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Updates to Pioneer Izzet Phoenix

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Hey everyone!

I've been deep in the tank searching for a Pioneer deck that inspires confidence. It has been hard for me to get away from Blue cards as all of the decks have inherent inconsistencies. We aren't playing Modern mana bases, and the spells are also much weaker in comparison. My goal is to find a deck with a high power level that isn't trading off consistency. A tall order.

Earlier in the format, just after Expressive Iteration and Winota were banned, I was high on a Phoenix deck with Jegantha, the Wellspring. Pieces of the Puzzle encourages you to play powerful spells with double colored costs such as Temporal Trespass so it was natural for me to want to go another route for a companion. Now that the format is beginning to settle it's clear Pieces of the Puzzle is the dominant approach.

To begin I'm going to discuss my Izzet Phoenix deck-building philosophy as there are many options for each effect. Pioneer has plenty of cards with equal power levels that shine in different metagames and decklists.

Here's my current list:


The Spells

Pieces of the Puzzle is the glue that holds the deck together. It enables five delve spells, three Treasure Cruise and two Temporal Trespass, in the maindeck. There are twenty-nine instants and sorceries in the deck if you exclude the Pieces of the Puzzle on the stack.

I think of Pieces of the Puzzle as Izzet's Collected Company; high power level, but has the chance to brick. It's better than CoCo when you reveal zero instants and sorceries because it means putting six cards into the graveyard for delve and Arclight Phoenix.

I've found myself wanting to keep at least three Pieces of the Puzzle in my deck after sideboard to avoid power dilution. This means I don't like to increase the amount of creatures in my deck after boarding by too much. I will often replace Thing in the Ice for Crackling Drake to maintain parity.

Pieces of the Puzzle is also like Yorion, Sky Nomad in Modern. It creates inconsistencies in Izzet Phoenix, but is so powerful in the mirror that you can't afford to play another version. A sixty-card Omnath Pile would draw Teferi and Counterspell more often against combo, but would never consistently beat the powerful companion in the mirror which must be respected.

When you resolve multiple Pieces of the Puzzle in a game it creates a near deterministic kill with a combination of Phoenix and Temporal Trespass. It reminds me of the Sultai Wilderness Reclamation decks with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Fact or Fiction; drawing cards becomes your win condition.

I've watched many streamers pilot Izzet Phoenix in the last week. A mistake I've seen is not aggressively casting Pieces of the Puzzle. A play pattern I've found success with is casting Pieces ahead of interacting to set up for a big turn involving removal and Phoenix afterward.

Pieces of the Puzzle creates so much card advantage that I haven't missed Jegantha as much as I expected.

Hitting land drops is crucial in this version of Izzet Phoenix because Pieces of the Puzzle costs three mana. I have a healthy win rate with Phoenix decks in Pioneer, but I find most of my losses come from keeping greedy cantrip hands. I don't want to spend my early turns milling and scrying away powerful spells just to ensure I can play the game.

A few weeks ago Izzet Phoenix decks wouldn't play more than twenty-one lands, but I've found more success with twenty-two. There's a tension between additional lands and keeping enough spells to recur arclight Phoenix. I've found Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle to be a great way to balance this tension.

I will often play Silundi Isle on the first turn to get the tap land out of the way early. Ideally, I hit my first five land drops to cast Pieces of the Puzzle or Temporal Trespass with Galvanic Iteration. It's also reasonable to spend more on delve spells to keep a stocked graveyard for the next Trespass or Treasure Cruise.

Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle can find Treasure Cruise, Temporal Trespass, Pieces of the Puzzle, or Galvanic Iteration off of the top six cards. When you're ready to cast Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle six cards will be a significant portion of the remaining deck.

I've been favoring Fiery Impulse over Strangle as losing the instant-speed optionality on non-Phoenix turns has prevented me from casting powerful draw spells. Against creature decks, Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle will trigger Ledger Shredder when I find a Fiery Impulse on my opponent's turn.

Some versions of Phoenix play a single Strangle in addition to the playset of Fiery Impulse. I prefer a Lava Coil in the sorcery removal slot. The key creatures Lava Coil exiles are Arclight Phoenix, Thing in the Ice, Ledger Shredder, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Old-Growth Troll.

Thing in the Ice specifically combats Green Devotion, but is a powerful enough threat that demands removal in other matchups as well. I prefer Thing over Crackling Drake in the maindeck because a two-mana 0/4 curves nicely into Pieces of the Puzzle. I don't need the raw power of Crackling Drake in Game 1 because taking multiple turns with Temporal Trespass against an opponent with minimal graveyard interaction is enough.

Depending on your hand, Thing in the Ice can be a solid mid-game play when you spend resources flipping it on the same turn it is cast. At least six mana is required, but you can sandbag cantrips into a Treasure Cruise to play around a removal spell.

Thing in the Ice is often swapped for Young Pyromancer and Crackling Drake after sideboard as a concession for post board games focusing less on spell chaining and more on interaction. If I have a handful of removal or counters I don't want to spend them too quickly to melt the Thing.

Izzet Charm continues to impress. I want additional ways to interact ahead of casting Pieces of the Puzzle. The stock list has a Chart a Course in this space, but the card has felt lackluster. I can use Izzet Charm to loot away Phoenix during a big turn so it also has some synergy with the core strategy.

When building Phoenix decks I'm counting Izzet Charms with the amount of Spell Pierces I include in the seventy-five. Being able to counter Pieces of the Puzzle in the mirror is very important as it enables you to go over the top quickly.

The Mana Base

The mana base is largely stock, but I do need to make a couple changes to account for the two Silundi Isle.

1 Mountain - Typically Izzet Phoenix plays two Island, but the need for Mono-Blue lands aren't as high when I have two Silundi Isle over a Spikefield Cave. This could also be a Sokenzan, but I want a second basic land for the Azorius Control matchup. It feels terrible when your Hall of Storm Giants is hit by Field of Ruin and there isn't a basic in your deck to replace it. Your deck is very mana hungry against Azorius Control as you need to keep up countermagic.

1 Island - I'm keeping fewer hands that rely on cantrips to play the game making it less likely to need the Blue mana on the first turn.

3 Stormcarved Coast - The stock Phoenix mana base plays two, but I have the extra land in Silundi Isle. Not only do I want more Red mana, but the higher land count makes it more likely to enter the battlefield untapped.

The Sideboard

4 Mystical Dispute - Each time I try three Disputes I feel the deck could be improved by adding the fourth. Six soft counters, Dispute and Spell Pierce, are too many.

1 Negate and 1 Spell Pierce - I wanted a counterspell configuration where I could get away with a Negate over a second Pierce. It's common knowledge to play around Spell Pierce and the velocity is less important when you have four Mystical Dispute. Green Devotion can quickly pay for Pierce which doesn't bode well as Phoenix needs to play a defensive role.

2 Aether Gust - As the Pioneer metagame is more explored it's clear that Aether Gust functions like a soft counter against Green Devotion. These are fine cards to play, but you need to do more than delay the inevitable as you take on a more defensive role.

2 Disdainful Stroke - I want these against Azorius Control and Mono-Green Devotion. Stroke plays the role of the hard counter. Azorius Control is a close matchup so I want more help; extra ways to counter Dream Trawler is welcome.

2 Abrade - I don't need many creature kill spells in the sideboard, but I would like them to hit Unlicensed Hearse and be instant-speed. Hearse is rarely played in the maindeck making the artifact destruction optionality a waste in the first game.

2 Crackling Drake and 1 Young Pyromancer - Both of these creatures play out better after sideboard. As Young Pyromancer's popularity grows it becomes more likely the opponent will leave in nimble removal to interact. To hedge I rely on Crackling Drake to close the game while ignoring the graveyard.

Sideboarding

Izzet Phoenix Mirror:

Pieces of the Puzzle is a haymaker as it allows you to go over the top of the opponent.

An early Ledger Shredder that grows out of Lightning Axe range can get out of hand as both players are interested in casting two spells in the same turn. Creatures are more likely to live after sideboard as the Red removal lines up poorly against Arclight Phoenix.

The soft counters are powerful in the matchup, but don't dilute your strategy by adding Negate and Disdainful Stroke.

Azorius Control:

Azorius Control's cards are individually powerful. You will feel behind for most of the game while setting up for an explosive Galvanic Iteration turn.

Arclight Phoenix can be exiled by March of Otherworldly Light and The Wandering Emperor. I don't like to chain spells to return a Phoenix in Game 1 if it means I'm tapping out to run it into an exile effect. Fiery Impulse can save it from exile.

Ledger Shredder is tempting to cast on the second turn, but can be exiled without conniving a bad removal spell in the first game by Portable Hole.

Hitting land drops in the early game is important so don't keep greedy hands that require Opt and Consider to find more mana.

After sideboard your countermagic will prevent The Wandering Emperor, Teferi, and Dream Trawler from resolving. Shark Typhoon can be a surprise blocker that can be difficult to remove. Again, hitting land drops is important to apply pressure while countering threats.

Rest in Peace is capable of cheesing you out so I cut a Temporal Trespass.

Rakdos Midrange:

Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton is a key threat to consider in Game 1. It's intuitive to dump Phoenix in the graveyard as soon as possible. Keep Phoenix in hand and plan for casting three spells in the same turn.

Rakdos is filled with sorcery-speed removal spells. If you go all-in on Phoenix those are likely the last cards in hand as killing Arclight is not appealing without a way to exile them from the graveyard.

Lightning Axe is boarded out because Go Blank and Thoughtseize will reduce my hand size. It's embarrassing to Axe a Graveyard Trespasser.

Temporal Trespass is a powerful effect in the first game, but Go Blank and Unlicensed Hearse creates additional ways to quickly attack the graveyard. Crackling Drake is able to win the game while ignoring graveyard hate.

Thing in the Ice dies easily to sorcery-speed removal. Young Pyromancer is able to immediately generate an advantage. The 1/1 tokens can block large creatures in a race.

Negate and Spell Pierce combine with the maindeck Izzet Charm to counter Go Blank and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

Fiery Impulse is a reasonable card, but beware of losing Spell Mastery. Abrade is a different way to attack midrange creatures while also respecting Unlicensed Hearse.

Galvanic Iteration becomes weaker after sideboard without the ability to copy Temporal Trespass, but can team up with Fiery Impulse to take down Kalitas. This is another card that is vulnerable to graveyard hate so be sure to pick the right spot and enable a potential flashback.

Mono Green Devotion:

Aether Gust can target a Cavalier of Thorns with the trigger on the stack so it will be milled if the opponent leaves it on top of the deck.

Resolving Pieces of the Puzzle can be risky when tapping out because Karn, the Great Creator can fetch a Tormod's Crypt on the following turn to prevent your next powerful play.

Lightning Axe doesn't have many appealing targets as Old-Growth Troll is still a threat as an enchantment.

Opt is slightly weaker here as you will likely spend the first turn using Fiery Impulse on an Elf.

Thing in the Ice is the best creature in the matchup. It's reasonable to play a third Thing in the sideboard only for Mono-Green.

Mono-Blue Spirits:

Defense is the name of the game. Spirits players in the past voiced their frustration with my game plan of playing flyers and defending until I'm very far ahead. Phoenix has inevitability in the matchup.

Ledger Shredder in the first game acts as a flying wall that can only be evaded by Shacklegiest and Brazen Borrower. The opponent will be able to interact with it after sideboard with Mystical Dispute.

Arclight Phoenix is a recursive Snare Thopter that typically stays home to block. This is a matchup where I'm fine with casting Arclight on the fourth turn. When it trades with a spirit it's as if you destroyed a creature without being vulnerable to Rattlechains.

Crackling Drake is another big blocker with flying. Thing in the Ice blocks Faceless Haven and small Ascendant Spirits; not very impressive. Most of their spirits have flash which makes bouncing less appealing.

Rattlechains is always top of mind when I'm considering removal spells to cast.

Spirits have many Unlicensed Hearse in the sideboard so use Abrade sparingly.

That's all I have for today. Izzet Phoenix is likely the best deck in Pioneer, but rewards dedication and tight play. I hope this deck guide will help you win more matches.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle

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