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Around the Wheel: Arcades, the Strategist

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There is a lot going on right now. There's no way to ignore that. Despite how you feel about any or all of it, things are intense, and for many people, rather scary. So, as I approached this week's article - which, thanks to the color wheel, will be Bant, aka gwu - I can't help but think about the headlines and the ways our lives are changing and being affected around us.

Bant is kind of the shard of champions. When it was first given its name, back in Shards of Alara, the keyword it came with was Exalted; cards like Rhox War Monk and Jhessian Infiltrator were solid draft picks, because supported by a large amount of Exalted creatures, that one creature could be deadly in a game. I actually rocked a cool Lorwyn/Shards Standard deck using Shorecrasher Mimic and Bant Charm for a while; it topped out on Stoic Angel and was a cool aggro/control pile to pilot. Even Bant's main character, Rafiq of the Many, is designed to attack alone.

But that's not how I'm feeling right now. We're not in a time of champions. We're in a time of groups coming together (at a safe, social distance, hopefully) and standing together to make a change. We're defending the rights of people to live safely and without fear and we're defending those among us who have a higher risk of dangerous complications from disease. So, it only seems appropriate that as we stand up in defense of those who need it, not led by a single champion but by a belief in a better world, we should let our Defender flag fly.

Arcades, the Strategist

The other thing I've been thinking about is how a lot of life is really complicated. We have to think critically and deeply about issues, we have to carefully weigh risk vs. reward in almost every choice we make right now, we have to navigate online schools (as students and parents), readjust our understanding of work, wade through complicated and antiquated bureaucratic systems - the list goes on, and it makes my brain hurt. So, I thought it'd be nice to do something simple, something that just works, without any fussing about with too much strategy or figuring out which combo to go for. We're going to live in the red zone. And while we're at it, it's pretty cheap - the whole thing comes in right around $150, which isn't a super budget commander deck (I'll leave that to my bud Abe), but is pretty reasonable for an entire 100-card stack.

Mana is straightforward. We're running 38 lands, and before you panic and say "but Mark, you insist you ALWAYS start with 40 lands!" don't worry. We did start with 40 lands. But as the deck came together, the average CMC of the deck is below 3 and the vast majority of the cards are 2- and 3-drops, so we're safe running just a few short. Plus, we have a fair amount of card draw and a touch of ramp (I'm looking at you Axebane Guardian and Overgrown Battlement), so we'll be fine with 38. (My general point is you start with 40. Most of the time it should stay there, but sometimes you should adjust up or down, depending on the needs of the deck.) To keep the price down, we're running a bunch of the budget Comes-Into-Play-Tapped lands, but that's okay too because we're not going to be desperate for the mana most of the time. Once we have about four, we'll be fine. Finally, we have some color considerations just by virtue of being three-color, so we've got Rogue's Passage and Reliquary Tower, which will both be helpful, but otherwise we're just making colors.

Arcades is a particularly nice general because if we play a lot of creatures with Defender (of our 38 creatures, 33 of them have Defender) we'll naturally draw some extra cards. It's always nice to help that out, though, so we've got some additional ways. Mentor of the Meek is strong here like he is in token decks with a bunch of 1/1s - we have a bunch of 0-power creatures, so we can pretty reliably use him to draw additional cards. Wall of Blossoms and its kin are here, replacing itself as it shows up. Guardian Project is a fun one which is particularly good in Commander. Reconnaissance Mission is nifty, and since we have a number of ways to punch our creatures through, it will often be good for a lot of cards. Finally, one of my favorite ways to draw cards is with Hunter's Insight or Hunter's Prowess. If you manage to slip a 0/7 through and hit it with a Hunter's Insight, or just know someone is open and can wallop them with the Prowess, it'll draw a ton of cards.

We're going to win with straight-up combat damage, and a lot of it. Because of Arcades' Defenders-Hit-With-Toughness thing, we have a bunch of one-mana 4/4s, two-mana 7/7s, and three-mana flying 5/5s. If we have three creatures down on turn four when we land our Commander, we could be swinging for 15! The damage really adds up quickly. However, it's always a good idea to have a trick or two up your sleeve, so imagine when your opponents think they've blocked reasonably and you play Bar the Door. Or Tower Defense. Yeah, that'll mess them up pretty well. We've even got True Conviction at the top of the curve; giving all our creatures Double-Strike should make them lethal pretty quickly.

Our answers mostly come in the form of unusual board wipes; we're in a particular situation, so rather than run the all-sided Wrath of God, we can instead run Wave of Reckoning and keep most, if not all, of our stuff while wiping out our opponents' things. Slaughter the Strong is another great example; it might actually be difficult for us to add up to 4, but it should do some pretty serious damage to the rest of the table. We do have a Dismantling Wave to handle Artifacts and Enchantments, but if you reliably deal with a lot of those kinds of threats, it might be worth switching out some of the Wrath effects for an Aura Shards or Krosan Grip.

We're running a number of ways to give our team Vigilance, Indestructible, and Unblockable. All three of those things seem worthwhile. Sight of the Scalelords is an example of the first; most of our creatures have a toughness of higher than 4, so they're all going to get +2/+2 and Vigilance, allowing them to attack and then hang back and be huge, cheap blockers. Eerie Interlude or Flawless Maneuver are examples of the second; these are less about combat and more about not losing our team to someone else's Supreme Verdict. If the board gets wiped and we keep everyone, we'll stomp all over the rest of the table, and that seems worth dedicating a few slots. Fortunately we rebuild fairly quickly, so we're not out of the game if we do get wiped, but if we can stop it, all the better. Note one way we protect our team is by flickering the whole thing out, rather than making them Indestructible. This is great for the ETB effects on some of our stuff. Finally, get a load of Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive in this deck! Almost every creature we control has a power of 0, so this makes the vast majority of our creatures unblockable. Shield Sphere is a zero-mana 0/6, which means with Tetsuko on the 'field, it's a zero-mana 6/6 that can't be blocked. Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa plays in a similar space; it's not quite as strong, but still does a good job of limiting options for blockers.

One thing worth noting is we don't protect Arcades except with our Flicker and Indestructible effects which protect the entire team. If you face a lot of point removal or people really start to target him, it might be worth running some ways to keep him specifically alive.

And last but not least, we're running a copy of Return to the Ranks and a copy of Panharmonicon. We've got so many creatures at two mana Return seems like a great way to rebuild our board after a wipe, and Panharmonicon doubles up on the amount of cards we draw. Panharmonicon is one of the most expensive cards in the deck, however, and it's certainly not necessary; feel free to cut it and save yourself $10 if you wish.

Arcades, the Strategist | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper


That's it. It's not hard to understand. It's a bunch of creatures often overlooked by most players taking a stand and reminding us they matter. The rest of the table would do well to listen.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe and healthy.

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