Can Anything Beat Izzet Phoenix At SCG Philadelphia?

Izzet Phoenix looms over Modern like a fiery fiend. But if you play it, how should you build it? And what archetype is a surprise contender from among our eight contributors’ picks for SCG Philadelphia?

Welcome to What We’d Play! With SCG Philadelphia this weekend, many are unsure what they’d play in such a high-profile tournament. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this last-minute advice aids in your decision making! Be sure to vote for who you agree with in the poll at the end!

Todd Anderson – Izzet Phoenix

It’s no secret that many of the game’s top players now consider Izzet Phoenix the best deck in Modern, and who am I to argue? This past weekend’s Regionals results had Izzet Phoenix winning multiple events and putting up great numbers. Now, moving forward for SCG Philadelphia, we must figure out the best version. Do we load up on the mirror? Try harder to beat Dredge?

I’m not entirely convinced that Izzet is the best color combination for Arclight Phoenix, though Thing in the Ice certainly makes a great case for itself. But the more I play with Arclight Phoenix and Faithless Looting, the more I’m absolutely sure it’s the most consistent and powerful thing you can be doing. But figuring out the last threat slot is hard because Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix just steal the show. As of right now, I’m liking Snapcaster Mage and Crackling Drake because they’re both solid in the mirror, as well as ways to grind card advantage against decks like Golgari Midrange and Jund.

For this weekend, I’m gunning for some of our tougher matchups. Shatterstorm helps beat all the Whir Prison decks. The fourth copy of Surgical Extraction will help out in the mirror, Dredge, and other graveyard related strategies. I’ve cut Blood Moon entirely because I just haven’t played against a “lands matter” deck in quite some time, and I’d much rather focus on the mirror, as well as other matchups you’re bound to play one or more times in an event.

Emma Handy – Whir Prison

Consecutive weeks I’ve recommended Mox Opal: 2.

Gonna keep banging this “Mox Opal is fundamentally overpowered” drum until people start listening. Lee McLeod wrote an incredible primer for Ironworks a few months ago and is no stranger to unfair artifact things as a result. With people dedicating so many of their own hate cards in the direction of Dredge and Arclight Phoenix, it’s easier to dodge Stony Silence when necessary.

This deck even has the luxury of maindecking several hate cards that maindecks aren’t equipped to handle; Dredge can’t ever deal with a Grafdigger’s Cage before sideboarding, for example.

The Sword of the Meek / Thopter Foundry combo gives the deck a more dedicated path to closing games, as well as not having to lean as hard on Ensnaring Bridge locks as it would otherwise, leaning into the time that it buys is enough to build an insurmountable, flying, 1/1 advantage.

If you’re looking to beat up on the format’s top dogs, the deck that gets to maindeck five virtual copies of both Grafdigger’s Cage and Witchbane Orb is the place to be. The longer you sleep on this deck, the later in the format you’ll learn it, and the more you’ll regret not picking it up sooner.

Abraham Stein – Izzet Phoenix

Last week, I wrote my love letter to Cryptic Command and Jeskai Control before SCG Regionals, but as you can see by my deck choice, a lot has happened in my life since then. I was all sleeved up and ready to go with Jeskai Control, but Luke Purcell asked me if he could borrow the cards at around the same time all of my testing partners told me I was crazy and needed a reality check in the form of playing the best deck.

What was I thinking?

Izzet Phoenix is a well-oiled machine that not only has game against the other top contenders of Modern, but also is just doing some of the most powerful stuff against the rest of the format. I played a version of this deck that was very similar to Dylan Donegan’s winning list at my SCG Regionals and felt unstoppable for most of the tournament. Unfortunately, I came up just one spot short of a Top 8 on tiebreakers with a list I think was a little less refined than this one.

I’ve had multiple conversations this week revolving around specific card slots changing to be cards that cover other niches and there are a lot of flex spots to move between depending on the metagame you expect. This list is giving a big nod to Dredge by playing the third Surgical Extraction in the maindeck alongside Anger of the Gods and Ravenous Trap in the sideboard. There’s a wealth of information out there to sift through about this deck and it feels like one where your small deckbuilding decisions get supremely rewarded.

So long as Faithless Looting has its hold on Modern, Izzet Phoenix will stay atop the format as long as it adapts, and not playing it is simply a mistake. A mistake I refuse to make any longer.

Dylan Hand – Izzet Phoenix

I’m very proud and thankful to be teammates with the creator of Modern’s current best deck, as I am always a big fan of finding best decks in formats when they exist and try to master them.

To you, the reader, I suggest you do the same, if you haven’t been already. Izzet Phoenix is the best place to be in Modern, and the only other deck that even holds a candle to it is the other Faithless Looting deck: Dredge.

Regarding the debated tertiary threat slot in the maindeck, I am firmly pro-Pteramander at the moment. I have been routinely impressed by that card’s ability to pressure my opponents and close games out once my opponent thinks they have handled the early onslaught of Thing in the Ices and Arclight Phoenixes. The little blue Tombstalker supplements Crackling Drake as an additional individual threat that requires little extra work to enable, and it isn’t unheard of to adapt it on Turn 3 and have it come crashing in alongside Arclight Phoenix for massive damage.

Looking to the sideboard, the best summary I can give is to make sure you respect the mirror and Dredge this weekend, especially if you make it to the second day of competition. Ravenous Trap is a nice haymaker here that can even sometimes be cast the hard way with good old Manamorphose in a pinch. Despite not being a fan of Snapcaster Mage in the maindeck, I like having access to one in the sideboarded games, where the games slow down just enough to make it a much more impactful card.

Do yourself a favor. Play the best deck in Modern. Play Izzet Phoenix.

Ryan Overturf – Izzet Phoenix

Had I played Regionals last weekend, my deck of choice would have been Izzet Phoenix. When I’m in the Modern seat at SCG Cincinnati next weekend, I’ll be playing Izzet Phoenix. It’s very plainly the best deck in the format based on recent results and my personal experience. The deck executes its proactive strategy extremely consistently, is difficult to disrupt given that it has access to divergent gameplans, and is good at disrupting most opposing strategies.

I piloted Temur Phoenix when my squad won the Team Constructed Open at SCG Baltimore, though the format has adapted in a way that makes Traverse the Ulvenwald quite a bit worse since then. I’m seeing more and more maindeck Surgical Extractions, and while Temur can sideboard out Traverses, it just doesn’t make sense to make yourself weaker against the popular maindeck hate.

There are a few flex slots in the maindeck and sideboard of Izzet Phoenix, and while I’m sure I won’t register Dylan Donegan’s exact 75 that he used to win the Durham Regionals, I am still a fan of sideboarding green cards. Life Goes On was something that I didn’t have high expectations for when I first tried it, but once I put two copies in my sideboard I just stopped losing to Burn. Donegan even tweeted out his sideboard guide for the deck for players looking for insights from a Steam Vents master.

Shaheen Soorani – Amulet Titan

I’m all about the Izzet Phoenix these days, but I believe that Amulet Titan embodies the broken nature of Modern. Even though Faithless Looting has been the hot topic of conversation as of late, Amulet Titan doesn’t need to tap into any graveyard nonsense to contend for the top Modern spot. This deck looks daunting at first, which is why I have leaned toward Izzet Phoenix for the upcoming tournament. For those of you who have more time to prepare, this deck will reward you handsomely.

After watching Edgar battle a bit, I can see that Amulet Titan has much more potential than the other decks in the format to be busted. Izzet Phoenix is the most consistent; however, there is always some power sacrificed when a deck is that full of cantrips. Ancient Stirrings is arguably the best cantrip in Modern and looking five cards deep makes Serum Visions look foolish in comparison. This deck, like Izzet Phoenix, is tough to hate out. Blood Moon is the primary weapon of choice, but this sly devil has cranked the Forest count to four to battle it. If I had more time to prepare, I would choose a deck like this to tackle the Wild West of formats.

Ari Lax – Amulet Titan

I did just write an extensive Whir Prison primer, so I should explain myself. I think Whir Prison is good, but I have concerns about the hate directed at it. I don’t know if Izzet Phoenix with two Shatterstorms goes from a 90% matchup to an 80% matchup or a 65% matchup, and the latter would be a huge deal. If I had a second endorsement, it would just be the exact susurrus_mtg list from last weekend’s Magic Online Modern Challenge with the Darksteel Forge in the sideboard.

So I’m going to suggest a different deck I really like against Faithless Looting: Amulet Titan. Amulet Titan is really strong against both Izzet Phoenix and Dredge, though the Mono-Red Phoenix matchup is a bit weaker. Danny Batterman has been playing this deck for a long time. I stayed with him at Grand Prix Los Angeles, I was there for the last-minute discussions about all the card slots in this list, and he said after the event he wouldn’t change a card.

Zacama, Primal Calamity is stupid and wins games. I kept advising sideboarding it out. Danny kept listening and regretting it. Don’t do that unless it’s really, really clear you should. Zacama is also why there’s a Grove of the Burnwillows over a fourth basic Forest. Explore does nothing and should not be in your deck. Coalition Relic fights Blood Moon and is Ancient Stirrings selectable ramp into a Turn 4 Primeval Titan. The second Trinket Mage is probably the most negotiable slot, but it leads to the most double Amulet of Vigor easy kill turns.

Ramunap Excavator is a key card to sideboard against Mono-Green Tron and mirrors, allowing you to assemble Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Ghost Quarter locks. Dispel could be another counterspell but is the most rock-solid and efficient for when you want all three of them against control. Radiant Fountain gives you the most life total flex when you can’t perfect-combo against Burn and other aggro decks, rather than some Skullcrack-able Summoner’s Pact target. Ruric Thar, the Unbowed doesn’t actually shut down Whir Prison. The last card out was a Sigarda, Host of Herons, but it was only really great in the Golgari Midrange matchup and just good elsewhere.

Ross Merriam – Take a Wild Guess

It’s the best deck. Dredge is a bit more powerful, but much less consistent, and no deck comes close to those two when rated on their combination of those two attributes. The other decks that are being hyped right now are propped up by their good matchups against those two, like Whir Prison, and I’m rarely a fan of playing metagame decks in Modern because even the best decks are only ten to fifteen percent of the field. Just play the best decks and adjust to how people are trying to beat you.

As for the exact list, I’ll be starting from what I played last weekend at Regionals with the following potential changes:

Of those four, the most likely is the Flame Slash, since it’s not that much worse than Rending Volley against Humans and the Eldrazi decks are starting to pick up. I’d say the other potential changes are unlikely, and I’d have to see something significant shift in my metagame expectations over the next couple of days to pull the trigger.

I still like Pteramander over maindeck Snapcaster Mages since I want to err towards the proactive, but as long as you have a pile of cantrips, Thing in the Ice, and Arclight Phoenix, you can only go so wrong.