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One of the many constants in Magic is consistency. From curving out to assembling combos, consistency beats at the center of competitive Magic. Following the successful trend of Grixis Shadow and Splinter Twin before it, Guilds of Ravnica’s addition to the format utilizes early game card selection for a remarkably consistent game plan.

By using cheap spells and a variety of payoffs, Izzet Phoenix is able to smooth out its draws and always have something to do with its mana. This trait, alongside the explosive nature of Arclight Phoenix, gives the deck the tools it needs to remain a Modern staple.

In this article, I’ll be breaking down the card choices, as well as giving basic sideboarding advice. While not comprehensive, understanding the role that each piece plays should help players with tough sideboard decisions.

For other discussions on Izzet Phoenix, you can check out our State of Modern articles here and here.

Threats

Arclight Phoenix | One of Modern’s premier threats, Arclight Phoenix is the best spell payoff in the format. Three spells is an almost trivial amount, and enables Izzet Phoenix to outgrind and outpace a variety of opponents. As with most engine pieces, four copies is mandatory, though some sideboard games see a reduction.

Thing in the Ice | Another four of, Thing in the Ice is a payoff enabling massive board control. While not as aggressive as Arclight Phoenix, Thing is just as crucial to the slower game plan of Izzet Phoenix. Managing the board consistently requires four copies, though some are trimmed against combo decks.

Pyromancer Ascension | A less reliable win condition than either Arclight or Thing, Ascension gives a “combo kill” feature to the deck. Once enabled, Ascension allows Manamorphose to net mana, allowing Izzet Phoenix to burn the opponent out in a single turn. Two copies is standard, though some lists play a third or a fourth depending on how important the mirror is.

Cantrips

Faithless Looting | Commonly discussed when looking at Modern decklists, Faithless Looting is the most efficient graveyard enabler in the format. In Izzet Phoenix it is one of the only ways to discard Arclight Phoenix, but can set up a Pyromancer Ascension or filter away dead lands to ensure a continual stream of spells. Four copies is obligatory, and only increases its impact as we adopt more Delve spells.

Serum Visions | As with Faithless Looting, Serum Visions represents one of the most efficient set up spells in Modern. Giving Blue decks access to library manipulation on a one mana spell is dangerous, as we can see from the bans on Ponder and Preordain, but Serum Visions improves consistency at a rate healthy for the format. Like Faithless Looting, four copies is mandatory, and it is the best Turn 1 play in most situations.

Thought Scour | While nowhere near the format staple of Faithless Looting or Serum Visions, Thought Scour has made waves in Modern throughout the years. Primarily used as an enabler for Delve spells, Thought Scour also serves as a setup card for Pyromancer Ascension and Snapcaster Mage. Alongside a Serum Visions it can be used to put Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, an infrequent but powerful interaction.

Sleight of Hand | Prior to the legality of War of the Spark Opt was the superior cantrip, but the shift back towards Sleight of Hand is an evolution due to two new cards. Sleight of Hand evades Narset’s static effect, letting you dig for more spells. Secondly, Finale of Promise wants both Instants and Sorceries in the graveyard, and moving towards Sleight evens out the distribution of types.

Manamorphose | Initially conceived as a variant on common manafixing, Manamorphose has proven itself to be a degenerate enabler for spell heavy decks. While Modern has no shortage of free spells banned, Manamorphose straddles the line between manafixing, cantrip, and ritual due to its interactions with Pyromancer Ascension. Four copies is what contributes to so much of the power of Izzet Phoenix, as it would be difficult to trigger Arclight on Turn 3 without at least one.

Supporting Spells

Surgical Extraction | A powerful graveyard hate spell from New Phyrexia, Surgical Extraction consistently takes up the free spell slot. With an increase in graveyard decks, I’ve made the switch back to Surgical over Gut Shot. While this slot is ultimate a flexible slot, having at least two free spells is considered the minimum.

Finale of Promise | A War of the Spark addition, Finale of Promise is one of the few card advantage options available. By giving access to used up spells, Finale enables a Lightning Bolt burn out plan without sacrificing spell count. Additionally, Finale can be copied with Ascension leading to exceptionally explosive turns. Two copies is the normal amount, but I would play a third if the mirror is the deck to beat.

Snapcaster Mage | Replacing the maindeck crackling drake is never an easy decision, but Snapcaster earns its spot well. Functioning similarly to Finale of Promise by reusing spells, Snapcaster lets you double up on countermagic. While not relevant in Game 1, having access to this effect is crucial against Phoenix’s poor matchups. One copy is what I’m comfortable with, though some lists play as many as two or three.

Removal

Lightning Bolt | One of Magic’s most iconic removal spells, Bolt is an easy four of in Phoenix. By doubling as both a win condition and a removal spell, Bolt is an irreplaceable part of the deck. Bolt-snap-bolt as well as pairing it with Finale gives Phoenix an easy board clearing aspect while progressing towards a win.

Lightning Axe | With the default count at two copies, I’ve trimmed one with the legality of Modern Horizons. Discarding a card is a substantial cost in defensive-oriented matchups, while six mana is too much for a removal spell. As such, I’ve reduced the number down to one copy to make room for Magmatic Sinkhole.

Magmatic Sinkhole | Doing a reasonable Fatal Push impression, Magmatic Sinkhole is a groundbreaking addition to Red decks. While taxing on the graveyard, Sinkhole gives access to removal for both Tarmogoyf and Narset, without  sacrificing consistency. Although a cheap spell, Sinkhole does not work well with Finale of Promise, a relevant consideration going forward.

Set Adrift | Similarly to Magmatic Sinkhole, Set Adrift is a delve removal spell that serves as a flexible answer. Primarily earning its spot as the only answer for Enchantments, most lists play one copy, though Echoing Truth is also a strong candidate.

Other Choices

Crackling Drake | Still a one of threat in many lists, Crackling Drake gives Izzet Phoenix a game plan against Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void. Though weak against the deck’s poor matchups, Crackling Drake is powerful in the mirror, justifying inclusion. However, the recent printing of Aria of Flame renders this anti-Rest in Peace threat inert, as Aria dodges most removal. Being a mana cheaper is relevant in the face of counterspells, though Force of Negation may be a reason to play Drake instead.

Gut Shot | Oscillating between Surgical Extraction and Gut Shot is simply a recognition of what decks matter in the metagame. Gut Shot makes the cut when Noble Hierarch and other creature decks are the ones to beat. If you’re hedging for the mirror or other graveyard decks, bring Surgicals instead.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar | A recent innovation spearheaded by grinders on the SCG Tour, Pia and Kiran Nalaar serves as an additional threat like Crackling Drake. Spreading the damage across multiple bodies is a way to lessen the impact of Reflector Mage, earning consideration.

Aria of Flame | A Modern Horizons exclusive card, this red enchantment proves capable of redefining Modern. Threatening to kill after just a couple of turns, Aria of Flame is nearly as threatening as Crackling Drake without vulnerability to most removal. While lacking an immediate board presence is relevant, the ability to sweep the board on following turns is a critical aspect of the card. Going forward, I would play at least three copies among the maindeck and sideboard.


The Sideboard

Alpine Moon | Primarily serving as a sideboard tool against Tron, Alpine Moon is a staple in most sideboards. With Tron representing a large portion of the metagame, this matchup revolves around having at least one disruptive element. Unlike Blood Moon, Alpine Moon is only for certain decks, as it does not shut off mana production and comes down earlier.

Spell Pierce | An additional piece of cheap interaction, Spell Pierce can slow down combo decks and control decks. Primarily serving as an answer to powerful noncreatures deployed in the early turns, two copies is the perfect amount. Additional copies can be added as needed depending on the amount of Azorius Control and Burn in the metagame.

Abrade | A flexible removal spell for both artifacts and creatures, Abrade is another sideboard staple. I’ve gone down to just one copy here, as Shenanigans does heavy lifting against artifact decks. Playing some number of Rending Volley or additional Abrade is a good call against a Humans filled metagame.

Shenanigans | A recent artifact hate spell printed in Modern Horizons, Shenanigans merits inclusion. While not as versatile as Abrade, Shenanigans is the single most effective answer against Ensnaring Bridge. While currently an experimental choice, Shenanigans is a flex slot, so turn it into whatever suites your metagame.

Anger of the Gods | Primarily serving as a sweeper against Humans, two copies is the norm. While noticeably worse than Sweltering Suns against most decks, Anger’s exile clause is relevant against Dredge. This matchup tends to be poor for Phoenix, necessitating a slight shift in sideboard cards. If there are few Bloodghast decks in your metagame, feel free to play Slagstorm or Suns instead. Note: Playing a third Anger is worse than the first of either of those, due to Meddling Mage.

Beacon Bolt | An instant Standard staple, Beacon Bolt took more time to make its way into Modern. While not the only answer to large creatures, Beacon bolt can manage multiple threats for an expensive cost. Still, this effect is integral to Phoenix’s success, as having a removal spell that can’t be thoughtseized is backbreaking against Goyf decks. While I would not play a second copy, I would consider cutting the Beacon Bolt for additional threats.

Blood Moon | Similarly to Alpine Moon, Blood Moon is an additional disruptive element against big mana decks. Where Blood Moon is better, however, is against “fair” decks. By shutting of the mana production of Humans or Spirits, Blood Moon can stop them from deploying additional threats. Additionally, Blood Moon shuts off multiple different lands — a relevant feature against Affinity or Whir Prison. Two copies is the default, and I would hesitate to go below one.

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer | A War of the Spark addition to the sideboard, Saheeli is an additional threat that snowballs games. By combining with cheap spells, Saheeli can generate hasty damage with an on board Arclight, but also serves as a rest-in-peace proof win condition. Additionally, Saheeli is more difficult to remove than a creature, and can “fog” a Tarmogoyf nearly indefinitely. One copy shows up in this list, though many are on two copies.

Seasoned Pyromancer | A Modern Horizons card with potential, I’ve included Pyromancer mostly as a test slot. While unable to establish a trail of accomplishments like other threats, Seasoned Pyromancer gives the deck access to an easier to cast Bedlam Reveler. This may not seem like a reason to play it, but with current versions valuing grindier threats like Pia and Kiran Nalaar we may see a movement towards this powerful three drop.

Ravenous Trap | The final card occupying the sideboard, Ravenous Trap is a spell based version of Tormod’s Crypt. While it may seem unnecessary or inconsistent, the inability of opponents to play around Ravenous Trap gives it a similar impact as Leyline of the Void. Two copies is the lowest I would go, but with the increasing presence of Hogaak I would consider a third or fourth.


Sideboarding Tips

Sideboarding remains one of the more difficult aspects of Izzet Phoenix. As such, I’ll be discussing general strategies for successful sideboarding. While not a sideboard guide, this should give you tools in every matchup.

  1. Know the weakness of Bolt | Bolt is weak against combo, as are the other removal spells. Swap these out first, but if you leave in Ascension leave in at least one Bolt.
  2. Don’t trim cantrips | With the exception of one or two Thought Scour, do not touch the other cantrips. Trimming Scour mostly matters in graveyard hate heavy matchups where you want a density of threats in postboard games.
  3. Don’t overboard | Unless your opponent shows you a suite of graveyard hate, don’t be afraid to only board a few cards.

Thanks for checking out our Arclight Phoenix deck tech. And as always let us know what you think in the comments section below. You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/pariahpopular for more competitive content.