After your last article (Anax-ident Waiting to Happen
) I figured I’d ask you again to step outside of the norm again. Even though your title is about one of the most goldfishy combo generals of all time, you
don’t seem to talk about those kind of decks often. What I want isn’t really a goldfishy deck since I find those to be really oppressive, but it does
involve a notorious general: Arcum Dagsson.
After playing the “cutthroat” version a few times (courtesy of a friend), I’ve gotten pretty bored of how little this deck cares about anything that goes
on since the infinite combos are seemingly endless and it always ends up with multiple counterspells, opponents having zero nonland permanents in play, and
you having a hasty Blightteel with a few extra turns.
The deck as it stands is this:
Clock of Omens
Rings of Brighthearth
Sensei’s Divining Top
Spine of Ish Sah
Staff of Domination
Cavern of Souls
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Seat of the Synod
I did, however, see the potential for something more out of this general, some artifact-based wonky control-ish thing with a few nifty combos and the resiliency to play your game. Where I’m having trouble with this deck is where to draw the line; should combos like Nevinyrral’s
Disk + Mycosynth Lattice be included, or is that still too oppressive? Can Rings of Brighthearth be in this deck without breaking it? Is Planar Portal too
much? How do you even build a win-con into a deck like this without it being an infinite combo or Blightteel?
I know (and I hope readers do too) that sometimes it’s about how you play the deck instead of what’s in it, so for now I’m trying to be nice with it and
just make fun-ish board states with cards like Master Transmuter, Lifeline, Sculpting Steel, and Planar Portal, but whenever I want to win I feel like I’m
Jordan, thanks for writing in. You’re right on the money; Sean and I tend to look outside of the box in our deck selections, and that usually ends up
taking us down less-competitive roads. This isn’t a conscious attempt to ditch decks like the one you’ve written in about; for myself anyway, inspiration
comes in different ways, and if I find myself presented with a Nekusar “All The Wheel Effects!” deck and something like this that I don’t see every day,
I’ll typically end up here.
The important caveat is that competitive decks are a thing, and we do need to consider that when doing what we do. I’m with that. One of the additional
reasons I ended up with your deck today is because it allows me to try to tear down a stereotypical wall by trying to back a broken deck out to a more
balanced place, which is the opposite of what usually gets requested for decks like this. You know the line by now – it’s not hard to break Commander; it’s
hard to try specifically not to.
Arcum offers a fantastic perspective on the social aspect of the game. By that, I mean it almost completely demands a line of discussion be opened between
you and the other players in your group, lest something really bad happen. By now, everyone knows Arcum as a commander; he’s rightfully taken his place in
the pantheon of cards that elicit an immediate reaction once they show up in a command zone somewhere at the table. Play Jhoira of the Ghitu, get
gang-piled regardless of what’s actually in your deck. Play Sharuum…gang-pile. Zur? You get the point.
For this reason, it’s critical to open up discussions within your playgroup to determine what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and also to help to set other
players’ expectations to a correct level. This list today is packed with combo; in my metagame, that wouldn’t fly at all. In my metagame, playing Arcum is
a perfectly good reason to attack the living crap out of another player just to make sure it doesn’t go broken on turn 3.
On the other hand, I had a recent experience playing a mono-green Elves list (Eladamri, Lord of Leaves) that involved taking a pretty serious beating from
another regular player’s Wort, the Raidmother deck. Tokens happened early and got big, aided heavily by my Coat of Arms and the mana from my Vernal Bloom,
but I still took a large amount of damage despite being a big helping hand.
By the time the Wort had gotten around to killing off the player to my right with a few big attack phases, I had drawn Triumph of the Hordes. The board had
been reset a few times, however, and I was looking at only Eladamri and some supporting elf. Not enough to do anything reasonable, until I top-decked
Overrun the turn before he eliminated me as well. Suffice to say, he was not happy, having been in the driver’s seat for the entire game to that point, and
he let me know what he thought of me playing poison, a strategy that our shop typically frowns on. I didn’t even get the opportunity to explain that the
deck needs those effects to be able to win, and for a big mana deck, Triumph might as well just be any mass-pump effect. It wouldn’t have mattered, though.
I broke an unwritten rule and drew the ire of other players in the process.
You can see why it’s important to take the pulse of your group. Do they run combos themselves? Do they have a disdain for counterspells? What about land
destruction? You can’t even build a deck (or at the least, you’ll have a hard time doing so without stepping on someone’s toes and leaving with a list of
changes to make) without really understanding the environment it will live in. You often hear Commander writers talking about ten-the tenth turn,
or ten mana, or whatever-to signify the fact that eventually powerful things will happen, no matter what power level your group starts at. You need to know
if Grim Monolith/Power Artifact/Staff of Domination is acceptable at that point in the game, or if “broken” really means Worldspine Wurm imprinted on a
There’s certainly plenty of room to explore this area with this deck, Jordan. It’s great that you’ve seen and understand what the deck is capable of in
tuned form, and it’s great that the experience has left you wanting something that can hang in a game, not just kill it with fire.
Before I look deeper at the deck, I wanted to try to walk through the questions you posed in your (very well-written!) submission letter. I think this will
let you know where I’d go with this list and what my expectations will be going forward.
This is as good a place to start as any. For me, Disk/Lattice is over the top, and I wouldn’t go there. The reasoning falls in line with my personal
philosophy of Commander, which is paraphrased simply: “Play the game.” Have you ever seen what happens when someone plays Grave Pact? Until it gets
destroyed, the creature element comes to a grinding halt. No one wants to lose value by playing a creature, only to watch it immediately die off. The one
card has served to grind the game to a halt.
Mycosynth Lattice and Nev’s Disk are roughly the same thing. The board is wiped away to nothing and no one has any resources remaining to rebuild with. I
would hope there was a plan for a fast win from here; in fact, I would sooner accept a combo that just ended the game to this just about every time. At
least I can move on to another game, rather than getting stuck watching the paint peel off the walls while no one does anything.
“Can Rings of Brighthearth be in this deck without breaking it?”
I certainly hope so! The Rings are a great way to gain a ton of value in a deck like this, and there are already a bunch of cool interactions that I see
even without looking at the obvious infinite mana combinations (such as Basalt Monolith and Rings.)
The trick, as you may have guessed, is to mitigate by removing critical combo pieces from the equation. Simply put, if you have the ability to do
something, eventually you will. Having the combos in your deck means you have a nuclear option if you need it, but that also means you’ll put it to good
use at the first sign of potential failure. Congratulations-you’re playing combo, whether you like it or not.
I’d skip some of the critical combo parts, but Rings should be fine to stay at home in the deck.
“Is Planar Portal too much?”
Planar Portal is not a very good card in a vacuum. Without an infinite mana engine to power it out to draw your deck completely, it’s an expensive reusable
tutor, and nothing more. Six to cast, six to activate, and the added comfort of having a huge bull’s-eye on you. For how many times I’ve actually activated
this fairly before it was destroyed, I think I’d be better off playing Ring of Three Wishes. It’s cheaper…
“How do you even build a win-con into a deck like this without it being an infinite combo or Blightteel?”
Here’s the thing: you really don’t.
In a non-combo environment, green is king. The reason for this is simple: it has ramp and it has the best stuff to do with that ramp. Sakura-Tribe Elder
into Kodama’s Reach into Explosive Vegetation into Boundless Realms means that the green player is playing game-ending Genesis Waves and Primal Surges and
giant creatures multiple turns before anyone else. This is a hard strategy to keep up with if you can’t just shut it off by winning the game outright. Blue
is good at many things, but aggro traditionally isn’t one of them, so blue decks often compensate by gravitating towards combo or prison effects; if you
don’t want to go there, you’ll be behind the eight-ball. In trying to take Arcum to a “fairer” place, you’re essentially making the deck worse any way you
go; looking at the above list you’re playing now, it’s pretty clearly at the top of the food chain, so anything we do to it is going to take the wind out
of its sails power level-wise.
The trick will be figuring out what to pull to make it a deck that might not be the be-all, end-all game controller it is now, but a solid, fun-to-play
gamer that will hang comfortably in any game. This is my kind of deck.
Since we’re talking rock/paper/scissors…
The Deck: Artifacts Matter
Sharuum the Hegemon gets the worst reputation out of any of the “artifacts matter” decks, but it should be on Arcum. Both decks are strong, but there is a
subtle difference in how they play out that makes the difference, and it’s not always apparent at face value.
Both commanders cheat casting costs, making them easily some of the strongest in the game. The difference is that Sharuum takes advantage of the “Legend
rule” to create an infinite loop with Sculpting Steel or Phyrexian Metamorph on herself. This places her firmly in the “combo” camp, and because combo is
very visceral and frightening at face value, it’s easy to declare her public enemy number one.
Arcum, however, is a straight tutor. Other than non-creature, he’s unrestricted in what he can get, making him an ideal prison deck instead. There are no
shortage of artifacts like Static Orb and the aforementioned Mycosynth Lattice/Nevinyrral’s Disk combo that can just shut the game off. This also makes the
endgame pretty easy, as a quick tutor for a few combo pieces is only a command zone away.
In a competitive world, Arcum wants to find cheap mana creating creatures as soon as possible, use them to power Arcum out, and then sacrifice them to land
an infinite-mana solution, such as Rings of Brighthearth/Basalt Monolith. From there, any number of wins are possible; Staff of Domination draws the entire
deck, and Planar Portal tutors the whole deck up, allowing easy access to Memnarch (take all the things), Blightsteel Colossus and a haste effect, and so
on. Blue provides easy and plentiful counterspell backup.
Arcum’s relatively low cost and streamlined deck construction mean it is very easy to get off the ground quickly. Often, pieces of combos are in place
before other decks can even react. The commander makes the entire deck a toolbox, meaning it is easy to find silver bullets when needed. Blue provides a
fantastic suite of preventative counterspells for protecting the various combos that are possible to achieve.
Blue is terrible at removing things. The primary avenue for any permanent usually involves bounce, which means the problem will be right back. Also,
without Arcum available (commander tax, tuck effects, etc.), the deck has a much harder time getting a card advantage engine in place, leading to it
playing out like an ill-prepared lemon of a deck.
The primary one is simple in scope: defang the deck by cutting back on combos and diversifying the threats. From there, trade in excess counterspells and
mana rocks for more business. Provide a source for production of artifact creatures. Increase the land count a bit to cover the reduction in non-creature
sources. Aim for a fun, well-rounded deck instead of a combo monstrosity.
Let’s see what we can do here…
I’ll break the changes down by card type for easier consumption.
This is a standard change for me, as many of you readers know. While not expressly forbidden in Commander, I’m a bit of a traditionalist with my
fetchlands, so I don’t like dipping into cards like Scalding Tarn that technically are half-Mountain as well as Island. In a tuned competetive deck, I
understand the thinning factor that may or may not be pertinent, but it’s not as big of a factor with casual decks. Let’s save $300 or so in this
I like the addition of Ancient Tomb, so I’m doubling up with Temple of the False God. I don’t believe this build will be as interested in screaming out of
the gates as much as the original version did, but mana acceleration is mana acceleration. Every little bit helps.
Phyrexia’s Core – The High Market for artifacts. The usual rules apply; it’s great to have a way to say no to thieves, and a little lifegain here and there
never hurt either. Besides, Spine of Ish Sah loves this card.
I’m not entirely sure how often you’ll bump up against the hand size cap, but it can’t hurt to have a little extra insurance, so Reliquary Tower is an easy
Curse of the Swine is really cute. I have a foil copy sitting in my binder, waiting for me to find a way to incorporate it. It continues to escape me. I
suppose this is exile in blue, but between the existing removal options and what’s to come, I feel we’ll be ready for whatever we need to face down.
Ponder is a case of too little, too late. A quick bit of filtering never hurts, but it’s far better for a deck that wants to go off as quickly as possible
to run one-mana options like this than it is for a Commander deck designed to play a casual midrange game.
Finally, Time Reversal. Not a terrible card, but I don’t particularly think giving other people new hands and shuffling their cards back in to the mix from
the graveyard is what this deck wants to be doing.
Scroll Rack is a fantastic option in a deck such as this with integrated and repeatable shuffle effects. I feel the deck overall is a little weak on card
draw, but again, I understand why. Arcum only needs to hit a single creature to get going in the competetive realm, so that mitigates things quite a bit.
Nice synergy bonus – Muddle the Mixture finds Scroll Rack.
Mimic Vat is the beginning of the answer to the last question above. Blue decks may have aggro issues, but they corner the market on steal and copy
effects. Taking or copying a creature means we start to enjoy a flow of the best creatures your opponents have to offer you, so Mimic vat should provide a
ton of mileage in addition.
Relic of Progenitus is a part of the new Trinket Mage package. Every deck that plans on some seat time at all needs to respect the graveyards as sources of
anything and everything, and act accordingly. This will help quite a bit.
Elixir of Immortality is another Trinks piece we can now add. A little shot of lifegain goes a long way, but total reuse of the graveyard seems better
still. Blue isn’t great at playing out of the yard, so this is cheap insurance to help guarantee that you’ll get value from beyond the grave.
The groups don’t get any smaller from here on out. This category is all about trimming back on unneeded mana providers that likely powered the deck in its
previous life to some really quick wins, so we can start here since that isn’t necessary anymore. Basalt Monolith and Grim Monolith are both combo enablers
with Rings of Brighthearth and Power Artifact available to complete the pairs separately.
From there, the fast mana goes as well. Some components, like Sol Ring, get to stick around, but the truth is that the deck doesn’t need (or want) a ton of
non-creature-based accelerators. Arcum can’t trade in a Mox Opal, after all.
Last, I ended up pulling both Mycosynth Lattice and Nevinyrral’s Disk. Initially I wanted to keep the Lattice in the deck, but it became very clear that as
cute as the interaction is, it’s going to be better to have actual workhorses in place. Disk had already been gone due to the published interaction that
can occur between it and Lattice, so it stays happily out of the mix. (Besides, there’s an Oblivion Stone around here somewhere…)
There has to be some meat for this deck. Meet a good chunk of the offensive team.
Sharding Sphinx is as close to Avenger of Zendikar as blue gets. Still, an evasive token-producing body isn’t a terrible thing, and in this deck you want
all the creatures you can get. Sphinx has the potential to really pull the weight for the team with some of the upcoming changes as well.
Steel Hellkite offers a slightly different experience. Capable of some serious attack numbers, the Hellkite is also a nice evasive open-ended removal
source with a reasonable body. There’s also not a card I enjoy more at the moment when dealing with token swarms.
OK, Massacre Wurm is still a thing. Hellkite is right behind that one.
Myr Battlesphere is another token-creating beater that can pour on some serious damage in a hurry. It plays nice with Sharding Sphinx to really ramp up a
creature base and will play very nicely with some toys further down the list.
I love Vedalken Shackles. Much like the Mimic Vat above, one of the main ways Arcum will be able to keep pace with other decks is to use their creature
bases against them. Shackles should get the job done pretty easily in a deck with Thawing Glaciers, and it’s exactly the kind of silver bullet that the
deck needs to handle whatever it needs to.
Karn, Silver Golem is so criminally underplayed in Commander. This is the big reason Mycosynth Lattice was pulled, since no one wants to be the person to
play to a lower standard to avoid having to nuke another player’s lands. In this form, he’s going to be able to extract a ton of value as well. Picture
playing Spine of Ish Sah, blowing up something your opponent owns, and then having Karn change it into a creature so it can charge into the fray, only to
return to your hands when it finally expires.
Follow this all up with a Phyrexia’s Core sacrifice, and we can start all over tomorrow. Incredible value here.
I’ll repurpose a few slots for two Islands to round this category out, and I’ll feel better about pulling mana sources after all.
Wow…this one is a no-brainer.
OUT: Power Artifact
It’s a card that should be a great role-player across the board, but in reality, it just gets out of control. There are very few uses for Power Artifact
that don’t end up broken, so it’s simply not worth the potential risk today.
This is getting better. Your small tokens and mid-grade creatures need a buff or two to get going and do some real damage, and this should do the trick for
sure. It’s also really fun to have Karn transform Akroma’s Memorial into…well, Akroma , if we’re honest.
Let’s handle the big guy first. By all the mentions and questions that I’m seeing, Jordan, I have to believe that Blightteel is more unwelcome than you’re
letting on. I don’t have any problem pulling him to completely pull temptation out of the picture here.
I have to assume Phyrexian Revoker was another card that was better in the older version of the deck. I’m sure that there was a need to answer something
consistently and early, and it never hurts to have these types of effects on legs in an Arcum deck. Hope I’m not missing anything here.
Finally, Plague Myr goes. Sure, I understand that it gets Arcum up and running, and then provides him with sacrifice fodder in a hurry; nonetheless, the
simple mention of poison in my metagame (apparently) is often trouble enough, and I don’t want that on my shoulders again. Once was just fine…
I know they don’t match up quite as well as they used to, but what better way to retire Blightteel than to slot in the Darksteel version? I know there’s a
new sheriff in town in regard to these monsters, but there’s something simple and elegant about the classic model that I can’t get over. They don’t compare
too easily, but these days, it’s enough to do the trick. (I hope…)
Shimmer Myr is basically Vedalken Orrery on legs. He opens up a ton of interesting lines of play, such as Memory Jars popping mid-combat, or a much-needed
Oblivion Stone exactly when it needs to be there. In a pinch, Arcum can use him as a sacrifice as well for extra value.
Myr Turbine is the main card I had in mind when trying to wrap my head around how to better increase the number of sacrifice enablers out there. It tutors
up nicely with Arcum, provides Myr tokens on the cheap, and finds a potential threat in Myr Battlesphere. This should be a very early tutor every game to
take proper advantage of Arcum.
Some of these, like Stroke of Genius and Force of Will, are simply being upgraded. While you try to figure out what Force of Will upgrades into, the bulk
of the other counters will be repurposed into other much-needed additions to card draw and removal. Last, the little one-off draw spells that were too
small and insignificant above for more of a mid-range deck are still too small and insignificant in the grand order of things. Maybe in Legacy or a
confirmed competitive deck, but not here. We can do better.
I’m never one to completely swear off of counterspells. I’m not a fan of the guy who counters everything just for the sake of trying to run a total
lockdown, but I recognize that there are times where counterspells are well worth having around; it may be the answer to that giant Genesis Wave, or it may
be a simple Return to Dust at an inopportune moment. Still, we don’t need limitations, and we can’t plan on having the right mix of supporting blue cards
to pitch to Force if need be. I like Hinder and Spell Crumple for the pseudo-tuck effects they provide, so they slot back in.
Oblivion Stone is the slotted replacement for Nevinyrral’s Disk. Not much to say here, other than that it was spec-ed out before I knew Mycosynth Lattice
would be coming out as well. Fortunately there’s no need to have it now other than to be running the best artifact board sweeper available, and that’s not
We get a host of card draw to really push the deck to where it wants to be. With all the tokens running around now, Skullclamp is an easy addition to the
Trinket Mage toolbox. Those same tokens can really make good use out of Bident of Thassa once they start to swarm in. Staff of Nin seems like a great fit
for the Arcum package, for the personal Howling Mine if for no other reason. I guess Rofellos is a thing, so the one-damage ping is next to nothing in the
grand order of things.
Last, Blue Sun’s Zenith will do anything Stroke of Genius can do, plus it adds an additional shuffle effect on top of it all, which might be entertaining.
Even without the ability to “Stroke someone out!” while we’re here due to the loss of the infinite mana providers, BSZ will still be a potent shot in the
arm at any point in the game when popped off at the end of your opponent’s turn.
With one final open slot, I’ll add one more Island to make sure that we hit the correct critical mass in the deck.
And we’re done!
Let’s take a look at where that puts us:
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Silver Myr
- 1 Manakin
- 1 Arcum Dagsson
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Etherium Sculptor
- 1 Sharding Sphinx
- 1 Master Transmuter
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Palladium Myr
- 1 Myr Battlesphere
- 1 Shimmer Myr
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Alloy Myr
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Wasteland
- 1 Mishra's Factory
- 18 Island
- 1 Ancient Tomb
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Hall of the Bandit Lord
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Seat of the Synod
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 1 Blinkmoth Nexus
- 1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Halimar Depths
- 1 Inkmoth Nexus
- 1 Phyrexia's Core
- 1 Buried Ruin
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Hinder
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Time Warp
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Transmute Artifact
- 1 Planar Portal
- 1 Darksteel Forge
- 1 Vedalken Shackles
- 1 Staff of Domination
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Memory Jar
- 1 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Sculpting Steel
- 1 Oblivion Stone
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Guardian Idol
- 1 Clock of Omens
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Lifeline
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Muddle the Mixture
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Rings of Brighthearth
- 1 Thousand-Year Elixir
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 All Is Dust
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Spine of Ish Sah
- 1 Myr Turbine
- 1 Spell Crumple
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Bident of Thassa
Here’s a look at the pricing for the suggestions:
|Temple of the False God||$0.25|
|Elixir of Immortality||$0.49|
|Bident of Thassa||$0.75|
|Blue Sun’s Zenith||$0.99|
|Staff of Nin||$0.99|
|Relic of Progenitus||$1.99|
|Karn, Silver Golem||$6.99|
$105 is not the worst place in the world to be here, especially considering how much we got in value from the cuts we made. Nonetheless, there is the
standard $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com that will be added to your account for participating today, so that will help with some of these suggestions
should you chose.
Thanks again for writing in, Jordan. This was a fun one to work on, and while I hope you don’t miss the full-bore capacity of Arcum too much, I also hope
that this build settles into something more along my speed, and that you’ll really want to just sit back and enjoy a strong and consistent deck that fits
in at any table. I know removing the combo bits and components must come as a huge shock, but at the end of the day, we both know goldfishing a deck isn’t
nearly as fun as playing one in a group game. This will go a long ways towards getting you there.
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Sean’s Rafiq of the Many deck or
Phil’s Vaevictis Asmadi deck.
Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20
coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
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