Since I began playing Magic: the Gathering nearly 20 years ago, I’ve been drawn to blue/red decks. Maybe it’s just that I’ve always favored instants over other card types. Or maybe it’s the chaotic, topdeck-reliant playstyle they encourage. Maybe I’ve just got a thing for Ral Zarek.
Regardless of the reason, I’ve sought to optimize the Izzet deck of every Magic Duels variant since the series began. In 2012, it was Mindstorms; in 2014 it was Dodge and Burn. I even put together a decent Standard deck last year to bring to FNM. And even though those articles I’ve linked are old, the strategy behind them is still hugely relevant to Counterburn in today’s Magic Duels: Origins game. I highly recommend you read them if you’re just learning how to play a red/blue control style deck.
You see, counterburn is still all about card advantage. It’s still about letting most stuff through, then punishing your opponent hard for overextending. It’s still about scraping by with nearly zero life, then pulling out bullshit last-second wins with massive burn to the face. And most of all it’s about playing smart and learning from every win… and every defeat.
I’ve named this year’s variant “Winging It” not only out of vanity, but out of a much more improvisational approach necessary than in previous years. Due to the constructed format and large number of (completely different types of) rare and mythic bombs, you’ll often find there’s only one or two outs for this deck at any given time.
But thanks to a plethora of scrying, two-for-one effects, and some cool planeswalker interactions, you’ll reach those outs as long as you play smart. You may not have more than a few life points left when that happens, but once you’re in control, the game is all yours.
Want proof? I coasted to level 40, the game’s current maximum, playing this deck almost exclusively. Now it’s your turn!
“WINGING IT” Counterburn Deck List
Instants & Sorceries
- 4x Fiery Impulse
- 3x Telling Time
- 3x Disperse
- 2x Ravaging Blaze
- 4x Twin Bolt
- 4x Calculated Dismissal
- 2x Exquisite Firecraft
- 2x Countermand
- 2x Chandra’s Ignition
- 1x Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
- 2x Harbinger of the Tides
- 2x Sigiled Starfish
- 3x Jhessian Thief
- 1x Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
- 1x Disciple of the Ring
- 1x Embermaw Hellion
- 8x Island
- 8x Mountain
- 2x Sulfur Falls
- 1x Foundry of the Consuls
- 4x Izzet Guildgate
“Winging It” Counterburn card-by-card analysis
Below, you’ll find play notes for each card in the deck, in the order listed above. I’ve also included alternatives wherever possible for players who have not yet unlocked enough of the cards necessary to match what I’ve prescribed exactly. Don’t worry if you’re a few (or many) cards short – I won plenty of matches before unlocking even half these options!
Instants & Sorceries
Every counterburn deck needs 1-mana removal. Ideally, you’d have a Lightning Bolt or a Shock, since either of those can hit players and planeswalkers as efficiently as creatures. But for the meta, Fiery Impulse works just fine. Early game it kills Perilous Myrs before they get in a position to deny your eventual creature efforts, and late game the extra spell mastery damage helps welp Juggernauts and Lilianas.
Alternatives: Goblin Arsonist, Inferno Fist, Perilous Myr
Efficient card draw is pretty much required for control decks, and Telling Time is one of the best options ever printed. It can be cast early game to make sure you hit land drops, late game to sift for solutions, or in response to nasty spell to help you dig for an instant answer.
Alternatives: Inspiration, Artificer’s Epiphany, Hydroslash
At first I wrote this card off, but there are so many nasty enchantments in Origins that I’ve put multiple copies back in. Used at the right moment, Disperse can completely screw an aggressive deck’s tempo. It can also reset +1/+1 counters, token creatures, and planeswalkers. And of course it’s a great answer to Bone Splinters; save your creature and laugh at your enemy for sacrificing two cards for no effect!
Alternatives: Displacement Wave, Anchor to the Aether, Perilous Myr, Separatist Voidmage
X-damage spells have always been great at removing late game threats or finishing out the match. Ravaging Blaze does both at the same time! This spell can be tough to cast early on, but is often the clincher once you hit 8+ lands. The fact that it’s instant is icing on the cake.
Alternatives: Inferno Fist, Bloodpyre Elemental, Into the Maw of Hell
With a meta dominated by Perilous Myr, Thopter tokens, and those goddamn elves, anything that lets you split damage between targets is bound to deliver value. It’s not Electrolyze, but it’s also available an entire turn earlier, making it a lifesaver against rushdown.
Alternatives: Goblin Arsonist, Inferno Fist, Perilous Myr, Displacement Wave
Continuing the trend of being not quite the classic version of a card, Calculated Dismissal offers all of the power and color-friendliness of Mana Leak at 50% more of the cost. Since few better options exist, you’ll be going with this counter. The Scry 2 effect adds late game value, sometimes worth a cast even when you can’t counter the intended spell.
Alternatives: Disperse, Countermand, Bone to Ash
To be honest, Exquisite Firecraft kind of sucks. It’s expensive for the amount of damage it does, it’s a sorcery, the mana requirements are tight, and its spell mastery ability is usually irrelevant. That said, you don’t have too many options for dealing with larger creatures or directly burning opponents/their planeswalkers.
Alternatives: Claustrophobia, Into the Maw of Hell, Ravaging Blaze
People will ask why I went with Countermand over Bone to Ash with its card advantage, and the answer is twofold. First, Countermand is an unconditional counter that can hit anything. Second, Countermand’s mill, while pretty pointless in normal Magic, can devastate players relying on scry-based topdecking. When possible, use your conditional counters before this one.
Alternatives: Bone to Ash, Claustrophbia, Displacement Wave
Magic Duels Origins is severely lacking in blue/red mass removal – Displacement Wave is your only real alternative, and it’s often a stall tactic more than a solution. Chandra’s Ignition can clear an entire board of tokens, elves, and goblins when cast on something as weak as a Jhessian Thief (mind you her prowess triggers before Chandra’s Ignition resolves). This card is amazing with Disciple of the Ring since you can pump her up, blast the board, and swing in for lethal damage. It’s also great with Chandra herself, a point surely not overlooked by Wizards of the Coast.
Alternatives: Displacement Wave, Perilous Myr, Alhammarret
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Jace is often more useful in his human state than his planeswalker incarnation. His cheap cost and card sifting ability help you find what you need to survive the early game (assuming he doesn’t eat removal) or turnaround a struggling mid-game. Once he’s flipped, his +1 can cripple enemy aggression and his -3 provides amazing value, even if you only get to use it once or twice. Don’t bet on his ultimate; you’ll get far more value out of using his spell-recycling skill three times instead.
Alternatives: Sigiled Starfish, Frost Lynx, Bottle Gnomes
Harbinger of the Tides
Absolutely devastating when cast either on your turn for cheap or as an instant for 4 mana. Nothing says “you’re not winning the game” more than making creatures stacked with counters and auras disappear. Don’t overlook the option to simply cast him end-of-turn as surprise pressure without the bounce bonus.
Alternatives: Frost Lynx, Separatist Voidmage, Ember Hauler
With one more power than Jace, this little aquatic blocker is great at slowing down fast decks, sucking up removal, and helping you topdeck your way to victory. The option to flush unwanted cards every turn is incredibly powerful, and works great in concert with Jhessian Thief or other card-drawing effects.
Alternatives: Frost Lynx, Bottle Gnomes, Abbot of Keral Keep
Back in Mirage block, the card Ophidian was considered overpowered. It was exactly like Jhessian Thief, except it didn’t do combat damage and didn’t have prowess. If you can get one of these through at any stage of the game, you’re on the road to Card Advantage City. Players will want to block her to stop her powerful drawing engine, but they’ll also be afraid to block due to the surprise pump potential. Don’t be hesitant to “waste” burn or bounce to clear blockers; you’ll get more damage and will most likely draw into even more spells to use next turn!
Alternatives: Bottle Gnomes, Abbot of Keral Keep, Darkslick Drake
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
Chandra is a win condition in a bottle. All you have to do is get her through on one swing, or cast two red spells, or use Chandra’s Ignition, and she’s ready for mayhem. All three of her planeswalker abilities are tide-turners. She can put your enemy on a short clock, save your burn cards by eliminating creatures, or blow up for enormous pressure. Try not to play her unless you’re ready to protect her until summoning sickness wears off.
Alternatives: Abbot of Keral Keep, Embermaw Hellion, Alhammarret
Disciple of the Ring
Ever since Morphling was printed, 5-mana blue creatures have had a lot to live up to. But Disciple of the Ring blows expectations away. Her pumping ability lets her slam for massive damage or survive burn. Her tapping helps you shut down nasty monsters… or clear the way for her nasty self. The untapping is great as well. But where Disciple really shines is with her countermagic ability. It’s astounding at protecting herself, but it’s also (and not so obviously) good at shutting down enchantments, artifacts, and other non-creature threats. Hell, just counter stuff because you can… why not?
Alternatives: Molten Vortex, Embermaw Hellion, Alhammarret
A 4/5 trampler by itself would be worth considering, due to the great deal of chump blockers and low-damage removal in Duels Origins. The additional spell/planeswalker-boosting power the Hellion offers is icing on the cake. Just note a few things:
- Twin Bolt will deal 4 damage if split (1+1 to one target and 1+1 to the other), but 3 damage if focused (2+1 to one target).
- Chandra’s Ignition won’t do extra damage if used on Hellion, since Hellion only boosts burn from “other” sources and not itself.
- As hinted above, Embermaw Hellion will increase the damage done by Chandra in human or planeswalker form
Alternatives: Molten Vortex, Soulblade Djinn, Alhammarret
There’s not much to say here… you need to get at least two of each color source out as soon as possible. Ideally, you’ll also be able to field red mana first for the threat (or actual presence) of early burn spells. Drop Guildgates as early as possible on turns where you don’t need the mana untapped. Just plan out your first few turns as best you can, as once you’ve hit five or six land you’re pretty much fine. Oh and make sure you tweak your own island/mountain ratio to match your current deck color balance!