Last updated on March 2, 2023
Syrix, Carrier of the Flame | Illustration by Brian Valeza
The mythological phoenix is a creature that’s said to be reborn from its own ashes upon death, making it nearly immortal. This scorching deathbird is a well-known pop culture trope that’s shown up in everything from Harry Potter to X-Men.
Birds that set themselves alight fit into the fantastical world of Magic just as well (three guesses which color they appear in most). Come fly with me and let’s do some fiery birdwatching!
What Are Phoenixes in MTG?
Arclight Phoenix | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
Phoenixes are iconic red creatures in Magic. Like dragons and goblins, they’re representative of red’s color identity in the game. There are only 31 phoenixes, plus two Alchemy cards that won’t be included. They’re almost all mono-red, have flying, and possess an ability that brings them back from the graveyard.
Most phoenixes take the role of Draft/Limited bombs, they sometimes make their mark on Standard, and they’ll on rare occasion peek their heads into Commander decks. I’m going to rank these firebirds with an eye towards EDH to see which ones burn brightest in the format.
Best Red Phoenixes
#29. Molten Firebird
Molten Firebird is so bad they gave it a safety valve to exile it because it might threaten to lock you out of the game. Skipping your draw step is one of the worst things you can do in Commander, especially when the upside is just a persistent Wind Drake.
#28. Retriever Phoenix
Retriever Phoenix isn’t inherently bad, it just doesn’t translate into EDH games well. The lesson/learn mechanic doesn’t work as intended in EDH, so it’s unlikely you’ll be playing the other learn enablers needed to put this phoenix back into play.
#27. Firestorm Phoenix
Magic’s first few attempts at making phoenix cards fall a little flat by today’s standards. Firestorm Phoenix has a negligible impact on the board and a mana value that’s too absorbent to justify casting over and over.
The cherry on top is the extra rider, which limits you to casting this creature only once per turn and cuts off any potential infinite loops it might have otherwise.
#26. Shivan Phoenix
Shivan Phoenix was Magic’s third attempt at creating an evocative phoenix creature. It’s an improved version of Firestorm Phoenix, and I use the term “improved” lightly.
This phoenix picked up some extra toughness, lost the once-per-turn casting restriction, and has art that looks more like an angry chicken than a ferocious mythological firebird.
#25. Bogardan Phoenix
Bogardan Phoenix completes the trifecta of old-border phoenixes, and they all landed in the same part of the list purely by coincidence. This one captures the flavor of a flaming bird that rises once more from the ashes, but it takes the “once more” part a bit too literally.
This phoenix is a one-and-done deal if you can’t remove the death counter, dying permanently after just one rebirth.
#24. Skarrgan Firebird
Skarrgan Firebird asks you to put in work for a French vanilla 6/6 flier. A 6/6 flier can put in some good work itself, but this one occasionally misses the mark and comes down as a 3/3 instead.
If you can reliably deal damage to enable the bloodthirst and Regrowth abilities, I’m sure you can find something more impactful to do than casting this.
#23. Phoenix Chick
Phoenix Chick might barely make the cut in Standard aggro decks, but it’s far from playable in Commander. It’s cheap to cast and recur from the graveyard so it might become a bigger player if WotC give us more phoenix tribal payoffs.
#22. Warcry Phoenix
It’s a toss-up whether Warcry Phoenix is even that much better than Phoenix Chick. Neither has impressive stats, and the recursion abilities are equally mediocre.
Warcry can block, though, which is a slight nod in its favor.
#21. Flame-Wreathed Phoenix
Flame-Wreathed Phoenix highlights exactly why some players call tribute one of the worst mechanics in Magic.
Your opponents get agency over what happens, and any reasonable player is just going to put the extra +1/+1 counters on this phoenix. Doing so strips it of its potential to come back, leaving it as a slightly-larger-than-normal flier.
#20. Firewing Phoenix
Firewing Phoenix is about as generic as the cards on this list get. Average-sized flier, expensive but repeatable recursion effect, cumbersome mana cost. It checks off all the boxes you expect on a phoenix, but it excels at nothing in particular.
#19. Immortal Phoenix
Immortal Phoenix is another iteration of Firestorm Phoenix and Shivan Phoenix. It doesn’t really shake up the formula, but at least it has five power. That’s a threat that’s hard to ignore on board.
#18. Kuldotha Phoenix
Artifact decks have access to much better payoffs, but Kuldotha Phoenix doesn’t look completely embarrassing to me. It’s awkward that you have to spend mana on your upkeep to bring it back, and four mana isn’t exactly cheap.
Still, haste is a big deal for a creature like this, and you can smash for four damage in the air out of nowhere.
#17. Nemesis Phoenix
I enjoyed playing with Nemesis Phoenix in Baldur’s Gate Drafts, but I don’t think it quite holds up in Commander games. It seems less restrictive and more impactful than Warcry Phoenix in terms of creatures that jump into combat already attacking.
It’s still shy of being great, but it’s a step in the right direction.
#16. Akoum Firebird
I want to reemphasize that haste is a big deal on most of these phoenixes. Akoum Firebird takes a higher spot on this list than a larger threat like Immortal Phoenix because it can attack right away.
The Firebird’s reanimation effect is linked to a landfall trigger, which opens up some tricky opportunities with instant-speed land drops.
#15. Arclight Phoenix
The real strength of Arclight Phoenix in Constructed formats is crafting an entire gameplan around bringing back multiple copies all at once. That aspect of the card is lost in EDH, which relegates this squarely to the mediocre category.
It wouldn’t hurt if you wanted to play this as a one-off spellcasting payoff, but it’s not that impactful of a choice either.
#14. Screeching Phoenix
Screeching Phoenix has a fine ability that’s just a notch too expensive to really sway a game one way or another. Moonveil Dragon is better in nearly every way and belongs to a more supported tribe of creatures, so I’d look there first for this package of effects.
#13. Phoenix of Ash
Phoenix of Ash marks the point in the list where these cards start to earn their keep. That doesn’t mean it’s a must-play card, but the stats-to-costs ratio line up well.
This one consumes resources from your graveyard, so it’s best in a red deck with rummaging and self-mill effects.
#12. Sunstreak Phoenix
You might want to avoid Sunstreak Phoenix if you’re someone who doesn’t care for the upkeep of tracking day and night in person.
If you don’t mind the mechanic then this card becomes one of the cheaper phoenixes to put back into play. It comes back tapped and its presence on board is tame, but all the knobs are turned in the right direction.
#11. Ashcloud Phoenix
Ashcloud Phoenix plays best alongside other morph creatures and helps to keep your opponents guessing about your facedown mystery creatures. Unfortunately it has an insignificant ability once it flips, and it even deals damage to you.
It’s easy enough to get back into play the first time it dies, but the gig’s up on your facedown creatures once you’ve revealed what it is.
#10. Rekindling Phoenix
Rekindling Phoenix is the perfect example of a midrange creature that checks off enough boxes but just doesn’t really mesh with the way Commander games tend to play out. The stats are fine and the recursion ability is free, but all of this adds up to more of a Constructed all-star than a contender in Commander.
#9. Magma Phoenix
Magma Phoenix has a built-in payoff for looping it from the graveyard. It deals three damage to everything on its way out and keeps coming back to do it again.
This whole cycle costs 10 mana each time and the bird doesn’t do much while it’s sitting on board, but at least it’s doing something to complement the repetitive life-and-death loop.
#8. Shard Phoenix
Shard Phoenix was likely the inspiration for Magma Phoenix, and I think it’s easily the better of the two. Its damaging effect is more restrictive but you can activate it on demand while paying less mana overall to bring it back from the graveyard and recast.
It’s another awkward cost that can only be paid during your upkeep, but it’s an achievable recursion cycle.
#7. Spellpyre Phoenix
This marks the point on the list where the cards go from “good” to “great” mono-red phoenixes. Spellpyre Phoenix is a cycling payoff, which makes it more of an archetypal payoff than a generically good card.
This will perform well in a cycling themed deck, rebuying cycling spells from your graveyard and returning to your hand when you get your engines rolling.
#6. Lightning Phoenix
I’m giving extra points to cheap phoenixes that are easy to return to the battlefield, even if they’re not super threatening once they’re in play.
Lightning Phoenix can come back every turn if you can keep dealing three or more damage to an opponent. Returning on end step is a little unfortunate, and the fact that it can’t block is a huge knock against it.
#5. Flamewake Phoenix
Flamewake Phoenix is even easier to bring back than Lightning Phoenix, and it flies into battle immediately. It’s another phoenix that essentially can’t block, so it only belongs in decks with an aggro game plan.
#4. Chandra’s Phoenix
I run a mono-red planeswalker deck where Chandra’s Phoenix earns its spot. That deck doesn’t have a lot of creatures and can have a tough time protecting its planeswalkers, so it’s nice to have a persistent blocker that’s trivially easy to bring back.
#3. Skyfire Phoenix
Skyfire Phoenix is another card I’ve tested out in the deck mentioned above. It’s possible for Skyfire Phoenix to hit play three or four times through the course of a game with a cheap commander.
It works even better with background and partner pairings since both commanders can individually return the phoenix to play.
#2. Everquill Phoenix
Everquill Phoenix gets high marks almost entirely because it has the mutate ability. Mutate decks usually want a critical mass of creatures with the mechanic, and there are only so many to choose from right now.
Everquill gives you an extra creature to add to your mutate stack and spots you a token that brings it back to serve as the base creature for a new stack.
#1. Aurora Phoenix
Aurora Phoenix takes the top spot as a threat that hopefully cascades into something equally useful. I hesitate to call Aurora Phoenix a powerhouse card, and if anything I’m learning that phoenix creatures aren’t really at their best in Commander.
This a respectable card, but when you compare it as the best mono-red phoenix to something like Consecrated Sphinx as the best mono-blue sphinx, and it’s not even a competition.
Best Multicolored Phoenixes
#2. Worldheart Phoenix
Worldheart Phoenix suffers from two major flaws in Commander.
One, its color identity puts it in a league of 5-color cards that outclass it 10 times over. Two, it has a color-intensive recursion ability that isn’t even good when you manage to pull it off. If I’m paying full for anything then I want it to be a bit better than Air Elemental.
#1. Syrix, Carrier of the Flame
Syrix, Carrier of the Flame is the one and only legendary phoenix in Magic. Syrix is what you’re working with if you want a phoenix tribal deck.
It’s very strange that this is a Rakdos () card given that there aren’t any black phoenixes, but it opens you up to more reanimation effects typically found in black. Syrix feels like more of a hold over until we get another legendary phoenix, but it gets the job done for now.
Best Phoenix Payoffs
Syrix, Carrier of the Flame
Not to beat a dead horse, but one of the only real reasons to fill a deck with phoenix creatures is to maximize Syrix, Carrier of the Flame as a commander. Looping phoenixes with Syrix on board procs the ability to deal damage to any target, which can function as removal if needed.
The more phoenixes you run the more likely you’ll be able to keep bringing Syrix back from the graveyard when it dies.
Phoenixes tend to die and hit the battlefield multiple times per game. This might be a good way to take advantage of abilities that trigger when creatures enter your side of the battlefield.
Effects like Warstorm Surge, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Impact Tremors love recursive creatures, even if phoenixes aren’t the most efficient ones to achieve this.
All Burnt Out
Skyfire Phoenix (Commander 2019) | Illustration by Greg Staples
There sadly aren’t many slam-dunk phoenix creatures, and there isn’t a lot of variation between different ones. I’m a personal fan of the phoenixes that play into a certain archetype or mechanic, like Ashcloud Phoenix and morph or Spellpyre Phoenix and cycling. I’d appreciate more designs like this to set them apart from the heap of firebirds that just die and come back only to die again.
How do you feel about phoenixes in Magic right now? Are there any standouts in your decks, or have you had any success with a phoenix tribal deck? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
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