Do the Evolution – Neo Dark Phoenix

By: John Tatta

The evolution of Dark Phoenix is an odd one. Since her release in the A-Force expansion, much speculation has been made about her perceived power level. Is she broken? Is she the best MC since Thanos? What is the proper way to build the deck? These are all questions that didn’t really have answers. One thing that everyone more or less agreed upon was that Dark Phoenix was and is a very good Main Character. So that left everyone to wonder what the best build of her was. Pre-Origins I played upwards of 100 games with Dark Phoenix and every single one of them were with a Pixie/Singularity variant that had the backup plan of just ramping into huge supporting characters starting on turn 3 (five resources). In all of my testing games, this seemed to work pretty well. You’d have games that were tough to win because you missed a turn to ramp, or you’d have a bad draw here and there, but one of the two plans always seemed to just fall into place. I played against Thanos to a near even result, played against Luke Cage to very favorable results, and played a lot against Captain Marvel which was very hit or miss. Most importantly I was about 50/50 with Thanos and those numbers were fine with me headed into Origins. Following the VS 2PCG Collective on Facebook many other players were coming to roughly the same conclusion with Dark Phoenix taking a lot of first and second place finishes in local events.

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So, I sleeved up my 60 cards and headed to Origins with Dark Phoenix. I had Thanos with me as well in case I wanted to just roll with him but ultimately just decided to play Dark Phoenix since I liked that deck the best. Also, it wasn’t Thanos. I expected to see a lot of Thanos, Dark Phoenix, and Captain Marvel with a decent amount of Luke Cage but as it turned out most people just opted for either Thanos or their pet deck. I won’t bother sharing the list as it’s already outdated but it was the typical Pixie/Singularity combo style Dark Phoenix that seems to be the most popular build.

As this isn’t a tournament report I’ll again spare many details but I finished in 14th place narrowly missing top 8 after losing my 8th round match which would have likely put me in 7th or 8th after Swiss. My losses were to two Thanos (who both activated the Infinity Gauntlet on turn 3 or 4) as well as to Adam Logan’s Luke Cage after a close game. More importantly though I realized the error in my deckbuilding early on in the event despite the good start to the day (3-1). What happened to me, and I assume others, is that I had tunnel vision when building the deck. I saw a card interaction that many also saw and recognized as good and just built a deck around it and fell in love with it. What I didn’t do was stop to think if this was even the best idea for a deck who can really do much more powerful things that “just” combo into a big supporting character. Let’s list the weaknesses of Dark Phoenix quickly:

  • Weak to an early Cosmo
  • Average to poor stats that have little chance of improving during the game
  • Good faction but poor for the strategy of choice (ramp)

And of course the strengths:

  • Game ending level 2 superpower
  • One of the best, if not the best, level 1 superpower
  • 7 friggin’ health

Looking at that abridged list you can kind of deduce what kind of deck you want to make. You want a solid early game that preserves her 7 health, you want a way to not just fold to Cosmo, you want to figure out how to incorporate another faction or two to complement the ramp strategy, and you desperately want to abuse the level 1 superpower to the best of your ability. What my deck didn’t have, and what most that I’ve seen don’t have, is any kind of early game presence or any real way to preserve Dark Phoenix’s 7 health. I tunnel visioned and just completely refused to believe that any Pixie combo deck should be playing with anything but giant characters and in the games that I lost at Origins I simply got overwhelmed early without preserving my health and couldn’t recover when I had board position finally as my opponent just Ghost Rider’ed me out alongside Singularity. Post-Origins I went back to the drawing board and came up with some really good ideas.

The focal point of my ideas (I say my ideas but others have also figured this out on their own by now) was that Dramatic Entrance was extremely good for me in several scenarios. I wanted to build on that without the wonky “combo” strategy and see what I could come up with. Secondly, ramp is king in the deck. In games where I ramped I typically won pretty handily. Mantis immediately came to mind as not only a great ramp option but also incredibly powerful with Dramatic Entrance. Being able to turn your chump defender into a resource really takes the sting out of losing a card to Dramatic Entrance. While many are using DE to stun an attacker that wasn’t expecting it, I wanted to simply use it for value with the occasional upside of also getting a free stun. Add to that the ability to potentially start using Even the Odds, an amazing plot twist at this juncture of the game, and I was on my way to the Neo-Dark Phoenix deck. Here is the version that I have been playing with since Origins:

Main Character – Dark Phoenix
(click here to also see the visual deck)

4 Cosmo
4 Mantis
2 Moonstone
4 She-Hulk
2 Modok
4 Miss America
1 Groot
3 Magneto
2 Drax
2 Rogue
2 Adam Warlock
3 Thanos

Plot Twists:
4 Shock to the System
3 Dramatic Entrance
2 Even the Odds

4 Madripoor
4 Academy
4 Fortress
3 Arcadia

This version had exactly everything that I wanted and didn’t have any bad cards that needed another combo half (Pixie is terrible on her own. Like real bad). By cutting Pixie, you are able to free up blue locations from the deck. You still want some number of Arcadia so that you can reliably use She-Hulk and Rogue when they’re in play but you predominantly want to just draw and use your Yellow and Green abilities. This version highlights my strongest cards from my Origins deck – Miss America, Rogue, Thanos, and the plot twists. It also foregoes Build a Better World in favor of Even the Odds which is just a much better plot twist. You also have ways to combat Cosmo, mainly an early Moonstone, so that you aren’t just completely cold to the space dog. I’ve played a good number of games with this version of the deck and feel like it’s in a good spot in the current metagame. Your Luke Cage matchup is extremely good, you’re much better against Captain Marvel due to the EtO addition and Cosmo, and your Thanos matchup isn’t damaged by the changes. It’s tough to get better than 50/50 against Thanos no matter what your strategy is so I’m satisfied with that for now.

Some other ideas that I want to try out but haven’t gotten around to it yet are to include Electro and Purple Man and play Fisk Towers rather than Arcadia but I’m not sure how to free up those slots just yet. Also, streamlining the deck slightly and playing A-Force Loki is an option but that is pretty risky, even with Dramatic Entrance. I’m not sure you need the card draw anyway and Modok can help you find missing drops to stay on curve. I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the evolution of the deck and will be interested to see where each of you decide to take Dark Phoenix. I think that she has a ton of potential and absolutely think that she is a tier 1 deck. Until next time, I hope that you enjoyed the read!

  • JT