Building a Better Pyromancer Sideboard

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Just about anybody who has played the Pyromancer Ascension deck in Standard will confirm: Postboard games can be quite frustrating! First, a decklist:

I settled on this particular maindeck after quite the well-documented love affair with Pyromancer Ascension. Every card pulls its weight just about perfectly, although I could see the numbers of Into the Roils and Burst Lightnings being swapped without too much complaint.

The sideboard, however, is a piece of crap.*

Pyromancer Ascension needs an alternate win condition in the sideboard

There was a time when this deck was flying under the radar (well, as much as arguably the strongest deck from last season can really do) and the best reason to bring in a card like Kiln Fiend or Frost Titan was that your opponent simply sideboarded out their removal for game 2! This would also put your hapless opponent in a difficult decision for game 3: Assuming you practice crafty sideboarding procedures (You do shuffle all 75 cards together after every game, right?), what the hell are they supposed to do for game 3?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's look at a different list.

Yikes. Okay. That's a bit of a mess, but it includes every card in Standard that can destroy a Pyromancer Ascension (as well as a couple, like Vampire Hexmage, the Leylines, or ultimate buzzkill Memoricide, that make duplicating Lightning Bolts just a little more difficult). Of those 26 cards, I've played against all but 4 of them in postboard matches on MTGO this season. You have to expect them. Let's face it, Enchantments have never been that difficult to destroy, and the Pyromancer Ascension decklist above only has so many Counterspell effects to protect its relatively fragile win condition.

A creature-based "semi-transformative" sideboard strategy is ideal

Take the following scenario: Your opponent has a maindeck with useless creature removal game 1 and a sideboard with a playset or so of enchantment removal. You, devil that you are, are playing Pyromancer Ascension with an unknown (to your opponent) sideboard. What should he do?

1. Swap out creature removal for enchantment removal

2. Leave in some creature removal, leave out enchantment removal

3. Leave in some creature removal, bring in some enchantment removal

Do you notice how none of these options are really all that kind to him? He risks dead cards in options #2 and #3. He risks getting eaten by a very angry Kiln Fiend in option #1.

Other benefits of boarding in creatures

Look at the last two cards on that list, Leyline of Sanctity and Leyline of the Void. Evil, evil, evil. I once mistakenly boarded out all of my Into the Roils against a UW Control deck on MTGO. I was being really greedy with countermagic and had no creatures as backup. Game 3 ended on turn 0 to Leyline of Sanctity. Oops.

Kiln Fiend doesn't target your opponent to smash face. Calcite Snapper doesn't care what's in your graveyard. You get the picture.

A look at your options

Here is a list of all of the creatures I would consider. They are mostly going to be extremely aggressive, but there are a few interesting alternatives as well. Note that this the first stage, our list is going to start much broader than is probably necessary.

Blue has some interesting choices! Calcite Snapper in particular is exciting. Now, if your opponent chooses to leave in some creature removal to anticipate your sideboard move, they're still dead cards. It can play defense as a 1UU 1/4, although it can be a little anemic on offense. Conundrum Sphinx (4/4 Flyer for 2UU), Sphinx of Jwar Isle (5/5 Flyer for 4UU), and Goliath Sphinx (8/7 Flyer for 5UU) are all similar creatures at scaling mana costs, though Frost Titan becomes the Fatty of choice when getting up to 6- and 7-drops.

On Coralhelm Commander: He can be played as early as turn 2, and consider his stats for various mana investments. 2UU gets you a 3/3 Flyer. 4UU gets you a 4/4 Flyer. This isn't all that worse than Conundrum Sphinx or Sphinx of Jwar Isle (raw P/T only, of course), but the cost can be split among many different turns and the Merfolk "lord" can start attacking on turn 3.

On Echo Mage: The only card of the group that won't ever do much attacking, Echo Mage serves to nullify your opponent's enchantment removal by serving as a mini-Ascension on legs.

Of the Blue creatures, I would consider Calcite Snapper, Frost Titan, Coralhelm Commander, and Echo Mage.

Kargan Dragonlord can be excluded because of his Red-intensive mana costs, and high costs in general. Likewise, Plated Geopede needs more fetchlands than the four Scalding Tarns in the deck to truly be a threat. Hellkite Charger is an interesting alternative to Inferno Titan (and with a 7th land drop is able to swing for a not insignificant 5 followed by 10), but the Titan is a much more versatile card and can probably out-race a Hellkite Charger in many, if not most, circumstances.

Kiln Fiend or Chandra's Spitfire? Well, in this deck, the choice is obvious. Kiln Fiend triggers off of Preordains and See Beyonds, Chandra's Spitefire does not. Kiln Fiend hits the board on turn 2 and can start attacking for 4 or 7 quite regularly on turn 3 (and 4+ damage every turn after is often quite sustainable).

The last card on this list is a bit janky, though it is intriguing to me on some level: Scute Mob's awkward cousin, Dragonmaster Outcast. It's pretty clear here though that Kiln Fiend and Inferno Titan are the only Red creatures worth seriously considering.

The Artifacts present an inherent problem: look back at most of those enchantment removal spells. A large portion of them also target Artifacts. However, it's impossible to ignore Precursor Golem as a virtual 9/9 for 5 or Wurmcoil Engine as a removal-resistant choice. Platinum Angel is mostly included here to be complete, though I suppose it's possible to create a situation against some archetypes where your opponent is drawing dead. Even with their potential benefits, I think Blue or Red creatures are most likely going to be the answer.

Before compiling the next list, a deckbuilding note: You'll notice that I that I usually use the same techniques to whittle a large cardpool into decklists (whether that be a 60 card Constructed deck, its 15 card sideboard, or a Limited deck). In Standard there are 89 Blue creatures, 90 Red creatures, and 55 Artifact creatures. For our sideboard plan we might get, at best, 6 total slots. That means we have to cut those 234 cards down to 6 (and if you really think about it, you're cutting 4*234=936 possible choices down to 6). Here is a sorted list of the creatures to consider.

Small attackers
Coralhelm Commander
Calcite Snapper
Kiln Fiend

Inferno Titan
Frost Titan

Other creatures
Echo Mage

Before this stage can go any further, it's important to determine just how many slots are available. With my maindeck, I know I want a few spells for sure.

Jace Beleren
2 Pyroclasm
Burst Lightning

Pardon the skipping of a few steps (namely, dozens of matches on MTGO), but these are my desired minimums. Pyroclasm is a beating against most of the "Vomit Out a Board Full of Creatures" Aggro decks, Jace Beleren is the deck's most important card in the Control matchups outside of Pyromancer Ascension itself, and the third copy of Burst Lightning helps shore up the Aggro matchups just a little bit more. From 15 cards we're left with 11 to choose...

Countermagic Suite

My maindeck plays 4 Mana Leak and 2 Deprive ala Patrick Chapin's take on the deck post States. [Note: I included a link here that is refusing to cooperate. But you've all seen his deck, right? Right?] As far as I'm concerned, most of his deck is perfect. I was skeptical about Deprive at first, but not only have I found an extreme like for the card, it has cemented Halimar Depth's place in the deck for me as well even as Tectonic Edge appears to be everywhere. However, anyone who has played this deck will tell you that you need some number of additional Counterspell effects in the sideboard. But which should you choose? And how many? For that, we start with another list:

Today's Standard environment is a far cry from the ones that made Complicate or Dismiss Constructed-playable cards, and there certainly aren't any Cryptic Command-level cards in this group, so the 3- and 4-mana counters above can be Dismissed (hehe) offhand. And even if you're going to go with the Kiln Fiend beatdown plan, I don't think you want to run any parlays there with Unified Will. Cancel is strictly worse than Stoic Rebuttal. That leaves us with a relatively short list.

Spell Pierce
Stoic Rebuttal

Of these, the first cut is easy. Two Deprive is awesome, but a third becomes too much to handle. In fact, I'd rather play a single Deprive (and a Spell Pierce or Negate) before I upped the count to three. And when considering the 1-mana options, Spell Pierce just outclasses Dispel in most scenarios. On the draw and your opponent casts Pyromancer Ascension? Spell Pierce. Need to go over-the-top in a counter war? Spell Pierce usually wins just as often as Dispel. Dispel is a solid card, but Spell Pierce is so much more versatile. And Stoic Rebuttal can be the third cut: That third mana becomes extremely significant in the matchups where you're going to board it in, and Negate ends up acting as a cheaper hard counter most times that Stoic Rebuttal would be needed (yeah, shut up, Frost Titan). So from the original 6, only 3 are really worth considering. If we're going to stick with the original β€œI want 6 Counterspell effects,” here is how I would arrange them:

1 Spell Pierce
3 Negate
2 Flashfreeze

As much as I would love to play 4 Flashfreeze especially, something has to give in order to fit the creature plan in. However, this is with the caveat that on MTGO (and its overabundance of Valakut Ramp) I would either swap the numbers on Negate and Flashfreeze to 2/3 and/or cut Spell Pierce for Flashfreeze. And for easier reference, these six cards mean we've got 5 creatures to select.

Back to the Creatures

I'm going to ignore Echo Mage for now. Sorry dude, you're part of a different article for now, although it's noteworthy that he starts out as a fairly efficient 2/3 for 1UU.

So without any more rambling, here are a few different configurations that I'd recommend testing. In all honesty, the choice will probably come down to personal preference more than anything, as these creatures should all perform fairly similarly to each other. More important to note is which category of creature is chosen (Titan versus β€œsmall”)

Hyper Aggressive

Offense or Defense



Heavy Aggro Field

Mythics Are Expensive

And so on. I tried to pair the right Titans with the right creatures. It's kind of hard to go wrong though if you're resolving either of them.

That wraps things up for today! Please browse around Quiet Speculation, our recent downtime has overshadowed some exceptional articles that I swear will be worth your time to read. If you plan on gaming with Pyromancer Ascension at any upcoming event, I hope this is all of some use! And do remember, the best way you can give back, either to Quiet Speculation or to the authors themselves, is by commenting and sharing these articles on your favorite social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). It is so very much appreciated <3 Dylan Lerch @dtlerch on Twitter
dtlerch at gmail dot com
The Brewery

*I feel a slight bit of satisfaction knowing that anyone who just grabs this decklist without reading the article (or at the very least, this footnote) will play a subpar sideboard. Does that make me evil? πŸ™‚

22 thoughts on “Building a Better Pyromancer Sideboard

  1. Hi there!

    I think it's the right way to go if you choose a creature plan for the board, and your right about your creature choice.

    But Mythics are expensive, your right… D: Maybe i get some Inferno Titans after Christmas…

    But nice article anyway, as always I am looking forward to read more from you.

    1. Hi Trigunner,

      Thanks πŸ™‚

      Like I mentioned, I used a creatureless sideboard on MTGO for a couple weeks, and I found time and time again like I needed something more. It was nice to be able to fit 4x Negate and 4x Flashfreeze, but in the Control "mirrors" especially it was such a gamble when I was literally cold so often to a Frost/Grave Titan on the stack.

      Best of luck with whatever you end up playing!


      P.S. Trigun rocks πŸ˜‰

  2. I don't like the titans in the board of this deck. I've toyed around with frost titan, but I'd rather be scrying/shuffling away those lands later on, than trying to get to 6 just in case i rip my titan. Just my experience. I'm big on the snapper, they are suitable in so many situations.

    1. torerotutor,

      Fair point on the lands, but I find that in the Control matchups I want those lands so badly that getting to 6 on turn 6 is a given if the game is going to go well otherwise.

      I just hate how the deck is almost completely cold to a resolved Titan (Into the Roil is a band-aid fix at best) without Frost Titan as an answer.


    1. Hi Mark,

      I don't think they're on the same topic at all!

      One of the things you'll notice about Spike content, especially higher-level content, is that the topics can get very narrow. Noah's column this week has both a slightly different take on this deck (and sideboard) and focuses on matchup-specific sideboarding instructions.

      My article however covers how to build the sideboard from the ground up. Both are important topics in my opinion. I was thrilled to see the topic of his article, and more than happy to run them his and mine alongside each other.



  3. I heavily dislike Frost Titan in this deck. You would need to get a much stronger enters the battlefield trigger, a la Grave Titan, for it to be worth the slot. I prefer Jwar Jwar or Wurmcoil because even if they deal with Wurmcoil you're most likely getting something out of it. Losing a Frost Titan really sucks though.

    1. Hi DionesotesRex,

      I think part of the value of Frost Titan though is that, with so few "big" threats you can go over-the-top with, Frost Titan answers any of the other big threats as well as attack for 6.

      Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Wurmcoil Engine are great for being resilient threats, but what happens if you're staring down an enemy Titan or a Wurmcoil?

      It can also play as mana denial, and in tandem Mana Leak, its pseudoshroud becomes a little more useful.

      All that being said, I may be a bigger fan of Inferno Titan > Frost Titan here. I'm not too sure either way yet.


  4. Hi again,

    I am wondering wich cards you would normaly board out when bringing in creatures?

    Do you board out all 4 Pyromancer Ascension or do you leave some in the main?

    And would you consider an additional Negate over Spell Pierce? Both have their advantages, but typically Negate outclasses Spell Pierce, and playing 4 instead of 3 Negate makes activating Ascension easier.

    And yes, Trigun rocks! Hope the movie becomes availble on DVD with english or german subs. (but german is unlikely, as they even stopped publishing the manga here. >:( )

    Anyways, greetings and thanks for answering.

    1. I'm a big fan of extremely fluid sideboard strategies. A corollary to that is I don't follow rigid sideboarding rules. Being on the play or the draw or being up a game, even, or down can all have an effect. The amount of time left in the round can have an effect as well!

      Though for an answer that's not completely useless, I've been leaving all four Pyromancer Ascensions in every time. Deprive, Into the Roil, Foresee, (sometimes) See Beyond, Burst Lightning, and Pyroclasm are typically options for the chopping block.

      I wish I could be more help – hence why I focused on building the sideboard itself rather than what to do with it! πŸ™‚ I would recommend Noah Whinston's Friday article "Sideboarding with Pyromancer Ascension" for a few matchup-specific suggestions.

      Hope that helps! I'll be making it a point to respond to any comment left here to the best of my ability.


  5. Great article I've been following your wrightings science u started the brewery. I just recently built pyro asencion and your articles have helped greatly especially the SB aspect. Keep up the hard work can't wait to see what you brew up for extended also would like to build a legacy legal version for fun any thoughts?

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks! It's cooler than I can find words for to see readers from The Brewery follow me here πŸ™‚ I fully intend to help QS (along with especially the Spike team) be everything The Brewery simply could not be by myself πŸ™‚

      When you say a Legacy legal version, do you mean of Pyromancer?

      And speaking of Extended… the Brewfest has already begun! I'm excited to learn the ins-and-outs of that format as I have Standard.

      Thanks again and please never shy away from leaving feedback of any kind!


  6. Great Article. For completeness sake though your counterspell effects should also include and discuss MindBreak Trap. Unlike the other 4CC counter spells this one might actually have a spot against ramp decks to help against Summoning Trap.

    1. James,

      My Gatherer search for "Counter target spell" completely omitted Mindbreak Trap. That was a total oversight on my part. Mindbreak Trap is an exceptional option to go over the top in a Counter war, and it's definitely something to consider to replace Spell Pierce and/or some number of (probably) Negate.

      Thank for the correction – you're absolutely right!


  7. Hi Dylan, I know it's a matter of opinion in the P.A. community on whether Titans are useful/worth playing in the sideboard. I was just wondering if you've been playing your Pyromancer deck lately and if you've made any significant alterations to your list? And if you ever did come to find a preference in your sideboard vs all matchups of the Inferno titan or Frost titan? I'm very curious to know if you've found one to perform more consistently and convincingly earning it's slot in your board. Thanks for your time.

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