Lava Dart Is Secretly The Best Card In Modern Horizons

Could a humble common reprint really be the best card in Modern Horizons? Gerry Thompson thinks highly of Lava Dart, and he serves up four brews that give you a sample of what it can do in Modern!

For a long time, Gut Shot has been the go-to card for dealing with one-toughness creatures. Many games are dictated by whether the aggressive deck, like Humans, Affinity, or Infect, can get under you. Costing zero mana is a huge benefit, especially if one of the cards you’re worried about killing is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

That said, Gut Shot finally has competition in Lava Dart, a reprint from Modern Horizons.

Lava Dart has shown up in Constructed from time to time, sometimes as a way to pick off mana accelerants and sometimes as a way to generate a high storm count for Mind’s Desire. Now that Lava Dart is finally in Modern, it’s truly Lava Dart’s time to shine.

Aside from picking off Modern’s plethora of one-toughness creatures, one of the best things you can use Lava Dart for is helping to return Arclight Phoenix from the graveyard. Being free on the early turns is a point in Gut Shot’s favor, but being able to pick off a Champion of the Parish on Turn 1 and a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben later is why I like Lava Dart. If you want Gut Shot in a matchup, you probably want as many as you can possibly get your hands on.

Lava Dart versus Gut Shot will be interesting to watch unfold. Both cards are incredible, but Lava Dart has the higher ceiling, so it’s worth exploring, especially in the various Arclight Phoenix decks.


When Arclight Phoenix was released, the first deck I tried it in was Mardu Pyromancer. Sadly, I was disappointed. Mardu’s whole gameplan was to empty its hand and then reload with Bedlam Reveler. There are turns where you could end up playing three spells per turn, but rarely on back-to-back turns. You could get lucky with strings of Manamorphoses, but you were drawing slim.

On the other hand, Izzet Phoenix was quite good at chaining cantrips, making it easy to go off from a small base. Mardu basically had to sandbag for a big turn, but that was about all it was going to get. Recurring Phoenixes turn after turn wasn’t doable, making them useless on defense and poor against spot removal.

After the initial testing, it was clear that Izzet was a stronger shell for Arclight Phoenix than Mardu was. That could change with Lava Dart. Many people, including myself, were trying Flame Jab as a way to consistently have enough spells. Lava Dart is miles better than that card.

Yes, some decks may even shave Lightning Bolts for Lava Darts. It’s a crazy world we live in.

Realistically, Arclight Phoenix in Mardu will be much slower than its Izzet counterpart. Returning Arclight Phoenix on Turn 4 after flashing back Lingering Souls and casting some one-drops isn’t out of the ordinary. That, plus the inconsistency, was enough to deter me from playing Arclight Phoenix in Mardu.

However, thanks to Lava Dart, things change. Now, even with fewer resources than Izzet, you can return Arclight Phoenix on Turn 3 with consistency thanks to Lingering Souls, Lava Dart, and Manamorphose.

One of the problems I ran into with Mardu Phoenix was that sometimes my spells were cards like Fatal Push that didn’t have any targets. It’s necessary to include some ways to kill bigger creatures, such as Thing in the Ice, but it can be a real downside. Hopefully Seasoned Pyromancer can help mitigate that issue.

Todd Anderson did a great write-up of Seasoned Pyromancer and its applications in Modern last week, so I won’t delve too much into it here. It’s another discard outlet for Arclight Phoenix, does a great job going wide, and gives you something to do with your mana later on. It also has the upside of outright drawing two cards if you happen to be hellbent. I’m not sure how many copies we want, but it’s probably going to vary between the versions with Arclight Phoenix and those without.

Another missing piece of the puzzle could be Finale of Promise. With Lightning Bolt, discard spells, and Manamorphose, there’s a lot to like about Finale of Promise in Mardu Pyromancer, especially once you get Arclight Phoenix into the mix. I’m currently relying on Seasoned Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler to set up Arclight Phoenix, but that could be wrong.


If we want to see what kind of impact Lava Dart will have on Arclight Phoenix decks, we should be looking at the current best Arclight Phoenix shell.

Not much is changing in Izzet Phoenix. In fact, this is my current recommended maindeck, albeit with Gut Shot instead of Lava Dart and an Island and a fetchland instead of Fiery Islet.

Gut Shot enables Arclight Phoenix on Turn 2, which Lava Dart can also do. In those situations, Gut Shot is obviously stronger since you don’t have to sacrifice a land, but Lava Dart is stronger in basically every other scenario not involving Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

With multiple Lava Darts in the graveyard, you can trigger Pyromancer Ascension from a low base, which is important in matchups with lots of disruption like Jund or Grixis Death’s Shadow. It also gives you enough burn spells to reasonably win a game with just Pyromancer Ascension

Similarly to Mardu, Izzet might want less than four copies of Lava Dart, but Pyromancer Ascension dictates your deckbuilding to some degree. Drawing multiple copies of a card is typically stronger than drawing a bunch of one-ofs, but again, Lava Dart isn’t the worst card to draw in this deck. Even aside from Arclight Phoenix, this deck has Thing in the Ice, and Lava Dart helps transform that card very quickly.

Mono-Red Phoenix

While Lava Dart is going to be great in Mardu and Izzet, it looks truly incredible in Mono-Red Phoenix. Between Arclight Phoenix, Prowess, Bedlam Reveler, Light Up the Stage, and wanting to clear small blockers, Lava Dart has many uses.

You could make the argument that Gut Shot is great at doing all those things too, and you’d be right. There’s nothing saying we can’t play them both!

We truly have an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. Faithless Looting, Light Up the Stage, Seasoned Pyromancer, Bedlam Reveler, and Finale of Promise all offer a bevy of options for card advantage and velocity. Finding the right mix will be difficult, but you can’t get it too wrong either way.

Eight one-drops with prowess ensure you’ll be off to a fast start, and a flurry of card drawing and burn spells should leave your opponent without life points very quickly. If they put up some resistance, you have more than enough staying power to grind with the likes of Jund and Azorius Control.

The new cycle of Horizon Canopies will help these sorts of decks as well. Taking damage isn’t irrelevant, but mitigating flood is worth it, even in a deck with this much velocity. I’m going to start with three copies and work from there, but I fully expect dropping to two copies before I go up to four. Playing more than four copies is basically out of the question because of how quickly the damage adds up.

Nivmagus Elemental

Oh yeah, that’s right. We’re back!

Nivmagus Elemental is back and better than ever!

Now we have access to Arclight Phoenix, which gives us a reason to play Faithless Looting. It also gives us something else to do with our plethora of cheap spells and a reasonable backup plan in the face of removal-heavy decks.

Flusterstorm is a huge upgrade to Ground Rift, which did very little. Temur Battle Rage is also much stronger than Tainted Strike or Assault Strobe, so we could really have something powerful on our hands. Lava Dart and Gut Shot enable Light Up the Stage. Finale of Promise could be incredible in this deck. To top it off, we have flood insurance from Fiery Islet.

Is this deck broken or unplayable? I can’t wait to find out.


As long as there are one-toughness creatures in Modern, Lava Dart will be part of the format. You don’t need Arclight Phoenix in your deck for Lava Dart to perform well, and I imagine there will be plenty of red-based decks that will sideboard Lava Dart for the same reasons they sideboarded Gut Shot in the past. Decks like Mardu Pyromancer will play Lava Dart in some numbers even if they don’t want access to Arclight Phoenix.

If you’ve ever considered playing Gut Shot (and especially Forked Bolt) and Mountains in your deck, you should look at whether Lava Dart is right for your build.