Last updated on April 26, 2023
Desperate Ritual | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
The original Kamigawa block followed the war between mortals and the Kami, the plane’s immortal spirits. This conflict’s events and participants were represented in card stock through various tribes and mechanics across the block.
The spirit creature type was the main way to represent the Kami, but these beings also cast their own spells. That’s where the arcane subtype comes in. Arcane was used to represent the spells that were cast by the Kami against mortals, and it’s the precursor of tribal spells. The art of most arcane spells usually represents some kind of interaction between Kami and mortals.
Dust off your spellbooks, it’s time to bone up on arcane knowledge!
What Are Arcane Spells in MTG?
Horobi's Whisper | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot
Arcane is a subtype that instant and sorcery spells can have. It has no inherent effect on the card it’s on (much like creature types and subtypes), but there are cards that have specific interactions with spells of the arcane type.
Several spirit creatures from the Kamigawa block have abilities (informally named spiritcraft) that trigger when you play an arcane spell, which perfectly fits thematically thanks to these being spells cast by spirits. Some arcane spells also have the splice onto arcane ability, which allows you to pay an alternate cost to add a spell’s ability to another arcane spell.
There are 93 spells with this subtype. Most are either red or blue, with black following closely behind. White has a bit fewer, and green has the least number of arcane spells. The subtype doesn’t appear on any colorless or multicolored cards.
Best White Arcane Spells
#7. Spiritual Visit
Spiritual Visit’s main advantage is that it’s an instant, which means you can play it any time you need a creature. It’s a mostly reactive card, but a cheap one.
#6. Terashi’s Grasp
Terashi's Grasp’s effect isn’t bad at all, but I think paying extra just to gain life usually isn’t worth it. You’re not necessarily gonna be destroying anything so costly that gaining that much life will make a huge difference.
#5. Quiet Purity
Sometimes all you need is a simple and straightforward effect. Quiet Purity is a cheap way to free yourself from an annoying enchantment your opponents may have.
Cleanfall is simply a step up from the previous entry. There can be more limited use for this card if you play a lot of enchantments yourself, but it can get rid of an annoying board state if your opponents play too many enchantments.
#3. Blessed Breath
The ability to grant protection from a color at instant speed is always a good thing. Blessed Breath is a more than decent way to protect your creatures.
#2. Ethereal Haze
There are quite a few white cards that allow you to prevent damage from specific sources, or under specific conditions. Ethereal Haze is basically a white version of Fog, and it makes perfect sense with the color’s strategies.
#1. Otherworldly Journey
Otherworldly Journey is a great way to protect your creatures, especially the ones with enter or leave the battlefield effects. It comes back with a +1/+1 counter to boot.
Best Blue Arcane Spells
#8. Psychic Puppetry
This is far from the best way to tap or untap a permanent in blue, but Psychic Puppetry gets a bit better if you play it alongside other arcane spells thanks to its splice onto arcane ability.
#7. Veil of Secrecy
Veil of Secrecy can be a pretty circumstantial card. That said, being able to cast it for its splice cost allows you to bounce one of your creatures while giving another unblockable and shroud, which can be pretty useful.
#6. Shifting Borders
I think the best way to explain how Shifting Borders can be a good card is by remembering that Dark Depths is a land. There are also plenty of combos that use Thespian's Stage, so being able to steal it can prove to be a good advantage.
#5. Disrupting Shoal
I think Disrupting Shoal can feel a bit counterintuitive at first glance because of how specific its effect feels. Most Magic cards have mana costs somewhere between one and six, so the chances of you having a blue card with the correct mana cost (or enough lands available to pay for it) aren’t all that low.
Splice onto arcane can be a controversial ability because arcane spells were only ever printed in the original Kamigawa block. Reweave is a card that’s hurt for that because its regular casting cost can be excessively high for its effect. The splice onto arcane cost feels just right for it.
#3. Ribbons of the Reikai
Ribbons of the Reikai became a lot more useful over time thanks to the overwhelming support the spirit tribe has received over time. This card can now make up for its high mana cost by drawing you absurd numbers of cards if played at the right time.
#2. Peer Through DepthsPeer through Depths
Any card that lets you look at some of your cards on the top of your library and take a spell from them is always good. Peer Through Depths is also part of a fun (albeit not too strong) combo with Reach Through Mists and Sift Through Sands.
Playing these three cards in order lets you tutor The Unspeakable onto the field. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to play these three cards by turn 3, but there’s always a chance.
#1. Ideas Unbound
I already know why this wouldn’t work, but I wish more cards that let you draw and discard would make you discard at the end of the turn. Ideas Unbound allows you to cheat past the discard condition if you play it right and are able to play all three cards you draw.
Best Black Arcane Spells
#8. Horobi’s Whisper
Horobi's Whisper isn’t the worst targeted removal, but it isn’t the best either. The best part about this card is its splice onto arcane cost since it lets you add it onto an arcane spell on the stack just by exiling four creatures from your graveyard.
#7. Devouring Greed
The fact that Spirit tokens have had so much support in the past years makes Devouring Greed a much more interesting card. It can act as a sure way to get rid of an opponent while also gaining you an interesting amount of life.
#6. Soulless Revival
Soulless Revival is a simple and effective way to recover some creatures from your graveyard to your hand. It’s pretty straightforward.
#5. Rend Flesh
I’d safely say that most creatures you’re gonna encounter in your EDH games aren’t spirits. Rend Flesh can be a bit overcosted, but this is a decent choice if you’re looking for some extra removal for your deck (or some arcane removal).
#4. Choice of Damnations
Choice of Damnations is absurdly fun in how mean it can be to your opponents. It’s a great way to give a huge disadvantage to one of your opponents without exactly making yourself responsible for what happens to them. It’s a really fun political card.
#3. Death Denied
There’s a clear usefulness to being able to return several creatures from your graveyard back to your hand. Death Denied is a really good card to keep your creatures coming after they go to the graveyard.
#2. Goryo’s Vengeance
Goryo's Vengeance is a great card to have your commander return to the battlefield for one last swing you need. It’s a decent addition to a lot of black EDH decks.
#1. Footsteps of the Goryo
There are plenty of creatures that can change the course of a game with a single swing. Footsteps of the Goryo enables that extra swing after a creature dies, not to mention triggering enters and leaves the battlefield abilities.
Best Red Arcane Spells
#7. Spiraling Embers
Red is a color that usually doesn’t have that many cards in hand, and Spiraling Embers ends up low on this list because of that. There’s a big chance that you’ll be able to use this to deal significant amounts of damage to any target if you’re playing this card in an Izzet () deck.
#6. Gaze of Adamaro
Red more often faces opponents who have plenty of cards in their hands. Gaze of Adamaro allows you to punish them for it.
#5. Blazing Shoal
This card is banned in Modern because it pretty much breaks the format when combined with infect creatures. Blazing Shoal isn’t that strong in EDH, but it can still guarantee a pretty strong burst of damage against an opponent.
#4. Lava Spike
Lava Spike is basically a weaker Lightning Bolt. What makes it so useful is that it’s a cheap arcane spell, which can make using splice onto arcane abilities more likely.
#3. Through the Breach
This is one of the few arcane spells that had new artwork made for its reprints, and that new artwork features Emrakul. Through the Breach is a decent way to cheat your huge and strong creatures onto the field to hit fast and hard.
Overblaze has been left behind a little due to power creep, but a card that lets you double any kind of damage a permanent you control does at instant speed isn’t a bad card at all.
#1. Desperate Ritual
Mana-positive cards are always a good thing to have in your deck. Desperate Ritual can push your game forward a turn or more depending on what else you manage to play with it.
Best Green Arcane Spells
#6. Kodama’s Might
Giving one of your creatures +2/+2 until end of turn for a single green mana can be a nice combat trick in any deck. Kodama's Might finds its place more in a deck focused on arcane spells than anything else.
#5. Rending Vines
Rending Vines is a card that granted card draw to green back when the color had little access to it. It’s since been left behind thanks to green now doing basically anything and everything.
#4. Inner Calm, Outer Strength
Inner Calm, Outer Strength is similar to Spiraling Embers in that it counts on you having a lot of cards in your hand in a color that doesn’t really focus on that. This can work pretty great in a Simic () deck, though.
#3. Strength of Cedars
Strength of Cedars is pretty expensive for an instant card, but its effect can easily turn the tide of a combat. Your creature gets at least +5/+5 if you have enough lands to cast the spell.
#2. Wear Away
This is a very typical green card. Wear Away lets you destroy an enchantment or artifact for just two green mana, and that’s that. I personally don’t see much point to its splice cost being double its regular cost.
#1. Kodama’s Reach
By far the arcane spell that sees the most play in non-arcane-focused decks, Kodama's Reach is a wonderful ramp spell that should go into basically any deck that plays green.
Best Arcane Spell Payoffs
There’s a recurring mechanic from the Kamigawa block that has colloquially been called “spiritcraft.” These are all abilities that trigger whenever a spirit or arcane spell is played. Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens is one of the best examples, closely followed by cards like Sire of the Storm, Infernal Kirin, and Kodama of the South Tree.
Spirits and other arcane spells are the best payoffs here. Apart from your usual payoffs for instants and sorceries, of course.
How Do Arcane Spells Work in MTG?
Arcane spells work the same as any other spells in Magic. The arcane subtype has more influence on other cards, like spells with splice onto arcane, or cards with abilities that trigger when arcane spells are cast.
What Counts as an Arcane Spell?
Arcane is a specific subtype explicitly mentioned in a card’s type line. Only cards with the arcane type count as an arcane spell.
Infernal Kirin | Illustration by Carl Critchlow
I love the flavor behind the arcane spell subtype. They (and tribal spells) helped contextualize the actors that used those spells within the universe they’re depicted in. I understand why arcane spells (and splice onto arcane, particularly) are seen as parasitic mechanics that don’t work outside of a specific block, but I still wish there were some replacement for them.
What’s your favorite arcane spell? Do you think the mechanic should make a comeback, or is it more trouble than it’s worth? Do you agree or disagree with my picks for this list? Let me know in the comments below or join the discussion over in the Draftsim Discord.
That’s all from me for now. Have a good one, and I’ll see you next time!
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