Unbeatable Temur Phoenix And The Unbeatable Team

Ryan Overturf took home one-third of the Team Constructed Open trophies at SCG Baltimore! Today he shines a light on his teammates, their decks, and how their united strength helped them to the title.

I could take this opportunity to talk about the work that I’ve put into tuning Arclight Phoenix strategies in Modern and my deckbuilding process, but that’s simply not the story of this weekend’s Team Constructed Open at SCG Baltimore.

Liz Lynn and Jacob Hagen won that tournament.

Instead I want to tell you about how our team came to be, and the way that we worked together as a sum much greater than any of us as individual players. If you stick around to the end, I suppose I have some good notes on my deck as well.

Jacob Hagen on Standard

Despite both of us being born and raised in Minnesota, we met when he was living in D.C. and was a regular playing on the SCG Tour. You might know him as the player who made the finals of a Standard Open with Crush of Tentacles, but to me he was the guy who always ordered the beer that I was going to on Saturday night.

Last year Jacob moved to L.A. and Magic took a back seat for him while he adjusted to this chapter of his life. I missed him on the road in 2018, and when he asked if I was interested in hitting a team event, I snapped off the opportunity.

For deck selection, Jacob was a bit concerned about card availability and wanted to select an archetype early to make sure he could get cards, but Liz and I told him that we had him covered in that department and to wait for the results from SCG Indianapolis. Minnesotan players Max Magnuson and Eric Hawkins had great weekends with Azorius Aggro in Indy, with Magnuson making Top 4 of the Open and Hawkins making Top 4 of the Classic. Beyond that, the deck had a ringing endorsement from Pro Tour Champion and SCG columnist Andrew Elenbogen, who was kind enough to provide Jacob a sideboard guide.

Azorius Aggro finishing exactly in the Top 4 of last weekend’s tournaments was probably the best result that could have happened for us. It was enough to establish that the deck is capable of winning, and Sultai Midrange winning the tournament meant that we knew what we would have to beat. The combination of sideboard counterspells; Adanto, the First Fort; and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants sliced through the field, which broke pretty much exactly as we expected it to.

I think that I’m a pretty good middle seat for team events, though this deck plays way more to Jacob’s strengths as a player than mine. As such, I made a point to avoid getting involved in Jacob’s matches unless he explicitly asked for advice.

The biggest thing that I did for Jacob was keep an eye out for triggered abilities and minor things like that while he navigated the macro-strategy of his matchups. He did his testing on Magic Arena, so while he pounded one Golgari Midrange or Esper Control player after another, I did my best Arena impression to make sure no triggers were missed. In our Top 8 match, Jacob made an Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants emblem against Cain Rianhard in a game that was then basically over but lasted a dozen or so more turns, and my job was to shout “Three 1/1s!” at the end of every turn.

Jacob went 7-1 with one unfinished match on Day 1 and a clean 9-0 through the finals on Day 2. His play was great, the deck was great, and his radiating positivity really helped pull the team together. Despite having the best record on the team, Jacob was not about to let me or Liz feel down about ourselves after a tough loss.

Liz Lynn on Legacy

Frankly, this is just too alliterative to pass up. On a more serious note, Liz is a powerful Legacy player who knows her way around the format. I first met Liz through Jacob at a post-tournament dinner a couple of years ago, and when she stated that Basking Rootwalla was the “ideologically perfect Magic card,” I knew that we were going to get along swimmingly.

Liz has played a good amount of Death’s Shadow recently and her experience was easily more valuable than any insight I could offer on a Legacy deck to play. The biggest discussion that we had pertaining to the deck was about the basic Swamp, which she had a very convincing argument for and would use to clown on a Lands player or two in the event itself.

This deck definitely plays to my strengths more than Azorius Aggro does, but, having played Legacy in a team event, I know that it’s really important to let your Legacy player do their thing. There’s so much subtlety in matches of Legacy and Liz knows what she’s doing. When you believe in your Legacy player, trying to tag in to their matches mostly just distracts them.

With Jacob doing so much winning, Liz and I both had a match or two where things hinged on us, which can be extremely stressful. Whenever Liz was shuffling up for an important game three, I would tell her, “I trust you, I believe in you, and gosh darn it, I like you.” It’s impossible to quantify the impact that this sort of thing has on game win percentages, but I’ll say that having such a positive and healthy team dynamic is what made this weekend so amazing for me.

I trust you, I believe in you, and gosh darn it, I like you.”

Liz had some amazing matches this weekend, and her Game 3 in the finals was nothing short of immaculate. I’ve already rewatched it about a dozen times, and it brings me so much joy.

Yours Truly on Modern

I love Modern. I’m something of a dissenter on the matter of Krark-Clan Ironworks, or rather what I think the most recent update should have been, and in our Top 8 profile I made clear my position that Faithless Looting’s legality is a farce. That said, I’m sure going to enjoy registering it as long as they let me.

I can be a little hard to work with when it comes to deck selection, as my process is a little erratic and I slightly prefer losing with cards that I like to winning with cards that I don’t. Jacob and Liz were open to some outrageous lists that I sent them and were on board when I told them that I was committed to playing Traverse the Ulvenwald in my Arclight Phoenix deck despite the fact that this was arguably needlessly rocking the boat on a proven archetype.

I’ve had Temur Phoenix in my back pocket for a couple of months, but something about it was a little off. Landing on the exact ten-creature suite that I registered over some other iterations that I tried, such as Bedlam Reveler and Monastery Swiftspear, was what made me finally feel good about my innovations. I kind of hate Crackling Drake in Izzet Phoenix, but only having to register one copy and being able to find it when it’s good without having to draw multiple copies has been great for me. The Snapcaster Mage is a roundabout way to Traverse for a spell and also to increase the impact of your sideboard cards by flashing them back and has been invaluable as a one-of.

I’ve gotten a number of questions about the relative difficulty of reaching delirium, and I’ll say that it hasn’t been a significant issue in the majority of my games. Actually, I’ll take that a step further – Faithless Looting and Thought Scour make it trivially easy to establish delirium and also to re-establish it if your opponent is playing soft graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus or Surgical Extraction. Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void can give you fits and the strategy that I’ve landed on is just trimming down on Traverses when you expect to be hit by these effects. Beyond that, though, Traverse does a great job at improving the relative quality of one-land hands, provided that they have one of your thirteen green sources. Decks like this already keep a lot of one-land Serum Visions hands, and having Traverse in these spots is a really serious upgrade.

Another question people have is how the Mishra’s Baubles play. You might be discouraged if you play a game where you need to peel an instant or a sorcery off of a cantrip to enable your Thing in the Ice or Arclight Phoenix and you draw a Bauble instead, but this is actually no different from drawing one of the extra threats that the Izzet builds play in these spots. The upside of Bauble is much higher. Allowing you to check the top of your deck to inform sequencing with Serum Visions, Thought Scour, and fetchlands is really powerful, and often enough peeking at the top of your opponent’s deck provides useful information. Just don’t miss your Bauble triggers!

The last cards that I would like to discuss are the sideboard copies of Life Goes On. They’re a little heavy-handed, but I believe that Burn is very good right now, with both Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage serving as upgrades, and that Burn was already one of Izzet Phoenix’s worst matchups. Life Goes On is extremely narrow, but against Burn it is dramatically better than Dispel because you can cast it proactively to trigger Phoenix or Thing in the Ice, and if you get to gain eight off it, you probably just win on the spot. Snapcaster Mage makes doing so rather easy.

If this were an individual event, it would have been sort of a meat and potatoes 10-5 for me through the Swiss, with my losses coming from half of my Dredge opponents, half of my Izzet Phoenix opponents (some would say half of my Faithless Looting opponents…), and one instance of getting both Tron’ed and Hexproof’ed. I think the deck is better against Tron than it is Hexproof, though I wouldn’t consider either loss to be troubling.

The only update that I would make if I had to play the deck tomorrow would be squeezing in a third basic land, most likely a second Island. Forest is definitely not playable here, though there’s a small argument for Mountain, as the reason that I want the extra basic is largely to take less damage off the manabase in matchups where I want to be Bolting things early and often. The cut for the basic is probably the third Steam Vents, though I’d experiment with the fourth Traverse as the cut as well.

Alternatively, Jeff Carr’s Mono-Red Phoenix deck that he didn’t drop a match with this weekend is an appealing consideration:

It’s difficult to overstate just how much of an upgrade Light Up the Stage was for the Mono-Red build. This deck used to play Tormenting Voice. In Modern. And even then, Frank Skarren won a Classic with it!

In terms of a deck that is strictly trying to goldfish the format, Mono-Red Phoenix will do a better job of this than Temur Phoenix. It simply has more Turn 3 wins against zero disruption. That’s the rub, though – if you set your sights on beating Temur Phoenix, the deck can sideboard a pretty wide range of things to battle back and has a fairly adaptable and dynamic gameplan. Mono-Red just Lava Spikes you and hopes you don’t assemble Lightning Helix or Collective Brutality plus Surgical Extraction. You see those Dragon’s Claws in Carr’s sideboard? Yeah, he hopes that you don’t also have them. Auriok Champion is a pretty serious headache for this build, and that’s to say nothing of Kor Firewalker.

Props to Carr for having his deck this weekend. It was an excellent choice as a build of the Phoenix decks that’s a little off the radar, and I think there’s a really good argument that it’s the best Lava Spike deck in Modern. That said, it doesn’t have the adaptability of the other Faithless Looting decks, and if you want to adapt around the Modern metagame rather than having it adapt around you, I’d err on the side of Temur.

This weekend was by far one of the best weekends of my life, and one that I hope never to forget. Winning with Jacob and Liz was a pure delight, and I am so proud of them. Jacob’s great. Liz is great. Playing with a team that you respect and trust is great. Them carrying you across the finish line is better.

Faithless Looting is heinous.