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The Problem with Simic

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Mystic Snake
The year was 2000 and I decided to try and be good at Magic. You may be asking yourself why I played for 4 years before that without trying to be good at it and the real answer is that I didn't have competition. With increased mobility from a learner's permit, actual events became a possibility, and with access to better venues and better competition, I needed to step my game up. I was intelligent enough to harness the power of the internet to help me find decklists, sideboarding guides, and metagame analysis, but "buy cards on the same websites I browse to find decks" was lost on me. I managed to open or trade for most of what I needed for a deck for Regionals in 2000 but I was short 2 copies of a card - Wash Out. 3 boosters yielded the first copy, but the last one seemed unattainable at my LGS until someone mentioned that Swoop, an Apocalypse precon had a copy of Wash Out. I spent the $12 or whatever it was at the time and that's when I met Mystic Snake.

Mystic Snake was what I wanted to do in Magic - develop my board while denying them board development. I could return Snake to my hand to threaten another counterspell, I could attack with it, I could chump block. Green's mana development coupled with Blue's card draw and permission made me Team Simic before there even was a Team Simic. I played quite a few Simic decks over the years, using Birds of Paradise to cast a turn two Troll Ascetic that I backed up with Condescend or discarding Circular Logic to Wild Mongrel to (try to) counter Psychatog.

Being on Team Simic felt good for a long time. We were always underdogs but we had a real shot at making stuff happen. Using Echoing Truth to loop Eternal Witness and constantly cast Plow Under every two turns to soft lock them was strong, but it didn't always happen if you got the snot beat out of you by Isamaru and friends first. Simic wasn't really tearing up Standard or Extended, let alone Legacy or Vintage but I always had fun. When Commander became popular, Simic quickly started to feel like the boogeyman. While no Simic commander is overwhelmingly the best commander in… errr, Commander, none of them are that bad. Thrasios, Triton Hero makes every pairing better, even if he's paired with Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix and gives you no new access to colors. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice and Muldrotha, the Gravetide use the power of Simic to accomplish their goals. Even uncommons like Tatyova, Benthic Druid are far more powerful than the other uncommon commanders and a lot of the rares in Dominaria. Simic isn't the most popular, and one reason for that could be that Simic commanders are starting to feel really... Boring.

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle
There was a point to all of that backstory and that is that this week I was really excited to tackle Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle until I started to think about the obvious way to build the deck and EDHREC data backed it up. People who aren't building a silly, durdly casual tribal Sea Monsters deck (nothing wrong with that, but you want A.E. Marling to write that article, not me) were building basically version 3.0 of the Kydele and Thrasios deck I built years ago and don't use. Version 2.0 of that deck was Tatyova. Simic is too good at drawing its entire deck, tempting you to just build Laboratory Maniac so you don't have to attack with creatures. If you do want to attack with creatures, you're resolving a turn four Boundless Realms for 7 with Amulet of Vigor out which lets you start casting Eldrazi while everyone else is tapping out for Black Market or Stonehewer Giant. They ban Primeval Titan and Prophet of Kruphix and we still find a way to make everyone else sad they're not playing Blue and Green. As much as we complain that Boros always gets "samey" commanders that force you to attack and aren't very good, Simic gets a lot of "samey" commanders that are a little too good at doing what you're supposed to be doing and that gets boring as well. Is there a way to build Arixmethes that isn't a tribal deck or a typical Simic goodstuff deck that looks indistinguishable from the Laboratory Maniac decks I always end up building or a deck that's so hardcore tribal that it is equally linear to build but with an even narrower appeal?

My approach here is to try something novel with the deck that isn't terrible and I think what I want to try to do is cast Arixmethes a lot. We can benefit in multiple ways from doing this - the new Commanderstorm cards Genesis Storm and Echo Storm reward us for casting our commander a lot and our commander's affordable mana cost means we can cast early and often. Getting those counters off is a challenge, but why don't you let me worry about that? Once the counters are off, we can sac Arixmethes to Greater Good to draw more big creatures to swing with.

We're not going to be tribal sea monsters and we're not going to be a "mise well labbo" deck either. We're going to draw some cards when we get a Greater Good going but we'll use that to find big creatures to attack with. We'll ramp but that's because we want to be a good deck and we'll use Blue for more than just card drawing, counters and tutors. In short, let's build a deck that rewards us for casting Arixmethes a lot. Oh, you better believe this is a Food Chain deck. With no tutors, we'll rely on synergy and sheer card drawing potential to find our combo pieces, and since we're not running anything that rewards us for infinite mana, per se, beyond "I can play more creatures" I don't even feel bad running some of the more degenerate mana-production combos. Let's get excited about Simic again ironically by playing to its strengths.

Island Fish Jasoncoinedthis | Commander | Jason Alt


I think I am relatively happy with how this turned out, although in my quest to make a deck that isn't bad, I'm worried I may have strayed too close to being a "Simic Goodstuff" deck. That's not what we wanted. However, there are a lot of combo elements here and I think this is a good showcase for the new cards in Commander 2018 and, more importantly, this won't play like the Tatyova or Kydele//Thrasios decks I am sick of. This looks similar, but once we drill down, you'll see what I'm going for.

Intruder Alarm
Sprout Swarm

We want to be casting spells to take counters off of Arixmethes, so I included some fun ways to loop spells. We can combo with Paradox Engine to keep playing spells with creatures that untap lands and mana rocks or we can get Intruder Alarm and Sprout Swarm going or we can just loop etb creatures with Cloudstone Curio. These combos are sort of fragile, require several cards, and don't draw our whole deck at once which meant I had to include a lot of redundancy which means the deck is doing something robust even if the individual combo isn't. The important thing is to just keep playing Arixmethes and attacking. If we have to, we can sac Arixmethes to Greater Good or Life's Legacy to draw a ton of cards and then try and replay Arixmethes quickly.

I opted for creatures that untap lands and Freed From The Real and Pemmin's Aura in addition to Intruder Alarm and Paradox Engine because I wanted to experiment with a bunch of Karoo lands and these sorts of effects. Since Ley and Lore Weaver find each other, why not go deep on Ley Weaver and include several other similar cards, even opting to replace the typical Llanowar Elves with Arbor Elf? We can generate mana fairly easily without even having to set up an infinite combo and this can help us play enough spells to keep Arixmethes live.

Some other combos I enjoy include copying Arixmethes with Thespian's Stage to make a copy with no counters on it. You can pick up Thespian's Stage with Venser or Vedalken Mastermind if you need to so you can keep the shenanigans going if Arixmethes dies or you sac to draw 12. Attacking with a big, angry Sea Monster early and often isn't always the best way to win in a sea of chump blockers, so I included a few ways to make our monster unblockable to be sure we KO them with Commander damage in 2 swings. We also have a bunch of big, angry Eldrazi to join the fray.

I think this deck, instead of doubling down on Simic's ability to put a ton of lands into play like most Simic decks I build, instead focuses on using the mana it generates for a lot of creatures rather than generating infinite mana and drawing your whole deck or taking 5 minute solitaire turns like I did with Tatyova. I don't want everyone to watch me take super long turns, I want to demonstrate a loop, dump my hand and swing at people. Getting Food Chain combo going with Griffin and then Arixmethes can let us cast Genesis Storm for a ton and attack them with a ton of free Eldrazi. That's the kind of Magic Richard Garfield intended. While I have some big, infinite combos in the deck, the way those combos end isn't a feel-bad for other players - they have the chance to interact with the big creatures I dump out. I'm not even playing Helix Pinnacle in this deck and you know I love that card!

I think I managed to still build a very Simic deck and play to the color combination's strengths without making a deck that bores me or that I want to take apart because it's too good or my turns take too long. I used a lot of Simic's tricks without doing the antisocial stuff I don't like to see in Simic decks and I did it without resorting to building a tribal deck. I feel good about this build and I hope you do, too. Thanks for reading. Until next week!