Before I get started here, I need to make sure we're all on the same page about something: this deck is what we in the business call For Funsies. It's not for winning tournaments, it's more of the Impress Your Friends Dazzle Your Enemies kind of thing. If you're bored, I strongly encourage taking this deck to FNM. You probably (almost definitely) won't win, but you'll have a blast and definitely turn some heads. There are very few moments in many years of playing Magic that top being able to say, as loudly as I could, I'LL CAST EPIC EXPERIMENT FOR 27. I won that match.
I lost all the others, but god dammit did I win that one.
Anyway, enjoy the show!
Before Return to Ravnica came out, there was a Burn at the Stake combo deck that floated around a bit online. It was pretty awful, but it was cool seeing people that could kill you with one spell if you durdled too much. The thing that made the deck particularly bad was its reliance on Kudoltha Rebirth; you had to run a bunch of do-nothing artifacts like Ichor Wellspring and Mycosynth Wellspring to even cast it, making the one red mana a lot less efficient than it looks.
Once you had some tokens on the board, though, you could use Infernal Plunge and Battle Hymn to produce mana, then cast Past in Flames to do it all again, using Reforge the Soul to refill your hand. By about turn 6 or 7, you could actually just draw your entire deck using that engine, then kill them with Burn at the Stake tapping the 50 tokens you just made.
Post-rotation, we have even fewer sources of creature tokens (Krenko's Command and Thatcher Revolt), and still only two spells that generate mana (Infernal Plunge and Battle Hymn. But Goblin Electromancer actually just takes the power level of the deck and kicks it straight in the balls.
Sticking an Electromancer for a couple turns is no small feat; but if (big IF) you can, you can win on turn 3.
Let's look at the decklist first.
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Battle Hymn
4 Desperate Ravings
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Burn at the Stake
2 Epic Experiment
4 Faithless Looting
4 Infernal Plunge
4 Krenko's Command
3 Past in Flames
3 Reforge the Soul
4 Thatcher Revolt
2 Wild Guess
3 Krenko, Mob Boss
3 Cyclonic Rift
3 Increasing Vengeance
1 Devil's Play
2 Burn at the Stake
The shell of this deck basically constructs itself. Goblin Electromancer is the best card in the deck, and he's quite color intensive. So we need Blue and Red and would need a very good argument for adding anything else. There are only two "rituals" in Standard: Infernal Plunge and Battle Hymn. So both of those go in. There are only three blue or red token generators that are even close to working in this deck: Krenko's Command, Thatcher Revolt, and Talrand's Invocation. Given that our rituals only produce red, we need to be very careful with how much blue we use. So that leaves just two. All of these cards are automatic four-of's. Past in Flames is an extremely important source of cards to keep the engine going, but we don't want too many too early. Three seems copies seems like the obvious answer there.
In testing, I noticed something really interesting about the way this deck plays out. When you win, you win BIG. Like, one hundred-something damage big. You don't really fizzle and it's never really close. The question was, given that information, what do I do? There's something that I can't quite understand about the pool of cards that you can work with that makes it very hard to get going, but very hard to run out of gas. I was originally running 3 Burn at the Stakes. But I realized that multiple copies were entirely superfluous. If you're at the point where you can cast it for the win, you're probably also at the point where you can draw another 50 cards. Running just a single copy of Burn at the Stake minimizes the chances of drawing it when you don't need it.
Once you get through the obvious stuff, the only thing that's really left is card draw. Desperate Ravings and Faithless Looting both get through a lot of cards and allow you to sculpt your hand pretty well before going off. Desperate Ravings has a blue flashback cost, but the only time you're really concerned with conserving blue mana is on the turn you go off. By then you can almost always cast it for 1R thanks to Past in Flames. Reforge the Soul is absolutely nuts. This is one of the very few decks where it does what you want it to do; if you're playing it right, your opponent never untaps after you cast it.
In fact, it's often correct to miracle it on turn three or four even if you can't go off that turn. There are a lot decks that will still have 5-7 cards in hand at that point. The best case scenario is casting it after they've cast a few spells to draw cards and you can make them draw a completely random fresh seven. Of course, against decks like Mono Red, casting Reforge is the absolute worst thing you can do. In that case, just discard them or keep them until you're ready to combo.
Epic Experiment is, of course, by far the most fun card in the deck. There are thirty-three hits in the deck. More importantly, none of them are sweepers or ramp spells that don't do anything important. Every card you cast either enables the combo or draws more cards. So if you can cast enough rituals to get up to nine or ten mana, it's tough to lose. Of course, you need to actually have enough mana to cast it in the first place, so you can't have more than one or two.
Obviously the deck is very easy to hate out. If you don't board in an answer to Grafdigger's Cage, Tormod's Crypt, Ash Zealot, or Rest in Peace, you're dead on the spot. In one match at FNM, I lost game one and decided not to side in Smelt. He played a turn one Grafdigger's Cage and I scooped immediately.
It's a little easier than you'd expect to beat counterspells, though. You have plenty of time to wait for your opponent to tap out before you go off. Reforge the Soul can also lower the odds your opponent has countermagic, or just bait it out on the spot. Post-board, you can bring in Increasing Vengeance to beat the opponent that tries to wait until you cast Burn at the Stake to counter. Increasing Vengeance has some very cool synergy with Past in Flames in that Increasing Vengeance gains a second Flashback cost of RR that still allows you to copy your spell twice. I almost ran a few copies main deck, and that might actually be correct.
Devil's Play is an alternate win condition if you're worried about Slaughter Games. Krenko, Mob Boss and extra copies of Burn at the Stake allow something of an alternate win condition that's pretty insane against decks with limited access to removal. I'm not sure if it's even ever worth doing this, but it's good for metagaming your opponent and it's definitely worth further exploration.
The Perfect Game
As I said before, it is actually possible to win on turn three with this deck. Obviously that isn't even remotely consistent, and you should realistically be looking to win on turn five or six. But once in a while, you get "The God Draw" and kill your opponent before they know what the hell is going on.
Here's an unlikely, yet realistic, scenario where that can happen.
We draw our opening seven on the draw and see the following hand:
Steam Vents, Sulfur Falls, Sulfur Falls, Goblin Electromancer, Thatcher Revolt, Infernal Plunge, Krenko's Command.
Not bad at all. We have a good number of lands, we have an Electromancer, we have some tokens, and we have a ritual. It'd be nice to have some card draw to That's what we call a Snap Keep, baby!
We draw a Battle Hymn on our turn and play a Steam Vents tapped.
We untap, and draw:
Jesus, it's like somebody's fixing our draws or something...
Past in Flames. Hopefully, our opponent can't kill our Goblin Electromancer this turn, because next turn all we need is some card draw and we're good to go.
Moment of truth:
I mean, we COULD miracle it...
Miracle'ing Reforge is not an unreasonable thought. Perhaps on turn four, if our hand was weaker, we could cross our fingers and hope we run into enough gas to be able to flashback Past in Flames and get moving. But we have a much better play, which is to just hold on to it and go crazy.
When you play this deck, your biggest priority is making your Battle Hymns as big as possible. We could just play a Thatcher Revolt for two mana and then Make four with Battle Hymn, but we'd rather get Krenko's Command off first and sacrifice one of the goblins to Infernal Plunge. That's a net gain of one mana from Battle Hymn, and allows us to keep a Sulfur Falls untapped.
Now we can play the Thatcher Revolt and then Battle Hymn, leaving us five mana to cast Past in Flames and do it all over again.
After we cast everything again, we end up with nine mana, a Reforge in the hand, and Past in Flames in the graveyard. I was going to draw seven random cards off the top of the deck to show how hard it is to lose now, but when I played the Reforge and drew seven I happened to hit the Burn at the Stake, which you can of course immediately cast for the win.
I had a lot of fun building and tweaking this deck. I'm sure if you put the list in the hands of a pro player, they could probably make it better than I did (when they were done vomiting). But there's only so much you can do given the card pool. It was a very interesting challenge trying to make this work as well as I could, and I learned a lot about deck building along the way. So I'll wrap up with this:
Mark Rosewater said in his Drive to Work podcast that Magic was like a board game in which you design half of the game before you play it. I like that analogy, because it encourages people to make their own fun. Do something crazy and be proud of it.