Deck Spotlight: (Pioneer) Izzet Phoenix

Hello! Cherryxman here again for another deck guide. Last time I wrote about Eldrazi Tron in Modern and Pioneer didn’t exist yet. Ever since it was announced, I have been exploring a huge array of archetypes. With a few bannings under its belt, the format has evolved a ton and now, without Oko and Once Upon a Time, playing strategies devoid of green is the best it has ever been.

From the day the format was announced, there were concerns voiced over cards banned in other formats that remained legal in Pioneer. Two, in particular, stood out to me; Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. Banned in all formats except Vintage where they are restricted (the format’s equivalent for banning), both of managed to dodge the same fate in Pioneer…so far. Izzet Phoenix looks to abuse one of them (Cruise) and, with the combination of cheap removal and graveyard filling cantrips, casting it early is rather easy to do.


Cherryxman’s Izzet Phoenix [12/2019]

Creatures (11)
Brazen Borrower
Young Pyromancer
Crackling Drake
Arclight Phoenix

Spells (29)
Opt
Finale of Promise
Chart a Course
Strategic Planning
Wild Slash
Treasure Cruise
Izzet Charm
Lightning Axe
Lands (20)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island

Sideboard (15)
Magma Spray
Mizzium Mortars
Narset, Parter of Veils
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
Aether Gust
Fry
Negate


Key Cards

Arclight Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix, the namesake card, provides an incredible source of pressure, coming down fairly regularly on turn and often in multiples. In this deck, it is possible, but rare, to return a Phoenix to the board on turn three but the deck is built in a way that you are able to control the board well with disruption so that blistering speed is not always necessary.

Treasure Cruise

Alongside Phoenix, Treausure Cruise is an essential part of this deck’s operation. Often costing only one mana (due to the incredible amount of cheap cantrip spells in this build), it is efficient card draw at an unprecedented level. In any topdeck war, having Cruise and cantrips to dig for Cruise puts you extremely far ahead and most decks won’t be able to keep up.

Young Pyromancer

Young Pyromancer is the most recent innovation for the archetype, replacing Thing in the Ice. Thing in the Ice felt rather clunky in this format where we lack free spells like Manamorphose to help flip it on turn three. Pyro can win the game by itself and can go incredibly wide in doubles but also often serves as a great defense against aggressive creatures on the ground, generating an incredibly large amount of tokens if left unchecked for even one turn.

Izzet Charm

Izzet Charm is incredibly versatile and, whilst below rate on each mode, its overall utility finds relevance in almost any matchup. It serves as removal, stack interaction through its counter mode, and when it comes to it, a way to put Phoenix into the graveyard and/or dig for a threat.


Removal

Wild Slash

Wild Slash serves as the best cheap interaction for the one-mana ramp creatures and, against any aggressive deck, can slow them down enough to take over the game.

Lightning Axe

Lightning Axe, whilst effectively card disadvantage, is playable in this deck because it serves as a discard outlet for Phoenix and, when going late, can pitch excess lands to deal with larger threats. In fact, without Thing in the Ice, it is the deck’s only way to effectively deal with cards like Kalitas, Traiter of Ghet and a big Scavenging Ooze (after devouring a few of your Phoenixes).

Brazen Borrower

Petty Theft is a very powerful tempo play that curves out nicely into Brazen Borrower, an aggressively-costed flyer to apply some pressure.  Petty Theft is, in fact, the only way to interact with some noncreature permanents for this deck as enchantments and planeswalkers, in particular, are often difficult for blue and red decks to deal with.


Cantrips

Opt

Opt is the only one-mana cantrip that also offers some kind of card selection in the format and is a core part of the deck for obvious reasons.

Strategic Planning/Chart a Course

Strategic Planning and Chart a Course both fill the same role at two mana. They help to find Cruise or another payoff while also fueling the Phoenix and Pyromancer plan.


The Rest

This leaves two slots for spells, and there is some flexibility here. One that Matthew Foulkes came up with on his stream was Finale of Promise and, while it only has eight reasonable sorcery targets, the rate at which you go through the deck is great enough to find one very consistently.

Finale of Promise

Acting as three spells for Phoenix is very useful at four mana. I have limited experience with it, but it consistently performed well for him so I think it is likely a worthwhile going forward. It is worth noting, however, that Teferi, Time Raveler’s static ability prevents spells from being cast using Finale. What a jerk!

Crackling Drake

There is room for experimenting with the last slot, but I think Crackling Drake is a very solid choice (and one that I think is great in the 75) but it is expensive, and in some matchups, can be too slow and clunky.


Cards to Watch Out For

Before I cover sideboarding, I will discuss the main threats to this deck and which decks play them so that you can be prepared to answer them as they arise.

Narset Parter of Veils is a common feature in UW Control decks’ mainboards and sideboards of opposing Izzet Phoenix decks. This planeswalker can invalidate a lot of your draws through its static ability and, if you fall behind on board with a Narset on the battlefield, the game can quickly find its end.

Fry serves as a great answer for Narset, other planeswalkers and Lyra (also played in UW Control), though quite a bit less useful against Phoenix mirrors with Narset and Drake being its only targets. Lyra often feels like it does more damage than good to a UW player as tapping out for a five-drop is very dangerous for them. Several times, when a UW pilot cast Lyra against me, on my turn, I was able to resolve a Treasure Cruise or some cantrips and gain some board advantage via Phoenix while also being able to kill the Lyra for just two mana with Fry. I think Fry is incredible in the UW matchup and, while Negate is a strong option to combat Control decks as well, it can fall short between Teferi ,Time Raveler shutting it down and Supreme Verdict/Dovin’s Veto being uncounterable.

Graveyard hate is obviously a threat, however, it is not as common in Pioneer as it is in other formats. Scavenging Ooze is soft grave hate that, while the deck can beat it with ease, will require a quick answer before it can grow out of control. I have faced Leyline of the Void out of Mono Black Aggro twice now but I managed to beat it both times by playing a somewhat underpowered control game, leveraging Young Pyromancer. I think this aspect is situation is critical as an army of tokens will be very difficult for them to attack through and should also provide a means to win the game. They also have Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which is another must-kill card, although, less effective with Leyline out.

A matchup that is more difficult is the ramp one, where Ugin, the Spirit Dragon can be devastating. They also have World Breaker to shut down the Phoenix plan and Walking Ballista for Pyromancer. You can play around these cards, though, and I think Disdainful Stroke will be a two- to three-of in the board if the deck gains popularity. With a Phoenix in hand/graveyard, you can kill an Ugin when they -4 it, assuming that there is no World Breaker or Cavalier of Thorns in play with reach to block. Playing two Pyromancers to the board may be weak to Ballista, but, generally speaking, knowing when you need to “go for it” from behind is important and this risk might be worthwhile.


Sideboarding

It is very much worth noting that the sideboard should be adjusted as the format progresses but some of the cards are less likely to change than others. I think the most useful information is not a strict guide for matchups but a more generalized one as things change so fast in Pioneer.

First I will discuss the boarding-in process, and which matchups each card is good for.

  • Magma Spray: serves as additional removal for mana dork creatures and is good vs Mono Black’s recursive threats/any other creature-based aggro decks.
  • Aether Gust: Against any deck heavy on green or red spells, this is a strong tempo play (particularly strong if a red-based aggro deck starts becoming popular).
  • Fry: Similar to Gust, but for blue and white. So far, Fry is most useful against UW Control but also comes in against other fringe aggressive strategies like Spirits.
  • Mizzium Mortars: Helps when opponents are playing bigger creatures that can’t be dealt with by one Slash. Also, overloading this is very possible in longer games.  I would consider boarding one in the mirror to be able to push through lethal.
  • Negate: Great vs control and combo decks like Lotus Field Combo. Its also strong for Ugin out of Mono Green Ramp as that is the most powerful card they have in the matchup.
  • Narset: Good for any grindy matchup. Narset is especially effective wherever the static ability is relevant (ie. the mirror or against Lotus Field).
  • Saheeli, Sublime Artificer: Another copy of Pyromancer. Good for additional pressure and blockers, especially against creature decks based on the ground.

Boarding out can be more difficult in some cases, where the removal is not dead.

Phoenix will never be boarded out and Cruise is unlikely, too (though potentially against an aggressive deck that also has graveyard hate).

Young Pyromancer is much more reasonable to board out as it can look very weak in the face of Goblin Chainwhirler and Wild Slash/Fatal Push decks, but I think, generally, against those decks, it is still very effective at creating a good road block on the ground and bridging into the late game where the deck can really start to “go off”.

Izzet Charm is very worthwhile against creature decks as additional versatile removal but, if the counter mode is weak and the removal is dead, trimming 1-2 is ok.

Lightning Axe and Wild Slash really depend on the opponents threat base. If they run very few creatures, you can cut back on these entirely.

Opt, Planning, and Chart are crucial to the engine, though if it came to it, trimming on Chart would be where I would start.

Finale gets a lot weaker vs any graveyard hate and Teferi, but it does have a high upside, so I would suggest only boarding out against very probable grave hate.

Brazen Borrower is underwhelming when both modes are not relevant (against mono black, for example, where trading two mana to bounce a one-drop and not being that relevant in the air makes it rather lackluster).

Thanks for Reading! If you have any questions about the deck you can contact me on Reddit (Cherryxman), Twitter (@CHERRYAXEMAN_OP), or MTGO (Cherryxman). I post about the decks I’m doing well with in tournaments on twitter so if you’re interested in that follow there, too.

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