Can Izzet Phoenix Defend The Land At SCG Cleveland?

Izzet Phoenix may be getting the press in Modern, but if you ask our experts, the right deck for SCG Cleveland is a wide-open question! What would they play? What about you?

Welcome to What We’d Play! With SCG Cleveland 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!

Kevin Jones – Grixis Death’s Shadow

This weekend brings us another Modern SCG Tour event. I haven’t really felt comfortable in Modern since I was transforming Delver of Secrets with Remand, and recently I’ve been trying to fill the void left by the late great Grixis Delver with Grixis Death’s Shadow. This process has yielded mixed results, as I never felt like I could get the hang of this thing. This weekend, however, I saw a list that finally felt like the Grixis decks of old.

Sam Pardee’s Grixis Death’s Shadow deck that he reached the finals of Grand Prix Calgary with is different from the aggressively slanted, highly efficient versions we’ve come to know. Gone are the awkward cantrips in strange numbers. Red cards are greatly reduced, allowing you to fetch double Watery Grave more often – something the deck really wants to have on the battlefield. The matchup against the format’s current menace, Izzet Phoenix, is slightly favored though it certainly rewards experience on either side.

The good matchup against Izzet Phoenix, as well as the evolution of the deck to reduce some of the total non-games your worst draws can produce, leads me to believe that Grixis Death’s Shadow will be the deck I’ll be registering for SCG Cleveland this weekend.

Abraham Stein – Dredge

Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Izzet Phoenix in Modern, but given a recent bit of a cold spell with the way my matches have been going with the deck, I’ve decided to put it down. There really isn’t anything wrong with Izzet Phoenix, and I think it’s still a very good deck, but its positioning within the metagame isn’t exactly what it once was.

With one of the three best decks in Modern out of the picture for me this weekend, I was left with the other two choices: Whir Prison or Dredge. As much as I believe Whir Prison is excellent and might be the best deck in the format right now, playing it in paper comes with a set of its own challenges. Finishing matches completely can sometimes rely on variables outside of your control like your opponent being willing to concede or playing at an advanced pace. There might be an Open when I’m really practiced with Whir Prison where I play it, but SCG Cleveland isn’t it.

That leaves us with Dredge. Dredge is a deck I’ve consistently been impressed with for its resiliency to hate and explosiveness. Beating weak graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus and Surgical Extraction is kind of trivial so long as you are mindful of it, and while Magic Online’s metagame has started to become more hostile to Dredge, I’m not convinced the paper metagame has yet. As a big bonus, this list and an accompanying sideboard guide were posted to Twitter by Oliver Tamajko, so a lot of the hard work has already been done for you if you have never played the deck.

Dylan Hand – Humans

It put a copy into the Top 4 of Grand Prix Calgary. It was defeated in the finals of the Modern Challenge last Saturday. Then it took down the Modern MCQ on Sunday, along with putting another copy in Top 4. Humans is coming off its best weekend in months in this Izzet Phoenix-dominated metagame.

A combination of Izzet Phoenix moving away from Gut Shot and towards maindeck Surgical Extraction, as well as a typical maximum one Anger of the Gods in the sideboard, means that Izzet Phoenix is ill-equipped these days to deal with Humans’s creatures. Additionally, many have discovered technology for the matchup, utilizing their own copies of Surgical Extraction and even occasionally copies of Chalice of the Void to solidify the matchup in their favor.

With the lists as tuned as ever, and very, very few bad matchups lurking in the Modern metagame, now is as good a time as ever to brush off your Meddling Mages.

Sam Black – Lantern Control

After my Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Tampa, I’m not about to give up on Lantern Control. I won the first game of almost every match in the Grand Prix, so I’m not really tempted to change the maindeck. I know that not playing Mishra’s Bauble is a contentious decision, but it’s still my preference.

I knew the sideboard was rough when I entered the event. I spent 45 minutes the night before waffling on my last card and didn’t like any of my options and I’ve learned a lot about what I want since then.

The current sideboard is built with the expectation that the decks I’m most worried about facing are opposing Thoughtseize decks, which led to finally playing the maximum number of Leyline of Sanctity. Also, Izzet Phoenix and Grixis Death’s Shadow are both relatively threat-light decks that are largely hoping to win by exiling my Ensnaring Bridges with Surgical Extraction. That’s a very good plan against me, especially against those decks, which are hard to lock with Lantern because they have so much instant-speed card drawing, but if I approach the matchup correctly, I can win without Ensnaring Bridge. Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay, and Liliana of the Veil allow me to try to beat them on more of a simple one-for-one basis, joining Assassin’s Trophy and my maindeck discard package.

Lantern Control still requires a lot of metagame familiarity and almost none of the sideboarded games are easy, but against most of the popular decks I feel like I’m playing 50/50 matches after sideboarding where I’m largely spotted a game win, which is a good place to be.

Tom Ross – Infect

For the record, I don’t brandish Infect nearly as often as you probably think I do. Infect has been significantly suppressed over the last few months for three reasons.

With those factors in mind, consider the following:

  • Jund Breach won the latest Grand Prix in Calgary this weekend.
  • Mono-Green Tron is showing up as a tool against the top decks.
  • There are whispers of Ad Nauseam being a good choice.
  • Amulet Titan is the hottest deck on the SCG Tour right now.
  • Jeskai Control has nearly faded away.
  • Izzet Phoenix is replacing their Gut Shots with Surgical Extractions, which are weak versus a very redundant deck like Infect.
  • Traditional Jund has been replaced by Golgari Midrange, a much easier matchup.
  • People have had their chance to play with the new Burn cards and have moved on.

If Infect isn’t a good metagame choice just yet, things are trending for it to be. I think Infect has a good chance of winning a tournament if it can slide through the first day unscathed and I expect Infect to have good matchups in the Top 8 of SCG Cleveland.

Emma Handy – Izzet Phoenix

This is 74/75 of the list that I used to win an event last weekend that ultimately led to me qualifying for Mythic Championship Barcelona, courtesy of Jarvis Yu, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. Jace, the Mind Sculptor has consistently underperformed for me in practice and Keranos, God of Storms has been a great card in the grindy matchups.

The suite of five counterspells in the sideboard may be a bit heavy, with the copy of Ceremonious Rejection being the card that I’m the least sure of. I’m positive that I want it to be something in the vein of Ceremonious Rejection, but it may be wise to lean into something like Hurkyl’s Recall or Disdainful Stroke.

Outside of the cosmetic stuff in the above paragraphs, this is the deck that anybody who wants to win the event should be playing. Izzet Phoenix is putting up numbers that we haven’t seen anything close to since Eldrazi Winter, and outside of personal preference or card availability, it’s simply irresponsible to ignore the numbers that Izzet Phoenix has behind it.

Ari Lax – Amulet Titan

Still here, still telling you to play or learn Amulet Titan.

I’ve been really happy with the push to linearity from Piotr Glogowski, aka Kanister, aka MTG Meme Lord. Just playing fewer tutor targets that don’t combo off, like Engineered Explosives, and more cheap combo assembly like Serum Visions makes you deck better. Also, for the tenth time, Zacama, Primal Calamity is great. I spent too many months thinking it looked stupid. It’s just a clean KO in a lot of spots where Primeval Titan is messy.

I’m making a couple of small concessions relative to Kanister’s original list for some interaction. I found multiple Serum Visions sometimes hard to deploy and often shaved, so I felt the fourth copy was negotiable. In exchange, I’ve found room for two land tutor bullets, which are still acceptable as they cast spells. Bojuka Bog shows up as the 29th land and Ghost Quarter swaps with Cavern of Souls. Azorius Control is the matchup you want the uncounterability the most against, and until you have an Emrakul, the Promised End, I’ve found they can just kill your uncounterable threats. This is the one spot Walking Ballista would be great, as eventually you just cast it for twenty mana and they die. Cavern of Souls can come up on Turn 1 for Sakura-Tribe Scout, but Ghost Quarter for Mono-Green Tron seems slightly more important.

There are also a couple of slight upgrades that don’t impact your linear play. I’ve wanted a second red bounceland for Zacama, so one Selesnya Sanctuary flips to a Gruul Turf, and the untapped Radiant Fountain casts Amulet of Vigor on Turn 1 where Kabira Crossroads just casts sideboard Path to Exiles and a Zacama you can find other white lands for. The sideboard slots condensed for more of the most efficient interaction: Path to Exile and Negate. Tragic Arrogance is the next slot I have my eye on, but until I actually cast it and learn whether it’s good or bad, the card gets a nonsense pass.

Andrew Elenbogen – Mono-Green Tron

Izzet Phoenix continues to be by far the best deck in Modern. Unfortunately, I learned at SCG Cincinnati that I have no hope of realistically piloting it. Strong as the deck is, it is simply not in my range. Thus, I decided to return to old faithful: Mono-Green Tron. This deck is one of the few decks that is favored against the Faithless Looting duo of Izzet Phoenix and Dredge while being generically good versus the random nonsense that makes up Modern. Additionally, I have a soft spot for the deck, as it resulted in my first two Pro Tour qualifications.

On the ride home from the tournament, I began crafting a list in my mind.

To make room for all this, I planned to shave on Walking Ballista, as swarm decks are currently unpopular. Then I saw Jim Davis’s decklist.

Jim independently came to a list extremely similar to the one I was planning to play. When multiple strong players come to the same conclusions about flex slots, you should sit up and take notice. Tron isn’t a complicated puzzle like Amulet Titan. It doesn’t require flawless cantrip sequencing like Izzet Phoenix or the tightrope life total management of Grixis Death’s Shadow. But in Magic, feeling smart is not nearly as important as simply winning. Tron isn’t a scalpel; it’s a sledgehammer. And if all the format presents are nails, that’s a great place to be.