Last updated on May 12, 2021

Bloodline Pretender | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

You may remember a specific event on MTGA called Artisan, which had some pretty specific deck conditions. Well, some members of the community decided that waiting for an event to play this format was just not in the cards.

Artisan is very much still alive, even if Wizards hasn’t made it a permanent format in the game. So, what is Artisan? How does it work? How can you play this format? Let’s take a look at this.

What is Artisan?

The easiest way to describe Artisan is that it’s a less restrictive version of Pauper. Here are the main rules:

  • Main deck must be a minimum of 60 cards, with a maximum of 250 (the max deck size for Arena).
  • Sideboard is unchanged, 15 cards maximum if used.
  • The deck and sideboard cannot contain more than four copies of an individual card unless the card states otherwise, except for basic lands.
  • All cards in your deck and sideboard must be available at either common or uncommon rarity on MTGA.

The main reason to play this format is the same reason to play Pauper: it flexes your deckbuilding muscles, allows you to use cards and synergies that you normally don’t get to use in Standard or Historic, and eliminates the inherent power creep that occurs with the rare and mythic rare cards.

Oh, plus it’s more affordable to play because you get to use your more plentiful, less rare wildcards.

Artisan Banned Lists

Both Standard and Historic artisan have banned lists to keep the formats healthy and interesting.

Standard

Historic

There’s also a banned list when it comes to Historic Artisan:

Where to Play Artisan

Mirror Image | Illustration by Randy Vargas

In order to play Artisan in an official capacity, you’re going to have to wait for Wizards to put it up as an event again. As I already mentioned, it’s not a format in the current Play queues. However, there’s nothing stopping you from creating an Artisan deck and playing the format with your friends.  To help, Artisan is a format that you can select in Arena’s Deckbuilder.

Otherwise, you’ll need to seek out some Artisan communities. These are the kinds of things that Reddit exists for. Specifically there’s r/MTGArtisans. This is a wonderful place to ask questions and investigate decks. They also have a Discord that’s great for deck help, meeting new people with a shared interest, and looking for games. They also run an Artisan League that you can join.

While researching, I joined the community myself (read: lurked) and they’re doing a great job not only creating a community that has very little in official infrastructure by Wizards, but also in maintaining a friendly atmosphere and worthwhile engagement to keep interest. So, kudos to them!

Artisan Archetypes

Frantic Inventory | Illustration by Aaron Miller

The best way to get the most out of a deck is to look for the synergies in colors and sets. Even though we’re limited to only certain rarities, if you’re familiar with finding these in limited formats then you shouldn’t have much to worry about in terms of finding good things to build around.

The signposts for different colors and mechanics tend to be at the common and uncommon level. Here are just some of the archetypes to consider for mono and color combos:

  • Monocolor: Devotion, Aggro
  • Orzhov (Abzan or Witch): Lifegain
  • Azorius: Fliers
  • Selesnya: Enchantments, Adventures, Counters
  • Simic: Tokens
  • Boros: Aggro Tron, Rush (i.e., ahead of the curve), Cycling
  • Gruul: Trample
  • Dimir: Mill
  • Izzet: Magecraft, Control
  • Any color combos: Tribal

Artisan Decklists

Aegar, the Freezing Flame - Illustration by Chris Rahn

Aegar, the Freezing Flame | Illustration by Chris Rahn

If brewing up something isn’t your forte, there’s no shame in netdecking. There’s no shortage of decks to play around with since Artisan has gained popularity, especially since you should have a wealth of commons and uncommons if you’ve been playing Arena for a bit.

I’ve asked one of our Draftsim resident deckbuilders to see if he could come up with some suggestions and I’ve gathered some other brews for you as well. So, without further ado, let’s just get right into it.

Decklists by David Royale

First up is our resident deckbuilder David Royale. Let’s not delay, here we go:

Izzet SKRED

This one is similar to UR SKRED from original Pauper, but the idea to run a powerful planeswalker and dragon mage is very tempting! Alternative win conditions include the Avalanche Caller and Goblin Wizardry.

Along with that, you have early removal combined with bounce spells in Into the Story and counterspells. Brainstorm will be a huge upgrade from Opt.

Mono Red Burn

This one is burn. Light Up the Stage is huge and Thermo-Alchemist and Kiln Fiend benefit from running almost all non-creature spells.

Mono Blue Control

Last one is hit and run mono blue, plan is simple. Hit, draw a bunch of cards, bounce creatures, and counter everything else. Simple but effective.

Decklists by WilecoyoteukDe

Wilecoyoteuk has popped on to give us a few lists for Artisan, from Azorius lifegain to Orzhov vampires, here they are:

Azorius Lifegain

My favorite deck on power level when I need to grind wins.

Playing without Healer’s Hawk (which was banned only for FNM at home) is a big loss, but it’s understandable as the lifegain did get quite large. Winged Words and Spectral Sailor are great for card draw, but Staggering Insight is even better. There are decks that run Curious Obsession rather than the Insight and some even have a split over both.

Mono White Lifegain

This is a really stable deck that has so many ways to gain life. Alseid of Life’s Bounty and Make a Stand are great for keeping Ajani’s Pridemate alive. Angel of Vitality is your alternate wincon.

Orzhov Lifegain

This is a more expansive version of lifegain using Bloodthirsty Aerialist as well. Sadistic Skymarcher is a really fun card that can win matches with fliers, and the lifegain means your opponents struggle to get past  Ajani’s Pridemate.

Orzhov Vampire Tribal

You have enough quality vampires to make a difference. Several of your vampires having lifelink means you can repeatedly pay Adanto Vanguard’s life tax. You also have sneaky Bloodthirsty Aerialist, and Gifted Aetherborn is horrible to play against.

As this deck can go really wide, Exhilarating Elocution from Strixhaven is another tempting addition.

Community Resources

Gaea’s Blessing | Illustration by David Palumbo

Most popular decklist sites have lists for Artisan, so finding decks to try out isn’t difficult. I already mentioned the MTG Artisan’s Discord earlier, but it bears repeating along with their subreddit. This will be your biggest resource.

Although there’s no dedicated Artisan podcast like Standard and Modern have, it has come up in a few in the past. Specifically, The Mana Base and Arena Craft have both talked about it in the past.

Wrap Up

Cry of the Carnarium | Illustration by Johann Bodin

Here’s a quick summary of the format: it’s a constructed, Arena-only format for 2 players with casual and competitive avenues of play. Keep in mind the format’s restrictions of using only common and uncommons. That shouldn’t be a problem with the Arena deckbuilder’s search filters based on the format selection, but I’ve definitely thrown in a rare land or two in the past in error.

Artisan is an extremely fun format with a broad metagame. The added restrictions definitely makes building fun and gives even the jankiest decks the possibility of popping off and even winning. With more and more people becoming frustrated with the game at the Diamond and Mythic level, trying out something new can be really fun and doesn’t require anything more than having Arena, some wildcards, and finding a game.

I threw together a 250-card menace deck with what I had in Ikoria and Kaldheim, and just happened to get paired up with a control mill deck. There’s no reason a deck that large should work, but here we are!

As always, if you enjoy content like this, please continue to watch Draftsim for more, and maybe even consider becoming a Patron.

If you’re MTG Arena player (and I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this article), you absolutely need to try out our tracker app, Arena Tutor.  It’s going to greatly enhance your enjoyment (and winning) in MTGA.

Finally, if you want to share any deck lists or insights on the Artisan format, we will welcome them in our Discord or in the comments below.

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