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Getting Way Ahead in the New Artisan Format


Maybe it's my Asheville upbringing, but there's something really confident and accomplished (and self-important)in the sound of the term... "artisan."

Oh, what's Artisan, you say?

No, you're not making craft beer or countertops.

Here, have a look.

Soon, in addition to Pioneer, players will attempt to solve the new Artisan format, putting all their skills to use to - wait, what's that? Oh right, some friends and I already did that.

But first...

Why is Artisan a Format at All?

If you know my Magic theory framework, you already know the answer.

Artisan is hoping to solve a problem that other formats do not. Whether or not it stays around depends on how well it succeeds in solving problems. The same applies to Pioneer, a format I'm less optimistic about, though I'll go into that another time.

Beyond the obvious budget and convenience, Artisan is a place where tight play and critical thinking are much more important due to the inability to have much or any of the following:

  • Big, splashy catch up effects.
  • Degenerate auto-win combos.
  • Bomby all-star cards that can win the game on their own.
  • Mass removal.
  • Creatures that have high stats while still providing other value.

That means every edge counts. The game results are much more likely due to a quiet decision fork than in powered up Magic. This is thinking Magic. This is Magic for artisans.

We Ain't Peasants

Golem Artisan

Two months ago, I realized that nearly a dozen of the players I frequently talk to and interact with talked about Magic a lot but played together very little. While that may have been a problem in the days of Magic Online, travel, or nothing, we live in the Arena era. We can play whenever we want with ease!

The only issue? Some players weren't "Arena-ready," in that they'd barely tried the program so far or they just hadn't had the time to go deep on it. Accessibility needed to happen, so we opted to keep most of our events C/U Standard, which would be Peasant until very recently.

By the time Artisan was announced as an official format, we'd already finished an event. And looking at the banned list, boy do our results line up well.

Sidenote: If you'd be interested in this sort of League Magic play, DM me on Twitch and we'll get you to the Discord! The league has been officially and affectionately dubbed Pro Magic Guerilla due to its philosophies.

PMG. The only real Magic left.

The Art of Artisan

So how do we know we were on the right track for the bigger metagame?

Because of our banned list.

See, the way we went about it for this first event is that we decided the Top 4 finishers could nominate up to four cards to be considered for banning. All ballots were secret, but if a card showed up more than once, we agreed to ban it for at least the next event.

Here are the cards that were mentioned along with how many votes they received:

Compare to the actual announced list:

Cauldron Familiar
Gates Ablaze
Cavalcade of Calamity
Persistent Petitioners

Not bad for an unreal small sample size! So how did we end up here and what does it mean?

Led by Red

I played against this deck in both the swiss and as the tournament final. This event had ten participants, and I'm positive if it had ten thousand this deck would still have won. It was dominant.

Mono-Red | Artisan| Lsuaksauke, 1st Place - Pro Magic Guerilla Artisan

Seriously, this was an unbelievable Red deck.

The biggest thing that should jump out at you is that Chandra's Spitfire got three ban mentions but is still legal in Artisan. The combo with Cavalcade was just so much damage for so little investment. Evasion, speed, combo blowouts - this deck had everything.

Without Cavalcade, maybe Chandra's Spitfire is just a card, but I'd be sure to at least mess with it before giving up without the Calamity.

Cavalcade of Calamity was a pet card of mine during the Ravnica drafts of earlier this year, and I'm kind of ashamed I didn't think of it. I'm not a "Red deck" player very often, so I'll have to excuse it. But this was the deck, bar none. I was able to take a game in the final, but man, what a build! Ignore it at your peril.

Are You The Gate Keeper?

Why yes! I was!

This seemed to be the best deck to play based on the most powerful mechanical synergies, and the banned list voting bears that out (though the second-place finish sure as hell doesn't...).

When you remove the rares and mythics, Gates becomes way better than most other things you could do in this context. I voted for both Gatebreaker Ram and Gates Ablaze for the banned list because I wanted the motivation to do something more interesting henceforth.

What does this mean for Artisan going forward?

Gates Ablaze is the best card. It just is. It's reliable mass removal, which is so unbelievably non-existent in this kind of card pool. It's cheating the spirit of the format, which is why it's banned.

However, I'm not positive you couldn't still get a decent deck out of Gates with only the Red Wrath banned. I can't use Gatebreaker Ram anymore, but the synergies are good enough that a reasonable deck is probably still there. Flame Sweep isn't much compared to Gates Ablaze, but it's still a worthy candidate.

Flame Sweep

Paradise Druid was really the only debated slot. It was wrong, and I don't care what would've been right. But it was definitely wrong.

Stand Back While I Do A Gainer

Though I didn't have much trouble dispatching my longtime friend in the swiss, I will say that one feature of this deck jumps out:

Bloodthirsty Aerialist

This is one of the few cards that really, really gets a bump in relevance in this new format context, especially with bans. It's a reasonable threat with all kinds of trigger availability. Pay attention to this card going forward.

One of the obvious features of this event was that we did not use sideboards. Having no precedent for a meta - remember: at the time we did this, Artisan had not even been announced - we went with straight sixties. With life gain being intrinsic to this deck, I wonder how it would've fared against the ridiculously powered Red deck? I highly doubt it'd be anywhere near a favorable matchup, but it does make it slightly more compelling.

Control Your Role

Yes, ladies and gents: this is the kind of control deck you should expect to see running around Artisan.

Though I didn't see this deck in either swiss or Top 4, I think it's a great lesson in how to port a strategy from a powered up format without getting too caught up in the losses. After all, planeswalkers have nearly no removal at this rarity, and with War of the Spark on the scene, you can really get away with some unbelievable tempo. I think maybe I'd rather have Kasmina than Boreal Elemental, but either way, the principles are there. If you want to try control, pick up some Cry of the Carnariums and then look at this list to see how far you can take the concept. Until we escape War of the Spark, planeswalkers are going to be a thing in Artisan.

PMG Event 2!

So what's next for this ragtag group of spell kids?


Our next event is an eight-player event with four groups of two! The teams were randomly chosen from our eight entries, and I've had tons of fun with my man Mindmage (making his PMG debut). No one is allowed to use any cards (other than basics) that their teammates are using, and also, sideboards are a thing!

We'll defeat that stupid Red yet!

Eternal Weekend!

If you're in Pittsburgh, you'll see me running around Eternal Weekend for the next several days. I will allow you to greet me, but please, make eye contact minimal.

I'm kidding, of course.

No eye contact.


Indestructible DWest

"The Rascal"

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