Did you watch Grand Prix Montreal this past weekend? Were you as blown away as I was with how the finals ended?
That's right, Gravitic Punch dealt those last points of damage. I don't think Gravitic Punch is very good, and it only makes the most aggressive of my Izzet decks, but there's a reason that the card can be a solid inclusion. And that reason is actually a key observation on the Izzet archetype as a whole in Guilds of Ravnica.
What do the following cards have in common?
They all can deal damage directly to the face. Seriously, pairing Maximize Altitude and Piston-Fist Cyclops is ten damage upstairs. After that, you're just a couple Sonic Assaults away from finishing them off. Cards like Direct Current, Inescapable Blaze, and Sonic Assault provide inevitability to your aggressive decks. Sure, your opponent may have been able to handle the early onslaught and stabilize, but if they're not at a high life total, they must kill you quickly because eventually you'll draw the burn spell to finish them off.
This doesn't mean every Izzet deck is aggressive, but it does mean that the majority of Izzet decks are capable of dealing quite a bit of damage out of nowhere, especially with cards like Wee Dragonauts.
Today, I'm going to walk you through the ins and outs of the Izzet archetype in Guilds of Ravnica Limited. The different ways you can build your decks, the common play patterns, the important cards, and more. But before we get down and dirty, it's important to review the subset of commons and uncommons that often are a part of this archetype. So, take a minute to review the cards shown below. The list is not necessarily exhaustive but should provide a good starting point to digest the archetype. And the role of these cards will change depending on the architecture of your deck, but more on that later!
Key cards are those that play important/specific roles in the archetype. You want to draft a deck that maximizes their potency. Good cards are simply cards you play because of high card quality while filler cards are those that can make your deck, but shouldn't pull you towards Izzet.
Note: While Capture Sphere is a good card, it doesn't always make your Izzet deck. If you have an abundance of instant/sorcery synergies and enough interaction, it's a card you can delegate to the sideboard. In fact, I think the best versions of Izzet don't play the card.
A couple notes on these splashes:
- I'm more inclined to try and splash a Boros card because it's easier to get Boros Guildgate than it is to get Dimir Guildgate.
- Garrison Sergeant may look like an odd splash, but the card deals sixteen damage with Maximize Altitude and is very potent with Sonic Assault as well. So, if I happen to be in a deck that wants to play those cards and can facilitate a Boros splash, I consider playing this card.
Hopefully that wasn't too much to digest because now comes the real meat of the guide: decklists. Jumping right into it, here's the first Izzet deck I 3-0'd with in a Competitive Draft League on Magic Online:
While this deck has plenty of synergy cards, it's mostly just a pile of high-quality cards. Crackling Drake is an above rate creature with tacked on card advantage. The deck has a good curve, good removal, and solid rares. An advantage that the Izzet archetype has in Guilds of Ravnica Limited is that the card quality in both red and blue is quite high across the board. That said, this deck also does take advantage of the spell synergies.
Three copies of Inescapable Blaze is a lot, but with multiple copies of Goblin Electromancer, I think it's reasonable to include all of them. Additionally, because Hypothesizzle requires you to discard a spell, you do hit six lands frequently. Speaking of which, six lands is the sweet spot for the archetype.
In the Izzet archetype, you often want to hold your lands to utilize for jump-start spells since casting more spells than your opponent is one of the best routes to victory in Limited. Because many of these spells are three mana, the sixth land enables casting them twice in a turn, which is very powerful. I've found maximizing resources to be a key to success with Izzet, so don't just blindly play your lands. The decision to play the fifth or sixth land can be a crucial one and unless you have a lot of cards in hand or a deck full of card draw spells, I think it's often better to hold the seventh land.
This should be kept in mind even when building a controlling deck. So even in my Izzet decks that are really trying to go for the lategame, I think it's important to build them to function well on less lands to get the most out of there jump-start spells. Let's take a look at one of the successful Izzet control decks I've had in the format.
As you can see, this avenue of Izzet is much less focused on the creature curve, but outside of that, there isn't much difference. Sure, there are more counterspells in this version of the deck, but I do think the previous deck would happily add a card like Disdainful Stroke. These are the two ways to take Izzet if your only focus is on card quality.
One important thing to note in regard to the more controlling Izzet decks is that they really need creatures that can win the game on their own. This is because these decks can only afford to play so many creatures. And some of these creatures are Goblin Electromancer and cards like Dimir Infiltrator to stop early aggression. The problem with this is that it's feasible for your opponent to just kill all your win conditions. So, cards like Murmuring Mystic that can take over the game all by themselves are of the highest priority. Furthermore, playing the game in such a way to prevent running yourself out of threats is something to keep in mind. But one of the things that makes the Izzet archetype so great in Guilds of Ravnica Limited is that it's not always about card quality. The midrange and controlling variants will focus on card quality, but there are a lot of cards that are card disadvantage yet have a home in Izzet.
I've saved the best for last: Izzet aggro. And I really mean best, as I think the aggressive orientation of Izzet is the best deck in the format. The important thing to note about the existence of this archetype is it's where card evaluations from the prior list drastically change. Sonic Assault, Wee Dragonauts, Beamsplitter Mage, and Smelt-Ward Minotaur are all solid potential inclusions in any Izzet deck, but in the aggressive version, they're extremely potent. I've had a turn-5 kill already just off the back of Wee Dragonauts. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Izzet Aggro plays the lategame well thanks to all of the reach it has access to.
The key to success with Izzet Aggro is getting a creature on the battlefield. That probably sounds obvious, but it's a bit trickier than you would think. To maximize all the synergies in the Izzet archetype, you need to have a density of spells. And spells don't affect the battlefield in the same way a creature does. If you're going to win a game of Magic playing a deck like this, it's crucial that you don't have too many creatures with high converted mana cost. Save that for your spells like Hypothesizzle. Your goal is to curve out and then never let your opponent block. Since you can't really play more than fourteen creatures, and I think the best versions of the archetype play closer to twelve, there's only room for about three creatures above three converted mana cost if you want around a 95% chance of playing a creature by turn 3.
Luckily, there's an abundance of early creatures in the Izzet color combination. Because of this, they don't need to be such a high priority in the draft. The only two creatures at common that you need to prioritize are Piston-Fist Cyclops and Goblin Electromancer, with the Cyclops being more important. It's also important to note that Leapfrog can play a fairly reasonable Cyclops impression but is substantially worse. One point of toughness is very fragile and the loss of power isn't worth the addition of flying when you're trying to play cards like Gravitic Punch.
Outside of your creatures, almost every card in your deck should be there for dealing damage. Maximize Altitude can jump a Cyclops for two turns to deal ten damage. Maximize Velocity can let you attack with Wee Dragonauts out of nowhere. Both Direct Current and Sonic Assault can remove blockers and deal damage to the face. All these cards add up to a pretty linear plan: count down from twenty. And sometimes you can do it in a way that just feels hopeless for your opponent. When you curve two-drop into three-drop and are looking at a Sonic Assault in hand, your opponent isn't going to win the game by playing blockers, which is the most common way to handle aggression in Limited. In recent years, we haven't seen anything close to the amount of reach that these Izzet decks have, and it really adds up to something spectacular. Just make sure not to overload on the card disadvantageous versions of these effects. Maximize Altitude can be very good, but drawing too many cards like that is one way to run you out of resources.
To finish this guide off, there are some crazy and fun build-around rares that can work should you get the proper version. So, if you see them and want to have some fun, you should know what to prioritize.
You can't throw these cards in every Izzet deck, but they're very powerful if you can get the proper shell. For both, the two commons that you really want to get in multiples are Goblin Electromancer and Radical Idea. It takes casting a lot of spells to really get each of these enchantments working. Electromancer makes that much easier to do and Radical Idea ensures that you can keep the chains rolling.
The other card to keep in mind when drafting a deck that utilizes these cards is Devious Cover-Up. This counterspell plays a very important role in this format: if you draft two, you can loop them to not deck yourself. Additionally, as these decks often have so much card draw, putting four spells back in your deck really keeps the ball rolling to make sure you have more to do than your opponent.
Here's what a good deck with both enchantments would look like: