Burn is the strategy that red is most famous for. Red is a fast color and it wants to deal as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. Burn’s goal is to get the opponent’s life total to 0 asap. The strategy utilizes spells that can deal damage directly to its opponent or their creatures without putting its own at risk in combat.
One of the best red creatures ever printed is Goblin Guide. Goblin Guide is a 2/2 with haste for 1 red mana. That is some insane value! This means it can get in for 2 damage on turn 1. The only downside is that your opponent gets to take a peek at the top of their library and draw if they see a land. Red can live with that.The next creature you want is Monastery Swiftspear, a 1/2 with haste and prowess for 1 red. Not as strong as a turn 1 Goblin Guide, but it will do nicely. The prowess ability is what you want. Once you can cast a few instant and sorcery spells, it will be a decent threat on that turn. The third essential creature is Eidolon of the Great Revel. A 2/2 for 2 red, this creature deals 2 damage to a player whenever that player casts a spell with converted mana cost 3 or less. Yes this will hurt you too, but since the top of the mana curve in most modern decks is 4 or 5, it’s not that big a deal. If it does start to hinder you too much, you can always chump block with it or something then swap it out for something in the sideboard.
Since the deck runs one of the best red creatures ever printed it should also run one of the best red non-creature cards ever printed: Lightning Bolt. If you can’t get all of the non-creature spells for this deck, you need to at least get a play set of Lightning Bolt or you should not be playing burn. For a single red mana, you can deal 3 damage to a creature, player, or planeswalker at instant speed. As far as creatures go in modern, this should kill a vast majority of what you encounter. Lava Spike is another card fit for the deck. It can only hit players and planeswalkers and only at sorcery speed, but that’s okay because you have Flame Slash too which is also sorcery speed, but it can only hit creatures, so you have all of the possible targets covered. The 4th burn spell you want is Rift Bolt. You should never cast this for its mana cost, always suspend it.
Now you need to be careful how we use these burn spells. Lightning Bolt is the best one as it is the most versatile and can be cast at any time. Lava Spike and Flame Slash on the other hand, can only be played at sorcery speed and are limited in terms of targets. Save the Lightning Bolts for when you need them. Rift Bolt does have the same reach as Lightning Bolt, but it should always be played for its suspend cost to save mana, which will then be cast on your next turn.
Since the above cards are so cheap manawise and red plays so fast, you will easily run out of cards in your hand. For the past few years, Faithless Looting has been the staple draw spell for red decks, but recently The Flame of Keld from Dominaria, Risk Factor from Guilds of Ravnica, and Bomat Courier from Kaladesh have been seen as potential replacements/additions. Personally, I like Risk Factor over the other two. 3 mana for 3 cards or 4 damage is pretty good and Jump-start lets us cast it again.
Some burn decks will also include a little white mana which enables the use of Boros Charm, Boros Reckoner, and Lightning Helix. Boros Charm is a very versatile card allowing you to deal 4 damage to a player or planeswalker, give all of your permanents indestructible, or give one creature double strike. Boros Reckoner can slow down an aggressive creature deck. Imagine it blocking a huge 5/6 Tarmogoyf. Ouch! Combine it with the charm and the reckoner can survive with indestructible (which doesn’t prevent damage, just keeps the creature alive when it takes too much) or trade 1-for-1 with double strike. Lightning Helix is a bolt that heals you while damaging your opponent.
Sideboard: As always, your sideboard should be tailored to your local meta, but here are some ideas. Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus for graveyard hate. Blood Moon or Alpine Moon for hate against Tron. Damping Sphere can shut down Tron as well as Storm. Dragon’s Claw can keep you alive in a mirror match or a deck that just has a lot of red spells, or you can use Kor Firewalker if you want to add some white.
A card that doesn’t make it to the main board too often but is usually included in the side board for this deck is Grim Lavamancer. Most decks have 1 or 2 in the main and 2 or 3 in the side. The lavamancer is a 1/1 for 1 red that allows us to pay 1 red, tap it, and exile two cards from the graveyard to deal 2 damage to any target. Not a great card, but useful since most of the cards in this deck can’t be brought back or cast again. For artifacts destruction you can use Shattering Spree, but it can’t hit enchantments. If you include a little green, you have access to Destructive Revelry which can hit both artifacts and enchantments.
The basic shell of a modern burn deck should look like this:
4 x Goblin Guide
4x Monastery Swiftspear
4x Eidolon of the Great Revel
1-2x Grim Lavamancer
4x Lightning Bolt (not negotiable)
3-4x Lava Spike
3-4x Flame Slash
3-4x Rift Bolt
3-4x Faithless Looting
Remember, the purpose of this series is to provide a basic overview of the decks; it is not a complete deck list nor is it necessarily the best way to build the decks. There are still a number of other cards that can be viable in this deck. Feel free to experiment and customize it to your will and play style. What decks do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments below.