Izzet Phoenix, or “Birds” as I like to call it, is an incredible good deck that has been dominating Modern since the printing of Arclight Phoenix. I managed to win SCG Philadelphia with it last month, finshing with a strong record of 15-2-1. I plan on playing this deck in all of my future Modern events going forward as the deck is the most powerful thing to be doing in the format.

What makes Izzet Phoenix so powerful is how consistent the deck is. The deck plays twenty cantrips, many of which see multiple cards, making it incredibly likely to deploy Arclight Phoenix during the very early turns of the game or lead to explosive combats steps on turn three with Thing in The Ice. The cantrips also provide a strong late game as you can filter out (and I’m not exaggerating here) every bad card you draw via Faithless Looting.

The Deck

This is my current list and what I will most likely be playing at SCG Cleveland this weekend:

Modern Izzet Phoenix by Austin Collins

Creatures (11)
Crackling Drake
Arclight Phoenix
Thing in the Ice
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (31)
Thought Scour
Faithless Looting
Surgical Extraction
Flame Slash
Lightning Axe
Serum Visions
Sleight of Hand
Lightning Bolt
Pyromancer Ascension
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Wooded Foothills
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand

Sideboard (15)
Beacon Bolt
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Dragon's Claw
Surgical Extraction
Ravenous Trap
Spell Pierce
Blood Moon

So let’s talk about this list compared to some others you might see. The most notable difference in my build is the inclusion of Sleight of Hand over Opt. Sleight of Hand enables the deck to be a better combo deck while also being better than Opt in the late game as it allows you to see more cards. This allows you to maximize information and make the best possible choice, while sacrificing a little bit of flexibility due to it being a sorcery. It is likely that overall it doesn’t really matter which one you play, though, so it’s mostly up to personal preference.

How to Sideboard With Izzet Phoenix

Let’s get to the breakdown of some of the more popular matchups in Modern at the moment.


I’ll start off with Dredge. I’m just gonna use Abe Corrigan’s list from SCG Philadelphia to give an example of what the lists usually look like.

Modern Dredge by Abe Corrigan

Creatures (18)
Prized Amalgam
Golgari Thug
Stinkweed Imp

Spells (23)
Creeping Chill
Cathartic Reunion
Faithless Looting
Life from the Loam
Lands (19)
Mana Confluence
Copperline Gorge
Arid Mesa
Scalding Tarn
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Gemstone Mine

Sideboard (15)
Assassin’s Trophy
Collective Brutality
Surgical Extraction
Nature’s Claim
Ancient Grudge
Lightning Axe

We have a few different game plans vs Dredge. For Game 1, in really no order, our game plans are:

A. Play Thing in the Ice and flip it to try and push lethal damage through.

Make sure to play around your opponent fetching and triggering Bloodghast to bring back Prized Amalgam after you flip Thing in the Ice. Save Surgical Extraction for Conflagrate.

B. Use Surgical Extraction on all of the Dredgers.

It’s a bit easier to Surgical Dredge’s enablers than all of their threats, as you only have to Surgical Stinkweed Imp, Life From the Loam, and Golgari Thug, compared to Narcomoeba, Bloodghast, Conflagrate, and Creeping Chill. This also stops them from playing Imp and blocking every turn, which is a major road block, and using Surgical to exile Life From the Loam pretty much turns off Blooghast and Conflagrate.

Honestly this is a game plan I didn’t use nearly enough as a result of me just tunnel visioning plan C. It’s better than plan C if you have at least two Surgicals.

C. Exile all of their payoffs.

These include Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, Conflagrate, and Creeping Chill. You shouldn’t target Prized Amalgam because it is heavily reliant on enablers, so exiling Narcomoeba and Bloodghast turns it off.

Make sure your opponent doesn’t have a fetch land if you plan on targeting Bloodghast with Surgical Extraction.

For sideboarding:

-2 Drakes -2 Axes -1 Slash – 2 Pyromancer’s Ascension
+2 Blood Moon +1 Surgical +2 Trap +2 Pierce

Whir Prison

Not really a whole lot to say about this matchup in Game 1—try and get in as much early damage as possible and burn them out with bolts before they can land an Ensnaring Bridge. Using Thing in the Ice to bounce Thopters can buy you time.

In sideboarded games don’t use Shatterstorm until you can attack for lethal through an Ensnaring Bridge. Ideally, the plan is to hold up Spell Pierce or Dispel to counter a instant-speed Whir of Invention.

Though this matchup is pretty bad, the deck list does provide you with a few paths to victory. Whir only has a few cards we respect, so I would use my Thought Scours to mill them in hopes of milling Academy Ruins, Ensnaring Bridge, Ipnu Rivelet, or Crucible of Worlds. If you can mill any of those and Surgical it, especially the Academy Ruins, because if you mill that they no longer had a way of returning artifacts from the graveyhard to the hand and you (most likely) win. This isn’t true if they choose not to play Bottled Cloister, so I’d wait to Surgical for as long as possible in hopes of them playing it.

Some lists play the Sword of the Meek combo and this plan is worse against them, but you probably still correct to try and mill an Ensnaring Bridge and Surgical it.

Here is the usual Whir Prison list:

Modern Whir Prison

Spells (8)
Whir of Invention
Ancient Stirrings

Artifacts (31)
Damping Sphere
Sorceress Spyglass
Grafdigger’s Cage
Witchbane Orb
Mox Opal
Mishra’s Bauble
Bottled Cloister
Crucible of Worlds
Engineered Explosives
Welding Jar
Chalice of the Void
Ensnaring Bridge
Tormod’s Crypt
Lands (21)
Ipnu Rivulet
Spire of Industry
Botanical Sanctum
Inventors’ Fair
Tectonic Edge
Tolaria West
Academy Ruins
Snow-Covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Unmoored Ego
Sai, Master Thopterist
Sorceress Spyglass
Ghirapur Aether Grid
Torpor Orb
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

And here’s the sideboard plan:

-1 Slash -2 Axe -4 Bolt -2 Sleight of Hand
+1 Shatterstorm +2 Pierce +1 Surgical +2 Abrade +1 Chandra +2 Blood Moon

GB Rock

Modern GB Rock

Creatures (16)
Dark Confidant
Scavenging Ooze
Tireless Tracker
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (16)
Assassin’s Trophy
Fatal Push
Collective Brutality
Inquisition of Kozilek
Maelstrom Pulse

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lands (24)
Blooming Marsh
Field of Ruin
Hissing Quagmire
Overgrown Tomb
Treetop Village
Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Engineered Explosives
Grafdigger’s Cage
Nihil Spellbomb
Fulminator Mage
Kitchen Finks
Surgical Extraction
Nissa, Vital Force
Collective Brutality

So in this matchup you on whether your hand looks like to be grindy or aggressive. If you have a T2 or T3 Phoenix, I would try and be aggressive and top bolts, Serum Visions, and other cantrips to try anbd burn them out. Otherwise I would try and play a grindy game with Phoenix where I play around Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Scavenging Ooze and save removal for them. Being aggressive is the ideal game plan, though.

My sideboarding depends a lot on whether I’m on the play or the draw. I think Spell Pierce good on the play but bad on the draw, for example.

On the play:
+1 Chandra +2 Spell Pierce +1 Beacon

On the draw:
+1 Chandra +1 Beacon

I cut a mix of Surgical Extraction and Sleight of Hand to accommodate those cards.

Izzet Phoenix

Your main game plans are A) to answer all of the threats in your opponent’s deck with Surgical Extraction or B) just run them over.

The mirror is pretty grindy and Plan A is what happens the most often as Surgical on Phoenix is a common line so it’s hard to run people over. Having the Flame Slash makes you favored in the mirror because it answers Thing in the Ice. Once you have their Phoenixes exiled, I would target Thing in the Ice next with Surgical than Crackling Drake. Remember you can use Surgical to pump your own Drake by exiling your own cards, or you can use it by flipping Thing in the Ice to return a Drake or a Pheonix in play to your opponent’s hand…and then Surgical it from there.

My sideboarding would be as such:

-4 bolt -3 Scour
+ 1 Beacon + 2 Pierce  +1 Surgical +2 dispel + 1 Chandra

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