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Shifting Into High Gear (Arjun Primer)

Commander / EDH Combo Primer UR (Izzet) Wizards



Casting spells and drawing cards is the name of Arjun's game. Shifting Into High Gear is a combo deck for a mostly causual but somewhat high powered metagame with plenty of other combo decks. I am decidedly not taking Arjun in the direction of an all out storm deck. This is partially because one already exists in my playgroup, and also because I have a different storm deck. This deck seeks to use Arjun, the Shifting Flame as a card drawing engine in order to assemble combos or to get value out of drawing cards. Arjun lets you dig deep into your library, casting the best spell from each new hand you draw.

During construction my first goal was to find effects that trigger when I draw a card in order to generate tons of value from Arjun's ability. Secondary were spells and effects that either help to generate extra cast triggers or which allow more spells to be cast in the same turn. Finally, considerations for redundancy, defence, and combos to dig for were added in.

A brief description of my custom categories:

  • Mana - Lands and other mana sources. Does not include anything which is not land and does not produce mana itself.

  • DrawCards - Effects that draw cards. Does not include effects that put extra cards in my hand without explicitly saying "draw."

  • NonDrawAdv - Effects that give extra cast triggers or card advantage which does not count as drawing cards.

  • DrawTriggers - Effects which are triggered whenever I draw a card. These triggers are why I want to separate the DrawCards and NonDrawAdv forms of card advantage.

  • ComboPieces - Each of these cards pairs with another in the category for a combo.

  • Disruption - A place for counter spells, bounce, tap down, and removal effects.

  • Utility - Something of a catch-all for cards which help the deck with defence or other advantages without falling into any of the above categories.

In the past I had some more categories which helped me with some of the balancing of effects during the initial culling down to 100 cards. However, I have been able to consolidate a number of them. The following are old categories (for my own record keeping as much as anything): ManaRocks merged with Land to form Mana; Bounce, TapDown, Removal, and Counters merged into Disruption; CombatThreats, while useful for counting them, was unnecessary as every card also fit in another category; MillOrHugDraw was absorbed into DrawCards.

The original inspiration for the deck came from an article Wizards published as part of the lead up to the release of C15. It took a look at Arjun's Mindmoil ability and described the advantages of it as an engine to dig through your deck. Up to this point I had not yet built a deck with much blue in it, but it was starting to become apparent that Izzet could be my favourite colour pair so I bought the Izzet C15 deck to try it out (I was not disappointed). Mizzix was ok, but that article had me thinking about Arjun. I spent a few months keeping an eye out for ideas until it was time to flesh out a decklist. I thoroughly enjoy playing Arjun, the Shifting Flame and he has helped cement Izzet as my favourite colour pair.

Probably the single greatest strength of this deck is its ability to draw cards. Between the Mindmoil effects and other sources of card draw, it is very possible to dig deep in order to find the cards I'm looking for. I recall a time when I had Arjun equipped with Diviner's Wand and intentionally held up my land drop until after casting three or four spells to dig for Rogue's Passage. In the meantime Arjun grew really big and I was able to one-shot one of my two opponents just in time to prevent him from winning. Such is the power of Mindmoil and wheel effects.

When playing with Arjun you know that you are not likely to play every card you are currently holding in your hand. This deck embraces the chaotic nature of throwing away one hand and drawing a new one. From each hand you get to cast the best spell for the situation. Having many of the effects on permanents helps to reduce the importance of sequencing.

This deck also finds strength in its numerous synergies. It is specifically designed to take advantage of drawing cards and casting multiple spells per turn. Another synergy is the wizard tribal sub theme.

Although it is primarily meant for multiplayer games, this deck has had its share of success with just one opponent. A number of the threats work really well when focused on a single player. Milling also comes back as a legitimate wincon option.

Probably the single greatest weakness of this deck is its reliance on drawing cards. Leovold, Emissary of Trest can shut Arjun down by himself. There is a Leovold deck in my play group, so I just play a different deck if Leovold is being used. Nekusar, the Mindrazer would be another really bad matchup but luckily for me I have yet to meet one. Any other effects which punish or shut down card drawing are a big deal.

Some of the worst times I have had while playing Arjun were times when I had severe defensive issues. There have been a few times when I just could not keep up with removal and counters. I recall an instance where I had very little in play (due to a lot of removal) and Niv-Mizzet was the only spell I could cast. He was very promptly removed and I complained about being picked on to which the response was "you keep playing threats." I don't know if maybe some adjustments should be made to address this defensive weakness or not.

Also along the lines of defences, this deck sometimes finds itself lacking in the way of combat defence. With very few chump blockers available, I often leave certain attacks unblocked. Adding Aetherflux Reservoir as a source of lifegain was my response to this weakness. Unfortunately the reservoir is often a card that comes with a target.

Sequencing does not usually work well for this deck because you usually don't know what your next spell is going to be. Also related to this is that it can be difficult to hold up a counterspell to protect a combo piece or other threat. My response to this weakenss is to pack in the combos and threats so that if one doesn't work I can hit another. Playing around counters and removal sometimes equals not casting spells and this deck needs to cast spells. Despite all of that, too many threats can also be a weakness in itself.

A starting hand I look for is your typical 3-5 lands or mana rocks. It's nice to have something to play in the first few turns, but the mana is the main focus in any mulligan decisions. Arjun costs 6, so the starting hand needs to get you at least half way there.

An ideal early game sees you play a few permanents which will either trigger off of card draws or help to cast multiple spells per turn. Having some kind of setup before casting Arjun usually works best so that when you start drawing cards you have something going on. Sometimes it is better to wait until you have enough mana to cast Arjun plus a follow up spell instead of casting him as soon as possible.

Once Arjun or Mindmoil is on the field, the idea is to cast spells. Try to get a DrawTrigger on the field and then cast low cost spells to draw lots of cards. Along the way, try to cast a combo piece or two. It's at this point where you're casting your threats so you are likely to become a target of the table. Having threats in play only one at a time might help you stay under the radar. In the meantime, building up some of the other advantage effects keeps you moving even in the face of removal. In a typical midgame turn I might try to cast as many spells as I can until I can't afford any more or all I have is a counter spell and just enough mana to cast it.

If a combo piece is removed, there are only a couple of recursion effects in the deck, so it is probably best to move on to another combo or synergy (but there are plenty).

There are also a few more subtle strategies for playing around Mindmoil. It can sometimes be useful to give some amount of thought to the order in which you place cards on the bottom of the library since there is a legitimate chance of getting back around to them again. Order a high priority card or combo piece closer to the top to increase the chance of drawing it again. Separate cards that you would prefer to see in consecutive hands instead of in the same hand. A design strategy for the 2 card combos is that the second card should not be too expensive to dig for. That is, if the second card of the combo has too large a mana cost then it will be too hard to cast the first piece followed by a few spells to dig for the second piece and then cast the second piece in the same turn.

  • Splinter Twin + Deceiver Exarch - A game winning combo. I have only ever assembled it once so far and it was in a two player game (lower amount of removal) and on turn 3 or 4 (both pieces were in the top 10 cards).

  • Crackdown Construct + Wandering Fumarole - An arbitrarily large combat threat. Doesn't end a multiplayer game on the spot, but it sure hits hard.

  • Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind + Curiosity - Draws an arbitrary number of cards and deals that much damage. Should typically be able to take out at least one player immediately. It is limited by the number of cards remaining in my library.

  • Aetherflux Reservoir synergizes well with this deck's desire to cast multiple spells per turn. It is mostly included for the incidental lifegain, but can also be (and is often viewed as by others) a large threat to life totals.

  • Eye of the Storm + Talent of the Telepath - Keeps going as long as Talent keeps hitting castable cards. Every spell cast from Talent allows another copy of it to be cast. Can get a similar effect if Stolen Goods hits an instant or sorcery. Even though Eye of the Storm is no longer in my deck, I still like its effect and encourage its use if you like it too. It got cut because I found that I rarely had enough mana to cast it plus a follow-up spell. It would also rarely stick for a whole turn.

  • Everything in the DrawTriggers category is a strong synergy with drawing cards.

  • Part of getting the most out of Arjun is casting lots of spells so I have included a number of cards which create additional cast triggers. These cards make up most of the NonDrawAdv category.

  • There is a tribal wizards sub theme with a number of useful synergies. Diviner's Wand can attach itself not only to Arjun, but almost all of the other creatures in the deck too. Docent of Perfection   transforms into a wizard lord. Azami, Lady of Scrolls has enough wizards around to generate some worthwhile card draw. Diviner's Wand can also be tapped for Azami's draw ability.

  • A somewhat more rare defensive synergy to set up is Possibility Storm when I have Arjun and a hand larger than my library. The Storm may interfere with other players' ability to cast the spells they want, but a large hand and Arjun allow me to cast exactly the spell I want and often for a much lower cost. Cast a low cost spell of the same type as what I want to cast, then during Arjun's trigger place the card I want to cast such that it will be the spell that I Possibility Storm into.

I will explain some of my card choices by the category.

In a deck trying to cast a lot of spells, coloured mana is important. I have tried to include only a small amount of colourless mana in my mana base, favouring sources which produce extra mana (Sol Ring, Temple of the False God), or those with specific alternate effects such as unlimited hand size or evasion (Reliquary Tower, Thought Vessel, Rogue's Passage). Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx aims to take advantage of the large amount of devotion to blue which this deck already naturally has. Optimizing via fetches or duals is outside my preferred budget range.

These cards form the backbone of some of the deck's most powerful synergies. See the Combos and Synergies section for details about their inclusion. Here I would like to point out reasons for a few cards which are not included. I have mentioned at a few different points that milling was one of my original win conditions, but I have since shifted away from it. Jace's Erasure and Memory Erosion were two key cards to the milling strategy. Sphinx's Tutelage is potent enough to remain as incidental milling and as a threat against a single opponent. Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar could have great potential as it would allow me to filter through the deck three times faster. However, it is a replacement effect on drawing cards and would render all my other DrawTriggers useless while in play. Any other effects which replace draws with non-draws are similarly excluded.

As far as combos go, two out of three of the pairs are included because they go infinite and are in my colours. The Niv-Mizzet combo is the only one which also fits into the themes of the deck. It took a while to get more than just the Splinter Twin combo into the deck, so the effectiveness of having three combos to build is still being assessed. Any opinions on the number of combos to include or which combos should be included are welcome.

Some of the choices in this category are included because they also draw cards for my opponents (Dictate of Kruphix, Arcane Denial, Fevered Visions, Minds Aglow, Well of Ideas). This originally played into a milling strategy, but also fills a political agenda. If I can be viewed as friendly enough to allow them to also draw extra cards instead of a lot more one-sided card draw, then maybe I will be less likely to be attacked. Those sources of card draw are also less likely to get removed. More recently I have decided to allow some more shift away from the group draw towards regularly used draw spells.

Also left over from the milling strategy are some wheel effects. I think they are worth keeping because I have been growing quite an appreciation for wheel effects in EDH. Refill your hand and also interfere with whatever your opponents were trying to hold up in their own hands. Teferi's Puzzle Box also fits into that disruption strategy.

Finally, the one-sided card draw spells are mostly self explanitory, but I will detail a few. Stroke of Genius was once accompanied by Blue Sun's Zenith but while trying to cut down on X spells I decided to only keep one of these two. Stroke wins due to its less demanding colour requirement and also because it does not shuffle my deck. Rhystic Study is a card strongly disliked by several members of my playgroup but I feel it is too powerful and fits too well to be excluded for now.

As I have previously mentioned, the purpose of most of these cards is to generate extra casting triggers. Eye of the Storm and Possibility Storm create double triggers. Beware of having both on the field at the same time! It is easy to get a stack so convoluted that you need a spreadsheet and multiple hours to resolve it. I originally had Epic Experiment as a source of extra cast triggers, but eventually I came to realize that this deck doesn't have the necessary critical mass of instants and sorceries nor does it like to cast X spells.

This group of cards is one I have the most difficulty with analyzing. A few of these spells (the tap down spells in particular) could probably be replaced with something more efficient. Their original inclusion is in the interest of combat defence.

Disperse is another card which has proven to be useful in an unusual way. It has often been used to bounce a draw doubler once I have a large hand but before things get out of control.

Fateful Showdown is a card I would like to add back in because it can potentially be a deadly burn spell with a large enough hand. Niche cards like that are something a deck like this can have since it is able to dig for them.

I also have a few removal spells and some counter spells. There were previously some X cost burn spells, but I have tried to cut as many X spells as possible because they use up mana that could be used to cast more spells.

The utility cards are included for the extra bonuses they provide which help enable the rest of the deck. Several of these cards are mana related and give discounts to spells or provide extra mana (Caged Sun, Jace's Sanctum, Goblin Electromancer, Turnabout). Elixir of Immortality and Aetherflux Reservoir address lifegain needs. They each also serve a second function: the latter is offensive and the former is recursive. Meishin, the Mind Cage is a defensive card which fits well in a deck that can often have a large hand. Wizard Mentor was originally included as just another card in my collection, but it has shown itself to be a way to bounce Arjun without casting a spell. This is relevant if the draw doublers get out of hand.

As I have built and tweaked this deck there have been certain budget considerations. Some of my more expensive cards such as Rhystic Study, Keranos, God of Storms, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can help a lot with enabling the deck's goals but are not absolutely crucial to the game plan. Upgrades which I have not made include optimizing the mana base using fetchlands and dual lands.

The DrawTriggers cards are arguably the most important cards for this version of Arjun. There are a fair few cards that exist with abilities that trigger when you draw a card and these are most of them. If you would prefer to build your version of Arjun with less focus on the draw triggers and more focus on finding combos, then Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar and Archmage Ascension should definitely be considered. They trade the draw triggers for very powerful filtering and tutoring.

The DrawCards section might be another area where some people may choose to do things differently than I. Some might use more one-sided card draw instead of the group draw that I choose to use.

Some short stories of games I have played.

  • Once during a two player game I cast Talent of the Telepath in the early game and Charmbreaker Devils a turn or two later. For several turns Talent was the only card in my graveyard for the devils to return so I got to repeatedly cast it milling my opponent 7 cards each time.

  • During a three player game I got Arjun equipped with Diviner's Wand but needed to give him better evasion. I managed to cast several spells and successfully dug for Rogue's Passage, played it, used it, and hit one of my opponents for lethal commander damage. He was going to win on his next turn too.

  • The one time I have successfully won with Splinter Twin happened to be in a two player, Arjun vs Arjun game and it happened on turn 3 or 4.

  • I once won a game with my wife and her brother in which I had grown my hand using a draw doubler and had bounced it back to my hand. I had a much larger hand than library and Possibility Storm in play. I was able to use Arjun's ability to play around possibility storm by placing the card I actually wanted to cast on the bottom of the library such that it would be hit by the Possibility Storm. I did this in order to cast Laboratory Maniac followed by Windfall which simultaneously drew all three of us out but left me as the winner.

  • One day I decided to practise by playing a three player game by myself. During this game I played Possibility Storm and then stormed into Eye of the Storm. To make a really long story less long, Arjun won on his next turn. Among other things, there were Rise of the Dark Realms and Scrap Mastery under the Eye and sac outlets on the field. I managed to get a stack so complicated with multiple copies of various spells that I kept track of it in a computer spreadsheet and it took several hours to finish the game. Liliana, Heretical Healer   was ultimately drawn out of her deck largely thanks to Talent of the Telepath, and Daretti, Scrap Savant was eventually pinged to death by Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind from a life total over 80 which he had previouly built up. I never did actually finish resolving the entire stack.

  • I have won once with Arjun so far in my playgroup (not counting a few two player games). It's actually a shame I don't remember more about that game, but I am pretty sure it came down to Arjun swinging with the Diviner's Wand. I really do like how potent that threat is and that this deck does have combat as a backup plan.

This section is under construction.

  • Cutting out X spells. Mana sinks are not needed.

  • The shift away from milling. People don't like getting milled.

  • The shift toward and away from storm. A shift that is still in flux.

My budgetary rule of thumb is that I put a lot of thought into buying cards over $5 CAN and mostly shy away from cards over $10. However, a more expensive card that would have a large impact and which could be used in more than one EDH deck sometimes might deserve an exception. Maybe. So please keep suggestions under $10.

Currently I am mostly interested in opinions and suggestions on my DrawCards and Disruption categories. Thoughts on the strategies currently employed would be helpful.

I am also interested in alternate or additional combos to consider including. Games in my playgroup often get a bit grindy until someone finally comes away with a combo finish or until players finally start getting eliminated.

Any suggestions which offer improvements with respect to the deck's weaknesses. I would also be happy to discuss the strengths and weaknesses and methods for improving upon them.

I am not interested in tutors. They shuffle my deck and I don't feel they are necessary here.

Thank you for coming to check out my deck!

Upvotes and comments are greatly appreciated!


Updates Add

I have done quite a bit less iterating here this year but there were a couple of goodies which could not be overlooked.


Psychic Corrosion - I have spoken before about being wary of trying too hard at milling yet Sphinx's Tutelage was just too potent to pass up. This card is even more so! I talked to a friend who also has Arjun about whether to try running both or to replace Tutelage. We came to agree that both are just too potent to pass up.

Niv-Mizzet, Parun - This one is pretty self-explanatory. He has the same ability as Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (which is already in here) and a cooler way to draw extra cards. I do hope the casting demands do not prove to be prohibitive. This is the first spell in the deck.


Docent of Perfection  Flip - I love this card so much, but unfortunately I find it not living up to its potential way too often. Maybe I can find a place for it someday in a dedicated wizards and spells deck. It was cut for Psychic Corrosion.

Charmbreaker Devils - I like the recursion value it provides, but I have found it just doesn't get played as often when there are other choices available. Niv-Mizzet could not afford to replace anything lower than 6cmc, and would preferably also replace a red spell. The alternate candidate was Etherium-Horn Sorcerer, but it at least gives immediate value.

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