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Rekindling the Standard Flame

Written by Mike Keknee on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Rekindling the Standard Flame

Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee is a Magic grinder from the Columbus area. He has managed to put together a solid resume with four StarCityGames Open top 8s, including a win, as well as a Pro Tour appearance. He is also a co-host of the At Your End Step podcast available on iTunes and MTGCast.

It has been ages since I last put pen to paper. A cursory glance at my writing history shows that I wrote about Panharmonicon last winter and Drake Haven when Amonkhet was spoiled. I was so full of hope, so ready for a Standard format I could love and cherish like those formats the elders speak of in such reverence. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, Felidar Guardian saw its shadow, and we got 12 more months of energy. Just as I was ready to give in to my malaise about Standard as a whole, Wizards of the Coast switched to decaf and decided to cut some energy out of Standard. Now, with a new set and, hopefully, an open format, those dreamers of dreams and brewers of brews can return to claim what is rightfully theirs.

Tentatively, it really does look like Standard is ready for new strategies. Wizards of the Coast has given Standard players three gifts. The first is the gift of bans: Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon are all no longer legal. This is a boon for the format, even though this parade of bannings has been frustrating to deal with. The second gift is a Modern Pro Tour. It will feel good to let Standard flesh itself out for a little bit without pros really attacking the format. Finally, the third gift is a new set. Rivals of Ixalan looks like it will help out a few tribal strategies while also supplying some interesting cards. One in particular has caught my eye though. As the title of this article (and my past deck history) suggests, that card is Rekindling Phoenix.

I have played a number of phoenix cards over the years. Cards like Ashcloud Phoenix and Flamewake Phoenix have always had a home in my decks. And while I will always have a special place in my heart for Chandra’s Phoenix, Rekindling Phoenix is probably the most powerful and flavorful phoenix ever printed.

Beyond its obvious power level, Rekindling Phoenix really speaks to me personally as a player and deck builder. This card is a legitimate threat and a tough to deal with defender all at once. I love cards that have the ability to pivot depending on the situation. Red currently has some strong contenders with a mana cost of four, but cards like Hazoret the Fervent are really only good in a very aggressive deck. Rekindling Phoenix won’t provide the same immediate pressure that an active Hazoret does, so instead, there needs to be a shell that better accentuates its strengths.

Luckily, there is already a place to start when working with a midrange red build.

Ben Stark built this bigger version of red to accommodate larger threats and a slightly different game plan. The obvious issues here are that this list contains two banned cards, but the ideology holds true. Cards like Treasure Map and Chandra, Torch of Defiance work really well with a deck that wants to be able to pivot. Sure, Stark’s deck could sometimes start aggressive and win quickly, but it also had the ability to grind out opponents. This is exactly what I want red decks want to do.

This mentality is what has drawn me to other similar strategies in years past. My first notable finishes came from a red-based midrange strategy that could pivot effectively. Oh Big Boros, I miss you…

I can’t tell you how much I miss this deck. Young Pyromancer for Core Set 2019 president! Honestly though, I included this deck because I think it illustrates what I am looking to do with Rekindling Phoenix now. Notice how both of these decks can effectively pressure opponents, and yet both can also use planeswalkers and effective scrying to grind out opponents. It’s that ability to shift game plans on the fly that always appeals to me in deck design, so let’s see what we can do with this big beautiful bird.

I wanted a deck that could attack from a few angles and that had ways of generating card advantage. I also wanted a deck that could be relevant in this new format. One of the reasons that Ben Stark’s version of red fell off was because it became less effective against control decks. Unlike regular Ramunap Red, his deck didn’t commit to aggression and had a harder time punishing decks like U/W Approach. Those kinds of decks will have definitely gotten better due to the bannings, so it looks like a second color will be needed for some interaction. Red also has some issues with removal for the biggest threats in the format, namely Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God. With these thoughts in mind, a new Planeswalker pushed me towards black.

I have to say, from a purely biased standpoint, this deck is gas. However, I know there are those who aren’t as enthusiastic about piles of random red cards as I am, so let me explain some of my choices. Let’s start with the strangest one, Wily Goblin. While my affinity for Mega Man may stop me from being objective, this is a card I have wanted to try out since it was printed. It may seem innocuous, but when I first saw this card during Ixalan spoilers, I committed it to memory. Red does not get two drop ramp very often anymore. The ability to play a turn three Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Rekindling Phoenix is just something a non-green deck usually can do. Normally cards like Wily Goblin are awful late game draws though, but this deck mitigates that with copies of Treasure Map. With a flipped Treasure Cove, late Wily Goblins become Elvish Visionaries. Treasure Map also helps to smooth out draws and to provide a steady stream of card advantage. It also assists is casting multiple large threats in the same turn. Those threats include new Planeswalker Angrath, the Flame-Chained. This card helps bury the opponent by pressuring their hand. Angrath’s minus is also surprisingly effective against a number of creatures and your opponent’s life total. For maximum fun, use Angrath to untap your own exerted Glorybringer to really get people.

The deck is complemented with the best removal spells both colors have to offer, including Vraska’s Contempt as our necessary out to the aforementioned troublesome permanents in Standard. Fatal Push is always good, but it works incredibly well with treasure to ensure that you have revolt. This deck is also the perfect Cut//Ribbons deck as it can amass a ton of mana by the end of the game and effectively burn opponents out.

So far, this deck has done very well against creature-based strategies and God Pharaoh’s Gift decks. This includes merfolk and vampire strategies and the various Winding Constrictor decks that have shown up on Magic Online. What I have really enjoyed is how well the deck has performed against control strategies, even in game ones. I have been keeping tabs on how often I have seen more cards than the blue-based control strategies, and it is surprising how well the deck keeps up. Adding black also really shines in the sideboard, which currently looks like this:

Some matchups that have been tough include Mardu Vehicles and the various token strategies. Mardu Vehicles does a good job pressuring Planeswalkers while also having robust threats, especially Hazoret. The red and black color combination will always struggle with powerful enchantments, so the tokens matchup will probably continue to be tough. Duress is definitely very effective against them though.

This list is far from perfect, and I feel like there are a number of moving parts. Cards like Filigree Familiar have shined in certain matchups, but I have also tested Ammit Eternal in that slot. I could also see trying to use Glint-Sleeve Siphoners in the list with some combination of Aether Hubs and Harnessed Lightnings. It could be wrong to not have the fourth Glorybringer depending on how the format shakes out. Angrath could also be the wrong five drop Planeswalker as Liliana, Death’s Majesty works pretty favorably with Rekindling Phoenix.

Overall, I think the basic outline of Treasure Maps, removal, planeswalkers, and flying threats is solid. I am hopeful that this new Standard format is accommodating to lots of decks, and I am excited to see if this deck can stand on its own. In the very least, I get to play a deck that has a phoenix and a Chandra in it, completing a cycle that every fiery bird must go through.

Thanks for reading!

-Mike Keknee

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