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Izzet Phoenix in Pioneer

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Hey everyone!

Today I continue my Pioneer adventure. Breaking into the format has been a blast as I've really enjoyed the relatively simple games compared to Modern. The lack of fetching and more affordable decks has also made me a fan.

Winona, Joiner of Forces and Expressive Iteration are now banned in Pioneer. This was a great move by WOTC as Winota pushed out numerous aggressive strategies. It was slightly too powerful for Pioneer as the rest of the format was forced to adapt to a 4/4 that won the game if it didn't immediately die.

Expressive Iteration was also too powerful for Pioneer when combined with Treasure Cruise. I like that WOTC kept Treasure Cruise as every other format is allowed to abuse Expressive Iteration, but this is the one place to draw three for one mana.

Izzet pilots are left licking their wounds as they adapt without Expressive Iteration. Today I'm going to focus on Izzet Phoenix (Jegantha) as I've enjoyed the proactive gameplay. I won my last FNM and split the Top 8 of a 1K with this alternate take on the strategy and it has felt very powerful.

Let's begin with my current decklist:


The Core

I prefer to cast Consider ahead of Opt to help fuel the first Treasure Cruise. These eight cantrips allow Izzet Phoenix to play just twenty mana sources despite wanting to hit early land drops and enable casting three spells on the same turn. I never sideboard these out.

Izzet Phoenix has plenty of decisions so I like to think of each cantrip as a number of cards added to the graveyard to enable devling Treasure Cruise. I prefer to cast Cruise ahead of looting effects when possible as it increases the chances of discarding Arclight Phoenix. I haven't boarded out a Treasure Cruise yet, but it's defensible as the opponent brings in graveyard hate.

Shredder may be the strongest creature in Pioneer. It serves as a giant wall against creature decks and helps ensure you don't flood out in the late game. Remember the connive triggers on both turns from both players.

Connive is a mandatory trigger so watch out for decking situations or forced discard against opposing Narset. I haven't found a reason to board out Ledger Shredder.

Izzet Phoenix needs a card that serves as an incentive for churning through the deck. Thing in the Ice provides redundancy alongside Ledger Shredder in the early game. It lines up well against the abundance of Green decks in the format. I kept watching the stock Phoenix deck get stopped by big creatures with reach.

I lead with Thing in the Ice into Ledger Shredder against removal decks as you can connive before the bird eats a removal spell. When decks don't play removal I lead on Shredder to get an extra attack.

Thing and Shredder don't play well together, but both paths in the early game are strong. Izzet decks have enough ways to loot away the extra creatures.

After sideboard I expect the opponent's deck will be filled with graveyard hate so I accept hard casting Arclight Phoenix if the situation calls. This version of Phoenix is very threat dense so you can choose your own adventure. It's defensible to cut an Arclight Phoenix with this in mind.

The Removal

Red's removal is nimble, but there's no such thing as a free lunch. What it possesses in speed it lacks in versatility. The optimal removal suite will change based on the metagame since we don't have a broken Red spell like Lightning Bolt in Pioneer.

While Lightning Axe is likely going to generate card disadvantage it's able to get Phoenix in the graveyard quickly. You can recoup the lost card with your plethora of card advantage spells. I like Axe less now that Winota is banned. It's still able to take down a big Ledger Shredder. Thing in the Ice is another way to beat big creatures making the fourth less necessary.

I find myself boarding out at least one Lightning Axe often because more targeted removal can be played instead. Don't board out too many ways to discard Arclight Phoenix or your deck will become clunky.

I've found sorcery-speed to not be much of a liability as your creatures encourage chaining spells on your turn. Three damage is important against opposing Ledger Shredders and Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Gluttons. It's able to damage planeswalkers which is relevant against control as Narset's static can cause headaches.

Deals up to three damage at instant-speed. It misses players and planeswalkers, but you can kill your own Arclight Phoenix in response to it being exiled against White decks. Instant-speed is relevant when you have a two-drop creature lined up and don't want to wait until the third turn to kill a creature. This comes up more often on the play as Strangle can take down a creature when the opponent goes first.

While Stomp doesn't go to the graveyard for Treasure Cruise it's able to serve as another threat against Rakdos Midrange. I like combining Stomp with Strangle and Fiery Impulse to take down big creatures. It's another threat to copy with Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

When Stomp is able to take down an early creature the following turn can be spent casting Bonecrusher Giant. This plays out better than it sounds as you can use your instants and sorceries on the fourth turn to return a Phoenix to the battlefield. Izzet Phoenix doesn't have to spend every turn casting instants and sorceries.

The Library Manipulation

The Winota ban influences the removal played and the lack of Expressive Iteration affects our choice of library manipulation. Things were easy when we could play four copies of the broken card to cycle through the deck.

I've been pleasantly surprised by Strategic Planning. This card is much worse than Expressive Iteration so it didn't have a place before the ban. It adds three cards to the graveyard for Treasure Cruise and can mill Arclight Phoenix. Beware of dumping Arclight Phoenix in the graveyard too soon against Black decks because Go Blank and Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton can foil your plans.

Similar to Expressive Iteration, Strategic Planning doesn't draw cards making it useful while Narset, Parter of Veils is on the battlefield.

A similar effect to Strategic Planning, but plays better in different situations. I cast Chart a Course most often on the fourth turn to get more looks at looting away a Phoenix. When the plan is to loot away Phoenix it will only add one card to the graveyard for Treasure Cruise to exile.

The same logic holds true on Consider versus Opt; I prefer to cast Strategic Planning ahead of Chart a Course. As the game goes on I may want to cast Chart a Course after attacking to draw two cards instead of filter.

Izzet Charm gets a lot of flack, but I've been impressed. Again, there wasn't as much room when Expressive Iteration was legal. Not only do I want a maindeck counter against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but Ugin, the Spirit Dragon must be respected out of Ramp.

I don't care for Izzet Charm in the all-in version of Phoenix that plays Pieces of the Puzzle, Temporal Trespass, and Galvanic Iteration because there isn't enough room. Charm plays well with Thing in the Ice because flipping the horror may require discarding multiple Phoenix before the attack step.

Izzet Charm may get sideboarded out often because it can be substituted for more targeted interaction. This is a feature and not a bug.

The Lands

Izzet Phoenix decks are looking to play around twenty lands. These twelve represent the core dual lands. After these twelve lands Izzet rounds out the mana base with a series of basics, mana sinks, and situational duals.

Field of Ruin is in Azorius Control so I want to play at least one basic. Phoenix decks want more Blue mana to chain together cantrips and library manipulation.

Channel lands are legendary and take away from your basic land count. I don't want two copies of Otwara because I rarely have the mana to channel. If the game goes late and I flood out it's nice to have the option.

Sokenzen was rarely channeled so I don't advise playing it. The untapped Red land is less desirable in the mid game when you're trying to chain Blue spells.

Most Izzet decks play two Creature lands. The first game is a race, but sideboard interaction increases the games won by attrition. I've been impressed with Hall of Storm Giants in particular for these topdeck wars.

Like Sokenzan, I haven't liked Den of the Bugbear because Blue mana is much more valuable. The 3/2 was rarely activated as it's not until I start flooding out that I want to spend the turn attacking with a land. A 7/7 with ward 3 is strong enough to justify my turn.

Stormcarved Coast plays out well in this build of Izzet Phoenix. When I have my second turn Blue creature in hand I can wait until the third turn to play my cheap spells. This allows me to play a tapped land on the first turn as a worst-case scenario. It's the best land to find when I'm chaining through my deck in the mid game as it no longer has a drawback unlike Spirebluff Canal and Steam Vents.

The Sideboard

Izzet decks have access to very powerful sideboard cards in Pioneer. Remember they should be cheap as the core of the deck will remain the same. Keep in mind the opponent will board in all sorts of graveyard hate. Izzet has the tools to pivot to a different game plan. Make them sorry they boarded in cards that don't affect the board.

There may not always be time to cast Jegantha, but it can be discarded to Ledger Shredder for profit. When the post board games become more grindy a 5/5 for 5 mana starts to become more relevant.

Thing in the Ice combined with Ledger Shredder means I don't have enough spells for Pieces of the Puzzle and thus Temporal Trespass isn't strong either. This triple Blue Time Walk is the primary reason most Izzet Phoenix decks exclude Jegantha.

Crackling Drake is the reason to exclude Jegantha in the sideboard. It's a way to fight big Green decks, but Thing in the Ice takes care of this issue.

Izzet mirrors are defined by Treasure Cruise and Ledger Shredder. Most Modern decks are covered by either Aether Gust or Mystical Dispute. I need additional one mana interaction when my Red removal isn't good in the matchup.

  • 1 Negate

Extra countermagic in addition to Mystical Dispute.

A way to interact with Green Devotion, Gruul Ramp, and Mono-Red. Two mana is a lot for Izzet decks so I like it less than I do in Azorius Control sideboards. Green decks can board in big threats like Elder Gargaroth as Red removal has a hard time with large toughness. Lightning Axe can't kill every creature you expect to face in the current metagame.

Two mana is a drawback, but it hits planeswalkers such as Narset, Teferi, and The Wandering Emperor. Izzet Control will play a Narset and leave it at five to play around Strangle. It's also an answer to Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Having application against Control decks is very relevant as there is plenty of removal in the maindeck that is mediocre.

Another good spell against control decks to counter planeswalkers that is also very strong against Gruul Ramp. Disdainful Stroke was a big winner from the Expressive Iteration and Winota ban.

Fable plays well with the lack of Pieces of the Puzzle as there are fewer 3-drops to compete. The 2/2 token's treasures are relevant with Jegantha, Hall of Storm Giants, and more expensive Treasure Cruises. Rakdos decks need to throw multiple removal spells at Fable which pave the way for your powerful Blue threats.

I feel comfortable cycling my lands with the second chapter as the Goblin token can create treasures.

Reflection of Kiki-Jiki can't copy Awoken Horror effectively as it will enter the battlefield as an 0/4 that cannot flip. It can copy Arclight Phoenix, Bonecrusher Giant, and Goblin tokens.

That's all I have for today. Izzet decks remain very strong in Pioneer as playing the most broken cards leads to great results. Who would have thought?

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle


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