Izzet Phoenix is entirely beatable. So are Dredge, Burn, and the rest of Modern’s top tier. With #SCGPHILLY and the Hunter Burton Memorial Open this weekend, we’ll see if Modern players are up to the task of shifting the metagame.
The What We’d Play article from earlier this week was terrifying. It read as a “play Izzet Phoenix or else” from many of SCG’s top players and SCG Tour regulars. Even those who had previously shunned the archetype are giving up and joining the trend. If you wanted to spike a tournament, this is probably the easiest weekend to do so, as there are numerous ways to ensure you have a great Izzet Phoenix matchup.
The keys to beating Izzet Phoenix are to not overreact to their Arclight Phoenixes, ignore Lightning Bolt, and/or interact on an axis they can’t deal with. Some do it with burn spells, although the Phoenix decks have adapted with Dragon’s Claw and Life Goes On. Others will soon try to beat Izzet Phoenix with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Phyrexian Unlife. A creature deck with more ways to remove Thing in the Ice would also do quite well, although Humans, Spirits, and Hardened Scales may find that difficult.
As always, it’s important to respect the top tier of Modern while being cognizant of everything else the format can throw at you. Even if you build a deck that successfully counters Modern’s top tier, that’s only 30-40% of the metagame, so you can’t be upset if you get to paired to the fifteenth-best deck in Modern and it’s a deck you weren’t prepared for.
Amulet Titan, another popular deck with the SCG crowd, is floundering in this Lightning Bolt-heavy format. Sakura-Tribe Scout is necessary to keep up with the speed of the format and the replacements like Coalition Relic and Lotus Bloom don’t seem to be cutting it. They are fine and the deck is still viable, just not the best choice.
I briefly wrote about this one last week and I won’t delve too much into because Tom Ross wrote about his own experience with the deck. I do like my updated list quite a bit, though!
The main changes from last week are in the sideboard, but the third Nihil Spellbomb did make its way into the maindeck. It’s one of the best cards in Modern because it attacks graveyards cheaply while also having a low opportunity cost to play in your maindeck, unlike Surgical Extraction. One of the things that drew me to Golgari in the first place was that it’s the best deck you can play that also gets to maindeck Nihil Spellbomb. Having a pile of threats that are resistant to Lightning Bolt is the other reason.
Bitterblossom makes an appearance as a card that’s stronger against a wide variety of archetypes than Nissa, Vital Force happens to be. It can come down early, pressure your opponent while allowing you to spend mana on other things, and continually block Death’s Shadow until you can find a real answer. Bitterblossom is also quite good against opposing planeswalkers, especially Liliana of the Veil.
Running all four Surgical Extractions is a strong nod to Dredge, although you need to draw multiple copies to actually KO them. Instead, you should be using it as a bridge to get to your more powerful cards, like Scavenging Ooze. Even though Surgical Extraction isn’t the hate I would necessarily turn to in order to fight Arclight Phoenix and Dredge, it’s passable in those matchups, but where it really shines is against Tron. The combination of land destruction and Surgical Extraction is the best possible plan for decks like these.
Deglamer does cool things like ignore Welding Jar and the dies triggers on Wurmcoil Engine and Hangarback Walker. It’s not as powerful as Creeping Corrosion, but it’s the artifact removal spell you’d prefer to have in most instances. It also doubles as Hexproof hate and removes Leyline of Sanctity if you’re worried about that.
Golgari Midrange isn’t exciting, but it’s under the radar enough that it’s a cool choice, and one that happens to be quite good at dismantling the top tier of Modern’s metagame.
I’ve tried playing decks like these a few times in Modern, but it would be detrimental to how enjoyable I find Modern if I continued to play them. In my younger days, I would have enjoyed killing my opponents with Ipnu Rivulet or Pyrite Spellbomb, but I don’t have time for that anymore.
Regardless, there are many decks that can’t beat a specific hate piece plus a Welding Jar, and if anything, it’s only getting better for the Prison decks. People are hyper-focused on graveyard hate and burn hate (and rightfully so), but that shouldn’t come at the expense of artifact hate. The decks I have in this article try to respect the archetype, but it’s tough to fight the burn-graveyard-artifact trifecta.
Ensnaring Bridge is game over against many strategies, including Izzet Phoenix. For everything else, there’s Chalice of the Void or maindeck hate cards like Grafdigger’s Cage or Damping Sphere. This deck is very, very good right now.
There are a few versions running around at the moment, but I prefer the Ancient Stirrings version to the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek package. It should be noted that Clock of Omens is a card that can go infinite for Thopter / Sword if you decide you need a card like that to close out some matchups, similar to how Krark-Clan Ironworks used to.
While the details do matter to some degree (as the draw bracket could potentially be a death sentence), you can’t go too wrong with Ensnaring Bridge, Welding Jar, and Whir of Invention.
- 4 Sleight of Hand
- 4 Serum Visions
- 4 Pentad Prism
- 3 Spoils of the Vault
- 1 Lightning Storm
- 4 Angel's Grace
- 4 Lotus Bloom
- 3 Pact of Negation
- 4 Ad Nauseam
- 4 Phyrexian Unlife
Honestly, Ad Nauseam has always been a “fine” deck. It has a consistent Turn 4 kill with lots of redundant pieces and is great against control decks thanks to Pact of Negation.
However, their interaction is limited to things like Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife and sometime those cards don’t cut it, especially against faster strategies. When the other decks in Modern don’t care about those roadblocks, the format has a faster goldfish, or there are decks like Humans with a ton of disruption, that’s when Ad Nauseam struggles.
Due to the linear nature of the top decks, Humans is much weaker. Ad Nauseam is basically the opposite of Golgari in that it deals with nonsense quite well and that’s kinda where we are right now. If you were looking for a linear combo deck to slice through the competition, Ad Nauseam is where you want to be.
Izzet Phoenix doesn’t have a fast enough clock and they certainly don’t have enough disruption to stop your combo. Post-sideboard, they pick up some countermagic and maybe some artifact removal to slow you down, but it’s nothing Pact of Negation can’t fix. You even have Path to Exile to slow their clock even further if you want it.
Spoils of the Vault might be nonsense, but it’s what the hive mind has determined is correct. It can exile all your win conditions or kill you outright, but the math is in your favor and there doesn’t seem to be a stronger replacement. If you don’t like to live dangerously, you could always play Peer Through Depths or use it safely once you’ve scryed, but you probably won’t be getting the maximum value from the card.
One of the best things about the above decklist is the sideboard. Many people try to be too fancy with the sideboard, playing things like Bontu’s Last Reckoning as an answer to Humans and the like. Realistically, assembling your combo is very difficult against them, so accelerating into a quick Inferno Titan is the best way of defeating them.
Bonus Decklist: Mono-Red Nivmagus
- 18 Mountain
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Desperate Ritual
- 4 Grapeshot
- 2 Ground Rift
- 4 Manamorphose
- 4 Gut Shot
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 4 Light Up the Stage
This deck doesn’t have all the answers and isn’t trying to be a metagame deck, but being fast is a good way to answer the Modern format. Those who have been following my writing for a while know that I can’t resist decks like this, especially since it contains the trifecta: Nivmagus Elemental, Arclight Phoenix, and Faithless Looting.
You can use Storm cards like Ground Rift and Grapeshot and exile the copies Storm creates with Nivmagus Elemental, making a huge ground creature that puts Death’s Shadow to shame. The fact that Grapeshot and Ground Rift also do a great job of clearing blockers is an added bonus. If that’s not working, you also have normal plan of Monastery Swiftspear and Arclight Phoenix plus Lightning Bolts.
I’m still unsure if this is the next evolution to Mono-Red Phoenix, but with how much lifegain the opposition is packing these days, the burn plan doesn’t seem great. Attacking for twenty is, though.
For more on the adventures of Mono-Red Nivmagus (and decklist updates), you should follow the deck’s creator on Twitter.
Whir Prison is likely the strongest deck choice for the weekend, but I wouldn’t mind playing Ad Nauseam as well, especially since it could potentially be the better choice now that people are playing Shatterstorms and the like. Golgari Midrange is solid but still has some fundamental issues. If you want to play fair, though, I would heavily recommend playing it over Izzet Phoenix.