Sunday, 24 March 2019
Arcades Defender .dec
This is a deck like a Doran deck but blue in place of where you would normally find black. It also specifically works with creatures with defender rather than simply the toughness of creatures. This extends your options in one direction by opening up the many walls but it closes off other cards to you as well if trying to maximize the synergies. You can run creatures with high toughness without the defender key word and they will be supported by some of your deck but not all of it. There are only a couple of cards like this I would entertain playing but more on that later. Arcades decks have been the thing of commander until the recent printing of High Alert. This extra piece of redundancy vaults the deck in potenty and makes it a strong cube build. Likely even stronger than Doran builds which have only two enablers and lean on black Tutors to find them at either tempo or card costs. Black does have better tools to force through and protect their enablers however. Redundancy in enablers is not the only thing Arcades decks have over Doran ones though. Creatures with defender are typically over tuned. This is especially the case with those having little or no power. Compare Wall of Blossoms to Elvish Visionary. For the same cost and effect the Blossoms comes with twice as many total stats. The Doran list certainly gets to take advantage of some 0 power dorks without defender that have high total stats but there are not so many options on such dorks and they are not quite so potent as the defenders.
So what makes a deck like this good? Mostly it is that it has all the perks of an extreme aggro deck like affinity while also hard countering most other creature based strategies. If left alone to do your thing you will goldfish rapidly and overwhelmingly. Often in a one shot, just spend the first few turns making walls and then drop something that lets you attack and swing for 30 or so! Decks that try to beat you down struggle against your vast array of walls. It is just hard getting damage through this decks defenses using just dorks, certainly early damage. Being a deck that can outpace combo and crushes most aggro and midrange makes this deck sound like a monster but it is not without weaknesses. Mainly it is to control. This list relies on one of three cards to allow it to win. Without one of the three in play it is just a deck full of walls. Well placed disruption and removal is savage and renders this deck fairly useless. Not that many decks can instantly deal with enchantments and you are at least blue giving you some control over spells. This is another big part of why this plan works best in commander. Arcades is cheap enough that you can simply recast him a bunch of times thus making you that more robust in the face of disruption. There are enough good cards with defender that you can easily scale up your 40 cards to 100 without hurting the power level of your deck too much. Well worth it for that key card in the command zone! We are here to do cube things and so the most important element of this archetype becomes how do we protect, find and recur our three key enablers? What balance of those effects do you have, which enablers to you lean on more and how much of your total deck do you dedicate to these things? Each card you run as your own disruption or protection reduces your defender count and lowers the synergy power of the list. As I always do with new builds I focused on synergy and went with a minimal interactive package. In practice I think you want to do the complete reverse. I shall cover the options after the list I ran found below.
Swords to Plowshares
Incubation // Incongruity
Wall of Omens
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Mulch
Wall of Roots
Orator of Ojutai
Drift of Phantasms
Arcades the Strategist
As you can see, there are only 4 cards not directly related to defenders in some way in this list. I should look to at least double that number. I have only run removal and dig, there is no protection or countermagic at all and that is just making yourself a bye in some control matchups. Ideally I would like some countermagic of my own like Negate, Arcane Denial, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, or Dispel so as to protect against removal and countermagic. The issue with that is having the mana up and being that much more committed to blue. My list was mostly green with a splash of white and an even lighter dash of blue. Adding in countermagic as your main protection slows you down a lot and reduces your consistency. There are cheap white cards like Abeyance that you can use to force things through and protect your stuff for a while. This might be a better direction to go for mana base reasons. You generally only need one turn to finish people off! Protection cards are probably best as proactive creatures rather than spells like Blossoming Defense. Spellskite is the obvious choice as it has a good shot of protecting all of your enabler cards for no mana cost while also benefiting from +4 attack from two of them. Mother of Runes, Selfless Spirit and the other usual suspects are likely fine as well. These cards will make you a lot better against midrange decks and tap out control decks. They will be a lot less helpful against decks with mass removal and countermagic. As such you likely need to go lightly on these things and just play the one, ideally Spellskite.
Removal is actually the supplementary tool this deck seems to need the least. It can handle most attackers and get around a lot of annoying permanent cards. More removal is a good thing but the best kind of removal for this deck is the kind I am playing already. The modal nature of Cast Out and Incubation // Incongruity means you hurt the game plan of your deck little while keeping it robust. There is not loads of removal and utility options like that but they are the ones you are looking for. The Swords performed less well than the other two modal removal cards in this list. It might well be better as Bant Charm or even Treva's Charm!
Dig and Tutor cards are nice but a little awkward in this deck due to the spread of your stuff. Most of your deck is made up of walls, your enablers are mainly enchantments and your interaction more instant flavoured. You can use green card quality but that is usually finding only lands or dorks. You can't use it to find your disruption and only a couple will be able to find the High Alert or Assault Formation. Commune with the Gods is great for finding walls and things that let them attack but it is no help with finding lands. You can go more direct and play things like Green Sun's Zenith, Worldly Tutor or Eladamri's Call but this makes you so dependent on Arcades. One exile effect and it is all pretty disastrous. A nice compromise is probably to run the shallower digging but broader range blue card quality effects. Sleight of Hand is not quite Adventurous Impulse in digging potential but it will find you anything you need in the deck. I didn't do this initially as I was so heavily green but if you are forced into running a smattering of countermagic anyway you might as well and simply up the blue mana support. It is nice to be able to have your card selection effects costing one mana as well as that is the spot on the curve in which you are most sparse. You don't always have a good turn one wall while you always have a two drop wall to throw down.
With all that in mind I am probably looking to cut the Swords and the Adventurous Impulse and add in Bant Charm, Arcane Denial, Spell Pierce, Spellskite, Abeyance and a pair of good stand alone one mana blue card quality effects. That means we will need to cut five walls from this list to make space for all those changes. I shall discuss the merits of the rest of the deck, the synergy part, and point out the cuts as we go along.
Obviously Arcades, High Alert and Formation are your most key cards and cannot entertain being cut. Formation is the weakest but it does have a mana sink mode and it is cheap. Arcades is the most powerful but also the costliest and most vulnerable. It is pretty hard to milk card advantage with him, mostly you play him and win through attacking right away if he resolves/survives. You could also play with Rolling Stones to increase your enablers to four. Sadly it would mean playing walls with power (as it doesn't allow damage to be done according to toughness) to be of any real use and as such your pool of playable walls becomes prohibitive. Using Rolling Stones would result in a wholly different looking deck and I am pretty confidant it would be a lot worse. Unsurprisingly the most important walls are the ones that produce mana and that draw cards. There are more mana producing ones than you need so only the best are core cards. There are five card draw walls and four mana producing ones I wouldn't consider cutting as listed below;
Wall of Omens
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Mulch
The three walls that draw when they come into play are lovely ways to freely develop your board and dig through your deck. They are so good even the four mana Jungle Barrier is a reasonable consideration. The pair of walls that sac walls to draw cards are less busted (but compared to a two mana 4/4 that cantrips being less busted is not saying much) but surprisingly important. They just dig you through your deck and help find those key cards. It is not free draw but it is repeatable. It is like how Elvish Visionary and Merfolk Looter compare, except 4/4s and not 1/1 gimps! Vine is the worst card drawing wall being the slowest, but on theme one drops are too good to pass up on. There are not that many useful walls at one mana and so we pounce on those few that are. This is why Caretaker is such a big deal for this deck. It is not far off a 3/3 birds of Paradise! The fixing is great, the ramp is great and the being a useful one drop wall is great. Caretaker is massive for this deck and arguably the best wall, certainly is the card you most want to see in your opener. Sylvan Caryatid is a nice safe card that also brings good fixing. It is the most cuttable of all 9 of these core cards but I think that would be a mistake. It is your best turn two play even if it is one of your smallest walls per mana cost. Battlement and Axebane Guardian are your other defender synergy payoff cards both giving you a pretty immense mana payoff. Axebane is an infinite mana combo with High Alert and either are just pretty nutty without the Alert. They make cards like Walking Ballista really appealing, especially if you have tutors like Eladamri's Call in your list.
It is always nice to have an infinite mana combo in your deck but this list is not amazing at taking advantage of it. There are a couple of walls you can win with if you have them active in play or you can make all your attackers lethal with Formation but that is about it. You can draw a lot of the way through your deck with infinite mana too but not reliably enough to include on the spot win cards like the Ballista on that basis alone. The thing is you are usually just winning through attacking, you don't much need the backup plan. Both Door Keeper and Archer's Parapet will allow you to win if you have 5 total defenders in play including Axebane and the High Alert. This is cute but one of the easiest places to start making cuts. You are far better off improving your primary plan than you are supporting unlikely secondary plans. You really need something like Lightning Greaves to speed up a combo like this for it to be that impressive of a win condition. Greaves would help to protect some other key cards like Arcades but it is such a blank on its own that I am not sure you can afford it. I even looked at Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs as a way to win with infinite mana and untap effects but fitting deserts into this three colour mix is not a wise plan.
Next up we have the more cuttable mana walls in Wall of Roots and Sunscape Familiar. I don't wish to cut either as they are both great cards and can lead to some impressive burst starts. These are absolutely outstanding cards in the deck but they are not essentials and so not immune to being replaced. Of the things you can cut I would certainly be trying to leave these two until last. On the chopping block before these two would be Orator of Ojutai for sure. You are rarely drawing a card with it, that is for sure. Flying (or reach) is much more valuable than you might expect though. Given you are so safe to aggression on the ground thanks to all your walls it would seem a shame to die to random fliers. Walls that can block such things have more value than normal. Wall of Tanglecord is an excellent option for this reason. It is huge, easy to cast and helps stop flying aggression. Angelic Wall is another option in this camp. I would even look at wall of Vines and Taproot Kami as they have the added bonus of being one drop walls. To properly support Taproot would require some serious mana base concessions I suspect. Wall of Denial is an impressive defender you can run in this list. It looks amazing on paper and covers you in the air but it is actually a bit overkill. You are far better off making more small and useful walls lower down the curve than clogging up your deck with clunky cards. When you can attack you will have the biggest board by a mile anyway and so having that 8/8 flying shroud is just a bit win more. The card is certainly good but it is less on theme than it might seem. Drift of Phantasms is certainly the better option. It keeps you nearly as safe from fliers, supports all your defender synergies equally and can find you High Alert if desperate as well. It can even find the Axebane so as to help setup your backup win but as discussed already, that isn't worth supporting directly. No harm in the indirect support from Drift though I guess. Even with all these qualities I think Drift is still cuttable. It is pretty slow going the transmute route. A more streamlined deck is usually the best way to build both synergy and aggressive lists for which this is both.
Lastly to cover in the main we have three cheap walls. Resolute Watchdog is a triple hit with being a one drop, being a wall and offering some protection utility. It isn't the most exciting of cards but I think it ticks too many boxes to ignore. Jaddi Offshoot is relatively low power but like the walls with flying or reach it does help sure up another mild weakness. While we are great at stopping attacking damage we are pretty soft to direct damage. It is not impossible for a burn deck to get 20 damage through before we can kill them. Offshoot is one of those meta calls. If you expect a deck which does direct damage in a finite capacity for the win then Offshoot is going to be a good include. Wall of Hope and Perimeter Captain do this a bit as well but they are in a secondary colour and can be more easily played around. Finally there is Shield Sphere. The old 0 mana 6/6 is a little hard to turn down but it adds less to the deck than you might imagine. Rarely are you holding it back for that free Arcades card, you are making it the turn before so you can attack with it for six! The low cost is nice certainly but it comes at the cost of a utility wall. I like the Sphere, it is certainly efficient but it is also a non-essential and something I may well cut prior to the good mana walls. So we have 3 easy cuts, 2 potential cuts and 3 hard but possible cuts we can make to our wall complement.
Most of the cards I want to add I have discussed at the start and very few of those are defenders. I would love a good recursive card but none feel all that suitable. Regrowth and Eternal Witness are just low tempo, off theme and poor early. If I could have some wall that recurred the right sort of thing then I would be all ears but with the options on offer I think you are better off just trying to avoid losing your key enablers. The only other defender cards I looked at for this list are below.
Steel Wall is just easy to cast and fairly big. Vine Trellis is the next best mana producing wall not played. Bonded Fetch is the best card quality defender I could find but it is still only a Grey Ogre in size when given the High Alert etc treatment. Stalwart Shield-Bearers seems amazing as a lord effect but much like Wall of Denial it is a bit of a win more card. It helps you be powerful when you are in a position to win, it doesn't help get you to the position where you can win and that is why it is a luxury card not an auto include. The Barricade is probably my favourite of these extra options. It has some protection abilities but it also acts a little bit like another Wall of Omens assuming you have something like that in play already.
There is probably a build of this list that focuses more on High Alert and comboing off with the untap effect on that. Such lists are going to run more tutors and more protection effects. They will also run far more mana sink cards like Duskwatch Recruiter and generally resemble Vizier decks more than they do Doran decks. I think this archetype is probably the better use of High Alert and would class it as a fairly high tier deck with the caveat that it is properly tuned for the meta. If you use your non-synergy deck spots and sideboard well you will be well placed to handle disruption you might encounter and can ride the naturally favourable matchups the rest of the way with your impressively powerful synergies. You can attack for 20 on turn three with this list (Turn one Caretaker, turn two Familiar, Wall of Roots, Wall of Blossoms, Shield Sphere, Turn three High Alert or Arcades and swing). This deck has burst, is has a lot of card draw potential, lots of mana production, lots of board presence and safety. It does a lot of things all at once and it seems to do them quite well. If the holes in the plan are suitably plugged it is a highly impressive list.