Is Izzet Prowess The Deck To Beat In Modern?

Has Sprite Dragon taken over Modern? Six SCG creators say what they’d play on the eve of Modern Horizons 2’s release.

Sprite Dragon, illustrated by Gabor Szikszai

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the arrival of Strixhaven, many are unsure what they’d play in Modern. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Modern event.

Patrick Sullivan — Izzet Prowess

I love playing prowess strategies in Modern, but I never thought a set of incentives would come along that would push me off of Lurrus of the Dream-Den. But the last few sets have made some incredible additions for Izzet builds. Sprite Dragon and Stormwing Entity are awesome on rate and help fix some noticeable issues with the Boros builds (matchups that are about speed, matchups where the opponent can lock up the ground, matchups against Fatal Push, etc.) What really put this over the top is Expressive Iteration. It’s much smoother than Light up the Stage — easier to cast against resistance, easier to cast precombat to pump your creatures, with a much higher floor.

There’s a lot of room for customization as well. Mutagenic Growth, Serum Visions, Vapor Snag, and Mishra’s Bauble all have their merits (I think I’m about to cut the Wild Slash for a Serum Visions, for whatever it’s worth). The sideboard has four good cards to bring in against nearly everyone, with easy cuts (Lava Spike against resistance, Expressive Iteration in the fastest matchups). I don’t know if this build is better than Boros across the board, but there are no hopeless matchups or individual cards, and the fundamentals of this deck are extremely strong. It took me a while to get my head around the tricks; the cards aren’t the same as in Boros and the details matter. But now I’m winning at a healthy clip in Modern Leagues, and would play this list in a tournament with a high level of confidence.

Corey Baumeister — Esper Control

Control is normally something I’m very low on in Modern — sorry Shaheen — but this version feels like an exception to me. Not only do we have great removal for aggressive matchups (Fatal Push and Go for the Throat) but also the best countermagic for Izzet Breach and Scapeshift (Archmage’s Charm and Cryptic Command). Esper also gives us access to a card that looks so very weak to me on paper but has been overperforming: Kaya’s Guile.

Kaya’s Guile really does everything in the current Modern metagame. At face value against aggressive decks, you get to interact on Turn 2 and Kaya’s Guile on Turn 3 to have them sacrifice their only (hopefully) creature and create a blocker. It’s even one of the few answers to a Stormwing Entity out of Izzet Prowess (that creature is really the only reason that deck is doing so well right now). Outside of that, it does some disgusting things against Dredge, Snapcaster Mage, and Lurrus with the exile graveyard ability. I honestly could go on and on about the applications of Kaya’s Guile but we’re supposed to keep these articles short!

Esper Control isn’t really breaking the mold but it’s taking advantage of a Modern metagame that’s much fairer than it has been in the past. This makes for a perfect storm for the control gods to rejoice and summon the hero that we all know and love: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria! If the metagame gets filled with more copies of Cavern of Souls, Veil of Summer, and Aether Vial, this deck gets quite a bit worse, but until that happens, it’s all systems go!

Dom Harvey — Izzet Prowess

Izzet Prowess hovered around the top tier of Modern for a while but appears to have officially taken the crown from Selesnya Company. It’s the most popular deck, a highly successful deck, and a litmus test for any new deck that wants to compete in Modern right now. Anything that folds to Lava Dart is dead on arrival and anyone who passes that test has to beat Izzet Prowess in a fair fight.

Clever Lumimancer was the most eye-catching Prowess-adjacent card from Strixhaven, promising a shockingly fast and consistent goldfish in Boros Prowess, but Expressive Iteration gave the already more resilient Izzet Prowess builds a tool that lets them grind through a wall of interaction while pressing its advantage when ahead. When all you care about is speed, Izzet Prowess is still scarily fast and this list has Assault Strobe in the sideboard to swing those races in your favour.

The rest of this list is unremarkable but gambles on Chalice of the Void and Creeping Chill remaining unpopular to open up some space in the sideboard. Threads of Disloyalty is quickly becoming stock and it doesn’t take many games against decks like Jund Death’s Shadow (Lurrus) to see why.

Ari Lax — Burn

I don’t think this is a flawless moment to play Burn, but it certainly is a good one. Selesnya Company has trended way down. The other white decks are trimming on Auriok Champion and/or playing 80 cards. Clunky combo decks based around five-mana spells have trended up. Cheap green creatures to Searing Blaze are showing up in a broader segment of the metagame. Last, Izzet Prowess plays right into your Eidolon of the Great Revel.

I do respect having the fear of people showing up with 2021-quality decks with actual Burn hate in them, and this deck is well-tread enough I have time to discuss alternatives. My advice? If you’re too afraid of the downsides of playing Goblin Guide, play Pillage. There’s a real reason Gruul Midrange has won a bunch of recent events, including a Super Qualifier: the same clunkiness the Burn is trying to exploit is vulnerable to land hate and Blood Moon.

The Modern metagame may have gotten stuck for a little bit, but Prismari Command has really got it back up and churning.

Todd Anderson — Izzet Prowess

D00mwake has been killing the streaming game lately. His focus on older formats on Magic Online has helped him grow his audience organically, and his results keep people coming back for more.

He’s been working on Izzet Prowess for a few weeks, ever since I wrote my article on Expressive Iteration. It fits perfectly into Izzet Prowess, giving a burst of card advantage to overcome massive amounts of cheap interaction.

The cheap creatures and spells leave you vulnerable to Chalice of the Void, but most decks in Modern can’t match you on speed or consistency. Your early threats pile on damage quickly, taking advantage of any opponent who stumbles. Your direct damage can punish opponents who rely entirely on creature removal for interaction, and you goldfish better than most. In this metagame, Lava Dart actually has targets, which is great news for the deck that spams spells to pump its creatures.

I’ve long been a proponent of Mutagenic Growth in small numbers. It protects your prowess creatures from Lightning Bolt and deals a significant amount of damage without much effort. Mutagenic Growth does wonders for your closing speed in matchups where your opponent is trying to ignore you. It’s also free. What’s not to love?

There are a plethora of ways to build this archetype. As of right now, I think D00mwake really nailed it on the head. Finding the right answers, threats, and interaction, and then balancing the numbers is tricky. Draw too many threats and they’re all weak. Draw too few and a single removal spell can end the game. I’m excited to see where this archetype goes next, but Expressive Iteration is here to stay.

Shaheen Soorani — Esper Control

I’m counting the days to replace the three Mana Leak and one Logic Knot with four Counterspell, which will make Esper Control the king of the format.  There are some naysayers who think Counterspell won’t be the epic upgrade that it is.  I have no time in my life for that type of negativity, especially when Esper Control is already this good.  I’ve waited a long time to make a bold claim like this, as I have been critical of control in Modern for the last few years. 

Although there have been some instances where Azorius or Esper Control were viable options, there was often a combo deck I would run away with at the last possible moment.  Control had flaws, and still does, but they’re quickly closing as the format stabilizes. 

Kaya’s Guile is the card I always thought it was.  Even through the hate, it has been a staple of my versions of Esper Control since it was printed.  Now that the format is less centered around Eidolon of the Great Revel, the high-damage manabase is less punishing.  The aggressive decks of the format are vulnerable to powerful spot removal, cheap counterspells, and the lifegain attached to Kaya’s Guile for the finishing blow. 

With the top planeswalkers and Snapcaster Mage as the helm, Esper Control is the deck of choice for me moving forward.