SCG IQ Report: Matt Stamps with Izzet Phoenix
This past weekend, I chose to play Izzet Phoenix. My thought process was about this complicated – “They didn’t ban faithless looting on Monday….I guess I’ll play it until they do.” My friend and teammate, Stephen Dial, has been on the deck for the past several months, so I looked to him for a solid list to use. He provided 74 of the 75 I played, and we discussed switching the second Ravenous Trap to a third Surgical Extraction in the sideboard to hedge against the mirror while still being relevant against Dredge. He also provided a sideboard guide from his playing and research on other players, so I definitely give full credit to him for the deck’s build and my success with it.
Round 1: 2-0 vs RG Aggro
My opponent played Monastery Swiftspear[c]s, along with burn spells and combat tricks in the form of [c]Mutagenic Growth and Titan’s Strength. I stabilized at 3 life and closed the game with a flipped Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix.
I treated this deck similar to Burn, while expecting him to have a higher creature count given the two pump spells I saw in game one, which made me prioritize sweepers and spot removal highly. Removing Phyrexian Mana Spells was a priority given my life total being threatened early, and I also took out Thought Scour since my main win condition would likely be Thing in the Ice and I wanted to make sure I didn’t mill removal/sweepers early.
Round 2: 2-0 vs Mono Blue Tron
My opponent had some mana issues, namely not being able to assemble Tron lands. I prioritized lines of play that applied the most pressure with multiple Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenixes (so the obvious line) to end the game quickly.
I prioritized using Surgical Extraction on Repeal as my opponent was not developing his board; this paid off as I was able to play around his counter spells in hand and flip my Thing in the Ice to close the game.
I sideboarded similarly to how I would against Mono Green Tron, with the exception that I prioritized the second Abrade given that the Mono Blue variant often relies on utility artifacts such as Mindslaver to close the game out.
Round 3: 2-1 Mono Green Tron
I got very lucky in this game, as I had to mulligan to 5. The hand had 2 lands and a Thing in the Ice with cantrips. I was able to string together Manamophose and other spells on turn 3 to flip Thing in the Ice and bring an Arclight Phoenix back from the graveyard.
I fetched incorrectly on Turn 1 when I got a Steam Vents instead of a basic island, which made the Blood Moon I was forced to cast on turn 3 very punishing for me, as my opponent had Tron assembled and I did not want him to untap with it.
A combination of Thing in the Ice, Crackling Drake, and Blood Moon secured a win. My opponent was able to remove the Blood Moon with World Breaker, but I was able to flip Thing in the Ice the following turn with additional burn damage to end it.
Round 4: 2-1 vs Izzet Phoenix
Phoenix decks did Phoenix things. My opponent appeared to be unlucky with his Faithless Lootings in not discarding any Phoenixes early. Crackling Drake and Thing in the Ice closed it out in the end.
My opponent had the last threat in play, as I cantriped into many lands. His Crackling Drake proceeded to dome me for chunks of my life total at a time.
I used Surgical Extraction on my opponent’s Arclight Phoenix early; I eventually put my opponent in a position where his only out was to flip Thing in the Ice on my turn. I had held onto Lightning Axe to kill it in response to the flip to end the game.
Round 5: 1-2 vs Amulet Titan
I had my opponent down to around 8 life with lethal on board. I did not have the Spell Pierce to stop use on his Summoner’s Pact, which he used to get Hornet Queen. This stonewalled me and he hit me with Primeval Titan with double strike to close it out.
Round 6: 2-0 vs GW Tron (Chris)
My opponent was my teammate, who played very well. I was able to string together enough pressure to end the game before he presented enough threats.
My opponent stumbled on mana early, giving me a window to flip Thing in the Ice and attack with Arclight Phoenixes.
Round 7: Intentional Draw into Top 8
Quarterfinals: 2-1 vs Bant Spirits
My opponent had two early Mausoleum Wanderer, along with 3 Drogskol Captains when he swung for lethal. The disruption presented early by the Wanderers caused me to stumble long enough for his board to snowball.
Similar to game 2, my opponent appeared to flood towards the mid-game. I was able to stabilize around 6 life and end the game with Thing in the Ice after bouncing his field. I prioritized removing Mausoleum Wanderer, which allowed me to only have play around Spell Queller. I incentivized my opponent’s use of Wanderer with Manamorphose in order to ensure spot removal for his lords.
Semifinals: 2-0 vs Eldrazi Tron
My opponent had to mulligan to 5 cards, and played a Basilisk Collar on turn 2 and Thought Knot Seer on turn 3. I was able to flip my Thing in the Ice and close the game before he was able to recover from his mulligans.
My opponent had to mulligan to 5 again and was not able to deal with the combination of Awoken Horror and Crackling Drake. Ceremonious Rejection allowed me to counter a Chalice of the Void for 1 on his turn 2, which would have been very difficult to play through as I did not have an immediate answer. Neither of these games were very competitive because of the hands my opponent was forced to keep instead of going down to 4.
Finals: 2-0 vs Black/White Taxes
I set up a turn 3 flip of Thing in the Ice along with 1 Arclight Phoenix returning from the graveyard, hitting him for 10. My opponent played a Leonin Arbiter the turn prior and eventually replayed it and used Path to Exile on my Awoken Horror. I had the option to try to string together cantrips to potentially put the 2 other Phoenixes I drew into the graveyard, but instead hard-cast them to guarantee additional pressure, while retaining resources in my hand. This eventually closed the game.
My opponent dealt with my initial threats with Path to Exile and set up a Kaya, Orzhov Usurper that eventually was ready to use its ultimate. However, I had played a Crackling Drake by this point that had 20 power and was not slowed down by Kaya removing spells from my graveyard. My opponent was able to delay this creature ending the game for 2 turns, and I prioritized holding my counter spells for any removal he would attempt to use on the drake and disregarded everything else. Eventually the drake connected a second time to end the game.
Izzet Phoenix is a very fun deck to play, and is also very busted (which is further evidenced by the percentage of the deck making day 2 in GP Bilbao and GP Tampa). It seems like every game I played at least one Faithless Looting and Manamorphose my chances to win increased significantly; in fact, I do not remember losing a game in which I saw them early.
I felt like my experience with decks like Grixis Shadow transferred well to this deck, as the primary skill with it is sequencing cantrips correctly to set up the most efficient turns. If you are planning to pick up the deck yourself or are practicing with it, I highly recommend reading Ross Merriam’s articles around this. I made a few misplays around this that almost cost me games, but I was able to win them due to the power of cards like Manamorphose and Thing in the Ice. I will be keeping a lookout for what card gets banned from this deck, as it seems to be only picking up steam.