Taking Izzet Phoenix to #1 on MTG Arena

Hi!I have another deck guide for you, today it’s gonna be about U/R Phoenix. After the season reset, I’ve been playing various decks and Phoenix was one of the two that I’ve been able to take back to the #1 spot on the ladder. The other one was Esper, but more on that in another article.

This deck has been kind of under the radar for a while, which is also one of the reasons why it is very well-positioned right now. Jean-Emmanuel Depraz has been playing the deck a lot recently and I picked up his decklist from the MPL Weekly matches. Turns out his maindeck works like a well-oiled machine, so I just changed some cards around in the sideboard to adjust to the current metagame.

Izzet Phoenix on MTG Arena

6 Island (335)
6 Mountain (343)
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Arclight Phoenix
4 Crackling Drake
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Chart a Course
4 Lightning Strike
4 Shock
3 Tormenting Voice
2 Radical Idea
3 Lava Coil
2 Finale of Promise
4 Opt
2 Spell Pierce

Sideboard
3 Entrancing Melody
1 Lava Coil
3 Legion Warboss
2 Beacon Bolt
2 God-Eternal Kefnet
2 Narset, Parter of Veils
2 Negate

Game Plan

Arclight Phoenix

This deck is very hard to play, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty straightforward. Correct sequencing and planning ahead is crucial. In the early game, you use cheap removal to defend yourself from aggressive starts or kill mana creatures like Llanowar Elves. After that, you play Goblin Electromancer and start chaining card-drawing spells like Chart a Course and Tormenting Voice for one mana, ideally discarding some Arclight Phoenixes in the process. If you manage to play 3 instants or sorceries–which shouldn’t be a problem with the discount from Electromancer–you bring back all your Phoenixes from the graveyard and can start attacking. Given that half your deck is spells, it isn’t unusual to be able to kill your opponent with one or two hits from Crackling Drake.

Why is this deck good right now?

People are playing answers for different kinds of threats right now. Tyrant’s Scorn gets you an extra token with Hero of Precinct One. Oath of Kaya kills Goblin Chainwhirler or other planeswalkers and you can rebuy it with Teferi, Time Raveler.

Now put both of these cards in your hand and imagine your opponent just resolved a Crackling Drake. There are a lot of green decks trying to ramp into Nissa and hoping 6 loyalty allows her to survive for a turn so they can untap and play a big Hydroid Krasis.

Enter Crackling Drake or a hasty Arclight Phoenix, and all of the sudden that gameplan doesn‘t work anymore.. Esper Control used to be a bad matchup, but then that deck turned into midrange with creatures. There is also almost no Simic Nexus combo anymore. All of this means that your removal spells are almost always live and you are well-set up against all the aggro decks.

What are the weaknesses?

Cry of the Carnarium

This is the best way to permanently get rid of your Phoenixes and Goblin Electromancers.

Narset, Parter of Veils

The static ability of Narset says that you can’t draw more than 1 card a turn and that’s a pretty big deal with so many card draw effects in the deck. Fortunately we have enough creatures and burn to pressure it, but it’s still not a pleasant card to play against.

High toughness creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer or Kefnet can also be pretty hard to get through. Fortunately you can usually just combine two burn spells to get rid of them. This is also the main purpose of Beacon Bolts in the sideboard.

Card Choices

2 Finale of Promise

I always hated playing against this card from the Mono-Red side because it gives them so much value in just one card. You can easily flashback Lava Coil and Lightning Strike to kill 2 creatures and on top of that it also counts as 3 spells, so it brings back all your Phoenixes. I started with 3 in my deck, but that was too many. You don’t want to draw it in your opening hand, nor do you want to get stuck with multiple copies of it, so 2 is the perfect number.

0 Augur of Bolas

Augur only really shines against the red aggresive decks, but it feels like there’s more midrange/control and ramp strategies being played right now. Your deck needs a critical mass of spells and you already have 12 creatures, so you can’t really play both. If you are thinking of replacing Goblin Electromancer with it, you better be absolutely sure about it. It’s one of the most important cards in the deck, essentially giving you a free dark ritual every turn.

4 Shock, 4 Lightning Strike

Unlike your usual spot removal like Cast Down, these have the advantage that they can be used to finish off planeswalkers or pointed directly at your opponent, giving this deck a lot of reach.

2 God-Eternal Kefnet

I started with 2 in my maindeck and they were amazing against the red aggresive decks, as they have a really hard time getting through a 5-toughness creature. But it’s not so great against decks with Teferi, Time Raveler which can just bounce it back to your hand and heavily set you back in tempo. At least if they are bouncing Crackling Drake, you get extra cards out of it. In the current metagame, I believe the sideboard is the right place for Kefnet, but if you expect a lot of Red, Gruul or Boros Feather, then it’s perfectly reasonable to play them main.

2 Beacon Bolt

I don’t like playing this card main, as you already have a lot of burn spells in your deck. It is very important after sideboard though, against cards like Lyra Dawnbringer and Kefnet.

0 Search for Azcanta

I think Search is just too slow for the deck and it doesn’t help bringing back Phoenixes

0 Discovery // Dispersal

I have always found this card to be a little to slow, but it could be better than Radical Idea, which isn’t amazing. Though I do like that you can play Radical Idea at instant speed and hold up Spell Pierce or Negate for Narset or Teferi in some matchups.

Legion Warboss over Saheeli

I like that Warboss instantly punishes all the planeswalkers that go down to 1 Loyalty counter. You play Goblin Electromancer, your opponent plays Teferi and bounces it to your hand. I think its important to be able to follow up with Goblin Warboss, killing Teferi and getting back the board advantage. Imagine if instead you play Saheeli here. Your opponent follows up with Narset next turn and all of the sudden you are facing down 2 active planeswalkers without any creatures on your side of the battlefield. Warboss is also very good against the Simic Ramp decks, though not that great against Bant if they bring in a lot of Lyras.

Narset over Ral, Izzet Viceroy

I currently prefer Narset because it’s cheaper and it has a similar effect. Five mana is a lot and Narset’s static ability is also very important.

Tips and Tricks

  • Most of the time you should play Chart a Course pre-combat as it helps you find and bring back Phoenixes and discarding them from your hand actually helps you. Sometimes, mostly in sideboarded games, you will be playing an attrition game where every card matters and in those cases it might be better to attack first if you can afford it.
  • If you have Opt and Chart a Course or Tormenting Voice, always play Opt first, as it helps you find more Phoenixes to discard. The order of playing your card draw spells should generally be Opt – Chart a Course – Tormenting Voice.
  • Teferi, Time Raveler’s static ability essentially counters Finale of Promise, as it stops you from resolving the two spells.
  • Sometimes you want to wait with Goblin Electromancer on turn 2 and instead hold up a Spell Pierce for Thought Erasure/Narset or a removal spell instead of playing it into your opponent’s untapped mana. You are still able to play Electromancer + Chart a Course on turn 3, so you aren’t really losing much and countering a Narset or Thought Erasure is usually very important.
  • If you are playing against this deck and you have Narset, don’t minus it unless it’s in the very late game and you are both playing from the top and in need of big spells. At 3 loyalty, it can be easily killed by Lightning Strike or Arclight Phoenix attack, but if you leave her at 5, it’s pretty hard for the Drakes deck to get rid of it with an empty board.
  • Sideboarding too many counters and other planeswalkers or Warboss comes with a price – these cards don’t help you bring back Phoenixes. If you bring in too many, you will end up in spots where you have 3 Phoenixes in the graveyard and all you need to do is chain 3 spells in a row, but you just won’t have them. Keep this in mind when making changes to the deck and sideboarding.
  • If you want to Shock your Arclight Phoenix in response to Cry of Carnarium to save it from being exiled and eventually bring it back, you definitely get some bonus points for thinking outside the box, but the way Cry is worded, Phoenix will unfortunately get exiled anyway.

Sideboard Guide

Esper Hero

Out

ShockLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilFinale of PromiseFinale of PromiseRadical IdeaRadical Idea

In

Legion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossNarset, Parter of VeilsNarset, Parter of VeilsNegateNegateBeacon Bolt

Sideboarding against the various Esper decks heavily depends on their exact build. Board out all Shocks if they are creatureless. Finale is bad against Teferi, but only the version with creatures can reasonably hope to protect it, so I tend to keep it in against Esper Planeswalkers. The version with Hero doesn’t play Cry of Carnarium, which is their best card. Just keep bringing back Phoenix and get the most value out of them. I don’t usually even discard them to Chart a Course in this matchup, I just want to hardcast them and attack. Beacon Bolt is great against Lyra but otherwise not something you really want to draw, so I usually start by bringing one in and adjust if I think they have more Lyras.

Esper Planeswalkers

Out

ShockShockShockShockLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilGoblin Electromancer

In

Narset, Parter of VeilsNarset, Parter of VeilsLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossNegateNegateBeacon Bolt

This deck usually only plays a couple Basilica Bell-Haunts and no other creatures besides Lyra after sideboard. They do usually have a Cry of Carnarium main and another in the sideboard, which is their best card. I’m not exactly sure what the best approach is in this matchup. I have felt that Goblin Electromancer is pretty weak becuase you don’t really want to overcommit to the board and have it die to Cry as an extra casualty. This matchup isn’t about being fast, it’s more about card advantage and board presence–that’s why I prefer the immediate impact of Warboss to Saheeli, but both would actually be pretty good here. If this deck gets popular, consider changing Electromancers to Augur of Bolas, even though it will hurt you in other matchups. If Cry gets played in more copies, consider Saheeli instead of Warboss and perhaps even boarding 4 Narset, which I have found to be really good in this matchup too. I board out all Shocks becuase there are no good targets, but keep Strikes to finish off Narset.

I’m also not super happy about the counterspells. They are great early and it’s a good answer for Cry, but sometimes they sneak a little Teferi in play or you need a third spell to bring back Phoenix and it feels horrible to have Negate instead. You can counter your own spell as a last resort, but that’s not really what you want to be doing to bring back a 3/2 from the graveyard.

Mono-Red

Out

Radical IdeaRadical IdeaTormenting Voice

 

In

Lava CoilGod-Eternal KefnetGod-Eternal Kefnet

 

On the play, also take two Spell Pierce and bring in two Entrancing Melody.

Entrancing Melody is kind of a hit-or-miss here. Sometimes it’s great when you steal a Steam-Kin, but on the draw it can be too slow and rot in your hand before you are able to take anything. Kefnet is amazing in this matchup.

White Weenie

Out

Spell PierceSpell PierceRadical IdeaRadical Idea

In

Lava CoilEntrancing MelodyEntrancing MelodyEntrancing Melody

I used to board in Kefnet, but it always ended up getting killed by Conclave Tribunal and I lost tempo and fell too much behind. It obviously feels great when it lives, but I’m just not sure if you need to run that risk, as your deck is basically all removal and good cards against them. Goblin Electromancer is one of your best cards here, as it gives them a hard choice of bringing in an otherwise useless Baffling End or developing their board and letting you get a bunch of free mana and getting Phoenixes in play early. Just play as defensively as you can and eventually win with the fliers.

Gruul Midrange

Out

Spell PierceSpell PierceRadical IdeaRadical IdeaTormenting VoiceTormenting Voice

In

Lava CoilGod-Eternal KefnetGod-Eternal KefnetEntrancing MelodyEntrancing MelodyEntrancing Melody

If they have Hellkites, Charging Monstrosaurs or other high-toughness creatures, you want the Beacon Bolts instead of Entrancing Melody, but it’s not necessary against Warboss and Thorn Lieutenant.

4c Dreadhorde

Out

ShockShockLightning StrikeRadical IdeaRadical Idea

 

In

Legion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLava CoilNegate

I haven’t played this matchup too much, it’s possible you want Entrancing Melody for Wildgrowth Walker and that Warboss is bad, but you should have enough removal to clear the way for it and it pressures their planeswalkers so well.

Simic Manipulation

Out

Spell PierceSpell PierceRadical IdeaRadical Idea

In

Legion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLava Coil

Bant Manipulation

Out

Spell PierceSpell PierceRadical Idea

In

Lava CoilBeacon BoltBeacon Bolt

Against Bant, you definitely don’t want Entrancing Melody because they have Trostani, but against Simic and their Ripjaw Raptor, it could be better than Lava Coil. Similarly, Warboss is pretty good against Simic, but not that great against Bant, which has Shalai and Lyra. Again, the right sideboarding very much depends on their exact build.

Boros Feather

Out

Radical IdeaRadical IdeaTormenting VoiceFinale of Promise

In

Entrancing MelodyEntrancing MelodyEntrancing MelodyLava Coil

Try to play around their pump spells. If the game goes long enough, they are usually pretty good at keeping their creatures alive from burn, but there isn’t much they can do about Entrancing Melody.

Grixis Control without creatures

Out

ShockShockShockShockLava CoilLava CoilLava Coil

In

Narset, Parter of VeilsNarset, Parter of VeilsNegateNegateLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion Warboss

Grixis Control with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Out

ShockShockShockShockLightning StrikeLightning StrikeLightning StrikeLightning StrikeLava Coil

In

Narset, Parter of VeilsNarset, Parter of VeilsNegateNegateLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossBeacon BoltBeacon Bolt

Mirror

Out

Lightning StrikeLightning StrikeLightning StrikeShockRadical Idea

 

In

Lava CoilNarset, Parter of VeilsNarset, Parter of VeilsBeacon BoltBeacon Bolt

This matchup is also tricky. Spell Pierce is either great or horrible, but at least you can discard it to Chart a Course or Tormenting Voice. Try to not waste Lava Coil on Electromancer and save it for Phoenix or Drake. Not sure about Kefnet here, but if people are bringing in Beacon Bolts, then I don’t like it.

Conclusion

In some fast matchups, you can board out Finale of Promise instead of some of the card draw, because it takes a while to set up and you don’t always have it. This is a good deck to craft on Arena or build in real life, as it doesn’t have many expensive cards other than 4 Arclight Phoenix and 4 Steam Vents.

I haven’t played best-of-1 in quite a while so I’m not familiar with what the metagame looks like, but if it’s anywhere close to what it used to be (a lot of Mono-Red, Mono-White, Gruul, Esper), then I’d probably leave the deck as is.

If you have any questions or feedback, let me know in the comments! As usual, you can find me on twitter and my stream and now even on youtube!

Martin

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