My Fires - Part 3
Parts 1 and 2 dealt with Fires' mana sources and the spells in the deck
costing three mana or less - Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Fires
itself, Chimeric Idol and Assualt and Battery. Part 3 deals with the bigger
spells in the deck, up to Kavu Chameleon but not including the really big
guns, which will be dealt with in Part 4. Before moving up the chain of
casting costs, there needs to be an examination of alternative burn spells.
Urza's Rage. Urza's Rage definitely has its advantages. Being able to pay the kicker and do ten damage is not one of the most important ones, even with 33 mana sources in the deck. The game should end before then. Still, if decks get lazy and there are control decks that give time for Urza's Rage to go large consistently, and those decks would otherwise be winning games, then this does become an option. Watch out for Misdirection, which will normally be a dead card against Fires. The most important aspect of Urza's Rage is actually just does that it does three damage every time for three mana. That allows it to kill Lin Sivvi. Urza's Rage also can't be countered, but that's not very important unless the kicker is being paid. Why would a deck with counters want to? Better to stop the creatures and take the three damage. It does force control decks to watch their life total more carefully, but it's not worth the trouble. It does matter in one situation, which is when an Evil Eye or the second Nether Spirit is being killed off. In summary, Urza's Rage is important primarily because it 'keeps control decks honest.' But it is not an efficient card for the deck, and even against control it is generally poor when compared with a genuine threat.
Rhystic Lightning. Rhystic Lightning has two good targets. One of them is Two-Headed Dragon, which up until the Pro Tour wasn't exactly a prime consideration. It could become a real issue if our version of the deck becomes common, since casting the Dragon with mana free isn't always easy. For now, this doesn't come up all that often. The other target is the real one: Blinding Angel. Rhystic Lightning kills Blinding Angel dead, unless they had a lot of mana free after casting it in which case, hey, let's face it, that thing wasn't dying to anything but double Urza's Rage or an Obliterate. Excluding those juicy targets, the four damage from Rhystic Lightning doesn't matter all that much compared to three. It's still a good burn spell and it does kill the deck's biggest problem card, but too often it will fail to count. It isn't a threat or a must counter card unless there is a reason it is, and that can be fatal in this deck. Lightning is a Rhystic spell that has to be saved for a specific target in any given opposing deck in order to be good. It is an option, but I recommend staying away.
Ghitu Fire. Now here's a neat idea. Assault and Battery is the modern way to get options out of the burn slots. What about a good old-fashioned Fireball? Finally, there's a good X spell in Standard again. It felt so bad having to use Blaze as a kill card. It's an open question as to how good Ghitu Fire's ability is compared to old favorites like Fireball and Disintegrate, but my guess is that it is not as good as Fireball but better than the others. The existence of Ghitu Fire means that the opponent can't tap out at any time when the Fires deck gets a ton of mana and keeps it untapped, and it allows burn to be used end of turn on creatures just cast to save mana. There's the ability to Fire, untap and Fire or Earthquake for the kill. All that is well and good, but in practical terms, this is almost always going to be just an X spell, pure and simple. When I saw that this was in Mike Pustilnik's deck, it definitely seemed interesting. The primary reason Assault is needed is to kill first turn Birds and Elves, and Ghitu Fire can do that for two mana, which is almost as good. The ability to burn out Jade Leech and Blinding Angel or go to the head seemed like it had a good chance of making up for the inability to launch a permanent threat onto the table. For now, I've stuck with Assault and Battery, but Ghitu Fire is definitely worth testing. My instinct is that I will still prefer Assault and Battery because against blue, too often they have a hand full of counters at the end and making Ghitu Fire a threat takes too long, but it could be worthwhile.
Earthquake. I've moved the last Earthquake out of the maindeck at the moment, so it gets lumped in with the other alternative burn spells. Earthquake is definitely a great sideboard card, crushing Rebels and useful against other decks with ground creatures as well, but opponents have started building their decks around it. Often all the two mana searchers in a rebel deck will be Defiant Falcons now, for example. Also, Earthquake isn't a consideration in the mirror anymore because of Simoon. So, except for unusual matchups (which it's always nice to be prepared for but are easy enough to not worry about) Earthquake is only an anti-Rebel card. It has plenty of other uses and in no matchup is it a dead card, but it is sub-par everywhere else. At the Pro Tour, it served an additional purpose as a game one X factor card. I expected to be scouted, and playing one Earthquake puts opponents in a bind. If they don't see it and act like I don't play any, the one Earthquake will be excellent. If they see it and play around it, probably not realizing I only have one, that too works to my advantage. There's no reaction that doesn't benefit me in some way. By not playing Earthquake, I forfeit the Earthquake mind war in game one. This way I can walk away from it a winner. In addition to all that, drawing multiple Earthquakes can be all right in the long term but getting multiples early on against decks that aren't vulnerable can be horrible.
Breath of Darigaaz. A few people think four Earthquakes isn't enough. It is, and this is no Earthquake.
Scorching Lava. I mention this only because of its existence in States decks; it seems to have died out. Its basic purpose was to get rid of Nether Spirit and maybe Pyre Zombie for good. Those concerns are no longer as large as they were in the past. Nether Spirit is evil but the deck is easy enough to beat with Kavu Chameleons. This is definitely overkill.
Blastoderm. Ah, the real creature department. As always, Blastoderm is an amazing creature. With Fires of Yavimaya, it even has the potential to do a full twenty points of damage; no longer can the opponent simply decide to take fifteen and get on with their lives. Without Fires on the table, don't forget that this is a distinct possibility. Doing fifteen damage is great for one card and four mana, but if nothing's ever going to resolve ever again that Blastoderm is going to need some Elven or Chimeric backup or there's going to be trouble. Whenever I see Blastoderm, the first thought is: can this be ignored? Can the clock be run out somehow? Normally that's impossible, but don't forget to check. The other issue with Blastoderm is to make sure and value it properly in creature battles. It's almost always a good idea to trade one away to kill a Jade Leech, and often trading it for a Chimeric Idol is the best that can be done. It seems like a bad deal and it is, but the clock is always ticking on Blastoderm. Since Fires cannot target Blastoderm, it is virtually impossible to draw into a trick that will make holding a Blastoderm back worthwhile when it would trade for a smaller creature, unless the Blastoderm is being used on defense. Normally using Blastoderm as a defensive creature is a desperation measure, but this deck has so many big creatures that it can get away with it much better than most decks if it has to. Things get a lot more complicated when Blastoderms and Saproling Bursts stare at each other over many turns, but that is too complicated to be covered here. Lastly, Blastoderm does sometimes get sideboarded out. This happens when there is a serious danger that fifteen damage might not be enough, and especially when it might be neutralized by cards like Story Circle or Nether Spirit. In these cases, Jade Leech stays and some Blastoderms have to go to make room.
Jade Leech. This is another 5/5 creature for four mana. It can be targeted, but a lot of the time that is actually an advantage; that allows Fires of Yavimaya to save it, and win battles against multiple Chimeric Idols. Sometimes it gets killed by removal, of course. These things happen, and removal will almost always get put to good use against Fires. The biggest thing to watch out for with Jade Leech is the drawback. Often it doesn't matter at all, and most of the time having a 5/5 will be well worth paying a little extra mana. But every now and then it will be really, really annoying. The most common situation is when Jade Leech comes out turn three or four, and Saproling Burst can't be cast the turn after that. More often than not, the Leech should come out anyway, although on the next turn trading it off becomes a good play. The exception is when Fires of Yavimaya is out and the sixth mana is nowhere to be found, in which case it makes a lot of sense to wait against decks which can't stop the Burst. In general, the deck has 33 mana sources, so have faith in it, and a 5/5 is hard to deal with without it getting killed in the process. If it dies, no more drawback. The fourth Jade Leech was in the deck for a long time, and was cut mostly to make room for other things but also because of the addition of Kavu Chameleon. The Chameleon means there are six green spells that cost five mana, which is exactly what messes up Jade Leech. Having four of them still feels really nice, though. I tried running only two because of Chameleon, but the deck doesn't feel like it has enough 5/5s anymore.
Kavu Titan. This is the odd 5/5 out. Sometimes it gets cast for two mana, but not very often. More realistically, instead of paying one extra mana per green spell in the future for Jade Leech, Kavu Titan charges that extra mana up front and gets Trample for the trouble. The problems with this idea are that the deck prefers 4 drops to 5 drops and good old Parallax Wave. Kavu Titan waves out as a 5/5 monster, and waves back in as a 2/2 wimp. This came up too much in testing to play him, and will probably continue to greatly weaken all Kicker cards so long as Parallax Wave remains in Standard.
Kavu Chameleon. Then there's the anti-blue knight in color changing armor. There's basically nothing they can do about it outside a few hateful cards. Blinding Angel stops it, Rout and Wrath of God can kill it and Nether Spirit can keep blocking it if it wasn't busy doing anything else important. But that's about it. This card will win games no other card could, and often will do it without any help. The general principle against black decks is to keep one green mana open at all times, forcing the opponent to kill it twice. Any more than that generally costs more time than it's worth, but letting Vendetta or Perish or Spite/Malice kill it for free is pretty poor. Drawing out two kill spells is generally worth it though. Right now I've moved two into the maindeck, because they are absolutely devastating against counter decks and are fine almost everywhere else. A 4/4 for five mana isn't as good a deal as other creatures in the deck, but it isn't all that bad. On top of that, the ability to change colors can come in handy in odd situations. It's great to see Kavu off on a holy Crusade or two.