Monday, July 2, 2012

Grixis Arcane Melee Control, OR: A post-M13 look at being a unique individual.

My starting point for this deck is the second list you'll see in Steve Guillerm's Arcane Melee Adventures. I spent about 12 hours straight playing it on Cockatrice yesterday, and now I have to write about it. It simply must be done. It's a very cool (and rather silly) list, and I really believe it can be completely viable by the time I'm done with it. And seeing how that will certainly take more than a couple weeks, might as well start throwing M13 stuff into it now!

What you're about to read is a very unfocused... thingy about Grixis Arcane Melee Control. What I mean to do is start a discussion with other people who find it promising (or just fun) in order to improve it. So please, chime in on what you think. I'm probably wrong about a whole bunch of stuff. Maybe some stuff will be wrong just to bait people into talking about it. In any case, I want this deck to be awesome, and I need help!

A quick Primer:
The Arcane Melee deck is at it's core a combo deck. It's very unfortunate that the combo involves a 5-drop Enchantment, but when you get there you see how worth it that is. The other pieces are Mystic Retrieval and Runic Repetition. Playing this deck, you'll find many of your opponents actually have no idea what any of those 3 cards do. More still won't know that Arcane Melee is global (let's not talk about that).

Basically, in lieu of any kind of countermagic or Planeswalkers, we control the board with a never-ending stream of Burn. Galvanic Blast, Pillar of Flame, Devil's Play, Whipflare, Blasphemous Act, etc. (as well as some black removal). But when I say never-ending, I literally mean never. If you have Arcane Melee on the board (big if), you can play Mystic Retrieval for 1U and flash it back for R. We run three of those. With Runic Repetition, every spell we play gets a buyback of 1UUR after we run out of Retrievals (Flashback Mystic Ret for R to get the spell back, Runic Rep for U to get the Mystic Ret back, Mystic Rep for 1U to get the Runic Rep back). Of course, it's much more flexible than that, but I'm sure you get the idea.

So of course there are a few big challenges in playing the deck. In no particular order:
  • Resolving Arcane Melee. It's kinda hard. Sometimes it gets countered, sometimes you die before you even drop it.
  • Graveyard hate. Ew.
  • Uh... How do you win?

Resolving Arcane Melee: The matchups
Against aggro, we stall until they run out of steam. Sometimes by that time you're at 4 life, and at that point you probably lose. Maybe some kind of life gain can help, maybe you just need to board in every kill spell in Standard. It's gonna take some work--pod decks are especially horrific to play against.

Aggro control is a little bit easier, actually. Turns out whipflare basically takes Delver to the cleaners. Yeah, they'll Vapor Snag their dudes to oblivion and counter your spells and all that nonsense. But at the end of the day, they run out of creatures and you don't run out of removal. Restoration Angels are a drag if you can't find your Doom Blades, but Whipflare + Galvanic Blast does alright.

Control is, surprisingly, the least of our worries. Dissipate is your worst enemy, but you can sit until you have the extra 3 for Mana Leak, and then sit some more. If Melee it gets Dissipated, you can probably find another one. I'm considering putting a 1- or 2-of Gitaxian Probe in for the sole purpose of making sure that Melee resolves. And hey, even Mind Rot only costs B with Arcane Melee out. In any case, we have a VERY solid matchup against control, because of our unlimited supply of cards. Burning Vengeance works wonders here.

Graveyard hate
It's actually not as bad as you'd think. Unless you lose your Runic Repetition. Then it is as bad as you'd think. When you see a Nihil Spellbomb (or whatever) in game 1, or suspect your opponent is siding one in for game 2 or 3, you can usually do just fine by siding in a second Runic Rep. Ancient Grudges also help.

If you lose your graveyard, simply Runic Repetition your Mystic Retrieval, then you can pull whatever you need from your exile with those two cards. This will usually only happen against control, so you have time.

This is the part that will most likely be changing when M13 comes in. Steve relies on damage from Burning Vengeance and a final kill with Devil's Play. There are some obvious problems with this plan. When you tap out for Devil's Play, you basically lose an entire turn to Mana Leak. It's not exactly elegant to wait until you're at 11 mana to get somebody half-dead. There a couple things that work much better in M13 that I'll discuss later. It's fun stuff :)

Steve's deck works... fine. But there are some cards that we can certainly do without. We'll need room for the next section.
  • Amass the Components. Draw 3 is fun, but it's crazy-slow without Melee out. Forbidden Alchemy is strictly better, because of our graveyard interaction.
  • Burning Vengeance. It isn't affected by Arcane Melee, and it really slows us down. If it goes in the 'yard, it stays in the 'yard. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure we don't have room for it
  • Doom Blade. It's very scary maining this card, because it's possible for it to be 100% dead. Go for the Throat isn't much better because Blade Splicer. Murder, however, is awwwwfully intriguing.
  • Galvanic Blast. I disagree with Mr. Guillerm's assertion that Galv Blast's instant-speed is more important. Pillar of Flame not only gets rid of Undying creatures, it stops all death triggers. Solemn Simulacrum, Viridian Emmissary, Blood Artist (that's a big one). Bam.
  • Sever the Bloodline. You usually don't get more than one kill with it per cast, and it's dreadfully expensive. Pillar is better, if you ask me.
  • Sphere of the Suns. We're playing control. Control = long games (hopefully). Sphere doesn't interrupt your turn 3 Forbidden Alchemy, but then it dies a slow and painful death. I really think Vessel of Endless Rest is actually better. I don't think either are particularly good options, but it feels much better when you draw a vessel on turn 20 than a sphere, which is basically completely dead.

And in the sideboard:

  • Fettergeist. This is just weird, I don't understand it at all.
  • Sever the Bloodline. Again, why?

Current cards worth exploring:
I don't have many; I'd love some suggestions.

  • Arc Trail. Seems obvious to me. It 2-for-1's (especially against mana dorks).
  • Pillar of Flame. I mentioned it earlier, it's prettyyyyyy cool. Stops undying, stops death triggers (this deck hates itself some Blood Artist).
  • Planeswalker. They pull aggro from us, and can help control the board. This is good. The bad part is they're not efficient with mana like we want all of our cards to be. And they're expensive! Don't know about you guys, I'm poor. That said, Karn is the only card in Standard we can cast that kills O-Ring, the most likely removal you'll see for Arcane Melee. So he's a card worth exploring.
  • Nihil Spellbomb. Sideboard against stuff like Solar Flare.
  • Griselbrand (+ Unburial Rites). No, this is not a Reanimator deck. But Vessel gets us white mana, and we have Looting and Forbidden Alchemy. Hell, we have the mana to hard cast him sometimes. Fishing for important cards like Arcane Melee and win conditions with his abillity is awesome, and he gains us a huge amount of life if we can attack or block with him even once. The most likely scenario I see him figuring into is in a reanimator suite with 2 Rites and another target (maybe Inferno Titan?). Just an aside: Flashing back Unburial Rites costs us *two mana*. Not bad, eh?

M13 Contenders
Now THIS is the fun stuff.

  • Gilded Lotus. Unfortunately it's in the same slot as Arcane Melee. The reason it's still here, though, is that tapping out for Arcane Melee is usually a bad idea. It's like hard casting Reforge the Soul: I'm going to give us both a whole bunch of new options, then say go so you can kill me with yours first. This deck is (obviously) designed to take advantage of Melee in ways that the average deck can't, but that doesn't mean other decks can't use it as well. Against aggro, you're pretty safe dropping Melee turn 4 or 5. But Gilded Lotus will probably wind up in my Sideboard, at least.
  • Rewind. There isn't any countermagic in the main board right now. I'm not actually sure how I feel about that; it certainly warrants a discussion. But if we're going to move in that direction, Rewind is the counterspell to beat. Early on, we can hold the mana open  to counter important spells, or AND spend it EoT on Forbidden Alchemy or Think Twice (which would both be four-ofs in this case) . To make things even better, once Arcane Melee is on the field, you gain mana for countering spells. This gives us the ability to leave 1UU open for their turn and either spend it on a couple think twice flashbacks or counter something and then flash back Forbidden Alchemy! This card is absolutely awesome in this deck. It's exciting just thinking about it.
  • Flames of the Firebrand. It's more expensive than Arc Trail, but it's even more versatile. Post-rotation I'm fairly sure I'll be playing this card. I mean, it only costs R with Arcane Melee out.
  • Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Hey, I mean, he's in our colors, right? Who doesn't want to play Nicol Bolas? His +3 destroys O-Rings, he can steal Titans permanently, and I don't need to tell you that his Ultimate is good.
  • Rise from the Grave. It doesn't have flashback like Rites does, but paying R for Mystic Retrieval and then casting it for 2B is fine with me. Playing two of this card over Rites allows us to play a singleton Griselbrand and no other targets, because we can just target stuff we kill with...
  • Murder. Our Doom Blades and Go for the Throat's are not just for the big stuff like they are in control decks that get a single use out of them. We can cast our spot removal a whole bunch of times, so we want it to be efficient against everything. Murder strains our manabase, possibly enough that it won't be playable pre-rotation. But with RtR and the return of Shock Lands, I can see it happening just fine. How's that relevant? Well another M13 card that will much better with Shock lands is...
  • Liliana of the Dark Realms. Our land drops are very important. Running Blood Crypt and Watery Grave give us pretty sexy control of our mana. That's one point for good ol' Lilly right there. This would allow us to run a much more Black-intensive manabase, making 4-of Murder and other black removal (Mutilate!!!). If I'm being completely honest, I'm not sure how this will pan out, as I've never played with shock lands in Standard. Her second ability should be able to kill threats pretty well, depending on what our manabase ends up looking like. We don't get any use out of the +X/+X part, but... oh well. Getting off her ultimate basically guarantees a win with Devil's Play.
  • Sands of Delirium. It could replace Increasing Confusion as an alternate win condition against control. Maybe not. Iunno. But here's the big one...
  • Stuffy Doll. We're already running Blasphemous Act. Cool, huh?
There are a LOT of interesting options to explore here. M13 fills in some gaps marvelously, and we lose almost nothing with the rotation. The Liliana RtR version is even more exciting. I'll be posting this weekend about how I do this Friday Night, but until then I'd love to talk to you guys in the comments about what you think. And keep the error correction coming, apparently writing 2000 words about Magic doesn't make you any better at reading the 13 words on Omniscience ("from your hand" was where it lost me).


1 comment:

  1. I have been playing around with this for a week or two now. Competitive or not, it is so much fun.

    One card I think is worth noting that has not been mentioned is Talrand, Sky Summoner. He is excellent for matchups against decks with few/no creatures, where your board wipes get sided out.