Arclight Phoenix in Legacy
Legacy was just shaken by the latest ban announcement, so this is the perfect time to try out some janky brews and to pack some surprises. Come and join Rone on his quest to return Arclight Phoenix from oblivion, from the graveyard to the battlefield, and back to the spotlight!
There is a lot going on out there in my country, in Europe, and in the rest of the world at the moment. As much as the crisis concerns me, this is a Magic: The Gathering website, so all I need to say is: This game is a wonderful way to cheer one up during rough patches or troublesome situations. Magic has often helped me cope with personal issues by keeping my mind distracted thinking either about deck building or sideboarding choices. Therefore, my plan for today is to try and have some fun reviewing Magic content. This time around there are some Legacy strategies to look at, so let's jump right in, and venture deep into Arclight territory.
1. The Bird Is a Word
Just like The Ramones sang: "Everybody knows that the bird is a word." Well, Arclight Phoenix looks like a bird, but it's not on anyone's radar except maybe mine, since it is one of my favorite cards from 2018 and possibly all time. I have been playing it in every format; in case you missed them, here are all my articles about the Phoenix:
- Pioneer Primer: Arclight Phoenix
- MCQ Madrid Report with Izzet Phoenix
- Arclight Phoenix Variants in Modern
From Standard to Modern, Izzet Phoenix has been a viable archetype at some point or another. However, even though it is still available in every format, a flying hasty 3/2 can't compete in a world dominated by Teferi, Time Raveler and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. So, for a change of scenery, I wanted to give it a try in the oldest format I play. That's why I have been researching how to break out the bird word in Legacy.
Note that this is not a high-level competitive archetype, designed to beat all the tier one decks. Rather, it's a fun brew, to bring to a small to medium tournament with the upside of the surprise factor, which can steal you a few games. Usually, I always attend a local Legacy tournament every Thursday night, where the regulars know my weapon of choice is Blue-Red Delver most of the time. I switched to the Phoenix version to catch them off guard and had a lot of fun before they found out what I was playing.
2. Underworld Breach Is Gone, Deal with It
Before reviewing the deck itself, let's take a peek at what's going on in Legacy lately. Apparently Wizards care more about the format than players think. As soon as Jeskai Breach started overperforming by crushing most of its contenders, R&D instantly brought out the axe and got rid of Underworld Breach in the latest banned and restricted announcement. If you want to know more the ramifications of this decision, please check out Robert Swiecki article, where he goes really deep into this topic. Long story short, the deck was too good, the namesake card really felt like a Yawgmoth's Will with no downsides, and having alternative winning plans in the shape of Monastery Mentor from the sideboard made the deck almost unstoppable.
Now that is gone, the usual suspects will readjust to the newer situation: Delver decks, Chalice decks, Reanimator, 4-Color Snowko, and some others. Of course, Lion's Eye Diamond strategies will be viable as well and I thank Wizards for aiming at the new card rather than killing one of Legacy's defining elements which is the bread and butter of combo decks in general. How to take advantage of the current situation? Well, with Breach gone, players supposedly will trim down their sideboard's graveyard hate, more specifically those painful Leyline of the Void, giving our Phoenix the chance to run rampant. Just be aware of other evergreen hate like Surgical Extraction or Grafdigger's Cage which are easier to play around.
3. Early Days: Buried Phoenix
During its glorious while short Modern era, some people already tried to port Arclight Phoenix to Legacy. The result was similar to a Reanimator shell, where rather than bringing back an overcosted fatty, the plan was to send all our Phoenixes to the graveyard as early as turn one:
Deck: Grixis Phoenix by CallMarx
Main Deck (60)
Basically, plan A is to chain three sorcery and/or instant spells in one turn, casting Buried Alive via any mana accelerant to search for three Phoenixes as soon as you can. If you don't succeed, there is still the Young Pyromancer back-up plan, filling the board with a lot of tokens to inflict the last points of damage. With this brew, it's all about the surprise and goldfish factor. If the game goes long, you don't have the resources to win an attrition war, so might as well kill them fast.
The above is an older list from last year. However, it caught my eye due to the Burning Wish inclusion, which allows to search for the fourth copy of Buried Alive or even alternate win conditions like Empty the Warrens if you get to a high enough storm count. Other versions exist. Some add Dark Confidant to the mix, in order to improve the midgame with some card advantage. However, all share the same weakness of not having any counter magic, just some Cabal Therapy to discard the scariest cards. Of course, normally you have to name Force of Will before casting your Buried Alive.
I have found an alternative that I like much better: a blue-red build, which plays like a Delver deck with a twist …
4. Izzet Phoenix. Beating the Delver Matchup
A fellow Spaniard, Guillem Salvador Arnal, also known as Willy Bizarre, has popularized this version, reaching the second day and earning some cash at GP Bologna last year thanks to Arclight Phoenix. A shoutout to him for sharing the list as well as some tips and tricks. Luckily, I even had the chance to play against Guillem in a local tournament. I was playing Blue-Red Delver and he completely crushed me.
This is one of the main strengths of his list: it's well positioned to beat Blue-Red Delver. The reason is quite obvious; game one there's absolutely no way to stop the firebirds from coming back to play, even if you get to counter one of their three spells. So the absolute key for the Delver player is to cut those Faithless Looting in order to prevent Arclight Phoenix hitting the graveyard.
Deck: Izzet Phoenix by Guillem Arnal Salvador
Main Deck (60)
Creature Suite: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Delver of Secrets, as one of Legacy's defining cards, doesn't need many words, capable of winning games on its own, like a young Clint Eastwood, the "good guy" who keeps unfair combo players at bay. However, this time around he is accompanied by the "bad guy" — Arclight Phoenix. Rejected from Standard, Modern, and Pioneer, there is no room for him in any other format, so he's teaming up with Delver to bash opponents in the air in order to finish games quickly. Finally, closing out this love triangle, Pteramander plays the role of "the Ugly," although a Salamander Drake isn't the worst in terms of beauty. Most people look at this card awkwardly when in fact it's the real plan B of the strategy.
You don't normally start with Pteramander on turn one, instead you play Delver or a bunch of cantrips to dig for your Phoenixes and set up the three-spells turn. If something goes wrong or your early threats are killed, you'll end up with a ton of instants and sorceries in your graveyard and that's Pteramander time to shine, as a pseudo 2-mana 5/5 flier that closes up games quickly if uncontested.
Spell Suite: Cantrip, Direct Damage, and Permission
Aside from the creatures, the deck shares around twenty spells with the common Blue-Red Delver shell. These are the usual suspects and all of them fall in one of three categories: cantrip, burn, and counter magic.
Then we have three newcomers. They were pretty stock in Modern Izzet Phoenix lists and here they fulfill the same role: Faithless Looting and Thought Scour are the two ways to get our hasty birds into the graveyard. Combined with Brainstorm and Ponder we can mess around with our hand and the top of the library, so one or more Arclights end up reanimated after casting our third spell. Finally, there is a fundamental card that allows the crazy turn two Phoenix, and that's Gut Shot.
As Guillem explained to me, Legacy is not Modern, therefore Manamorphose is not a viable option as it gets easily disrupted by free spells like Force of Will, Daze, or Force of Negation. Instead, we rather pay Phyrexian mana to add the third spell and trigger the Phoenix from the graveyard. If there's no target, we can always shoot the opponent's face, but in certain scenarios, 1 damage equals a ton of value. Gut Shot is the other reason why the Blue-Red Delver matchup is quite favorable, as it enables your Phoenix plan while killing opposing Delvers, Young Pyromancer or Brazen Borrower spending 0 mana in the process. Additionally, against the rest of the metagame, it kills every 1-thoughtness creature that might get in the way, from Mother of Runes to Dark Confidant, the annoying Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or a blocking Ice-Fang Coatl, making Gut Shot a must to the strategy in order to fully function.
Latest Updates to the Sideboard
Interestingly enough, Guillem just 5-0ed a Legacy league two weeks ago, proving the deck is still capable of achieving good records in the current metagame. His main deck was identical to the GP Bologna version, although the sideboard has shifted a bit to update to the current situation.
A few changes here and there. Brazen Borrower is a must in every blue deck nowadays to deal with Marit Lage and other fatties, and it has finally eclipsed Vapor Snag for good. He also added one extra copy of Surgical Extraction to deal with other graveyard strategies and basically switch them in for Gut Shot in every match against combo or control. Not to forget — there is always this counterplay of exiling one of your own Phoenixes in response to an opposing Surgical and not search for the others, something pretty common during the Izzet Phoenix Modern era.
If you reach this point, thank you so much for reading. I hope you liked the article. Usually, I try to aim for competitive decks and strategies, but from time to time it is nice to think outside the box and have some fun. Don't get me wrong, I consider this deck powerful, it's just there are many other obvious strategies that are easier, more reliable, and feature newer cards or more raw power in general.
Even if Legacy is not getting much attention lately with Pioneer and Modern as pseudo-Eternal formats, it truly is an amazing gaming experience. I cannot stress enough how much fun it is to play Legacy these days. As usual, feel free to leave your comments or questions below or hit me up on my shared Twitter account.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.