Too-Specific Top 10 - Phoenixes?

(Squee, Goblin Nabob | Art by Greg Staples)

Will the Real Phoenix Commander Please Stand Up

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Magma Phoenix is the only Phoenix that can deal direct damage to players?)

Of late, Phoenixes have gotten a bit to be excited about with the printing of a purpose-built Phoenix commander in the form of Syrix, Carrier of the Flame, and one of the most easily recurrable Phoenixes ever with the newly-spoiled Nemesis Phoenix!

However, there two things that slightly rain on that parade:

  1. Why is Syrix black? There's literally never been a non-mono-red Phoenix ever, so why the extra color? Seems both weird and kind of like saying "well, Phoenixes will never be able to hold their own weight" all at once, honestly.
  2. Is Syrix really the first Phoenix commander?

I would argue there's another in the very same set, in the guise of Jaxis, the Troublemaker, a Spellshaper that can make copies of Phoenixes by discarding Phoenixes to get even more death triggers from Phoenixes! More selfishly, I've been playing Phoenix tribal for years with the truest Phoenix at the helm: Squee, Goblin Nabob.

Commander (1)
Sorceries (13)
Creatures (24)
Enchantments (7)
Artifacts (12)
Instants (9)
Lands (33)
Planeswalkers (1)

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Squeenix himself may feel a bit stuck in the command zone at times, but once you've cast him and found a way for him to throw himself off a cliff, he spends the rest of the game simply getting discarded and returned to your hand every upkeep! Even if he does get stuck in the command zone, do ya know what else is very good at repeatedly dying and coming back to your hand and/or battlefield? Phoenixes! In fact, red has a funky history of this type of recursion.

Top 10 Red Cards That Return Themselves

With red now solidly in rummage, there are tons of opportunities to discard cards that recur themselves. Why operate at parity or a loss with your rummage effects when you can instead discard cards that will just return themselves?

Naturally, this leads us to ask the all-important question: which red cards are the best at doing that?

Criteria: Red cards that are able to return themselves from your graveyard to your hand or your battlefield. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Lightning Phoenix

(1,027 Inclusions, 0% of 544,321 Decks)

Of all the Phoenixes in my deck, the one I'm usually happiest to see in my opening hand is easily Lightning Phoenix. Whether I end up playing it down to get some hasty damage in early, or just discarding it to a turn one Burning Inquiry, I'm going to be seeing it again and again on my end step for a single mana, and there's nothing to not love about that.

9. Critical Hit

(1,176 Inclusions, 0% of 400,426 Decks)

A card I have significantly less experience with is Critical Hit. What I do have a fair amount of experience with, however, is rolling d20s, and I can say with some authority that you don't want to be relying on a 5% chance. With that said, granting double strike for two mana at instant speed isn't the worst rate, so if you're in the dice-rolling deck and want to double up some damage, you could do worse.

8. Chandra's Phoenix

(1,200 Inclusions, 0% of 563,491 Decks)

"Oops, All Chandras!" is an archetype that's been viable for a long time now, and given that there are 15 Chandras that can deal damage to players, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that her Phoenix familiar is seeing some play. What is shocking to me is that we're not seeing this little firebird show up in the more typical burn decks in any great fashion. While it's not quite Chandra's Incinerator, it is an extra card in hand to rummage away, a repeatable blocker in a strategy that is constantly finding itself open to threats, and a couple extra damage in a pinch. Something to consider for all you burn folks out there!

7. Dragon Breath

(1,263 Inclusions, 0% of 566,917 Decks)

For the first time on this list, Dragon Breath had me scratching my head. Firebreathing has never been an effect that most decks are writing home about in the first place, so why would anyone care if you tacked on the ability to recast it from the graveyard for free? Turns out, I had completely skipped over reading the second line of the card. Having your six-mana commander come in with a mana sink attached isn't something I'd seek out, but having my Etali, Primal Storm come down with haste is something I could definitely get into.

6. Flamewake Phoenix

(1,361 Inclusions, 0% of 566,917 Decks)

What could be better than getting Lightning Phoenix back every turn at your end step? Getting back Flamewake Phoenix back just in time for combat! While the "attacks each turn if able" clause does take blocking out of the equation, I know that I personally am more than happy to pay a single mana to swing over the top for two damage and then get a sacrifice effect every turn.

5. Spellpyre Phoenix

(1,749 Inclusions, 0% of 566,917 Decks)

Of late, we've seen a new phenomenon with the Phoenix tribe: niche Phoenixes. While we've seen quite a few Phoenixes that borrow the mechanic of whatever set they're being printed in, such as Flame-Wreathed Phoenix or Phoenix of Ash, they've always been generically playable as well. Not so with Spellpyre Phoenix! If you're not rocking a deck full of Cycling cards, then you'd be better off leaving this Phoenix at home. If you are, however, then a 4/2 flier for five that gets you back a spell/cycler and returns itself to your hand any time you cycle twice in a turn seems worth the price of admission.

Why not go full Eternal Dragon and give it Cycling as well, Wizards?

4. Skyfire Phoenix

(1,825 Inclusions, 0% of 566,917 Decks)

I'm torn on Skyfire Phoenix. On the one hand, casting your commander is a very low barrier to entry as far as recurring a Phoenix goes. On the other hand, are you actually going to cast your commander enough times for this effect to be worth it? Your best case scenario is probably Squee, the Immortal or Rootha, Mercurial Artist, neither of which seem like they'd care much about a 3/3 flier with haste. What you'd need to make Skyfire Phoenix worthwhile is an aggro or Aristocrats type of deck that has a cheap commander that's going to be cast a lot. So... Rograkh, I guess?

3. Aurora Phoenix

(3,683 Inclusions, 1% of 502,370 Decks)

Aurora Phoenix is another of those niche Phoenixes that is dedicated to a theme - in this case, Cascade. While it's still a bit pricey at six mana, that's not anything that a Cascade deck isn't expecting to pay every turn, and that's exactly what you'll be able to do with Skyfire Phoenix, given how easy it is to get back in your hand in a deck full of Cascade spells.

2. Spit Flame

(4,432 Inclusions, 1% of 566,917 Decks)

If I'm being honest, I'm not much of a fan of Spit Flame. At three mana for four damage only to a creature, it's a pretty inefficient rate to start with. Even the original Phoenix-y removal spell, Hammer of Bogardan, at least hit any target. Spit Flame does blow the old Hammer out of the water when it comes to return cost, especially if your Dragons don't cost an arm and a leg, but if you're playing The Ur-Dragon, do you really need this bad piece of red removal?

No, the only place you'd really want this is in a mono- or two-color Dragon tribal deck that needed to be able to rummage. On its own, the spell itself is just not good enough.

Apparently Dragon players disagree with me, though. Such is life.

1. Squee, Goblin Nabob

(Helms 25 Decks, Rank #1,549; 9,197 Inclusions, 2% of 566,917 Decks)

It would appear that I'm in the minority when it comes to putting Squee, Goblin Nabob in the command zone, too. While I do understand that having to dedicate slots in the deck to sacrifice outlets and Command Beacon is less than ideal, I do think folks should take a look at just how many fun discard effects there are in red, and how easy it is to apply a Skullclamp to a Squee. While it can be disheartening to have him stuck in play, there's also any number of random happenstance in a typical game of Commander that will casually murder a 1/1, and then you'll have a free discard for whatever Spellshaper, rummage, or Firestorm your heart desires.

To be clear, Squee will never be a good commander. He will always, however, be a great honorary Phoenix.

Honorable Mentions

First off, you all knew this was coming:

Top 10 Phoenixes

  1. Aurora Phoenix
  2. Everquill Phoenix
  3. Rekindling Phoenix
  4. Skyfire Phoenix
  5. Spellpyre Phoenix
  6. Flamewake Phoenix
  7. Phoenix of Ash
  8. Chandra's Phoenix
  9. Lightning Phoenix
  10. Magma Phoenix

Can we just give props to Jason Rainville for that Rekindling Phoenix art? More of that, please!

As for what else didn't make the list outside of "true" Phoenixes, there's a couple more contenders for constantly returning for another round:

There was once a time where having random Treasure strewn about the battlefield was a little less common, but we don't live in that world anymore. With that in mind, then, returning a Gilded Assault Cart to your hand over and over again is child's play, even if it is a poor excuse for a Ball Lightning as a Vehicle.

I was a little hard on Spit Flame, but I'm actually a lot more into Punishing Fire. There are a lot more decks that could use it, I don't remember the last Commander game I played that didn't have some form of life gain, and you can hit any target. What's not to like?

Lastly, just showing the art for Kuldotha Phoenix is giving a lot of folks flashbacks to having a board of no lands thanks to a Wildfire and no way to deal with a 4/4 hasty flier. Which raises the question: why aren't more people making folks deal with a 4/4 hasty flier you can just return every turn? That's enough damage that it's worth it in the typical game, not even to speak about how good a situation that is to be in in a Stax environment.

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.

What Do You Think?

Between Phage the Untouchable, all the Grandeur commanders like Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and legendary creatures that just want to be in your hand like Squee, Goblin Nabob and Tetzimoc, Primal Death, there's no shortage of possible commanders that just don't interact well with the rules of the EDH format. With that said, there're all sorts of people that enjoy walking up hills for fun, right?

Finally, what's your favorite Phoenix, and why is it an unkillable Goblin that needs to get a spark already?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table that survived the fire.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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