From Spinning Your Wheels To Burning Rubber: Analyzing Aria Of Flame

Aria of Flame’s drawback seems harsh, but Todd Anderson thinks it has lots of potential! From Phoenix decks to storm-less Storm, he’s ready to build around this Modern Horizons rare!

Modern Horizons is almost here, and with it a slew of new cards and reprints from the days of old. Over 200 new cards are being added to Modern, and a lot of them have some real potential. So far, Ross Merriam and I have been brewing with our favorites, but we’ve also picked up a few goodies along the way that are a lot better than they seem. For example, after playing with Aria of Flame on VS Live! this past Tuesday, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

It seemed so easy to trigger and could ultimately kill your opponent without a ton of effort. It fit into Mono-Red Phoenix effortlessly and was turbo-powered by Desperate Ritual, Manamorphose, and Lava Dart. Free or cheap spells are the way to go if you want to make Aria of Flame “do the thing,” but I’m also under the impression that it could be the missing link for that last kill condition in Izzet Phoenix. I even think it could supplant Grapeshot in Storm decks.

There’s a lot to like about a card that rewards you for casting spells. What often happens when playing a deck with Serum Visions and other cantrips is that you do too much of what I like to call “spinning your wheels.” The trick is playing cards that reward you for spinning your wheels, giving you value as you sculpt your hand. Izzet Phoenix does this well with both Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice, but there just seemed to be something missing for so long.

Crackling Drake just wasn’t cutting it. For four mana, you need that type of spell to do something busted. Also, having another creature in that slot means Thing in the Ice will be a bit worse. That’s why people have been gravitating to Pyromancer Ascension. I like this move, but Pyromancer Ascension can occasionally be too slow. And what if Aria of Fire is just better? For starters, having another win condition that doesn’t use the graveyard is huge. Pyromancer Ascension often gets some splash damage from Arclight Phoenix, as your opponent will want to keep your graveyard in check to prevent Arclight Phoenix from being problematic. Aria of Flame dodges this completely.

In addition to not relying on the graveyard, Aria of Flame can deal huge chunks of damage to your opponent or their planeswalkers without any underlying caveats. My biggest complaint with Pyromancer Ascension is that you would often fail to turn it on. In those scenarios, Pyromancer Ascension is actually worse than a blank because you’re investing time and mana to get something active, only to have it fail you. Aria of Flame doesn’t have that problem. If you just cast your spells as normal, you should eventually win the game.

There are several ways to take Aria of Flame, so let’s take a look at the deck I played on Tuesday’s VS Live!

As I said before, cheap spells and free spells help make Aria of Flame really good. But you can also play it alongside Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual to cast it faster. The most important part of Aria of Flame is making sure you keep your hand full, or continually casting instants and sorceries. That’s why I love pairing it with Faithless Looting. It makes sure you hit land drops, can discard excess lands, and even has flashback!

This version uses creatures to refuel, which doesn’t exactly mesh super-well with Aria of Flame, but it does force your opponent to interact with you on two different axes. If they attack your creatures with removal or exile effects, Aria of Flame is a perfect pivot. If they have a ton of answers to enchantments (which is rare), the creature package works very well with the rest of the deck, allowing for a two-pronged attack that most Modern decks can’t really beat on a fair level. The real bad matchups for this style of deck have to be pure combo decks that flourish when your opponent isn’t interacting. In that case, it’s purely a race, and this deck has some busted starts featuring Ritual effects, Aria of Flame, and/or Arclight Phoenix.

I think this Mono-Red Phoenix deck will dominate almost every creature-based deck you run up against. Lava Dart and Gut Shot work well against one-mana creatures, but your removal and creature package are both great in a fair matchup. Aria of Flame is the one card that allows you to play at a significantly different pace and can potentially combo-kill your opponent on the fourth turn with a little bit of luck.

I was impressed by Seasoned Pyromancer as a standalone threat, as this deck had quite a few spells it didn’t mind discarding. Plus, the more instants and sorceries you discard, the cheaper Bedlam Reveler will be. And as most people already know, the second Bedlam Reveler is always worth discarding! Unfortunately, we paired the Mono-Red Phoenix deck against another combo deck, so we didn’t get to see Seasoned Pyromancer shine. But I think it provides a significant clock without much effort.

Another new addition from Modern Horizons, Sunbaked Canyon gives you a bit of flood insurance. I’m not sure it is actually necessary but having a few shouldn’t hurt too much. I found myself cracking it one time in four games, which seems like a reasonable amount. It’s certainly worse in this deck than something like Humans, where you have Aether Vial draws, but I do love this cycle of lands. I’m excited to see where these end up.

Overall, I felt like this version of Mono-Red Phoenix was a bit more consistent than the current iterations running around. Aria of Flame felt nice, but the cards that made it tick were the Ritual effects. Not only did they allow for degenerate turns, but it helped ramp out both of your “Wheel” creatures that refuel your hand once you go empty. While Seasoned Pyromancer isn’t quite as impressive as Bedlam Reveler in this regard, I had plenty of chances to create four power on the second turn, occasionally discarding Arclight Phoenix. The Rituals reward you for playing so many expensive cards, but also give you the speed you need to compete in such a fast format. And while Mono-Red Phoenix won’t be breaking any speed records, it’s still resilient to removal, can interact with a lot of cheap creatures, and has a lot of great tools for beating control and midrange.

Now, let’s move on to Izzet Phoenix featuring Aria of Flame.

This is the deck I’m most excited to try Aria of Flame in. I’ve never liked Crackling Drake, and almost every creature you can play in that slot works poorly with Thing in the Ice. I’ve tried Pteramander, Bedlam Reveler, Young Pyromancer, and a few others, but nothing really stood out until Pyromancer Ascension started seeing a huge uptick in play. And while I do think Pyromancer Ascension is a fine addition to the archetype, it is often clunky and unreliable.

Aria of Flame rewards you for just playing Magic. Like Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix, Aria of Flame gets better and better from you just casting your instants and sorceries. It rewards you for filling your deck with Sleight of Hand and other hand-sculpting cards, and doesn’t get bounced by Thing in the Ice. What more could you ask for?

The only downside is that it gives your opponent ten life. In a pinch, when your opponent is low on life already, Aria of Flame won’t be all that good. But if you cast it early, it will slowly remove your opponent from existence, while also giving you a little bit of a backup plan against an opposing planeswalker. And with Narset, Parter of Veils seeing a bit of an uptick in play, it’ll be more important than ever to be able to handle those pesky planeswalkers.

A few months back, I tried a version of Izzet Phoenix with a few copies of Finale of Promise, under the impression that it was absolutely busted in the archetype. Turns out that Finale of Promise is just fine, but it might end up being insanely good when you start pairing it with Aria of Flame. Casting three spells all in a single card can have some dramatic effects with Aria of Flame, often combo-killing your opponent from a significantly high life total.

Finale of Promise is also just an easy way to generate virtual and actual card advantage in Modern, which is not something you see too often. For three mana, you usually get a Lightning Bolt and a card draw spell, but the really degenerate turns come when you hit Manamorphose and another draw spell, generating two mana and continually triggering the Aria of Flame. In these cases, Aria of Flame will start to let Izzet Phoenix really feel like a combo deck, efficiently attacking from multiple angles while still keeping your opponent’s creatures in check. Sound familiar?

I’m hesitant to call this the new Splinter Twin, but Aria of Flame adds some real combo potential for a very small investment. It also incentivizes you to play more removal, as you want to prolong the game for Aria of Flame to eventually kill your opponent. Upping the chain on Aria of Flame while killing your opponent’s creature just feels dirty, but it’ll happen quite often over the next few months.

A potential sideboard card from Modern Horizons, Rebuild is an old-school answer to artifact decks. It might be worse than Abrade or Shatterstorm out of the sideboard, but I wanted to include it because it might end up being extremely good.

I’ve never liked Sulfur Falls in Izzet Phoenix because it feels so bad to draw it as your only land in your opening hand, or drawing it alongside Spirebluff Canal. I’m a huge fan of these lands, and if we’re cutting Crackling Drake, then we can afford to sacrifice some of our lands as the game progresses. However, we don’t want to take too much damage, so I’ve split the difference and we’re just playing one.

Out of the sideboard, Force of Negation is one of the best cards you could ask for against opposing combo decks. Izzet Phoenix is traditionally weak to all-in combo decks and Force of Negation is a perfect fit.

Izzet Phoenix also regularly wants to tap out on its own turn, which means Dispel and Spell Pierce are often awkward pieces of interaction. You use all your mana nearly every single turn, so it only makes sense that you’d want some sort of free interaction. I love the idea of Force of Negation out of the sideboard here, and I’m looking forward to trying it out as soon as possible.

A Storm Is Brewing

But what about Storm? Does Aria of Flame have a place? Is it better than the Gifts Ungiven builds that we’re used to seeing? I don’t know for sure, but I think that Aria of Flame is significantly better in a deck that likes to interact with the opponent. The problem with Aria of Flame in a true Storm combo deck is that storm cards are cast after the Ritual effects. Here, we need to cast Aria of Flame before we cast anything else.

In actuality, Aria of Flame takes less “storm” to kill the opponent than Tendrils of Agony. But like the Burn decks that already exist in Modern, you don’t need to cast all eight spells in a single turn. You can space it out a bit. That’s why spot removal is actually pretty good here, and why I prefer it in something like Izzet Phoenix instead of a true Storm deck.

With that said, there’s a good chance we should build a Storm-adjacent deck around Aria of Flame, if only to see just how good it can be. I’ve already found Ritual effects to be very good with Aria of Flame out of Mono-Red Phoenix, so let’s see how far we can take a Storm-style strategy that doesn’t actually play any cards with storm! Maybe Aria Storm will be the new Affinity, in that it relies on a similar concept but no longer utilizes the mechanic in question.

As you can see, we have a lot of the same elements as the current Storm deck, but we don’t have to do it all in one shot. Instead, we’re playing a bit of filtering with Faithless Looting, as well as a good bit of creature interaction like Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash. Finale of Promise on the top end is also pretty nuts with Aria of Flame, as well as generating some much-needed actual card advantage.

The one thing I always disliked about older Storm decks is that you had to have one big turn. Often, that would put the pressure on your opponent to hit you with a bunch of disruption. And if they did have the right disruption, there wasn’t much you could do. Here, we’re focusing on building around Aria of Flame, which is technically more vulnerable than “casting a bunch of instants and sorceries,” but you have the sideboard plan involving the Pyromancers to give you a bit of flexibility. The “right” build is likely some hybrid that uses creature-based threats as well as Aria of Flame, giving you that two-pronged attack that we talked about earlier.


Of the three decks I’ve presented, I’m a big fan of the Izzet Phoenix deck, if only because it’s tried and true. Aria of Flame seems to fit naturally into the shell and gives you a great alternate angle of attack. I love the card, and I hope you end up loving it too.

If you’re reading this on Thursday morning, make sure to tune in to VS Live! later today where I try out Izzet Phoenix utilizing Aria of Flame to see just how good it is! Plus, we have a special guest in town hanging out, so if you like that Gerry Thompson fellow, make sure you’re there at 1pm ET.