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At the Pro Tour, I played an Izzet Drakes deck without Arclight Phoenix. Like all decks it will require adjustments going forward, but I believe the deck strong and well-positioned going forward. Alas, I could not win a game of limited and I had no teammates, so the me and the deck were done for the weekend after its 3-2 start.
Here is the list I played:
4 Steam Vents
2 Evolving Wilds
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Enigma Drake
4 Crackling Drake
2 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Shivan Fire
1 Search for Azcanta
2 Chemister’s Insight
2 Fight With Fire
3 Lightning Strike
1 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Lava Coil
2 Dive Down
2 Inescapable Blaze
1 Search for Azcanta
2 Fiery Cannonade
Going forward, I would want to work two or three Entrancing Melody into the sideboard, with the puzzle being doing this while retaining a strong post-sideboard configuration against control. I’ll go over the origins of the build, then talk about various matchups.
As I was exploring the Arena free play experience, one of the fifteen decks held far more promise than the others. Wrath of Mages had a bunch of terrible cards with no payoffs, but it also had the core of an Enigma Drake strategy. Taking out the bad cards and putting in good cards like counters, burn and flyers resulted in a fun deck strong enough to grind the constructed event while using minimal wild cards. I used my rare wildcards on the dual lands, some of my commons on blue cantrips, and once my mana was good enough I added Crackling Drakes. At that point, the deck was doing quite well, as it makes short work of the various creature decks people were playing. The downside was that against control you couldn’t ever win a game. Going up to three copies of Banefire in the main didn’t fully solve that problem, but it gave you a fighting chance, especially as most opponents do not try to counter Lightning Strike or Shock. For a while I had all four copies main and felt advantaged, but you can’t afford that in a field full of white one drops.
I hadn’t been intending to go to the Pro Tour, but it was close by, I wanted to chat with various pros, and I had a deck I liked and at least a little drafting experience, so I started taking things seriously. After the Grand Prix, I figured it was time to break out Arclight Phoenix and kick things into overdrive.
The deck was suddenly far more powerful and explosive. My drakes were far bigger, and I drew them more often. But I couldn’t win. Opponents would play early creatures and get ahead of me, and unless I had Shocks I had to spend several turns doing nothing only to bring back one or two 3/2 flyers during a turn that was otherwise spent durdling. And then I died. I was losing games to red aggro, to blue tempo, to white swarms, even to black/green. That’s all the colors! Other games, I’d cast a flurry of cantrips only to end up with a hand full of lands. The deck felt like it was selling out to get you a few flyers and pump your drakes, the drakes didn’t need to be that big, and those flyers weren’t that relevant to winning games.
I was quickly back to where I’d been before, and it was a huge relief. My deck worked and I could play Magic again. After that, I switched to Magic Online and went to work on sideboard plans. I would doubtless have benefited from a true team, but I didn’t feel I was investing enough time to earn a spot on one, so many thanks to Seth Burn for helping me get the deck in good shape, and to Gaudenis Vidugiris and Adrian Sullivan for their takes as well. Seth suggested a number of late changes and was instrumental in solving the elephant problem and pushing me to do the work when it counted. Adrian had a number of notes but the biggest was noticing that Evolving Wilds was far better than Highland Lake due to the interaction with Sulfur Falls. I should have noticed it on my own, but I didn’t.
If you’re building on a free Arena account, you’ll get a lot of the key cards from the initial free decks, and there are cheap compromises for most of the rest of them in the main deck. Search for Azcanta and Chemister’s Insight can be Divination or another cantrip or card drawer. Ionize can be Sinister Sabotage. The second Rekindling Phoenix can be your Demanding Dragon or a Dive Down. Anticipate can become Chart a Course. The only cards you outright need that you don’t start with, other than mana sources, are Opt and Crackling Drake. The tricky question is deciding whether to accept that you are losing to control decks. Without Search for Azcanta or enough copies of Banefire that matchup becomes very bad. If you’re fine with that, you get to play with extra anti-creature spells like Lava Coil and your Entrancing Melody, and don’t need to create extra copies of Banefire (you start with one).
The matchups are mostly straightforward, but there are some key notes.
White / Boros / Selesnya Aggro
It is key to not fall too far behind in the first few turns, and to make sure to get enough power for your Drakes so they can profitably block as soon as they come down. Burn everything in sight, on sight, if the alternative is not using your mana. Banefire for one on turn two is great if it kills actual anything. Don’t take more damage than you need to so you can survive their inevitable alpha strike, then when the time comes turn around and kill them in two attacks. Giving away free lands is always bad, but you close the game fast enough that a flipped Legion’s Landing is not a big deal.
When you lose, it is either because they swarm you right away, or they pump up and swarm you later, or if they kill all your men.
You are sufficiently ahead on cards that it is easy to take out Search for Azcanta, Divination and Chemister’s Insight. Ionize is much better on the play than the draw, since their key cards cost three mana and you are far less likely to be forced to tap out for Drakes to avoid dying to the board, stranding Ionize in your hand. Trimming a copy of Banefire is also fine, so long as you keep Fight with Fire as an answer to Aurelia and Lyra. You bring in the third Rekindling Phoenix and the two Fiery Cannonades, with the interesting questions being Lava Coil and Dive Down. If they have multiple copies of Lava Coil or other additional removal you want Dive Down, but if they only have Conclave Tribunal then I’d rather not bother. Lava Coil being a sorcery makes it much worse, but more two mana interaction is welcome especially on the draw where you have more targets and not wasting your second turn becomes even more important.
Adanto Vanguard can definitely be a problem, as your only good answer in this configuration is to block it and there are ways for that not to be possible. That’s one of the motivations behind wanting access to Enchanting Melody, as is having lots of tokens to steal for two mana.
Their deck does three things. The first is it deals damage with Tempest Djinn. The second is it puts Curious Obsession on a creature. The third is nothing.
The game is about guarding against those first two things. Be as awkward as you need to be so long as you kill their Djinns and contain their Obsessions. Your cards are overwhelmingly more powerful than theirs if they can’t stick one or the other, so nothing else will matter. There is the occasional swarm, so you don’t want to take much damage if you can help it, but it’s rare that this gets you without a Djinn. Once you deploy your creatures, they’ll quickly fall apart. Trading cards to draw out their counters and interaction is usually a good idea. If you get a window to resolve something, usually you want Rekindling Phoenix over Crackling Drake.
Sideboarding is similar to against the white aggro decks, since again you can pull the card drawing, except this time Lava Coil is golden. You can choose to bring in Negate if you wish, but it probably isn’t worth it since it creates possible mismatches, it makes Spell Pierce much better for them, and you don’t need the help.
Sticking a creature is the name of the game. If you can keep a creature alive, things are looking up. If you can keep two, they die very quickly. Your burn allows you to keep the ground mostly under control for quite a while, and not take large chunks of damage if you tap out for a creature and they kill it. Killing explore creatures before they can explore is almost always the right move if they might grow out of range. Wildgrowth Walker is trouble, so don’t let it live. It is usually worth stopping to kill it instead of playing a creature, unless you have a Fight with Fire in reserve to be sure it can’t grow out of range in time. Llanowar Elf of course must die on sight, since it moves up the planeswalker and Carnage Tyrant clocks by a turn. By keeping the ground mostly clear and packing Banefire, you are usually able to kill them with a single Drake if it lives before they can get you on the ground.
The risk is that if you don’t finish them off, then they can grind you out eventually even if you line up the cards optimally. You are largely at the mercy of their ability to draw removal and it is about even money whether they have enough.
Sideboarding means going in on the creature plan with Dive Down and the extra Rekindling Phoenix. Again tempo is important and your burn is great, so the card drawing largely comes out. Playing a Drake with Dive Down protection is extremely strong and usually game ending, since you then get out ahead of their planeswalkers. You’d love a third Dive Down, but it was a late cut from the sideboard as space is too tight. I have not tested boarding in Negate. It would not be unreasonable and the payoff is high, but it is also risky. You can also consider Lava Coil on the draw as an additional answer to Wildgrowth Walker as people will bring in extra copies often, but I do not think you have the space for that.
Most games they will take zero damage from attacks, as they have a lot of answers and you don’t have all that many questions. Getting even a few points in is huge. You will also take no damage for a very, very long time. The dream is to somehow flip Search for Azcanta, but presumably that will be rare.
The real route to victory is Banefire. Never pass one up, and don’t waste one unless you’re nowhere close to winning and Teferi needs to die. Every point you can get them to take in any other way gets you that much closer to lethal, ideally letting you kill them with only one Banefire instead of two. If they don’t stop a kicked Fight With Fire, which happens more often than you would think because they don’t have that many counters, you’ll definitely only need one. If it takes two, as long as you don’t need to burn one, you are a small favorite to find both in time.
In the meantime, your goal is to play out threats, not let them exploit you with sweepers since you only need a little damage to go through, and hope they need to burn their counters stopping men or give you free lands with Settle the Wreckage.
If you had the fourth Banefire over the second Shivan Fire, you’d be a large favorite against most maindeck configurations, but alas the current metagame does not allow that. Right now we are on the edge where game one can go either way. If you expect a lot of control, find a way to move in the fourth Banefire, then you can consider a second maindeck Search for Azcanta.
Your sideboard plan is to double down on winning without successfully attacking. You need access to more than 15 cards that don’t play well with this strategy – ideally you don’t want 4 Shock, 2 Shivan Fire, 4 Enigma Drake, 3 Rekindling Phoenix, 3 Lava Coil, 2 Dive Down or 2 Fiery Cannonade. Fight with Fire is insurance to kill Niv-Mizzet, Parum and Lyra Dawnbringer and eventually draws out a counter when you hit nine mana, so that’s fine. Lightning Strike is good for finishing off Teferi and Ral, for insurance and for the extra three to the face, so you’re happy to keep those but Shock is a little loose. Alas that still adds up to 20, so we are stuck with Enigma Drake and either Dive Down or Rekindling Phoenix. So you can’t put them in the bind of potentially stranding their removal by pulling everything, or everything but Crackling Drake since that cantrips. This still puts them in a lesser bind where they need to pack answers to your creatures, but those cards don’t do much against your actual plan.
The other cards in the 75 are all in your deck, with the sideboard stars being Search for Azcanta, Negate and Inescapable Blaze. Inescapable Blaze is exactly what you need. If they run out Ral Zarek or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and you’re not in a position to ignore it and go to their face, you can burn an Inescapable Blaze and kill it through their counter backup. You’re down a card or two, but it often doesn’t matter. Same goes for a Niv-Mizzet, Parum or Lyra Dawnbringer. If they try for Rekindling Phoenix or another more robust threat, usually you can end the game before they finish you off, so you won’t need to waste too much ammo fighting them, but they do occasionally work.
This is a good place to point out that in our configuration, Niv-Mizzet, Parum is rather terrible even in this matchup. Often they’ll drop a planeswalker and answer him, and even if they don’t, you’re still probably just drawing a few extra cards after tapping the full six, and if you dont have a Dive Down up you’re only getting one or two. That doesn’t solve that many of the actual problems you face. By contrast, Inescapable Blaze provides planeswalker and creature insurance through protection, and supplemental damage to the face. Cutting the third copy was a sacrifice to get cards for other matchups, but if you were in control-must-die mode, you’d take the third copy. After that, I’d want access to another two-mana time bomb. Azor’s Gateway definitely plays as does Treasure Map. At that point, default configurations of Jeskai Control don’t have a route to victory left.
Game one their game plan is to make you discard, so you discard all the burn spells that don’t do anything against them and that pumps up your drakes. The first battle is their removal versus your creatures. They don’t have that many good answers, and if you can get tempo on them or run them out of removal that’s the game. After that, games usually go long, as they don’t have a creature they can stick. They often make you discard Banefire, so you can’t sit there forever, and often want to use it to put them in range of the next one you draw, remembering that they can gain life with Moment of Craving and Vraska’s Contempt. Games ones are often squeakers.
I didn’t do enough games to know the right sideboard configuration. You want to keep up good responses to Doom Whisperer and Thief of Sanity, and Inescapable Blaze is vital since it is exactly right for finishing Doom Whisperer off, or its controller off if they spend life too aggressively. Negate and Dive Down have obvious attraction. The only clearly bad cards in the main are the small burn spells, Shock and Shivan Fire, and if they are leaning on Thief of Sanity those aren’t even bad, but you have enough other responses that you at least pull Shock to get Inescapable Blaze and Dive Down, then think about how many Negate you want and what comes out. I think you want about three copies of Banefire.
Your drakes staying alive is important, but even more important is that their drakes must die. They will be able to cycle through far more spells than you can, so their drakes are typically bigger, and they hit hard. If you have blockers for them, they will still trade, but they have removal with Lava Coil and Shock and they cycle through a lot of cards to find them, and may have the excellent Beacon Bolt.
The good news is that you have Shivan Fire, Banefire and Fight with Fire all of which are excellent at killing Drakes, and you have seven combined Shock and Lightning Strike to do it the hard way when they aren’t on Goblin Electromancer duty. In theory that should be able to take care of their drakes, especially when they’re not playing the full eight copies, and you can also kill them in combat.
The bad news is Dive Down. If they use that, suddenly they can get hits in even if you have enough removal spells on hand, and it doesn’t take many of those to kill you. Meanwhile they have Lava Coil for your creatures to clear a path, which is highly mana efficient. If they can afford to pack lots of copies of both, and have Beacon Bolt for the double kill, it’s going to be a bad time in game one. If they don’t have that many combined copies, things look good.
I haven’t mentioned Arclight Phoenix itself until now because it’s not that important. It isn’t that good at attacking, only hitting for three and matching up badly with every enemy. It isn’t that good at blocking either. They come back ‘for free’ and yes that can add up over time, especially if there are multiple copies, but you don’t die to Phoenix. You die to drakes, and they are spending a lot of resources configuring your deck to get their 3/2 flyers. It’s just not very impressive.
Your sideboard plan is to bring in the cards you fear, Lava Coil and Dive Down, along with Search for Azcanta, Banefire and Rekindling Phoenix. That means we need to take out seven. With tempo so important and a second Search in, you’ll want to pull Divination and Chemister’s Insight, and Lightning Strike also because everything has either 2 or 4 toughness on the other side. The last pulls are two Shocks if they don’t have Goblin Electromancer, or both Ionize if they don’t have him. You can also consider leaving in Ionize on the play but not the draw.
Given my ability to kill large men and inherent card advantage, I assumed my matchup against Boros Angels was quite good. Experience has shown this is likely an error. You have a lot of good things going on, but they cause you a lot of problems. They have Lava Coil for your Rekindling Phoenix, but theirs requires two cards to kill. Adonto Vanguard is a major problem if they have a lot of removal, and their larger threats all demand answers quickly. Dire Fleet Daredevil is remarkably annoying as well. It is easier than it looks to end up running out of resources or falling behind on tempo. Then again, this could be small sample size.
With the old sideboard, you’d bring in Lava Coil and Dive Down, and take out Shock since it doesn’t kill anything and you no longer have eggs to take down as often. Previously I was also pulling card drawing, but that looks like you can’t afford to do that unless you replace the edge.
The good news is that this is a fixable situation with Enchanting Melody. Being able to capture any of their creatures (that are still in their deck) other than Dire Fleet Daredevil is a huge game, and running copies of that should swing (or if it is already good, fortify) the entire matchup.
I had a lot of fun testing and playing the deck. After the tournament, I told various people what I was playing, and multiple pros had versions of ‘I wanted to do that, Arclight was the worst card in my deck, but my team talked me out of it or I couldn’t pull the trigger.’ I am excited to see where others take the list going forward.