Izzet Phoenix in Pioneer After the Bans

Javier Dominguez

(Editor’s Note: fixed Sideboard Guide against Mono Green Devotion part on July 16.)



Pioneer is becoming more and more relevant as we see paper tournaments being back on the menu. Being in the middle of Modern and Standard – and somewhat similar to Historic – Pioneer has some very unique properties.

One of them is the lack of fetchlands. This has a huge impact on how the manabases are built. Another one is the lack of flexible answers. There are good removals like 《Fatal Push》, but there aren’t cards like 《Counterspell》 or 《Prismatic Ending》 which means you have to pick which cards you are trying to answer. Last but not least the broken Delve Spells, 《Treasure Cruise》 and 《Dig Through Time》, are legal.

Treasure CruiseDig Through Time

Wizards is keeping these cards legal in the format to give it a unique feeling and not having fetchlands makes that a reasonable call, even if they are certainly among the best cards in the format.

However, what happened in practice in the last few months is that many decks that were playing 《Treasure Cruise》/《Dig Through Time》 were also playing 《Expressive Iteration》, making the Blue/Red/X decks remarkably consistent at getting card advantage.

Then the following cards got banned:

Expressive IterationWinota, Joiner of Forces

《Expressive Iteration》 was banned because it was too good in combination with the Delve Spells and they decided to keep those in the format. This became a big change to many decks in Pioneer like Izzet Phoenix or Jeskai Ascendancy, as 《Treasure Cruise》 is not a card you can cast in the early game, meaning these decks now struggle more to get their engine going.

《Winota, Joiner of Forces》 was simply very oppressive for the metagame and I think it was a good call to ban it.

The initial reaction of many, including myself was that specifically, Phoenix would take a hit that would relegate it to tier 2 since 《Expressive Iteration》 really did a lot of work to the deck. While it is true that the deck is now less stable than before, we were mostly wrong.

Let’s talk about Izzet Phoenix!

Izzet Phoenix

This is my current decklist:

Izzet Phoenix

Click to Wide

I started from Nathan Steuer’s decklist and since then I have been toying with different cards only to eventually end with a very similar decklist.

If 《Expressive Iteration》 was so important to the deck but I’m still willing to play it, what has changed?

The most important factor is that 《Ledger Shredder》 really fits this shell very well.

《Ledger Shredder》

Ledger Shredder

《Ledger Shredder》 does so much for this deck that it could be better than 《Expressive Iteration》 itself in Phoenix. There are many small holes that 《Ledger Shredder》 covers well:

It really does it all and I think this Bird Advisor is what brought Phoenix back to tier 1.

《Strategic Planning》 vs. 《Chart a Course》

Strategic PlanningChart a Course

Most of the cards in the Phoenix decks are hard-locked, but there are some close card choices that don’t seem to be completely established yet.

I was initially impressed by 《Strategic Planning》. It seems like a mediocre spell, but it works very well with 《Arclight Phoenix》 and fuels the Delve Spells by itself. That said, the card also has some issues. It has some overlap with 《Pieces of the Puzzle》 in terms of being able to setup 《Treasure Cruise》 and it doesn’t help us when we need to discard 《Arclight Phoenix》 after we have drawn a lot of cards.

As I said before, this came up often in post-sideboard games where I had sideboarded out 《Lightning Axe》. 《Chart a Course》 was excellent in these situations but most importantly it wasn’t that hard to attack with a 《Ledger Shredder》 first and then simply play it to just draw two cards. I could also see a split being better, but nowadays I’m inclined to think 《Chart a Course》 is slightly stronger.

Which Removals to Play

In a deck like Phoenix, it is common to split the removals since we often have access to many different cards. I’ve been particularly happy with 《Strangle》/《Lava Coil》 as opposed to 《Flame-Blessed Bolt》 variants.

Flame-Blessed Bolt

I used to be a big fan of this effect, but now I’m very happy playing 0 copies of this card. With 《Winota, Joiner of Forces》 out of the picture, one of the best targets, 《Voice of Resurgence》 has become much rarer to face.

《Flame-Blessed Bolt》 also used to have some applications for the mirror matches exiling opposing 《Arclight Phoenix》, even if they were admittedly weak compared to the card drawing spells.

Ledger Shredder

Nowadays, however, 《Ledger Shredder》 is one of the most important threats in the format and 《Flame-Blessed Bolt》 is one damage short to deal with it. Having an unanswered 《Ledger Shredder》 in front is an easy way to lose a mirror match since even digging for answers will give them connive triggers.

Lava CoilStrangle

《Lava Coil》 and 《Strangle》, on the other hand, are being excellent. 《Lava Coil》 is quite expensive for a removal spell, but being able to cover a little bit of the “Exile Effect” hole that not having 《Flame-Blessed Bolt》 left is useful. It is also a clean answer to 《Old-Growth Troll》.

《Strangle》 being good against 《Narset, Parter of Veils》 is also very relevant on game 1s where we actually don’t have that many good counterplays against that planeswalker. This is huge because against Azorius Control we are turning a dead card like 《Fiery Impulse》 or 《Flame-Blessed Bolt》 into an actual relevant spell. I could see cutting 《Lava Coil》 in certain metagames but I would not cut 《Strangle》.

Threat Selection

Ledger ShredderArclight PhoenixThing in the Ice

The maindeck threat selection tends to be relatively stock with 4 《Ledger Shredder》 4 《Arclight Phoenix》 and some amount of 《Thing in the Ice》, but it is really on the sideboard where things sometimes differ.

Keep in mind that against decks where we need to have removal we can’t just have all the threats even if they all seem playable, as we also need enough spells for our deck to work properly. Don’t oversideboard!

《Thing in the Ice》

Thing in the Ice

I really like to have access to a full playset of 《Thing in the Ice》, as I think it is our best card in the matchups where we want it, like Mono Green or other decks that can’t really interact well with it.

However, when they can interact with it 《Thing in the Ice》 is really underwhelming, so I’m happy with a 2-2 split. It was our best card against 《Winota, Joiner of Forces》 but nowadays I prefer to have more spells and simply add these 0/4 Krakens when we need them.

《Young Pyromancer》

Young Pyromancer

《Young Pyromancer》 is a card I didn’t like much at first but I’ve been liking it more and more.

I think 《Young Pyromancer》 is our best threat against control decks as it is good against 《Dovin’s Veto》, 《Rest in Peace》 and even 《Mystical Dispute》, which are cards that we often have to fight through. Even against a removal spell like a 《Portable Hole》 or a 《March of Otherworldly Light》, our deck is often able to generate one or two tokens out of the deal which is already good enough to pressure their planeswalkers and life total.

A 《Young Pyromancer》 that resolves in the midgame will often demand a 《Supreme Verdict》 and that’s good enough for a sideboard slot.

《Jace, Wielder of Mysteries》

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

《Jace, Wielder of Mysteries》 is a very important tool in our sideboard and the second copy fights with 《Crackling Drake》 for the sideboard slot. 《Jace》 is a win condition that also can act as a card advantage engine against 《Thoughtseize》/《Go Blank》 decks, which makes him more flexible than what it looks.

In the same way, I think the 2nd copy is very negotiable, I think the first copy of 《Jace》 is extremely important. Having access to this card in our deck will change how we play the lategame, as against attrition strategies decking ourselves will often be a real threat. Having 《Jace》 in our deck, though, we know we are going to eventually find a copy if we get to draw enough cards.

For that reason, I would be careful casting 《Pieces of the Puzzle》 if we are already on a stage where we can fire a few 《Treasure Cruise》, as milling our 1 or 2 《Jace》 could lose us the game.

In reality, though, I’ve been running into a lot of creature decks where I would like to have access to more sideboard cards. For that reason, and because I’m a big fan of 《Crackling Drake》 I tried to replace one 《Jace》 with it and I’ve been relatively happy with it.

《Crackling Drake》

Crackling Drake

《Crackling Drake》 is a worse card against attrition decks than 《Jace, Wielder of Mysteries》 but it is still quite good there. 《Crackling Drake》 comes in against decks like Humans, where we are often one threat away from winning the game.

I like to have split threats against decks with 《Reflector Mage》, where drawing too many copies of 《Ledger Shredder》 can actually hurt us. 《Crackling Drake》 is the type of card I like to have in my sideboard if I have cards in my maindeck that I don’t want to have after sideboarding.

No 《Unlicensed Hearse》

Unlicensed Hearse

《Unlicensed Hearse》 is perceived to be a mirror breaker but I don’t think it is particularly good there. While it can certainly steal games on turn 2, it is quite weak after that. I don’t think 《Arclight Phoenix》 defines the mirror match and if you want to play hearse you need to make your deck worse against the 《Ledger Shredder》/《Pieces of the Puzzle》 engine.

Izzet Phoenix is actually quite good at putting cards into its graveyard, so casting a turn 2 《Unlicensed Hearse》 doesn’t even guarantee they won’t cast 《Dig Through Time》 on you, as 《Pieces of the Puzzle》 goes really fast.

On top of that, it is not easy to crew here. I think 《Unlicensed Hearse》 would be better if 《Expressive Iteration》 was around, but with the current configuration, the deck really sometimes ends up running out of gas after a 《Pieces of the Puzzle》 is countered, which means playing situational cards like 《Unlicensed Hearse》 is way more dangerous.

Sideboard Guide

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but keep it fluid. Adapt to what you see. Sideboarding is like dancing!

Mirror Match

vs. Mirror Match


Temporal Trespass Temporal Trespass Strangle Strangle
Galvanic Iteration Chart a Course Fiery Impulse


Thing in the Ice Thing in the Ice Lava Coil Abrade
Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute

Rakdos Midrange

vs. Rakdos Midrange


Temporal Trespass Temporal Trespass Galvanic Iteration Galvanic Iteration


Jace, Wielder of Mysteries Abrade Crackling Drake Thing in the Ice

Azorius Control

vs. Azorius Control


Strangle Strangle Thing in the Ice Thing in the Ice
Lightning Axe Lightning Axe Lightning Axe
Lava Coil Fiery Impulse


Disdainful Stroke Disdainful Stroke Young Pyromancer Young Pyromancer
Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries Crackling Drake

Mono Green Devotion

vs. Mono Green Devotion


Chart a Course Chart a Course Galvanic Iteration Spell Pierce
Temporal Trespass Temporal Trespass
Treasure Cruise


Aether Gust Aether Gust Thing in the Ice Thing in the Ice
Disdainful Stroke Disdainful Stroke
Lava Coil

Lotus Field

vs. Lotus Field


Strangle Strangle Thing in the Ice Thing in the Ice
Lightning Axe Lightning Axe Lightning Axe
Treasure Cruise Lava Coil Fiery Impulse


Aether Gust Aether Gust Young Pyromancer Young Pyromancer
Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute
Disdainful Stroke Disdainful Stroke Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

As always, thanks for reading!

Javier Dominguez (Twitter / Twitch)

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Javier Dominguez He is the representative player of Spain. Grand Prix Top 8 is six times, including won the Grand Prix Paris 2014 and Grand Prix Rotterdam 2016 winning victories. At the Pro Tour level, he has brilliant achievement such as winning the 9th place in Pro Tour Battle of Zendikar and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, and finally top8 in Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Read more articles by Javier Dominguez

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