Last updated on January 13, 2022
Arclight Phoenix | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
Sometimes it takes a while before players can pinpoint the best deck in the meta when new sets are released or a key card is banned. Or, more accurately, which deck has the highest win rate.
We got some powerful tools for Historic with the introduction of the Strixhaven Mystical Archives. One in particular rose above all the others: Time Warp. But it unfortunately proved to be too much for the format. The card was banned after a couple of months since more than half of the meta was using the same strategy. Even though the format has access to a lot of graveyard hate, it just wasn’t enough to stop the infamous Turns deck. Brainstorm fell to the ban wave a couple months later which narrowed the list of blue decks available in the format.
But when something is taken from you, new toys are given as well. New decks are jumping into the meta with the introduction of Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, and there’s one that was previously thought dead now rising from the ashes.
That’s right, I’m talking about Izzet Phoenix. Time to uncover all of its secrets for you!
Ox of Agonas | Illustration by Lie Setiawan
This deck relies on attacking in the air and hits hard and fast. This list in particular also runs some recursion to never run out of cards and keep applying pressure at any point of the match.
Delver of Secrets used to be a fearsome creature that reigned over Standard. Unfortunately it only saw play in Legacy post-Standard rotation, where cantrips and cheap interaction spells reign. But it now has a second chance to show the world why it’s one of the most threatening creatures ever created, especially in a deck that aims to flip it the turn after it’s played. And with 26 non-creature cards and multiple ways to manipulate the top card of your library, this is pretty an easy task.
But this isn’t the only cheap creature the deck runs. Dragon’s Rage Channeler is the creature that gave the deck a second life. Not only does it grow the more your graveyard is filled, it also helps in the process. You can even have a 3/3 flying Channeler attacking by turn 2 with the right draws.
That being said, the deck isn’t called “Izzet Humans.” Izzet Phoenix’s name comes from its core card: Arclight Phoenix. It may feel like just a creature that can come back from the graveyard as an annoying Phoenix on its own, but you can threaten very explosive turns where you go from an empty field to quite a few flying, hasted Phoenixes on the board if you pair it with Faithless Looting. This card isn’t new, but Looting was needed to really make it shine. Returning one Phoenix is nice; returning multiple at once is even better.
Finally, the deck runs a few copies of Ox of Agonas to round out the build. The Ox pairs up pretty well with all your spells and it has exceptional synergy with Faithless Looting. You can discard it to then play it cheaper and quicker in the following turns.
Instant and Sorcery Package
Aside from the spells that tune your draws and fuel your graveyard, this deck’s card advantage comes from Expressive Iteration. It’s a 2-for-1 that can bring Arclight Phoenixes back from the graveyard, fuel your hand, and smooth your draws with free lands from your library. Iteration is also being used in Jeskai Control decks, but its maximum potential is being exploited in Izzet Phoenix since it can also quickly pump your other creatures.
I already mentioned this, but Faithless Looting plays a massive role in this deck. Izzet Phoenix might not even be playable in the current meta without it. But I’d advise holding your Lootings unless you need a specific answer against your opponents’ threat or you have some Phoenixes in-hand. The card doesn’t generate any value when it’s cast, so you need to know when to cast Looting to avoid wasting it. You also might want to mulligan hands with multiple copies. The main thing is to not use Looting without a plan.
Another card that’s very good at getting your Phoenixes back is Consider. It’s almost like it was made to do the job. Getting to play three spells in a single turn is a fantastic ability that’s possible thanks to its cheap cost. It also acts as a quick way to fuel your graveyard and take advantage of spells with delirium like Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Unholy Heat or send incidental Phoenixes or Ox of Agonas‘ to be brought back later.
You can’t always count on your plans go smoothly. That’s why you run some removal interaction. It’s no coincidence that you use Pillar of Flame and Unholy Heat. Not only are they very cheap, they’re very powerful in most matchups.
As far as lands go, the deck runs a very smooth mana base. One main interaction you always need to have is Fabled Passage to pump your Dragon’s Rage Channeler at instant speed if the only type of card missing in your graveyard is a land. It’ll surprise more than one opponent, I assure you of that.
As for the rest, try to always have a decent combination of blue and red mana in your starting hand. Prioritize blue as much as you can. This is the more important color for most of your spells.
Shatterskull Smashing | Illustration by Adam Paquette
Some interactions may be very intuitive, but some are a bit more difficult to spot if you haven’t played with the deck or haven’t seen it in action. Don’t worry, I’ll help you with those right off the bat!
- You can keep hands with only one land if you have at least two spells handy, but don’t count Faithless Looting unless you also have a Phoenix or two to discard.
- Flashbacking Faithless Looting is way better than casting it from your hand. Since you’re not expending a card from your hand to cast it, you’re basically just filtering. So try to be aggressive when casting those from your graveyard if you have the mana.
- Unholy Heat and Dragon’s Rage Channeler are the newest additions to the deck but don’t forget they rely on the graveyard to maximize their potential. Cards like Faithless Looting and Arclight Phoenix can get out of the graveyard and leave you without the different types needed to pump your other cards.
- You can set up an upkeep stop if you have multiple Delver of Secrets‘ in play as long as you have some instant-speed library manipulation like Consider or Opt. You should let your first Delver trigger resolve naturally. If it’s not an instant or sorcery spell, you can cast any of the cards mentioned above to manipulate the top of your library in hopes that your second Delver trigger will turn into flipping one of them. Fading Hope also helps with this as long as the scry requirement is met, even if you only have one Delver.
- The same is true if you have some combination of Delver of Secrets and Dragon’s Rage Channeler in play. You can set up a stop on your upkeep and any instant or sorcery spell will help set up the top of your library thanks to the Channeler’s triggered ability.
One thing that’s particularly difficult for most players is making sideboard adjustments for games 2 and 3. Cards can vary depending on the play or on the draw, which is why I’ll try to cover the most common matchups you’ll face while trying to reach mythic this season.
The mirror match may feel like a coin-flip most of the time but the deck isn’t as popular as it was in its prime so you shouldn’t run into a lot of them. You want to try to pressure your opponent on the play. They’ll try to control your board with their removal on the draw and vice-versa, so keep your full hand if it’s not the worst draw ever. Remember that this is a resource-intensive deck. Every single piece of interaction counts in the mirror match, so try not to mulligan if you can help it.
Selesnya Company Matchups
Selesnya Company can be a difficult match since they disrupt your main plan with cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Archon of Emeria. But your opponent may have a tough time dealing with flyers. You also have removal to deal with their cheap creatures and Brazen Borrower’s Petty Theft post-sideboard can deal with a resolved The Great Henge or whatever you can’t kill in a tough spot.
Indomitable Creativity Matchups
You’ll have to outrun this deck in game 1 before they assemble the combo since you don’t have too many interaction spells against them. Your best bet is to kill their creature in response to them targeting it with Indomitable Creativity, but a well-versed player might wait until they have two targets or target one or two artifacts instead.
Post-sideboard you have more ways to deal with your opponent’s spells and ways to disrupt their targets. Crackling Drake is also excellent since games are now supposed to take more time.
Golgari Food Matchups
Golgari Food is a hard deck to beat since they can assemble their combo relatively easily. Their threats can also come back from the dead unless you use Pillar of Flame. Your best bet is to assemble a massive aerial attack because your opponent’s won’t be able to stop them all at once. But be careful you don’t run into a Meathook Massacre. The good news is that you can easily rebuild, so it’s not the end of the world if you do.
Bringing the Crackling Drakes post-sideboard is good since they can’t kill them with Fatal Push. Negate can deal with critical cards like Trail of Crumbs, and finally Grim Lavamancer can punish creatures like Gilded Goose.
The plan against aggro decks is to manage the board’s tempo. This matchup is a race to deal the final few points of damage. Your main deck removal is great at dealing with your opponent’s creatures and, more importantly, neither mono black nor Gruul aggro run tons of flyers to block your threats.
Post-sideboard you want to smooth out your deck by getting rid of counters and adding more tempo cards.
- -2 Ox of Agonas
- -2 Ox of Agonas
Azorius Auras Matchups
This is a battle of who has more interaction in their initial hand. Azorius Auras relies on enchanting one creature to protect it from removal. You can try to approach this matchup with the goal to kill their creatures first and then deal tons of damage in the air since they don’t have many ways to block your creatures.
Their scariest card here is Kor Spiritdancer, so try to have an answer for it and bluff if needed by not tapping out so your opponent doesn’t overspend.
- -2 Ox of Agonas
Other Cards to Try
It’s good to have some other options that you can swap back and forth between your builds as the meta changes. Unlike the Rakdos Arcanist deck, Izzet Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement. You’re basically just adding single copies of any given card to the main deck or sideboard, depending on how the meta shifts.
Beacon Bolt is a good sideboard inclusion against aggro decks, mainly because you can recur it.
Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor
Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor is a decent main deck option that can kill bigger targets.
Entrancing Melody is a good option against aura decks that can usually grow their creatures beyond your removal range.
Finale of Promise | Illustration by Jaime Jones
Izzet Phoenix is a fun deck to pilot. I have no doubt that it’s the top deck in the current Historic meta. Even with a Brainstorm ban, the deck rises from the ashes.
I hope you have as much fun as I did if you test Izzet Phoenix out for yourself. Don’t forget to let me know how it performed for you in the comments below and what changes you’d make to improve the build. Oh, and don’t forget to grab Arena Tutor if you’re planning on testing it out in MTGA. It’s free, it tracks your matches, it helps you improve your games! You’ll love it.
As always, take care and I’ll see you in the next one!