt that Burn needed more control variables that cater to its pace and mana curve so that it can perform more reliably and consistently in match-ups. As fun and fast as Burn is, it can often (and easily) draw poorly and/or stall up fast since the nature of RDW is a bit more luck driven than a lot of other decks, so it's more vulnerable to chance and circumstance. So I wanted to balance that out, basically sacrificing the fast win chances to a more steady mid-game winning strategy.

This deck concept originally started as a Grixis control style deck that was trying to break cards like Dash Hopes , Phyrexian Obliterator , Vexing Devil , Browbeat , and Temporal Extortion in a strategic sense, hence the extortion idea. That was too slow and clunky, so over time it got boiled down more and more to meet the fast and complex Modern Metagame, and I eventually pieced this version together based on card synergies, Common Burn deck weaknesses, and the Modern metagame trends. Here's how it plays and functions (TL;DR at the bottom if you want the spark notes version):

16 land may seem preposterously low, but the mana curve is heavy on 1 cost spells, and a lot goes a long way with 2 lands on the field. 3-4 is a sweet spot that often sets the deck off. There are only 9 actual Mana lands, and only 2 are Shock land. The rest are fetch lands. Those are important because you only want max 4-5 lands out the whole game. anything more and you are likely flooded or at a card disadvantage. So fetches are important to thin out the deck of land draws as much as possible. Plus, it sets the mana colors early with no issue. Also note that a comfortable mana base set up comes at a cost of life, and so the more lands that are out, the more likely each one has caused you 1-3 damage, which is something to keep in mind. The goal is to get at least 2 Dual mana lands ( Blackcleave Cliffs or Blood Crypt ) out on the first two turns. this may come at the cost of 2-6 damage in the first turns, but it's necessary to be able to stay flexible. The rest can be the swamps or mountain. Mulligan hands that have no lands or to many 2+ cost spells. One land hands are actually relatively safe IF the spells are mostly 1 mana and the land drawn is dual mana. Pretty straight forward.
Dreadhorde Arcanist is the only actual creature used, because I stress heavily that Vexing Devil is NOT a creature to this deck (*See below for explanation*) Dreadhorde, with its snapcaster-esque utility ability is a force to be reckoned with if used smartly. He can deal a huge chunk of damage in a short succession if planned/chained right. He can also reuse Thoughtseize and Surgical Extraction to force in some nasty card advantage, as well as further cement safer turns ahead. He shouldn't just be thrown out immediately if you still have room to wait or withhold because it should be assumed that he may only get one trigger off, if any when cast. Even if he can be cast safely, play the room first and clear the field and/or get the opponent's strategy neutralized, or even just get an understanding of what their next play will be and how Dreadhorde will affect that. Even if it means taking some extra hits for a turn, withhold him to the last possible second, preferably paired with a spectacle card or a burn card, because you Have to work on the assumption that he will only get one trigger of his ability off, either from removal at next possible chance, or from possibly falling/trading in combat. Deck variations incorporating Monastery Swiftspear also are extremely synergetic to this more withheld strategy, as swiftspear can come out blazing with dreadhorde's effect and any burn spells saved for the moment of attack.
Burn staples are obviously here, like bolt, spike, rift, bump, and the spectacle bolt, Skewer the Critics . Simple and clean "hit and run" cards. But what sets this deck apart is the strategy disrupting cards, or what I consider the "Extortion" cards. These are as important, if not more important, as the burn spells, and are also where your strategy planning comes from. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are vital to choosing what problems to remove/assess and are absolutely pivotal to how you proceed with your plays. With such a varied meta in modern, Burn can have a hard time dealing with so many variables since it has a relatively 2 dimensional strategy of burn, hit, burn, repeat. Thoughtseize and Inquisition alleviate this issue and set up for the strategy disrupter: Surgical Extraction / Extirpate . What gets in the way most of any burn deck? Barriers that prevent or reverse your damage from getting through in an efficient time frame, like creatures, counters, combos, and planeswalkers. The best thing about burn that I think few recognize is that the damage in your spells is always gonna be there if you don't waste it on inopportune or unlucky moments. With these spells, you can afford to spend some time picking apart the opponents hand and strategy to clear the way, that way the burn spells and strategy that you withheld can come out with fewer variables in the way in the early mid-game. One of my favorite things to do is to Surgical Extraction the target of a resolved Snapcaster Mage . In the early game, this can completely shift momentum in your favor if it's not countered. Even if it is countered, there is a 2 for 1 card advantage trade and they likely still tap out. The Surgical Extraction + Thoughtseize clears the way for you to burn out all of your spells and damage without worrying about the vulnerability of being on empty for a bit, because hopefully if the strategy disruption is in your favor, your opponent will also be stalled out and drawing with you, which is a race that Burn often wins.
The sideboard is the most underdeveloped because there is just so many deck types and only 15 cards... but here is my initial pass. Please suggest away: Engineered Explosives is basically mandatory as its the cheapest most efficient response to Chalice of the Void , which completely railroads the deck. Plus it can deal with tokens, affinity/Urza styled decks, and decks swarming 1 cost creatures. Extirpate can target non-basic lands, which is exciting to me as a means of Loam/dredge control, possible tron/scape combatant, if they discard an important land. Grim Lavamancer is pretty self-explanatory, might want to run more, maybe even mainboard if it fits. Shenanigans is recurring artifact hate that will railroad most strategies if unchecked. Fatal Push is self-explanatory. Unearth is interesting because of the synergy with Devil and Dreadhorde.. mainboarded one because in a lot of matchups the utility of Dreadhorde attack into Unearth into Devil from the graveyard is a hard to answer trick in the mid-game when the burn has likely been exhausted. Liliana of the Veil is a great suprise control utility against decks that can withstand burn a bit longer. Also has interesting interactions with other burn and aggro decks to derail momentum. Field of Ruin is my niche response to tron lands, manlands, and utility lands. can only really fit 1 in the deck to avoid screwing up the mana base, but with extripate it becomes a nice little preemptive possibility to tron lands, utility lands, and manlands. Admittedly this is the weakest sideboard, but the land based decks are a difficult-to-sideboard matchup.

So about Vexing Devil ...

In the strategy of this deck, Vexing Devil is to be treated as a burn spell at all times. Here's my reasoning (and my case for this card, as I think it's underrated, so skip ahead if you don't care either way):

The goal is to deal 20+ damage in a burn deck. Creatures are extremely reliable to deal consistent damage and use abilities, but can also be out blocked/stalled and most importantly are vulnerable to removal, so there is a trade-off to one time spells. If there is successful and fast removal, the utility/momentum you would have gotten gets punished heavily in this style of deck because Burn always works with as little as possible, in terms of profit margin(I.E. having no fear of reducing to low health, or relying on a couple of small creatures for most of the match, or being efficient/preferred with 2-3 lands for a long period). Burn is comfy with the bare minimum because of its speed and many spells, but this makes it easy to topple when it is on a good streak, and it's hard to get back on one and reload the hand after when it is toppled. That variable is what kept me from using Goblin Guide and Eidolon of the Great Revel . They can quickly smash out an opponent in a matter of turns if the circumstances come together in your favor, but they also can go wrong very fast for you and you'd be drowning just as fast... and as it is, there is enough left to chance in the Burn idiom. Enter Vexing Devil . Bargain style cards like this get a lot of flack for being strategically weak, and in a lot of cases that makes sense. But in this context, Devil works perfectly if you think of it differently as a card. To this more controlled style of Burn, Devil is better seen as a 1 mana burn spell that a player can prevent by giving you a 4/3 dude. If the card were printed that way, it'd probably be more popular anyway. Because more often than not, players will take the damage if they are healthy anyways, making it a 4 damage lava spike with the possibility of lasting card advantage on the board. Plus, the value of it being on a creature stick, rather than a sorcery stick, is that it cant be countered by pesky Stubborn Denial or Spell Pierce type spells. Some say that its flaw is that it gives the opponent the advantage of choosing whichever is more useful to their strategy, which in most other strategies is very true, but that couldn't be further from the truth in this deck's context. Either option is very punishing since the opponent is against a burn clock. Even if they let you keep the 4/3 and then removal/creature is wasted on the devil, that's advantageous to our strategy as Devil should always come before Dreadhorde if possible anyways. Also, getting the 4/3 isn't the point of the card to this deck. It's nice to have yes, but our goal is getting the damage out as efficiently as possible at all costs, not necessarily to build and keep a board presence. If Devil lands safe, its a threat that almost always requires a 1-1 trade. If it sacs for 4 damage, then the pressure just compounded exponentially on the opponent. And furthermore, with the strategy examining and card removal tools of Surgical Extraction + Thoughtseize in the deck, the Devil gives us 3 very important pieces of information that we can deduce and infer from the opponent's choice:

1) If at that point they have an answer/plan to deal with a 4/3 creature, because they'll take the 4 damage if they don't This info is vital to reading whether or not it's safe to play a Dreadhorde or burn out all your spells or to see if there are potential creatures coming to block that need some burn kept for them. Rarely would someone Let the Devil live and not have an answer for 4 attacking to the face every turn.

2) If their strategy's current position is willing to take damage or not Here you make the distinction of the current match state. If they are willing to take the damage, they either have a play that needs a clear board, or they have no answers to a 4/3, or they have answers but they're unwilling to use them on Devil. If they don't take the damage, they are willing and able to allow massive momentum against their strategy, meaning they ideally have an answer/plan for said momentum.

3) Possible reasons they have for wanting to take/not take the damage Now here is the deduction game based on your understanding of their specific deck, matchup interactions, and the possible cards in its strategy at the moment. Specifically, what cards COULD they have/not have that would gear them to make x decision with Devil? This can very easily be game deciding info, especially if you hit off a couple Thoughtseize and Surgical Extraction in the right places and already have a great deal of info on the deck. For example, let's say you're against infect and they take the 4 damage. Being a somewhat 2-dimensional aggro deck similar to RDW, you would know infect is either being risky or they have no answers and need a clear damage path to get the kill. Either way, withholding the bolt and/or playing the dreadhorde is ideal there, especially if you've already seen their hand. A harder match up example is a 3 dimensional Esper/Azorious Control deck. It's hard to tell what their intentions and plans are if they take damage, but you know they have many removal and counterspells anyways, so it's likely if they have a good mana base they are saving answers for later and you should proceed with caution. But if Control doesn't take the damage, they are in a bind... they are either cautious of taking more damage BECAUSE they don't have readily available answers for being so vulnerable AND/OR they have removal/other answers they are willing to use on the dude that you can plan to anticipate or trade for.

Understanding those types of interactions with this card make the use a strategy of Thoughtseize and Surgical Extraction very dangerous before or after casting Vexing Devil respectively because this can force your opponent's hand and allow you to neutralize what seems like damage barriers to you, especially if you have multiple Devils in hand. Example: cast Vexing Devil . If they take 4, cast an auxiliary spell-like Light Up the Stage (which bypasses Narset!!), Thoughtseize , or Surgical Extraction . If they leave Devil on the board, you're free to cast any sorcery burn safely or leave 1 open to bolt a creature. Both types of scenarios require answers and will occur multiple times thanks to the multiplicity of Burn deck card. This information is invaluable to how and when you should play your spells. Plus if you hopefully have an understanding of the opponent's deck already as it is, you have time to form counter plays. Like if a shadow/infect deck takes the 4 damage because it is gearing to blitz you, or if a control deck is looking to wait to wipe multiple other Devils and/or a Dreadhorde you put out. Or if a Pheonix deck is comfy dealing with a 4/3 because it obviously has a chain of spells about to pop off. Vexing has useful mental subtleties that can enable a more in-depth analysis of the game-state.

This has been my Vexing Devil TEDTalk. Thanks ;]

TL;DR Highlights:


Anyways, this deck lives in between possible archetypes like Death's Shadow versions and RDW. It also can entertain the possibility of discarding variants like Arclight pheonix decks, white splash aggro versions with Monastery Swiftspear and Lighting Helix+Boros Charm, or even Delver of Secrets   builds with some blue splash and Izzet shenanigans. The maybeboard kind of reflects the other possibilities that one could toy around with.

All and any critiques/feedback are welcome! Happy tapping.


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100% Competitive

Date added 2 months
Last updated 2 months
Exclude colors WUG

This deck is Modern legal.

Cards 60
Avg. CMC 1.55
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