Last updated on July 22, 2022
Arclight Phoenix | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
I played Izzet () Phoenix for the Neon Dynasty Championship. Or if you’re a fan, Ponies. Phoenix was predicted to be the most played deck in the metagame so the players on my team always needed an opponent to play against. I filled that role and became so comfortable with the deck and plans that I just registered Phoenix instead of any of the team decks.
I love this deck because it’s so consistent. Every game you’re able to churn through such a large percentage of the deck that you can always enact a similar gameplan. And if you learn how to confront the popular strategies you’ll beat players with your expertise at navigating towards winning lines.
Calling the deck “Phoenix” is appropriate because its most powerful draws involve recurring multiple Arclight Phoenixes from your graveyard on turn 3. The whole deck is built around the ability to have big Phoenix swings, but it does so much more.
The list is all cantrips or cards that replace themselves with another card upon resolution. And combined with Dragon’s Rage Channeler and a lot of cheap efficient removal you’re almost always able to clear a path for your aggressive creatures to damage your opponent while maintaining velocity to keep producing powerful boards even when your opponent can interact.
The deck’s basic plan is to create a clock. In other words, you should always keep in mind how much your damage output is, how many turns it takes to kill your opponent with said output, and how you can keep that timing without overextending your resources.
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive right in!
Brazen Borrower | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Arclight Phoenix is the namesake of the deck because you inevitably fill your graveyard with Phoenixes and bring them all back if the games go long.
Dragon’s Rage Channeler is a powerful catalyst for your engine that compounds your ability to churn through your deck looking for useful tools.
Stormwing Entity is the best creature to dodge the most common efficient removal because it can’t be killed by Fatal Push, or easily killed by March of Otherworldly Light. Multiple instances of prowess add up a lot of fast damage.
Sprite Dragon is the most aggressive and fastest creature in the deck. I’d play more but wanted to sculpt my deck in a way that was resilient to the aforementioned efficient removal.
Brazen Borrower is a flex card. My team had an Auras faction, people reached out to me on Twitter asking about Auras, Cedric hyped up Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice in his metagame prediction, and Borrower is the best tool to disrupt their plan of protecting their creatures with Selfless Savior.
Borrower is also great against the different Azorius control decks because it’s a flash creature that helps you police their planeswalkers. You can also use it to bounce Rest in Peace and set up a big Phoenix turn.
Opt and Consider are the fuel for your engine. Your plan with the deck is to sculpt hands that put yourself in a position of power via tempo. The deck is powerful because it’s extremely consistent in putting a creature into play and snowballing the advantages the creature provides.
To realize this consistency you have to think about the game in terms of the whole instead of turn by turn. Over the course of an average game you’ll have a lot of choices whether to keep a card on top or put it in the graveyard or on the bottom. As you churn through your deck the chances to bring back all your Phoenixes in a turn approaches 100%. Because of this I almost always put cards into the graveyard or on the bottom.
You want to fill your graveyard fast to activate delirium. Your deck is full of redundancy and you’re more often constrained by available mana than cards you can cast. But you still have to keep in mind how your next turn is likely to look. It’s important to make sure you have plays. Prioritize being able to race and looking for cards that are irreplaceable instead of accepting anything that works.
Consider is the more powerful of the two because it can put Phoenix in the graveyard and fuel delirium.
Faithless Looting allows you to cycle cards out of your hand, unlike your other cantrips. This is great for ditching unwanted lands, dead removal, and creating delirium. Try to save these until you have Phoenix or other cards you know you want to discard.
Expressive Iteration can start a wildfire from a spark. Starting on turn 3 you can use it to make land drops while keeping a handful of spells. It gets better when you have more lands in play because you can use it to single-handedly double- and triple-spell to recur your Phoenixes.
Finale of Promise is too expensive for this deck to play that many copies, but you get more than your money’s worth for three or four mana. I try to cast it as soon as I have a window since your opponents tend to exile your graveyard if they can. Having Finale in your deck is another good reason to put cards in the graveyard or on the bottom when scrying.
Pillar of Flame is a nod to the mirror match and Food to a lesser extent because you want the exile effect. Being able to point it upstairs to kill your opponent is why I play this instead of instant-speed Flame-Blessed Bolt
Lightning Axe is a hedge against your opponent’s graveyard hate. Sometimes you can’t reliably have delirium and need to kill a bigger creature. It’s another vector for Arclight Phoenix to go to the graveyard, so having a single copy is nice.
Most decks in Historic are built way too differently to give static rules about how to sideboard. Instead of looking at what deck you’re up against, often you want to look at what kinds of interaction they play and what cards you have that beat them. People try to attack you with graveyard hate, exile effects, and walls (bigger flyers). Phoenix is the best tempo deck in Historic. The reason to play it is the desire to race, which means not necessarily having to care about what your opponent is trying to do to win, and only caring about how they stop you from winning.
For more principles like this about deep sideboarding philosophies, check out this course.
If they don’t have Rest in Peace, rejoice. I usually bring in all the creatures (maybe not Bonecrusher Giant but it’s still fine to have more bodies) and cut all the burn except for Unholy Heat to hit their planeswalkers.
You need to worry about Narset, Parter of Veils, Rest in Peace, and sweepers like Wrath of God. A lot of decks cut wraths in favor of The Wandering Emperor. The fewer wraths they have the wider you can fearlessly make your board and the easier it is to produce lethal.
If they’re playing ways to exile the graveyard then you want to cut Finale of Promise. The more graveyard hate they have the more I like to trim on Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Faithless Looting, and sometimes even Arclight Phoenix if they’re playing three or more Rest in Peaces.
The general control plan is to treat us like a graveyard combo, so if you morph into a midrange creature plan with Negate disruption you keep your advantage.
The versions I tested against had main deck Go Blank and Soul-Guide Lantern, so you’d want to lean out of graveyard plans as much as you can. Ox of Agonas is still good. They control the pace of the game so you need to try and regenerate value whenever you can.
If you can get attacking early you usually win, so hands that recur Phoenix are high value. It’s hard to interact with a 2-mana 1/3 protected by discard but Unholy Heat can steal games. You have to survive their initial onslaught of disruption and then you can finish them off if you have material left.
Expressive Iteration shines in this matchup since you’re often left with no cards and only mana hoping to get something going again, and it can bring you back into the game. There’s some argument for keeping Finale of Promise on the play hoping to get lucky with it because it’s so powerful, but the liability of their Blanks is a total gamble.
The sideboard plan is pretty cut and dry for this matchup. You can’t really afford to go down cards against all their discord and you don’t often get delirious. Faithless Looting is a hard call since you sometimes need them to discard Phoenix, but having to loot puts you down cards which is what they want. Sometimes you might board out an extra Dragon’s Rage Channeler instead depending on how they play.
- -1 Brazen Borrower
- -1 Finale of Promise
- -1 Lightning Axe
- -1 Dragon’s Rage Channeler
- -2 Pillar of Flame
- -2 Faithless Looting
This is a delicate matchup, and the better practiced player usually wins. If both players play optimally then the game is a dance where the auras player tries to bait out your removal while you try to present a good clock and race.
I can’t speak in absolutes but, if they play Esper Sentinel then you should try to match with creatures unless you have so much removal you can just kill it. If you only have enough to kill one thing, save it for Kor Spiritdancer or Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice. They can’t beat you without those cards and often try to bait you into using your removal early with Sentinels, playing as if you need to address them. In these instances you can often just ignore them entirely, give them cards, and get on board with all the damage your hand can produce to then kill them after they spend their next turn building a big blocker.
You can attack into lifelink and shock your own creature when they block to prevent them from gaining. If they do manage to stick a Light-Paws or Spiritdancer and you have mana and resources, try to find two instant-speed ways to kill it before firing off your removal spell to play around Karametra’s Blessing.
But let’s say you have two mana and no lands in hand on turn 3 with Expressive Iteration and Unholy Heat against a Spiritdancer. You just have to Unholy Heat the Spiritdancer. The odds of finding land with Iteration aren’t high enough to justify potentially losing the game because you let them untap with their combo card.
Phoenix has all the interactive cards in this matchup so you should treat it as such. Respect that their deck works if you let it, don’t let it, and then race them to death. They get congested by mana, not cards in hand, and they don’t interact well so don’t be too scared of them drawing a lot of cards as long as you have a clear way to address their board or race.
Archmage’s Charm can steal Esper Sentinel if you want to bring them in, but I don’t think you need to.
There are too many versions of Food to provide a concrete plan, but you generally want to board in your Archmage’s Charms to steal their squirrels and trim cards like Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Sprite Dragon when they have four copies of Fatal Push.
Because they rely heavily on Push as their removal you can race with Stormwing Entity. They also do an excellent job of stalling, blocking, exiling your graveyard, and being a general nuisance, so this is a matchup where you want powerful aggressive starts and hope that they stumble.
Faithless Looting | Illustration by Karl Kopinski
You have Opt, Consider, and Faithless Looting to dig. Consider is the best one because it can graveyard Phoenix or Ox and fuels delirium. In most circumstances when you have all three you want to start with Opt because it manipulates the least. That way when you cast the ones that manipulate better you have more information to use. You generally want to cast Looting last on any turn that you can bring Phoenix back so that you have the highest chance to discard two Phoenixes.
Tournament poker players will tell you, “all you need is a chip and a chair.” This means that if you’re still playing the game, no matter how unlikely it may seem, you can still mount a comeback if you’re diligent and lucky. With Phoenix I’d say “all you need is mana and a cantrip.” Never count yourself out. If there’s a series of cards that combine to produce a win you might be surprised how good the deck is at making something happen from nothing.
The deck is very consistent and is excellent at digging for what it needs. In the wise words of Jacob Nagro (I’m paraphrasing as he was talking about Search for Azcanta): “I don’t get why people scry so many cards to the top, just scry bottom until you find the broken card.”
Keep digging. The more you dig the more the chances to have a big swingy turn increases. Eventually bringing back all the phoenixes is inevitable, so you need a pretty good reason to leave cards on top. You don’t want to leave yourself out of spells to cast so don’t go too crazy, but it’s fine to just keep binning if you have a cantrip already. You don’t need to keep every Opt you see.
Finale of Promise | Illustration by Jaime Jones
Phoenix is a wonderful deck to master because it’s been tier 1 forever and will continue to be a good choice unless the format drastically morphs. It rewards intricate matchup knowledge and tight play.
It’s capable of nonsense draws that are so powerful your opponent is left spinning, wondering how they died so fast. It’s at its strongest in a control-dominant metagame, and its weakest when Food reigns supreme.
What are your experiences with this deck? Have you had any success piloting it, or any bad experiences facing it across the board? Let me know in the comments down below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
I hope I was able to help y’all in your pursuit to darken the skies with fire birds. CA-CAW!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: