Dreadhorde Arcanist in Legacy: Hit or Miss?

War of the Spark recently spoiled a potential player in Legacy and Modern - Dreadhorde Arcanist. Christopher is here to explain what makes this card so good and what kind of decks might look to the Arcanist for its powerful value engine.

It was Tuesday evening and I was sitting on the couch watching the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy (a great show, if I do say so myself) while scrolling through the newest War of the Spark spoilers. I love looking for potential playable cards in Modern and Legacy. The way I do this is by first looking at the rarity – commons are rarely interesting – and then I look at the mana cost. For example, Mythic Rares with converted mana costs 3 or less are almost always worth reading at least, as they tend to have very powerful effects at an acceptable price.

Following this method, I ran into Dreadhorde Arcanist quite quickly. This card was revealed by the German website GameStar with a short article about its playability in Standard.

Card Analysis

Dreadhorde Arcanist

The Strengths

Let's start with its CMC. Two is fine number and definitely below the necessary threshold for cards to have a real chance in eternal formats and the 1/3 body is a solid one. Three toughness lets you attack into a Stoneforge Mystic or a possible Snapcaster Mage. Trample is either good or useless, depending on the final deck list and the ways you use this card.

The second ability is definitely the reason you'd play this card though. The ability to generate free value by casting spells from the graveyard is extraordinarily powerful and it usually comes on cards with high CMCs like Spelltwine or Wrexial, the Risen Deep. So, the effect is definitely powerful. Obviously, the card doesn't allow you to cast just any Instant or Sorcery, as that would be very over-tuned, but it still allows you the ability to cast a one or zero-cost spell from your graveyard without spending mana. In a red deck, numerous cards like Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, and Faithless Looting come to mind immediately. The ability to cast these cards for nothing on attack can lead to very strong value. Blue seems even better, giving you free Brainstorms, Ponders, and Thought Scours.

Black gives you Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and Inquisition of Kozilek. White gives you Swords to Plowshares and even Green gives you some interesting options like Become Immense and Berserk, giving the card some possibility as a bursty combo enabler.

If you want to "break" the rules a bit, how about attacking and casting Ancestral Vision and Restore Balance for free? There are plenty of possibilities.

Ancestral Vision Restore Balance

The Weaknesses

Dreadhorde Arcanist's ability is at its best in a deck with a large number of one-mana spells. The more the better to ensure that its attack is always generating value. Decks with Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration or Arclight Phoenix are, therefore, the natural choices here, although the Arcanists ability does not directly synergize well with the triggered ability of Arclight Phoenix.

Additionally, while I did mention its toughness as a strength, its power is a significant weakness for aggressive decks, where attacking for one is often too slow.

In decks that are a bit less aggressive, like Grixis Delver, the Arcanist will end up competing, due to its mana costs, with cards like Young Pyromancer. Although they fulfill different roles and have some limited synergy with one another, it needs testing to determine whether it's worthwhile to play so many two-mana spells in your deck. Additionally, the lack of synergy with Pteramander is problematic, because casting these spells exiles them from your graveyard, which makes Pteramander's already expensive ability even more expensive.

Pteramander Gurmag Angler

Implementing Arcanist in Legacy

From my perspective, implementing new cards in Legacy is doable through two paths. Either you tune an existing deck with the card, or you develop a completely new one. Tuning an existing deck is usually the best way to start, as it's much easier and faster to incorporate a card into a deck that already exists. So, let's take a look at our previous example – Grixis Delver – for a place where this Arcanist might have a home.

Grixis Delver

Delver of Secrets Lightning Bolt Thoughtseize

Grixis Delver offers three colors with strong one-mana spells. Although the use of Arcanist makes Gurmag Angler a bit worse, it's a hurdle to be overcome, and we can overcome it using more discard spells and cantrips, which will make casting the Angler a bit easier.

Grixis Arcanist Delver by Christopher Brunner

Does it Blend?

Dreadhorde Arcanist is an interesting card with huge potential for eternal formats. At first sight, the upsides are big, and the value seems great. But, it's important for cards like these to find homes in existing decks, and it's a little harder to imagine an entire strategy hinging on this one card and there, he might fall short.

Arclight Phoenix decks looks like the perfect deck but, unfortunately, the three spells need to be cast before entering combat, which doesn't fit very well with an Arcanist who casts during combat.

Secondly, Arcanist competes with some other powerhouses in Legacy, especially in the decks I feel he's best in. He empties the graveyard which makes Pteramander and Gurmag Angler worse, he has the same spot in the (low) mana curve as Young Pyromancer and his one-power attacks doesn't deliver the pressure we want from our creatures (especially the two-mana ones).

As a result, I don't think the card will appear immediately as a Legacy staple, but rather that people will have brew a bit and develop a few decks do find the place where Arcanist truly shines. But he definitely fulfills mana requirements necessary for a good Legacy staple and I look forward to his potential debut.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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Basinator(2019-04-15 11:26)

Since when does Gamestar spoil or even star MTG (cards)? O_O

bisamratte(2019-04-12 19:44)

I think Izzet Delver is a good home for Arcanist, even more than Grixis. The deck is really good right now and I can see another version besides the Pteramander one. Just sleeve in 4 Delvers, 4 Pyromancers, 4 Arcanists with some Lands and a bunch of bolts and cantrips (and counters ofc) and you have a deck. New Saheeli from the board against control makes this even more fun.

ProPeanuts(2019-04-08 13:21)

It's funny that it describes: Arclight P deck seems perfect fit, but actually not... :P