I didn’t enjoy Modern leading up to the release of Modern Horizons, but thankfully that changed. It turns out that injecting 30-40 playable into a format can change perspectives.
Not too long ago, Wizards of the Coast announced a new tournament series called the European Modern Series which consists of qualifiers played in either Modern Constructed or Modern Horizons Limited. The winners qualify for the final events held in various European locations where the stakes are qualification for Mythic Championship Richmond in November. Since I intend to show up at various game stores near my hometown, I needed to find a deck to perfect over the summer.
The fieriest of Bird decks
My choice was Mono Red Phoenix which I really like in the metagame and in particular the upgrades that Modern Horizons provided. It plays out like a Burn deck in most games, but it’s better against lifegain and it gets to play the Phoenix package for the occasional unfair gameplan. Let’s dissect my current list.
2 Fiery Islet
2 Sunbaked Canyon
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Soul-Scar Mage
2 Blistercoil Weird
4 Arclight Phoenix
4 Faithless Looting
4 Gut Shot
2 Forked Bolt
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Lava Dart
4 Light Up the Stage
1 Finale of Promise
4 Surgical Extraction
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Blood Moon
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Bedlam Reveler
2 Shrine of Burning Rage
The one-drops are so important for this strategy that I went ahead and added another two to make it ten total. You want to start every game with one of these on turn one or seriously consider mulliganning.
These two best friends combine for your more broken starts, but make no mistake about hardcast firebirds being relevant to close out games. Faithless Looting lets you go off with prowess creatures as well as mitigating flood which are both big deals in Mono Red Phoenix. Looting will help you dig for impactful sideboard cards and even bring in situational ones that you can easily bin if not needed at the time they show up.
Another pair of cards that are great with the one-drops and Phoenixes. Manamorphose acts like a “free” spell that digs you into more prowess-triggers to grow your team while Light up the Stage has similar impact, but also lets you keep one-landers when combined with Gut Shot. In Midrange and Control matchups, card advantage will also be huge. Of note, both of these cards are bad against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben out of Humans, so make sure to kill her on sight and/or sideboard accordingly.
I’m a simple man. One mana for three damage is a great rate, but combined with prowess creatures, things can get out of hand quickly. The beautiful part about this deck is that Bolting opposing creatures doesn’t feel bad opposed to Burn, but Mono Red Phoenix can close out games with direct damage almost as well.Gut Shot and Surgical Extraction have been in and out of the Mono Red Phoenix lists since the start, and it always comes down to the number of Noble Hierarchs vs. the number of graveyard decks in the format. Before the bans it was very close between Hogaak’s Bridge and Humans, Infect, and Devoted Druid combined. Lava Dart is an exciting addition from Modern Horizons that lets you get two spells in one card and additional toughness 1 removal at a very low cost. Forked Bolt can mop up X/1’s and is the least embarrasing of the bunch on an empty board, and its sorcery card type will come into play later. As always, the more prowess creatures you have in play, the better these low impact cards are.
Without too much work, Finale of Promise will be a three mana, three prowess triggers, bring back one or more Phoenixes, deal five-six damage or deal three plus Looting. The effect is very powerful, but I don’t want to make my opponents’ graveyard hate potent in sideboarded games, so I settled on a single copy.
When I saw these sweet lands spoiled, I knew I wanted some number in my Mono Red Phoenix deck. Between Faithless Looting, Lava Dart and four copies of this land cycle, I feel comfortable with the balance between not flooding out and not taking too much damage against aggressive decks.
Don’t turn on their graveyard hate!
I haven’t settled on a sideboard just yet, but I’ll focus on the 15 slots I submitted for round two of Team Modern Super League where we closely lost to Reid Duke, Gabriel Nassif, and Logan Nettles 3-4, unfortunately.
Unsurprisingly, Surgical Extraction is powerful against the graveyard decks. I went with Surgical Extraction over something like Leyline of the Void or Ravenous Trap because I like how I can play them at sorcery speed to increase the clock with my creatures. Furthermore, I can cast them if they are revealed with Light up the Stage and draw into them later with Faithless Looting.
While an exile-based sweeper might look odd on paper, most games you can grow your creatures large enough to live through it and make sure that Arclight Phoenix is either in your graveyard or hand when you cast it. It will help you out against swarm decks like Humans and Devoted Druid and the sticky threats like Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam out of Dredge.
Shutting down your Scapeshift or Amulet opponent completely while also delaying Tron‘s gameplan is great, and I even boarded it in against three-colored decks like Jund and Esper with success a few times.
In a perfect world you get to kill a Chalice of the Void with one charge counter, boost your prowess creature and deal a bonus three damage in the process. Smash to Smithereens also has utility against Wurmcoil Engine to beat the lifegain ability.
This deck used to play Molten Rain in this slot, but I really like the flexibility to have your answers to Chalice of the Void and your Tron hate to overlap. If Chalice continues to trend downwards, I will go back to Molten Rain in the future.
In some matchups, facing specific hate, you want to transition into a more traditional Burn deck after sideboard, and the Shrine lets you do that. If your opponent goes overboard with graveyard hate, I have no problem cutting the Phoenixes and a few Lootings.
Once upon a time, this was a maindeck card to make sure you could refill after spending resources getting your opponent to a low life total. These days, with attrition-based matchups being relatively rare, the card advantage devil is relegated to the sideboard.
Thank you for reading about my favorite Modern deck. I might do a detailed matchup guide if there’s interest among my readers. Until next time, go crush that European Modern Series Qualifier!