Enough With The ‘Izzet’ Jokes Already!

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Commander

Editor’s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Izzet theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles about the red-blue guild to join our regular features. And don’t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.

Welcome to Izzet theme week! To be fair, this is the end of Izzet theme week, but I’m nothing if not chronically late for everything. By the way… did everyone hear there’s a product called Commander’s Arsenal coming out this fall?

In all seriousness, I want to take a look at the practical applications Izzet brings to Commander. This will be a little less of an overview on the guild than the Azorius article I did a few weeks back, and the lines are going to be blurred a bit more too. This time, I’m less interested in what cards and strategies are (or are not) Izzet, and I’m far more interested in what the colors and the combination offer Commander players in general. And I want to have some fun in the process. That’s what Commander is all about, after all.

Personally, Izzet is a far better fit for me than Azorius. Removing the dreary law and order that white naturally imposes and replacing it with the wild and unpredictable red is an instant upgrade in options. Turbo-Wrath.dec also makes me glaze over a bit and start actively wondering about random things, such as if I left the oven on this morning, or if there’s any good television on tonight. That’s not the play experience I’m looking for.

There’s also the fact that my flagship deck (which can’t seem to decide if it’s an Intet, the Dreamer deck or a Riku of Two Reflections deck) is for all intents and purposes an Izzet build with a green splash. Plus, that Return to Ravnica identity quiz told me I’m Izzet as well. So there’s that.

What Izzet Izzn’t

I thought it would be a good idea to first look at the shortcomings of the color combination before moving forward. And there are a few important ones to take note of:

No Enchantment Removal

Red is very good at hating on artifacts, and blue is pretty decent at bouncing permanents of all varieties, but as a whole, this color combination is pretty terrible at dealing with enchantments. If there is an Enchantress deck in your local metagame, plan on splashing to be able to handle it. Also, get very used to hearing “how much are you paying for that?” from anyone playing Rhystic Study. That card alone might be worth the splash.

If you’re trying to deal with enchantments in these colors, get used to either stealing them with cards like Confiscate or leaning incredibly heavily on Chaos Warp and the luck of the draw.

No Unconditional Creature Removal

Red brings a ton of damage-based removal to the table, but that doesn’t help if you’re dealing with a giant Kresh the Bloodbraided or your opponent drops Akroma’s Memorial. Prepare to look elsewhere for reasonably solid creature removal.

Fun fact: Oblivion Stone and Duplicant are both Izzet cards. At least, they seem to be, judging by how many Izzet commander decks usually begin by slotting them first.

No Dedicated Acceleration

To be fair, green corners the market here anyway. Even with the recent Primeval Titan banning, ramp strategies are still prevalent, and Boundless Realms is a real thing. (A real annoying thing, but I digress…)

White offers some old hits like Land Tax, Tithe, and Weathered Wayfarer to compensate a bit. Black has a degree of fast mana, as well as some format-friendly bombs along the lines of Black Market. Red and blue are pretty barren in comparison, so get used to the idea of finding your mana from artifacts like Izzet Signet and Darksteel Ingot.

And no, Mana Flare doesn’t count. Run it out with Font of Mythos, watch the entire table reap the benefits, and then watch the jerk to your right blow them both up before your next turn comes around. It’s simply not worth it.

Go ahead and ask me exactly how I’ve come to this conclusion next. I’m ready.

Izzet Worth Playing?

Fortunately, there are some upsides to the color combination, and they’re more than viable. Let’s see what we have to work with:

Card Advantage

Blue obviously corners the market here. Black has some solid horsepower in this category as well, but it tends to come at a price–Ambition’s Cost or Sign in Blood, for example. Blue starts with solid one mana options like Brainstorm, and proceeds through gold standards like Concentrate and Fact or Fiction. Rhystic Study is widely considered to be one of the hallmarks of the format as I said before, unfortunately in more ways than one. Anyone else out there like wasting Krosan Grip on Study just to shut the person controlling it up? The passive draw it provides tends to set the bar higher than just about anything this side of Consecrated Sphinx. The high water mark hits with several draw-sevens in both colors, from Time Spiral to Wheel of Fortune. It’s also worth noting that blue has access to Timetwister, the only piece of ‘Power’ that is currently legal in Commander. Feel free to start counting your pennies at any time.

Spell Manipulation

One of the common ties that bind red and blue together is that both colors love to play around with other spells. This is the core of the Izzet mindset, and the reason these colors play so well together to begin with. Blue provides plenty of counterspell options, from instants–Hinder and Spell Crumple are the go-to selections for their ability to ‘tuck’ other spells on the bottom of their owner’s libraries and make instant friends in the process–to creatures like Draining Whelk and Glen Elendra Archmage. There’s also a subtle overlap between the two colors in abilities that change targets, such as Redirect and Ricochet Trap.

From there, you’ll find a handful of blue cards that change colors of other spells and permanents like Alter Reality and Crystal Spray. I wanted to mention these primarily because they’ve absolutely never been mentioned in the context of Commander.

Or any other format, for that matter.

Copy Effects

Both colors get pretty heavily into the mimic game. Red has a penchant for spells on the stack with options like Fork and Wild Ricochet. Blue tends to steer more toward the physical via creature duplication such as Clone and Rite of Replication. Flexibility is key here; in both cases, copies can play the role of removal, counters, draw, mana acceleration, and so on. It’s as good as it gets without outright stealing things from other players.

Which reminds me…

Steal Effects

Bribery. Insurrection. Desertion. Commandeer. You’d think the Izzet were a bunch of kleptomaniacs. Nonetheless, steal effects are a cornerstone of the Commander format, and a serious tempo swing in any situation that you can leverage them properly.

Besides – why blow something up if you can benefit from the effect and guarantee at least one person will be incessantly attacking you for the rest of the game, proper threat assessment be damned?

Direct Damage

This is all red all the time. From Lightning Bolt to Fireball, Inferno Titan to Mizzium Mortars, and Heartless Hidetsugu to…er… Hidetsugu’s Second Rite, red is an out-of-control pyromaniac. If you enjoy lighting things on fire, you’re in the right place.

Haste

This tends to be an innate red ability. It pops up from time to time elsewhere, and it was originally a green thing back in the day (hello, Concordant Crossroads!). Haste is arguably the single most important creature ability in Commander. With multiple opponents, the chances that your stuff will be sitting exactly where you left it when your turn comes back around is lessened exponentially. Being able to run Fervor or In the Web of War to ensure that your creatures are relevant at least for a turn can make all the difference in the world.

The “Wacky” Factor

This may be a case of blinders on my part, but it also seems that red and blue corner the market on crazy. The other colors seem pretty straight-forward, even at the bleeding edge. The craziest green gets is likely a giant Genesis Wave, for example. Comparatively, here’s a sampling of the stuff that Izzet brings to format:

Strangely enough, I think I’ve had at least one person quit the game outright after someone had played each of the cards I just mentioned. I’m sure there’s a correlation here somewhere, but it’s late, and I’m out of coffee.

Izzet Worth a Slot? Cassidy’s Top Nine Red/Blue Underused Cards Of Note

9. Knowledge Exploitation

The ultimate flexibility for an Izzet deck. Reasonable even for the non-Prowl cost. Need a Wrath effect? No problem. Need a tutor? Got it. Need to play Sleight of Mind?

Just making sure you’re all still paying attention here.

8. In the Web of War

The single-best Haste effect in the format, hence the nickname “Super Haste.”

7. Gather Specimens

The nut-high is having this in hand and six mana open when an opponent casts Warp World.

6. Cultural Exchange

It’s incredibly important to note that it doesn’t target. You haven’t lived until you’ve swapped a plant token from your Khalni Garden with your opponent’s Plated Slagwurm.

5. Wild Ricochet

I’m typically not a big fan of the concept of “staples,” and I still can’t help but run this card in every red deck I have. I have a mono-red Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer deck that specifically runs nothing but artifacts and creatures, and this is in there anyway. It’s that good.

4. Word of Seizing

The flexibility is off the charts here. The ability to steal any single targetable permanent without fear of repercussion at instant-speed is nearly always worth the slot. I personally run this in my mono-red Slobad-all-artifacts-and-creatures-and-two-other-spells deck.

3. Trickbind

Another drastically under-played card in Commander. I’m a huge fan of the Split Second mechanic to begin with, but this card hits so many different effects, and most people won’t see it coming. Ah, the joy of shutting down an opposing Oblivion Stone.

2. Prophetic Bolt

Maybe I feel bad for not including any other multicolor cards on this list. (Possible). Maybe this list isn’t in any actual order. (Very likely). Nonetheless, the blending of colors here is worth note. This is very much an Izzet card, and the utility for the cost is well worth exploring.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

No, it isn’t good in Commander. Honestly. I’m not kidding. And it’s not a free Brainstorm; you just over-paid by approximately three mana, and now the entire table is over-reacting and trying to kill you and your Planeswalker as fast as possible.

That’s value, folks. Or something like that.

The Old School Izzet Commanders in Haiku

Jhoira of the Ghitu
Suspend Ulamog
And suspend Obliterate
Get punched in the mouth

Nin, the Pain Artist
Dies to a stiff breeze
Good God, the flavor text blows
Don’t quit your day job

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Pimping out your deck?
Want the extended art foil?
Go sell a kidney

Tibor and Lumia
Who’s playing this card?
Makes even Joven look good
Okay…that’s a stretch

On a Serious Note – Tying it all Together

Izzet is a strange nut to crack in Commander. As I’ve detailed above, the colors are so incredibly deep in truly interactive options that it ends up being a very popular guild to play. The irony is that nine times out of ten, the Izzet decks that you will encounter are combo-centric Niv-Mizzet 1.0 builds, or throwback Jhoira-plus-mass-land-destruction decks. As a result, until recently, players were left with underwhelming alternatives if they wanted to take the honest route:

-Play Niv or Jhoira, and try in vain to convince the rest of the table that they’re not playing “that deck.”
-Sleeve up Tibor and Lumia or Nin. Most of the time, end up with either an ineffectual puppet commander, or a narrow strategy dictated by a sub-par Legendary creature selection. Probably take apart the deck in a week or two.

(No offense intended to those of you who have, and enjoy decks with these generals. I know you’re out there somewhere.)

The other real problem is that Izzet decks suggest a spell-heavy slant. U/R decks want to leverage the fantastic Instant options that are available, but are kept in hard check by a sheer lack of quality mana acceleration. This explains the popularity of green splashes; what Izzet decks really want to be able to keep pace with the rest of the Commander world is Seedborn Muse and a host of Cultivate effects.

Regardless, Return to Ravnica is undoubtedly a shot in the arm for the guild in all formats, and Commander is no exception. There are many exciting new options in the set (I’m looking at you, Epic Experiment!). Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius represents a pretty strong option for a Commander that doesn’t necessarily suggest a specific strategy, yet won’t get you immediately targeted for playing a dirty, dirty combo deck. While I initially thought the design to be a little lazy in its mirror-like simplicity, I’m starting to come around to the option and I think there’s some merit in eschewing a third color to concentrate on the potential a focused Izzet deck could bring to the metagame.

In fact, I may just have something in the works myself. Stay tuned.

I hope you all enjoyed a bit of a light-hearted departure from the norm here, and hopefully some of you end up picking up some new tech to try out, or start working on some red/blue goodness of your own.

Until next time,

– Cassidy

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