11, Jun, 23

MTG Uncommon Dominates Massive Event!

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Article at a Glance

This weekend, the Pioneer format saw a multitude of unique strategies arise and put up excellent results. While many people are likely focused on the cool combo deck that started with nine wins and zero losses at the Athens Regional Championship, Izzet Drakes, an Arclight Phoenix-style deck that instead utilizes Crackling Drake, put up a dominant performance in Friday’s Magic Online Super Qualifier. With two players making top eight with nearly identical decklists, this deck deserves a shout-out.

Primary Gameplan

Treasure Cruise

The core of the deck is very reminiscent of Izzet Phoenix decks in Pioneer. It plays lots of cheap spells ranging from cantrips like Consider to efficient removal spells such as Fiery Impulse to advance its gameplan. By filling the graveyard with all these cheap spells, the deck also gets to make use of one of the most powerful cards legal in the format: Treasure Cruise. Treasure Cruise is an amazing card, hence it remaining banned in Modern and Legacy. However, without Fetchlands in Pioneer, it takes a bit more work to abuse this elite card-drawing spell. Izzet Phoenix also got to make use of this card, so what differs between these two decks?

The main difference is the win condition. Izzet Phoenix is focused on landing copies of Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, then using cheap spells to trigger their return to the battlefield. Izzet Drakes, however, plays zero copies of Phoenix. Instead, its only Creatures are Ledger Shredder and Crackling Drake, both of which pair nicely with cheap spells. Ledger Shredder is a great card on its own, but also helps fuel Treasure Cruise and Crackling Drake with its Connive ability. Crackling Drake provides the deck with a massive threat to close games with. For only four mana, Crackling Drake is often capable of killing the opponent in one shot, and even draws a card when it enters the battlefield. It’s common to see Phoenix decks with some copies of this card in their sideboard, but this deck takes full advantage of their power by playing four copies in the maindeck!

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Need for Speed

Crackling Drake

Eschewing the Arclight Phoenix plan may seem strange, but there are a lot of benefits to fully committing to the Crackling Drake gameplan. First, Arclight Phoenix, while resilient as a recurring threat, is a relatively slow clock at only three power. Crackling Drake provides a much faster clock, which is extremely important given the rise in combo decks and fast linear strategies in Pioneer. Izzet Phoenix has historically struggled with fast combo decks like Lotus Field combo where the deck’s plethora of removal spells have few targets, and its clock is fairly slow. Crackling Drake not only kills quicker, but it isn’t reliant on cards like Lightning Axe and other discard outlets to enable its gameplan.

This brings us to the second benefit the deck has over Izzet Phoenix. Izzet Phoenix was forced to run a lot of clunky cards like Pieces of the Puzzle and Chart a Course to guarantee that copies of Arclight Phoenix would end up in the graveyard and not get stranded in hand. Pieces was also necessary in providing access to three spells consistently to bring the Phoenixes back from the graveyard. This left minimal room for flex slots, which Izzet Drakes makes full use of. Instead of running Pieces, Izzet Drakes gets to play a playset of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, which is great on its own and as a discard outlet to fuel Treasure Cruise. The deck also gets to play a full four copies of Spell Pierce to both help push through Crackling Drake as well as protect against opposing combos from the opponent.

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Graveyard Hate is Less Effective

Rest in Peace

The third benefit this deck has, and perhaps the most important, is that it is less vulnerable to graveyard hate. While cards like Rest in Peace still help versus Treasure Cruise, they are inneffective against Crackling Drake itself, because it counts cards in exile. With the popularity of graveyard-centric combo decks like Abzan Greasefang, being able to dodge everyone’s splash hate is super important, which was a major weakness with Izzet Phoenix in the current metagame.

This decklist strikes a good balance between removal, cantrips, efficient Creatures, and ways to pull ahead. Another nice bonus this deck has is that, by playing four copies of Ledger Shredder, it is easy to pitch excess copies of potentially dead cards like Spell Pierce or Fiery Impulse, depending on the matchup. This deck’s gameplan is efficient and cohesive. It makes sense why it had a great weekend.

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Issues with Resiliency

Rending Volley

If this deck has any clear weakness, it is the lack of resiliency that a deck like Izzet Phoenix has more of. This deck does not play a ton of threats. While it isn’t as vulnerable to the rise of graveyard hate in Pioneer, players are well-prepared for decks like Greasefang with an abundance of Rending Volleys across lots of people’s sideboards. This deck definitely gets hurt by cards like that, especially because Rending Volley can’t be countered by Spell Pierce. Cards like Mystical Dispute are also quite effective against Crackling Drake. Without access to recursive threats, playing efficient ways to deal with this deck’s win conditions and draw spells like Treasure Cruise can be an effective gameplan.

That being said, Izzet Drakes has the tools to adapt. It wouldn’t surprise me if Izzet Drakes players started adding some additional threats like Young Pyromancer to the sideboard to try to have a better shot fighting through removal. Players over the weekend were already playing copies of Mazemind Tome in the sideboard as additional ways to out-grind their opponents. Expect to see more of this deck in the coming weeks and be ready for Izzet Drakes players to come prepared!

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