Get ready to combo off in Pioneer with Izzet Phoenix! Arclight Phoenix is a 3/2 for 3 generic and 1 red mana, which is over-costed based on those numbers. Even with the addition of flying and haste its still not great for constructed. However its ability to pull itself out of the graveyard by casting 3 instant or sorcery spells in a single turn is pretty good and what makes this card worth playing. Casting spells is what Izzet does best after all. Although this card is the namesake of the deck, there are other creatures, albeit few, that make the cut, and yes, they interact with instant and sorcery spells as well. Young Pyromancer is a 2/1 for 1 and a red and when you cast an instant or sorcery spell it makes a 1/1 elemental creature token. If you were to start your third turn with the Pyromancer on the battlefield and Phoenix in the graveyard, casting three 1 mana instant/sorcery spells would bring the Pheonix to the battlefield and make 3 tokens putting a total of 4 bodies and 6 power on the board for 3 mana, not to mention what the 3 instant/sorcery spells did. Some decks have decided to nix the Pyromancer in favor of Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror. Thing in the Ice is a 0/4 with defender for 1 and a blue. It comes in with 4 ice counters and when you cast an instant or sorcery spell, you remove an ice counter. When the last counter is removed, it transforms into Awoken Horror, a 7/8 that bounces all non-horror creatures back to their owner’s hand. See why you don’t want Young Pyromancer and Thing in the Ice in the same deck? All of that work that the Pyromancer is doing by creating tokens is meaningless if you’re just going to reset the board with Thing in the Ice. This works with the Phoenix because its ability doesn’t trigger until you go to the combat phase. One creature that either version can run is Crackling Drake, a */4 with flying for 2 blue and 2 red. Cackling Drake’s power is equal to the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard and those you own in exile. It also draws you a card when it comes into play.
Arclight Phoenix needs to be in the graveyard to be its most effective so you need cards that allow you to dig through your deck and get the Phoenix into the graveyard. Cheap Draw spells is what you’re after. Opt is a great one, allowing you to look 2 cards deep into your deck and possibly scry away a phoenix. Chart a Course is a Draw 2, discard one. Treasure Cruise is a great card that upon initial inspection looks too expensive, but delve allows you exile cards from your graveyard to make it cheaper and eventually draw 3 cards for 1 blue mana. This card is actually banned in modern, pauper, legacy, and restricted in vintage. If you can get its cost down to 1 blue mana, its basically Ancestral Recall, one of the most powerful cards ever printed. As Pioneer is still a new format, I think Treasure Cruise is a candidate for the ban list; just look where it’s banned right now. Moving on to the other draw spells, Izzet Charm is a Swiss army knife for this deck. The charm costs 1 red and 1 blue and you can choose between countering a noncreature spell, shocking a creature, or draw 2 then discard 2. The last card is Strategic Planning which is basically a slower Anticipate. Other than being a sorcery rather than an instant, Strategic Planning puts the remaining cards into your graveyard rather than the bottom of your library.
To be honest, the removal package for this deck looks a little awkward to me, but then again I’m used to modern where Lightning Bolt is the king of red removal. Lightning Axe does the most damage for this deck. As an additional cost, you need to pay 5 more mana (yikes!) or discard a card, which is small price to pay for 5 damage, plus the card that you discard could be a Phoenix. Also, always discard the card; never pay that much mana for 5 damage. Most decks run Wild Slash which is basically a Shock with an additional effect that damage can’t be prevented if you control a creature with power 4 or greater. Maybe if you have Thing in the Ice and Crackling Drake in the deck it would be okay, but with the Pyromancer you’re not going to have a creature with power 4 or greater most of the time so ferocious doesn’t matter; you could replace this with Shock and the deck would still function the same. Fiery Temper is a good card for this deck. As you will be discarding cards quite frequently, madness will be easier to trigger. There are also other cards that you can run for removal and feel free to play around with them and see which ones you like.
Since this is a new format and there are a lot of brewers out there, I want to talk about a few cards you don’t want to run. Goblin Electromancer: as a creature, this card is useless because you will never attack or block with it. Sure it’s reducing the cost of your instant and sorcery spells, but most of them are already very cheap to begin with. He does see play in modern storm decks because those decks are usually very fast and there are several copies of two spells that cost 4 mana so that deck wants all the cost reduction it can get. Light Up the Stage: while this is a great card for red decks when they need more gas, this deck doesn’t have enough focus on dealing damage to the opponent in a fast aggro/burn style strategy to trigger spectacle. This card is usually played in the early game around turn 2 or 3 when you may not have enough mana to cast the Phoenix that it just exiled. Tome Scour or any other cards then enable self mill; while this could enable a faster phoenix, too much self mill will only bring you closer to decking yourself. Your opponent is going to kill some of the phoenixes that come into play, that’s a given; it’s how you win. The more you keep casting self mill spells over and over again with the hopes of getting your phoenixes back to the field, the more likely you are to deck yourself, plus it’s not a very proactive strategy if your goal is get your opponent’s life to 0. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a deck like that, but you would have to use Jace, Wielder of Mysteries or something similar as an alternate win condition.
As the deck currently stands, the shell of Izzet Phoenix looks something like the following:
Arclight Phoenix x4
Young Pyromancer/Thing in the Ice x3-4
Crackling Drake x2-4
Cheap card draw spells x18-22 (Opt x3-4, Chart a Course x3-4, Treasure Cruise x2-4, Strategic Planning x2-4, Izzet Charm x2-4)
Removal spells x8-10 (Lightning Axe x3-4, Wild Slash/Shock x3-4, Fiery Temper x3-4)
I don’t think the deck will stay like this for long. The strategy is probably here to stay for now, but with new sets being released and the potential for Treasure Cruise to be banned, we could have a totally different list by this time next year. If Treasure Cruise does get banned, Cathartic Reunion is a possible replacement. It costs 1 and a red, and an additional cost of discarding two cards for drawing three. Risk Factor is also a candidate to replace Treasure Cruise. It does cost 1 more mana than Cathartic Reunion and your opponent chooses which effect happens; either you draw three or they take 4 damage. It also has Jumpstart which allows it to be cast again from the graveyard. I’ve never lost a game where I could cast at least 3 of these, that includes from the hand and using jumpstart. It’s dangerous giving a red deck that much gas, but taking 4 damage to prevent that card draw adds up quickly.
That wraps up Izzet Phoenix for Pioneer. What deck do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments down below.