I’ve heard a lot of complaints lately about how Standard is boring and how Golgari is the best deck “not close,” but I believe I have a deck which is new, fun, and has a positive matchup against Golgari.
My first games with the deck, I was enthralled. Arclight Phoenix imitates many of my favorite cards and I was describing it as a beautiful mix of Flamewake Phoenix, Bloodghast, Vengevine, and Hollow One. I actually felt like I was playing Modern Hollow One, since I had many different card manipulation spells and I was constantly trying to push my deck to see the maximum number of cards while also casting three spells each turn and pushing new cards into my graveyard. I like winning, but I also like solving new puzzles, and this deck was providing a lot of both.
I’d like to start by asking a question: have you ever cast Arclight Phoenix in Magic Arena? It’s incredible. An animation is displayed of a huge red bird swooping down onto the battlefield, a loud caw, and it breathes fire across the battlefield. I was worried at first that this would be a distraction from the strategy of the game, but it only lasted a few moments and I was looking forward to it each time I was even close to getting Arclight Phoenix onto the battlefield.
You may notice some interesting card choices here and they’ve all shown themselves to be well worth the inclusion. I immediately identified that the current Standard format only has a few known archetypes that occupy a ton of the metagame, and with access to Radical Idea, Chart a Course, Tormenting Voice, Maximize Velocity, and Beacon Bolt, you have the ability to discard a dead card and not suffer any of the negative benefits of effectively presideboarding for the major matchups. On top of that, Discovery // Dispersal and Opt both have similar effects which cause you to see cards that you were going to draw that game and have agency over if they go to your hand or somewhere else.
Fiery Cannonade is essential when 15% of the metagame all play four copies of History of Benalia maindeck. In my experience, every deck with History of Benalia also has incentive to play cheap creatures earlier in the game. Selesnya Tokens has Emmara, Soul of the Accord, and Mono-White Aggro and Boros Angels usually have Knight of Grace among other things. Instant speed is not to be underrated here, as games in these matchups seem to follow the exact same script with them curving out as best they can and me using Opt, Discovery // Dispersal, Radical Idea, and Tormenting Voice to see as many cards as possible and almost viewing something like Opt as paying one blue mana at instant speed to dig two cards deeper to Fiery Cannonade.
You never get stuck with Fiery Cannonade in your hand when it’s mana-efficient to spend it before the next lore counter would be added, creating a token that survives the sweeper. It may look like a nonbo to play Fiery Cannonade with Goblin Electromancer, but so often you see both in your first seven to ten cards that you basically get to pick in which order you cast them. As a nice side benefit, you even have an out to a massive topdecked March of the Multitudes or a Legion Warboss that’s about to get out of control.
Beacon Bolt looks like a Draft card, but the thing I like best is it gives you a card in Game 1 which can kill Lyra Dawnbringer. It seems small, but I think a ton of people will play the color white and some of them will just jam Lyra Dawnbringer maindeck, and I would prefer to have some possible answer rather than just hoping to combine Lava Coil and Shock.
It’s not trivial either that some of the time I get a matchup where Lyra Dawnbringer is one of the most important cards and I now have a card in my deck that can easily kill two Lyra Dawnbringers. I can spill it into my graveyard from my library with Discovery // Dispersal and pick up the free value there, or, as explained previously, discarding useless cards that can then be used later. I played a bunch of games where I went through half my deck digging with cantrips, so just the math of it shows that one-of cards are stronger and more effective in decks of this style.
Maximize Velocity is a card I don’t even touch in Booster Draft, but I really like it in combination with Crackling Drake. The name of the game is casting as many instants and sorceries as possible in the hopes that majestic Phoenixes will clutter the battlefield and kill my opponent quickly. Failing that, Crackling Drake is the second-best creature in the deck and I wouldn’t leave home without four in the starting 60. I’ve had it be a four-casting-cost 10/4 flying creature that draws a card, and with this much card draw, it creates a nice pattern of using all your spells to find Drakes, which find spells to find more Drakes, which all make the Drakes even more powerful.
Maximize Velocity is here has a way to give Crackling Drake haste to deal tons of damage out of nowhere. I tried it purely as speculation, but after I won multiple games that would be unwinnable with any other card, I was sold. My first game with it against Golgari, I cast a 10/4 Drake, gave it haste, and attacked my opponent to ten life. My Crackling Drake died to a Vivied Reid on the battlefield, but the following turn a second Crackling Drake with the jump-start from Maximize Velocity allowed me to deal twenty damage in a short timeframe. Not to mention that it’s a one-mana discard outlet if you really want Arclight Phoenix in your graveyard and you’re tight on lands, and it can act as a way to cast two spells in one turn at the cheapest rate possible in the format.
Lava Coil is popular, but between the synergy with Arclight Phoenix being a cheap quality sorcery and the affordability with Goblin Electromancer, I’ve been happy with two maindeck. Rekindling Phoenix is still legal and popular, and without Lava Coil my option is to either suck it up and take the two-for-one or ignore it. Have you ever tried ignoring a Rekindling Phoenix? It doesn’t usually go well for me. I was also so impressed with Izzet Arclight I immediately decided it was the best deck in the format and the best way to combat the mirror is having access to four copies of Lava Coil in the 75, since it can kill Crackling Drake or exile Arclight Phoenix.
This is my best matchup and the reason to play this deck, so as you can see we sideboard very little. It’s possible you could deduce your opponent is on a build without Llanowar Elves or maybe they decided to sideboard it out, and it’s one of the only aspects of the matchup I’ve struggled with, but even in the worst-case scenario you can still use Shock to kill Jadelight Ranger with the explore triggers on the stack or use it to burn their face or finish off a Vivien Reid if you desperately need a third spell for Arclight Phoenix.
One important aspect of the matchup is using your cantrips as efficiently as possible to get the requisite six spells in your graveyard or exile so that Beacon Bolt can shoot down Doom Whisperer. It’s difficult but very possible and game-breaking.
Taking out Goblin Electromancer is unintuitive, but here I rely on Fiery Cannonade more than in other matchups, so the negative synergy is more prevalent. Additionally it’s weak against Shock, which they may want to leave in. I prefer Dive Down to Maximize Velocity as a way of enhancing the power of Crackling Drake, but it’s very close and I could see going either way.
Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas once taught me the secret to sideboarding is “take out the bad cards and add the good ones,” which somehow is actually relevant here. We have nine cards which are exceptionally weak against a deck with zero creatures maindeck, and we have nine sideboard cards which are fairly high-impact against Jeskai Control.
I was skeptical of Firemind’s Research at first, but it’s a cheap threat reminiscent of Arguel’s Blood Fast, and Search for Azcanta as an enchantment is a particularly hard card type for these decks to interact with. One surprising benefit of Firemind’s Research is it gives you a reliable plan against sideboarded Lyra Dawnbringers without the risk of having creature kill, which could be a dead draw. Sometimes I have two Beacon Bolts in after sideboarding if I feel like they might have Lyra Dawnbringer; Niv-Mizzet, Parun; or even Legion Warboss, but I take that on a case by case basis.
I’ve seen a few builds of Boros and I try to adjust my sideboarding based on what I see. The sideboard plan I have right now doesn’t include adding Lava Coil, but if I see Rekindling Phoenix, that changes things. There’s a more aggressive build and a slower more midrange build based around Militia Bugler which also has Boros Challenger, and against that version I like to have a few Lava Coils as well.
The most common build only has two creatures that are weak to Shock: Knight of Grace and Adanto Vanguard. Since Adanto Vanguard can survive it, I lean on Fiery Cannonade as an answer to Knight of Grace and I’ve been good experiences with this plan. This is the matchup where I’m least certain how to sideboard and my advice is to tread lightly.
After sideboarding you play out like a control deck with card draw, removal, and creatures which are very efficient against removal. The scariest cards they have are Venerated Loxodon and Lyra Dawnbringer, and I play Fiery Cannonade as aggressively as possible to prevent the fast Loxodon hands.
I cut a Shock for a Lava Coil here out of respect for Trostani Discordant and Shalai, Voice of Plenty. Shock is great, but with Fiery Cannonade alongside it, they only have so many cheap creatures and I don’t like drawing multiple Shocks against a deck that can sometimes only have three Emmaras as reasonable targets. You can still combine it with other removal or just go to the face and have it be acceptable, but running three has felt like a fine compromise.
This sideboard plan is almost identical to Mono-Red Aggro and the games play out in a remarkably similar fashion.
I’ll be playing Grand Prix New Jersey this weekend and Izzet Arclight is my frontrunner. It’s unique and interesting and it plays to my style. Chart a Course is one of the most powerful cards we’ve seen in Standard, and there’s no better feeling than attacking with a Goblin Electromancer and paying a single blue mana to draw two cards.
I joked to my team that Steam Vents and Goblin Electromancer are both Standard-legal, so how could I not play them? My team seems to always end up playing Storm in Modern at major events, and now I find myself in a similar position. Wish me luck!