Carrie On – Drafting Izzet

Journey into Nyx has been out a couple of weeks now and I am really loving the new draft format. The addition of this final set seems to have taken the edge off the aggressive strategies, giving more opportunities for other decks to shine. Not that I wasn’t drafting the slow 4-color strategies before, but now it’s easier to pull off. I haven’t actually drafted 4-color green yet, but I have tried out a bunch of other strategies and today I want to talk about the one I have most enjoyed so far—Izzet.

You could draft Izzet before JOU but it was hard to pull off. It was actually more plausible in 3x Theros draft where you could build around getting multiple Spellheart Chimeras, than during BNG/THS/THS. Anyway why is it better now?

Izzet wants to be a tempo-based deck. It wants to use lots of tricks and removal along with evasive creatures to push through for a timely victory. With the full set now being drafted it feels like there are a lot of tricks for the would-be Izzet player. As an exercise I went through Gatherer and looked at all the instants and sorceries in blue/red. I’ve listed the more relevant results below:

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As you can see there are now 5 bounce spells, I don’t think a tempo deck makes as much use of Sea God’s Revenge as a U/G deck does. Also,Retraction Helix is slightly awkward as you really want to be attacking with your creatures after you bounce theirs. Problems aside, there are now plenty of bounce spells to go around so you should be able to secure multiple for your deck.

There are also two “freeze” spells. I am referring to Sudden Storm and Triton Tactics. (I don’t know if this type of effect has a name, but since the effect reminds me of Frost Breath and Frost Titan, we’ll call them “freeze” effects.) These are excellent for tempo decks as just another delay tactic to keep your opponent floundering while you chip away at their life total. Sudden Storm is generally better than Triton Tactics here as you don’t have to risk your creatures in order to get the effect, though Triton Tactics can lead to blowouts.

I’ve listed 7 burn spells here. There is also Rage of Purphoros but I didn’t include it in the list. As a tempo deck, burn is really valuable as you can use it on creatures early and on your opponent as a finisher if they manage to stabilize the board. Rage of Purphorous is more expensive than a tempo deck wants it to be and it can’t be used as damage to the face late game. I would run one if I had to, but it’s not really where I want to be.

I think I’m on record somewhere as saying Magma Jet isn’t that great in Theros Limited. Please now disregard that as it was very much a pre-JOU statement. Journey into Nyx has introduced a lot of 1- and 2-toughness creatures, not only in the early game but also mid-game (Akroan Mastiff, Skyspear Cavalry for instance), and this makes Magma Jet and Magma Spray much more useful. Magma Jet is especially sweet with its scry 2 to keep your draws live (more on scrying later).

Also with the release of JOU, Izzet drafters now have doubled the number of burn spells which can kill a creature and hurt their opponent at once: Starfall and Searing Blood. Not having to choose how best to use your burn spells is just awesome and incredibly painful for your opponent to deal with, though Starfall does require a little bit of hoop jumping to get the additional damage.

Fall of the Hammer is a nice, cheap early removal spell although can’t be utilized for direct damage late. In general you want to lean toward burn for the deck but I’d never say no to a Fall of the Hammer. Portent of Betrayal is the final spell. Generally you are controlling your opponent’s board state early game such that they only have one creature down, making for potentially devastating Portent plays, just when they think they have stabilized.

My point here is not to say that necessarily all of these cards are amazing for the deck but that they can all provide utility, and with so many different ones you should be able to pick up enough to make the deck function. I was actually struggling for creatures more than instants and sorceries when I first drafted Izzet.

One of the other really awesome things for Izzet in full-block draft is how much scry it has access to. A tempo deck needs to close out the game early. Not necessarily as quickly as aggro, but because its plays are designed around delaying rather than stopping your opponent, eventually they will get their bigger creatures online and you will be squashed. Scrying helps to make every draw live. Scrying is awesome for everyone, but for tempo it’s essential rather than just a nice perk. Conveniently, a bunch of the spells I’ve already talked about have scry attached and it can be a nice tie-breaker during the draft: given a choice between two similarly powerful cards, go with the one with scry.

There are also a bunch of creatures that provide scry and I think my favorites for the Izzet deck are Stormcaller of Keranos and Stormchaser Chimera. The Chimera is in Journey into Nyx and getting hold of a copy of that is probably essential for a successful Izzet deck. The card is so strong. The activated ability is expensive but if deck is cheap it’s useful to have somewhere powerful to put mana late game. When you combine it with other scry effects you get to hit in for guaranteed damage. Don’t forget you can use it in your upkeep before you draw the 4-drop you know is on top! Stormcaller of Keranos didn’t really have a home in Born of the Gods but a creature with haste is great for tempo and her ability to filter your draws makes her nuts!

Personally I enjoyed combining these two on-tap scry effects with Flamespeaker Adept, which you should be able to get a copy of in the final pack as it’s not a high priority for anyone except the Izzet deck. I always wanted to draft the Flamespeaker Adept/Aqueous Form deck in 3x Theros draft but actually this deck is more fun! Aqueous Form, by the way, is perfect for a tempo deck as it makes any of your creatures into an evasive threat.

Speaking of evasive threats, most of your creatures want to have evasion. While you are intending to bounce/burn your opponent’s early plays you won’t be able to stop everything. Having creatures that are harder to deal with helps here as then you don’t have to use your bounce on the Bear your opponent played and can save it for the Nessian Asp that would actually stop your strategy. Generally I would aim to have utility creatures, such as Sigiled Skink and Stormcaller of Keranos, and evasive creatures: fliers and intimidate.

JOU has significantly enhanced the creature pool for Izzet tempo. Importantly the red creature pool has been improved. Before JOU, the red creatures were rather mediocre for tempo and were much better in heroic aggro strategies or monstrous ramp strategies. There were plenty of cheap ones available, but they had no evasion and provided no utility and would be rapidly shut down, despite your bounce spells. Specifically with JOU, Sigiled Skink is an early beater with a great ability, Bladetusk Boar is almost unblockable, and Akroan Line Breaker can be a beast if you go with some targeted spells in your line up. Blue also got a couple of new fliers. Cloaked Siren is particularly nice for this strategy as it gives you greater opportunity to cast your instants at instant speed!

Here is the list from my favorite attempt at this deck so far:

This deck has 3 burn spells, 1 non-burn removal spell, and 3 bounce spells. I found this was a really good balance. I always had plenty of answers, the biggest problem as I alluded to earlier was using the Retraction Helices to the greatest effect, as I couldn’t also attack with the creature. Sometimes I had a ground guy that wasn’t going to be able to get in regardless to leave back, but other times it was just awkward. I would have loved to have had any other bounce effect to replace them with.

Of the creatures, 6 have flying (don’t forget Rise of Eagles) and one can’t be blocked except by two or more. There are also two with first strike which can serve as evasion in some situations. War-Wing Siren was definitely the worst creature. I didn’t have spells designed to trigger heroic so a 1/3 for 3 just isn’t worthwhile. It was okay but a rather slower beatdown that I wanted. To be honest a second Reckless Reveler would probably have been better.

There are 8 sources of scry in this deck of which 2 are activated abilities. It was very easy to filter my draws to be live.

This deck was very fun to play and it was very powerful. Its major downside though is there are so many decisions to make! Because you need to close out a win by around the 8th turn, every action you take must be optimal. I found I had a lot of choices each turn and unfortunately I made the wrong one at several points. Because I know my losses were through my play, not my deck, I feel this particular deck should have been an easy 3-0, alas it did not get there. I don’t mean to discourage you from drafting and playing this sort of deck. But don’t do it when you are tired! It is a very good cognitive workout and is really rewarding when you get it right.

I think Izzet has been my favorite draft strategy for the new draft format so far. What have you been enjoying? I’ve yet to try the constellation plan but I’ve played against it a bunch of times and it looks like a lot of fun. I’m just waiting to open (or be passed) an Eidolon of Blossoms and I will jump in there head-first. As ever feel free to follow me on Twitter @onionpixie and I will see you next week.

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