Top 8ing the Modern Challenge with Rakdos Burn

by Andreas Petersen on 11 February 2019, Monday

Andreas Petersen

It's been a while since I wrote about - let alone played - Modern, but a freshly released set can always spark some creativity that I need to outlive at the tables. In this case I was super excited about the two cards Skewer the Critics and Light up the Stage with the new mechanic "spectacle".

The Newest Toys: Skewer the Critics & Light up the Stage

"Lightning Bolts" that need to be enabled have been seen before and are great designs for Limited play, but from the first moment I saw it I thought Skewer the Critics would be good enough in some version of Modern Burn. Whether it's your 1-drop creature that deals the damage, a suspended Rift Bolt or just a Lava Spike, it felt reliable on paper.

The bigger question was whether Light up the Stage would provide much needed card advantage to circumvent mulligans and opposing disruption. Maybe it would just create clunky situations with fizzles and tempo losses. To understand the card better, I came up with some normal scenarios and play patterns with Light up the Stage.

Evaluating the Stage

When Light up the Stage is better than a burn spell:

  • Turn 1 Monastery Swiftspear, turn 2 Lava Spike + Light up the Stage hitting a land and a Lightning Bolt. You get the prowess trigger right away and get to cast Lightning Bolt next turn while you can make your third land drop to unload the rest of your hand. Not to mention you're up on resources, which is extremely powerful in a deck that often wins with the absolute last possible resource.
  • You keep a one-lander with Rift BoltLight up the Stage and more burn spells. Suspend Rift Bolt turn 1, fire it off on the next upkeep, then cast Light up the Stage and hit your second land drop + any converted mana cost 1 card. The point is that it digs for lands in a deck that is tempted to keep a lot of hands with only one land.

When Light up the Stage is worse than a burn spell:

  • You can easily have an opening hand where you rely on your 1-drop to deal damage on turn 2 to enable your spectacle cards in hand. In a situation like this where your opponent has a removal spell or blocker for your Goblin GuideLight up the Stage can look really bad.
  • For obvious reasons, if you turn over two lands with Light up the Stage it’s unfortunate. But I don't mind it as much since I would need to get through those cards anyway - unless of course it's the last turn of the game and I just needed to draw one more burn spell. Rift Bolt however really increases your fail rate, since you are not allowed to suspend it from anywhere but your hand, and usually you will have to pass the turn with no value from the exiled cards.

My overall verdict after I played (only) 30 matches with the deck is that Light up the Stage is upside around 75% of the time.

My Current List

Creatures: Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, Grim Lavamancer

A fairly common creature suite with the best one-drops available. The creatures are your repeated source of damage and your best draws include them. Grim Lavamancer is great in longer games and against creatures, but with eight Spectacle cards its ability to attack on turn two is also very important.

Bolts: Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, Lava Spike, Bump in the Night, Skewer the Critics, Shard Volley

I turned to the Rakdos color combination to maximize the amount of "one mana, deal three" cards I could fit in the deck because they are essential to the strategy. You want to cast the sorcery and Spectacle bolts first and hang on to Lightning Bolt because of its instant speed. Cast Shard Volley last because it makes you lose resources.

Blaze versus Eidolon

The deck can only fit one playset of 2-drops to keep it consistent enough and get to play only 18 lands, and for this tournament I chose Searing Blaze for a few reasons. Eidolon has been very good for me against cantrip heavy decks and when I'm on the play. Searing Blaze is always a good turn two play if they have a creature. Depending on how the metagame shapes up, I can see myself swapping in the future, but for now the Eidolons are in the sideboard.

Here is the decklist I registered for the last Modern Challenge of January:

A Spectacular Modern Challenge

Speaking about this tournament, I recorded my Top 8 of the Modern Challenge. I lost round one in the event but managed to win six matches in a row to make the playoffs. Those matches included an epic game three against Dredge where I beat double Creeping ChillCollective Brutality and Nature's Claim on their own Shriekhorn. This deck is a tough nut to crack! Check out my Top 8 games here and excuse my tiredness. It was 1am after 8-9 hours of Magic at the time I recorded this.

Quick Thoughts on the Sideboard

To be honest with you, I didn't put too much time into the construction of the sideboard. I knew I wanted Eidolon in the matchups and play/draw situations I described above and some sort of graveyard hate. Smash to Smithereens and Searing Blood are relevant disruption tools that deal damage in the process, but they are also very specific and can be situational even against the decks I bring them in against. I'm not sure that this 18 land version can afford to keep Skullcrack to combat lifegain like the old versions, but that is definitely on my list of possible sideboard options. It's also very likely, if the metagame shifts to cards like Collective Brutality, Lightning HelixKitchen Finks and Timely Reinforcements, that Burn is not a viable strategy. If that happens, you should maybe abandon the deck instead of trying to fix the problem with a slower game plan to keep up Skullcrack or with bad sideboard cards like Rain of Gore. If you are a Red mage, I suggest you keep an eye on the development of peoples sideboards and even main decks to determine how well your deck is positioned on any given weekend.

Winning this Modern Challenge means I'm qualified for the quarterly Modern Playoffs, so I have to find a sweet Modern deck to crush the event in 50 days time. I'll keep you updated on the matter! Until next time, be sure to flashback that Bump in the Night for the win.

This article was written by Andreas Petersen in a media collaboration with

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