Izzet Phoenix has been flying its way to the top of the Modern metagame since Ross Merriam first put the deck on the map after the release of Guilds of Ravnica. I fell in love with the deck immediately after picking it up and have been a strong advocate of the strategy ever since. The consistency of the cantrips, the explosiveness of Phoenixes as early as turn two and the ice encased horrors all pull towards this deck being able to battle along with the best decks in the format.
At the core of the deck are the 12 blue cantrips, 4 Faithless Looting and 4 Manamorphose which all allow you to go deeper into your deck and give the consistency that makes the deck so appealing. Once you are seeing 30+ cards a game you start to find yourself in similar situations and you are able to use your substantial card selection and velocity to find the best answers for each situation.
You also have the tag team duo of Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice. This pair of creatures allows the deck to attack the opponent from different angles with the Arclight Phoenixes demanding graveyard interaction or an exiling sweeper effect such as Anger of the Gods while the Things require some stronger single target removal such as Fatal Push. If you add in the new tool from Modern Horizons, Aria of Flame, then you have a terrifying trio of threats, each operating on a different axis. The ability to attack on these different fronts can be very annoying for an opponent to successfully deal with and is what led to this archetype becoming the premier deck of the format for a few months.
With the card draw spells allowing you to see so many cards in a game and the threat base meaning that your opponent has to spend time trying to find answers, you can afford to play some powerful situational cards that accelerate your game plan or as niche answers for problematic permanents. The most common ones being Finale of Promise to act as three spells for your Phoenixes and Things while also being able to draw you a handful of cards and Surgical Extraction to try and combat the various graveyard decks that are running amok in the current meta.
There are around seven slots in the deck that really allow you to change the deck according to the meta you're expecting. For example in the list I played at GP Barcelona I chose to play 1 Echoing Truth and 1 Set Adrift alongside 3 Surgical Extraction to try and combat the numerous Hogaaks that have been trampling their way through Modern since the release of Modern Horizons.
Matt Brown - GP Bologna: Izzet Pheonix
4 Arclight Phoenix|4 Thing in the Ice|2 Aria of Flame|4 Thought Scour|2 Opt|2 Sleight of Hand|4 Manamorphose|4 Lightning Bolt|3 Surgical Extraction|1 Echoing Truth|1 Flame Slash|4 Faithless Looting|4 Serum Visions|1 Set Adrift|2 Finale of Promise|2 Steam Vents|4 Scalding Tarn|2 Blue Fetches|4 Spirebluff Canal|3 Island|2 Mountain|1 Fiery Islet|
The surgicals can help you to stop an early Vengevine draw from Hogaak while the Set Adrift and Echoing Truth can help you reset the Arisen Necropolis giving you time to set up an Awoken Horror.
The sideboard is very important to this deck as you have the opportunity to find more sideboard cards than most decks. As a rough guide of what you should be looking to put in your sideboard I would recommend this:
3-4 Graveyard hate cards (Ravenous Trap/Leyline of the Void)
1-2 Alternate win conditions (Planeswalkers(Saheeli, Narset, Chandra, Jace)/Crackling Drakes)
1-2 Artifact destruction cards (Abrade/Shattering Spree)
3-5 Counterspells (Spell Pierce/Force of Negation/Spell Snare)
1-3 Moons (Blood Moon/Alpine Moon)
Typically Ravenous Trap has been better than Leyline of the Void because you see so many cards that the versatility of being able to use it later in the game make it superior, however with the introduction of Hogaak to the meta Ravenous Trap is no longer good enough as it does not interact with the graveyard of Hogaak well enough, which has caused a shift to Leyline.
The alternate win conditions are there for matchups such as Jund or Azorious Control to serve as additional threats to pressure the opponent’s removal spells. As more decks begin packing their own sideboard cards to deal with your problematic permanents (enchantments and planeswalkers) I could see a swap back to something like Snapcaster Mage which would get some great value while still needing to be answered. If you have ever flashed back a spell with Snapcaster Mage to be able to flip a Thing in the Ice and return the Snapcaster, you know exactly how good it feels.
With the rise of Urza decks, Chalice of the Void and the constant threat of people having a random Ensnaring Bridge that just gets you, I don’t like leaving home without at least one piece of artifact destruction and would look towards having more in the current meta. Abrade is the most flexible as it can also act as creature removal if needed but other options such as Shattering Spree or Shenanigans could also be played if you are expecting to play against more artifact decks.
The Counterspells are for a mixture of decks, both trying to do fair things such as Azorious Control or unfair things such as Neoform Combo. Force of Negation has been a huge upgrade from Modern Horizons which allows you to be able to more freely cantrip on your turn knowing that you might not even need mana to be able to interact with your opponent’s scary spells.
Tron has been a staple of the format for a long time and is on an uptick at the moment, this means it is more important now that you are packing a good amount of both Blood Moon and Alpine Moon to make sure that you have a fighting chance in the matchup. I prefer to have the majority be Blood Moon because you can also bring it in against decks such as Jund or Jeskai Control if they are always fetching for their shock lands.
Overall I think that Izzet Phoenix is one of the most enjoyable decks that you could pick up in the Modern format right now. Whether you like the consistency of cantripping through your deck, being able to make a huge Awoken Horror on turn 3 or just being able to attack your opponent with a trusty Snare Thopter, I would recommend giving Izzet Phoenix a whirl. Just make sure that your sideboard is ready to combat the gravecrawling graveyards and the astrolabe powered artifacts that you might well sit across from.
About Matt Brown:
Matt started playing Magic in Innistrad after learning to play at school in 2011. After going 11-3-1 at his second Grand Prix Matt gained the fire to play competitively and regularly attends almost every Grand Prix in Europe. With a Grand Prix top 8 in Birmingham, 2 Pro Tour appearances and a handful of other Grand Prix cashes to go along with Bronze status, Matt aspires to become a Pro Tour regular and a Grand Prix champion. With a love for Standard, Matt can often be found at competitive level events jamming games of his favourite format.