Izzet Phoenix has been one of the strongest decks in the early days of Pioneer, and with the largest Pioneer tournament yet coming up, it is sure to be a popular choice. That being said, the deck is not without its flaws. It largely lacks the ability to bring back multiple Phoenixes in the first two to three turns like its predecessor in Modern. The deck also has issues with losing to itself. It can spin its wheels without finding threats. Fortunately, both of these issues can be resolved by adding the color green into the mix, which speeds up the deck and increases the deck’s consistency.
This version of the Phoenix deck was initially put forward by u/rogbogglesworth on r/PioneerMTG, where he wrote a very brief primer on this deck. This article aims to go further in depth and improve upon the list he posted. Without further ado, here is the decklist for the best deck in Pioneer.
4 Breeding Pool
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Spirebluff Canal
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Wild Slash
3 Adventurous Impulse
2 Izzet Charm
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Merchant of the Vale
4 Rosethorn Acolyte
4 Merfolk Secretkeeper
4 Thing in the Ice
4 Arclight Phoenix
2 Flame Sweep
3 Mystical Dispute
2 Return to Nature
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
So, How Does this Deck Win?
Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix serve as the primary wincons for this deck. Thing in the Ice can be an efficient blocker until it flips, revealing a 7/8 that returns all non-Horror creatures to their owners’ hands. This often leads to seven free points of damage, as Horror is not a common creature type on playable cards. Arclight Phoenix is a hasty 3/2 that can be returned to the battlefield for free if you cast three spells prior to combat. This makes the card very hard to interact with unless a piece of graveyard hate is in play. Importantly, groups of Phoenixes can ambush an Oko, Thief of Crowns or a Teferi, Time Raveler. This card is absurdly powerful, played a role in the banning of Faithless Looting in Modern, and it is starting to command the same respect in Pioneer.
Going on an Adventure
Throne of Eldraine was a messed up set. It produced many powerful cards, but some of them that often fly under the radar are the Adventure creatures. These creatures can first be cast as a sorcery/instant before they are cast as a creature. Three of them — Rosethorn Acolyte, Merchant of the Veil, and Merfolk Secretkeeper — can be cast as one mana spells first, helping get Phoenixes into the graveyard, or in the case of Seasonal Ritual, helping to fix our mana and serving as a “free” spell that can be cast to power out an early Arclight Phoenix or to quickly flip a Thing in the Ice.
What Has Happened to the Color Pie and Why are Green Cantrips so Busted?
Lately green has had incredible card selection, which it just shouldn’t have. That being said, we all like to win and right now it is hard to justify playing a deck without the best cantrip since Brainstorm: Once Upon a Time. We also get to play bad Once Upon a Time: Adventurous Impulse. These two cards are both able to find creatures and lands, and fortunately Adventure cards count as creatures for these cards. Combining these two green cantrips with low cost blue and red cards like Opt, Haggle, and Wild Slash makes it incredibly easy to get early Phoenixes. The other notable thing these green cantrips allow you to do is trim the number of lands you have, as they allow great consistency in finding them. They also enable many powerful play patterns, which is what I will be walking you through next.
Key Sequences and Play Patterns for the Deck
One of the major powers of this deck is how reliable and powerful its perfect draws can be. This is largely due to the combination of redundancy and the power of Once Upon a Time. Speaking of the second best cantrip ever, your ability to cast it for free is one of the best ways to ensure Turn 2 Phoenix(es). Probably one of the most common sequences in the deck is to start your first main phase on Turn 2 by casting Once Upon a Time, finding an Adventure creature or an Arclight Phoenix to put into the graveyard. This is quickly followed up by casting two more spells, ideally some amount of Haggles discarding a Phoenix or Venture Deeper getting some into the graveyard. The best way to get multiple Phoenixes out early is by casting a Once Upon a Time, then a Seasonal Ritual, followed up by an Izzet Charm discarding two Phoenixes. The raw power and consistency of this start helps ensure you are attacking with hasty 3/2s earlier than you should be.
Ideally a game won’t go particularly long, but when it does, Thing in the Ice gets to shine. The ability to serve as a mass bounce helps provides quite a bit of reach to this deck, but the adventure spells do crazy things when bounced. As a game draws out, you can cast your Adventure creatures and flip a Thing in the Ice to return them to your hand. This interaction is critical, as it allows you to win games against decks that go over the top.
The final core gameplay patterns worth highlighting are mainly a set of reminders to make sure you don’t play super poorly. These seem obvious, but:
- You don’t have to attack with an Arclight Phoenix the turn it comes out of the graveyard. People often forget this, leading to more game losses than I can count.
- You can cast your Adventure creatures after they’ve gone on their adventure. Please, please, please don’t forget it. They are free cards as far as you are concerned. Always take advantage of free cards; this should be obvious.
Some Game One Gameplay Data
I recorded my last twenty Game 1s, marking down when I flipped a Thing in the Ice (TITI) and when I returned Phoenixes to the battlefield to demonstrate the speed of this deck. Here are the results.
On the Draw:
Game 1: Turn 2 Phoenix
Game 2: Turn 3 TITI Flip
Game 3: Turn 4 TITI Flip
Game 4: Turn 3 TITI Flip, Turn 3 Phoenix
Game 5: Turn 4 TITI, Turn 4 Phoenix
Game 6: Turn 2 Phoenix
Game 7: Turn 3 TITI Flip, Turn 3 Phoenix
Game 8: Turn 5 TITI Flip
Game 9: Turn 3 Phoenix x3, Turn 4 TITI Flip
Game 10: Turn 4 TITI Flip, Turn 4 Phoenix x2
On the Play:
Game 1: Turn 3 Phoenix
Game 2: Turn 3 TITI Flip
Game 3: Turn 4 TITI Flip, Turn 4 Phoenix
Game 4: Dud
Game 5: Dud
Game 6: Turn 3 Phoenix, Turn 4 TITI Flip
Game 7: Turn 4 TITI Flip, Turn 4 Phoenix
Game 8: Turn 3 Phoenix x2
Game 9: Turn 4 Phoenix x3
Game 10: Turn 3 TITI
What you see here is consistency. I only had two games where I missed on my deck’s goal (5-6 on the play, one I drew bad mana, and the other I had bad topdecks.) You also see how this deck can routinely flip Thing in the Ice and return phoenixes with ease. This hard data should help corroborate my assertions about the raw strength of this deck.
Oko is broko, and with the recent banning of Veil of Summer he is now also the best card in the sideboard. He combines with Chandra to create a pseudo-midrange plan. Furthermore, green lets us play effective ways to deal with Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace; Return to Nature fills this role, allowing us to fight through sideboard hate postboard. Fry and Mystical Dispute fill multiple roles, but most importantly they help us beat Narset, Parter of Veils. While the card is semi-rare, if we see it we will almost certainly lose the game. They both also serve to fight Esper Dragons and other control decks. Finally, a transformative sideboard where you board out Phoenixes and Merchants of the Veil is an option: you become an Oko Midrange deck using TITI flips to go over the top of your opponents. This deck has a powerful sideboard that completely outclasses the one put forward by the Izzet Phoenix list.
Temur Phoenix is one of the best decks in our current Pioneer environment. This is due to its scary consistency, lightning fast starts, and the deck’s ability to abuse game mechanics to find the win. Ultimately, if I had a major tournament coming up for Pioneer, I would be playing this deck without a doubt. This deck deserves more respect than it is getting right now in the metagame, and I would recommend you bring it to the next Pioneer tournament you play in.