Since the printing of Arclight Phoenix in Guilds of Ravnica, various Izzet decks have leveraged this recursive flier in Standard, Modern, Pioneer, Historic, and Explorer. While many other versions leveraged the power of cards like Faithless Looting and Thought Scour, current versions of Izzet Phoenix leverage Expressive Iteration, Consider, and delve spells to rapidly churn through your deck while still affecting the battlefield. Izzet Phoenix decks are known for combining card draw with red removal to keep the opponent from overwhelming you while you get off the ground.
While the Explorer version of Izzet Phoenix is missing a few tools from the Pioneer version, namely Treasure Cruise, Temporal Trespass, Pieces of the Puzzle, and Thing in the Ice, with the printing of Ledger Shredder in Streets of New Capenna, we’ve seen this archetype find new footing in Explorer.
Let’s start by breaking down the cards that make up this longstanding archetype in this brand-new format:
The primary threat in Izzet Phoenix is unsurprisingly Arclight Phoenix. This haste flier can reasonably pressure opposing life totals and Planeswalkers when cast from hand, but the primary purpose of Arclight Phoenix is to recur from the graveyard. When you put an Arclight Phoenix into play for free, it immediately pressures the opponent as you’ve been leveraging your mana to gain incremental advantage and your reward is a free 3/2 flier, while opponents must spend their time and mana casting threats. Arclight Phoenix also enables several of your cantrips by giving you a card that gains value through discard so the card neutral cantrips such as Chart a Course have little to no downside in this archetype. Arclight is also a solid blocker that can trade-off with opposing creatures before recurring or pressure the opponent from turn three onwards. Izzet Phoenix hinges on the power of Arclight Phoenix and the difficulty most decks have with answering it for good.
The secondary threat in this deck is an homage to older Izzet Phoenix or Drakes decks in Crackling Drake. While in Pioneer, Izzet Phoenix leans heavily on Thing in the Ice, the Explorer version doesn’t have access to that powerful two-drop yet, so instead we leverage Crackling Drake as a guaranteed two-for-one that can immediately threaten the opponent’s life total. Getting larger with each spells in your graveyard or exile, Crackling Drake also helps move Phoenix away from being graveyard reliant. Without a secondary non-graveyard threat, Phoenix is susceptible to cards like Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger's Cage, or Rest in Peace which can easily turn the deck off without some alternative win conditions. Crackling Drake can also combo with Maximize Velocity or
Next, we have the latest addition to this style of deck that has helped both the Explorer and Pioneer version of Izzet Phoenix find some more success lately in Ledger Shredder. Playing a similar role to Thing in the Ice in containing early aggression, Ledger Shredder can block one and two-drop creatures well and if either player casts two spells in a turn, it can grow Shredder through connive. Especially against red decks and in the mirror, you can get a trigger on each players turn reliably, and Shredder grows out of burn range quickly. Much like Thing in the Ice, Ledger Shredder can grow and threaten the opponent, forcing removal and opening the path for Arclight Phoenix and Crackling Drake to cross the finish line. Shredder also plays nicely in Izzet Phoenix since the connive ability allows you to loot, enabling a consistent discard outlet for Arclight Phoenix or other recursive graveyard-based threats. It’s rare that we get a card that fits the power level of a powerful existing deck in Pioneer while complimenting the main game plan, but Ledger Shredder is a perfect fit for blue decks that leverage the graveyard.
The final threat for Izzet Phoenix is found in the mana-base. We’ve long since gotten used to creature lands being powerful threats for midrange and control decks, but few decks have leaned into that premise quite like Izzet Phoenix. Hall of Storm Giants has become a Pioneer and Explorer staple for control decks and Izzet Phoenix. In Pioneer, Hall combines with Temporal Trespass to deal huge chunks of damage uncontested, but in Explorer, Hall serves more as a finial threat after the opponent has finally dealt with your fliers; with it, you can continue your pressure through a difficult to interact with threat. Especially good at dealing with pesky Planeswalkers, Hall’s ward ability will help to close off opponent’s opportunities back into the game, even if they can answer everything else. Without the delve spells, I currently only have one Hall of Storm Giants in the deck, but once delve spells make their way onto MTG Arena, I would immediately add the second copy as it is one of your best late game threats, especially against control decks.
Izzet Phoenix leverages the card draw in Blue and the removal in Red to have play against a wide variety of decks. While most of the removal in Phoenix is interchangeable, there are a few key elements to know about the removal suite in Explorer versus Pioneer along with why this version is playing a card disadvantage-based removal spell in Lightning Axe.
Lightning Axe is generally played in decks that want to put cards in their graveyard, such as Dredge in Modern, Mardu Greasefang in Pioneer, and Izzet Phoenix. As you can imagine, going down on cards to answer a threat isn’t the ideal strategy for a blue-based control deck, but in this deck, you’re able to discard Arclight Phoenix and accelerate your game plan while stifling opposing aggression. Also, thanks to the cantrips in this deck, you often have excess lands in hand that you can profitably discard to enable Lightning Axe. While a good synergy card, Lightning Axe is also a necessary card in the current Explorer format in dealing with larger creatures as Izzet would have no efficient way to do so without it.
In Pioneer, the other removal spells tend to be a split of Fiery Impulse and Flame-Blessed Bolt, but with Fiery Impulse not being on Arena quite yet, I’ve defaulted to leveraging the latest red removal spell from Streets of New Capenna, Strangle. While a sorcery, a guarantee of three damage is important, especially against cards like Graveyard Trespasser, Narset, Parter of Veils, and Ledger Shredder. I think in the future you would likely move to four Fiery Impulse and any excess copies of removal you plan to play; I would consider running Strangle over Flame-Blessed Bolt, but as Explorer is now, Strangle is the most efficient red removal option you have, and it certainly does the job.
Card Draw and Filtering
Opt and Consider have paired up since Consider’s printing in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt revitalizing this archetype in Pioneer. Consider being able to feed your graveyard was a major turning point in Pioneer Izzet Phoenix’s resurgence and once the delve spells make their way onto Arena, expect to see the full power Consider brings to this deck. As it is now, Opt and Consider work as cheap filtering that can bring back Arclight Phoenix and power up Ledger Shredder and Crackling Drake. While they aren’t card advantage unless Consider puts an Ox of Agonas or Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, the filtering helps you hit lands, mitigate flood, and chain together three-spell turns needed to buyback your Phoenixes on demand.
What more is there to say about Expressive Iteration? The lower your overall mana curve, the better this card is and in this deck which is running 16 one-drops and 12 two-drops, Expressive Iteration is near peak performance. Generally played on turn three or later to ensure you hit a land for turn or a cheap spell you can play, Expressive Iteration helps fuel your three-spell turns, helps refill your hand after you buyback your early Phoenixes, and gives some of the most powerful card filtering in Pioneer or Explorer. Without a doubt, Expressive Iteration is one of the key pieces of Izzet Phoenix and even once the deck fully powers up, there will never be a build without four copies of this incredible card.
Chart a Course is not Expressive Iteration, but it fills its role in Explorer while Pioneer versions of Izzet Phoenix have started cutting this card altogether. Without the delve spells or Pieces of the Puzzle, Chart is one of the best card advantage cards left in Explorer for this deck, given you want to discard excess lands and Arclight Phoenix. While you can use Chart as a draw two, it’s almost always used to facilitate early Arclight Phoenixes instead. With the addition of Ledger Shredder though, I expect players will use it as a draw-two more often, especially since Shredder can discard the Phoenix and gets added value for doing so in the form of a +1/+1 counter.
There are a few flex slots left over in this deck, given that you primarily play four-of effects for consistency and to help smooth out your game plan. Those slots currently go to Kazuul's Fury and Finale of Promise. Other versions running Crackling Drake will often find room for one Maximize Velocity in the Kazuul's Fury slot as well, so keep that in mind depending on what you expect to see in the metagame.
I’ve gone with Kazuul's Fury since you can use it with large Ledger Shredders or Crackling Drakes to kill opponents that believe themselves safe or in response to potential removal. Maximize Velocity can also take this slot as it counts as two spells, one from hand and one from graveyard via Jumpstart. There is enough removal right now in Explorer, especially from Rakdos Decks, that having the ability to play Drake with three mana left over and one-shot opponents even through removal is the stronger option right now. The fringe benefit of playing Modal-Double Faced cards also ensures you will hit your land drops if needed, which is a very important element of Izzet Phoenix’s game plan.
Finale of Promise is a throwback to some older versions of Phoenix decks in Modern. Given the density of one and two-drop spells in this deck, you can get full value with X equals one or two, making this an incredibly reasonable card on rate. The other major element of Finale of Promise is that it counts as three spells by itself given you cast the spells for free from the graveyard. This helps power up Ledger Shredder and can buy back any Phoenixes in the graveyard or that are discarded from the Ledger Shredder’s ability. Given that Crackling Drake also counts instants and sorceries in exile, there really isn’t any tensions between Finale and the threats of the deck. Once the delve spells make their way to Arena, this would be my first cut, but until then, this is one of the more powerful and efficient ways to pull ahead in the midgame and is a great top deck against midrange and control decks after they’ve run you out of resources in hand.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Mono Red Aggro
This is a matchup where you flex your ability to pivot into a more controlling shell. Killing their creatures helps you stabilize, and the addition of Ledger Shredder gives you much better ability to block on early turns. Especially once it is a 2/4, since they can’t cast two burn spells on it without risking it growing. Shredder has been a huge boon in this matchup. I think you should be able to reasonably beat Mono Red with this strategy, especially since they don’t have access to Eidolon of the Great Revel.
While Strangle can kill a Ledger Shredder, it doesn’t do it for long. Otherwise, you are mainly leveraging Ox of Agonas to try and out grind the opponent, and Mystical Dispute to hit key cards like Expressive Iteration. In the mirror, using your card draw and filtering to rapidly find threats and pressure the lack of effective removal for 4 toughness creatures is key.
|In vs. Rest in Peace||Out vs. Rest in Peace|
|+2 Ox of Agonas||-4 Lightning Axe|
|+2 Disdainful Stroke||-2 Strangle|
|+4 Mystical Dispute||-2 Finale of Promise|
One of the reasons historically to play decks like Izzet Phoenix is that you have a good control matchup. While that was true for a long time, the printing of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty changed a lot about these style of matchups. With March of Otherworldly Light, The Wandering Emperor, and Farewell, now Izzet struggles to maintain its advantage against control.
Without access to cards like Treasure Cruise and Temporal Trespass, you will need to leverage a more tempo oriented game plan with Mystical Dispute and Disdainful Stroke to contain Azorius’ options. Once you have run each other out of resources, Arclight Phoenix, Crackling Drake, and Ox of Agonas can help you refuel. Be careful of Rest in Peace as a sideboard option, as this build only has one Otawara to answer it and it can drastically weaken your late game plan.
Rakdos Midrange / Rakdos Sacrifice
Your sideboard plan against both major Rakdos decks in the format are the same given you want access to Anger of the Gods to sweep up pesky tokens against sacrifice and various medium sized threats out of Midrange. Ox of Agonas helps you refuel after trading resources back and forth, especially given it is a Thoughtseize-proof threat. You do have to be careful of Graveyard Trespasser in these matchups as it can drastically weaken your ability to use the graveyard for late game staying power.
Both matchups generally go long as you trade back and forth and come down to how quickly you can assemble multiple flying threats. Neither deck has fliers, but have access to several powerful engines in Oni-Cult Anvil and Witch's Oven in Sacrifice while Midrange has Sorin the Mirthless and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Try to leverage your ability to filter draws and apply early pressure so they must answer your threats on curve or risk falling too far behind.
Greasefang matchups generally revolve around always maintaining removal for Greasefang while still deploying your own threats. Especially against Esper Greasefang, you must play around various pieces of interaction post board and keep open mana for cards like Lightning Axe or Fry.
This can be a tough matchup if they find their combo early, but in games where they play the more midrange focused backup plan, you are a much better deck at reaching the late game first. Remember, the easiest way to lose to Greasefang is to go shields down at inopportune times, so knowing when to leverage your three spell turns without tapping out is something that will greatly help this style of matchup.
Tips and Tricks
- Sometimes you’ll need to hold one-mana spells even if you could cast them to ensure you have three spells to recur Arclight Phoenix. Wasting one mana worth of tempo to ensure you get your threats back is well worth it.
- If you need a third spell to recur Arclight Phoenix, you can target your own creatures with removal spells. Often, you may need to Strangle a Phoenix in play to buy back two or more Phoenixes.
- Don’t play your land prior to casting Expressive Iteration if you can help it, since finding a land off Expressive Iteration is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get two cards off your Expressive. As impressive as Iteration is, if you only get one card off it, it loses a lot of its innate power.
- Sequencing your lands with this deck is incredibly important. You have Hall of Storm Giants, Spirebluff Canal, Stormcarved Coast, and Riverglide Pathway, which all require consideration when playing your lands to allow you to cast Opt, Consider, Strangle, and more on early turns.
- Waiting to play Ledger Shredder until you can play a second spell right away ensure you can connive, even if they remove the Shredder. Leverage this against removal heavy decks where you need to filter your hand or discard excess Arclight Phoenix.
- You can cast Ledger Shredder and then Anger of the Gods, discarding a non-land card to connive and your Shredder will survive. This is especially good versus aggro decks since you can wrath their board and develop a threat at the same time.
- The later the game goes, generally the more overall advantage you have, so keep up counterspells and removal on key early turns so you don’t fall behind, then leverage your near unending card advantage in the mid to late game once your opponent runs lower on resources.
- Land light hands are alright to keep with several cantrips, but you do want to try to have at least two lands so you don’t have to bottom spells in favor of lands with your Opt or Consider.
Izzet Phoenix is a style of deck that continues to show up in every format for some length of time. It was once the premier deck of Pioneer and can shine early in Explorer’s lifecycle. Once we have full access to the red removal spells on Arena alongside the delve spells, I fully expect it to be a top contender.
As it is now, it is a strong deck that can take advantage of the lack of fliers or exile effects currently in the top tiers of Explorer and through seeing most of your deck each game, can leverage powerful sideboard cards more effectively than almost any other deck.
Izzet Phoenix continues to impress me, and I suspect once you’ve gotten some games under your belt, will do the same for you.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!