Our discussion group was asked what they believe to be the best deck going into Grand Prix Toronto this weekend. While Burn put up a good fight, Arclight Phoenix came out on top. It is very rare that cards make as big a splash as Arclight Phoenix has in Modern. Izzet Phoenix has been proving that it is a Tier 1 archetype since the printing of Arclight Phoenix in Guilds of Ravnica. Similar to the experimentation in yesterday’s article, Arclight players have been exploring other color possibilities for the lightning bird to great success. Today, we will take a look at a couple of the builds that have been doing well and go over some strengths and weaknesses.
First, we have the most aggressive Phoenix build, Mono-Red. Up until Jeff Carr’s 2nd place performance with his team at SCG Baltimore this build was viewed as an inferior, budget build. However, it has gone through some drastic changes since the lists first started popping up late last year. The new toys Light Up The Stage and Skewer the Critics were great additions to the Mono-Red build. Light Up the Stage helps add card advantage to the deck, something this version was sorely lacking. With the addition of Skewer the Critics the maindeck is now literally 20% Lightning Bolts. The Spectacle mechanic pairs incredibly well with Gut Shot, which is of course great with Arclight; likely making this the best home for the “free” burn spell. A Mountain only mana base gives this build the most consistent and least painful mana as well. This also helps make this one of the cheapest variants for budget conscious players. It is the fastest and most aggressive build but the drawback is that it is not very adaptable. There really is not much opportunity to take a controlling role in any matchup. If you are looking for an aggressive Phoenix build and are okay with having less of a plan B, Mono-Red might be for you.
Little introduction is needed for Izzet Phoenix. It has been a top contender for the past couple months. Ross Merriam was one of the earliest champions of the deck so as an example we chose his most recent placing list. One of the biggest advantages of Izzet Phoenix over some of the other builds is the versatility. It is very capable of playing long games while also having the potential for some very explosive starts. It is very hard to shut down Izzet Phoenix with sideboard hate because of its ability to operate on multiple axes. Graveyard hate is not nearly effective against them as it is against something like Dredge as half of their threat base in unaffected. Thing in the Ice may be the true all-star in the deck and is a big reason to choose Izzet over Mono-Red. It would seem that multi-spell hate such as Damping Sphere would be the best option. However, similar to the Twin builds of old they are very comfortable transitioning into a slower controlling role with Blood Moon postboard. Overall, Izzet is probably the most well rounded and adaptable of the builds but that also means it does not excel in any one area.
Temur Phoenix is one of the more interesting Phoenix builds we have seen so far. It had not been seen until Ryan Overturf piloted it and helped bring his team the trophy at SCG Baltimore. The payoff card for adding green is Traverse the Ulvenwald. Traverse fits into the Phoenix archetype relatively cleanly. There is a small amount of friction as Traverse wants you to diversify card types as much as possible while the creatures want you to play as many instants and sorceries as possible. Other than that slight awkwardness, many of things you want in a Traverse deck and a Phoenix deck are well aligned. Traverse itself triggers Arclight and both cards appreciate a well stocked graveyard. This allows Temur Phoenix to be able to grind the best out of any of the Phoenix builds. One downside to this version is that it is more susceptible to graveyard hate than Mono-Red or Izzet Phoenix. Going forward, I expect Temur Phoenix to remain a viable build but I do not expect it to become the de facto Phoenix version.
Last but not least, we have the spiciest Phoenix build. It has not managed to break through at a high level as the other builds have, but MTGO user Manmol did manage to 5-0 twice in two days with it. Adding Goryo’s Vengance to Phoenix builds gives it an explosiveness that no other version can match. As a natural Faithless Looting deck, this build is able to get Griselbrand onto the battlefield Turn 2. This deck is not set up to kill instantly once Griselbrand hits the battlefield like a deck like Grishoalbrand. Instead, it uses the card advantage and huge threats to find a path to victory. But with only five discard outlets it seems somewhat inconsistent to bin Griselbrand. Furthermore, there are only five targets for Vengeance. The fifth target, Jace, will stick around permanently if you manage to flip it, as it will be a new object unrelated to the Vengeance that brought it back. To add consistency to the reanimation package they likely should at at least one more Jace and another Izzet Charm. This version is very cool but less consistent and more vulnerable to graveyard hate when compared to the more traditional builds. While fun and explosive, I am not sure this deck has the staying power of the other Phoenix builds.
Any color you like, as long as it’s Red
At the end of the day, all of these versions of Arclight Phoenix decks are viable. Faithless Looting is an incredibly powerful magic card and as long as you are casting that alongside your Arclight Phoenixes, it is hard to go wrong. If I had to choose a list for an open field, I would probably still choose Izzet Phoenix. It is the most well-rounded version and hits the sweet spots between power level and consistency as well as aggression and interaction.
We are inclined to agree with our discussion group; Arclight definitely is the deck to beat going into the Grand Prix this weekend. If you are not playing it you must be prepared to beat it. If you would like to join up and have an impact on future articles, we would be happy to have you. You will even be entered in this week’s giveaway, which ends tonight, just for being a member. We will return next week to review the results of the Grand Prix. Until then my friends.