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Top 5 Reasons Dreadhorde Arcanist Doesn't Belong in Modern Burn

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Last week my very good friend Joey Pasco sent this Tweet my way:

If you don't know Joey... You should. His work is featured here on Cool Stuff as a member of the Yo! MTG Taps podcast. Joey is an awesome commentator and I'm proud to say the two of us long held many broadcast viewership records together, though that was many years and (for Joey) a wife and a kid ago!

As you can see, Joey's handle on Twitter is @AffinityForBlue; and that is only because Affinity for Islands was too long to fit when he made his handle. I distinctly remember that when Snapcaster Mage came out, Joey bought not one but two play sets so that he wouldn't have to move cards between decks (presuming he'd make all Blue decks). Good investment, huh? He's one of the bluest mages I've ever met, so his descent to the status of a Standard and Modern Burn player like YT has been heartwarming... And not only for the mana symbols involved.

So I took Joey's question pretty seriously. I could totally see this as a potentially attractive route (especially for an ex-blue mage). But still, I don't buy that there is a match between this potentially powerful new card and the Modern Burn archetype... At least as far as I recognize and understand it.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. It's Out of Character for a Red Deck Creature
  2. For That Matter, It's Out of Character for a Red Deck Card
  3. The Casting Costs Don't Consistently Line Up
  4. The Mana-to-Damage Conversion is Actually Kind of Bad
  5. There is a Giant Hole in its Strategy

1. It's Out of Character for a Red Deck Creature

Almost every Modern Burn deck starts off with the following twelve creatures: Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, and Eidolon of the Great Revel. Sometimes - sometimes only - you will see someone play 1-2 copies of Grim Lavamancer. Me? I'm usually a two-of Grim Lavamancer guy, but I haven't always been But I've never not played the core dozen creatures.

Red Decks almost always get value equal to or greater than a typical Burn spell with those first twelve creatures. Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear have haste. They get in. Take two! If you only get in twice with a Goblin Guide, it's the equivalent of the biggest Burn spell a typical Red Deck will play (Boros Charm). If you only get in with one of these creatures once, they're already kind of like a Searing Blaze.

Getting in only once implies neutralization (usually due to the efficient removal of a Modern opponent) meaning ~one card... But you already theoretically hit once. Boom! Searing. You grok?

Eidolon of the Great Revel doesn't have haste, but is super likely to deal more than two damage due to its specialized text box. It is so likely to have a meaningful impact, Eidolon of the Great Revel is worth playing even though it costs two mana. Getting your Eidolon killed on the spot impies two damage (a somewhat below average damage output) plus a card (an overall better than average exchange).

Grim Lavamancer is the one card that breaks the "always gets its money" paradigm. Grim Lavamancer - when it is in - is often the best card in the deck. Not only can it single-handedly take over a match against Affinity, Humans, or Spirits, but activating Grim Lavamancer only twice is the equivalent to drawing multiple cards.

How does Dreadhorde Arcanist compare?

I don't love it in Burn primarily because it doesn't immediately get its money. No haste. No Eidolon clause. Given its mana cost, it's likely to justify an opponent's removal. It's just a good creature with a high ceiling. But this archetype doesn't play those! I've never been a Wild Nacatl guy; and in terms of consistent power level, Dreadhorde Arcanist is probably lower on the totem pole than Tarmogoyf or Scavenging Ooze... Both high leverage 2-drops that Burn just doesn't play, even when in Green.

Thumbs down.

2. For That Matter, It's Out of Character for a Red Deck Card

Okay, we know Dreadhorde Arcanist doesn't fit perfectly into the Red Deck creature paradigm.

But creatures are just a type of card... What do I mean that it doesn't fit in from a more generic "card" standpoint?

At least for myself and my own approach, I recently I re-characterized the deck as primarily a one mana deck. I finally went down to 19 lands to reflect not needing as many due to lower mana requirements. I not only slashed a Searing Blaze but replaced the Sacred Cows of Boros Charm and Lightning Helix with cheaper alternatives like Bump in the Night, reimagining the longstanding colors.

In short, given all the work trying to drop the average casting cost in Burn, I'm loathe to add another 2 mana card [that might not deal any damage], even a very exciting one.

One of the hallmarks of Burn's cards is that they mostly all stand on their own merits. This is a deck that not only proudly plays Lava Spike, but in the even-more-modern Modern era is embracing the Spike eight-pack of Bump in the Night! The cards all come off the top hot and live, and don't need help from anyone else to be effective. Dreadhorde Arcanist is the opposite of that, attitude / paradigm-wise.

3. The Casting Costs Don't Consistently Line Up

A counter argument is that all those one mana cards make for a perfect home. It's not like Dreadhorde Arcanist has a lot or Giant Growth buddies hanging around. 1 power... Lots of one casting cost spells... Peanut Butter + chocolate, am I right?

Only kind of.

You may only pay onw mana for all the spells, but a good number are Rift Bolt, Skewer the Critics, or Light Up the Stage... Or, "Three mana spells". Dreadhorde Arcanist can't fundamentally cast a bunch of these cards! Without help, it never can!

A minor corollary here is that while a Burn deck functions as kind of a really generalized combo deck (any seven three damage spells is a kill) all of the cards in the deck are themselves pretty independent. We're now introducing the concept of a card that only works when other cards have already been played in a certain order. This is worse (though not fatally so) when those cards are Lava Spikes; much less attractive when they're some kind of Rift Bolt.

A second corollary is that some builds of Burn do have differently high ceilings, depending. Atarka's Command. Give Dreadhorde Arcanist +1/+1 an let it get in to re-cast the same Atarka's Command? Not the worst.

4. The Mana-to-Damage Conversion is Actually Kind of Bad

Anything that costs two mana in Burn is usually worth four or more damage. Boros Charm does four. The Searing spells do five or even six; just split across two targets.Lightning Helix only does three, but gets three back.

(Not that much of this matters because I cut all the twos.)

But what about introducing Dreadhorde Arcanist here? We already said that Dreadhorde Arcanist doesn't always get its money. But what about when it comes online? What kind of return are we talking about?

If it's only one damage (which sucks but is possible), that is not a good return. Clearly you need this card to be pulling off its text box magic to get worth the mana and the slot. If it pulls that off once you get four instead of just one and that's great; multiple attacks put this way above average... But that's a big if for Modern.

5. There is a Giant Hole in its Strategy

So what does it mean to get in multiple times?

It means that your 1/3 creature survived to attack multiple times! That just isn't a given for the format.

Grim Lavamancer has a similar asterisk next to its name; it also needs a little setup and a little time to get its money. But the Torment rare 1) costs only one and not two, and 2) is utterly devastating without being specific about what it's using out of the graveyard, but 3) most importantly doesn't actually have to attack to be effective. A Lavamancer can stay out of the Red Zone, picking apart Humans or Affinity while you take the hits - but not lethal hits - on your face.

I like the concept of a Dreadhorde Arcanist if it's just playing Lightning Bolt over and over for similar action. But can you imagine sending this more than once against, say, Humans? Some 3/3 is going to chomp it before it gets a second at-bat.

Okay, so Dreadhorde Arcanist sucks...

Wait!

I didn't mean to imply that!

I just don't think this card is an automatic inclusion in Modern Burn. It actually has a bunch of interesting stuff going for it that makes me want to play it; maybe even in Modern!

Dreadhorde Arcanist is priced to move... Just not for a Burn card.

If you go back to Joey's handle, Affinity for Blue, this creature hearkens back to a classic Blue dude: Ophidian. It is essentially the same size (1/3)... But for less mana. Not only that, it adds Trample.

Unlike Ophidian, which gives you a generic and random card off the top of your deck, Dreadhorde Arcanist gives you a not-generic card from your graveyard.

But that's not all!

Ophidian gave you access to such a card, but Dreadhorde Arcanist will actually pay its mana cost for you. It's even more priced to move when it's working than when it's just sitting around. It's kind of a card advantage - and mana - engine.

A lot of my questions around this card are based on the redundancy of the Burn deck. We play Spikes, Bumps, and Rift Bolts because they all look like Lightning Bolts. They're not Lightning Bolts, but six times out of ten you get most of a Lightning Bolt for a Lightning Bolt's cost. Because the dopey Red Deck can't control what it draws, that's good enough.

But a more elegant deck, one with, say, Opt doesn't have to play that way. I think that juggling Opts - and buying back fast card drawing - is even more exciting than trying to buy back Lightning Bolt proxies. How about cards that cost even less than one? There are a couple in Modern that this card might have a great time trying to play for free!

Even if it isn't the best in Red Deck, I can imagine Dreadhorde Arcanist teaming up with one-mana disruption like Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek as a sideboard card... A kind of opposite number to Young Pyromancer. Can you imagine getting double duty against a deck that is creature removal poor but relies on its own offensive speed to win through a - for it - hard-to-kill 3 toughness Wizard?

The road isn't completely clear, still. You have to get your key cards into the graveyard before you start attacking to cash in the value of this one-card card - and mana! - engine. But that's probably not difficult if you start off with, say, Faithless Looting.

And speaking of mana engine...

Become Immense

There is a huge positive question mark for Dreadhorde Arcanist. It can cast basically anything - again for free - if you get it big enough. I'm not actually sure what kind of Ant-Man type size-altering gymnastics are going to be warranted to exploit its mana savings; I just know that the average Burn deck isn't the way to approach this incredible, as-yet-untapped, angle.

LOVE

MIKE