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An Uncommon Budget: Zero Rares in Ranked vs. Artisan

Recently in the Artisan Discord, a new season of a weekly league was announced. If you are interested at all in brewing up some zero-Rare decklists and testing them out in a beginner-friendly environment, I highly recommend you join the Discord and look under #league-info.

In the course of brewing up new decklists, I was reminded of key differences between playing in an Artisan tournament and just playing without Rares on the ranked ladder. I generally want to focus this article series on playing on the ranked ladder in best-of-one, as that is what most budget players would enjoy, but it's important to realize that playing without Rares in ranked is vastly different from playing in the Artisan format, and in light of the upcoming league, I wanted to showcase some of the decks that work well in Artisan best-of-three.

I will be organizing this article a little differently, and I would appreciate any feedback you could give. Please reach out to if you have any comments or suggestions.

Artisan vs. Zero-Rare Decks

Aggro in Best-of-One Ranked

Because some of the best Uncommon and Common cards are usually very cheap, zero-Rare decks naturally lean towards an aggressive curve. Best-of-one also naturally favors aggressive decks, as without sideboards, Midrange and Control decks don't have as much access to sweepers and lifegain. This combination of facts allows for a whole category of zero-Rare decks to exist that I call "Burn Bright" decks.

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These decks have the goal of going as wide as possible to maximize effects that pump up your entire side of the battlefield. Dominaria United gave these decks a new fun toy in the form of Phoenix Chick, which is a perfect fit for the go-wide, aggressive gameplan. Here's one example of a Burn Bright deck using Phoenix Chick that I've had relative success with:

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Burn Bright decks are extremely powerful, but they only work in best-of-one. In best-of-three, opponents are aware of the gameplan, and they will be able to shut it down, either by mulliganning into The Meathook Massacre or by never underestimating how much burst damage the deck can deal. In best-of-one, however, Burn Bright decks can take opponents by surprise and they perform exceptionally well.

Also, note that Burn Bright decks don't necessarily need to be using Instants to pump the team. Cards like Balmor, Battlemage Captain and Bolt Hound can fill similar roles. For example, consider this Burn Bright deck for Explorer:

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While the deck uses Heroic Reinforcements as a finisher, it also has Hero of the Nyxborn and Hero of the Pride as backup team-pump effects.

Burn Bright decks are wonderful options for players who want to farm quick games of best-of-one, and despite the linear gameplan, there are a wide variety of Burn Bright decks across formats that feel viable. I wouldn't suggest bringing one to an Artisan tournament, though, as you'll find that most Control decks are running three-mana sweepers like Cry of the Carnarium or Crush the Weak.

Artisan Control

Speaking of Artisan control, let's consider one of the more powerful decklists in Artisan and why it doesn't quite hold up on the ranked ladder:

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Let's note a few weirder things about this deck. First, there is very little card advantage in this deck, with only Medomai's Prophecy and Reconstruct History providing card advantage. Also, there are no counterspells, despite this being a control deck. In Artisan, these are both fine things. Trading one for one enough in Artisan feels viable, but in ranked ladder, too many permanents come with crazy effects upon entering the battlefield, and you need a lot of card advantage to keep up. As well, counterspells are a must for certain strategies like Emergent Ultimatum or handling high-loyalty planeswalkers. Those effects don't exist in Artisan, so Control decks don't need answers to them, but after having played this deck on ranked ladder, I found myself wishing I had countermagic almost every game.

One other fun thing to note about Artisan Control is that there aren't hard sweepers, so control decks have to stretch a bit to find decent removal for big creatures. In this case, Runic Shot and Fierce Retribution fill the role. They're lackluster, but especially without big, flashy finishers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Hullbreaker Horror, the deck needs sure-fire ways to make sure nothing slips through the cracks as it slowly wins the game.

Between weak sweepers and weak finishers, one way to play around control decks in Artisan is to play as many value creatures as you can with greater than two toughness. In Standard, Abzan, Sultai, and Esper Midrange decks have all felt very viable, and the incidental dodging of cheap The Meathook Massacres makes the decks even feel semi-viable in ranked.

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These sorts of decks also excel in best-of-three, as there is no linear gameplan or specific cards that need to be answered. The card quality is just overall high, meaning that there is very little hate that affects it. Usually, Artisan decks are heavily synergistic, and Control decks try to prey on that with targeted removal, but occasionally Midrange decks like this pop up and are very hard for Control to answer effectively.

Meta Considerations

In Explorer Artisan specifically, if you join the league, there are two main decks to look out for: Oni-Cult Anvil decks and Mill decks. Oni-Cult Anvil is hard to beat because it attacks multiple fronts. It can control the game with powerful Rakdos removal, it can beat down with creatures, and it can slowly drain opponents. Mill is hard to beat because it is fast, difficult to interact with, and often runs Ashiok, Dream Render to shut down any graveyard decks.

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As discussion in the Artisan Discord about new Explorer decklists begin, it's inevitable that someone will ask, "But how does this answer Anvil and Ashiok?" The two decks have led to very warped sideboards bringing very specific hate for them, with one of my favorite examples being this decklist a friend made:

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This deck is NOT legal on ranked ladder due to Expressive Iteration being in the deck, but it is wonderfully tuned for the Explorer Artisan meta. Note the maindeck Abrades and Smash to Dusts. The deck is powerful and fast, but loses hard to Mill, which can exile the graveyard. That's where the genius plan comes in of a transformational sideboard plan to turn the deck into Izzet Fling. Serpentine Curve counts Instants and Sorceries in exile, dodging Ashiok, and Thud/Kazuul's Fury allow the deck to immediately turn Serpentine Curve into a lethal threat. This makes the deck very powerful in Explorer Artisan best-of-three.

Beyond just being illegal on ranked ladder, however, this deck is also not as good there. Lightning Strike is usually better than Abrade, and Smash to Dust would rarely even make the cut as a sideboard card. However, because the meta of Explorer Artisan is so different from the meta on ranked ladder, deckbuilders need to have answers to completely different things in their seventy-five cards.

Without needing to answer Anvil and Ashiok, and knowing that in Bo1 ranked you don't need to have a good matchup against everything, I ended up with this very different decklist for ranked that drops red altogether:

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With Greasefang combo decks in the format alongside Supreme Verdict, the deck needs different answers, and generally, it needs to be more able to high-roll (which is part of the reason for cutting the red; we can't afford taplands). Trying to play the Izzet version of the deck on ranked ladder, I was consistently losing, but using a mono-blue build, I was able to make it to Mythic last season, despite the mono-blue version being much weaker in Artisan. Different metas require different answers, which is probably the biggest difference between playing Artisan and playing with zero Rares in ranked.

Some Best-of-One Decks

With all that discussion out of the way, I present some favorite zero-Rare decks that have cropped up since last time I wrote.


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SaffronOlive recently posted an article showcasing this Burn deck. If you want to read more about it, check out his article here.

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SaffronOlive also posted a Burn Bright deck recently built around Balmor, Battlemage Captain. The deck contains Rare Lands, but can be easily played without them. Once again, I won't explain much of it, as Seth does an excellent job of doing that himself here.

Historic Brawl

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Lastly, from Artisan Discord member Morbid Mind, we have a Historic Brawl list that he competed in a tournament with. The deck is very much a Burn Bright deck, built around filling the board with tokens, then cantripping through spells to pump them all up. It's a very clean, effective list that can easily overrun opponents who don't answer Balmor immediately.


Thanks for reading! If you're interested in playing Artisan vs. Artisan, then go join the Discord linked at the top of this article. If you're more of a ranked ladder player, fear not; I will return to focusing on ranked decks when the next article comes out. In the meantime, have a wonderful day, and enjoy playing some budget Magic.

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