Standard Thunderbirds

Following the release of Guilds of Ravnica, a wide-open Standard format has emerged. Although a variety of decks are viable and performing well, the metagame has quickly shaped around the newest boogeyman: Golgari Midrange.

While builds of the deck may differ—multiple planeswalkers, the explore package, or the full set of Carnage Tyrants—its metagame share seems to point to it being the “best deck.”

But is that statement set in stone?

Could there be a deck capable of dethroning Golgari while not losing against the rest of the field?

Testing for Grand Prix New Jersey

I started with Golgari since it appeared to be unbeatable. I experimented with different builds, but my win rate was barely over 50% after a week of Magic Online testing.

I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what to play, and I was about to blow the dust off my Mono-Red deckbox containing my beloved Goblin Chainwhirlers when I figured that playing another League with Golgari might help me resist the urge to play Standard Burn.

Then, it hit me. I lost 2-0 to a very cool Arclight Phoenix deck that left my explore creatures and Vraska, Golgari Queen powerless.

I didn’t even finish my matches before building a Phoenix deck to try it out. My first League rewarded me with a trophy, and I knew I was onto something. After playing enough Magic Online to make anyone go crazy and agonizing over a few sideboard slots, I settled on a 75 for Grand Prix New Jersey where I ended at 10-5.

U/R Phoenix

Each card in the deck is a tool to help execute a streamlined game plan. Dividing the deck list into two parts makes it easier to understand how.

The Cantrips

This part of your deck is what makes it function. The cantrips that let you discard or surveil help you dump an Arclight Phoenix or four into your graveyard while filtering through your deck. Chart a Course can also be used as card advantage in grindier matchups, giving you the ability to reload your hand with more impactful spells.

The Threats

Here we see why so many cheap cantrips are necessary,

With over 20 instants and sorceries, Goblin Electromancer becomes a real threat. Cheating on mana in Standard is usually a strong strategy, and here we exploit it the best we can. Just like Modern Storm, if they let you untap with the Goblin Wizard your odds of winning go through the roof. It even enables a turn-3 Arclight Phoenix.

Maximize Velocity itself is a real threat and makes you understand why Splinter Twin is banned in Modern. If your opponent taps out, they might just die to a big, hasty Crackling Drake crashing in.

Speaking of Crackling Drake, it’s everything you’d want out of a win condition. It’s big, it has the words “draw a card,” and it rewards you for playing 16 cantrips.

Post-Grand Prix Deck List

Most of you are looking for a list for a PPTQ or Standard Showdown, so here is what I would play after a weekend spent sending thunderbirds at my opponents and learning a few things. Note: it’s going to be especially important to take Boros Angels and the mirror into consideration since they will both probably see a surge in the wake of the GP results.

U/R Phoenix

A Quick Sideboard Guide




This is a super tempo-oriented matchup. Kill their creatures and set a clock with Phoenixes. Make sure to keep Shock/Lightning Strike up to kill your own Phoenix in response to an opposing Vraska’s Contempt, and you should be able to tackle the matchup.

Jeskai Control



Here, the plan is to win before they cast Explosion for more than 6. Keep counterspells up to stop Teferi and use Beacon Bolt to keep their Lyras in check.

Firemind’s Research is one of your best cards in this matchup. You are unlikely to lose if you slam it on turn 2.

The Mirror



In the mirror, we want to become a go-bigger control deck. This matchup mostly revolves around Niv-Mizzet and not letting them Crackling Drake you for 15. The Electromancers, while powerful in other places, are just too easy to kill and won’t have time to generate value here. Be careful not to die to Maximize Velocity and you should be okay.

If you enjoy these kinds of strategies, this deck will remain both fun and relevant for this final PPTQ season or your next League on Magic Online.

Don’t hesitate to adapt in the next few weeks and have fun flying over your opponents with thunderbirds!

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