You can accredit it to the fact that red mages are going to play red in every format, or you can choose to believe that Boros Burn is a very real deck. Whichever you choose, you can't deny the deck's popularity. Two of the Charlotte Invitational top 8 competitors piloted Burn as their Standard weapon of choice on this side of the globe while the deck took three slots in the top 8 of GP Beijing. You can ignore it if you like, but Yuuya Watanabe and Shuhei Nakamura sure didn't.
[cardimage cardname='Staff of the Death Magus']
I'm not going to say that I saw this one coming, though there is some precedent. I've seen plenty of Dragon's Claws in sideboards during my Magic career. It is a bit odd considering that Black Devotion already has a handful of trumps in Duress, Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Desecration Demon, but sometimes you just really want to shore up a matchup.
But I'm not here to talk about how to beat Burn. As a proponent of the deck, I'm much more interested in how to win with the deck. Sherwin Pu's deck offers an intriguing angle in maindecking Toil // Trouble and the full set of Blood Crypt. This move probably makes your control and midrange matchups extremely favorable, and I could definitely get behind it. With Chandra's Phoenix as the only creature the deck can ignore most removal spells and be completely focused on racing. It looks like a quality strategy, but it's not exactly my style. The biggest difference between my list and any of the recent successful lists is this guy:
[cardimage cardname='Young Pyromancer']
I've been on Young Pyromancer since Born of the Gods was released, and I've only ever boarded it out against Jace, Architect of Thought decks, so it's strange to me that none of the successful lists I've seen have included the card. I don't have enough time to test Pu's list before this weekend, but I feel that in the straight Boros version excluding Pyromancer is a mistake. Today I'd like to breakdown what the card adds and detracts from the deck to see if you agree.
He Biases You Toward an Extra Land
Current Burn decks tend to play 23 or 24 lands. Considering that the deck has to play Shock, most players opt for 23. Young Pyromancer generally just dies without generating value when he's cast without the ability to make a token on the same turn- this is the reason that every deck that tried him in Legacy and Modern played Gitaxian Probe. Barring the aforementioned Shock, this play is only achievable with four mana available. I've played him with 23 lands, but the more matches I get in the more I believe that 24 is correct.
He Biases You Toward the Fourth Shock
The only card that I've seen trimmed frequently is the fourth Shock, and Young Pyromancer doesn't approve. Once you have a Pyromancer in play you just want to cast as many spells as possible. Shock enables you to make a token as early as turn three and will allow you to make more tokens than your other spells on later turns due to its efficiency. The extra land and the Shock end up bringing the average damage of a given card in the deck down, which is often taboo in Burn decks.
He Doesn't Have Haste
Every non-Satyr creature appearing in the successful lists has haste. Obviously haste is better than not haste, and this is particularly relevant against UWx decks and Black Devotion where you need to be getting in damage while they're tapped out. There will be times when a Chandra's Phoenix off the top will be amazing and Young Pyromancer will be awful.
He's Bad Against Jace
A 2/1 without haste that makes 1/1s is pretty abysmal when your entire team loses a point of power. Combine this with maindeck Searing Blood and Chained to the Rocks and you can see how lists with Pyromancers will struggle more pre-board against Jace decks than those without.
That's a sizable list of cons, and as such I can see where you'd exclude the card to perform better against Jace decks. That said, I obviously believe that the upside is higher, so let's talk about that.
He Makes Your Spells Better
I know, I know. Duh. But this goes a little deeper than just saying that your spells would be better if they made 1/1 tokens for free. When you're on blocking duty the token functionally adds an extra point of damage to your burn spells when targeting an attacking creature. It feels particularly good to Searing Blood a three-toughness creature and then block with the fresh token.
The spell with the most varied mileage in the Young Pyromancer version is Boros Charm. Making your permanents indestructible against removal and netting an extra body is pretty good, but things can just get nutty when Boros Charm is used as a defensive combat trick. Making a couple guys then blocking with a team that won't die has won me a handful of games- particularly against Naya Hexproof where your removal spells don't really work.
He Overwhelms Sylvan Caryatid
Sylvan Caryatid is arguably the most problematic card for Burn out of Jund Monsters due to its ability to block Mutavault and Ash Zealot while being unkillable. Young Pyromancer, on the other hand, completely takes advantage of Caryatid's drawback of having zero power by generating a swarm of creatures to attack attack every turn while also never dying.
He Goes Toe to Toe with Master of Waves and Desecration Demon
Now we're really talking. If your opponent controls a Desecration Demon and for whatever reason can't kill your Young Pyromancer you'll be able to tap down the demon more often than not. Alternatively, if they do kill it you can usually make one or two tokens and buy a little time.
Blue Devotion doesn't have much in the way of things that kill Young Pyromancer though, and unless they have two copies you'll often be able to stare at their 2/1s with your 1/1s while you kill them to death with burn spells.
He Makes Your Aggro Matchups Dramatically Better
There are a lot of X/1s to trade elemental tokens with in Standard right now. There's also the fact that most of your burn spells will have to target creatures against aggressive decks, so netting a 1/1 and being able to race will help immensely. Some would say that Satyr Firedancer accomplishes this end, but I defy you to have your Satyr die in response to your burn spell even once and still want to play with it. Even when he dies, Pyromancer still generates value. He's also going to be better with your sideboard Mizzium Mortars than Firedancer, so there's that.
What it all boils down to is that Pyromancer will make you worse against UWx, be kind of a wash against Black Devotion and will make you better against everything else. I can see why you might eschew the card at a tournament like last weekend's Invitational considering that it was known that a lot of players would be packing Esper, but more generally I'm inclined to play the list that's better in more matchups. Sometimes you play against the wrong deck too many times in a row when you throw away percentages in a specific matchup, but then sometimes you run good. Or, you know, at expectancy.
I could see myself trying out Blood Crypts, but for now I'll be Pyromancing.
Thanks for reading.