How Many Arcanices Would You Vex

Posted in Serious Fun on July 8, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

An Eighth-Grade English Lesson

Vexing Arcanix
Just what is an arcanix?

Despite its occasional use in arenas outside of Magic (best I can tell it's the name of some obscure computer programming language, and pops up in some web-published fiction), "arcanix" is not in any dictionary you'll easily find - not Mirriam-Webster, not Cambridge, not American Heritage, not even the two or three on-line dictionaries I tried. (The ultimate resource, Oxford English Dictionary, costs money online, and I just don't love all of you that much.) So this feels like a word we've all come to accept, but can't quite define formally.

How vexing.

However, had an intriguing idea - split the word into two.

n; type genus of the family Arcidae: ark shells and blood clams [syn: Arca, genus Arca]

n; fem. Nixe. [G. Cf. 1st Nick.] (Teut. Myth.) One of a class of water spirits, commonly described as of a mischievous disposition. The treacherous nixes who entice men to a watery death. --Tylor.

While I'm sure the "arca" is really meant to flow into the rest of the word ("arcane"), I rather like the image this definition sets up. Let's keep going (my sources here are various Internet links, through Google):

Ark Shells
Family: Arcidae. Ark Shells number about 200 in species and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The outer skin of the Ark Shell acts as a camouflage matching the surroundings of its environment. The shells actually look like stones when lying on the bottom of the water. Ark shells are commonly used as bait as well as food throughout the Caribbean.

So we're piecing something together about baiting someone and (if you look up other meanings of "nix") having them come up short-handed.

Definition Tangents

This looks like a good opportunity for me to generate my own definition. (I've always wanted to define a word, or have some other lasting impact on the English language.

In my trial article for this site, I tried to get Rosewater and Forsythe to accept my plural for lhurgoyf: "lhurgoyfu". Honestly, "s" doesn't work after an "f", and the traditional "v", as in "wolves" from "wolf", just doesn't seem snappy enough. Using an "i" like "hippopotimi" is more promising - but since we're not replacing an "us" sound, we would need to use a different vowel. I settled upon "u", since "u" and your graveyard are helping make all of my lhurgoyfu larger! It all plays out thusly: "You may Terror one lhurgoyf, my worthy opponent; but how do you propose to deal with the three other lhurgoyfu I played last turn? Not to mention my many 2/2 lhurgoyf tokens, which I created with Riptide Replicator. Yes, my friend, you have more than a few lhurgoyfu to ponder." That last sentence, in fact, would become a sort of idiom for situations where someone has a great deal to think through: "I'm sorry, Mr. President. I can't give you an answer on the Mideast situation for another few hours. I have more than a few lhurgoyfu to ponder." "I understand, Rummy. Get back to me when you can. And don't let the lhurgoyfu get you down." "That's a good one, Mr. President. Lhurgoyfu, getting us down! Way better than 'turkeys'! They'll love that down at the Pentagon.")

Here's my proposed definition, complete with contextual sentence:

n; pl. arcanices. An ancient water spirit associated with tales of temptation, frustration, and deviancy. When the lhurgoyfu tried to ford the river, they were waylaid by the arcanix and her unfulfilled promises of card advantage.

As lovely as this definition may be, it's not "official". But the road need not end here. That "nixe" definition does allude to German mythology. Readers who may have deeper cultural or linguistic insights are welcome to share with us on the message boards. For now, it's time to move on to the article proper, before the lhurgoyfu come home. (It really does slip off the tongue, doesn't it?)

Vexing Your Friends

I have two distinct memories of Vexing Arcanix in our play group. Both stem from decks my brother-in-law Paul made; this may be his favorite artifact.

The first memory is of facing down the Arcanix toward the end of a long game, and at somewhere around four life. (The Arcanix was the only thing that had done damage to me that game.) I was playing a dumb, slow blue-white deck with a couple copies of Disenchant in there; but I was getting tired of calling "Disenchant!" and getting yet another plains.

What made this even more annoying was that Paul used cards like Rootwater Mystic so that he could see what you were drawing. There was no strategic purpose to this (although he certainly used the Mystic/Arcanix on himself now and then - he's not stupid). Paul just wanted to see what the card would be, and for you to know that he knew, and for you to have to guess while knowing that he would know while you didn't. This is the way Paul thinks - I could do a whole month of articles on this sadistic freak.

So sitting at low life, sick of drawing basic land, figuring my two Disenchants are having a utility convention at the bottom of my deck, and with a chance to kill Paul in a couple of turns if I could just stay alive, I finally decided to play the percentages. At the beginning of my upkeep, after Paul looks at the card I've got on top of my library, I make my guess:


Paul snickers.

I flip the card.

On to the next story.

We're in a three-player game: me, Paul, and a former member of our group named Dan who I believe decided to attend law school at night simply because he got sick of Paul's ridiculous decks. Dan's got a black-red creatureless deck featuring Ensnaring Bridge. He's down to about five life, but is likely to win on his next turn with stuff like Fanning the Flames and Rolling Thunder. Paul's got a few 1/1 creatures out, so do I.

So Dan ends his turn, and Paul decides to activate the Vexing Arcanix.

Knowing that Paul is trying to get a card in his hand so that we can both attack him, and having personally witnessed my own experience with the Arcanix above, Dan lowers his head so that his lips are right above his library, and shouts the card I should have called that game:


It was the right call for him, too, with exactly zero percent chance of drawing it. The actual card was Dark Ritual. It went into his graveyard, Paul and I got no attacks in over the Ensnaring Bridge, and Dan won on his next turn.

So what's a card like this doing in the core set, anyway? I mean, beyond representing Ice Age, and artifacts that are a bit better than Dream Chisel? Well, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that some creative professional player will find a use similar to Cursed Scroll - but let's not hold our breath. More likely, this is there because Wizards wanted to introduce newer players to cards blessed with open calculations of probability.

I also think they may have remembered Think Tank, from Odyssey. Whether or not this is good for tournaments, this is almost certainly good enough for your casual play group. At the beginning of your upkeep, use the Think Tank's ability. Then before passing priority (any time before your draw step), activate the Vexing Arcanix, targeting yourself. And there you go: your own personal Howling Mine, with an upkeep of 3 and a requirement to reveal that extra card. That seems doable, right?

Beyond that, you're just messing with people's minds. Game theory is a fabulous way to put a deck in context, and cards that have you toying with your opponents' libraries are a fine way to get people second-guessing.

"I Vex, Therefore I Am".deq

Download Arena Decklist

The game theory kicks in with Ransack and Portent. When you look through the top cards in their library, what cards are you leaving them? What is it to your advantage to leave? And what if you've already guessed what they've guessed? Carry on until your opponent's head hurts.

There are other cards that let you loot the top of a library and move some cards to the bottom. Stuff like Precognition, which can come off as awfully mediocre if it shows up at the wrong time.

Milling may also feel like a natural here, but that's a different deck. With an Arcanix, I think it's best not to increase the chances that an opponent will guess correctly. That means keeping the good cards firmly in their deck, and simply well out of reach.

That said, the Arcanix works just fine in a milling variant, since successful guesses become fairly dangerous, if you mill hard and fast enough. Paul himself is trying out something like what you'll see below. Much of this deck is similar to the first; but given Brain Freeze, one might try to take advantage of storm:


Download Arena Decklist

For big kicks, add the Upheavals from the first deck I listed. It's nice to phase that Arcanix out, rather than finding the mana in one turn to recast.

Big fat warning: both of these decks are going to get plenty of attention the second time around, if you're using them in multiplayer games. I don't know that it's possible to build a rigorous Vexing Arcanix deck that can withstand blows from several directions at once.

But regardless, forcing guessing games should be fun in casual duels…and in team play! Imagine watching one opponent roll his eyes as a teammate completely flubs a guess... say, by calling Plains instead of Disenchant. Good fun.

You may reach Anthony at Regretfully, Anthony cannot help with decks any more. But he loves hearing from fellow players on just about any other topic. He also checks the message boards regularly for reader ideas and comments.

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