Arcades, the Strategist | Illustration by Even Amundsen
Arcades, the Strategist is one of the elder dragons, so it’s fitting to use the card as a commander considering that EDH stands for “Elder Dragon Highlander.” Arcades specialize in defender creatures (also, high toughness creatures), and there are some new defender payoffs in Dominaria United. Perfect timing to take an Arcades, the Strategist defender build for a spin!
It’s a totally on-budget EDH decklist that utilizes cheap cards and “Draft chaff,” and it’s hard to justify a different route for Arcades since the defender theme is so strong. Let’s get to it!
Akroma’s Will | Illustration by Antonio Jose Manzanedo
Wall of Runes
Wall of Deceit
Orator of Ojutai
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
Wall of Shards
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Junk
Wall of Tanglecord
Wall of Roots
Drift of Phantasms
Wall of Denial
Wall of Frost
Wall of Omens
Sea of Clouds
Simic Growth Chamber
Arcades, the Strategist is one of the most popular commanders with over 8000 lists posted online. It’s a 3/5 creature with flying and vigilance, and it has a few abilities that should interest you. First, whenever a creature with defender ETBs, you draw a card. Arcades also allow your walls to attack and deal damage with their toughness rather than power. A 0/6 defender now draws you a card and is effectively a 6/6. Remember how Wall of Tanglecord is playable in Limited but isn’t exciting? In an Arcades deck, it’s a 6/6 for two that draws a card.
Arcades’s abilities don’t apply to the Elder Dragon himself, though. It isn’t a defender. However, with cards like High Alert, Arcades attack as a 5/5 flying vigilance, and that’s miles better. Green, blue, and white have lots and lots of defenders, and there are also artifact defenders (sorry Vent Sentinel; you would be great here).
Usually, in EDH you’ll play cards with more staying power, more in the 3-5 CMC spot. Here, you can play lots of low drops because they all cantrip thanks to your commander.
The focus here is that the creature must have defender and should be around 0/4 or 0/5 body to maximize the Arcades enabled damage to CMC ratio.
Shield Sphere is nice here since it costs and it’s a 0/6.
Orator of Ojutai draws you two cards with your commander in play.
Besides your commander, there are a few defender payoff cards and synergies.
Your sweepers won’t kill your 0/4 and 0/5 creatures since they kill creatures based on their power.
Stalwart Shield-Bearers is a defender lord in your deck.
Wave of Reckoning is also a sweeper made for decks whose creatures have less power than toughness.
Cyclonic Rift will sweep their board so you can attack.
Fade from History is interesting because you’ll trade problematic artifacts and enchantments from your opponents for 2/2’s which are smaller than your creatures. Be careful not to destroy your good enchantments, though.
The main strategy is to be proactive and deploy your threats turn after turn. There are a few ways to interact with opponents though, like white spot removal in Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares, blue EDH staple Cyclonic Rift, and some countermagic. You can sometimes sweep the board when it’s most advantageous.
There are three cards to note here that fit the game plan.
The Birth of Meletis is a saga that fetches you a land and creates a 0/4 with defender.
Teyo, the Shieldmage gives you hexproof and creates 0/3 creatures.
Huatli, the Sun’s Heart is another copy of the “creatures deal damage based on toughness” effect, and you can get a lot of life in one activation.
There are several cards that serve as wincons in this deck.
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive is a card that makes most of your creatures unblockable since most of them have 0 or one power.
Primal Rage gives another form of evasion to your creatures because most of them are 3/3’s or 5/5’s. Giving them trample will surely pass lots of damage through.
Crashing Drawbridge allows you to have a big turn, playing lots of cantrip defenders and hasting all of them.
Your sweepers like Slaughter the Strong can be one-sided to keep your creatures on board.
Akroma’s Will can be used to protect your board or to make an alpha strike and gain lots of life in the process.
Wingmantle Chaplain produces lots of 1/1 fliers since you have so many defenders.
Your commander is in Bant colors, so the deck plays some dual lands in those colors and two tri-lands in Spara’s Headquarters and Seaside Citadel. Otherwise, it doesn’t need very many lands since it’s mostly cantrips and cheap cards. Most of the cards cost between 1-3 mana anyway. There are fewer than 35 lands, and bounce lands can keep repeating the land drops if you’re short.
There’s an emphasis on 2-mana ramp spells like Rampant Growth and Farseek since it’s important to ramp your commander on turn three. The deck also doesn’t have that many mana sinks, nor does the commander have activated mana abilities. This isn’t your typical “play as many lands as possible” Simic deck that casts a 10-drop to win.
The main strategy is to flood the board with cantrip creatures. Most of the creatures from the deck are defenders and cost between one and two mana. The aim is to play your commander very early and start playing small defenders and drawing cards on the next turn. The interesting part is that the commander affects the board immediately. If you have a 0/4 and a 0/5 around, you can attack for 9 once you’ve played Arcades.
Your commander is important to the deck, so you’ll want to protect it with Swiftfoot Boots and Counterspells. You have some redundancy in cards like High Alert and Assault Formation if your commander dies and you can’t recast it.
This deck is full of interactions and small combos.
Wall of Shards is a 1/8 that flies, and you don’t really care about giving life to a player since you can attack for 8 in the air.
Wall of Junk is a creature that lets you replay it and draw an extra card if you use it to block.
Sunscape Familiar makes your green and blue spells cheaper. It can reduce the cost of your commander only by 1, because it’s not cumulative. It’s one of the many ways to cast your commander on turn three.
It’s not meant for that, but this deck can chain lots of small defenders into a combo and kill someone out of nowhere. I’d say that this deck doesn’t break Rule 0 because it’s not built to be a combo deck, but a value/engine deck. All in all, it’s a fair deck.
This deck is very, very budget. Most of the defender creatures are commons and uncommons made for Draft, and the deck utilizes very few rares. There are some Commander staples that you can replace.
Analyzing the price of this decklist, 20% of it is a single card: Cyclonic Rift. If you replace it with a similar blue mass bounce effect or a blink spell, you’ll make the deck so much cheaper.
The dual lands are a good portion of the deck’s budget too, so you can replace them with common taplands like lifegain lands or temple lands. Akroma’s Will is another expensive card that I think is too important for the deck as a win condition, so I won’t recommend a replacement.
It’s hard to make other builds for Arcades to be good. The deck usually revolves around defender creatures and their intrinsic synergies. You can care about the toughness of the creatures, or care about defender tribal. A different build would be focused on blink and creatures that have good enter the battlefield effects and higher toughness than power, like Sea Gate Oracle, Brago, King Eternal, and Wall of Omens / Wall of Blossoms. You’ll then use the portion of the deck to blink your creatures and have a Bant blink deck. One other possibility would be to blink your defenders, draw a bunch of cards, and go to a Laboratory Maniac victory route.
Wave of Reckoning | Illustration by Josh Hass
Arcades, the Strategist is a fun, cheap, and strong EDH deck to build. You can simply pile 20-25 creatures with defender you already have in your collection and call it a deck, just for starters, and of course there’s always room for improvement. I’d encourage you to give this build a spin, especially if you have an Arcades laying around.
What cards would you play instead? Let me know in the comments section below or take the discussion to the Draftsim Discord.
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