How To Best Wield Vivien’s Arkbow

Todd Anderson sees great things in the future for Vivien’s Arkbow! But what’s the best way to wield it? Today he teaches Arkbow 101 and offers three preliminary builds!

Preview season for War of the Spark is in full swing, and the set is shaping up to be iconic. We’ve seen many of the game’s names get a new planeswalker, but we’re also seeing personal items and other artifacts carried or owned by those big names. So far we’ve seen familiars, spells based on their interactions in the story, and my personal favorite: their weapons.

Vivien’s Arkbow caught my attention almost immediately. Legendary. Colored. Artifact. An emblematic piece from one of my favorite planeswalkers in the last few years. All these attributes make me love the card, and we haven’t even talked about what it actually does yet! Green creature decks will want to play this card in heavy numbers for some time to come.

New Dimensions: Instant Speed

With Esper Control being one of the premier decks in Standard, Vivien’s Arkbow gives you an easy way to play around sweeper effects. Kaya’s Wrath is one of the most potent weapons they have against you as a creature-based deck, and Vivien’s Arkbow gives you a way to start playing at instant speed. In general, cards like Vivien’s Arkbow have forced you to use them at sorcery speed because it can create complex scenarios that become nearly impossible for the opponent to play through them. Playing against flash creatures is already tough, but what about when virtually any creature can come out from the top of the opponent’s deck?

I wouldn’t recommend using Vivien’s Arkbow in a deck that already functions primarily at instant speed. You want something like this to give you a new dimension of attack or defense. Creatures with flash are often slightly weaker than their sorcery-speed counterparts for obvious reasons. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and those exceptions should be treated accordingly.

If you are unsure of exactly how playing at instant speed can change the dynamic of the game, just remember how easy some of the games looked for Jonathan Hobbs at SCG Indianapolis earlier this year.

The first Standard Open featuring Ravnica Allegiance had Hobbs obliterating the competition because people couldn’t figure out how to play around the combination of Angel of Grace, Frilled Mystic, and Settle the Wreckage. Now imagine if every creature in your deck functioned similarly thanks to Vivien’s Arkbow, and how difficult it could be to play around all those cards simultaneously when trying to line up your attack. Just think of the difference a Jadelight Ranger at instant speed makes when you already have a Wildgrowth Walker on the battlefield, and how heinous it could make potential attacks for the opponent.

The same can be said for virtually any card your opponent casts at sorcery speed. How do you use Teferi, Hero of Dominaria on an empty battlefield when Vivien’s Arkbow is active? A minus will almost assuredly end with Teferi dying.

Make Them Count

When building with Vivien’s Arkbow, it’s also important to maximize the impact of any given creature in your deck. Synergy between two creatures is great because it complicates the potential hits from your Vivien’s Arkbow, putting your opponent in tougher and tougher situations. And since you can constantly grind through your deck looking for those creatures every single turn, the threat presented by Vivien’s Arkbow will eventually come to fruition if you want it to.

You also want to emphasize abilities that trigger once a creature enters the battlefield, as opposed to just going for large, undercosted creatures. There will be times where you miss with Vivien’s Arkbow, so you need your hits to have a pretty large impact.

This package is a no-brainer at this point. And with Vivien’s Arkbow costing a discard, having extra lands for a larger activation and raw resources for said discard is important. Plus, if you have to take a turn off to cast the Vivien’s Arkbow, what better way to get yourself back in the game than gaining some precious life points?

I expect these three cards and Vivien’s Arkbow to go together until the creatures leave Standard later this year.

Cards like Frilled Mystic are few and far between, but it seems to fit with Vivien’s Arkbow perfectly. If your opponent goes for some haymaker when you have access to four or more mana, looking for a Frilled Mystic to counter that spell might be your only out. And having access to Frilled Mystic will ultimately make it difficult for your opponent to play around everything. You know how I said that instant-speed creatures tend to be worse than those cast at sorcery speed? On occasion, we get one or two that transcend that boundary.

Frilled Mystic is a unique effect for a creature-based deck as well, so every time you hit an unsuspecting opponent, you’ll effectively get free wins. And this will be the case regardless of whether or not you have Vivien’s Arkbow on the battlefield.

There is something to be said about a card specifically designed to work with another card. Fblthp, the Lost draws an additional card if you find it off Vivien’s Arkbow, which gives you an extra card to discard to a future activation. And if you decide to play it with Prime Speaker Vannifar, you get an additional value creature to go with your strategy. While Elvish Visionary has long been the gold standard of effects like this, Fblthp, the Lost seems like a fine proxy, and even gives you a little more bang for your buck since it’s legendary.

If you want to talk about big effects upon entering the battlefield, go no further than the hyper-efficient Knight of Autumn. Find it when your opponent has Wilderness Reclamation on the battlefield? Great! Get rid of it and set them back tremendously. Your opponent is attacking your life total in the first few turns? Let’s gain some life and make a blocker. Your control opponent is stuck with a bunch of counterspells in hand? Make a 4/3 and get to work!

Knight of Autumn is a premium hit off Vivien’s Arkbow because it’s so versatile. There are few situations where it’s bad, and with a bunch of new artifacts running around it, could end up being a four-of in many maindecks. There are already plenty of enchantments to hit.

An enters-the-battlefield ability that gives you a bit of a tempo boost? Perfect for Vivien’s Arkbow.

Avoid Bad Hits

Playing creatures in your deck that are mediocre or bad to hit off Vivien’s Arkbow isn’t exactly ideal. And when building any creature-based deck around a card like Arkbow, you’re going to want to maximize your good hits to mitigate the times where you full-blown miss.

It’s rare that we get a creature as good as Hydroid Krasis that works so poorly with Vivien’s Arkbow. But like all the X creatures before it, Hydroid Krasis just doesn’t work when you find it with Vivien’s Arkbow, so I think it is best to avoid putting this card in the same deck. Obviously, Hydroid Krasis is insanely good, and most Simic-colored decks should be playing it, so it’s possible that it is powerful enough to overcome this downside. But I think it’s much more likely that you should be playing either Vivien’s Arkbow or Hydroid Krasis, and not both.

In older formats, I could see using Vivien’s Arkbow as a way to tutor for creature-based combos. In many of those decks, Walking Ballista is the kill of choice because it gives you a good dump for infinite mana while also servicing as a fine creature to cast against other creature decks. Plus, if you start to flood out, casting a big Walking Ballista is great. But just know that, in most instances, creatures with “X” in the casting cost are just going to work poorly with Vivien’s Arkbow, even if both cards feel like they should go in the same shell. You should probably just pick one and be done with it.

In a deck revolving around Vivien’s Arkbow, you don’t want to be stuck using extra mana to make your creatures good. You want all that value up front. Vivien’s Arkbow is your mana sink, so playing more creatures that require more mana to become functional just isn’t where you want to be. You’ll often find yourself with too many creatures rotting in hand or not enough mana to get value out of your spells.

While this one is not as obvious as the others, Hostage Taker is likely a worse call for Vivien’s Arkbow than something like Ravenous Chupacabra. Simply put, Hostage Taker requires a bit more mana after the initial hit to get full value and is often a liability if you don’t immediately cast the card you steal. With that said, in a world with more artifacts that have a big impact on Standard, it could be more of a metagame call than anything, as Hostage Taker seems to be one of the few answers for Sultai to knock off an opposing Vivien’s Arkbow that’s worth playing in your maindeck.

Mana creatures aren’t great alongside Vivien’s Arkbow. Llanowar Elves is the standout exception because it’s so good when drawn in the early turns. However, something like Incubation Druid is mediocre on two levels because it’s a weak hit off Arkbow and requires a hefty investment to gain its full potential. Avoid playing too many mana creatures when you’re building Arkbow decks.

Functioning Without Arkbow

The best approach to any deck built around Vivien’s Arkbow should be similar to a deck built around something like Birthing Pod. All your creatures should be good enough on their own so that you can function, and win games, without drawing your marquee card. Vivien’s Arkbow should greatly increase the likelihood of you winning, but the best approach to building any deck around a card like Arkbow is making sure you can win easily without it, because there’s a good chance you play most of the game without it.

Let’s take a look at a Vivien’s Arkbow build that could be suitable for this new Standard format.

A few tension points, for sure. Splashing white just for Knight of Autumn feels risky, but this is more of a placeholder deck until we get the full set. I do think Knight of Autumn is busted, great with Arkbow, and I’m sure there are some white creatures we can play that I’m just missing. If the goal is to go a bit bigger, I could see going hard on Trostani Discordant to get wide. It’s a great hit at instant speed mid-combat or as a way to refresh your battlefield after getting wiped by a sweeper.

The rest of the deck, as expected, is mostly what we’ve seen before. With a few exceptional one-of creatures, this is very close to the Golgari Midrange decks we saw before Hydroid Krasis warped the builds. And to be clear, it’s possible that Vivien’s Arkbow is powerful enough to let us get away with just playing two colors. A straight Golgari or Selesnya build is not only possible, there’s a chance it’s the optimal place to be.

Let’s look at some more radical builds. This one features some counterintuitive choices that I talked about earlier being less than ideal, but I want to give Ross Merriam a chance before I bash his version.

And finally, let’s take a peek at what could end up being my favorite version.

This list looks like it could easily fit Prime Speaker Vannifar into the mix, but I don’t know if that card’s even worth playing. All the creatures in your deck generate some amount of immediate value, whereas Prime Speaker Vannifar just becomes this huge target for any piece of spot removal. With that said, Lava Coil is on the decline and plenty of people are relying on Cast Down and Moment of Craving to do the heavy lifting, so there’s a good chance Prime Speaker Vannifar is awesome right now.

For now, let’s try a version that can play standalone Magic but gets significantly better once you get Vivien’s Arkbow online. I will say that having an extra creature-based engine to rely on does grant you a bit more consistency, but tapping out for something like Prime Speaker Vannifar only to have it killed with nothing of value left behind can create a tempo black hole from which there’s no return. And with Vivien’s Arkbow already doing something pretty similar for you in the early turns, spending mana and a turn doing nothing, it’s possible you just don’t have the time against the majority of decks in Standard.

All I know is that Vivien’s Arkbow feels like it’s going to be degenerate, and I’m just waiting to get my hands on it in a tournament or competitive setting so I can start honing numbers, finding the right creature packages, and seeing if the deck is consistent enough as is or needs a bit of help. I want to try out all sorts of color combinations, including my beloved Temur, to find the best high-risk, high-reward singletons. For now, I hope this is suitable to give you an idea on how to start brewing with this beautiful engine. It might take some time to find the right numbers, but that’s always the case with a card like this.