Izzet Prowess Only Got Better In Modern Thanks To Modern Horizons 2

Can Izzet Prowess keep up with the new decks enabled by Modern Horizons 2? Patrick Sullivan thinks so, as the Modern stalwart picked up an upgrade of its own.

Dragon’s Rage Channeler, illustrated by Martina Fackova

Red-based Prowess has an interesting history in Modern because the deck has existed for a number of years, but the current builds barely resemble the way the deck was built many years ago. Past Monastery Swiftspear, Lightning Bolt, and Manamorphose, almost all the staple cards are fairly recent by the standards of the format. The additions have been less surgical tools and more raw rate and redundancy, and the deck has risen in representation and win rate accordingly.

Soul-Scar Mage

Another credible one-drop beyond Swiftspear, text box meaningful for a strategy that can be soft to large creatures.

Crash Through

Low-opportunity cost cycler (one mana, doesn’t require a target), text box comes up in creature matchups, or anyone trying to buy time by chump blocking.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Absolutely busted in this deck along with Mishra’s Bauble (and other cards) pre-companion nerf, still a strong incentive to explore white as a secondary color.

Sunbaked Canyon Fiery Islet Lava Dart

The initial Modern Horizons pickups. The lands are strong even if you aren’t playing a second color. Lava Dart is absurd in almost all the creature matchups and is good enough alongside Prowess creatures that it can carry its weight even against control or combo strategies.

Light Up the Stage Expressive Iteration

Card advantage, velocity, staying power in your sideboard games. Expressive Iteration is outrageous; anyone arguing that Light Up the Stage is better in absolute terms should be ignored, but it’s still plenty good to play if you aren’t playing blue, or if you want a fifth or sixth copy of such things.

Iteration was the inflection point where blue became the default color instead of white. Before Modern Horizons 2, a stock list looked something like:

I played this build, and builds similar to it, and I was not impressed. There are all sorts of inconsistencies engendered on the margins — lines that require two blue mana among your first three lands, having to fire off spells at inopportune times to cast Stormwing Entity, and a bunch of dead weight against control such that beating something as innocuous as a removal spell and a Snapcaster Mage was very difficult. I eventually moved the situational stuff (Snag and Growth) out for Lava Spike, which raised the floor and lowered the ceiling. My sideboard eventually “evolved” to include cards like Snapcaster Mage and Threads of Disloyalty, an indictment on how unwieldy the deck was, particularly against resistance.

That brings us to Modern Horizons 2 and Dragon’s Rage Channeler. I believe this is a massive addition and has played out that way so far. Besides being absurd on rate and in the context of the deck, it’s another powerful, no-brainer red card. We’re now in the territory where there’s no need to play anything sketchy or situational, like mopey blue threats or Abbot of Keral Keep to fill out for Lurrus builds.

None of this is meant to imply that this is the best deck in the format, or even the best build of Prowess. There are a ton of absurd cards in Modern Horizons 2, and some of the graveyard stuff, and Urza’s Saga, seems particularly strong. In any event, nothing here is at risk of being banned, I assume, and the deck has felt good so far in spite of some of my opponent’s having the potentially problematic cards in question. In short, if you’re starting from a position of “Is this reasonable?” and “Is it relatively safe to acquire the cards?”, I think this is a good bet.

The Threats

Soul-Scar Mage Monastery Swiftspear Dragon's Rage Channeler

The twelve sick one-drops alongside Bedlam Reveler. Dragon’s Rage Channler plays well alongside Reveler, milling over spells to find your Reveler and get it on the cheap. Occasionally it clears away redundant copies, and between Reveler and Iteration you have plenty of staying power against resistance, something not true of previous Izzet builds. Sprite Dragon isn’t close enough on rate to be worth consideration, and Stormwing Entity is unnecessarily clunky for how streamlined this deck is. The strongest case for those cards was the desire to have something with flying, as the deck is occasionally vulnerable to the ground getting locked up, but Channeler moves the needle there as well.

On Murktide Regent

Murktide Regent

To the extent I want a later game, occasionally unwieldy threat, I’m much more interested in something that draws cards, like Bedlam Reveler, than something that’s just sort of big. Most of the time the game drags to this point it is against removal and other forms of attrition, and most decks that play like that can handle something that’s just a bunch of numbers.

That said, there are some matchups where having the biggest thing is really important, most notably the mirror. I’m also reticent to move into the Thought Scour / Opt / Serum Visions type of architecture, given how awkward I found the previous Izzet experience to be. The card is not bad by any measure, but seems a little out of place here. Like I said, lots of ways to build this deck, no shortage of good cards to choose from, but I think Regent requires a different approach.

Cantrips and Other Spells

Lava Spike Mishra's Bauble

I guess the most fringe card here is Lava Spike. I’m still a defender; it plays well in most of your Game 1s, and sorceries are a bit more valuable now with Channeler’s delirium requirements as part of the calculus. Mishra’s Bauble doesn’t play well with Reveler (I mean, it does, because it’s a zero-mana cantrip and you can sit on it when you’re about to set up Reveler, but since people make this claim all the time, I thought I’d mention it), but it’s so good with all your other creatures and just on rate that I wouldn’t cut it for a different cantrip.

The Mana

Steam Vents

Only noteworthy thing here is one copy of Steam Vents. Blue is de-emphasized in this list to the point where I thought I could get away with one, and in about 30 matches it has never come up that I’ve wanted the second. I like nineteen lands in the previous Izzet builds, but with Bauble and a lower land count, eighteen has felt appropriate here. The fetches aren’t great but I don’t want more basics or other duals, and they help with delirium, and for some draw step control with Mishra’s Bauble. I feel like there could maybe be room for improvement here on the margins, but I haven’t wanted Sunbaked Canyon and nothing else seems close to consideration. I’m happy enough for now.

The Sideboard

4 Abrade


Generic coverage against a lot of different stuff, blows up Chalice of the Void, awesome against any sort of Aether Vial deck, especially valuable with the uptick in Affinity. Non-negotiable.

4 Cleansing Wildfire

Cleansing Wildfire

A bit narrow, but Urzatron and Amulet of Vigor strategies aren’t the best matchups, and Cleansing Wildfire adds a ton of win equity there, especially with Urza’s Saga as part of the equation. Negotiable, could easily shave down to two or three if you wanted something else, but I’ve been very happy with the four.

3 Mystical Dispute

Mystical Dispute

I’ve played Spell Pierce and Dispel at various points. Right now I’m happiest with Dispute; most of the stuff I want to Pierce or Dispel is blue anyway, and Dispute gives additional coverage against Murktide Regent and Omnath / Bring to Light decks. The new Affinity decks are fairly saturated with blue cards as well. I used to have one Reveler in the sideboard but enough people were going after my graveyard that I no longer wanted to lean on it after sideboard, and Dispute overperformed such that I wanted a third copy.

2 Tormod’s Crypt

Tormod's Crypt

A lot of options here. I believe Tormod’s Crypt is the best because most of the graveyard decks are extremely explosive, and zero mana is a huge bonus in a deck with so many cantrips and prowess triggers. Relic of Progenitus is slow and runs interference with Reveler and Channeler, and Soul-Guide Lantern is just Crypt for an extra mana, in context.

2 Pyrite Spellbomb

Pyrite Spellbomb

Low-opportunity-cost way to hedge against pro-red creatures and Sanctum Prelate, which you can invalidate by playing your Spellbomb in front of their Prelate. I’ve noticed an uptick in Humans recently (lots of new cards for them, many of them very good) and Spellbomb is great there, and something you can bring in against almost any white opponent who threatens the myriad of good pro-red creatures. An artifact you can sacrifice is also nice with Channeler.

Sideboarding Guide

All your matchups follow essentially the same instructions:

  • All but the fastest opponents: Cut Lava Spike, then cut Manamorphose if you want slots beyond the fourth, or Crash Through if you’re worried about Chalice.
  • The fastest opponents: Bedlam Reveler and Expressive Iteration.

By “fast” I mean “opponents who kill quickly and against whom creature removal doesn’t provide defense,” so don’t cut your Revelers and Iterations against Humans, Infect, or other decks where you can position yourself to be a control deck. Keep Reveler in your deck “in the dark” against normal opponents, but get away from them if your opponent shows a dedicated anti-graveyard card like Rest in Peace or Relic of Progenitus (Reveler isn’t so much better than your worst cards to keep in against that sort of resistance).

A New Modern

Right now, Modern is in a very speculative place. The leagues I’ve played have involved a lot of new stuff — Cookbook decks (both Food-centric and Vengevine-oriented), Merfolk, Humans, Zoo, and a bunch of other stuff exploring singular cards from Modern Horizons 2, Urza’s Saga in particular. It’s hard to know exactly how things are going to shake out right now. That said, Prowess wasn’t exactly struggling before the addition of Dragon’s Rage Channeler, and having another high quality one-mana play that synergizes with the shell in a number of ways should be enough to keep prowess as a contender no matter how the format shakes out.