Beating the Gaak out of Modern

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The dust has settled on Mythic Championship Barcelona and its set the stage for Modern moving forward. Or at least until the next banned & restricted announcement. Nowadays we often look to the data of Day 2 conversion rates at the MC to determine the strongest deck archetypes. Because Modern is such a wide open format, this is our best way of determining the top deck overall.

Of course, the story of Barcelona was the utter dominance of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis which sported the highest non-mirror win rate while also being the most popular deck by a wide margin. It was followed closely by the Urza Snow artifact combo decks which had a breakout performance.

For the better part of the last year prior to the printing of Modern Horizons, Izzet Phoenix was the starting point for attacking the format. You either play Phoenix, or had to have a real plan to beat it. The meta has clearly shifted and the deck has gotten a little stale. Azorius Control can be a tough matchup, beating Hogaak’s best draws is a tall order for any deck and the treacherous Chalice of the Void has become much more popular. I’m here today to try and fix all this. And that doesn’t mean big sweeping changes, but changes on a small scale to what is a consistent and powerful archetype as well as adapting the sideboard accordingly might just lead to the resurgence of one of my favourite archetypes. Without much further ado:


Let’s look at what we are doing differently. Magmatic Sinkhole is something I wanted to move away from entirely, originally this card was something I was looking to in order to deal with the often game-breaking Narset, Parter of Veils that were primed to become popular after War of the Spark’s release. Hogaak has worked hard to push control decks out of the format, so I wanted to forgo the narrow answer. Sinkhole was also an always-key answer to Thing in the Ice in the mirror, but with Phoenix’s popularity on the down-swing as well, I’d like to move away from the card for now.

We are also back to playing Surgical Extraction in the main deck — a whopping three copies at that. This is mostly a concession to the strength of Hogaak, but what I’ve found is the card has more flexibility in the format than it seems at first glance. And at the very least, it leads to some of your most turbo-charged Phoenix draws which are very important with the format being so fast right now. Surgical can disrupt the Thopter Sword combo at times, hose the odd Snapcaster Mage target or even just to remove the oft problematic Path to Exile from the equation altogether in close games. It’s obviously important to have some free spells to enable your Phoenix’s and this is just the best spell to do that with right. Post-board it also allows you to take some creative lines with cards like Pillage against deck’s like Tron as well.

You may notice I have chose not to play a Fiery Islet like most popular lists. After playing it for awhile I have determined it to be more of a detriment than useful. Our deck already does a great job of sifting lands away with Faithless Looting that this land was like playing a City of Brass without much upside in practice. You’ll also notice that like many others I’ve chosen Aria of Flame to completely replace Crackling Drake entirely in this build and I have not missed the big flier at all. Aria allows for Storm-like one-turn-kills that have given Phoenix a massive boost in raw power level.

In my opinion the absolute best additions this deck gained from Modern Horizons have been Force of Negation and Seasoned Pyromancer. If Force of Negation was around just a little bit sooner, I feel like KCI would not even have needed a banning. It’s a nice bonus to give Phoenix — a very fair deck with a lot of pilot agency — a very real way of beating combo opponents. Seasoned Pyromancer slots in nicely for an alternate win-condition and nice grindy card in games where our graveyard comes under fire and improves our midrange matchups tremendously. Pyromancer allows you to go blow for blow with deck like Jund that was previously impossible.

Pillage has been great for me at combatting both artifact decks and decks with Tron lands. Its flexibility has made it an excellent choice to be included in our sideboard within this metagame. Between Pillage and Alpine Moon I have decided to forgo Blood Moon altogether as I feel like that card has really gotten progressively worse over the last few years. Now you just want these two specific cards for the Tron and Scapeshift matchups.

These are all small, but important changes like I said. I feel that Izzet Pheonix can be a force to be reckoned with again. To make sure your experience helps shed light on that, here’s my sideboard notes on the deck:

Hogaak

+1 Surgical Extraction
+2 Anger of the Gods
-3 Aria of Flame

Urza Snow

+2 Abrade
+2 Pillage
+3 Force of Negation
-2 Lava Dart
-1 Surgical Extraction
-1 Finale of Promise
-2 Thought Scour
-1 Lightning Bolt

Azorius Control

+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
+3 Force of Negation
-2 Surgical Extraction
-1 Finale of Promise
-1 Lava Dart
-2 Thing in the Ice

Jund

+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
-3 Surgical Extraction

Burn

+2 Abrade
+3 Force of Negation
-3 Surgical Extraction
-2 Aria of Flame

Humans

+2 Anger of the Gods
+2 Abrade
-3 Surgical Extraction
-1 Aria of Flame

Mardu Shadow

+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
-3 Surgical Extraction

Infect

+2 Abrade
+2 Alpine Moon
+3 Force of Negation
+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
-3 Aria of Flame
-3 Surgical Extraction
-2 Finale of Promise
-2 Thought Scour

Eldrazi Tron

+2 Abrade
+2 Pillage
+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
-3 Surgical Extraction
-2 Finale of Promise
-2 Lava Dart

Mono-Green Tron

+2 Abrade
+2 Pillage
+3 Force of Negation
+3 Seasoned Pyromancer
-1 Surgical Extraction
-2 Aria of Flame
-2 Finale of Promise
-2 Thing in the Ice
-2 Lava Dart
-1 Lightning Bolt

Modern is so diverse that you know it’s impossible to list every matchup here, but this should suffice for most of the metagame and hopefully you are able to learn to adapt accordingly.

This format can be so tricky sometimes. Every archetype is constantly shifting and you have to be willing to adapt on the fly. Maybe next week Jund will be playing zero copies of Fatal Push and in turn you’ll want to lean harder on Thing in the Ice in that matchup. Use the above notes to give you a strong starting point, but don’t be afraid to tune my ideas to the metagame you’re seeing.

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May your birds fly true!

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