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Bad Cards on the Verge of Arena Glory

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If you’re still a “paper boi,” you’ll be ignorant of one of the amazing phenomena of the Arena world: ranking resets!

Reset

Every month when you get your pack scraps and prizes and whatnot for attaining a certain ranking on Arena and you start over, you can spend some time brewing it up! It’s a magical time in your ladder climbing when cards you wrote off or slept on suddenly come back to life. Arena is a diverse experience, one where it doesn’t take a Mythic Championship-tuned list to get the best of someone in best-of-one.

Once you get to the high ranks, if you want to keep ascending with reliability, you need to focus in on some pretty proven strategies; however, that doesn’t have to be your entire journey!

Rubble Reading

Last week, I wrote about the strange contextual ways that Arena can shine new light on very innocuous Standard cards. We’re only beginning to mess with this, but the idea that even a card as historically bemoaned as a Demolish variant could pick its chin up on Arena is a pretty big deal, not to mention a celebration of a greater breadth of Standard’s offerings.

So, if Demolish is at least theoretically playable - or at the very least, much more playable - then what could we do with other, less obviously hobbled cards?

Because of the best-of-one format, the proven decks of formats are much more vulnerable on the ladder. Especially when your rank is low - whether because of the aforementioned reset or because you’re new to Arena or because it’s hilarious how easy it is on there to surprise people - it’s a wonderful time to exploit popular decks that have been rote copied. These are a few cards that are probably a lot better in best-of-one than in paper traditional Magic these days:

Mastermind's Acquisition

The absolute hallmark of any Bo1 deck going for maximum flexibility, I’ve written before about how this card can open up new dimensions in a world where everyone else only has four gears. While the Gates deck I fell in love with is no longer on the table - it’s very difficult to navigate through the current field of planeswalker-focused decks - the joy of having a hybrid Diabolic Tutor and “Wish” card when nobody else is playing more than 60 means that Mastermind's Acquisition is still going to be all over my Arena deck-building theory until they take it from my cold, dead Magic: the Gathering opening hands.

Bolas's Citadel

Proud member of the Indestructible Elite (the group of unfortunate men and women who happen to be exposed to me even more than the average soul) RedHot19, aka Sam, talked me into playing this card in Limited on stream a few weeks back. I believe I can recall thinking it was too high ceiling and that I just wanted to win a draft to feel happy before going back to being nutso. Thankfully, more fun heads prevailed, and I proceeded to take the card and make people quit Magic games much, much earlier than the game’s organic conclusion.

So if that ridiculous mana cost and a humble life total can get the job done in Limited, imagine what it could do when you build a Constructed deck around it! Not to mention artifacts are incalculably more protected in Bo1 than in traditional Magic due to their fragile and hated nature. Even with new design and dev flexibility to make cards more modal for Arena, artifacts are still much more safe than they could ever be in a world full of sideboarding. There’s only so much the Knight of Autumns of the world can do in Bo1, and that’s where weird artifacts like this can really come into their own.

Will you have to switch to a Liliana, Dreadhorde General deck when you get to a certain rung? Of course. But even Liliana rarely gets opponents to concede so fast. Plus, there’s nothing demoralizing about Liliana losses. Losing to Bolas's Citadel feels bad. And isn’t that what we’re really after here?

Dark-Dweller Oracle

This one is a bit less obvious than something that isn’t seeing as much play as one might intuit, like Judith, but this essentially stands for that entire Aggro sacrifice strategy.

Look, I know paper Magic is full of planeswalkers right now - and creatures with rates that are completely absurd in order to maintain some semblance of parity with them - but in Bo1, there are all kinds of decks that you can run roughshod over if your Judith game is on point. Build it aggressive enough and maybe you can get under most of those walkers. And if you aren’t playing against planeswalkers? You’re probably playing against another “Knights tribal” deck in Bronze that has no hope of beating you anyway. Put on a show for em.

Dovin, Grand Arbiter

The rub with Dovin here is that he’s a geeky non-Teferi that poorly serves the purposes of the big time (audience mouths along) planeswalker decks. One of the annoying traps of the ladder right now is that it can be difficult to build for both Mono-Red Facebash and Grindy, Foregone Conclusion Loyalty Counter Control. Dovin is a card that gives away text to each extreme but isn’t terrible as a kind of all around middle ground, assuming you don’t know which one you need to prepare for in the next game. Without an angle that exploits him to greater effect in the service of this goal of guarding yourself on both sides of the metagame, he’s still not going to do anything, but that need not be a project beyond our deck-building reach. At least not until we get to high-tier Gold.

Mox Amber

Dude, steal a turn back! Smash that serve!

I don’t know if the archetype for which this breaks the mirror is out there, but there are so many legendary permanents now. The gravity that surrounds sticking the first mega-threat in the control mirrors would really start going your way on a constant basis if you’re able to often slowroll the Mox into an unforeseen acceleration, dropping Ugin or Liliana or Teferi a turn before your opponent expected them. Combine this with how often you’re likely to want Narset before this point and I think there’s something here worth exploring in bo1.

Feather, the Redeemed

This might be my vote for the most underrated Standard card at the moment. I was thrilled to see it make big noise this weekend. It was on my list for this piece before, so I’m keeping it in, but someone did beat us to the punch:


The starts you can get with this card are out of hand. She’s evasive, she stacks up really silly and fast advantage, and there are nut draws with Feather that totally run over the most consistent control decks around. Take away their sideboard adaptability and you’ve got yourself a very mean Angel. Did I mention the rates on creatures right now are ridiculous?

Fly with Feather. Now.

Karn's Temporal Sundering

I’ve decided to close with this one since I relate it closely to the one card we opened with: Mastermind's Acquisition. Karn's Temporal Sundering is the card I’ve most fetched with the “Wish” mode of Mastermind’s lately. The reason is that the tempo gained from resolving a spell like this deep into a planeswalker control mirror is almost insurmountable. Mass Manipulation has been best in Bant where the mana ramp can take it upward, but I’ve really enjoyed the extra dimension and smaller mana investment over a greater number of Bo1 games when comparing them heads up.

By the time you’re ready to cast it, the game will have progressed to the point where an extra activation for all your planeswalkers, extra attacks with any incidental creatures, and an extra card, all coupled with a bit of tempo-based removal, should be more than enough to slam the door. And when you’re playing control mirrors with the goal of shooting up the ladder on Arena, you’ll want to start slamming doors on games sooner and sooner. It’s a long road, but it’s good work and worthy of respect.


I’d like to thank everyone for the level of support I’ve received since returning to writing about Magic. I hardly feel I need to decorate this sentiment further, but truly, truly, any time I have your support you my gratitude. That’s a promise.

Sincerely.