Introducing Abzan Arkbow

With each and every addition of a green creature tutor to Modern, there will always be comparisons to the New Phyrexia all-star Birthing Pod. I too, am guilty of this, and spend most spoiler seasons hunting spicy new cards for my beloved pet deck, Vizier Combo. The story seemed to be the same every time; big expectations and few results (the unfortunate case for Eldritch Evolution or Prime Speaker Vannifar). This time, I think it might be different.

Enter Vivien’s Arkbow

What makes me think that Vivien’s Arkbow might contribute to creature toolbox strategies? In comparison with the two aforementioned cards, Eldritch Evolution and Prime Speaker Vannifar, it doesn’t suffer from the same downsides. Evolution is non-repeatable, sorcery speed, and sacrifice is a big cost that makes us very vulnerable to counter magic. Vannifar is a four-mana creature which is considerably slow for Modern.  It is also vulnerable to removal and, like Evolution, can only be cast at sorcery speed. For our toolbox engine to be efficient, we cannot depend on a creature. That’s why Vannifar only showed up in mostly combo-oriented decks.

Vivien’s Arkbow provides an instant speed activation. This is a huge advantage against Control but can be relevant in other match-ups as well. It is also an artifact, what makes it a bit more difficult to destroy than a creature, let alone much more resilient to sweepers. To pay the activation cost we have to discard a card which can, at times, be worse than sacrificing a creature. That said, we can discard irrelevant copies of other Arkbows and excess lands and mana dorks. In the late game, with Bow on the table, any draw turns into something that matters.

The Problems?

This card is no Birthing Pod, obviously. And really, it is only a “sort-of” tutor effect. We pay X to search through X top cards of our library and hope for a hit. Well, we might just pay four mana, discard a card and find nothing. Or worse, we could pay five mana, discard a card and merely find a one-drop (effectively nothing in most cases). Obviously, we need our deck to be filled with a high percentage of creatures in order to increase the probability of hitting at least one creature when we activate Arkbow.  We’ll talk about that math later on…

Abzan Arkbow

I believe that a creature toolbox deck with Vivien’s Arkbow can be both consistent and powerful. I have a lot of experience with Abzan Counters Company and, because of this, I’ve decided to use that shell as my starting point for this new design based around Arkbow.

Vivien’s Arkbow allows us play creatures with higher than three cmc, which was the upper limit with Collected Company. Also, this is a non-creature spell which makes it difficult to fit into Company deck. For starters, I’ve chosen replace Collected Company with Vivien’s Arkbow entirely. I want to keep playing quite a bit of mana dorks (both one and two cmc). The main reason for this is because we can deploy/start using Arkbow earlier with a turn one mana dork. Another reason is that mana dorks, when drawn in the late game, can be discarded to Arkbow to mitigate their bad topdeck value. Lastly, more mana dorks will help to satisfy the mana hungry nature of this build.

As for one-drop mana creatures, I choose Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. No surprise here. For two-drop mana creatures, I choose to play Devoted Druid based on its obviously appealing interaction with Vizier of Remedies. I considered Wall of Roots but decided to go with Druid because it fills a very similar role while also providing for the combo plan. With infinite mana, we can get any creature from our library using Arkbow. This makes it a nice “tutor” for pieces and an infinite mana sink to find a finisher.

I still think that Chord of Calling is important and this card should be included in the deck. Chord provides an actual tutor effect that gives us the option to find any card in the deck rather than relying on Arkbow hitting gold. Chord will be useful in locating Vizier of Remedies so that we can find a finisher with Arkbow.

I started with 22 lands in my manabase. I will talk more specifically about lands later on.

This is the core I began with:


TOTAL (45/60)

Creatures (15)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Devoted Druid
Vizier of Remedies

Instants (4)
Chord of Calling

Artifacts (4)
Vivien's Arkbow
Lands (22)
22 Lands


With that firmly in place, we are left with 15 more slots. I don’t think it is necessary to play any more non-creature spells in the maindeck for two reasons: first and foremost, to increase our Arkbow efficiency, but also because creatures with three or more cmc can do almost anything we want and likely won’t need to turn to spells.

Primary Win Condition

First of all, we have to choose our combo win condition. We have three creatures that I would consider playable right now which would allow us to win with infinite mana: Walking Ballista, Rhonas, the Indomitable, and Shalai, Voice of Plenty. With infinite mana, we have an activation of Arkbow that let us search for any creature and put on the battlefield. Though you could start by locating a Duskwatch Recruiter as a stopgap to finding Walking Ballista, the awkward interaction between Arkbow and this X cmc creature gives me pause about using it as a win condition. This is a shame as Ballista is an incredibly versatile option for these decks. It’s good as a two-drop, great as an eight-drop, and effective as creature removal in a deck that is light on this axis.

  

Rhonas is interesting as it does not need anything but green mana to be utilized in this way and has good stats and relevant abilities. Unfortunately, sometimes he stands on the battlefield on his own, inanimate, and we find ourselves regretting the choice to include him. Shalai, on the other hand requires white mana (only one, but still) and more attacking creatures than our opponent has blockers in order to kill on the turn we combo off. Going forward, I will test both Rhonas and Shalai. But for now, lets assume:

Creatures (1)

1 Rhonas, the Indomintable/Shalai, Voice of Plenty

Secondary Win Condition

Often times, while playing Abzan Company deck, I found myself unable to win with just Druid and Chord. One option was to Chord for Duskwatch Recruiter at the end of my opponent’s turn and try to win with his activated ability. This was very promising. His ability to fill our hand will also be important with Arkbow activations that require cards. Moreover, we can produce more blockers/attackers if we combo off and can’t win this exact turn.

Creatures (1)

1 Duskwatch Recruiter//Krallenhorde Howler

Value Creatures

As always in this type of deck, we have two viable strategies; combo and mid-range/value. With Arkbow, in contrary to Company, we can pack almost any creature into the deck. We are mostly interested in creatures with synergies to our strategy and useful “enters the battlefield” effects. Eternal Witness is the first creature that I find almost necessary in a Chord of Calling deck. Even without a specific plan, we can cast Chord at the end of our opponent’s turn for Witness and keep waiting for more information. Also, we can get back our win conditions or other value creatures. As we play Birds, Nobles, and Druids, mana will not be a problem.

Another creature that helps us win when the game is stalled is Tireless Tracker. His ability to generate card advantage is too powerful to not include in this list. Kitchen Finks can buy us time and provide a good, recursive body. As far as creatures on the top of our curve go, Reveillark is very tempting as its can help us in both combo and value games. Moreover, it is very good against control decks that are faced with the conundrum of not wanting to kill it while also not wanting to let it live for too long. With this package, Restoration Angel should fit in well. We have plenty of ETB effects to abuse and this can provide a reasonable value plan against midrange/control decks. I’ll start with three copies but will consider more or less after more testing.

Creatures (8)

2 Eternal Witness

1 Kitchen Finks

1 Tireless Tracker

3 Restoration Angel

1 Reveillark

Silver Bullets

Chord of Calling and Vivien’s Arkbow give us option to play maindeck silverbullets. We will most definitely be taking advantage of this. Firstly, I chose Scavenging Ooze.  This card is awesome in mid-range battles and very good as a grave hate. I will definitely play one in the maindeck and probably more in the sideboard (at least until Faithless Looting is banned). Knight of Autumn is another very good silver bullet with a diversified ETB trigger that gives us nice interactions with Restoration Angel. I think that one copy is probably enough, but I will keep my eye on him and maybe try more in the sideboard.

The ability to kill opposing creatures was always a problem for me with Counters Company. We still don’t play removal spells but now we have another option — one that was never available for Birthing Pod players. This card is Ravenous Chupacabra. I know that playing a 2/2 for four might sound like a joke but this is an unconditional removal for ANY kind and size of creature. Its better than Shriekmaw, Fiend Hunter, and anything we had in the past. I decided to try two copies initially. The interaction between Restoration Angel and Ravenous Chupacabra might be spicy!

In the last free slot in the maindeck I will try to play either Eldritch Evolution or new addition from War of the Spark – Finale of Devastation. Both of those cards would fulfill the same role; help us find our combo or go for our value/silver bullet creatures. Between those two cards there is only a small difference in my opinion (but of course this might change after more testing). Evolution is faster but requires a creature to sacrifice. Finale is more expensive but gives us possibility to play better of the top of our library in the late game (imagine drawing Evolution with an empty board – that stinks). Also, we find upside in Finale’s ability to search the graveyard as well as library and, as a bonus, when we cast it for 12 mana (which is quite impossible to do without already having infinite mana) we get to pump the team.

I’m not entirely sure if creatures like Siege Rhino, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Flickerwisp, or even another copy of Scavenging Ooze are not better options here, however, I find our combo a bit too slow sometimes and I want to pack as many options to go for it as I can, especially against non-interactive decks and other combo decks (e.g. Amulet Titan, Tron).

Creatures (4)

1 Scavenging Ooze

1 Knight of Autumn

2 Ravenous Chupacabra

Sorcery (1)

1 Eldritch Evolution/Finale of Devastation

The Manabase

Now that we have a general understanding of how this deck will look, we can construct the manabase informed by our non-land inclusions. I opt to play 22 lands. I’ve seen version of Counters Company that played from 20 to 22 lands but I always felt like I need more mana when I’ve tested this. Despite its speed, the deck was always mana hungry. We are mostly green so we have to play a lot of green fetches and fetchable sources. Despite Chupacabra, which has double black in its cost cost, this deck is mostly green with a white splash. Post board, however, I want to count on my black removal spells and hate cards. That’s why I will try to keep white and black colors even when considering our manabase. With this many creatures. Gavony Township will again be a fantastic choice. However, with Arkbow activations, we have other things to do with our mana at the end of the turn. That’s why I limit Gavony to just one copy. I don’t want to get cut off color by Field of Ruin which has been so popular in recent months so I decided to play at least one basic of each color and four Forests. I try also two BG and two GW fastlands to give me painless mana early on and provide all colors necessary.

Land (22)

3 Windswept Heath

3 Verdant Catacombs

4 Forest

1 Plains

1 Swamp

2 Temple Garden

2 Overgrown Tomb

2 Blooming Marsh

2 Razorverge Thicket

1 Horizon Canopy

1 Gavony Township


Laplasjan’s Final Abzan Arkbow Maindeck

Creatures (29)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Devoted Druid
Vizier of Remedies
Duskwatch Recruiter
Scavenging Ooze
Eternal Witness
Kitchen Finks
Knight of Autumn
Rhonas, the Indomintable OR Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Tireless Tracker
Ravenous Chupacabra
Restoration Angel
Reveillark

Sorcery (1)
Eldritch Evolution OR Finale of Devastation

Instants (4)
Chord of Calling

Artifacts (4)
Vivien's Arkbow

Land (22)
Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs
Forest
Plains
Swamp
Temple Garden
Overgrown Tomb
Blooming Marsh
Razorverge Thicket
Horizon Canopy
Gavony Township


A Bit of Math

What are the chances that we hit a creature with Arkbow in a deck constructed this way?

  • For X=3, we have about a 75% chance of hitting at least one creature with CMC of three or less.
  • For X=4 we have about a 92% chance to hit a creature with CMC of four or less.
  • For X=5, we have a 97% chance to hit a creature with CMC of five or less.

This could be Noble Hierarch or Reveillark. It could be great or it could be…not so great. I don’t evaluate chance for “a good hit”, because those might be different depending on the situation.

Of course, an increase of X will not provide higher CMCs (as we don’t include any in the list), but only a higher probability of finding creatures we need and give us more options to choose from.

That said, a three-mana activation of Arkbow doesn’t seem too tempting but, starting with four mana (notably, the cost of Collected Company), we not only have very small probability of total miss, but also we can hit various powerful creatures with CMC four or higher. Four is, in my opinion, the starting point where this activation becomes powerful. Of course, the more we pay, the better this will turn out.

The Sideboard

The sideboard was the biggest puzzle for me. After more testing it will become clear which match-ups are difficult and which are not as well as which cards are the problem by themselves and which answers I should include to deal with them. I’ve built this initial sideboard based mostly on my experience with Counters Company and answers to current top tier strategies. To simplify my considerations I choose these six decks as the top tier and I will explain my plan against them: 5c Humans, Amulet Titan, Dredge, Grixis Shadow, Tron and UR Phoenix.


Sideboard (15)

(15)
Surgical Extraction
Fatal Push
Nihil Spellbomb
Abrupt Decay
Assassin's Trophy
Damping Sphere
Kataki, War’s Wage
Scavenging Ooze
Fulminator Mage
Tireless Tracker
Sin Collector


5c Humans

Our flying, flash creatures and instant speed tutors (Chord and Bow) make combat difficult for our opponent. It is very difficult to stop Humans’ fastest draws but we are well equipped to fight them back. Blinking Ravenous Chupacabra with Restoration Angel seems quite mana-intensive but is very effective. Infinite mana with Duskwatch Recruiter gives us access to all the creatures in our deck. This is usually enough to win against linear strategies even without instant kills like Shalai, Voice of Plenty. Due to this I side out Shalai as she might be too slow in the match-up.

In

  • 2 Fatal Push
  • 1 Abrupt Decay
  • 2 Assassin’s Trophy

Out

  • 1 Vivien’s Arkbow
  • 1 Scavenging Ooze
  • 1 Tireless Tracker
  • 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
  • 1 Reveillark

Amulet Titan

In this match-up, our combo is very important as Amulet Titan can win in the late game vs. almost any deck. Here I like Fatal Push over Path to Exile as we can easily deal with Sakura Tribe Scout and Azusa, Lost but Seeking without the drawback of extra land for our opponent. Turn one Amulet of Vigor is always scary but I don’t think we can afford playing any one-mana artifact removal.

In

  • 2 Fatal Push
  • 1 Abrupt Decay
  • 2 Assassin’s Trophy
  • 2 Damping Sphere
  • 1 Fulminator Mage

Out

  • 1 Vivien’s Arkbow
  • 1 Scavenging Ooze
  • 1 Kitchen Finks
  • 1 Tireless Tracker
  • 1 Ravenous Chupacabra
  • 2 Restoration Angel
  • 1 Reveillark

Dredge

This is a very combo and hate oriented match-up for us. We almost can’t beat Dredge in the regular late game. Here the fifth “Chord of Calling” (Eldritch Evolution or Finale of Devastation) does its best work. We really need to find silver bullets or combo pieces to win this one.

In

  • 1 Surgical Extraction
  • 1 Nihil Spellbomb
  • 2 Scavenging Ooze

Out

  • 1 Tireless Tracker
  • 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
  • 1 Reveillark

Grixis Shadow

This match-up I expect to be tricky as it is both grindy and fast. We need our early drops as well as value creatures to keep the pace with Grixis Shadow. I expect Arkbow acitvations, as they are uncounterable (in contrary to Chord of Calling), to be very powerful in the late game. However it is difficult to survive until late game with too many mana creatures on board.

In

  • 2 Fatal Push
  • 1 Nihil Spellbomb
  • 1 Abrupt Decay
  • 2 Assassin’s Trophy
  • 2 Scavenging Ooze
  • 1 Tireless Tracker
  • 1 Sin Collector

Out

  • 1 Devoted Druid
  • 4 Vizier of Remedies
  • 4 Chord of Calling
  • 1 Eldritch Evolution/Finale of Devastation

Tron

This is another match-up where we have to go for combo. Our clock is not fast enough to beat Tron before they start deploying their big threats. Post-board, we can count on multiple hate cards. I’m not sure about Surgical Extraction as we have only three ways of destroying lands but it might turn out that we have no better cards in this match-up.

In

  • 0-1 Surgical Extraction
  • 1 Abrupt Decay
  • 2 Assassin’s Trophy
  • 2 Damping Sphere
  • 1 Fulminator Mage

Out

  • 1 Scavenging Ooze
  • 1 Kitchen Finks
  • 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
  • 1-2 Restoration Angel
  • 1 Reveillark

UR Phoenix

I hope to get a lot of help in this match-up in the form of Ravenous Chupacabra and flying creatures. Our combo is usually not reliable enough to win the game against all the removal and Thing in the Ice bounce. However, if we manage to kill Thing, we can later block quite easily all of opposing fliers. Post-board it should be even better. The most dangerous is a fast Arclight Phoenix opener so we might have to consider more Surgical Extractions if this continues to be a problem.

In

  • 1 Surgical Extraction
  • 2 Fatal Push
  • 1 Nihil Spellbomb
  • 1 Abrupt Decay
  • 2 Assassin’s Trophy
  • 2 Scavenging Ooze
  • 1 Tireless Tracker
  • 1 Sin Collector

Out

  • 1 Devoted Druid
  • 4 Vizier of Remedies
  • 1 Kitchen Finks
  • 4 Chord of Calling
  • 1 Eldritch Evolution/Finale of Devastation

Summary

There you have it. Will this be good and competitive in Modern? I think it might be! Were my first choices with this style correct? Maybe Bant colors would be better? I know the power of creatures like Reflector Mage, Spell Queller. Maybe Pia and Kiran Nalaar alongside Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker would be good in the deck instead of black? Its hard to say at such early stage of deck builduing. Even if this is not the best build and even if Abzan are not the right colors, I’m still convinced that this deck will be fun to play with and there is a lot to explore.

Discussion