Modern Musings – A Red December

Hey everyone! I hope everyone had a great weekend cracking UMA packs and jamming some Modern at their respective tournaments. Today I wanted to talk a bit about Modern and a certain card that has really made a large impact on the format.

Since the release of Guilds of Ravnica there has been one card that is becoming a multi-format all-star. That card of course is Arclight Phoenix. Creatures that cost 0 mana tend to be extremely powerful and the fact that you can bring back multiple at the same time for virtually free has proved to be a winning strategy. It reminds me a lot of the Hollow One deck and while decks with Arclight Phoenix may not be as explosive on turn one as some potential Hollow One draws there is still a lot of power and the potential is still there to deal some serious damage, which may be a reason why people are trying to combine the Hollow One strategy with some Arclight Phoenixes. Today we are going to explore two of the strategies that are currently employing Arclight Phoenix and talk a bit about some other cards that could have potential to work well in tandem with Arclight.

U/R

Izzet Phoenix is the first version of the deck to take down a Modern tournament built and piloted by Ross Merriam on the Star City Games Tour back in Baltimore a couple weeks ago. Ross had brought the deck to SCG Vegas and had done fairly well with it but it was a team event so results vary there and with some tournament games under the deck’s belt Ross did some more tuning and brought his new version to Baltimore to take down the whole thing.

Izzet (U/R) was the first place I thought to look when people started playing around with Arclight in Modern. With several blue cantrips it seemed trivial to be able to cast three spells in a turn to bring back the Phoenix. You also get access to Thing in the Ice which has been a pet card of mine ever since it was printed and I have been trying to find more reasons to play with the card. It’s a large body on the ground to hold back some smaller threats and can quickly undo a bunch of counters on some humans or send a delved Gurmag Angler back to be attempted to be recasted. You also get access to more interaction when you have blue in your deck with things like Spell Pierce and Ceremonious Rejection allowing you to not have to be so linear.

Some list have been playing Sleight of Hand which I find strictly worse than Thought Scour and I would probably play the fourth Though Scour over the first Sleight of Hand when I’m also playing Opt and Serum Visions. Thought Scour puts Phoenix in the Graveyard and can give you fuel for casting early Bedlam Revelers.

Ross made some big changes to what has typically been showing up in these Phoenix decks in the form of 3 Crackling Drakes and running 0 Lava Spikes or Fiery Temper. Instead he has maximized the number of ways to find Arclight, dump it in the yard, and then reliably pull it out of the yard on turn 3. Then if all else goes wrong then you can cast a large Crackling Drake that replaces itself by drawing a card and fights past Graveyard hate by checking instants and sorceries in Exile. If you have done any sort of damage to your opponent by the time you have cast a Drake then you can typically close out the game in the next couple turns.

The thing I like the best about the Izzet style of building Arclight decks is the fact that in Game 1 you have a cohesive powerful linear strategy that still allows for some interaction in the form of Bolt and flipping Thing in the Ice. Then in postboard games you have cheap interaction you can side in to help you have a little more play against certain decks.

Mono Red

Here we have a much more burn heavy deck still using Arclight Phoenix and Faithless Looting but we have 12 burn spells not to mention Risk Factor and Gutshot. This version of the deck is much more linear and aggressive than the Izzet deck which I like and dislike. This Mono Red version actually went up against Ross Merriam’s Izzet Phoenix deck in the finals of SCG Baltimore but lost to the extra interaction the Izzet deck had. Yet last weekend at the SCG Invitational Marshall Arthurs was the number one seed going into the Top 8 where he unfortunately lost to KCI with some lackluster draws. So while the deck may lack some of the extra interaction afforded by blue there are definitely some legs to stand on here and aggressive linear strategies like Humans have dominated Modern for the past year so the data is there.

The main difference in this version is it plays the full 4 Monastery Swiftspear, uses Tormenting Voice as an extra way to get Arclight in the the Graveyard, and a whole lot more burn setting up potentially quicker kills than the Izzet version though it may be more easily disrupted. Desperate Ritual, Faithless Looting, discard Arclight Phoenix and Fiery Temper, pay the Madness cost, cast Fiery Temper, Lava Spike, bring back Arclight Phoenix and attack with Arclight and a pumped up Swiftspear and that’s turn 2. That’s equal to some of my better Hollow One draws.

I like playing this version because it’s a creature combo deck that can deal some serious damage quickly and empty its hand allowing you to get full value on an early Bedlam Reveler which can help you close the game by either attacking or refilling your hand with burn. The Izzet deck does have a little more air playing extra cantrips while this version has just more direct damage.

One card that I have seen bouncing around some lists since the very beginning is Runaway Steam-Kin. While it didn’t appear in either of the Mono Red decks previously mentioned on the SCG Tour I have been playing around with the card in this strategy and have been really enjoying it. Now while if your opponent just kills your Steam-Kin then you are pretty unhappy but if not you can really go off on turn three similar to Ross’ deck yet here you cast a ton of burn, attack with a 4/4 Runaway Steam-Kin and some number of Arclight Phoenix. The extra mana the Runaway Steam-Kin gives you allows you to more easily cast three spells on a turn and usually more and if you have a Monastery Swiftspear on the field as well then you will be dealing some insane damage.

There still seems to be more exploration to do with Arclight Phoenix. Gerry Thompson played a list with a Hollow One package and that seems promising though I have been shying away from Goblin Lore decks. I saw some folks at GP Portland trying to piece together a strategy involving Death Shadow and it’s discard suite along with the Phoenix which could also be very powerful. I’m not quite sure where I stand on which strategy is the best just yet and I’m just continuing to try and innovate and try new things such as main deck Madcap Experiment/Platinum Emperion combo and Experimental Frenzy. There is still much work to be done and I am excited to do it.

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