Phenax, God of Deception is the second most powerful permanent in Standard that closes a game so quickly (after Jeskai Ascendancy, because it costs two mana less, and before Goblin Rabblemaster, because it doesn’t need to warm up with other creatures). If you want to sort of kill an opponent in two turns, this is the deck for you.
Here is the list:
3 Thassa, God of the Sea
3 Master of Waves
3 Drown in Sorrow
3 Taigam’s Scheming
Cards I considered or tested on one point or another:
Hold at Bay, Nyx-Fleece Ram, Wall of Frost, Breaching Hippocamp, Cloaked Siren, Oppressive Rays, Singing-Bell Strike, Kill Shot, Omenspeaker, Mind Rot, Rakshasa’s Secret, Dig Through Time, AEtherspouts, Whelming Wave, Sigiled Starfish, Griptide, Brain Maggot, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Congregate, Resolute Archangel, Festergloom, Ulcerate, Sage-Eye Harrier, High Sentinels of Arashin, Wingmate Roc, Disdainful Stroke, Disowned Ancestor, Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, Yoked Ox, Siege Rhino (this version of the deck contained Jungle Hollow and Temple of Malice).
The basic gameplan is defense: hold your ground with blockers, destroy/exile early threats, replenish your life, until you can safely deploy Phenax and mill to win. The plan stays the same even after sideboard, because both Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea provide a secondary, not alternative, win condition by dealing damage.
Making a Master of Waves on turn 4 produces three tokens at best, but a second Master makes each token a 3/2 that doesn’t die if one Master hits the farm.
An active Thassa can block anything that doesn’t fly or leap. Even in full enchantment mode she speeds up your search for Phenax, while she is scrying away all cards you don’t need during the midgame: lifelands, Thoughtseizes on empty opponent’s hand, Bile Blights and Last Breaths.
Phenax Rising deck can be considered as a fair one, because the opponent can play Magic: develop the board, attack with creatures, burn with spells, do his/her best to drop my life points down. All this sorcery changes in the moment when the opponent gets — for the first time — two or three Stain the Minds in a row (Stain is a sorcery). After that the opponent always distinctly changes line of play: all spells get played as soon as they are drawn. No hoarding for the next turn (except Banishing Light or Hero’s Downfall for your Phenax), no waiting for 2-for-1. There might not be a second chance, so better play them right now.
Suppose you are playing Abzan Midrange (white-black-green), the one Ari Lax championed Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir (KTK) with. The first Stain the Mind takes Siege Rhinos. That’s ok, you think, I still have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Sorin, Solemn Visitor to finish things off.
When the second Stain takes away all copies of Elspeth, you start to breathe heavily. Your plan has just shattered. Sorin is good at stabilizing or delivering the final blow, but he is too fragile to do an actual weightlifting (his -2 ability hurts him more than 0 ability of Xenagos, the Reveler). Also, you start flooding, because out of 36-38 non-lands in your deck he now may draw about 24-26 (starting 36-38 minus 8 exiled by Stains minus 4 in his opening hand).
The third Stain usually shuts the game completely, because from now on I have all time in the world to find my closing: be it Phenax, Thassa, or Master of Waves.
Suppose you are playing Jeskai Wins (white-blue-red), the one Shaun McLaren piloted to the second place in the mentioned Pro Tour KTK. The first Stain the Mind takes away Mantis Riders. The second sends into exile Goblin Rabblemasters. The third swallows one of two 4-point burn spells: Stoke the Flames or Jeskai Charm. The second one of them will be effectively countered by life gain from Meditation Puzzle and/or lifelands.
How can you know what to name with Stain the Mind, if you don’t know the opponent’s deck — you ask. Two cards in the deck allow you to look at the opponent’s hand: Thoughtseize and morphed Dragon’s Eye Savants. Also, you can look at the opponent’s graveyard anytime. There is a good chance that you were already hit by something powerful. Just name it and never fear it this game again.
The sweet thing about both Stain the Mind and Meditation Puzzle is convoke. Thanks to this ability, you can play those cards with three lands on the battlefield only: formerly played Dragon’s Eye Savants and Monastery Flock hold both ground and air, allow Meditation Puzzle to get you out of double Stoke the Flames range and allow Stain the Mind to take away all Stoke the Flames the opponent could use further this game.
A few words on sideboarding. Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea come aboard in game 2 and 3 to make things difficult for the opponent. If he/she uses removal on them, Phenax will land uncontested. If he/she doesn’t remove them, they will quickly amass an army of Merfolk and find enough removal cards to clear path for the wave people.
Drown in Sorrow is a must when facing any aggro deck: white, white-red, red, black, green. I usually cut one Hero’s Downfall, one Banishing Light, one Thoughtseize. Reprisal can instantly clear a swollen Goblin Rabblemaster, Siege Rhino, Nissa, Worldwaker‘s animated land, animated Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
I love Taigam’s Scheming (even more than I love Index), and it provides a quick search for anything I need on turn 3: Banishing Light or Thoughtseize against Jeskai Ascendancy, Drown in Sorrow against small aggro decks.
After three weeks of testing, I can say without doubt: Phenax Rising is a fun deck to play, if you like control decks and surprise kills.
For more information on matches using Phenax Rising, or if you want a story of a match you’ve played using it, please come to an ongoing discussion on Twitter, #PhenaxRising.