My Fires - The End
Having covered matchups against green creatures and against blue control in the last two articles, I will now wrap up all the other important matchups. Of those that remain, by far the most common is against Rebels.
The most basic types of Rebel decks are those that do not contain any colors other than white, although these still divide into Lin Sivvi based versions and the rarer versions that are based on 2/2s and have Lin Sivvi as an afterthought if they have it at all. Regardless of which way they go, the response is similar. This matchup is all about tempo in the first game, along with whether they can get the search engine into gear. If the Rebel deck is not searching, it will almost always lose both in the short term and in the long run. The Fires deck contains bigger creatures and they will win in a fight without too much trouble. Parallax Wave can buy time but not enough without it coming in multiples. The interesting games are the ones in which the Rebel deck has the engine going but the Fires deck has game as well. Before it gets to that point, Assault should be used to try and knock out the first searcher, but much of the time this effort will fail.
Most Rebel engines don't contain a good answer to Two-Headed Dragon.
At that point, the game becomes a race. The Rebel deck gets to bring a new creature or even creatures into play every turn from its deck directly into play. Eventually, especially with the multiple Defiant Vanguards most versions now run, that will be enough to block and kill or fade away the threats in the Fires deck and then at some point go in for the kill. The key word there is eventually. Most turns the Rebel deck can produce a 2/2 creature or a new searcher. Starting on about turn three, the Fires deck can start producing 5/5s. If the Fires deck can keep producing threats every turn, the Rebel position on the table will collapse if the Fires deck is even one turn ahead of the answers. The problem is when Fires decks end up trading their big creatures for Defiant Vanguards. If attacking would just get a Vanguard to come out of the Rebel players' library and exchange with a Jade Leech or sometimes even a Blastoderm, it's normally better to hold back unless letting Lin Sivvi come out instead would be too big a tempo gain. Don't forget that while Jade Leech would trade if it attacked it makes it a lot harder for the Rebel player to attack the Fires deck. They do have to win the game at some point, and with Fires of Yavimaya and Saproling Burst in the deck it takes a lot for things to get truly hopeless. Not giving the Vanguards a chance to be recycled often allows a push later on with the fatties saved up over several turns. Timed properly, often the Rebel player will simply not have enough good blockers at one time to put up a fight, especially with Burst involved. Don't rush the game if playing a pure race is clearly going to lose; the race can be lost without the game being lost sometimes, especially if Two-Headed Dragon comes out. Most Rebel engines don't contain a good answer, and unless it gains popularity that's the right decision for them.
Sideboarding gives two huge bombs to the Fires deck in the form of Flashfires and Earthquake, with Tsabo's Decree being a third possibility for some variants. Flashfires early on is virtually a lock if backed up. Don't get too greedy, two Plains is enough. Without the mana to search every turn the Rebel deck is helpless. Earthquake is also a card not to get too greedy with unless the situation calls for it. Killing a Ramosian Sergeant by itself is more than fine, as is killing Lin Sivvi or a Vanguard - if it keeps the Rebel engine shut down, do it. If shutting down the engine is hopeless, then it's time to get greedy. Hold back to build up both sides of the table, then try and Earthquake away the other side for 3 or 4 and attack. There's rarely a good answer to that outside of Reverent Mantra or an already present Parallax Wave, even if the engine survived because of Defiant Falcon. Tsabo's Decree is also something to get greedy with, although it's hard not to with such a high casting cost. In general, these cards transform the matchup from a race against time with a few outs if things go wrong to a matchup that's difficult to lose with a smooth draw.
The wild card is Simoon. If Crusade is not on the table then Simoon works wonders, mowing down searchers left and right. Given how important searchers are, it's well worth including in that case. The problem is Crusade makes Simoon a poor card at best. That makes playing with Simoon a risky decision, although Reverent Silence does insure that Simoon will have its day at some point; saving it for a long time might also allow it to be cast in multiples, at which point it becomes devastating if Crusade has just left the building. Whether to put in Simoon actually ends up coming down to whether there are a lot of cards to take out or almost none.
That problem is Disenchant. How many Disenchant type effects will the Rebel player have after sideboarding? There is a point somewhere between five and seven of them where the Fires deck should abandon all twelve of its targets. That means taking out twelve cards, which means putting twelve from the sideboard in. Obliterate stays out, then two more have to remain in the sideboard; the only real choices are Kavu Chameleon (think Crusade) and Simoon. This is a gamble, because the deck will be significantly weakened if the Rebel deck has only three or four removal spells and will be horrendous if it pulled out its removal entirely, anticipating this move. If the targets stay, something else has to come out to make room for the anti-Rebel cards. Kavu Chameleon is obvious. Chimeric Idol is another good answer, because those early turns are now more about using Rishadan Port at a critical time and casting Earthquake or Flashfires. That reduces the need for Chimeric Idol. That covers all the cards that want to come in if the fourth Earthquake is lost to make room for the fourth Simoon. If it isn't, a better creature is going to have to get the axe.
Playing against versions splashing green is basically the same, except that now the transformation is much worse because of Wax and Wane. The other change is Brushland, which makes Flashfires slightly less of a wrecking ball. It's still amazing, though, unless they go into Elfhame Palace too and it's only really good. Other than that, just keep Wax/Wane in mind when green mana is untapped. On the other hand, Counter-Rebel is a significantly different matchup.
Playing against Counter-Rebel is a cross between facing a pure Rebel player and playing against U/W control. I didn't test this matchup enough before Chicago, so this advice will be based on less data than other matchups, but I think it's right. Serious counter-Rebel decks cannot run Crusade, and Defiant Falcon is the best two mana searcher for their deck. That makes Simoon a natural card to sideboard in, which makes up for Flashfires no longer being worthwhile assuming the deck goes so far as to run actual Islands. A splash for Power Sink can be treated the same way one for Wax/Wane was. Wrath effects and counters will back up the Rebel engine, and the Rebel engine itself will be far, far less dangerous than it is in the hands of a pure Rebel player, although its backup will still make it good enough to go the distance. As before, it's vital to stop or delay the Rebel engine as long as possible, now watching out for both counters and Wrath. The games divide into two. Without the Rebel engine working the match goes as it would against W/U when W/U draws poorly. If the engine gets going the key is to generate the critical mass to smash through it. Don't start trading for Vanguards and Fires gets a lot of time.
This is one matchup where the deck naturally has too many cards it wants to use.
Their land is also a huge weakness, even without it being vulnerable to Flashfires. Instead Dust Bowl becomes the method of attack, backed by Rishadan Port in the same way it is against W/U. The flip side is that their deck now has a huge number of lands in it without the card quality of a real control deck, and on true floods this can sometimes be exploited as well. Sideboarding against counter-Rebel brings up the dilemma of whether or not to transform. This time, Chimeric Idol is actually good, so not transforming means making a major sacrifice somewhere. Kavu Chameleon still isn't that good even against a few counters, so two Simoon can come in for free but after that come difficult choices. Even taking out one mana creature can look tempting. In the end, all four copies of Chimeric Idol are not going to survive and sometimes a 5/5 will be shaved as well. Earthquake wants to come with Simoon and Assault, but fitting all of them may be impossible. This is one matchup where the deck naturally has too many cards it wants to use.
Most of the field plays one of the basic three strategies (counters, Rebels or green creatures), but there are a few other decks. The next biggest one would probably be Blue Skies and other aggressive mono-blue decks. These decks will lose if the Fires deck is allowed to play its creatures and attack with them without them getting constantly bounced, so that's what the blue deck is going to have to do. The plan is for Assault and Battery and Simoon to combine to keep the total amount of damage coming flying through the air manageable, and trim creatures to make room for Simoon. Keep the colors of permanents as diverse as possible to defend against Wash Out and try to save mana for Daze and Withdraw as well. In general, without a large air force to end the game quickly, any draw with a decent amount of land will simply replay threats until they come over for the win. As long as the game is played with the bounce cards in mind, there's normally a good way to stop the damage. The more aggressive versions will still win with good draws, especially backed by Submerge, assuming Simoon doesn't get too much of their offense. With the perfect draw or even a really good one the game is theirs to lose, but in practice the matchup is in Fires' favor with Simoon in the board.
The next deck down the line Black/Red, after which the numbers drop off dramatically. These decks will often be able to force Fires to live off the top of the deck. The key is to get mana onto the table before that happens, because Fires does an amazing job living off the top with enough mana on the table to cast its spells. Saproling Burst in particular is virtually impossible for them to deal with well once it gets cast. This is the one matchup where Burst should come out quickly, because of discard and especially Void. Without a good way to back up any early card advantage before Fires can start topdecking, this matchup is hugely in favor of Fires and sideboarding isn't even strictly necessary.
After that, nothing else showed up to Chicago in numbers. The best general advice against a rouge deck is to remember that unless creatures are being hosed by universal effects it's very unlikely the other deck can muster the kind of power Fires can, so try and ride that to the victory. Use whichever parts of the sideboard seem most appropriate, since much of it will have unanticipated applications.
Before I end this series and move on to other decks, I'd like to stop and thank my teammates for helping playtest for Chicago and helping to build this deck in particular. Without Seth Burn I would never have thought of Two-Headed Dragon, and both he and Scott Johns were invaluable as playtest partners. I didn't take time to talk about the deck's development or playtesting it, so I haven't been mentioning them much, but don't be fooled by an editor slapping on 'My Fires' or my not dropping their names constantly. It is not my Fires deck, it was our Fires deck. On the decklist, we chose to attribute the deck to Mark Rosewater rather than sort out which teammates should and should not get credit, and because most of the deck follows from the cards that are legal in the format rather than the construction being some brilliant invention of ours. Seth put in Two-Headed Dragon, I added Dust Bowl, all three of us helped test and tune it and Adrian Sullivan, Brian Kowal, Jacub Janoska and to some extent even Brian Selden helped us understand the format better even if they never helped out the deck directly.