The impact of Modern Horizons 2 on Legacy has been wide reaching. It has given new life to a lot of archetypes that haven’t seen improvements in quite some time. Among these is a deck that Magic Online user Griselpuff (AKA Bob Huang) used to Top 8 one of the weekend Challenges: Izzet Painter. The most common version that uses the Painter’s Servant and Grindstone combo has historically been mono-red based, but Izzet versions have been existing on the fringes for quite some time.
With some of the new printings over the past few months, the Izzet color pair has received a ton of new tools to power up any deck that utilizes these colors and Izzet Painter is not excluded from that. This deck now looks a lot more akin to modern-age Legacy decks, and is poised to make a comeback. While this deck does use a lot of tools that are common in other Legacy decks, the way the function in this deck is certainly different and certainly warrant exploration.
Legacy Izzet Painter by Bob Huang
The primary plan of this deck is to combine Painter’s Servant with Grindstone and proceed to mill your opponent’s entire deck. Unlike Mono-Red Painter, however, this is a much more interactive version of the archetype. With the addition of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, the early turns of this deck can play out much like a traditional Delver deck, using removal and countermagic to prevent opponents from developing their strategy.
Perhaps the biggest gain from this deck is Urza’s Saga, which lets this deck enact a strategy that can sidestep countermagic and develop a huge board with the construct tokens. In addition, since Grindstone costs one, Urza’s Saga’s third chapter can tutor it up if Painter’s Servant is already online to win the game on the spot, in addition to other utility cards.
Let’s take a look at how all of these cards fit together.
With regards to these deck guides, Ragavan is akin to the Oko of Modern Horizons 2, since it’s going to show up in a lot of different decks and serve a similar role in each. While Ragavan was poised to be a Delver superstar since it was revealed in preview season, it’s clear that any deck that can support a single red mana early might be interested in the card.
One of the neat things about Ragavan is that, like Deathrite Shaman before it, it supports a wide range of archetypes since, at worst, it generates mana, which is something all decks are interested in (although it is far easier to counter than Deathrite, in my opinion). Ragavan enables this deck to adopt a Delver-esque role in any matchup, applying early pressure and backing it up with interaction. This adds a really meaningful extra dimension to the deck and helps round out the strategy of the archetype.
This is the combo element of the deck. The fact that this is such a concise package, which combines with the fact that these cards have additional utility in the deck, is part of what makes it so effective.
Painter’s Servant is a really unique card, since it not only allows you to kill your opponent on the spot, but enables other cards in the deck to have additional functionality. In many circumstances, the actual Painter’s Servant combo ends up being in conjunction with Pyroblast effects. Having a one-mana kill spell that counters anything is extremely powerful and allows this deck to battle against just about anything that can be thrown at it. Grindstone has less utility (although non-zero in conjunction with cantrips), but the fact that with Urza’s Saga this deck functionally has six copies means that you can really consistently assemble the combo.
In my article on Expressive Iteration in Delver, I mentioned that this card was good enough to warrant inclusion in other archetypes and this version of Painter is a perfect fit. Not only does Izzet Painter have a proactive game plan based around relatively cheap cards, meaning that the cards it is looking for can mostly be cast on your main phase somewhat easily, but the interaction in this deck is cheap enough to be cast off of this, as well. Providing a combo deck with a lot of staying power is a big game, and I think eventually we’ll be seeing Iteration show up in other archetypes as time goes on.
I don’t always talk about these cards in decks since they are mostly ubiquitous, but they are not common in the Painter archetype. The addition of these cantrips is a major reason to include blue in this archetype and they really help this deck sift through extra pieces of its combo, as well as find the right piece of interaction for the situation.
Another big pull for adding blue to the deck, this countermagic suite has been demonstrated in Legacy to be extremely effective at protecting the combo, as well as preventing opponents from doing anything too scary. With Ragavan in the mix, these cards have even more potency as now you can just defend Ragavan early and try to use the advantage generated off of it to take over the game as early as turn two. While this deck does a Delver impression, it’s more costly to include cards like Daze here, seeing as this deck does want to hit its land drops early for Urza’s Saga purposes.
Most Painter’s Servant decks run a large number of Pyroblast effects, since it not only acts as a Vindicate/Counterspell hybrid with Servant in play, but also interacts with many of the most powerful cards in the format by itself. Hydroblast is not nearly as common since Painter decks are usually mono-red. However, Hydroblast has similar functionality to Pyroblast when a Servant is in play (assuming you name red) and additionally is very well positioned at the moment, since Ragavan and Dragon’s Rage Channeler are quite popular.
Painter decks don’t always run Lightning Bolt as a removal spell, but seeing as this deck is more interactive, as well as the Legacy format revolving around cheap creatures more than before, Lightning Bolt is a strong inclusion for the archetype. So much of the core of this deck looks like a Delver deck, but it doesn’t quite have the ability to apply early pressure to the opponent’s life total, so Bolt will function primarily as an efficient one-for-one removal spell here, which is more than enough in a lot of cases.
These make up the Urza’s Saga tutor package. Pyrite Spellbomb is a somewhat weak removal spell, but being able to search it up when you need it is really important. Relic of Progenitus is particularly effective in Legacy right now, seeing as many decks rely on the graveyard in some capacity (and this deck doesn’t). Additionally, Relic can combine with the Painter/Grindstone combo to exile the graveyard in response to an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn being milled, if need be. Retrofitter Foundry is quickly proving itself to be an invaluable tool in these Urza’s Saga decks, as it’s a potent engine to grind down opponents who rely on removal.
In many ways, this is the centerpiece of the deck. It provides a ton of pressure on board in a way that’s challenging to interact with. As previously discussed, by itself it generates a pretty impressive board state, being worth two Constructs and a tutored artifact. The fact that it provides utility, as well as combo potential, with its third chapter makes Urza’s Saga one of the best cards in this deck (and perhaps one of the best cards in Legacy overall, at the moment).
While this is a pretty standard Legacy mana base, this is a wildly different manabase from other Painter’s Servant decks in Legacy. While Ancient Tomb is a really powerful card, this deck is mostly looking to play out like an interactive Izzet deck rather than a prison or combo deck, so being able to cast its spells consistently is pretty important.
This deck also runs snow basics, which is not at random. With Ragavan in the mix, running snow basics gives you the occasional upside of giving a stolen Ice-Fang Coatl deathtouch, which is certainly meaningful enough to warrant including.
Extra copies of these can come in when needed. As I said, Hydroblast is quite effective right now, so boarding into three total copies can really help in a lot of matchups. Pyroblast is always a good card in Legacy, so bringing in extra copies will essentially always be helpful.
Some extra graveyard hate that can be tutored off of Urza’s Saga. Relic is certainly a bit slow in the really fast graveyard matchups, such as Reanimator, but it’s much more effective against decks with cards like Uro and Snapcaster Mage that don’t rely heavily on the graveyard. Grafdigger’s Cage is a haymaker against Reanimator and Dredge, so that can really close the door if you can survive long enough to use the third chapter of Saga (or just draw it naturally).
Versatile removal and artifact hate, Abrade does a lot of different things for a deck like this. Chalice of the Void can be problematic, as well as cards like Sanctum Prelate, so having a way to answer either of those is a nice way to fill up a sideboard.
Some extra tutor targets for Urza’s Saga. Aether Spellbomb is an awesome card to search up, as it can bounce creatures like Emrakul and Marit Lage, which can functionally end the game on the spot. At this point, I’ve written about Pithing Needle a fair amount, and it always does it’s thing. It’s perfect for a Saga deck and will occasionally just turn off the game plan your opponent was working towards.
These are cards that are very effective against small creatures. Izzet Staticaster is mostly just a haymaker against X/1s, which can be really important in Legacy these days. Engineered Explosives is quite a bit more versatile, but overall a bit more clunky and can set back your own game plan. If you expect a lot more Elves, then maybe leaning into Staticaster is better. If you expect a lot more Death and Taxes and Chalices, then Engineered Explosives might be a better card to lean on. That being said, having a diverse suite of answers is very helpful in Legacy, so I personally like the split here.
Against decks that draw cards often (read: any blue deck), these cards can be quite devastating. Their primary function is against control and combo decks. Each of them do mostly the same thing, but having different effects can be nice. Neither are clear winners in this deck, seeing as Narset isn’t that effective in this deck and this deck doesn’t care too much about the flash or the Treasure (or the body, even) of Hullbreacher, so splitting them seems reasonable.
One of the least versatile cards possible, Mind Harness is a haymaker against red or green creatures. There are a lot of them floating around, as I mentioned with Hydroblast, so taking your opponent’s Ragavan or Uro can be quite devastating. Stealing either of those cards is nice because their attack triggers help pay the cumulative upkeep, which will allow you to keep Harness around for longer.
- Painter’s Servant choosing blue makes every card in your hand blue. This means that you can now remove any card in your deck to alternate cast a Force effect.
- If your protection spell is Force of Negation and you have assembled Painter/Grindstone, try to mill your opponent out on their upkeep so you can protect yourself from removal.
Izzet Painter has a lot of efficient interaction for this matchup, so you can go toe-to-toe with them on cards. Since much of the shell is shared between the two decks, Ragavan on either side can be absolutely game-changing, so make sure you’re prepared to battle against an early Ragavan. The combo is a little bit challenging to put together here since they have a lot of interaction for it, but you can plan to play a more controlling game overall and try to slowly grind them down with Expressive Iteration and Urza’s Saga.
The Modern Horizons 2 cards are excellent in this matchup, so relying on them is a pretty reliable game plan. In general, assembling the combo is a bit challenging since they have a ton of removal, but using Painter’s Servant to both threaten the ability to kill them, as well as to turn Pyroblast into a hard counterspell is generally going to be pretty effective here. Izzet Painter has a ton of good tools for this matchup so while cards like Teferi, Time Raveler and Uro can be difficult at times, overall the matchup should be pretty solid.
Doomsday is always a scary deck to play against, but Izzet Painter has a ton of disruption that can help slow them down. Being able to combo them out definitely helps the matchup a lot. Even if you cannot combo them, representing a Grindstone activation can make their Doomsday turn pretty awkward.
Assuming the role of a faux-Delver deck is a solid strategy here as well, and using Ragavan to generate some incremental advantage has proven to be effective in Legacy on the whole. I don’t generally like bringing in Abrade without seeing Defense Grid first, but if you’re concerned about Grid that’s another viable sideboard choice.
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes is always a bit challenging to play against for these Izzet decks. They have meaningful disruption for every aspect of the deck, as well as a proactive game plan that can make life quite difficult. Boarding into more interaction certainly helps, and relying on Painter’s Servant is a bit risky, but really helps keep their plan in check. It’s going to be tough to keep up with their two-for-one advantage as the game develops, but fortunately having a one-hit-KO in the combo can make the matchup a lot more manageable.