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A look at the Arboria prison archetype

Hello friends! Today I want to share with you my love of the card Arboria and the decks that are built around it. I love turning Apes sideways as much as the next guy but a little change of pace in play style helps keep things interesting. So once again, for those unfamiliar with the latest Legends spoilers, this is the card we’ll be talking about:

Oracle text: Creatures can’t attack a player unless that player cast a spell or put a nontoken permanent onto the battlefield during their last turn.

I encourage anyone who has never considered building around this card to take a few moments to think about how they would go about it because it’s a very interesting puzzle!

And if you’ve tried building with Arboria I’m sure you knows it’s not an easy task, but there have been many heroic attempts. What’s pretty much a given I think is that winning with creature damage is out of the question. This is because like all Enchant Worlds, Arboria’s effect is symetrical. That leaves decking and direct damage as possible paths to victory… unless you want to count forcing the draw and then blasting them in overtime with your mad Orb flipping skillz!

Ok so let’s look at a few sample decklists and see what cool ideas they bring to the table.

Spanish spicemeister Carlos Piélago Rojo’s WBG Arboria

With this build Carlos chose to go the mill route and adopted white as a support color with a black splash. White has a lot to offer the strategy, not the least of which is Island Sanctuary, a card that interacts in subtle ways with a bunch of other cards in the deck.

Oracle text: If you would draw a card during your draw step, instead you may skip that draw. If you do, until your next turn, you can’t be attacked except by creatures with flying and/or islandwalk.

On the surface this is another Arboria-type effect: at the cost of skipping a draw in your draw step, you are protected from ground attackers. But Island Sanctuary is different from Arboria in many ways, most notably

  • it is not an Enchant World so you can stack those on the table for “insurance”.

  • its effect applies until your next turn even if the card leaves play. Not so with Arboria!

  • the cost to be paid in exchange for protection is different from Arboria’s cost. It follows that by having both on the table at the same time, you can alternate between ‘not drawing’ and ‘not playing’ in order to develop your game while being continuously protected (from non flyers & islandwalkers at least).

  • theoretically, it is a wincon in itself. By choosing to skip all draws during your draw step, you can avoid decking yourself whereas your opponent can’t

Island Sanctuary also pairs well with Howling Mine and Sylvan Library because you can choose to decline the extra draw step that they provide in order to benefit from the Sanctuary’s protection while still drawing a card every turn.

White also offers two fog effects in Holy Day and Festival. Fogs are almost obligatory in Arboria decks because they allow you to come “out of the Arboria” to play stuff on your turn and live through your opponent’s next attack step. Here, however, Carlos chose to play more board wipes instead of the white fogs. Board wipes are also a good fit for this strategy because it is natural for the opponent to overextend with the plan of one-shot-ing you after removing Arboria.

Land Tax is pretty nice in this deck because it combos with Sylvan Library and Ivory Tower and it should not be hard to turn it on. In my experience the Arboria player usually has less lands than the opponent.

Before we leave this deck and look at the next one I want to mention two additional Sylvan Library tricks. The first is the possibility of using Millstone on ourselves when we know that our top 2 cards are undesirable. The second is the possibility of floating key cards on top of the library. This deck is not fast and we should expect to get Mind Twisted before the game is over. In fact, a winning play against us is end of turn removal spell on Arboria followed by Mind Twist for 7. If we can manage to float an Arboria and a Fog, or just a Balance we can get right back in the game without skipping a beat. Library of Leng also helps against this nightmare scenario.

The next deck we’ll look at is Matt Mucci’s “Most Creative” home run from 2018.

Matt Mucci’s UG Arboria

This take on the archetype tries to win with Black Vise damage by flooding the board with Howling Mines. Storm Seeker is there to lend a helping hand. A later iteration of his deck had Copy Artifacts which are nice because against some decks you really need a lot of Howling Mines to fill up their hands. Copying Ivory Tower is also an attractive prospect.

Besides the obvious Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Timetwister, the color blue offers Counterspell as catch-all answer. This role is usually played by Disenchant in the GW version but Counterspell obviously casts a wider net, being able to deal with problematic sorceries like Mind Twist, Tranquility and Fireball.

Note however that Counterspell does not entirely solve the problem of Disenchant on Arboria at our end step because if we counter the Disenchant then we played a spell on our turn and they are free to alpha strike us. This is why fogs and wraths are important.

And speaking of Wraths, how about those Siren’s call in Matt’s deck? Under Arboria they act as 2 mana instant speed Wrath of Gods. The instant speed is the really interesting part here because if we cast a sorcery speed board wipe under Arboria like Wrath of God or Balance and it gets countered, then we’re in trouble.

Oracle text: Cast this spell only during an opponent’s turn, before attackers are declared.

Creatures the active player controls attack this turn if able.

At the beginning of the next end step, destroy all non-Wall creatures that player controls that didn’t attack this turn. Ignore this effect for each creature the player didn’t control continuously since the beginning of the turn.

Then at the 2019 Player’s Ball, Ian Blank brought the following version:

Ian Blank’s WBG Arboria

To my knowledge this is the first time we see an Underworld Dreams Arboria deck in the deck dump of a major event. With a casting cost of BBB, deploying an Underworld Dreams can be a challenge even for mono black decks but having it as our wincon has two serious advantages. First, enchantments are significantly harder to remove than artifacts so Underworld Dreams is a more robust wincon than Millstone or Black Vise. Also, it means that between this and Arboria their enchantment removals are spread pretty thin. Second, it sidesteps all the problems that come with the mill plan such as graciously setting up your opponent’s grave for the perfect Recall or having to play Tormod’s Crypt just to avoid losing to Timetwister.

In order to cast his Underworld Dreams Ian is packing a full playset of Dark Rituals. These are important in my opinion because the longer we take to set up a clock, the more likely it gets that they draw what they need to break through our defenses. Additionally, against counterspells decks, the ability to sneak an early Underworld Dreams under a Counterspell is valuable.

I also love the Turbo Fog package of 8 fogs and 4 Howling Mine here because the velocity granted by the Mines helps us find our enchantments while the fogs hold the fort. Another reason for wanting many fogs is that if they break our Arboria, then even if we have a spare Arboria in hand, we are unlikely to survive without a fog. This is because they will get to attack on the turn they remove Arboria and again the turn after we play our spare one.

Ok so having looked at 3 fairly different takes on the Arboria archetype, where does that leave us? Well that’s entirely up to you but personally I’ve been having a blast slinging and tweaking this version of Ian’s deck:

As we can see I decided to streamline the strategy a little bit more by maxing out on Arboria and upping the fog count by 1. I am also packing 4 artifact removal spells because I am worried by many Artifacts and Enchantments, mostly Chaos Orb, Nev Disk, Ivory Tower, Black Vise and Icy (insolently tapping down our Mine). I ended up replacing the Darkness with Holy Day because, although the art is infinitely cooler on Darkness, there were times in testing where I wanted to hardcast an Underworld Dreams but did not have the requisite BBBB to do so while protecting myself with Darkness. Spore Cloud is a really cool card; it has the potential of being a double fog but if they expect it they can hold back some attackers and it becomes a lot less interesting. On curve with Arboria it is a thing of beauty. I like it as a 1 or 2-of. Some comments regarding the sideboard:

  • I think CoP: Red is important because the way the games play out against decks with red, we often go quite low on life before we finally start to take over with Arboria + Ivory Tower. But for a while we are vulnerable to a medium-large Fireball.

  • Warp Artifact is against control decks with too many answers to Underworld Dreams. Feldon’s Cane virtually doubles our wincons and protects us from a lethal Braingeyser when our library is getting thin.

  • Maze is for decks with Hippies or Serendib/Juzam. Ideally we want to keep the later around since they help our clock.

  • Avoid Fate is to protect our Towers from Shatter and our Arboria from Disenchant.

At some point I would like to work some blue cards in there because the 3 blue power cards look totally amazing in this deck. Recall also seems strong to me and Copy Artifact is interesting. Also, a funny observation: if use Siren’s Call then Festival suddenly becomes better than Holy Day!

Oracle text: Cast this spell only during an opponent’s upkeep.

Creatures can’t attack this turn.

In closing, if you haven’t already done so, give the Arboria archetype a chance if you enjoy long tight games where you’re coming from behind and where the suspense holds until the end. And if you do decide to try it, let me know what you did and how it played out. Have fun brewing!

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