Historic Izzet Phoenix Deck Guide: A Deck Too Good for Modern

Arclight Phoenix Art by Slawomir Maniak
Arclight Phoenix Art by Slawomir Maniak

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to go over what is currently one of the best decks in Historic: Izzet Phoenix. It’s interesting how slow of a start the deck had as many people tried it once Strixhaven dropped (myself included) and not feeling it, but it’s hitting it’s stride now. In reality, the deck has always been good and it was matter of the right list being created rather than needing a specific card to be printed or metagame to matter in.

Furthermore, with Jeskai Turns now getting the axe, Phoenix is the de facto deck to beat so whether you want to play with it or against it, it’s good to know how it operates. Before I continue, let’s take a look at the list we’re working with today.

Izzet Phoenix 

Creatures (13)
4
Sprite Dragon
4
Arclight Phoenix
1
Crackling Drake
1
Ox of Agonas
3
Stormwing Entity
Spells (26)
4
Brainstorm
4
Faithless Looting
2
Lightning Axe
4
Opt
3
Pillar of Flame
1
Shock
4
Expressive Iteration
2
Finale of Promise
1
Fry
1
Mystical Dispute
Lands (21)
3
Fabled Passage
2
Island
3
Mountain
4
Riverglide Pathway
2
Spirebluff Canal
4
Steam Vents
3
Sulfur Falls
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
1
Tormod's Crypt
1
Soul-Guide Lantern
2
Aether Gust
2
Fry
2
Negate
2
Anger of the Gods
1
Beacon Bolt
2
Brazen Borrower
1
Mystical Dispute
1
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Tangrams and his team really knocked it out of the park with the list at the Strixhaven Championship. The spells for Izzet Phoenix have always been more or less set in stone from the beginning. You need a large amount of 1 mana spells to help ensure you get back Phoenix in a timely manner so those were obvious. However, they came up with two very important innovations for the list that flung it into competitiveness.

The first is Expressive Iteration. Iteration was spoiled on the very last day of Strixhaven spoiler season in the card dump and flew under the radar for awhile, but is now getting the recognition it deserves. A functional 2 mana Divination is a great deal, especially when we care about the amount of spells we’re casting per turn.

The second and most important innovation the team made was how the threat suite was constructed. The only lock was the 4 Arclight Phoenix, but it was a free for all past that. Sprite Dragon I thought was too gimmicky at first, but with the amount of spells the deck plays and the relative lack of Fatal Push and other small creature removal, the Dragon can get out of control quickly. The amount of Stormwing Entity was also a rough decision as it’s very good with Brainstorm, but it can get relatively clunky in multiples or if you already used a lot of your spells. With that, I like 3 as you want around one per game and multiples are generally too awkward to be good.

The last two inclusions are both one of’s, but both are extremely important to the deck. Crackling Drake is really important to have a threat that plays around Rest in Peace and also having a threat that can one shot the opponent later is also very nice. Ox of Agonas lets your refill in the late game once you’ve exhausted your resources and you can always pitch it earlier in the game to Faithless Looting if you don’t want it yet. I really like one of’s in this deck as you have so much card draw and filtering that finding them is not that unreasonable in a normal game.

The deck may appear to be simple with the main plan being cast a bunch of spells and deploy a threat, but each card is relatively nuanced in it’s usage and this deck does demand a reasonable time investment to become proficient in. To help you out, keep reading until the end for a fleshed out Tips and Tricks section.

MATCHUPS AND SIDEBOARDING

Brainstorm Art by Alexis Hernandez and Justin Hernandez
Brainstorm Art by Alexis Hernandez and Justin Hernandez

MIRROR

INOUT
+1 Tormod’s Crypt-2 Sprite Dragon
+1 Soul-Guide Lantern-1 Lightning Axe
+1 Fry-1 Shock
+1 Mystical Dispute

The mirror can feel very luck dependent (and it definitely is depending on the disparity in Arclight Phoenix seen), but it’s really a dance between trying to place your threats outside the range of their interaction. Timing your threats properly is the key to winning this matchup and there’s no quick and easy rule to tell you when to deploy them, as it’s all game dependent. Ideally, just draw a million Phoenix and body your opponent. You could board in Anger of the Gods to try and mise your opponent by exiling their Phoenixes, but I feel like the card is too niche to want it often and can just as easily rot in your hand.

JESKAI CONTROL

INOUT
+2 Fry-2 Lightning Axe
+2 Negate-3 Pillar of Flame
+2 Brazen Borrower-1 Shock
+1 Mystical Dispute-2 Finale of Promise
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

These matchup is generally good for Phoenix as their interaction doesn’t line up well against an endless army of 3/2 fliers. That being said, if you’re going to get got, it’ll likely going to be because of Rest in Peace to stop the flow of your Phoenixes and/or a Narset, Parter of Veils to shut your hand off. That being said, we have a solid amount of threats and they only have so much removal so as long as you don’t get blown out by a wrath, you should be favored.

SELESNYA COMPANY

INOUT
+2 Anger of the Gods-1 Ox of Agonas
+1 Beacon Bolt-1 Opt
-1 Mystical Dispute

Selesnya can definitely be a pain as they’re fast, disruptive with creatures like Archon of Emeria and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and powerful with Collected Company and The Great Henge. All that being said, GW can have a really hard time beating a large Stormwing Entity as none of their removal tags it. Couple that with all our kill spells and ability to get out of the gate quickly, I don’t this matchup is too bad. You could bring in more Fry or Aether Gust as well if you want, but I try to avoid over sideboarding with this deck when possible.

JUND FOOD

INOUT
+2 Aether Gust-3 Pillar of Flame
+1 Beacon Bolt-1 Shock
+2 Brazen Borrower-1 Fry
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance-1 Mystical Dispute

Jund is an interesting matchup as they can’t meaningfully interact with Phoenix, but you can’t interact with Cat/Oven. Per my experience, this matchup will mostly come down to who can get their engine online quicker and ride that to victory. For what it’s worth, Cat/Oven is way less scary for Phoenix than Phoenixes are for Jund, but Mayhem Devil or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in conjunction with Oven is always a nightmare. Don’t give the Jund player too much time if possible as they’re really good at grinding into the late game.

MONO BLACK AGGRO

INOUT
+2 Anger of the Gods-1 Ox of Agonas
+1 Beacon Bolt-1 Fry
-1 Mystical Dispute

Monoblack is the new deck propping up to try and beat Jeskai, but Phoenix doesn’t mind facing small creature decks most of the time. You can definitely get run over if your hand is durdly or you don’t find any removal, but they can’t interact with Phoenix meaningfully. Furthermore, Sprite Dragon and Stormwing Entity can outsize their Spawn of Mayhem which is probably the scariest card from them. There’s no real trick to this matchup beyond don’t keep hands that don’t have a fast or disruptive game plan.

AURAS

INOUT
+2 Fry-1 Ox of Agonas
+1 Beacon Bolt-1 Crackling Drake
+2 Brazen Borrower-2 Opt
-1 Mystical Dispute

This matchup is mostly going to be a test of whether you have more removal than they have threats. Once you run them out of threats, you can realistically kill them with even one creature so having an interaction heavy hand is a necessity. Luckily, this deck plays heaps of interaction and the only really threatening card they have is Kor Spiritdancer and ways to recur it. With that, try not to tap out if you have instant speed removal as once Spiritdancer has 2 auras on it, it’ll be very difficult to kill.

TIPS AND TRICKS

ArtStation - Stormwing Entity, Caroline Gariba
Stormwing Entity Art by Caroline Gariba
  • If you have to choose between building towards a Sprite Dragon or recurring a Phoenix, almost always go for the Dragon. Having 2 substantial threats a turn later versus one medium and one bad threat is generally not a hard decision.
  • Be mindful when you’re recurring your Phoenix as the most common way to lose with the deck is to blow your hand for little value to get back a Phoenix then you just don’t do anything else for the rest of the game. Expressive Iteration and Finale of Promise make this more unlikely to happen so you can feel more free to make an earlier Phoenix if you have these.
  • I mentioned before, but pitching your Ox of Agonas to Faithless Looting is a super common play. Escaping 8 cards is pretty trivial in the late game and the cost of 2 mana versus 5 mana is substantial.
  • Stormwing Entity works best in conjunction with Brainstorm as you can scry the cards you don’t want to the bottom post Brainstorm.
  • Against decks that have cards that deal 3 damage, always try to leave up an instant when you have a Stormwing Entity out, most of the time your opponent won’t have the luxury of playing around it. Furthermore, if you don’t have an instant to play, consider holding Full Control to give the illusion that you have a play so they don’t go for it.
  • I tend to hold my first Faithless Looting as long as possible if I don’t have a Phoenix yet. This deck is a quantity deck and putting yourself down a card initially definitely hurts in the early game. If you have absolutely nothing going on, then obviously use it to find some action. On the other hand, I flashback Faithless Looting pretty aggressively. It’s pure card filtering as you’re no longer spending a card and it’s not easy to use a Flashbacked Looting in conjunction with more spells to recur Phoenixes. Don’t use it unnecessarily, but don’t feel the need to hold it for awhile either.
  • Expressive Iteration feels more like a turn 3 play, but you can cast it on 2 if it fits your curve significantly better or you’re desperate. I see a lot of players treat it as if it’s just a 3 drop.
  • Try to hold your Finales as long as possible so you have an easy way to recur Phoenix later in the game, getting enough spells to bring them back gets substantially harder the longer the game goes on.
  • Unlike Faithless Looting, I tend to Opt very aggressively. Sculpting your hand early is very important for this deck and not putting yourself down a card to do it is critical.
  • Don’t forget about the potential to recur a Phoenix or get Prowess triggers by countering one of your own spells with Mystical Dispute.
  • Brainstorm is in the middle of cantrips where I tend not to hold it as long as Looting, but longer than Opt. Ideally you want to combine it in conjunction with Fabled Passage or Stormwing Entity as that gives you the highest value so I tend to wait a few turns to see if I can make that happen. That being said, never hold onto a card draw/filtering spell if you need something to do.

Thank you for reading!

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is the content manager of MTGAZone and a high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, and GW Company in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and coaching! Join our community on Twitch and Discord.

17 Responses

  1. DimitryF says:

    Pure cancer. This and more commander grade OP gimmicky bullshit being added to historic makes the format more unplayable by the day.

  2. Kevin says:

    Love it! Iv been trying gruul tokens with command but this looks better

  3. Ville says:

    How would you sideboard against 5c niv deck, been bumbing to em lots, and getting wreckked

    ty in advance! 🙂

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Sorry unfortunately that matchup is really bad, but your best bet is to run them over before they can establish anything too good so you ideally want to establish a threat and protect it.
      +2 Negate, +1 Dispute // -1 Fry, -2 Pillar

      • Fektoer says:

        It’s actually not that bad of a matchup. They want to land a t5 niv and then ride that card advantage to victory. You can disrupt that. You want Aether Gust (basically time walk against that deck), dispute, borrower and beacon bolt and fry. The worst that can happen is them dropping a big krasis/niv and stabilizing the board. While you rather have them not draw those cards, it’s still not game over if they hit the board. If you can bounce/kill the threat and hit them for a bunch it makes it really hard for them to react since they are restricted by their mana.
        Fry, besides dealing with Krasis, also deals with Teferi and can deal the remaining damage to niv should it block something. I would never side it out. Meanwhile, the shocks and pillars are pretty underwhelming.

        • Victor says:

          I also find this match up very difficult. The combination of hand disruption, counter spells and spot removal allows them to effectively trade 1 for 1 with you until you are required to top deck (especially game 1), a position in which the Niv deck has a significant advantage. The only exception is having a fast phoenix draw, but outside of this I frequently find myself losing this match up. Tips would be appreciated though.

      • zEddie says:

        Could you explain why you would take out Fry?

        • DoggertQBones says:

          Think its really narrow. There are applications to it as Fektoer mentioned but I generally don’t like such narrow cards post board. That being said, I thought I liked Lightning Axe more before as it’s a 1 mana answer to Krasis and such but Fry could be better there for sure

  4. Morphi says:

    What are your views around Young Pyromancer in the main or sideboard? Mengu has kept it in his deck. Seems quite good particularly from game 2 onwards, when opponents bring in graveyard hate, as an additional source of threat.

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Definitely not a bad idea and I’ve seen some lists with a couple copies. I think I’d prefer Crackling Drake or something of the like as most players bring in small creature removal as a hedge against the Phoenix component anyway

  5. yourchingoo says:

    What I’m not sure yet is usage of Sprite Dragon. Do you want to curve out turn 2 or wait to drop it until you can put a counter on it?

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Entirely depends what fits your curve and game plan better. Generally speaking playing it out on 2 is pretty good and is the most common usage

  6. Fabzman says:

    Awesome article, this is a very fun deck and I’m having a blast playing it! Got my first ever Mythic this season after returning to MTGA since when I played it on Closed Beta and the best rank I had back them was Diamond 4 IIRC…

    I’m having a hard time fighting Mono Red decks though, what would you guys suggest?

    My matchup against Mono Red is like 3-6 and I have no idea how to make it a better matchup as I feel a lot slower than their constant flow of threats and burn spells… I faced some pretty tough RDWs from people ranked around #600~1000 in Mythic, it felt impossible to win lol

    Also Gruul Aggro is a pain in the ass with Klothys and big threats, some insight on these matchups would be great as well!

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Congratulations on Mythic!

      If you need to beat up on Monored and Gruul, I would start adding Redcap Melee to the board as it’s quite effective against both decks. Other effects like Scorching Dragonfire and Lava Coil could be great options as well. I would probably start trimming the Fry and maybe some Anger

      • Fabzman says:

        Wow, I’m surprised!

        Amazing suggestion, I didn’t even know this Redcap Melee card, added a couple copies right away lol

        Just managed to beat a RDW as I was writing this comment hahah

  7. Federico says:

    How do you play against life angel decks? I found it hard both before sb and after sb (with rest in piece)