Sunday, 2 August 2020
Card Spotlight: Phoenix of Ash
This little birdy has been impressing more than most in cube of late and this was a pretty unexpected outcome. On my initial review I thought it was better than Chandra's or Flamewake but not by a significant margin and that is where I was wrong! Phoenix of Ash is in contention for one of the best red three drops in cube. It just has so much going on all of which add up to one of the scarier cards of the year.
So what exactly makes this so good? We have plenty of recursive 2/2 flying haste dorks, plenty of aggressive flyers and plenty of recursive threats. The simplest answer would be the fire breathing side of the card. It keeps the card relevant and threatening throughout the game. It almost always threatens to one shot a planeswalker if already in play. It also trades up into any would be blocker. The rate is decent too. Mid way between one for one and two for one in terms of mana spent to power gained is pretty acceptable. It is a whole lot better than the latter. It is also very colour light meaning you can spend more of your mana than if it was R for +1/+0 for any two or more colour deck. It also just makes it a threat which closes fast in addition to inevitably. Even big Phoenix like Rekindling take a fair while to end a game on their own, even if from a reduced life total. Phoenix of Ash can just chew through life in no time if you want it too.
Escape is the other aspect of the card I underrated somewhat. I focused too hard on the relatively high mana cost (relative to the cost of recurring other good Phoenix style cards) and not the ease and convenience of meeting the requirements. Having three cards in the bin to exile is incredibly easy. Assuming you have no other escape or delve spells and your opponent isn't removing your bin then you pretty much have endless capacity to escape the Phoenix. This gives it a Scarab God like ability to resist death. Haste and flying mean that it is just relentless. Just to get respite you need chumps to block or instant speed removal. Short of those things you are just getting hit in the face or putting walkers in the bin. It reminds me of Psychatog in this regard, just a three mana dork that is powerful enough to represent a game ending threat. This low cost and risk to deploy makes it a surprisingly effective card in control decks as well as the more obviously suitable homes.
Four to recur is expensive but it is a better deal than the conventional cast mode in a general sense. You pay 1.5 mana for 1/1 worth of stats compared to 1.33 mana per 1/1 of stats when escaping. This assumes the progression in mana from 3 to 4 is linear and that there is no scaling on flying, haste or fire breathing. While there might be I suspect it is similar enough over all to be fairly negligible in comparison to the more efficient stats cost, which in turn is generally pretty irrelevant when compared to the context of any given game. If the body is good enough to be casting it is good enough to be escaping and that is great because it gives every card in your bin a third of a cards worth of value. This is fundamentally what makes escape so good. Use three sac lands and draw a free card? Sign me up. Phoenix being the cheapest relevant escape card in terms of cards exiled makes it especially good in cube where 40 card libraries lead to potential over mill issues.
Phoenix is a great aggro card but it is rounded enough to be a fine inclusion in any midrange or control deck able to play a 1RR card without too much issue. It scales with time, looting, mill, card draw, and mana! It doesn't stand out as a bomb to look at but it has really proven itself in game play. I highly recommend adding one to your cube if you have not already.