Trophy number two. What a year it’s been so far.
(Adam) With flash of smiles—and firm handshake from Hunter Cochran—a new Grand Prix champion was forged.
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) January 7, 2019
This past weekend when the dust settled in Oakland, California at the first ever MagicFest I found myself in the winner’s circle. The deck I played Modern’s newest hotness: Izzet Pheonix. A deck super-charged by Arclight Phoenix that was first iterated on by Ross Meriam, who found success with it on the SCG Tour.
The deck is so powerful that I was lucky enough to go undefeated throughout the entire Grand Prix, which I’m told I am the twentieth person to have ever done. It feels really awesome to be part of such a small group of people to accomplish something like that. There were lots of tough rivals in the Top 8 to boot, like Matt Nass and Sam Black, but the deck was strong enough to propel me to victory even against the likes of the KCI menace. On Saturday night at the GP I gave Matt Sperling my list with some of the changes we discussed together at dinner. He then went undefeated in the Sunday PTQ (I’m not calling it Mythic Qualifier or whatever sorry not sorry) and qualified for the Mythic Championship in London. So as you can see, this list did a lot of winning this weekend.
What most people have focused on since the results were posted is the fact that the Top 8 was 50% KCI — there’s been lots of talk amongst the community of banning something in that deck. These arguments include: that it’s just too good, it’s terrible to watch for coverage and that there’s not enough counter-play in the metagame. My personal opinion is that none of these things are true, but to truly learn how to beat something you should learn to pilot it. That being said you all should play Izzet Phoenix or risk losing to it in the same way you are to KCI.
Modern has always had boogeymen, and the way that you work on your own deck to see how you can counteract that top deck is what’s tough about this format. This is one of Izzet’s greatest assets. It has a fast clock and disruption similar to Death’s Shadow and also sees a huge amount of cards every game. So, if you’re willing to tune, this deck is great.
Here’s what I came up with for the GP:
First Place, Izzet Phoenix – Eli Kassis
There’s been plenty of content produced about this deck already so I’m going to focus on what’s different about my list.
First, the mana includes a Breeding Pool. I’ve seen a lot of lists splashing white for Stony Silence, but I decided to utilize a touch of green mana in order to make Ancient Grudge a sideboard option. I liked the idea of using Thought Scour to try and dig deeper for it. Pitching Grudge to a Faithless Looting put it over the top for me and if you are up against a prison strategy it comes with built-in insurance. Every match I played in the Top 8 was against KCI, so this plan worked out especially well.
This is something to keep in mind in deckbuilding. Obviously on paper Stony Silence looks like the best possible card to help you increase your win percentage against KCI. But the rest of your deck can change that hierarchy, and this deck allows you to see Grudge so often, that I decided it was the better choice.
Secondly, and this one was the most controversial choice — I cut the Monastery Swiftspears from the classic list and replaced them with Pyromancer’s Ascension. My logic was that you can’t have a Thing in the Ice every game, but I wanted copies five and six of a powerful two-drop and this seemed like the best alternative. Utilizing the graveyard to do powerful things is an excellent game one strategy, but post-board it’s wise to pivot. We already play the best card to pair with Ascension in Manamorphose. These interactions let us churn through our deck with excellent velocity, powering out a majority of our Arclight Phoenix’s, and finishing them off with forked Lightning Bolts (or should I say Twincasted for the young ones?).
Basically, I wanted the deck to enact its most powerful game plan as often as possible — and that involved an engine-card on the second turn.
My last major change was to the sideboard. I played a couple Young Pyromancers for the purpose of dodging graveyard hate. Blood Moon to punish greedy mana bases and land-based strategies like Amulet. Threads of Disloyalty for mirrors and certain aggressive matchups like Death’s Shadow. Ceremonious Rejections because the maindeck is weak to KCI and Tron and Anger of the Gods for swarm-based strategies and also Dredge. I’ll go over changes and conclusions further down in the article.
Several people called this a transformational sideboard over the weekend, but it’s not so much a full transformation in the traditional sense. But, it does change a little bit away from an aggressive deck into one that can play at a slower pace and interact at instant speed. What I wanted most was to not over-sideboard three-drops and maintain the decks ability to be cantrip fluidly. This meant not bringing in Threads, Moons and Angers in the same matchups. I was often taking out Ascensions in preparation of encountering graveyard hate and filling those slots with these more potent sideboard cards.
Here are some of the clutch plays that came up in Oakland but aren’t always obvious at first and can be learned from:
- With Crackling Drake, you can consider using Surgical Extraction on your own spells to search out more copies and grow the Drake like a Become Immense.
- Starting out with a fetch to thin your deck of lands is clutch, but also important with the deck manipulation of your cantrips.
- There are negative synergies with Thing in the Ice, so plan ahead and don’t set yourself back too much by bouncing all your Phoenix’.
- Do not forget to use Surgical Extraction as a proactive way of preventing your opponent from Surgicaling all your Arclights.
- Serum Visions is the best cantrip on turn one if you’re not Looting two Arclight’s into the yard right away.
- There are turns you’ll want to flashback a looting and do nothing else on those turns just to setup for an even more powerful — the deck shows off its power in bursts.
- Crackling Drake counts the exile pile, people forget this constantly.
- Versus KCI you’ll want the threats with diverse casting costs most of all. This is to dodge Engineered Explosives blowouts.
- As opposed to traditional strategies, you want to play your cantrips on your first main phase. This way if you see an Arclight you can manipulate it into the yard.
- You might draw a Spirebluff Canal, so do not be too quick to play that third land even if it’s your only land.
Now for the good stuff. The “What would I change section”. Let me just show you:
Izzet Phoenix – Eli Kassis
My first big change is cutting Pyromancer’s Ascensions in favour of moving the Young Pyromancers to the maindeck. It’s not my favorite place for the card, but I believe it frees up space in the sideboard for more impactful post-board cards. We then see a return of Opt, now that we can diversify cantrips without Ascensions. The instant speed lets us get a little trickier with Thing in the Ice. I also think that it’s worth playing Lightning Axe going forward over Flame Slash. The extra point of damage killing Gurmag Angler and Baneslayer Angel is important and I neglected it, luckily, I did not get punished in Oakland. It also gives us an extra discard outlet after moving away from Izzet Charm in this list.
A quick note on Pryomancer: as I’ve mentioned a few times, having threats that dodge graveyard hate is very important to this deck. Having something like Young Pyro that allows you to enact a normal tempo-style game plan after they Surgical your Arclights or cast Rest in Peace is imperative to playing post-board Magic with this deck.
Without Flame Slash I wanted a Rending Volley to occupy a similar slot. I trimmed a Threads of Disloyalty to reduce the casting cost setback of over sideboarding. Scab-Clans are an excellent way to cement victories over combo decks like KCI and also solid inclusions against control decks. All the other sideboard slots performed well and I wouldn’t want to change them.
Some sideboarding tips:
- Do not go below two one-drop phyrexian mana spells.
- Don’t go below eight threats and make sure they are more than two different cards.
- Against KCI I cut Gut Shots andLightning Bolts.
- Grudge and Threads are both potent weapons against Infect (ever stolen a Spellskite?).
- Engineered Explosives comes in versus KCI, Bogles, Hardened Scales, Lantern, Death’s Shadow, Elves, affinity, Soul Sister’s, Ad Nauseum and a few other outlier decks.
- Do not board out Gut Shot versus Amulet.
- Don’t forget to board in Ancient Grudge versus decks that are highly likely to board in Damping Spheres — for example Valakut. This can be a problem card.
- Blood Moon is an effective strategy against Burn, especially if you suspect them to board in Path to Exile or Rest in Peace.
That’s all from me for now, I’m sure people would like more exact sideboard notes but honestly this is better for learning. Teach a man to fish and all.. I’m always happy to answer questions if you see me at an event so don’t be shy.
With my finish this weekend, I put myself in a position to reach Platinum pro status with a solid finish at the upcoming GP in New Jersey. This was one of my goals for this year, and I’m really excited to be so close to achieving it after this past weekend.
Feel free to share your tech too, dispute my findings and and thanks for listening here on magic.FaceToFaceGames.com!