Fires of Yavimaya is a red/green enchantment card in Magic: The Gathering. The card was first released during the Invasion block with an uncommon rarity in the Invasion set. Val Mayerik is the artist, and presented a scene of multiple, fanged lizard creatures ambling towards a brushtree which is on fire. In the background there is a second fire, and beyond that there is a large rise, perhaps a butte, cutting a jagged line across a tranquil blue sky.

A calm prelude, if you will, before becoming the centerpiece of the most broken deck of the Masques/Invasion standard format: The Fires Deck

The flavor text of Fires of Yavimaya is straight forward. For a converted mana cost of three (1RG) all creatures you control gain haste (are unaffected by summoning sickness), and can thereby attack or "tap for ability" the turn they are played. In addition, if you sacrifice Fires of Yavimaya, a target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Red/Green aggro decks were typically a no-defense, bash 'em up affair - it was a race to output as must damage as possible before the opponent could hit you with 20. A timely +2/+2 could, and was, very often a difference maker. Wizards of the Coast believed the mana cost of Fires was appropriate, because it was offset by a dual-color need. What wasn't accounted for was that the very decks which would be most likely to benefit from Fires would already be running a Forest/Mountain basic land set, but also be likely to include 4 x Birds of Paradise (0/1 creature with flying; tap to add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool), mitigating the perceived 'additional cost' to running the card.

Technically, all creature decks would have benefited from Fires of Yavimaya. However, the decks which would benefit the most would be those with multiple large creatures to choose from - Green and Red. The miscalculation by Wizards of the Coast, and the factor which made the Fires deck so broken, was a mechanic which played heavily in Invasions preceding Masques block - Fading.

The Fading mechanism was simple. A player would cast some permanent from their hand, and then put X fade counter on/near the card. During the upkeep phase of each subsequent turn they would remove one fade counter or (being 0 remaining fade counters) sacrifice the permanent. Since there was a 'time limit' for how long the permanent would be in play, there was more power per converted mana cost. Blastoderm is a 5/5 creature with shroud for a converted mana cost of 4 - it's cheap because it will only get to attack for a maximum potential of 15. With Fires of Yavimaya in play, possibly as early as turn two, Blastoderm suddenly represents a maximum potential of 20. An increase of 33% damage potential, with no increase in cost? That's dangerous.

The Nemesis set enchantment Saproling Burst - with its creature token generation / variable fading mechanic - saw an increase of 66% damage potential with no increase in cost. That's deadly.

The dream draw of a starting hand, and first few turns (notwithstanding counterspell or the like) would look like this:

  1. Play a Forest. Tap for G. Summon Birds.
  2. Play a Forest. Tap Birds for R, Tap both forests. Play Fires.
  3. Play a Mountain. Tap Birds for G, Tap both forests and mountain. Play Blastoderm. Attack for 5.
  4. Play any land. Tap all mana sources. Play Saproling Burst. Create three 4/4 creature tokens which attack for 12. Blastoderm attacks for 5. (If you played a mana-generating creature, cast something else from your hand and play Saproling Burst on turn five instead)

Note on drawing more mana: running ~24 lands, 4 Llanowar Elves, and 3 more Birds: 31/53 cards in deck generate mana. Probability that you don't have an additional mana source by turn four p = (22/53) * (21/52) * (20/51) * (19/50) = 0.42 * 0.40 * 0.39 * 0.38 = 0.02. 2% chance you don't have more mana since initial draw, and 98% chance that you do.

Like I said. Deadly.

The Fires Deck was a force to be reckoned with on the Standard Tournament circuit from Invasion's launch in September 2000 until Saproling Burst rotated out of the format with the release of Odyssey in September 2001. Fires of Yavimaya compositions took 4 of the top 8 spots at the 2000 Pro Tour - Chicago tournament, and went on to be analyzed in-depth by Brian David-Marshall in his essay "Deconstructing Fires".

Global haste isn't something that Wizards of the Coast has shelved, but they have made it more difficult to break the Standard format with. Currently - across all published cards - twenty cards offer Haste to all creatures you control. However, one Planeswalker aside, these cards are split 14 creatures and 5 enchantments. The other four enchantments are either less powerful or more costly than Fires. Emblem of the Warmind affects only one target creature, while Fervor for 2R doesn't have the 'sacrifice for +2/+2' option. Hammer of Purphoros is 1RR, but lacks the +2/+2 and also gives opponents two card types by which to try to destroy it. Temur Ascendancy is the closest analog with a 'draw a card whenever a creature with power greater than or equal to 4', but the tricolor GBR cost is overly reliant on Birds being allowed into play and surviving. All other options are abilities or bonuses on creature cards, which have numerous removal options available to opponents. Fires of Yavimaya was the perfect card, at the perfect time, and it was a fun combination to pull off in live play.

While there were myriad sideboard and splash opportunities, most 60 card Fires Decks looked something like the following...

Creature - 18
4 x Birds of Paradise
4 x Llanowar Elves
4 x Blastoderm
4 x Kavu Chameleon
2 x Two-headed Dragon
Artifact - 4
4 x Chimeric Idol
Sorcery - 4
4 x Ghitu Fire
Instant - 3
4 x Aura Mutation
Enchantment - 8
4 x Fires of Yavimaya
4 x Saproling Burst
Land - 23
10 x Forest
4 x Rishadan Port
4 x Karplusan Forest
5 x Mountain
60 cards

Kavu Titan - kicker cost for trample
River Boa - island-walking with regeneration
Jade Leech - cheap 5/5, but all future green spells will be one G more expensive
Earthquake - clear low toughness, non-flying creatures
Hurricane - clear low toughness, flying creatures
Red burn spells
Red land destruction spells

IronNoder 2018: 10/30

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