Arclight Phoenix Variants in Modern
- Rodrigo Martin
It's a bird! It's a plane! No! It's Arclight Phoenix! The Phoenix has taken the community by storm and appears, at first glance to be Modern material. Rone is here to answer that question and show you how to best utilize the hasty flier right here!
After leaving my beloved Hollow One aside, I was looking forward to start brewing with one of the most underrated cards from Guilds of Ravnica: Arclight Phoenix. A month after the set was released, I started to spot several 5-0 lists on the Magic Online daily tournaments, all trying to abuse the card alongside with a plethora of cheap spells and looting cards to revive the bird.
The first archetype that emerged was the straight Mono Red version featuring another couple of cards from Guilds of Ravnica: Runaway-Steam-Kin and Risk Factor, but shortly after, some Mardu Pyromancer lists started to toy with the card as well and finally an Izzet build and a Hollow One brew with the Phoenix showed up. It was clear - this card is here to stay.
Identifying the Strategy's Core
Before we break down the archetypes, let's spend some time analyzing the the card itself: a 3/2 hasty flyer for four mana is not the best deal, not even for Standard. In order to make it worthwhile, we have to abuse the card's reanimation ability. This is done in three simple steps – 1) Put the phoenix into the graveyard, 2) Cast at least three instant or sorceries, and finally, 3) Profit. To get to that point, we use some great cantrips and looting effects.
To this end, we'll divide each card in these decks into four different categories: enablers, looting effects, direct damage, and business spells (most notably the phoenix itself).
|18Mountain||2Monastery Swiftspear||2Burst Lightning|
|1Ramunap Ruins||4Runaway Steam-Kin||4Faithless Looting|
|4Arclight Phoenix||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Bedlam Reveler||4Desperate Ritual|
|3Tormod's Crypt||2Abrade||2Anger of the Gods|
|3Blood Moon||2Molten Rain||3Chandra, Torch of Defiance|
|17Mountain||4Flameblade Adept||4Burning Inquiry|
|1Ramunap Ruins||4Hollow One||4Faithless Looting|
|4Arclight Phoenix||2Gut Shot|
|4Bedlam Reveler||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Tormod's Crypt||2Shattering Spree||3Eidolon of the Great Revel|
|2Shrine of Burning Rage||2Anger of the Gods||2Blood Moon|
|3Island||4Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror||4Faithless Looting|
|1Mountain||4Arclight Phoenix||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Scalding Tarn||4Bedlam Reveler||2Noxious Revival|
|3Shivan Reef||4Serum Visions|
|4Spirebluff Canal||3Sleight of Hand|
|3Steam Vents||2Thought Scour|
|2Alpine Moon||2Dispel||1Rending Volley|
|4Surgical Extraction||2Abrade||2Firemind's Research|
|2Anger of the Gods|
These three lists really only serve one purpose - to demonstrate the similarities between these archetypes. Aside from the 18-19 lands mana base, the 32 remaining cards only differ in 18-20 slots.
Tips and Tricks
Every deck plays Manamorphose as an enabler, Faithless Looting to discard Phoenixes, Lighting Bolt and Fiery Temper to burn opponents and finally our beloved Phoenix alongside Bedlam Reveler. Here are a few tips about all of these decks' core:
- Tip #1: You will always want a playset of every core card, especially Manamorphose, which is the glue of the deck that enables turn 2 or turn 3 Phoenix most of the times. However, Fiery Temper is not as good in Hollow One as in the other versions, so you might play just 2.
- Tip #2: After some testing, I've started to dislike the fourth Bedlam Reveler, since you often find two of them in your starting hand, even more often in the U/R Phoenix Version you cantrip a lot and need to discard the extra copies.
- Tip #3: Unlike other Faithless Looting decks like Hollow One or Mardu, starting with Looting on turn 1 is not as profitable as you might think, unless you have a couple of phoenices in hand. You should instead wait until you can get some advantage with the Temper or business cards in play i.e. Thing in the Ice, Monastery Swiftspear, Runaway etc.
- Tip #4: Fiery Temper is great in conjunction with Faithless Looting, becoming a real Lightning Bolt when you discard it, but you can also pair it with Bedlam Reveler ETB clause or the Jump-Start ability from Risk Factor and Maximize Velocity.
Pros and Cons of Each Version
Let's start simple, with Runaway Red. It was the first out of the gate and it put up some good results. It's a mixture between Burn and a Storm deck. Its main threats aside from Bedlam and Phoenix are Monastery Swiftspear and Runaway Steam-Kin.
The human monk with Prowess is already pretty well known and a huge problem in a deck with almost 30 noncreature spells but the Steam-Kin is the card that strikes me the most, since it's new and it has only seen play in this Modern deck so far. If you get to untap with the elemental in play, you can probably dump your whole hand on the spot.
Moving onto the deck's enablers, early versions chose to add Desperate Ritual and Lava Spike to speed up the clock and also have the change to splice into arcane both. However, Tormenting Voice is a bit slower but overall a best card that helps to smooth your draws and in the meantime you can discard your phoenix and Temper, or even extra copies of Bedlam Reveler.
Last but not least, Risk Factor it the third addition from Guilds of Ravnica and synergizes with the whole deck idea, as a mid-late game spells to either gain card advantage or finish off opponents.
Pros: probably the fastest version, more direct damage, quite graveyard resilient.
Cons: very linear plan, mono colored sideboard, easy to hate (Leyline of the Sanctity).
Moving onto Hollow Phoenix, this variant combines the successful B/R archetype of random discard spells with the Phoenix package by removing the black part and making the deck mono red. To be honest, this is the version I have tried the least, but I consider myself a respectable Hollow One connoisseur.
The payoffs here are basically Hollow One and Flameblade Adept, the same as the tier deck. Able to dodge graveyard hate, those two creatures can close games quickly if uncontested. You still run the looting package as usual but instead of waiting to delve a Gurmag Angler in the aftermath, this time you should cross your fingers to ditch a Phoenix into the graveyard after you resolve a Burning Inquiry or Goblin Lore and swing in the air.
Aside for those enablers, the deck includes a couple of spicy choices which I am not sure about: Gut Shot and Maximize Velocity. The first one is basically a tiny burn spell that can get rid of some mana dorks or early one toughness threats (I'm talking about you, Champion of the Parish) but it's really there to be a free spell to bring back the phoenices.
Maximize Velocity is a well-known Standard card in the Izzet Drakes archetype where it helps you kill with a giant flying monster, by giving it haste. Here it works as a graveyard fodder that you don't mind discarding and sometimes, it can target a Bedlam Reveler or a Hollow One to make a surprise attack.
One last thing before we pass to our next subject, although this version is also red based, there are some newest iterations that include some fetch-lands, Stomping Ground and Copperline Gorge to add Ancient Grudge to the sideboard.
Pros: Explosive starts and evasive threats, great synergy between looting effects and the deck's core.
Cons: clunky enablers, bad Dredge matchup due to Burning Inquiry, mono colored sideboard (unless you splash a second color).
The third iteration is the one that I, personally, was most interested in, since it packs one of my favorite creatures from the last couple of years: Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror. I have been trying to find the best deck for this little gem for a long time, but Blue Moon isn't that appealing these days.
I decided to try it out in a Monthly Modern at my local community and it performed okay, although I was able to perform a turn 4 kill which involved double Thing in the Ice plus Phoenix and also a turn 2 Double Phoenix.
One of its best strengths is access to main-deck counter-magic in the shape of Izzet Charm, something very important these days when your opponents try to do degenerate things like us, such as turn 3 Karn Liberated or Krak-Clan Ironworks to combo off.
The other thing I realized after a couple of testing hands is sequencing your cards properly. You need to decide if you want to play the cantrip first, then the discard spell or the other way round to maximize the chances to hit your phoenices.
Although it is quite easy to cast three instants or sorceries, your only real payoff besides Bedlam and Phoenix is Thing in the Ice so you might end up in rough spots, especially in post sideboard games where graveyard hate locks out two of your three finishers.
Pros: counterspells, lots of cantriping, Thing in the Ice!
Cons: more graveyard dependency, very few business cards.
A Small Sideboard Guide
Before closing up, I would like to share my (humble) knowledge regarding U/R Phoenix sideboarding. Basically, the version I played is the same as the posted above but running Sleight of Hand and Izzet Charm playset but I will try the Noxious Revival addition by cutting the fourth Reveler and the Charm.
I also included a small black splash by playing a singleton copy of Blood Crypt which gave me access to Collective Brutality, a flexible card that pairs great against control, combo but most importantly Burn, which I expected a lot.
The main plan is to look for your Ravenous Trap in your opening hand as if it was a Leyline of the Void but don't mulligan aggressively since you can dig for it with your cantrips. Thing in the Ice can send their army back to hand but protect it from Conflagrate very carefully.
It's a thought match-up, even more if they are on the play with a turn 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Your main plan is to bounce their army with your Thing in the Ice and, in post board games, to resolve an early Anger of the Gods.
Find a threat and counter their key cards, the KCI and Scrap Trawler. And try to win fast as you can.
Same plan here, although you have to be more careful with their graveyard exiling effects, so play around Relic of Proegnitus.
Against W/U or Jeskai Control:
This is a grind battle where you have to play your resources very well since they have Path to Exile and you run few threats. Rest in Peace is quite scary as you can only counter it with your Charms, so there is a chance you end up casting the Phoenix for their actual cost.
All in all, this has been our Arclight Phoenix in Modern review alongside their different variants. I strongly believe the card will become a staple in the Modern format moving forward. It reminds me of Vengevine - a strong hasty recursive threat that comes from the graveyard under a certain condition.
The green creature had to wait long before finding its home in Modern, but Arclight has already established itself in three different decks. I haven't touched the issue of Mardu Phoenix for a reason: I consider that deck a different one with its own identity and it needs further testing.
As usual, thank you so much for reading until this and I hope you have enjoyed the article. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.