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Arcane Maelstrom (Temur Spellslinger) C20 Precon Upgrade | $20, $200 | Budget Commander

Commander 2020 preconstructed decks have arrived, and that means it's time for another round of my most popular articles: the $20 precon upgrades! This time I'm taking it a step further by not only offering the usual $20 upgrade but also a $200 upgrade list as well! I'll first go over how each preconstructed deck plays, why you should buy it, and the various directions that you can upgrade the deck and make it your own.

We've covered Timeless Wisdom and now we continue with Arcane Maelstrom, a Temur Spellslinger deck with a focus on instants, which allows us to play most of our deck not just on our turn, but our opponents' turns as well. The deck has tons of cards that support instants, such as doubling their power with Melek, Izzet Paragon, drawing cards off them with Glademuse, and recurring them with Charmbreaker Devils. Once we've established a board state with instants and instants support cards, we can close out the game by beating down with a huge token army (Hunting Pack), pumping up our creatures into lethal threats (Strength of the Tajuru), or burning away our opponents' life totals (Comet Storm).

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You might like the deck if ...

  • You want a Spellslinger deck with a focus on casting and copying instants
  • You want a Spellslinger deck that backs up its powerful instants with big, beefy support creatures
  • You want a Spellslinger deck with access to Green, giving you even more support options to work with along with superior ramp and artifact/enchantment removal

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You don't want to play a Spellslinger deck
  • You don't care about having any creatures in your Spellslinger deck
  • You want your Spellslinger deck to have access to Black for more tutoring, graveyard recursion, and creature removal

If you like where this deck is going, then great! Let's check out the preconstructed list:

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A quick look at the unaltered precon confirms a strong focus on instants: the deck includes a whopping 25 instants and 20 cards either care about instant spells specifically (Surreal Memoir) or casting spells at instant speed (Rashmi, Eternities Crafter). Most of the instants included are strong cards on their own, but pairing them with support cards makes them incredibly powerful. However, even though most of the deck is focused on instants, there are a bunch of cards that stick out as clearly not fitting with the deck's theme, which will make it easy to do cuts when making room for our upgrades.

Like all the precons, Arcane Maelstrom comes with multiple potential commanders, each focusing on a different archetype to build around. For this article, however, I'll be tuning the deck around Kalamax, the Stormsire. I'll show you how to tune Arcane Maelstrom into a more focused Spellslinger deck, removing cards that don't fit our theme and adding more cards that do. If you're interested in seeing me build around the other new commanders in the precon -- Xyris, the Writhing Storm or the partners Haldan, Avid Arcanist & Pako, Arcane Retriever-- please let me know in the comments section and I may cover them in the future.


Kalamax Is Forking Awesome

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Kalamax, the Stormsire is the face of Arcane Maelstrom and embodies everything the deck wants to be doing, rewarding you for casting instants, and does it incredibly well. Kalamax's first ability lets you copy the first instant spell you cast each turn if Kalamax is tapped, and its second ability puts a +1/+1 counter on Kalamax whenever you cast an instant spell. So the general idea with Kalamx is that you attack with Kalamax, tapping it in the process, then start casting instant spells, copying them to double their value while growing Kalamax so its next attack will be even more powerful.

Being able to copy the first instant spell you cast each turn is incredibly powerful: it's as if you drew an extra card and cast it for zero mana. Whether you're copying Growth Spiral to draw 2 cards and ramp 2 lands, or copying Comet Storm where X=20 to deal 40 damage to your opponents, it's hard not to get huge value out of Kalamax in no time at all. It's also important to note that cards that have additional casting costs, like Crop Rotation and Channeled Force, are fantastic copy targets because you don't need to pay the additional cost for the copy, so a copied Crop Rotation ramps you a land without sacrificing anything and Channeled Force draws you the same number of cards as the original spell without having to discard. This copy ability is the main reason to play Kalamax and will quickly take over games if Kalamax survives a turn or two.

Kalamax's second ability, gaining +1/+1 counters as you cast instants, can quickly turn Kalamax into a lethal finisher. You only need to deal 21 combat damage with your commander, and since Kalamax starts as a 4/4 you only need to copy 3 instants before it can start 3-shotting opponents. While the precon doesn't really explore this aspect, tossing in some cheap pump effects like Temur Battle Rage or Berserk and Kalamax can quite easily take out opponents with minimal setup.

Things get really crazy with Kalamax once you start combining copy spells with other copy spells, which brings us to a bunch of easy infinite combos that we can introduce in our upgrades. For example, if Kalamax, the Stormsire is tapped and our opponent casts any instant or sorcery, we can copy it with any instant copy spell, like Twincast, which Kalamax will then make a copy of, and then our copied Twincast can copy the original Twincast, which will make an additional copy of Twincast, making infinite Twincast copies. While this doesn't win the game on its own, it will grow Kalamax infinitely large to start one-shotting opponents on a future turn, or we can turn it into an immediate win condition with Ral, Storm's Conduit.

So not only is Kalamax, the Stormsire an insane value engine and lethal attacker, it also opens up some devastating infinite combos if we upgrade with the right cards!

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Analyzing the Precon

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Arcane Maelstrom and how it compares:

Arcane Maelstrom hits all my minimum deckbuilding requirements at a glance. While it lacks any tutors and it's a bit lacking in mana, the rest of the deck is full on card draw, recursion, and interaction.

Now that we've checked out the general ratios, let's take a closer look at the cards we're working with:


38 Lands. The land count here is respectable. Some of the best utility lands include Kessig Wolf Run, which help our big beefy creatures close out the game for lethal damage, Mosswort Bridge, hideaway lands are just super efficient sources of card advantage and the green one is one of the easiest to activate, and Scavenger Grounds, which is an effective source of graveyard hate. Most of our mana-fixing lands come into play tapped, which can hurt the deck's tempo, but we do have a couple great inclusions such as Command Tower, Exotic Orchard, and Yavimaya Coast too. The only truly bad land here is Rupture Spire, which is just way too slow.

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10 Ramp. The ramp package is surprisingly lackluster. Green is by far the best color at ramping, yet none of the basic Green ramp staples are here -- not even a Rampant Growth! We do have some thematic ramp options, such as the instants Harrow and Natural Connection performing better here than they usually do, and Wilderness Reclamation is amazing when we have so many instants to cast on our opponents' turns. But there's also bizarre inclusions that are weak on their own and have no deck synergy to make them better, like Bonder's Ornament, Lavabrink Floodgates, and Solemn Simulacrum. This section needs work.

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11 Card Draw. The card draw options here are generally very good: we have some fantastic options like Glademuse, which can draw us multiple cards per turn cycle, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter which not only can draw us a card each turn but sometimes also cast that spell for free, and Hunter's Insight which can often draw 5 or more cards off one of our big creatures. These cards are super efficient ways to keep our hands full of gas. There are some lackluster options like Jace, Architect of Thought, a mediocre planeswalker and Xyris, the Writhing Storm, a solid card, with both cards lacking synergy in our deck. Overall though, the card draw is a highlight of this deck.

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12 Targeted Removal. The targeted removal options are a big weakness of this precon. While there are some good options like Chaos Warp, Temur Charm, and Niblis of Frost is kind of neat, pretty much all the targeted removal options here are either overcosted, too situational, or both. Prophetic Bolt and Slice in Twain both cost too much mana for what they do, and Clash of Titans is both too much mana and too situational. Temur has a vast card pool of cheap, efficient targeted removal to choose from, so it's disappointing to see how weak the options in this precon are.

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3 Board Wipes. Two of our board wipes are solid in our deck. Tribute to the Wild is a super efficient instant, and while it doesn't clear all opposing enchantments/artifacts it's usually an easy 3-for-1 that can turn into a board wipe if you copy it enough times. Starstorm is another great instant speed creature wipe and being able to cycle it when you don't need it is a nice bonus. The real stinker, however, is Lavabrink Floodgates, which relies on your opponents for it to do anything and is just as likely to hurt you than help you. This section definitely needs improvement.

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4 Graveyard Recursion. The recursion package is pretty good. Charmbreaker Devils is an interesting combination of recursion and lethal attacker, Evolution Charm is an underpowered card that gets much better in a deck that cares about instants, and Surreal Memoir, the only sorcery in the deck, fits perfectly here too. The options here are solid but could be better.

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No tutors. No precon that I can think of has any tutoring outside of land tutors. This makes sense to me: these decks serve as introductory products to players, and requiring people to tutor for cards when they aren't familiar with the deck itself doesn't make sense. However, since this is an upgrade article, we should look to add some basic tutors if possible so we can find the right card for the right situation.

1 graveyard hate. Scavenger Grounds is a welcome addition here. Most precons have zero graveyard hate, despite graveyard recursion being wildly popular throughout the Commander format and many popular Graveyard decks being able to lock out the rest of the table when their graveyard is left untouched. Arcane Maelstrom has very light graveyard recursion itself, so it doesn't mind exiling its own graveyard to stop opposing graveyard strategies.

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1 surprise "I Win" card. Comet Storm fits this role perfectly. If you have enough mana and your opponents have a low enough life total, Comet Storm is a simple way to finish the game and it's made tremendously better here thanks to all the ways we can copy the card.

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Arcane Maelstrom Strengths & Weaknesses

Arcane Maelstrom can be a powerful, explosive deck. The deck is loaded with insane engines that just go crazy once we start casting instants: slap down Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, Melek, Izzet Paragon, Kalamax, the Stormsire, Twinning Staff, and suddenly each instant spell you cast is doubling in value, drawing you cards, etc. 

However, some of the fundamentals are seriously weak. We're in Green so there's no excuse to have such poor ramp. Farseek, Rampant Growth, these are easy inclusions. The deck's removal options are very poor and overcosted; easy swaps like Nature's Claim and Pongify can go a long way to bolstering it while fitting our theme.

Honestly with the ramp and removal so surprisingly bad, I can't help but wonder if maybe Arcane Maelstrom was intentionally nerfed after playtesting with the other precons and that's why we were left with a slower deck that has a hard time defending itself. Because once it gets going, the precon effortlessly closes out games -- there's not much your opponents can do about a copied lethal Comet Storm, after all!


Kalamax Upgrade Card Options

Here are my favorite card options to tune Arcane Maelstrom into a more focused, more powerful Instants deck. 

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$20 Arcane Maelstrom Upgrade

To tune Arcane Maelstrom into a more powerful, focused Spellslinger deck we're going to make the following swaps:

  • Better targeted removal
  • More copy spells
  • Better ramp
  • Lower average cmc

That's what we want to add to the deck. We can safely cut cards that don't match any of the above criteria.

Here are the first cards I'd add on a $20 budget. 

We've added Ral, Storm Conduit as a reliable win condition once we're copying spells infinite times. We've also added more copy effects (Narset's Reversal). Our ramp is faster (Rampant Growth), our targeted removal is better (Nature's Claim), and the deck is overall faster.

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Here are the first cards I'd look to cut for our upgrades. These cards either don't fit our Spellslinger theme, or they're too weak, or we're just making room for more Spellslinger cards:

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And here's how Arcane Maelstrom looks like with the $20 changes made:

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$200 Upgrade

We're taking Arcane Maelstrom to the next level: we've significantly improved our mana with fantastic ramp cards like Nature's Lore and lands like Wooded Foothills. Cryptolith Rite pairs perfectly with our token generators (Saheeli, Sublime Artificer) as a huge ramp source that can also tap Kalamax. We're running all the best remaining forks (Twincast) and our removal got some serious upgrades as well (Cyclonic Rift).

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To make space for our new cards, we're making the following cuts:

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And here's how Arcane Maelstrom looks like with the $200 upgrades installed:

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Two Down, Three To Go!

We've covered Cycling, Spellslinger, and now it's time to focus on Creatures with the remaining precons! I'll be back soon with the rest!

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