At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, I went 10-0 with Izzet Phoenix. Despite my horrendous 1-5 record in Limited, this left me with a solid 11-5 finish. After posting my decklist on Twitter, I got a lot of questions about the deck and how to approach each matchup.
For reference, I played against the following decks at the PT:
Evolution of the Deck
Having a brother to work together and to discuss everything is amazing. If said brother is an incredible deckbuilder, things only get better. On 10th of October, Peter (Vieren) mailed me the following list to try:
4 《Steam Vents》
4 《Sulfur Falls》
-Land (23)- 4 《Goblin Electromancer》
4 《Arclight Phoenix》
4 《Shivan Fire》
4 《Chart a Course》
4 《Tormenting Voice》
4 《Lava Coil》
4 《Blink of an Eye》
2 《Radical Idea》
2 《Chemister's Insight》
It was immediately clear that a putting 《Arclight Phoenix》 in your graveyard and getting it back multiple times for free, is something inherently unfair. Especially in a fair format like Standard, it feels like you’re doing something more powerful than everybody else.
After the GP, Peter and I made some more adjustments to the deck. On the plane to Atlanta Wednesday before the PT, we discussed our general plan and sideboard plan for every matchup. We both registered these 75 cards:
4 《Steam Vents》
4 《Sulfur Falls》
1 《Izzet Guildgate》
-Land (21)- 3 《Goblin Electromancer》
4 《Arclight Phoenix》
3 《Crackling Drake》
1 《Murmuring Mystic》
4 《Chart a Course》
4 《Tormenting Voice》
4 《Radical Idea》
4 《Lava Coil》
1 《Blink of an Eye》
2 《Beacon Bolt》
1 《The Mirari Conjecture》
General Game Plan
An important distinction has to be made between this deck and the more common Izzet Drakes. Izzet Drakes usually plays seven or eight Drakes and aims to kill the opponent fast, often including one or two 《Maximize Velocity》. The fact both decks exist and people would often prepare versus Izzet Drakes, gave our deck an advantage. As both decks have a fairly different game plan, don’t make the mistake of seeing both as a different build of the same deck. Cards like 《Enigma Drake》, 《Maximize Velocity》 and 《Dive Down》 are solely seen in Izzet Drakes. I also believe 《Discovery // Dispersal》 is better in Izzet Drakes, but worse in Izzet Phoenix.
The most important thing to take away from this article is that Izzet Phoenix is a control deck in almost every matchup. Understanding your role and when to attack is one of the hardest things to learn in Magic. This deck punishes taking the wrong role very hard.
Of course there is a nut draw of having multiple 《Phoenixes》 attack on turn 3, but I’ve had that happen exactly once in 22 rounds at the GP and PT together. Not attacking with 《Arclight Phoenix》 the turn it comes into play is more often than not the correct play.
The maindeck can be broken down into the following pieces:
Having exactly one is very strong, but having multiples can be awkward.
These are your payoff cards. You can’t have too many. With so many cycling cards, having one-ofs makes sense. Depending on the matchup, you’ll want different payoff cards.
4 《Opt》, 4 《Chart a Course》, 4 《Tormenting Voice》, 4 《Radical Idea》:
The cyclers as I call them. They make your payoff cards incredibly strong. Lots of card filtering also helps smoothing draws and getting rid of unneeded cards later in the game.
4 《Shock》, 4 《Lava Coil》, 2 《Beacon Bolt》, 1 《Blink of an Eye》:
The removal. You’re playing a control deck in a metagame dominated by creatures, thriving on having as many spells as possible. I wouldn’t leave home with less removal. 《Lava Coil》 might also just be the best card in Standard at the moment. Controlling the board before you take over with your payoff cards is your general game plan.
These tap for Blue and/or Red mana, which comes in handy.
To play this deck, I recommend playtesting a lot. I would argue that this deck has far more decisions to be made than any other deck in Standard. Here are some things you need to think about:
Turn 1: 《Opt》 or Not?
In general, only 《Opt》 if you need land. If your opponent has an aggressive strategy and you don’t have removal in hand, it’s probably right to 《Opt》 too. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to 《Opt》 if you’re searching for a specific card or to bring back 《Phoenixes》 only.
Turn 2 Play
《Goblin Electromancer》 is of course your preferred play. The exception is versus Mono-Red, where you’d rather play a removal spell on Turn 2 and go 《Electromancer》 and a two mana spell on Turn 3. If you don’t have an 《Electromancer》, play one of your cyclers or a 《Lava Coil》.
What to Discard to 《Chart a Course》 or 《Tormenting Voice》?
When to Keep Lands in Hand?
Lategame, you want to keep at least one land in hand. But when to play more lands and keep them, requires practice and planning ahead. Which combination of spells do you need? How is the game shaping up?
《Chart a Course》 Pre- or Post-Combat?
If you don’t have 《Arclight Phoenix》 to discard and you have something to attack with, it’s often right to just draw two cards. With 《Goblin Electromancer》 in play, you’ll get the closest to casting 《Ancestral Recall》 you can get in the current Standard format.
Can I Kill My Opponent?
This may seem obvious, but it’s always worth looking for, especially with 《Crackling Drake》 in play. A combination of a discarded 《Phoenix》, removal spell and 《Shock》 to the face might do the trick. This may also include setting up two-turn clocks.
Matchups and Sideboard Plans
Preboard you should be favorite, especially if you find an early 《Phoenix》. This is a matchup where 《Phoenix》 will be on blocking duty most of the time. This includes chump blocking. The Golgari deck aims to keep pressure on you, while removing your creatures. This is a plan that works better versus Izzet Drakes than versus Izzet Phoenix, however. With more removal, you’re much more likely to go to the lategame. This makes 《Carnage Tyrant》 better versus us than it would be versus Izzet Drakes.
Postboard they’ll have more answers to 《Arclight Phoenix》. 《The Mirari Conjecture》 goes way over the top however. Even if they have removal for it, you already had some card advantage. If they don’t have removal, the third chapter should easily win you the game. Even though 《Star of Extinction》 can be a bit clunky at seven mana, it is a clean answer to everything they might have.
In general, I don’t really care if they exile an 《Arclight Phoenix》 in play. I just want to control the board until they run out of answers. Given they almost always board in 《Deathgorge Scavenger》, it can be advantageous not to discard 《Arclight Phoenix》 too early.
Preboard you have a lot of removal that can get stuck in your hand. It’s a bit easier if they play 《Crackling Drake》 or 《Rekindling Phoenix》, as you can at least use 《Lava Coil》. An early 《Phoenix》 is the way to win this matchup game one, as an unanswered 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》 can run away with the game. Resolving either 《Murmuring Mystic》 or 《The Mirari Conjecture》 also goes a long way.
If you don’t attack with the 《Mystic》, they usually have no clean way to remove it.
Postboard things get much better. If they play creatures maindeck, you can leave some 《Lava Coil》 in the deck. Next to the plan of having early 《Phoenixes》, 《Niv-Mizzet, Parun》 gives you a clear road to victory. You keep 《Beacon Bolt》 to deal with theirs, but yours should be way better anyway.
They tend to bring in some number of 《Ixalan's Binding》, to which 《Blink of an Eye》 is very nice answer. Sometimes they’ll bring in some creatures, but so far I’ve found this strategy to be lacking from their side.
Izzet Drakes / Phoenix
Even though I keep saying these are two different decks, the matchup plays out much in the same way. 《Lava Coil》 is king here, and having access to four of them is huge. Next to that, 《Murmuring Mystic》 can also buy lots of time and make sure you don’t have to worry about 《Maximize Velocity》 from the 《Enigma Drake》 version. As usual, you’ll probably assume the control route. 《The Mirari Conjecture》 can also be a good way to overwhelm them.
Sideboarding depends on which version they play. If you don’t see any 《Goblin Electromancer》 game one, don’t bother with 《Shivan Fire》. If you see 《Dive Down》 game one, they’ll probably try to go for a 《Niv-Mizzet》 protected with 《Dive Down》 plan postboard. Given this is usually the only thing that will matter in these postboard games, bringing in a 《Star of Extinction》 can be the right choice. Usually finding 《Beacon Bolt》 to deal five damage to 《Niv-Mizzet》 is the way to go.
Also make sure you hit your land drops until you get to 《Niv-Mizzet》 mana. If you ever untap with 《Niv-Mizzet》, you’ll win. Most Drakes and Phoenixes will die on sight, but 《Murmuring Mystic》 can be much harder to deal with. Barring 《Niv-Mizzet》, 《Murmuring Mystic》 can also be a difference maker in the matchup.
I see a lot of people bringing in 《Negate》 in the mirror, but I wouldn’t advise this. Counterspells are very mediocre in your own game plan. Keeping up mana isn’t trivial and most spells are replaceable anyways. If you see 《Firemind's Research》 on their side, bring in 《Sorcerous Spyglass》.
Red-White (Boros) Aggro or Mono-White Aggro
There are still plenty of different version of this deck, so I’ll group them together. One of the reasons given for playing Red-White Aggro is the matchup versus 《Arclight Phoenix》 decks. While the matchup isn’t great by any means, it’s not as bad as Red-White player like to think. Especially since we have more removal than other builds, and 《Murmuring Mystic》. They’ll try to pressure you as much as possible, while having a removal spell for a key creature.
Postboard, you have more efficient removal and get 《Entrancing Melody》. It baffles me how little this card gets played. We already played three copies in our GP Lille list, but the card doesn’t appear to have been widely adopted. It’s an excellent answer to both 《Adanto Vanguard》 and 《History of Benalia》. With more cheap removal and more payoff creatures, chances of sticking one of the payoff creatures go up. Try to control the board and get some board presence of your own.
I’ve seen lots of questions about 《Fiery Cannonade》. And while the card can be good versus the go-wide deck, they’re prepared for it. Since we play more targeted removal, its usefulness goes down. The fact it also kills your own 《Goblin Electromancer》 only makes it worse. I’d rather play 《Entrancing Melody》, which is also very good versus the bigger Boros decks. And with 《Melody》 and 《Mystic》 as the sideboard plan, you don’t really want another expensive card, which is why we chose 《Shivan Fire》 to round out the removal.
All things considered, if Red-White Aggro becomes the deck to beat in Standard, I’d probably change some cards. But despite putting six copies into Top 8, the deck wasn’t as dominant as it may seem at first glance and is beatable.
Mono-Red Aggro was a somewhat popular choice at the PT, as it preys on the Red-White Aggro deck. I fully expect it to become even more popular in the upcoming weeks.
Early iterations of the deck included cards like 《The Flame of Keld》 or 《Risk Factor》, which made their burn plan more dangerous. The current builds are slower, which makes the matchup a lot better for us. Try to take as little damage from their creatures as possible and stick a threat.
Postboard they usually bring in more 《Lava Coil》 and 《Fight with Fire》, which is absolutely fine by me. With more removal, 《Experimental Frenzy》 becomes less reliable. If you see they’re on the 《Treasure Map》 build, be sure to bring in 《Sorcerous Spyglass》 as well. Their best hope is to burn you out, but they also need to answer all your creatures, so there’s a lot of pressure on their resources.
They have some insane draws that can’t really be beaten. If they don’t have a 《Curious Obsession》 they can protect, you should be fine. Remember 《Merfolk Trickster》 can make 《Crackling Drake》 pretty pathetic. Running 《Tormenting Voice》 into 《Spell Pierce》 should be avoided. Try to control the board until you can press your advantage.
Postboard, your plan is still controlling the board, except you have 《Niv-Mizzet》, which they can never beat. They literally can’t deal with it. Just play some spells until you get to 《Niv-Mizzet》. Your other four drops are also capable of winning the game on their own, but they have counters ready for those.
This is the only matchup where I take out all my 《Arclight Phoenix》. You can’t really afford to wait until your own turn to play your removal spells, as 《Dive Down》 can hurt too much. So you’ll rather play them at instant speed, which in turn makes bringing back 《Phoenixes》 harder. You also want to cut 《Tormenting Voice》, which makes 《Phoenix》 less strong.
Combining the ability to go through your deck with all the card filtering and the free value 《Arclight Phoenix》 provides, makes this a very powerful deck. I would recommend this deck for any upcoming tournaments you might have, but keep in mind it isn’t the easiest deck to pilot. Sequencing your spells matters a lot. But you’ll only need to get to the third chapter of 《The Mirari Conjecture》 once to fall in love with the deck.
As always, hit me up on Twitter: @VierenPascal if you have any questions.