That Wily Arcanis!

Posted in Building on a Budget on October 17, 2007

By Ben Bleiweiss

Editor’s note: Due to an unexpected family situation Ben was unavailable for this week’s article and may be out next week as well. All of us here at wish Ben and his family the best. For those that may have missed it, the article that follows is the one that ran in this slot last week.

  • Building on a Budget is dedicated to making decks that cost 30 tickets or less on Magic Online. Weekly deck testing is done using Magic Online.
  • This week's format? Standard. This means only Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight, and Tenth Edition are allowed!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Building on a Budget! When we left off last week, I had built the following deck by opening the Arcanis's Guile theme deck from Tenth Edition and adding in twenty cards:

Arcanis 1

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For this week's evolution, we were going to try things a little differently. Instead of adding and changing a ton of cards all at once, we were going to play a few games with the deck, and then examine one set's worth of cards to see which cards would make a good addition to the deck. By using this method, we will be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of the deck, and find cards that will plug those holes. I also made the decision to stick to sets that will be Standard-legal once Ravnica Block rotates, so Ravnica, Guildpact, and Dissension were not used for this article.

In order to do this, we need to get some games under our belt, don't we? Well, let's get a-playin'! Time waits for no man, and neither does the Standard casual playtest room on Magic Online.

Game 1: Lord of Halitosis (Blue-White-Black Control)

I drop Faerie Conclave, follow it with Sage Owl, and begin beating for 3. He drops double Court Hussar. When he's at 10, I drop Air Elemental. He plays Teferi, which I Unsummon on my turn, letting me beat for 5. He plays Vesuvan Shapeshifter, which I attempt to Cancel—but he Remands my Counterspell. I untap, use Persuasion to steal his Shapeshifter (which is copying my Air Elemental), and swing for lethal!

Record: 1-0

Just as a side note, Rod of Ruin was in my hand this game... and was as useless as predicted last week. Seven mana (four to play, three to use) is a lot to spend to deal one point of damage, especially considering that blue has cards like Prodigal Sorcerer, Fledgling Mawcor, and Pirate Ship that can deal the damage without a mana cost past the initial investment of a permanent.

Game 2: hillbilly_magic (Green-White Gauntlet of Might)

He gets down an early Vinelasher Kudzu and then hits me with Mwonvuli Acid-Moss to bring me down to two lands. I build up with Phantom Warrior (to block a Civic Wayfinder). He follows with Loxodon Warhammer. I play and throw Aven Fisher in front of his 10/7 Kudzu to drop to one life, and then play Persuasion on his Kudzu.

He then plays Yavimaya Dryad, gives me a Forest (to forestwalk,) and moves the Warhammer to his 2/1 guy. I Persuasion that as well, and swing for 8. He plays Wrath of God, and I play Counsel of the Soratami. He drops a second Warhammer, and I play Denizen of the Deep. He answers with Wrath of God, and I follow with Tidings and a Cancel on a Panglacial Wurm. By this point he has two Gauntlet of Power out, both set to green.

I drop Air Elemental, with Unsummon, Unsummon, Remove Soul and Cancel in my hand thanks to the Tidings. Five turns later, I've stopped any creature he dropped to the board by bouncing it to his hand, Canceled his third Wrath of God of the game, and won in the air, coming back from a 30-1 life score.

Record: 2-0

And, yet again, that Rod of Ruin. Never had a time where I could tap out and have it be useful, versus trying to stay alive, or dropping cards which have a more lasting impact on the game.

Game 3: Noodles23 (Mono-Green Aggro)

He drops a second-turn Scryb Ranger. No problems, think I, with a hand full of countermagic, Persuasions, and a rum-tum-tum "ROD OF RUIN! TM" Then he plays TRIPLE Might of Old Krosa on his Ranger, hits me for thirteen on turn three, and smashes me the rest of the way with Moldervine Cloak.

Record: 2-1

After three games, I'm ready to make the first revision to the deck. So far, the card drawing, bounce, countermagic, and flying creatures have been working for the deck. What hasn't been working? Well, I'm a bit short on creature control (outside of Persuasion), and the second game was a bit close for my tastes. Luckily, Future Sight has a really good control card in Second Wind.

Second Wind has three uses in this deck. More straightforward, it allows me to tap down an opposing creature each turn. When used like this, it is a slightly more expensive Pacifism. A second use is as a bad Vigiliance—if I put it on one of my own creatures, that creature can play both offense and defense. Last, it can allow any creature with a tap activation ability to use its ability twice in one turn. In this case, the only creature like that in the deck so far is Arcanis.

Future Sight

In: 4 Second Wind
Out: 1 Kraken's Eye, 1 Rod of Ruin, 1 Unsummon, 1 Denizen of the Deep

Arcanis 2

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Game 4: Babybull (Mono-White Soldiers)

Thanks to judicious use of Persuasion, Boomerang, Unsummon, and Arcanis to draw three cards a turn, I make attacking a nightmare for him and his double Celestial Crusader, triple Field Marshal draw—anytime he attacks, I throw off the math horribly and am able to block favorably. Double Mahamoti Djinn (one Clone, one with Second Wind on it) allow me all the offense I need to win.

Record: 3-1

Game 5: lobo20 (Mono-White Flankers)

Persuasion wins the day here, as I grab both a Pentarch Paladin (set to blue) and a Cavalry Master. Unsummon stops him from killing me too quickly, and Cloud Elemental plus double Faerie Conclave come in through the air.

Record: 4-1

Serra Sphinx
Game 6: gravyj (Mono-White Soldiers)

Once again, Persuasion plus large creatures (Arcanis, Scalpelexis) save the day. Scalpelexis isn't great though—I'd have rather have had a large power than the 5 toughness and a special ability that isn't so special.

Record: 5-1

So far so good. Game 6 was the first game in which I drew Scalpelexis, but it just wasn't that good—aside from basic lands, there is very little chance of Scalpelexis hitting two cards with the same name, and there are so many decks that play non-basic lands these days that that's not necessarily a strong deal. I'd rather have a creature that can beat for damage (or block and kill) than try fancy decking tricks.

Thankfully, Planar Chaos has just the card we're looking for! Serra Sphinx is the "timeshifted" Serra Angel, which is the original big flying beater. Serra Sphinx is Air Elemental with a free ability (vigilance). It is almost strictly better than Air Elemental (aside from the fact that Air Elemental is an Elemental, which matters for Lorwyn's Elemental tribe). If I'm going to be running large flying creatures, why not run the one that is a strict upgrade?

To make room for a playset of Sphinxes, I simply took out four other flying creatures (two of which happened to be rare)—Mahamoti Djinn, Scalpelexis, Air Elemental and Aven Fisher. Functionally, Serra Sphinx and Air Elemental / Mahamoti Djinn serve the same role. Aven Fisher is more of a road bump than a beater, and Scalpelexis is more suited for a deck that wins by decking—my deck has been winning by beating down!

Planar Chaos

In: 4 Serra Sphinx
Out: 1 Mahamoti Djinn, 1 Air Elemental, 1 Scalpelexis, 1 Aven Fisher

Arcanis 3

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Game 7: skish27 (White-Black Comes-Into-Play Creatures)

I get beaten because just as I set up, as he kills all my blockers with Devouring Light and Sudden Death. He has an army of creatures, including Shrieking Grotesque, Ravenous Rats, and multiple Blind Hunters.

Record: 5-2

Game 8: cid86 (Mono-Black Discard)

He triple-mulligans and still wins—Mindlash Sliver, plus Megrim and Underworld Dreams. He uses Funeral Charm to take out an early attacking Faerie Conclave, and I never recover enough mana to get into the game.

Record: 5-3

Game 9: SaeKaos (Black-Red-White Slivers)

I Persuasion his Slivers one by one and draw fourteen extra cards between Arcanis and Thieving Magpie. Even though he kills a bunch of my guys with Lightning Helix and Mortify, he can't deal with me dropping a ridiculous air force to the board.

Record: 6-3

In two of the three games above, I lost for three reasons: 1) I didn't have any sort of early offense or defense to stop my opponent from getting in an early beat, 2) My hand was filled with high-cost cards which were dealt with as they hit the table one-by-one because I couldn't both playand protect them, and 3) since my hand was jammed with five-cost spells, I was easy pickings for a discard strategy.

I looked over the card list of Time Spiral for blue, artifact and land cards—the list was truly massive because of the timeshifted cards! Time Spiral has all sorts of options for a blue deck: bounce (Snapback, Riftwing Cloudskate), large beaters (Deep-Sea Kraken), card drawing (Careful Consideration, Think Twice), and countermagic (Cancel, Voidmage Prodigy). This is where I needed to decide exactly which direction I should take the deck.

There are two distinct paths for this deck—to play offense or defense. If I were to play offense, I'd want to move away from controlling cards (countermagic, stall) and pack the deck with early creatures to attack with. If I were to play defense, I'd want to move away from early offensive drops (Sage Owl, Cloud Elemental) and move towards more stall (bounce, countermagic) and card drawing, to get to my big finishers.

In the end, I decided to go with the aggressive, offensively oriented build. So far, the games that I've won have been on a good curve of creatures, followed by a small amount of control / bounce just to seal the game. I don't want to wait for my opponent to come to me—I want to bring the game to him!

Voidmage Prodigy
There is also a small Wizard theme going on in Time Spiral Block. Voidmage Prodigy is a walking Cancel, except it beats for 2 damage a turn! Why sit back with three mana untapped waiting for a spell to come when I could swing for 2 damage a turn with two mana untapped for the same effect? Sure, Voidmage Prodigy is a bit more fragile than a card in hand, but if my goal is to win, I want to swing.

Sage of Epityr is a straight swap for Sage Owl. I don't have any one-drops in my deck that are worth playing on turn one (Unsummon doesn't count!), aside from Faerie Conclave (which I want to put into play as early as possible so I don't stunt my mana curve later on). While I do feel that in a void Sage Owl is a better card than Sage of Epityr (due to evasion), Sage of Epityr is a Wizard, and can be sacrificed to Voidmage Prodigy!

Speaking of mana curves, I want to be more active with my spells. That means that my reactive spells don't have as much of a place in the deck—so cards like Remove Soul and Clone can take the wayside for Think Twice, an early card-drawing spell that fills my early-mana slot alongside Voidmage Prodigy.

The last two additions to my deck are a single Willbender and a single Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Teferi is a bit pricy (2.5 to 3 tickets), but he's a good complement to Arcanis. In addition, I skipped over Vedalken Aethermage in my first go-around with Future Sight. With a few one-of Wizards (and the preponderance of Sliver decks in the casual room), Vedalken Aethermage might be a good addition when I revisit Future Sight.

Time Spiral

In: 4 Sage of Epityr, 1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, 2 Think Twice, 4 Voidmage Prodigy, 1 Willbender
Out: 1 Ambassador Laquatus, 1 Arcanis the Omnipotent, 1 Clone, 2 Counsel of the Soratami, 1 Phantom Warrior, 2 Remove Soul, 2 Sage Owl, 1 Second Wind, 1 Unsummon

Arcanis 4

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Game 10: casperwes (Black-Green Saprolings)

I get stuck at three mana, and he runs me over with Saprolings and Fallen Ideal. He doesn't kill me by sacrificing all of his guys at once due to the fear of bounce, but his token generation gives him inevitability after my slow start.

Record: 6-4

Game 11: Nik83 (Blue-Red Suspend)

I get double Voidmage Prodigy and a Faerie Conclave, with Thieving Magpie and Cloud Elemental to assist. He gets Rift Elemental and suspends Reality Strobe, and then puts Vesuvan Shapeshifter on the board. He copies my Magpie, and when he tries to bring Strobe out of suspend during my combat using his Rift Elemental, I shut it down with my Teferi. That proves to be the game-winner, as my assault is relentless.

Record: 7-4

Cloud Elemental
Game 12: Tolstoy (Black-Blue Eyes)

He gets an early Fathom Seer, and follows it with Prodigal Sorcerer and Fledgling Mawcor. My opening hand is Faerie Conclave, Think Twice, Cloud Elemental and four Islands. My first draw is Sage of Epityr, which completely changes the way I play this hand—I lead with the Sage and follow with Think Twice and then Cloud Elemental. I draw into Persuasion, grab his Fledgling Mawcor, put another Faerie Conclave on the board, and use Quicksand plus Fledgling Mawcor to hold down Evil Eye of Urborg.

Record: 8-4

I take a look at Coldsnap, and find that there are only two real contenders—Martyr of Frost and Phyrexian Ironfoot. Playing the Ironfoot would require me to turn all of my lands to Snow-Covered Islands, which would cost a good six to eight tickets—not exactly what I want in a budget deck! Plus, I've done that deck before with Blue Snow Aggro (in fact, literally a year ago as of this column!)

Just as an aside—it's amazing how versatile of a game Magic is! Look at the Blue Snow Aggro deck above, and then look at where we are with this Arcanis deck. Both are blue decks built around beating down, but they are completely different in how they play out, and what cards they use to win! Blue Snow Aggro went for the quick win with ground pounders, tapping creatures, and a twelve-shot of countermagic. The modified Arcanis's Guile deck starts with early beats that double as stall, comes in through the air with mid-range creatures, and then uses Arcanis to refill the hand and Persuasion to turn its opponent's creatures against them. I love Magic, and this is the reason why—two blue aggro decks that are completely different, just a year apart!



Back to Tenth Edition! I want a little more beatdown in the air, and Cloud Elemental (a.k.a. Puffy) has been great for that so far. I also want to be able to come back from behind, or punch through that last bits of damage. Good ol' Standby Loxodon Warhammer is perfect for this; +3/+0, trample and lifelink go a long ways to victory. Thankfully, the Warhammer was an uncommon in Mirrodin and has been printed in three sets now (Mirrodin, Ninth, and Tenth) so it is not an uber-expensive rare.

I take out Citanul Flute (which I've drawn all of twice, and it was dead in my hand), a Voidmage Prodigy, the Tidings, and a Serra Sphinx to make room for these other four cards. I'm still jammed a little high on high-mana cards (quad Sphinx, quad Persuasion, triple Arcanis, Teferi), so dropping a Sphinx, a Tidings and a Flute in favor of three-drop cards doesn't hurt. I debated between killing another Sphinx, the Willbender, or a Prodigy as the fourth card, but I decided in the end that with Vedalken Aethermage coming up in the next revision, I wanted that one Willbender in the deck still—and I liked having a trio of 4/4 vigilant flyers.

Tenth Again

In: 2 Cloud Elemental, 2 Loxodon Warhammer
Out: 1 Citanul Flute, 1 Voidmage Prodigy, 1 Serra Sphinx, 1 Tidings

Arcanis 5

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Game 13: ForestFire0 (Mono-Green Wurms)

He plays Llanowar Elves turn one and puts Overgrowth on a Forest turn two. I Boomerang the Forest, and he gets stuck at two lands plus an Elf. I drop multiple Faerie Conclaves and Cloud Elementals and use Loxodon Warhammer to speed the game on home. His hand? 3x Baru, Fist of Krosa, double Gauntlet of Power, and a Wurmcalling. Good thing I shut down that Overgrowthed Forest!

Record: 9-4

Game 14: Flight (Blue-Red Gargadon)

He gets Riddle of Lightning and unsuspends a Gargdon to deal 18 damage to me in one turn. One earlier hit with an Aeon Chronicler (which I killed with Persuasion) made that enough to deal lethal damage to me.

Record: 9-5

Game 15: breakbeat_19 (Mono-Black Beatdown)

I get a draw with double Sage of Epityr, triple Voidmage Prodigy. Unfortunately, I see that I'm going to be stuck at four lands for quite some time, with multiple Serra Sphinx and Persuasions in my hand. The good news is that his board is a Dark Confidant, a Bottle Gnomes, and a Dauthi Slayer. I let him swing in with the Confidant, he takes about 10 damage from his own cards, I Boomerang the Bottle Gnomes at a key moment, and I swing in for enough damage to win, while sacrificing the Sage of Epityrs to counter any blockers he tries to play.

Record: 10-5

Whenever I've drawn bounce, it's been great for me. This is because my deck is getting very aggressive, and Boomerang (or Unsummon) allows me to either clear the path for victory, or buy a little time to get a large flyer online. It's nice to have a panic button just in case something goes wrong—and Boomerang provides that.

To make room for a couple of more Boomerangs (and a Vedalken Aethermage), I take out the Thieving Magpie (I love the Magpie, but it's too small for this deck—it's better in a deck focused almost entirely on control), and the last of my hard Counterspells (Cancels). This leaves the three Voidmage Prodigy as my only countermagic in the deck—but with blue mana untapped, people are going to assume I have countermagic in my hand. This sort of bluff against people who are scared about Counterspells will be almost as effective as having countermagic itself.

Future Sight Again

Out: 2 Cancel, Thieving Magpie
In: 2 Boomerang, Vedalken Aethermage

Arcanis 6

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Game 16: ucinv (Black-Red Madness Control)

We go back and forth for quite a while, trading card for card. He gets Skullmead Cauldron and Madnesses out a bunch of guys (Grave Scrabbler, Nightshade Assassin), and I get down Serra Sphinx with a Loxodon Warhammer. The key play comes when we are back at parity, and he drops Woebringer Demon when my only creature on the board is Arcanis. During my upkeep, I tap Arcanis to draw three cards, pay to return him to my hand (which kills his Woebringer Demon), and then drop a second Serra Sphinx onto the board with double Faerie Conclave backup. He can't recover from that card advantage (four for none), and I win.

Record: 11-5

Game 17: xerarks (Blue-Black Control)

He suspends a first turn Ancestral Vision, and then plays Dimir Aqueduct. I play first turn Sage of Epityr, and Boomerang his Aqueduct. He concedes.

Record: 12-5

Game 18: Kyvann (Blue-Green Saprolings)

He drops Thallid Germinator and puts Followed Footsteps on it. I drop Voidmage Prodigy, throw a Loxodon Warhammer on him, and then Boomerang his enchanted Thallid. I then use Second Wind to keep it tapped down after it hits the board a second time, and my Prodigy goes the distance.

Record: 13-5

I definitely liked the approach of visiting one set at a time to tweak the deck. By playing the deck a few games at a time, and then only visiting a limited card pool, I was able to let the deck breathe its own life, and show me the way to shore up its strengths and weaknesses. If I hadn't been beating down with Cloud Elemental and Sage Owl in the first few games, I might not have moved the deck to a more early beatdown focus with Voidmage Prodigy later on. Sampling quite a few different types of cards (Scalpelexis, Mahamoti Djinn) allowed me to see what would or wouldn't work in the deck, and then find appropriate replacements. This is definitely a playtest method I found very useful.

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