Tournament Report: 1st Place at Pro Tour Qualifier with Mono-Red Phoenix

We all have come to realize that Phoenix decks are on top of the Modern format. However, Izzet is not the only way to get in with Arclight. Join us today for a Mono-Red Phoenix Tournament Report from the winner of the recent Pro Tour Qualifier that took place at Magic Fest Toronto. 

Decklist
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Main Event Report (5-3)
I started 5-0 into 0-3, putting me on full tilt. Apologies to my opponents if my recollections are off.

Rd 1: Bye

Rd 2: 2-1 over All-In Wilderness Reclamation
My opponent was on a rather unusual version of Reclamation combo focused on looping Nexus of Fate as early as possible. It featured cards such as Dictate of Kruphix and Heartbeat of Spring trying to get to seven as quickly as possible. All three games were the classic ships-passing-in-the-night Modern experience. I ran over my opponent twice, and they locked me out once.

Rd 3: 2-0 over Hardened Scales
A great matchup for Mono-Red. Four maindeck Forked Bolt with Pillar of Flame/Shattering Spree out of the side is good when backed up by significant pressure. In Game 1, my opponent kept a rather slow hand that had no way to interact with a reanimated Arclight Phoenix. In Game 2, my opponent notably kept a very sideboard-card heavy hand. They led with two Tormod’s Crypt, Mox Opal, and Hardened Scales, followed by a pair of Arcbound Workers after I played a Prowess creature. Pillar and Forked Bolt wiped his board and the game was routine from there.

Rd 4: 2-1 over Bring to Light Scapeshift
Another classic “ain’t no one trying to interact” experience. I was taken out by Madcap Emperion in Game 2 but I drew the quick kills in Games 1 and 3. Eidolon was quite good in Game 3 to shut the door on my opponent. He had to shock himself twice from seven to three, once from a shockland and once from Eidolon, to cast an Anger of the Gods to not be dead on board. I had Lava Spike in hand for the win.

Rd 5: 2-0 over Dredge
Another positive matchup for Mono-Red. Gut Shot and Forked Bolt makes blocking impossible for them and you have plenty of graveyard hate in the board. In Game 1, I had a nice early eight damage swing with Phoenix and Swiftspear that easily won through double Creeping Chill. In Game 2, my opponent kept a controlling hand that was light on dredgers. He Conflagrated my two Prowess creature on board while putting Stinkweed Imp in the graveyard. I promptly Surgical Extractioned it and found a second copy in my opponent’s hand, putting the game away.

Rd 6: 1-2 to Whir Prison
I got locked out by Chalice Turn 2 in Game 1 on the draw. I resolved Hazoret in Game 2, which went all the way in an extremely long game. Near the end of the game, after I found a ninth land, my opponent took one damage off a Spire of Industry to redirect a Shattering Spree copy to his Spellskite, taking him from 13 to 12 life. I had been accumulating cards in hand and after drawing the sixth, I discarded three cards to Hazoret on his endstep and then discarded three more during my main phase for the win. In Game 3 he sided in a Spyglass to shut down that plan and I just ran out of win conditions after both Eidolons and both Shrines were dealt with.

Rd 7: 0-2 to RG Titanshift
Completely my fault. Kept a loose hand off of a Faithless Looting in Game 1, which whiffed. Then in Game 2, I mulliganed a no-lander to a slow six-card hand, which I should have mulled to five. But for lack of discipline, I kept it and got outraced.

Rd 8: 1-2 to Eldrazi Stompy
Definitely the most tilting match of the tournament. This is nothing against my opponent, who was very nice, just a comment about how it happened to play out. In Game 1 I kept a strong hand on the play that could definitely have a giant Turn 3 attack with two Prowess creatures but after keeping, my opponent Serum Powdered and mulliganed to 4 into a Turn 2 Chalice, which ruined my plans. It was followed up over the next three turns by Mimic, Thought-Knot, Thought-Knot. In Game 2, my opponent kept a very slow sketcher with Turn 2 Chalice but not much else going on. I happened to have a Spree to play through it, and eventually took over. At this point, I assumed my opponent was someone who was determined to find Chalice of the Void no matter how awful the hand, and I kept a very slow hand with a Shattering Spree, thinking that I would have some time to shape my hand, but he had the aggro Eldrazi draw and I just died with no targets for Spree. Terrible decision on my part.

Dropping from 5-0 to 5-3 meant that I would not make Day 2. I felt pretty bad at this point, but I realized that I drew some tough matchups near the end and I messed up a bunch. So I resisted the temptation to tinker with the list, and registered for the PTQ with the same decklist as the the night before.

PTQ Report: 1st Place (8-0)
Again, apologies to my opponents if my recollections are off. I have done my best to remember accurately.

Rd 1: 2-0 over Amulet Titan
They do not even try to interact, and I had the nuts twice. In Game 1 I went Swiftspear, attack, go. My opponent played Gemstone Mine, Sakura-Tribe Scout. I then went double Manamorphose, Looting, discard two Phoenix, Gut Shot. My opponent concedes on the spot and Game 2 was not much different.

Rd 2: 2-1 over Sultai Isochron Scepter with Death’s Shadow
Very cool brew. In Game 1, he put Trophy onto Scepter, but it is not exactly the most effective play against recurring Phoenixes and burn spells. It nevertheless played out a lot like the Death’s Shadow matchup normally does. We both try to position ourselves to one-shot each other, and he ends up three damage short. In Game 2, I try to one shot him in a line involving reanimating Phoenix and praying for a burn spell off a Looting but it did not work out. I end up two damage short and take eighteen on the crackback from two Shadows. In Game 3, he gets stuck on two lands with one basic and does not have the colors to deploy all his answers in a timely fashion and gets run over.

Rd 3: 2-1 over Eldrazi Tron
I run over him Game 1 but he Chalices me out in Game 2. In Game 3 he gets stuck on five mana for a few turns and cannot deploy his Wurmcoil Engine. So my Hazoret and two Soul-Scar Mage board goes all the way.

Rd 4: 2-1 over UR Phoenix (Adam Yurchick)
I did not know that Adam was a fellow Clevelander. It was a very fun matchup against a super chill pro player. I never thought I would ever again have a conversation about the mighty Compendium Collectibles, may it rest in peace. Anyways, I regard this as a slightly favorable matchup for Mono-Red. Our aggro draws are more aggressive and our control game is more controlling; if we are playing Forked Bolts and Pillars at least. This gives you a bit more latitude in optimally performing role assignment based on the texture of your hand and your opponent’s hand. I think this is more important than the blue card selection but it is still a close matchup.

All three games were quite long and grindy, as is typical for this matchup. I frankly do not remember a lot of the interesting decisions that happened along the way. I got ground out by Phoenixes in Game 1 and I ground him out with Prowess beats and Phoenixes in Game 2. However, I vividly remember Game 3. He landed a Turn 2 Dragon’s Claw but does not have a board besides that. I got two points of Swiftspear damage in over the first two turns and followed up with a quadruple spell turn that gains him four life. But I end up with a five-power Swiftspear, two Phoenixes, and two points of burn along the way; knocking him from 22 to 9. He cantrips and stabilizes with a second Claw, but it is not enough lifegain to fend off the attack. I land a Shrine in the penultimate turn. In the last turn of the game a Lightning Bolt on a Phoenix leaves me one point short of lethal, which I deal with the Shrine.

As an aside, I think this is the general danger with playing Dragon’s Claw in the Izzet versus Mono-Red Phoenix matchup; not to take anything away from Adam. Neither deck can afford to be passive, as both decks can hit so hard. I think it is worthwhile in the Mono-red mirror, but that is a somewhat different matter since the burn-heavy hands are real and do necessitate it. I mention this lest any reader think that the matchups are the same. The games play out rather differently despite the fact that both decks play Arclight Phoenix.

Rd 5: 2-1 over Humans
In Game 1, I had a nice Turn 1 Swiftspear hand on the play. I cleared out a Champion of the Parish to get in for four, which was only followed up by a naked Thalia’s Lieutenant. Two turns later I accumulated enough resources to reanimate a Phoenix alongside a big Prowess swing to close the game out. In Game 2, my opponent led with Champion into Thalia. I had a third land in hand so I bolted Champion with a second Bolt in hand, thinking I have time to play the control game. Then he follows up with a Tajic, which I am of course obliged to kill before I target Thalia despite having a Soul-Scar Mage; the controller chooses which replacement effect happens. I fall behind from there and he closes it out.

In Game 3, my opponent keeps a two land, triple Auriok Champion hand, which runs into kind of the same Dragon’s Claw issue Yurchick encountered in the previous match. I can outrace three 1/1s at two mana each even if you are gaining some life along the way.

At 5-0 I finish first seed so I will be on the play in Top 8; which is absolutely huge for my deck.

Quarterfinals: 2-0 over UW Control
A slightly favorable matchup in my opinion. My opponent has a pretty clunky hand in Game 1, and I get in quite a lot of chip shot damage with Prowess creatures before hardcasting some Phoenixes to close out. In Game 2, my opponent mulligans to 5, but it is a good 5-card hand with Timely Reinforcements and Blessed Alliance. I have a hand heavy on burn but containing a Reveler so I unload triple Bolt early to enable it. He of course gains 10 off his two life-gain spells, but Reveler shuts the door, producing another Prowess creature and some spells to fuel both. An interesting play occurred when Reveler was cast. My hand was one card: the other Reveler. My opponent Cliques me and takes. I do not think this is good since if I draw Gut Shot, he will be pretty sad. But it got replaced by a Mountain, which was discarded for three business spells. He cantrips into Supreme Verdict two turns later, but it is too late for him.

Semifinals: 2-1 over Izzet Phoenix
In Game 1, I keep a very speculative six-card hand with Mage, Manamorphose, double Looting, double Mountain, trying to find the nuts on Turn 2, but I whiff and die to Thing in the Ice. In Game 2, my opponent blocks a Soul-Scar Mage with Thing in the Ice, just to have it die to Bolt, but he has a second Thing. Key fact to remember for later. The next turn, I make two Phoenixes, and my opponent does not have Surgical or enough spells to outrace. Game 3 was a very tight, extremely long, drawn out game. I start off one card down after throwing away the sample hand mentioned in section III. Of course, we are both Phoenix Control now. I have a turn 1 Soul-Scar, which is met by a Turn 2 Thing. I Forked Bolt the Thing and attack, hoping he will block – he blocked in Game 2, but he does not block and takes 2. My hand at this point is Pillar, Light Up, Surgical. I tank for a really long time and end up making the safe play to Pillar his Thing in the Ice. It does not get exiled due to Soul-Scar’s replacement effect. I tank some more about whether to Surgical it. He discarded a Crackling Drake to Looting Turn 1, and it is sometimes played as a one-of rather than a two-of, so I figure with only Phoenixes in his deck, he cannot close out easily. But I hold just in case he gets the Phoenix draw, since based on my Game 2 recollection, he probably does not have a second Thing in hand, otherwise he might have blocked, and I do not feel any urgency to Surgical now and would like to preserve the option.

He cantrips a bunch back, rewarding me for my safe play, and the next turn, I topdeck a Shrine and slam it. At fourteen life, he Bolts my Soul-Scar, leaving me with just the Shrine. Now the game goes into full durdle mode with both of us cantripping into straight garbage. I Light Up twice and both times I find double Mountain. He casts multiple Lootings which discard multiple lands. Shrine slowly but surely ticks up to eleven counters. He finally finds an Abrade, but it is too little too late, as I eleven him in response and topdeck Bolt him to close out.

Finals: 2-0 over Whir Prison
So satisfying to get my revenge against Chalice decks in the finals. The other possibility was Hardened Scales, but this is truly the final boss.

I mulligan a no-lander into a six-card double Phoenix hand, which just crushes in the absence of Chalice of the Void. My opponent has Bridge but not enough mana to dump his hand, and he just gets stuck with cards in hand for a turn too long.

My opponent tanks for a long time in sideboarding, revealing after the match that he was not sure if he should board more as if I were a Burn deck or more as if I were a UR Phoenix deck. We shuffle up and I keep a hand that has Swiftspear and double Manamorphose to try and make something happen on Turn 2. I know it might be soft to Chalice, but you cannot mulligan to Spree. Luckily, after he goes land-go, my first draw is a Spree and I am feeling like it is my time to shine. Yes, it is obscenely lucky but no one ever won a tournament getting unlucky. I get in for one with Monastery Swiftspear and then my opponent makes the game losing play, which he laments to me about after the match. With Spellskite and Chalice in hand, he should play Spellskite first to play around a Shatter effect, but he plays Chalice first fearing the Phoenix nuts. I Manamorphose twice into replicated Spree to kill Chalice, and he follows up with his Spellskite. Now I get to land the killing blow. I Loot away a Phoenix and a Bolt, because of the Spellskite, and then double Lava Spike before attacking. He chumps with Spellskite, and dies two turns later in the face of Eidolon backup and a topdecked third Lava Spike.

I am not going to pretend like all of the above was not a super-hot, super-lucky run but at the same time, it felt great to reap some kind of reward for the weeks of testing and tuning I did leading up to the tournament.

Options to Consider Going Forward
Abrade
The flexibility does not make up for its steep casting cost in my opinion. This is a deck that is trying to chain a bunch of spells together. Two mana is a lot more than one here. Moreover, with the rise of Whir Prison I think being able to play through Welding Jar is crucial, and this card does not do that. Finally, three damage is not the sweet spot. Some of the strongest cards against us such as Eidolon of Rhetoric, Kalitas, Tarmogoyf, and Thing in the Ice have four or more toughness. The second mana just is not buying you enough extra power. This card might be a decent one-of sideboard card to hedge against opposing Dragon’s Claws but I doubt it. This card has really under-performed in my testing.

Anger of the Gods
Another possibility as a graveyard hate card that does double-duty as a good control card. It is a bit expensive for what it does, but I played a couple over the Pillars until a few days before the GP. Given Dredge’s strong performance in recent weeks it may be time to slot it in again. It is counter-intuitive to play this and Arclight Phoenix together, but with good sequencing it will not backfire. Good sequencing means that you consider the possibility you might draw it and want to cast it and that you play it in such a way that you are not screwing yourself over should this possibility come to pass. One common line with Anger is to chain another spell into Anger to clear your opponent’s board while saving all your own Prowess creatures.

Blood Moon
When I played in Toronto, I was very low on Blood Moon. It was my opinion that it did not synergize with the plan at all and that I would rather race against the big mana decks than play a do nothing enchantment. Since then, my thinking on this point has evolved. I think I was too quick to dismiss Blood Moon due to its poor performance against Tron and extrapolated improperly from those experiences. I think two Blood Moon is likely very good in the sideboard and should slot in where Eidolon does; playing a different but similarly impactful, disruptive role in many of the same matchups. For example, turning Whir Prison off of Whir and painless Spellskite activations can be pretty good. More generally, it is probably a little better than Eidolon just because it is harder to interact with.

Burst Lightning
A card that offers even more flexibility than Pillar of Flame. It is an instant and the kicker is not impossible to reach, we sometimes hardcast Phoenix, at the expense of not acting as incidental graveyard hate. I suspect that this is an idea worth taking quite seriously; although I have not tested enough to fully confirm my suspicion. Against Affinity and Hardened Scales, it is a bit of a wash, since Pillar’s ability to turn off Modular is compensated for by Burst Lightning’s ability to interact with creature lands, and its diminished utility against Dredge probably requires that you run another hate card like Anger of the Gods; which may be correct either way. On the other hand, it is clearly better against Aether Vial and Collected Company decks, not just because it is good to be able to respond to those cards but also because these decks often run hate creatures with larger toughness. Burst Lightning is, at least theoretically, an out to those. Given Pillar’s lack of synergy with Soul-Scar Mage, I believe it is probably correct to run this instead.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
A possible upgrade to Hazoret the Fervent. Chandra does not get hit by Path to Exile, which is particularly relevant since you would like to side in such a high impact card against control decks if possible. Chandra is obviously much better against Ensnaring Bridge. I think Prison and UWx are probably popular enough that these advantages outweigh the downside that Chandra can be attacked and destroyed with spells like Assassin’s Trophy but I probably would not play either right now. Arclight Phoenix decks seem to have further increased the speed and linearity of Modern. Hence, neither of these cards feel particularly well-positioned.

Dismember
An interesting sideboard possibility. It cannot go upstairs, but it kills almost every problematic creature we care about, including Kor Firewalker and Kalitas; the key exception being Auriok Champion. If the deck develops a target on its back, causing hate cards like those to increase in popularity, Dismember would be the obvious response. It is possible this day has already arrived, if my testing on Magic Online is any indication. To be clear, I do not think you can overload on these because against most decks it is very hard to safely pay eight life or more, but it is at least a unique singleton to draw towards or perhaps a two-of where you hope not to draw both.

Mutagenic Growth
A new idea that I have had success with in testing recently. It kind of functions like a flexible counterspell of sorts. Against Lightning Bolt, it saves all your Prowess creatures from dying, and it can surprise a large blocker. On the flip side, it can punch through for two or three damage, on top of a Prowess trigger, that your opponent was not expecting. I have enjoyed it a lot in my sideboard as a “reactive card” that can still play proactively. You cannot really maindeck it because there are too many matchups where you do not want combat tricks but it is a unique angle of attack to have access to. In the present metagame, I am not sure there are enough matchups where this is something you really want but it is an idea to keep in your back pocket if your metagame permits it.

Tormod’s Crypt
An option for those truly terrified about Dredge and Goryo’s Vengeance. It even has a bit of upside irrespective of its effect, since it is a free Prowess trigger but I emphasize that it is really narrow. One might hope that it has some applicability against decks like Storm, but really it is just mediocre there. You would not play this unless you specifically were worried about dedicated graveyard decks. I mention this card only because such decks are expected to be one of the chief beneficiaries of the new mulligan rule in London, so it may come to pass that this is a reasonable option.

Wrap-Up
We hope that you enjoyed reading about Kenan’s red-hot run at the PTQ. Mono-Red Phoenix made Top 32 at GP LA this past weekend and has proven itself to be much more than a budget version of Izzet Phoenix. If you would like to join the content team to contribute, please contact us here. Or if you just need a place to discuss your ideas and impact future site content we have a group for you. We will be back tomorrow with an updated list and accompanying guide. Until then my friends.

 

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