A Guide Through Modern's Road Less Traveled
It's not often that a new set brings forth an entirely novel deck but that's exactly what happened with Guilds of Ravnica and
Arclight Phoenix. People were fixated, and rightly so, on
Assassin's Trophy and what its effect on Jund and Modern in general would be. No one gave much thought to the recursive Phoenix beyond various degrees of "this card looks fun, but I don't see it breaking into competitive lists" (even my own GRN Modern Review relegated it to budget status while in the same breath, almost nailing what future lists would look like). Flash forward a few weeks to Starcitygames' Dallas Modern Open: lo and behold, there are more copies of Arclight than
Assassin's Trophy in the top 20. Suffice to say, people are definitely thinking about
Arclight Phoenix now.
How did we get here? Well, to the best of my knowledge, it all started with Twitch streamer h0lydiver's brewing before the 5-0 lists started to trickle in (Archangelic76 being first).
Runaway Red, Archangelic76 (5-0)
4 Arclight Phoenix 4 Bedlam Reveler 4 Desperate Ritual 4 Faithless Looting 4 Fiery Temper 2 Insult // Injury 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Manamorphose 18 Mountain 4 Pyretic Ritual 3 Risk Factor 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 1 Snow-Covered Mountain 2 Abrade 3 Anger of the Gods 3 Blood Moon 3 Ravenous Trap 1 Risk Factor 3 Shrine of Burning Rage
The deck plays out like an awesome frankenstein of Storm and
Vengevine strategies. Lots of neat synergies going on here. The deck is packed to the brim with cheap/mana-positive instants and sorceries to trigger Arclight, all of which wind up pairing very nicely with
Risk Factor, and
Bedlam Reveler as well.
If you ever untap with a Steam-Kin and a
Faithless Looting, look out world. Reveler also gives you an out for the times you would have otherwise fizzled (a real threat for a deck running 8 rituals). The deck has hyper-explosive potential in game one while being quite hard to interact with (Arclight counts spells cast, not resolved). It's game two where the cracks start to show.
If your opponent has graveyard hate your card advantage engines are effectively shut down and you become exceedingly weak to spot removal, board sweepers, and even counterspells. The deck is unapologetically all-in and it is absolutely a wild ride to pilot (I highly recommend taking it for a spin if you get the chance). I've likened it to Affinity in that while you have a great game one, almost every opponent will massively improve their odds against you postboard: fingers crossed for that opening hand.
In response to some of the original build's weaknesses (and I imagine to combat the mirror), we have started to see an Izzet version surface. In fact, it was the only Arclight strategy represented in Dallas last weekend (congrats to Evan Moughon for 16th place) and has been gaining steam in the 5-0 lists too. These lists have stuck with the Reveler plan so far but have splashed for both additional threats, (
Thing in the Ice) enablers (
Chart a Course/
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy/
Serum Visions), and juicy sideboard countermagic.
I noticed this trend towards blue while trying to make a completely different deck, focused around
Snapcaster Mage and
Mission Briefing. And, if you know me at all by now you already know the end to this story. I didn't have to squint too hard to realize I was VERY interested in jamming 8 Snaps into an Arclight Phoenix shell.
8 Snap: Arclight, Tier Fun
4 Arclight Phoenix 4 Burst Lightning 1 Cascade Bluffs 4 Faithless Looting 1 Ionize 5 Island 4 Izzet Charm 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Manamorphose 4 Mission Briefing 1 Mountain 4 Scalding Tarn 1 Shivan Reef 4 Snapcaster Mage 4 Spirebluff Canal 3 Steam Vents 4 Thing in the Ice 4 Thought Scour 3 Anger of the Gods 2 Blood Moon 3 Dispel 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 1 Keranos, God of Storms 2 Negate 1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun 2 Ravenous Trap
It didn't make sense to me that the Izzet Arclight lists were sticking to the
Bedlam Reveler plan when they could instead make proactive use of their graveyard. Snapcaster and
Mission Briefing are definitely more virtual card advantage than the draw 3 of Reveler, but 8 Snaps synergize perfectly with the theme of the rest of the deck: casting spells for value. Heck,
Mission Briefing itself pulls double trigger duty for Arclight and
Thing in the Ice. It seems like an absolute no brainer to double dip on those spells we're tossing into the graveyard while also giving us yet another route to victory with the time honored Bolt-Snap-Bolt.
I also switched out
Fiery Temper, the most swingy card in the Mono Red list, for a good old fashioned
Shock with upside:
Burst Lightning. I wanted to have a critical mass of burn spells to fuel our 8 Snaps but I expected to trim them during the deck refining process. It turns out going out of our way to make sure we can start the Snap-Bolt train on turn 3 is worth playing a typically sub-optimal card. That being said, Mission Briefing allows you to pay kicker costs so there is some upside there too. People have already suggested
Rift Bolt to me and while I think that card would fit in well here, I value both the instant speed and easy flashback cost very highly. Your mileage may vary.
Sideboard though, sideboard is where the big changes come. My goal with the sideboard is to be able to pivot into a more midrange Izzet strategy that isn't reliant on the graveyard. The strategy is to almost always bring in
Jace, the Mind Sculptor and
Keranos, God of Storms, while sprinkling in other cards where necessary. I love the idea in theory, but I think I will try out
Ancestral Vision and
Ral, Izzet Viceroy in addition to those two going forward. I think I was much too greedy with
Niv-Mizzet, Parun, even against
Path to Exile decks.
We are able to play
Anger of the Gods thanks to the
Thing in the Ice plan. This card is incredibly well positioned out of the sideboard right now, acting as premium removal against a whole swath of decks: Dredge, Runaway Red, and even Humans/aggro in general. Combine that with a healthy dose of counterspells and the sideboard is ready for anything Modern can throw at it.
I'll definitely be addressing the mana base going forward, probably increasing the land count back to twenty and swapping some islands for
Shivan Reef or fetch lands. I'm also fairly excited to try a Grixis version as
Collective Brutality seems incredible and hand disruption might be a better sideboard strategy too. Basically, I hope you take away from this article that
Arclight Phoenix strategies are powerful, here to stay, and 100% not perfected yet. So get brewing and put your stamp on the Guilds of Ravnica era of Modern!