Flamewake Phoenix

Posted in Latest Developments on January 2, 2015

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Fate Reforged previews are steaming forward, and as the first week draws to an end, I have a card that I hope you will find pretty exciting. Traditionally, I try to make sure my preview card is something we believe will be a tournament-impacting card. But more than that, something that highlights the color pie or the ever-evolving way we create cards. This week is no different. Let me present Flamewake Phoenix.

From the Ashes

Red has, traditionally, been a color with a lot of power, but also some glaring holes in its Constructed cards. It tends to get a lot of powerful but fragile weenies, burn, and a Dragon here or there. It's a problem we are slowly working on, pushing cards like Anger of the Gods to give red decks some more depth. At the very least, we want to make red aggressive decks a little less of the glass cannons that they often end up being—winning in the first few turns, or not having enough power to push the damage through.

One area we have been exploring more and more in red is the space available in Phoenixes. While black is traditionally the color that has creatures return from the graveyard, there is a lot of historical and flavor precedent in red getting Phoenixes, which give red a good tool from recovering from board wipes. The goal is to give red decks the option to rely not just on quickly reducing their opponents' life totals, but also to have options for grinding their opponents out over time—making the games more interesting, and less about the first three turns.

Phoenixes also provide red something else it is generally lacking—powerful and cheap flying creatures. The first cheap Constructed Phoenix we printed was Chandra's Phoenix, which quickly showed itself to be both a Standard and a Cube staple. It provided the model for Flamewake Phoenix, but with a different shtick. Instead of burning your opponent, we're asking you to do the thing that the Temur have always been about—getting that 4 power.

Getting to Four

Since this is a Temur card, the best way to maximize its potential is to get a creature with 4 or more power in play, preferably right after a board wipe. Fortunately, Temur in Standard has quite a few options for that:

These are creatures that, while powerful, don't have a lot of resilience—another area where Flamewake Phoenix shines. Each of these is pretty weak to removal (unless you have quite a lot of mana to keep up for the Knuckleblade) but hits very hard. Similarly, they are weak against mass removal, which is where the Phoenix most excels. It's easy to play a Phoenix on turn three, then a Knuckleblade on turn four. If your opponent casts an End Hostilities, you can spend your turn five either playing Stormbreath and getting the Phoenix back the next turn, or playing Knuckleblade, giving it haste, and still attacking with the Phoenix and hitting for 6. The more Phoenixes in your graveyard, the more impactful these turns will be.

Now, if playing with creatures that are naturally huge isn't your thing, there are still plenty of ways to take advantage of the Phoenix in Standard, such as using Theros-block cards to get your other creatures up and above the 4-power threshold.

Given the high number of haste creatures in Standard, these combined with the Phoenix can give your red deck more than enough ways to fight through the big green decks and a few Siege Rhinos.

Phoenix Uses

While the current mono-red deck in Standard is a blitz deck, I think there's room for something that is a little higher up on the curve. Flamewake Phoenix may not provide the kind of burst damage that Goblin Rabblemaster has, but it makes up for it by being much more resilient against the majority of the removal that is seeing play in Standard: Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Murderous Cut. While it can't block the Rabblemaster, if you and your red opponent are trading removal spells for creatures, you can actually end up ahead with the Phoenix.

One of the main goals of the card is to give red decks a way to beat the turn-two Sylvan Caryatid/turn-three Courser or Polukranos draws. Instead of just muscling through them, it's possible to go to the air and get around those blockers. If your deck already includes cards that can boost your creatures to 4 power, you may also find that when put on the Phoenix, you can end the game pretty quickly.

Our hope in making the Phoenix (and cards like it) is to give red decks some options to change their makeup when decks that don't include many fliers (like Abzan Midrange) became dominant. While it's currently often correct to play Goblin Rabblemaster in many decks, having cards like the Phoenix that can either supplement that card or replace it when the metagame gets to a spot where it's needed. Cards like this allow for a constantly shifting makeup of established decks, allow for a lot more fluidity in the metagame, and increase the chances that the format will stay fresh week after week.

The other (more sneaky) way to use the Phoenix is to take advantage of the natural recursive nature for fun and profit. Red has, over the last few years, begun to get more looting effects, and you can use the Phoenix as fodder for that. Cards like Tormenting Voice. Discarding a Phoenix just puts you up a card when you play your 4-power creature and get it back. We have previously done "sneaky" self-milling decks in black, green, and blue. Here, it's red's chance to get in the party.

Flamewake Phoenix in Action

Now that I've talked to you about what Flamewake Phoenix can do in theory, it's time to start looking at what it can do in practice. Flamewake Phoenix was certainly a player in our Future Future League. Below are a few examples of decks it appeared in.

The first one is the baseline mono-red aggressive deck that we had, fitting the Phoenixes in to see how they would play in that strategy.

Mono-Red Beatdown by Tim Aten

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But we don't try and make our cards fit only to an existing mold. We also want to try them out in decks that may not be working out very well in the real world and see how they would play there. One deck we've been trying to get to work for a while is Big Red—basically, a mono-red control deck that hasn't been a major tournament player in some years. The continued increase in red's midrange strategies and card drawing will hopefully get it to the point where it is viable, without the need for cards like Wildfire or Ensnaring Bridge.

Big Red by Ian Duke

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This deck was trying out Phoenix in a deck that had ways to race an opponent, but wasn't just about getting in a few early creatures and finish them off with burn.

Another interesting take made by Ian Duke was intended to take even more advantage of the Phoenix's ability to return from the graveyard.

Blue-Red Spellheart Combo by Ian Duke

Download Arena Decklist

The point of this deck was to use cards like Steam Augury, Tormenting Voice, and Taigam's Scheming to get a few Phoenixes into the graveyard, then cast a Spellheart Chimera to get them out of the yard and start hitting your opponent.

Join me next week when I'll talk a bit more in depth about the development of Fate Reforged and share a few stories from that development team.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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