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The Burn Archetype in Highlander

Welcome to the Burn deck archetype for 7 Point Highlander! On this page you will find all the content related to this play style.

A Summary of the Burn Archetype

Burn decks can be found in almost any format, and Highlander is no exception.  The goal of burn is to quickly reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to zero, and whilst this will sometimes involve Red creatures, the archetype earns its name from the suite of ‘burn’ spells, like Lava Spike, that serve to attack that life total via the most direct means possible. Burn decks are therefore known to forego traditional concepts of ‘card advantage’, often losing value in return for hyper aggressive speed. This is why Burn decks are sometimes considered a form of Combo deck, whereby your goal is to assemble six or seven cards that deal 3 damage to the opponent, and ignore anything else they are doing.

Burn Deck Lists and Variations

Highlander burn decks can be constructed with only Red cards, allowing for a very stable mana base of Mountains as well as leveraging cards like Magus of the Moon. Whilst this sounds like a nice budget alternative, mono-Red versions will often place their points in Black Lotus and Mox Ruby, allowing them to vault dramatically ahead of their opponent in speed. The loss of cards when playing a Chrome Mox is largely mitigated by the ability to empty your hand of spells and win the game before the opponent can leverage their whole hand.

Creatures are still important in Mono-Red Burn as a recurring source of damage, but rather than the robust creatures in conventional Aggro decks, the Burn deck archetype is more likely to employ less powerful creatures that also serve as ‘reach’ to the life total, like Orcish Hellraiser and Goblin Chainwhirler, or have the ability to grow large enough to push through blockers and ‘combo off’ with burn spells, like Monastery Swiftspear and Abbot of Keral Keep. Whilst creatures are a recurring source of damage, they are easily removed, outclassed, or simply blocked, which makes cards like Sulfuric Vortex instrumental in enacting the Burn archetype’s game plan.

Deck ListMono-Red Burn

In terms of Burn variants, a light splash of Black provides access to burn cards such as Bump in the Night, and Sideboard cards like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek which can assist with the Burn archetype’s weak Combo matchup. However one of the most important Burn archetype variants is ‘Izzet’ (Red-Blue) Burn. Although it shares some cards with Izzet Tempo decks (e.g., see the Protect the Queen archetype), the play style is very different. First, rather than protecting an important threat with counterspells and maintaining ‘Tempo’, Izzet Burn seeks to enact the primary Burn archetype game plan: combo-kill via multiple (often one-off) sources of damage. The addition of Blue in Izzet Burn is fundamentally a very light ‘splash’ in order to access different pointed cards. Instead of ‘fast’ mana, Izzet Burn seeks to leverage Blue card draw to ensure they can keep pressuring the opponent’s life total via burn spells. Whilst all Burn variants embrace cards like Wheel of Fortune and Magus of the Wheel to refill their hands, Izzet Burn supplements this with more powerful draw like Ancestral Recall, Snapcaster Mage, and Timetwister.

Deck ListIzzet Burn

Burn variants have also been known to branch out into more than just two colours. Red-Blue-White (or ‘Jeskai’ colours) offer the same damage dealing and card-drawing capabilities as Izzet Burn above, with a twist. The addition of White offers flexible spells that push the aggressive game plan, like Boros Charm, of which all modes serve as a means by which to deal damage. White further offers a suite of early-game creatures that impair your opponent’s ability to use their mana efficiently, like Leonin Arbiter, Judge’s Familiar, and Tithe Taker. These coupled with Wasteland, Strip Mine, and Stifle, ensure that your small creatures continue to pressure the opponent’s life total before they can muster a defence. The ‘taxing’ element in Jeskai Aggro is a sub-theme that parallels the ‘Hatebears’ deck, in some ways making this particular variant a hybrid of the Burn archetype and the Mox Aggro archetype. Most notably however are the collection of seemingly innocuous creatures like Wharf Infiltrator, Smuggler’s Copter, and Looter il-Kor, all of which serve to turn excess lands into more sources of damage, fulfilling the fundamental tenets of the Burn archetype. 

Deck ListJeskai Aggro

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Jeskai Aggro playstyle in only 7 minutes. You can watch it here:

Building Burn on a Budget

If you like the sound of Burn but you are on a budget, there are alternatives to Black Lotus and Mox Ruby in Mono-Red variants. If sleeving up Sol Ring and Mana Crypt you can opt to leverage the power of Burn’s 4-mana threats, and an early game Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Koth of the Hammer on the play can often spell the end of the game for your opponent. Alternately or in addition, Wasteland and Strip Mine provide a land-destruction sub-theme that keeps your opponent off balance whilst you draw into more burn spells or attack with creatures to close the game before they stabilise. Likewise Izzet Burn can leverage the same mana denial themes, or retain the ‘big draw spells’ plan by substituting Ancestral Recall and Timetwister for powerful delve cards such as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. When revising your budget Burn variant remember to always apply the fundamental Aggro principles in your card choices; if a card doesn’t serve to reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to zero by attacking, clearing the path for attackers, burning it directly, or drawing more of these damage sources… it probably doesn’t belong in the deck!

Playing 7 Point Highlander on a budget? Don’t forget to listen to listen to one of the 7 Point Highlander Cast’s seminal episodes on how to construct a good deck whilst on a shoestring!

Podcast – Building on a Budget

Highlander Burn Video Content

Compiled below are links to some excellent YouTube resources that can help you see versions of the Burn deck archetype in action.

Watch this video to see Izzet Burn in action:

Although there aren’t any filmed matches of Mono-Red Burn, this Izzet Burn deck ends up playing out very similarly to its Mono-Red counterpart by pushing through to victory off haste creatures and maintaining high odds of drawing a burn spell for the last points of damage.

Watch this video to see another Burn deck in action:

Last, watch this video for another example of the fast playstyle that Burn offers:


Where to next?

Did Burn fit the kind of deck archetype you’re looking for? If you’re building a Burn list and want to dive deeper into the archetype, you can check out our Expert-level article series by guest authors Dan Abraham and Drew Carter. Here is their article entitled: How to Build Better Decks in Highlander: Lava Spike or Burn.

Want to know more about other Aggro decks? Visit the Aggro hub here.

Likewise, the Burn deck archetype can often play out very similar to a Combo deck, with its ability to assemble six or seven sources of 3 damage to ‘combo-kill’ the opponent. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Combo decks or those that have a ‘combo finish’ element to them, visit the Combo hub here.

Dr Sarven McLinton

Sarven has been playing Magic the Gathering since Stronghold (1998) and is on The Highlander Points Committee. He is well-versed in a wide variety of deck archetypes but remains an avid student of the game. Sarven is a passionate writer and seeks to apply his extensive experience in research and statistics to gaming. By day, 'Dr McLinton' works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) managing various projects investigating psychosocial factors at work, as well as lecturing Psychology Honours and supervising PhD candidates. By night, 'McLinton Sensei' teaches traditional Japanese Karate in South Australia's premiere sporting centre, the ARC Campbelltown. He holds a 4th-degree black belt and is a gold medalist, competing both nationally and internationally in Karate and Open-style contact tournaments.