Arclight Phoenix continues to rise in Modern. Izzet Phoenix has occupied roughly one sixth of the metagame over the previous six weeks. Players have raised concerns that the deck is too powerful for Modern.

Despite these claims, I believe Modern is in a healthy position, and we’re not looking at the whole picture when it comes to evaluating data. This week I go into how Izzet Phoenix is misunderstood, what strategies are available to counteract it, and why it’s become so popular.

Phoenix Dominance

It’s difficult to ignore Izzet Phoenix’s dominance in Modern recently, but it’s easy to assume the worst with the numbers presented. Over the last few weeks, Izzet Phoenix saw roughly 20% of the Day 2 metagame at both MagicFest Tampa and Bilbao—enough to concern players about the health of the format. However, we see this trend regularly from the “best decks” in Modern.

Five-Color Humans from 2018 provides a good example. Hagen Kirk of the Masters of Modern Podcast supplied the following data:

Humans Metagame Share
Date Period (2018)
Humans Total Share
6th Jan – 17th Feb 48 568 8.45%
10th Feb – 24th March 16 208 7.69%
10th March – 13th April 18 195 9.23%
7th April – 20th May 34 287 11.97%
5th May – 10th June 48 427 11.24%
2nd June – July 15th 51 507 10.06%
14th July – 25th August 36 354 10.17%
24th August – 6th October 39 398 9.80%
6th October – 4th November 22 248 8.87%
3rd November – 9th December 28 392 7.14%

As you can see from these rolling six-week periods, Humans progressively became popular and reached close to 12% of the metagame back mid-2018. It achieved close to the same popularity of Izzet Phoenix currently. There were calls for Aether Vial to be banned. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Ancient Ziggurat leave Modern at the time—the Humans manabase is remarkably consistent.

Modern is great at readjusting to the “best deck” however, which led to a resurgence of Bant Spirits. Humans is still a potent deck and back on the rise again with Anafenza, the Foremost as a hoser to graveyard strategies. We saw a similar trend the year before when Grixis Death’s Shadow ruled Modern in 2017. Again, by looking at Hagen’s data, we see a different story.

Grixis Death’s Shadow Metagame Share
Date Period (2017)
GDS Total Share
27th May – 2nd July 31 259 11.97%
17th June – 23rd July 21 171 12.28 %
22nd July – 8th August 34 354 9.60%
2nd September – 22nd October 22 384 5.73%
14th October – 19th November 19 333 5.71%
4th November – 10th December 28 427 6.56%

As with Humans, Grixis Death’s Shadow held roughly 12% of the metagame in mid-2017. Eventually, we saw Eldrazi Tron counteract Grixis Death Shadow strategies, hence the number decreasing later in the year. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the most represented deck is too good or too powerful for Modern, but this is far from the case. All the data tells us is that these archetypes were popular with various other archetypes achieving success in this time.

Phoenix Rises in Popularity

Izzet Phoenix has become popular in the current Modern metagame because it is considered to be the “best deck.” Modern takes time to learn and understand. That time isn’t always available to everyone, meaning players will sacrifice time for convenience by playing the most popular or seemingly powerful deck. Izzet Phoenix provides a default option for competitive players as it’s pulling up results even in an unknown metagame.

There’s also a mindset similar to what Splinter Twin presented in past Modern: if you can’t beat it, join it. Players are choosing to sleeve up Arclight Phoenix rather than figuring out how to beat them. I don’t believe this mindset to be correct in regards to the state of current Modern, however. There are plenty of answers to Izzet Phoenix in Whir Prison, Grixis Death’s Shadow, and Tron. Learning those decks takes time and work, so for many it is easier to keep playing the Arclight Phoenixes they’ve already learned in Standard.

Sideboarding Against Phoenix

Players misunderstand how to sideboard against the deck. Izzet Phoenix attacks on different angles, which means you need broad answers in your sideboard. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the graveyard due to recurring Arclight Phoenixes, but Izzet Phoenix doesn’t require the namesake card to win. Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void offer very little in the matchup, and you can be overwhelmed with Awoken Horrors and Crackling Drakes instead.

There are some ideal answers to Izzet Phoenix, which offer a broader response to the deck’s various angles of attacks.

Runed Halo is a niche card, and the double white mana can be demanding; however, Runed Halo presents plenty of insurance against the heavy hitters of Izzet Phoenix. Being an enchantment is difficult to remove in Izzet colours and can offer protection from Arclight Phoenixes and Awoken Horrors. I don’t expect to see Runed Halo be played commonly, but it’s something to ponder if you’re currently playing a white-based deck in Modern.

I’ve written plenty about Chalice in Modern. Although I feel the best home for Chalice of the Void is in Whir Prison, that deck presents a unique playstyle which isn’t for everyone. Arclight Phoenix is a spell-hungry card, so resource denial can slow the deck down. It also disrupts Grixis Death’s Shadow and other decks full of one-mana spells.

Answering the board is more important against Izzet Phoenix than focsuing on the graveyard. Path to Exile does the best work in Modern; it answers Awoken Horror just as easily as Arclight Phoenix. Path offers board control and doesn’t require as many resources as sideboard cards like Rest in Peace.

Access to exile effects also helps Tron against Izzet Phoenix (and Dredge). Ugin, the Spirit Dragon can wipe out an entire army of creatures from Izzet. Karn Liberated does work here as well, and both offer inevitability as you slowly exile all of their threats.

Although we’re seeing Izzet Phoenix rising to the top of various Modern events over the last month, this doesn’t mean Modern is defined by it. There are plenty of strategies to beat Izzet. Modern always finds a way to reconfigure the metagame. We’re beginning to see this with the rise of Tron and Whir Prison, and I expect to see this continue leading up the Mythic Championships in April. Modern isn’t dead, the sky isn’t falling and we need to stop jumping to poor conclusions when a popular deck is present in Modern. I’m confident Modern will realign, and I expect Modern Horizons to make an impact in June.

Emma is a writer and Modern enthusiast based in Suffolk, England. She has been involved in Magic since Khans of Tarkir’s release back in 2014, but won’t shy away from Cube and MTG Arena. Follow her on Twitter @emmmzyne to join in on the conversation!

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.