After the Pioneer bannings on June 6th, 2022 (Winota and Expressive Iteration), many wondered how Izzet decks would fare in the meta. Well, as a devoted Izzet mage I decided to sleeve up an updated Prowess list, take it to FNM, and prove that Izzet is still alive and well!
If you are unfamiliar with “Prowess” it is a triggered ability that reads,“whenever you cast a noncreature spell, this creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn”. This style of deck aims to play creatures with prowess, or prowess like abilities, and leverage cantrips (spells that draw cards in addition to their other effects) to maintain card advantage and swing with powerful creatures. My list runs four Monastery Swiftspear and four Soul-Scar Mage, as well as four Sprite Dragons which will get +1/+1 counters rather than the temporary pump from prowess. This is pretty standard for most Izzet Prowess lists, but my personal list only runs three Leger Shredder since I don’t own a playset. I actually don’t mind only running three as it makes room for more cantrips, and with the abundance of cards we will draw I rarely don’t have a Shredder on hand.
Replacing Expressive Iteration
There is no doubt that all Izzet decks were hit by the banning of Expressive Iteration, however I believe that the Prowess deck in particular was less affected by the banning than Control and Phoenix. Usually Control and Phoenix need Expressive Iteration to get their land drops, but since prowess is so low to the ground it can often win only three to four lands total. To replace Expressive Iteration I slotted in four copies of Izzet Charm which I felt was the strongest stand-in. I even tested Strategic Planning, Reckless Impulse, and Chart a Course before FNM but found that Izzet Charm offered the perfect blend of card advantage with the added benefit of being modal. Being able to counter target noncreature spells unless the opponent pays two mana, OR deal two damage to target creature, OR draw two cards and discard two cards is just so much value for the same cost as Expressive Iteration…and at INSTANT SPEED!
I can personally say that the deck ran very smoothly with Izzet Charm, and I often appreciated the discard filling my graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise earlier than I would in the deck’s previous iteration. I wouldn’t say Izzet Charm is better than Expressive Iteration, but in this deck in particular I think the Izzet Charm keeps the deck competitive while adding some upsides that Expressive Iteration did not.
As most people who play at FNM know, the local meta is going to be different from the general meta that’s posted to websites such as PlayingPioneer. With that in mind, my sideboard is tuned to compete in my local meta, but I would like to discuss the inclusions and how they apply to the meta at large. First off I will say that while I had Jegantha as a companion I am not sure if they NEED to be in the deck. I rarely found myself putting them to hand and when I did they usually ended up being discarded to Izzet Charm since I rarely made it to 5 mana. There is no doubt that companions are powerful, I’m just not sold that THIS deck needs one. I also added two copies of Witness Protection which did work during my rounds. Being able to turn my opponents utility creatures into 1/1’s with no abilities usually set my opponent back significantly and allowed my flyers free access to their life total.
Aether Gust did a great job throwing the green deck off and Rending Volley was greatly appreciated during a game against Bant Spirits. Many people are saying that Azorius Control is going to rise in the meta so I might consider switching the Rending Volley for Fry. I also feel like I want to make room for some copies of Mystical Dispute but as for now there aren’t too many blue decks in my local meta, but it would be wise to add them for the meta at large.
The FNM Report
Location: The Game Closet, Waco TX=
Date: June 10th, 2022
Result: 2nd Place out of 10, 3-1
I can say with some confidence that Izzet Prowess still packs a punch! With a balance of dedicated removal and card draw I found that the deck could pivot between being an aggro deck and a control lite deck. Laying in the middle makes it slower than dedicated aggro decks such as Mono Red, and the deck does not have as many answers as Azorius Control. But the deck’s strength is that it gives the pilot a choice on what style suits the matchup best. With plenty of proactive and reactive spells, this deck has a decision to make at just about every phase of the game and rewards those who are able to make the optimal choices at the right time.
Round 1 vs. Boros Heroic
Result: Win, 2-0
Round one and I am up against an established deck that is seeing even more play due to the bannings, as well as the deck adding Illuminator Virtuoso. I was a little nervous about the matchup but in the end my removal allowed me to keep their board clear while also getting in for piles of damage.
In game one my opponent and I essentially went one for one in regards to threats. We both resolved Monastery Swift Spears and Soul-Scar Mages but my removal and navigation of the stack helped me maintain my board while eliminating their threats. There was one turn where my opponent cast Ancestral Anger targeting Favored Hoplite , with the spell and heroic trigger on the stack I responded with Fiery Impulse to kill the creature before either resolved. This resulted in the opponent losing their Hoplite and the Ancestral Anger fizzling, robbing them of the card advantage.
In game two I implemented the same strategy and raced my opponent. In this game there was a turn where I cast Strangle targeting my opponent’s Favored Hoplite. In response they cast God’s Willing attempting to protect it, but I responded with a Fiery Impulse removing the creature and swinging in with my prowess creatures who had been pumped by this exchange.
In both games we each went to single digit life totals but the removal package and cantrips in the Izzet Deck helped me win this round.
Round 2 vs. Bant Spirits
Result: Win, 2-1
This round I faced another deck that seems to be rising in the meta but not as efficiently as its mono colored counterpart. Bant Spirits trades the abundance of counter spells in the Mono Blue version for lord effects that can result in a wide and tall board. Of course Bant Spirits also runs Collected Company which, more often than not, hits two creatures and at instant speed no less.
I was on the play in game one and my opponent kept a very risky hand leaving them stuck on one land for the first three turns. By the time they had their second land drop, my board was well established with creatures and my hand was full of removal to clear the way for a swift victory.
In game two I was on the draw and my opponent had a much smoother start. They played Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr which quickly grew bigger than our damage spells could handle while also giving our opponent a creature with flying and lifelink. I had sideboarded in two Rending Volley for the larger spirits but forgot to also put in my two copies of Spell Pierce. There’s no certainty that I would have had the Spell Pierce, but my opponent resolved a Collected Company into Supreme Phantom and Empyrean Eagle and it was “good game” from there.
In game three I added the two Spell Pierce and proceeded to have one of the most fun, and close, games of Magic that I had experienced in quite some time. Towards the end of the game my opponent had established a sizable board of spirits and I had two Monastery Swiftspear. I had gotten my opponent down to 4 life but ran out of card advantage and began drawing lands, while my opponent was able to resolve a lord effect making it impossible for me to swing in without losing my threats. My opponent was cautious with their attacks because they knew I had a Den of The Bugbear and the mana to activate it, so if they didn’t have the blockers I could steal the game. They whittled my life down until we were both at 4 life. In their end step I cast Play With Fire targeting them, taking them to two and scrying one, hoping to find another copy. I untapped and fired off a Treasure Cruise delving away my graveyard, and I still don’t have an answer. From there we both went into top deck mode and played “who will flinch first”. In the end I ended up killing one of their Spell Queller that had a Sprite Dragon under it. I then activated and attacked with Den of the Bug Bear creating a 1/1 Goblin and winning with exact damage (I had 5 attackers and Opponent had 3 blockers).
Afterward we both let out a sigh and shook hands acknowledging each other’s skill and patience in the match. We had a good laugh about the situation and took a minute to talk through lines and decisions we made and how they affected the game. I was very glad we had that discussion and moments like this are just some of the many reasons why I enjoy FNM.
Round 3 vs. Mardu Greasefang
Result: Loss, 1-2
I did not expect to see this deck at my local FNM but low and behold there it was. My opponent was someone I hadn’t seen before, but we quickly struck up a conversation while we shuffled up and they were so happy to have found a local FNM that supported Pioneer and I was happy to welcome them to our community.
In game one I was on the draw but while I had all the creatures I needed I ran out of ways to pump them while I topdecked lands. My opponent’s combo was slower then it could have been but because my deck slowed down significantly they were able to resolve Greasefang,Okiba Boss, target Parhelion II, and outvalue me with 4/4 angels. I decided to sideboard out all three Strangle, two Play With Fire, and one Fiery Impulse as they were not going to be able to kill Greasefang on sight. I brought in two Unlicensed Hearse, two Rending Volley, and two Spell Pierce and off to game two we went.
In game two I kept a very aggressive hand and it payed off. I was able to maintain threats and cantrips to refill my hand and kill my opponent before they even had a chance to resolve Greasefang. It also helped that I had two Sprite Dragons as they were able to fly over my opponents Stitcher Supplier that would have only filled their graveyard faster. After this game I decide to also board in the two Abrade to also combat Greasefang or even destroy a Parhelion if it hit the battlefield.
In game three I played a lot more conservatively making sure I had answers for Greasefang. This payed off when my opponent played a Greasefang and in response to them going to combat, I cast Fading Hope targeting the Greasefang before it could reanimate the Consulate Dreadnought in their graveyard. I was then able to resolve a Unlicensed Hearse on my turn which I held up. On their turn they replayed Greasefang and this time I destroyed it with a Rending Volley and exiled it and the Dreadnought with the Hearse. This would have probably resulted in a win for me but at this point I didn’t have any threats on board while my opponent had two Stitcher Supplier and one Voldaren Epicure that would go on to ping me to death. I tried to race them with a Sprite Dragon and was almost able to until my opponent played Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord, which allowed their creatures to gain just enough life to keep Sprite Dragon from being lethal while reducing mine. Another close game and that ended up going to my opponent, but in the end I was just happy to add another member to our Pioneer Community!
Round 4 vs. Abzan Midrange
Result: Win, 2-0
My last match was played against someone who prides themselves on their homebrews and rightfully so. All of their decks are off meta but always perform well at FNM landing them near the top each week. This deck in particular is full of removal for the early game to stall until they resolve their larde threats such as Elder Gargaroth and Kenrith, The Returned King.
In game one, I was on the play and I kept a very fast hand. I got out multiple creatures and kept the pressure going despite my opponent’s spot removal. The game ended when I swang with two Monastery Swiftspear casting a Consider to draw a Play with Fire and cast a second Consider to draw another Play With Fire. I was tapped out for the turn but I had gotten them to four life. I knew my opponent had ways to gain life in their deck, but they ended up removing my two creatures on their turn. I was able to cast both Play with Fire for lethal and took game one. For the sideboard I brought in the three Aether Gust to deal with their Elder Gargaroth and two Spell Pierce to protect my creatures from removal and more importantly, board wipes.
In game two my opponent was mana starved while I kept a hand similar to the first. They began to stabilize but I had already taken their life down so low that when they did resolve Elder Gargaroth, I had drawn an Aether Gust to clear it from the board and swing in for lethal.
After the second game my opponent asked if we could play a few more games so they could practice and I was happy to oblige. After that, we walked up to the register to pick up our prizes and compared card pulls from our promo packs. We usually compete to see who got the “better” rares each week in the promo packs and while both of us pulled bulk we did marvel and the foil Offer You Can’t Refuse that I had pulled.
After testing the deck all week on MTGO and playing it at my FNM I would say that Izzet Prowess is not dead by any means. I’m sure it won’t be taking over the meta anytime soon, but I definitely think it’s a contender and a perfect FNM brew. Izzet is a popular color combination in Pioneer and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone much smarter than me finds the optimal list, but in my opinion Prowess suffered the least from the banning of Expressive Iteration. I especially think this is good news for the people who bought four Ledger Shredder just to build this deck as it definitely still has the power to win.
I would say if you already own the cards or at least most of them this is a solid build, but can’t recommend buying the deck if it’s your first deck in Pioneer. For the price one would be better off buying into one of the other, more stable meta decks. But, I will say this deck is a blast to pilot and keeps your mind engaged at every step. If you are a detail oriented person who also loves turning creatures sideways Izzet Prowess is the deck for you. Long live the blue and red!
I’m Casual Jake, reminding you: “don’t forget to play your land drops!”, and I will see you next time!
**Editor’s note**: You can find Jake’s video companion piece here: https://youtu.be/5VC98RGa-UI