Hi everyone. A few weekends ago I picked up a new deck for the first time and went to play a Modern for Goodies event at Axion Now (where the prizes are always insane), and I am here to walk you through the tournament and give you my thoughts on the version of the deck that I played. Leading up to the event, I was feeling lost on what to play in Modern, having played Tron at GP Atlanta, Krark-Clan Ironworks at the RPTQ, and Hollow One at GP Liverpool, posting middling results with each deck. I took a look at what was doing well in recent modern events and stumbled across Ross Merriam’s Baltimore open-winning decklist, Izzet Arclight Phoenix, and fell in love.
I have always had a soft spot for Thing in the Ice and the printing of Arclight Phoenix gave it new life, with the two cards naturally being a match made in heaven. The deck does some exciting things. Between being able to put two Phoenixes into play on turn two or flipping a Thing in the Ice on turn three, one thing is for sure – this deck packs a big punch and is likely here to stay.
After looking at a few different lists I stumbled upon a list from @SamuelGraebner on Twitter that was running the full 4 copies of Monastery Swiftspear coupled with a pair of both Gut Shot and Mutagenic Growth, and I knew that this was the version that I had to play. The opportunity to play with Phyrexian mana spells does not come around all too often and they looked to fit perfectly into the decklist. I decided to add a 3rd copy of Gut Shot from the list that Sam originally posted and ended up registering the following:
3 Gut Shot
I got to the venue with a bit of time to spare, had some breakfast, wrote out my decklist, and sat down ready to battle.
Round one began with my opponent attacking me with a Goblin Guide on turn 1 – Burn, one of the worst matchups for Izzet Phoenix. I replied with a Swiftspear into a turn two Thing in the Ice which was able to freely block, with my opponent continuing to deploy creatures while missing their second land drop. A few spells later and my 7/8 Awoken Horror ran away with the game.
Game two I decided to sideboard in two copies of Dispel and two copies of Abrade. Dispel was an obvious one but Abrade was equally important, being able to destroy an Ensnaring Bridge which some Burn lists are running in the side. Once again my opponent opens with turn 1 Goblin Guide which was met with a turn one Monastery Swiftspear from me. A second Goblin Guide joins the fray on turn two, putting me under a reasonable amount of pressure. However, a pair of Arclight Phoenixes on turn two quickly turned the race in my favour by attacking, along with the swiftspear, for ten damage on turn two. A swing and a bolt quickly ended the game on my turn three and I knew that if I could draw this well all day then I would be winning a few more matches at least. 1-0.
Round two I was paired against a known Skred player in the area. On paper this matchup looks good to me as long as I can avoid a well timed Relic of Progenitus. I started game one with a turn one Monastery Swiftspear which landed a few hits while I cast various cantrips, namely Thought Scour and Serum Visions. On my turn three I cast a Faithless Looting to try and dig for some Arclight Phoenixes but only found a few lands to discard. I attacked for two damage which prompted a Skred from my opponent for three damage. I payed one red mana to cast a Gut Shot targeting my opponent to provide my swiftspear a prowess trigger, hopefully allowing it to survive, but this was met by a Lightning Bolt to try and kill the Swiftspear. Two life and a Mutagenic Growth later and my opponent had taken a huge six damage and had had their two removal spells fall short. An Arclight Phoenix (read Snare Thopter) off the top attacked a few times to close out game one.
Game two looked to be under my control as I deployed a turn two Thing in the Ice, transforming it on turn three into Awoken Horror which sadly wasn’t able to bounce my opponent’s Eternal Scourge (another Horror to add to the list of Spellskite and Bedlam Reveler). After a pair of attacks on turns three and four, a Mutagenic Growth targeting the Eternal Scourge cleared the way on turn five, and I swung in for lethal damage. 2-0.
Round Three I played against an English grinder in Charles Eliatamby who was piloting Dredge, a matchup that is usually a very unfavourable one for Phoenix. Game one saw Charles mulligan to five and a pair of Awoken Horrors managed to steal the game with a growth that can only be described as mutagenic before the mass of bounced creatures could power a Conflagrate for a lethal 12. Game two and three saw the matchup play out more like how it should on paper, in that I was unable to transform a Thing in the Ice thanks to my opponent’s casting of Lightning Axe and Assassin’s Trophy, and I was overwhelmed by the wide board that dredge can create. 2-1.
I knew at this point I knew that I would need to win the next two rounds to even have a chance to make the top eight. I sat down and played a Monastery Swiftspear on turn one against my opponent’s Botanical Sanctum into Aether Vial. From this I can most likely assume that my opponent was on Bant Spirits (although U/G Merfolk was not out of the question) which meant that I wanted to resolve a Thing in the Ice early to get it past a potential Spell Queller.
The way Spell Queller works often makes ita detriment in the matchup against Izzet Phoenix. If Spell Queller exiles one of your spells and you subsequently Lightning Bolt the queller, you get to cast the exiled spell again, providing an extra spell cast towards resurrecting your Arclight Phoenix and allowing you to remove an extra counter from your Thing in the Ice.
I used this interaction to flip my Thing in the Ice a turn early in game one to put immense pressure on my opponent. A Faithless Looting to discard two Arclight Phoenix coupled with a pair of Thought Scours allowed me to put three Arclight Phoenixes into play and close out the game. A pair of mulligans for my opponent meant that game two wasn’t much of a close contest and I advanced to 3-1.
Round five I played against a friend and Team Axion Now member David Calf on Jund. Game one in this matchup came down to the recursive aspect of Arclight Phoenix as they came back from the graveyard three times to take care of game one. Game two saw me fall behind against a Scavenging Ooze into Liliana of the Veil to kill my Thing in the Ice. A turn four Bloodbraid Elf from David saw me under too much pressure to recover and we quickly headed to game three. My opening seven had an aggressive draw of Monastery Swiftspear into Thing in the Ice with the potential to put some Arclight Phoenixes into play on turn three, which proved too much for Jund to handle as, after a few hits with an Arclight Phoenix, an Awoken Horror cleared out my opponent’s copies of Tarmogoyf and swung in for lethal. 4-1.
At this point I awaited the standings to see if I could draw into the top 8 and guarantee my spot. I was in 5th place with only the top two tables being able to draw into the top eight. Time to earn my spot!
Round six saw me play against another Jund deck, which I believe to be a reasonably favourable matchup. In game one I had an aggressive draw featuring two Monastery Swiftspear into an Arclight Phoenix on turn three. My opponent’s hand was not well prepared for this as all he could muster was a fatal push on one of the Swiftspears, and the amount of lands entering tapped for him meant that he didn’t have enough time to recover and swiftly fell to the power of the spear.
An unfortunate mulligan and a lack of lands for my opponent meant that game two was not a close game. I advanced to 5-1 and was likely going to be the first seed going into the top eight. With the way that these events work, this also meant that I had first pick at the prizes for making the top eight. After researching the prices of the prizes I nabbed myself a Masterpiece Mana Crypt.
The Top 8:
In the quarterfinals I was paired against a deck that I haven’t seen in a while in Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. This deck focuses around using Jeskai Ascendancy and a mana creature or two to create card advantage while growing the mana creature before attacking with it or using Glittering Wish to get Flesh // Blood from the sideboard to deal lethal damage. Going into the match I knew the importance of the removal spells in my deck along with the power of Thing in the Ice being able to bounce Sylvan Caryatid through hexproof or being able to bounce an Unearthed Fate Stitcher during my opponent’s turn.
In game one I had an explosive start with a turn one swiftspear into a turn two swiftspear + Thought Scour + Gut Shot on a Birds of Paradise to apply maximum pressure. A few attacks later and I managed to win the game on the turn before my opponent was likely to go off. Game 2 saw my opponent mulligan all the way down to four cards and after a pair of removal spells destroyed his two mana creatures, I went on into the Semifinals.
The semifinals saw a rematch against Charles on Dredge. I knew that the matchup was poor and the only real way for me to win was for Charles to get unlucky and for me to have good draws. Game one started out exactly in that way with Charles mulliganing to four and failing to play a land in the first few turns before a pair of Monastery Swiftspears closed out the game.
Game two was a close game that surely would’ve been very one sided if Charles hadn’t mulliganed to five, with the game playing out as above in that the board grew too large and I was unable to flip a Thing in the Ice in time.
Game three had Charles mulligan to five AGAIN, and things looked a bit more hopeful. My opening hand allowed me to play a Monastery Swiftspear on turn one and put two Arclight Phoenixes into play on turn two. Charles had a pretty decent five card hand with a turn two Cathartic Reunion discarding a Stinkweed Imp, allowing him to dredge ten cards and draw one, hitting two Creeping Chill, one Narcomeba, and one Prized Amalgam. I untapped and continued my assualt over the next two turns, putting Charles down to six life. After a few more dredges, the board had a few more Narcomebas and Prized Amalgams. The board was starting to get very clogged up and the game was slowly slipping away from me. My draw step was a Faithless Looting to go along with the two lands in my hand. I needed this looting to be a good one. The first card to come from it? Lightning Bolt. The second? Lightning Bolt. I confirmed that Charles was at 6 and showed him the bad news. Time for the Finals.
After agreeing to split the prize for first (a box of Ultimate Masters) and to play for the Box Topper, I sat down to play the Finals
I was paired against Hardened Scales, which I felt, going in, was going to be a poor matchup. If they resolve an early Hardened Scales or have an uncontested Steel Overseer then it can cause big problems for me, but as the match played out I remembered how Horrible a flipped Thing in the Ice can be for our opponents. I lost game one to a turn one Steel Overseer with a Welding Jar at the ready to protect it followed up with a turn two Arcbound Ravager and an Arcbound Worker.
For the first time in the day, I was able to bring in the three Ceremonious Rejection that I had in my sideboard alongside some other cards to swing the matchup heavily into my favour. Game two I managed to return a pair of Arclight Phoenix on turn two of the game and leverage my Ceremonious Rejections to keep any copies of Hangarback Walker off the table and allow my birds to go the distance.
Game three I was able to deploy an early Thing in the Ice and use a Gut Shot to kill a turn two Steel Overseer from my opponent. A few turns later and with another Thing in the Ice on the table, I transformed them both and put my opponent in a very difficult situation. My opponent played out some blockers including a Hangarback Walker, but a timely Arclight Phoenix off the top alongside a Lightning Bolt and my opponent extended their hand.
It has been a while since I had won an event and it felt good to do so with such a fun deck. Obviously I had gotten lucky with my opponent’s mulligans throughout the day and my draw cooperating well, but I walked away with a Invention Mana Crypt, Half a box of Ultimate Masters, and the sadness that comes along with opening Balefire Dragon as your Box Topper.
As for the deck, I am unsure if this version is better going forward or if the versions running Pyromancer Ascension and main deck Crackling Drake are better for the meta. For now I like the more aggressive angle with the four Monastery Swiftspears alongside the extra Phyrexian mana spells, so I will continue to explore this take on the deck.
As always you can find me at almost every European GP and also on Twitter at @MattBrown_MTG.
Thanks for reading and good luck at your next event!