Pioneer Izzet Phoenix Post-(Un)bans Guide
11/12/2023 · 14 min read
Pioneer is a strange world that is to be a place for your Standard cards to go after rotation yet it encompasses 10 years of Magic’s history, resulting in a format with a power level difficult to describe. On a spectrum between Standard and Modern, I’d probably lie in the middle-ish, leaning towards the former.
If we operate under the aforementioned description, I am really happy to register Ancestral Recall that seems (and is!) far beyond anything else that’s happening in the format.
This guide will go in-depth describing the deck that I’d taken under my wings (wink wink) to great success. I will also touch on the (un)bans later in the piece.
Spread your wings my beloved birds! Izzet Phoenix is here to take over Pioneer.
(7 - 1 - 1)
77% in — 10-Dec-2023
|4 Picklock Prankster
|4 Arclight Phoenix
|4 Ledger Shredder
|2 Spell Pierce
|4 Fiery Impulse
|4 Lightning Axe
|2 Spikefield Hazard
|1 Galvanic Iteration
|4 Treasure Cruise
|1 Temporal Trespass
|4 Sleight of Hand
|4 Steam Vents
|4 Spirebluff Canal
|4 Riverglide Pathway
|2 Hall of Storm Giants
|1 Stormcarved Coast
|1 Otawara, Soaring City
|3 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
|2 Crackling Drake
|2 Disdainful Stroke
|3 Mystical Dispute
|2 Brotherhood's End
A couple of weeks back, I had a paper tournament to play and it was Pioneer. As I am a blue mage at heart, I had to choose between different options such as Azorius Control, Azorius Lotus Field, Izzet Phoenix, Izzet Control.
My heart told me to go with the birds as I fundamentally enjoy a xerox-style gameplay with a lot of agency provided by cantrips and there I was - with a sleeved up copy of Izzet Phoenix. When playtesting, my friends told me that I keep getting busted hands to which I replied: ‘Maybe that’s just how the deck is?’. Spoiler - I was right.
Long story short, I went 7-1-1, taking down the tourney. I was elated, excited, and ready to keep playing Phoenix for as long as Wotc allows me to.
A Trick: Sleight of Hand
When previewed, Sleight of Hand was to immediately slot into Phoenix with the caveat that it’d have to replace Opt or Consider - and it was really tough to make the choice. After a very short amount of time, the collective hive mind realized that the best way to go about it was to simply add it as yet another cantrip, resulting in a total of 12 on the list. This has made the deck smoother and cleaner, and has allowed for the trivial casting of three spells on turn three, thanks to the ability to chain cantrips and also due to having a lower curve overall.
A Hero: Picklock Prankster
The story of the tournament for me though was Picklock Prankster. This unassuming Fae carried *hard* all day. Essentially, it was a turn two play that cantripped and milled over a bunch of cards. The reason why it’s so good is that you get card selection, can mill over a Phoenix, *and* fuel a future Treasure Cruise!
I did have turns where a turn two Fae allowed me to Cruise on turn three while bringing back a Phoenix.
On top of that, in dryer games where stars did not align as well, playing Prankster as a creature from the adventure zone gave me a bit of time, since it acted as a throw-away blocker. It triggered connive a few times as well!
Last but not least, it worked super well in interactive games, as I could easily pass the turn and either play a removal spell or, if the opponent did nothing, cast Free the Fae and progress my own plan.
I do believe that Prankster has breathed new life into the deck and I am happy to register four copies.
The deck plays four copies of each - Opt, Consider, Sleight of Hand. While they are largely interchangeable, they do differ.
Consider is the best of the bunch, as it fuels the graveyard in addition to doing card selection - it might even flip over a Phoenix. Opt is better when you play instant speed and Sleight when you’re looking for a specific card - with Opt you don’t know if the second card down is even worse than the one on top while with Sleight you see both immediately.
This distinction won’t matter most games but you may have spots where you mulligan and need to put back a cantrip. But as long as you keep Consider, you should be fine.
The deck is rife with interaction so as not to fall behind too much early in the game. Fiery Impulse is an excellent way to kill Llanowar Elf and Greasefang Okiba Boss. It will almost any threat early in the game, which is where it shines the most.
Lightning Axe is your catch-all that very few creatures dodge. Most notably it kills Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, getting rid of which for a single mana is a massive tempo swing. You can also kill big Ledger Shredders, Knight-Errant of Eos, Venerated Loxodon, or Lier, Disciple of the Drowned.
Crucially, the discard part could be considered an upside in this deck, as it’s a very cheap and clean way of ditching Phoenix to later return them.
Spell Pierce & Jwari Disruption
sniping opposing Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Farewell can be backbreaking
Sometimes you also see maindeck countermagic like Spell Pierce or Jwari Disruption. While fundamentally counter-synergistic, as you want to play spells main phase rather than on the opponent’s turn, sniping opposing Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Farewell can be backbreaking. You can also connive them away if you reckon they won’t come in too handy.
There are three key creatures in the deck - Picklock Prankster, Arclight Phoenix, and Ledger Shredder. I’ve already talked about the first, so let’s dive into the other two.
Arclight Phoenix is our namesake that needs to introduction. Snare Thopter that rises from the ashes if we meet the condition of casting at least three instants or sorceries.
In order to support it, we need two elements - putting it into the grave and casting the requisite number of spells.
The first requirement is fulfilled thanks to Lightning Axe, Ledger Shredder connive, and sometimes the clean-up spell if you’ve really Cruised your way through the game. The second is also pretty trivial with over 20 one-mana spells in the deck, over half of which cantrip.
There will be games where the best plan is to hardcast it and block, putting it into the graveyard in the process. Don’t be afraid to attack with it either! Haste is there for a reason and you’d be surprised how many games I’ve played came down to hardcasting Bird after Bird and riding them to victory.
The second key piece to the deck is Ledger Shredder. We already know it’s a great discard outlet, but it’s much more than that. With our extraordinary capabilities of casting a flurry of spells every turn, it provides card selection and a sizeable body.
In postboard games in particular, being able to discard an uncastable Treasure Cruise under Rest in Peace or Fiery Impulse when the opponent has no creatures is invaluable. Furthermore, it introduces a subtle subgame of false tempo where the opponent is highly disincentivized from casting multiple spells in order not to trigger your connive ability. That’s good either way as you get connive or they don’t progress their plan as much as they could.
The best draws include turn two Ledger into turn three triple spelling, conniving a Phoenix, and smashing in the air for 5 damage.
Don’t tell anyone but Arclight Phoenix is not the best part about this deck! It might as well be called Izzet Delve, as the raw power comes from Treasure Cruise and Temporal Trespass.
Arclight Phoenix is not the best part about this deck! It might as well be called Izzet Delve
The fact that you have a draw three effect in the deck affects your play patterns to a significant extent. You can easily assume a control role, trading one-for-one, knowing that eventually you will gas up. Seeing control players pay four mana to draw two cards is laughable in the face of your Ancestral Recall.
Temporal Trespass and Galvanic Iteration
Temporal Trespass and Galvanic Iteration are a combo of sorts that the deck has access to. It allows you to go over the top of any deck and almost win out of nowhere. While frequently cut post board, it’s an excellent tool to have access to in game ones.
Izzet Phoenix After The (Un)Bans
Since my tournament win, the format has experienced a B&R announcement. In it, Geological Appraiser and Karn, the Great Creator where banned and Smuggler’s Copter was unbanned.
In short, I think it’s an excellent spot for Phoenix. Fiery Impulse, Lighting Axe, and Brotherhood’s End all align very well against Copter decks and Copter itself.
No Mono Green frees up some slots and you can eschew playing Disdainful Stroke. There is also less pressure on having turn one removal for Elves.
However, as far as I’m concerned one could very easily resubmit the same 75 I played as it matches up well against what’s happening. Disdainful Stroke I talked about still hits Lotus Field Combo, Azorius Lotus, Azorius Control, Keruga Fires, and many more.
Tips & Tricks
#1. Sleight of Patience
If you’re on the play game one with Sleight of Hand, you might want to wait on it instead of firing it off immediately, since you don’t know the matchup yet. If you see Spell Pierce and Fiery Impulse, you have no idea which to take. Patience is key sometimes.
#2 Connive with the Stack
With Ledger Shredder and no Phoenixes in hand, you can trigger connive, hold priority, and play an instant speed card draw spell to dig as deep as possible. It gives you a chance to draw into Phoenix to then discard it to the on-stack-held connive.
#3 Exile Wisely
When exiling cards for your delve spells, remember that you don’t want to accidentally turn off spell mastery for Fiery Impulse.
When copying Lightning Axe with Galvanic Iteration, you do *not* need to discard an additional card.
#5 Don’t Copy!
If you copy animated Hall of Storm Giants with flipped Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you will get a tapped land, not an untapped creature.
#6 EOT Fables
If you have two flipped Fables, you can iteratively keep copying them as many times as you have mana to create N tapped creatures. If you do it on the opponent’s end step, you will get to untap with all of them and attack for a lot of damage.
#7 Picklock Prankster
In very aggressive matchups, you might want to play Picklock Prankster as a creature on turn two.
You can Spell Pierce your own spell just to add to the spells-played count and bring back Phoenixes.
#9 Role Land
Remember that Spikefield Hazard is a land but better, as you can just cast it for the spell count or connive away to Ledger to get a counter.
When faced with taxing effects like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, you can over-delve with Treasure Cruise and still pay just one mana.
I assume a control-ish role in this matchup. If we trade resources, we’re the ones with a recurring threat and draw threes. You have to be wary of graveyard hate and adapt accordingly. If you see them being very aggressive, you can keep more removal in.
The conventional wisdom is to cut Ledger Shredder but if they Fatal Push it, they are not pushing Crackling Drake. And if they don’t have the removal, Ledger can really get out of hand.
Similar to Rakdos Midrange with the main difference is that the threat base is more diverse. Brotherhood’s End can really do a number on them, especially if they a Smuggler’s Copter version. Wiping Witch’s Oven, Copter, and some artifact tokens at the same time feels super tasty.
My best advice is to take as little early damage as possible so as not to be dead to a couple of Cat Oven loops. I will happily kill a turn two Bloodtithe Harvester.
It is not impossible to win without Brotherhoo’d end although it certainly helps. I would think very hard about keeping a hand that has neither End nor Ledger. Having both would be a dream as they would likely trigger connive, you’d discard a nonland, and making Ledger immune to End.
In this matchup, there will be spots where you have to turn the corner and swing the race in your favour. Don’t miss the window!
We become Izzet Control of sorts that has more angle of attack than they do. Picklock Prankster can sometimes force them to spend mana on their turn and open a window for you to resolve Fable.
Tip here is to remember to hardcast Phoenixes.
Counter-tip - don’t walk into The Wandering Emperor too easily, especially with Phoenix.
It’s also really important to kill your own Phoenixes in response to exile removal - a crucial thing to remember for game ones.
Lotus Field Combo
Arguably the toughest matchup. The best and only tip is not to over-rely on interaction. You need to establish an early clock like Ledger or Fable (or both), and then you can try to be disruptive with countermagic.
Be mindful of Thought Distortion. They often play to it to clear the way and kill you the following turn. If you expect a lot of Lotus and/or Distortion, you can play Narset’s Reversal.
Mono White Humans
We assume a control role, killing everything on site. Ledger Shredder is an excellent card here but you might see a couple of Portable Holes sided in on the grounds of Ledger being really good.
When evaluating your opening hand, always ask yourself if that given hand loses to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. This is by far the most important part of the matchup.
The mirror will revolve a lot around the Iteration Trespass combo. The player without it in the deck is heavily disadvantaged and the player with more copies is naturally favoured.
These matchups play out vastly differently depending on how players approach them, so you will have to adapt on the fly.
Izzet Phoenix is a very well positioned xerox-style deck that abuses the most powerful spell in the format - Treasure Cruise. It matches up very well against creature strategies and can be adapted to have better matchups wherever it might lack. Although it can be pretty challenging for beginners, it's a great deck to pick up to level up your gaming skills.