For months now, Arcane has been a deck whose time had not yet come. It was always interesting, but few could doubt that such decks were outclassed in Standard while Block has yet to become important. Betrayers offered a number of new cards to add to the mix, but it was not until the announcement of The End of Affinity that it became time to look at a possible Standard build of an Arcane deck. The point of playing Arcane is to play two categories of cards – arcane spells and cards that reward you for Arcane spells. Before deciding on a theme, it would be best to meet the components.
Candles’ Glow is a six-point life swing for two mana, and Ethereal Haze is good old Fog if you need an excuse to keep splicing. Terashi’s Verdict is cheap, and there are various ways to destroy things people may or may not have and profit by it. Shining Shoal of course is the best Arcane card of all, but it requires expensive White cards to accompany it in order to be effective. The decks I want to try and build right now won’t have such things, although Oyobi could be a combination of a finisher and a pitch card for the Shoal.
The last interesting card is Tallowisp, which is a splice from hell if you have worthy cards to get with it and can even fetch a huge enchantment to pitch to the Shoal. I didn’t stop to think too much about what was out there during my set review once I thought of Pacifism, but that’s probably worth doing now. Arrest and Cage of Hands are similar to Pacifism, and all the other White options are designed to help your own creatures rather than hurt theirs. There’s also a distinct lack of expensive cards for Shoal practice, which leaves me wondering if that was deliberate or not.
Blue would let you expand into Mystic Restraints and Threads of Disloyalty, possibly Phantom Wings. Black offers Mark of the Oni if you can get around the drawback and possibly would invite you to get together Screams from Within. That’s also an interesting card to try and get multiple copies of. Red’s possibility is Fractured Loyalty, which could be strong in Arcane deck with all those spells to target with. If a creature is bouncing around, it isn’t attacking you, and perhaps you get to keep it. Every time you splice, chances are you can borrow the guy. Best unexpected way to target with Fractured Loyalty: A second copy?
Consuming Vortex is a good early loss leader to let you splice and buy time, then later it can be spliced once you have no mana issues. Dampen Thought could be a kill spell as it is in Limited, with the mana being far less prohibitive than a Millstone. Eerie Procession is the combo card for Arcane decks, and there are a few such cards worth searching for if you have the time. Disrupting Shoal of course goes right in if you have enough Blue in the deck. Peer Through Depths and Reach Through Mists are obviously great for what you’re trying to do in any of these decks. That puts Shift through Sands into the picture, as you can also always use more good splicing targets as well as a solid finisher. Psychic Puppetry is cheap to splice, which makes it an obvious choice for a good stalling strategy and for forcing opponents to overextend. In Arcane-related cards, Callow Jushi is an obvious choice. Unless you’re going for The Unspeakable, there isn’t much else to mess with.
Horobi’s Whisper and Sickening Shoal are your best, of course, and there isn’t that much else. Hideous Laughter has some synergy with other Arcane spells and can become a holy terror when you start splicing it later in the game, but it requires a large Black commitment as does the Shoal. Three Tragedies may have its uses and so might Swallowing Plague, but neither allows much splicing. This is not your color.
When we talk Red and spells, we talk burn. Glacial Ray is the card that inspired it all, but its companions do not seem to be very friendly to a control-based campaign. The sleeper could be Desperate Ritual, and you have a potential finisher with Ire of Kaminari, but Red seems destined to be the color of Glacial Ray. Unless, of course, you’re going with a burn deck. That changes everything. Now the base is Glacial Ray, Lava Spike and Ire of Kaminari, but to make Ire a good idea the deck has to find a way to keep going beyond the obvious Desperate Ritual. First Volley is the only other burn Arcane spell, so the direct Ire route seems closed for now. Either go for the burn deck itself as I talked about in an earlier article, or try for a more controlling approach.
White has two themes, Tallowisp and damage prevention. Blue has card drawing and stalling tactics. Red has Glacial Ray, and Black has creature removal. Green in theory has mana fixing, but that mana costs you more than it gets you. The goal now seems to be that you need to mix and match your themes to find the best deck. Here are the obvious candidate decks:
This deck will use Wrath of God along with lots of ways to find it and force you to go in too far. It might also use Oblivion Stone to back up Wrath of God, especially after Affinity bites the dust and clears away the worries about splash damage. It likely combines Tallowisp with some combination of Spirit Link, Pacifism, Arrest and Threads of Disloyalty as its enchantment base with either The Unspeakable or Dampen Thought as its finisher. Hinder and Mana Leak are the other candidates for non-Arcane spells. The problem with this deck is that its natural enemies don’t seem to be the decks that are out there. Tooth and Nail presents you with exactly the wrong kind of threat. Therefore you want to go into Red not just for the obvious Glacial Ray but for Fractured Loyalty and therefore Spirit Link so you can take dudes with them and not waste any resources.
This time, the deck is based around Blue. Peer Through Depths, Shift Through Sands and Reach Through Mists will all be prominent. That gives you many splash targets for your removal, Horobi’s Whisper and Glacial Ray. Since this is a Blue deck, Sickening Shoal is out and Disrupting Shoal is in while you use Wayfarer’s Bauble to fix your mana and make sure you have a Swamp. Most of your lands are Islands, since your only real mana requirements otherwise are to have a Swamp and to pay for Glacial Ray. This lets you use Vedalken Shackles, which is always a nice plus. Eerie Procession is going to make the cut because your two removal cards are so important and it allows you to set up The Unspeakable for the win. Psychic Puppetry should be good stalling assistance. I’ll return to this theme for the main build, because there’s something I just realized and haven’t told you yet.
This time, you’re not messing around. Horobi’s Whisper is not just a splice card, and Hideous Laughter and Sickening Shoal are ready to join it. Blue is helping out because it is the best way to help find what you need and provide cheap splicing. You might splash Red for Glacial Ray just because it’s that good, or you might not. Discard is likely to feature prominently in this build, because it’s good Arcane and builds upon your plan of making favorable trades. Of course, focusing on Black seems like it’s just forcing you to focus on creature removal, and I hate doing that.
There are some other options as well: A White/Red Tallowisp version that uses Spirits rather than a full Arcane deck or the Blue card drawing engine. A Blue/Red build that attempts to abuse Desperate Ritual and sometimes spits out a second-turn Arc-Slogger or third turn The Unspeakable. A Black/Red deck filled with removal to clear a path for spirits with both Cunning Bandit and Hired Muscle.
The right answer is to focus on Blue, because Arcane has a nasty combo that as of this writing no one is talking about. Splicing Glacial Ray is good, but splicing Horobi’s Whisper and Dampen Thoughts is even better. Whoops. For two extra mana, you get to improve your graveyard (to the extent that this matters, which it will for Ire) and kill a creature. It’s no infinite engine, and there’s no Time Warp combination with Stream of Consciousness waiting at the end of it, but it can easily take out more than enough creatures to make the point moot. The card advantage offered here is unreal, leaving you to fear only Black creatures and regenerators. Your finishing move can be your choice of Ire of Kaminari, Glacial Ray or Dampen Thoughts headed for your opponent, or you can kill with The Unspeakable. I think The Unspeakable is worth going for, because you’re going to be using the three parts as well as Eerie Procession anyway to make the deck work right. Let’s try out this preliminary build:
I know that you can easily accidentally lose The Unspeakable, but I don’t consider it that big a loss. Note of course that the only non-block card in this deck is Wayfarer’s Bauble (along with some cards in the preliminary board), which I’m playing because the mana fixing in this block is hideous and offers me nothing. It is possible you should try to use Chrome Mox since the card doesn’t matter much to you, but for now I’m going to stick with the Bauble. On that note, I’m not trying that hard to cast Horobi’s Whisper the hard way in the early game because there doesn’t seem to be much point. Using non-Arcane spells so that you could actually counter something might be a good idea, but don’t just assume that sort of thing. The sideboard lets you do other sick things if they seem like a good idea. Callow Jushi will be nuts for you if it can’t be killed, and Vedalken Shackles with a lot of Islands is always a good idea. Boseiju will make sure that Ire of Kaminari gets through against a Blue deck, forcing him to attack you along the way if he hopes to win.
This deck should consistently assemble the Dampen Thoughts and Horobi’s Whisper engine, since it has not just Eerie Procession but also twelve ways to dig deeper. On occasion, you’ll get to slap The Unspeakable out of nowhere, and no matter what is going on your deck is a ticking time bomb. After a while, you’ll be killing creatures at will while working on your choice of a fatal Ire of Kaminari, milling their whole library or just nibbling them to death with Glacial Ray. Then they have to decide whether to guard against the cards you might bring in, and they don’t gain by guessing right as much as they save themselves from disaster.
I see two big problems. The first is that your mana is going to be less than ideal, because you need to play Swamp for Horobi’s Whisper rather than alternate Black sources and that leaves you with two opposing colors for the rest of the base. I wish I saw a good way around that. Wayfarer’s Bauble helps, but your mana kind of has to be continuous so the other candidates look like bad fits. I can’t constantly be charging Mirrodin’s Core, and I can’t take pain every turn for a City of Brass. Chrome Mox might end up being forced for this reason alone.
The other problem is pure speed. Against an Affinity deck, you would get run over before the kill could start working. Pyroclasm is a good way to buy time against those opponents and also gives you a way to deal with a fast Troll Ascetic or a Beacon of Creation, but Arcane is not designed to work at this level of speed. If you want to play this deck during the Affinity era, you’ll be counting on March of the Machines, Annul and friends to bail you out of games two and three because the main plan is unlikely to get it done without help. It should be very good at putting good weapons over the top, but going in without a lot of hate means walking into a lunch matchup.
A version for the World of Ruin might look like this:
4 Dampen Thoughts
3 Eerie Procession
3 Shift Through Sands
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Reach Through Mists
4 Glacial Ray
4 Horobi’s Whisper
1 Ire of Kaminari
1 Consuming Vortex
1 Psychic Puppetry
I do not mess around. Period. You do what you have to do. There are more Mountains to make sure Pyroclasm goes off on schedule and to support Shatter the same way. Mana considerations make me want to lean more on Annul and March of the Machines and prey for a miracle, but I don’t think you can afford to corrupt this kind of deck with hate in the maindeck. Since beatdown decks will always be in style, there’s a good chance the right answer lies somewhere in between with Pyroclasm sticking around to deal with creature rushes. You can dig a decent amount for it. That would imply something like:
I hope this deck proves worthy and interesting, it seems to me to have promise. It can’t cut it in Extended of course – you’d be eaten alive – but things in Standard are about to open up. Before I go, as usual, In Other News…
SRB: Thinking Inside A Very Small Box
People always say to “think outside the box.” The box is there for a reason, and sometimes the most outside the box thing to do is to stick to thinking inside it. In the case of the Red deck, that means not letting anything get in the way of your primary plan. With both the Genju of the Spires and the Akki, then other stuff on top of it, it is clear that your lands are marked “for a limited time only”, as is your game plan. It would not make sense to consider such cards as Arc-Slogger, and while an interesting man, Zo-Zu costs more mana than I’m prepared to invest in the maindeck. As a sideboard card, he may be interesting.
As for why there was a decklist posted with such hits as Cosmic Larva, well, people underestimate the potential of that little guy. It may look at first glance that the decklist had far too many things fighting over the right to sacrifice your lands, but the most important fight is the one between those who would keep lands around to cast spells and those who would use them for fun and profit. I did in fact find in testing that the Larva was not the best idea, but it is far more dangerous than people give it credit for when you can feed it four lands. It did not fit, and that’s fine. One other problem of course is the “decklist disease” that has always been around, where you’re judged by the lists you post including the ones that are there to show the development of an idea.
Green and Blue/Green
It has been noted that I ignored these two lists in my last article. Those noting this are quite right. Others might think this implies a lack of respect. They would be right on that as well. They might also go on to conclude that I didn’t think these decks could be improved much by Betrayers and weren’t worthy of too much comment. Right again. But the question has been asked, and I’ve decided that it is best to tie up loose ends. On the Green deck, you have a Genju that might be worth trying, but what else is there, Child of Thorns? It’s just not a good match.
Blue/Green control suffers from the same problem. It is a deck based in the previous block, which cuts it off from the Arcane and Spirit centered themes of its colors to the extent that they would ever have been all that helpful. Disrupting Shoal is the only card that even makes a blip on this deck’s radar screen to me, and you have too many non-Blue cards and missing casting costs to make it worthwhile. These decks stay the same. I also frankly have a hard time believing in these decks too much as an outside observer, but that’s to be expected. Green’s reason for existence to me is “maybe they won’t have a good answer to Beacon of Creation or Troll Ascetic.” I of course make both of those mistakes with the natural build of Arcane before pulling Pyroclasm into the mix.
Aether Vial: Additional Thoughts
I’m sure that this has some overlap with what I said last time, which can’t be helped, but let’s make it very clear. I can’t believe this is being taken this seriously, and I find it highly amusing. Allow me to put on the Wizards hat for a minute, even though I of course am in no way associated with Wizards of the Coast.
Banning cards is a very Bad ThingÂ™, because banning cards takes cards and decks and strategies away from people. It makes them think that something is wrong, and that they shouldn’t be able to trust in their game and their cards. It makes people angry, and it even takes value out of people’s collections. It’s also dangerous, because the effects of a banning are unpredictable. Who is to say whether Aether Vial is good or bad for Extended? It might be keeping control down, but it might also be keeping us from walking into an Abyss. Even if I thought I knew, I wouldn’t know and neither would anyone else.
At such times, I like to think of Robocop’s laws. In order, you have three tasks.
Preserve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.
Banning cards must be done with extreme caution, and should only be done when there is a danger to the public trust. As a final note, for those who fear that Extended is going to narrow over the course of the season, of course it is! No format in history has ever sustained this many decks under that kind of scrutiny, and none should be expected to. I’ve seen many calls for a ban that had far stronger cases and never were seriously considered. I’d put the odds on this one working at something astronomical, and I’m positive that this is not the target in Standard because it doesn’t fit the announcement.
Mishra’s Workshop: A Better Target
Let me preface this by saying that I do not know Vintage. There are those on this site who know a ton about Vintage, and I am not one of them. Some day, assuming the idea is popular, I will go explore Vintage and report my journey along the way, but that day has not yet come. Despite that, I am going to go ahead and say that the existence of Mishra’s Workshop as an unrestricted card is a mistake. Three mana every turn is not something that can be permitted to exist, and it has been allowed only because the decks that resulted seemed not to be a problem.
They clearly are a problem.
No one is saying they are unbeatable, but you don’t have to be an expert in the format to see how dumb it is to go first-turn Mishra’s Workshop and Trinisphere. The tools now exist to use that three mana properly, and therefore the Workshop’s time has come. That mistake needs to be undone. I have no idea if that should be the only move, but to me this one is easy and a number of tournaments have pointed the way. Also note that there are few things less dangerous to the public trust than taking out an Antiquities land that produces three mana a turn and that has this kind of history.
Invitational Voting: North America
There are two candidates, an internal battle of the team formerly known as CMU-Togit. Divide up the town and choose a side. In this corner, we have Joe Black himself, Osyp Lebedowicz. In the other corner, we have the straight man, America’s last best hope, Eugene Harvey. On technical grounds, Eugene should go. On the grounds that he’d likely be a lot funnier, Osyp should go. It comes down to this: If Osyp publicly promises an epic tournament report for the ages and to finally get us that bull ride, he has my vote. Otherwise, I’m backing Eugene Harvey. There’s little question he deserves to go. Congrats to Carlos Romao for making it out of South America.