This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Let's Kill

11053256_10206508757343415_3155709458365301609_nHey! Hayes here with the start of my summer series of articles here on Commandercast. I just graduated from college, so while I try to find a job I’ll have more time to write for the site.

For today’s piece I wanted to reflect back on my new iteration of Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, mostly revolving around a strategy some would call “burn”. If you want to see my previous article on Kazuul, click here. There’s a good bit about alternative burn commanders at the start of the article. This article should be a better case study of a burn deck that is trying to be moderately competitive (think tier 1.5).

What is Burn?

Burn decks, or Red Deck Wins (RDW) and the like have been around for a long time in constructed formats. They exist on the competitive circuits in Legacy and Modern, and even have a home in Standard (Atarka Red).

Almost all burn decks have a similar design philosophy inscribed in their deck construction: reach. Reach is the concept that a player can seem to be exhausted of resources on the battlefield, but in reality they have a backdoor line of play that can threaten their opponent. A famous card that embodies this idea is Fireblast because it doesn’t require you to tap lands in order to cast the spell. A general strategy that burn decks like to employ that takes advantage of a card like Fireblast is that they spend lots of their resources early (cards in hand, small aggressive creatures) in order to get their opponent’s life total really low. Then the moment of truth is decided over a fight for the last few life points. Fireblast helps here because it can be a threat that can surprise our opponent; all we need are two mountains in play.

With EDH, we have a problem. Players start at 40 life. This means that we have to have a way to scale our damage potential to account for the higher amount of life and any lifegain that may take place during a match.

With my previous Kazuul build, I didn’t focus enough on this factor. I included too many artifacts like Trading post and other cards that were not focusing on my larger strategy: to burn my opponents to death. So with this iteration I decided (beyond some of the critical mana rocks/card draw effects like howling mine) that if the card wasn’t helping me burn people it was going to get benched.

Here’s my current list that won a commander FNM a few months ago:

Kazuul has two main paths to victory:

1. Incremental Damage

Cards like ManaBarbs deal damage to all players over time, and a host of other ones here punish all players for doing things like ramping (Ankh of mishra) or cantripping (Eidolon of the great revel). These cards need to exist in the deck so we can chip away at our opponents over time in case the game goes long. Generally it is OK to hurt yourself with your own burn abilities, but of course you want to avoid it when possible. Thankfully our commander, Kazuul, Tyrant of the cliffs, is really good at defense.

Once our opponent is down to a low life total we can finish them off with one big/small damage spell or a swing from Kazuul.

2. Burst/Combo Damage

I’m hesitant to call this deck a combo deck, but it does have elements of combo. You can take one card and synergize it with another. Sometimes it kills people. A table of spiteful players and a Mana-Charged Dragon alongside a Furnace of rath is a dangerous proposition.

Let’s look at a few of the key players that make these deck roles possible.

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Hostility offers us a way to magnify our damage through creating swarms of creatures. If you play a Hostility and then untap with it still on the field all it takes is a large damage spell to end the game. Preferably it would be something like price of progress or comet storm. Even if your opponent has lots of creatures to possibly block with, it is still possible to do things like incite rebellion or earthquake. The damage is applied to the creatures and simultaneously prevented to the players, leaving you with an army of 3/1s and your opponents nothing to block with.

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Heartless Hidetsugu seems like a suitable substitute to Kazuul as commander if your metagroup is really cutthroat. I’d stay away from it otherwise; this is a card that really makes the game all about Hidetsugu when it hits the table. People fear your Furnace of rath effects and might not forgive you so easily if Hidetsugu is your commander. There’s not much tactical commentary I can feed on him; make sure your life total is odd if you have a damage double effect or else you will die when you activate him. Things like basilisk collar and glacial chasm are also ways to cheat not being seriously injured by your own Hidetsugu.

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Ankh of Mishra and all the other cards in my deck that tickle players for small amounts of damage are both incredibly good and bad at the same time. They are incredible when you open up your starting hand and can identify if the hate card can constrain someone’s life total efficiently. Manabarbs has this positional advantage over decks that are centered around Prophet of Kruphix. While the Kruphix deck can still win the game through Manabarbs it presents our opponent with a modestly fast clock.

These cards are terrible if your opponents are easily agitated by taking small amounts of damage. Some people don’t like to be tickled. In EDH, there are games where politics dominate over what is happening on the battlefield. Be careful because this style of deck is more vulnerable to political backlash than others: folks sometimes whine and complain about having to take 2 damage to make a land drop. They start with 40. That’s 5% of their starting life.

Some people will use the effects you are trying to take advantage of and turn what you are doing into negative propaganda. They’ll point you out as the threat and play out their strategy as everyone blindly tries to kill you. Kazuul is good at creature defense, but he is easy to answer because he is a creature and sometimes your opponents don’t care at all about his ability (they can just front the mana or find a way around his ability). Kazuul is like a psychological defense against your opponents, but he can also be a psychological liability to yourself. I’ve had numerous games where I’ve tapped out on turn 5 for a Kazuul and made plays on turn 6 thinking that I would be shielded by Kazuul. I end up dying on turn 6 to other decks that ignore Kazuul through combos or large scale attrition plays. Know when you are forced into a position to cast Kazuul. Know when you have to expose your life total. You don’t want to time walk yourself by playing Kazuul against decks that don’t care about him.

This deck is one of the more extreme decks when it comes to double edged sword effects because of its possible political pitfalls and double damage effects. When piloting this deck you can’t be afraid to go all-in because if you don’t, you are probably dead anyway. Playing this deck sometimes requires you to play the Furnace of rath effects with nothing on board for defense. Sure, your opponents can swing out at you to deliver minor to lethal damage. But this style of card opens other opportunities for your opponent’s decks, just as it does the Kazuul burn deck. When you cast these double damage effects opponents can use these to kill other players at the table. As with so many other choices that occur in a game of edh (who to attack, what to remove, etc) the double damage effects add an extra layer to these choices. Sure, sometimes you are going to get punished and trampled over by someone. But if you do nothing then you are going to lose anyway. We are playing red; a color built to take risks and not be afraid. If you are constantly getting ganged up on by your EDH friends there are issues that deck construction will not fix. It might be time to acquire new friends.

The Planeswalkers

Daretti, scrap savant has becomeĀ a staple red card even if you are not running tons of artifacts. My burn list doesn’t even care about his -2 ability or his ultimate. You are always using his +2 ability to throw away cards that don’t seem to matter and sculpt a better hand. Chandra, Pyromaster works in a similar way; you are trying to abuse her +0 ability to keep hitting your land drops and gain virtual card advantage. The only difference with Chandra is her ultimate ability is actually very relevant. While you can easily whiff you can just as easily hit an effect like three instances of Price of progress.

Closing a game out

This deck attacks the competitive/semi competitive edh format from a really odd angle: it’s a combo/prism deck that cares about life totals. So many decks in our format don’t care about this precious resource that keeps us playing. From infinite combos to one sided destruction spells and Craterhoof Behemoth aggro finishes it often feels like we could have infinite life and it wouldn’t really impact the state of the format too much. The commander damage rule is another element that can sometimes feel like a joke when you sit down and there are three mono blue generals staring back at you.

I can’t stress how important using your life as a resource is when playing this deck. Sometimes you spend it when you go the Manabarbs route. Other times you throw it to the wind when you try to cast three double damage enchantments three over the course of three turns. Almost as important you have to make sure you are gauging your opponent’s life totals and figuring out how you are going to get all of them to zero. This can require planning over several turns; will you be rash and throw burn spells at sorcery speed while your opponents are tapped out or will you threaten Comet Storm at instant speed in the face of a lethal attack? When you play Kazuul, you are ignoring what is normally taught by experienced EDH players; with him your life total matters. The more you play this style of deck the more you will understand the importance of planning out your route to victory through the chaos of managing life totals and the political backlash of you burning people.


Kazuul is a boss who will burn your face off. You just have to knock the top of the deck sometimes and hope to slam down burn. As with any deck Kazuul requires you to develop a plan from your starting hand and play the game out; he’s just special because he interacts with resources like our life totals that normal commanders don’t. I highly recommend Kazuul for any red players who are looking for an alternate mono red deck to play or for burn enthusiasts. The deck also isn’t too expensive, so I could possibly see it as a budget consideration.

As always, I am constantly searching for ways to make my articles better. Tell me what you liked, what you didn’t like, cool stories about Kazuul in the 99 or at the head of your deck. You can reply here on the reply area below or you can reach me on twitter @hayesthehayes. Until next time! I’m finishing up my work on my Isamaru VS Zurgo experiment part 2 article research so that should be up soon.


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