Last updated on September 12, 2023
It’s fun when you can pay the mana to get your deck’s strategy going, but it’s even more fun when you can skip some costs.
Today’s Commander deck guide focuses on one of the many partner cards from the original Commander Legends set. Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist has a powerful ability that can allow you to cheat on large amounts of mana each turn if built right.
When the card was first spoiled, my brother and I immediately saw it as something we could build a sweet deck around, so let’s get right into it!
Akiri, Line-Slinger | Illustration by David Gaillet
Mother of Runes
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Jor Kadeen, First Goldwarden
Reyav, Master Smith
Sram, Senior Edificer
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Danitha Capashen, Paragon
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame
Wyleth, Soul of Steel
Astor, Bearer of Blades
Halvar, God of Battle
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Nahiri, Forged in Fury
Masterwork of Ingenuity
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Forge and Frontier
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of Sinew and Steel
The Reaver Cleaver
Hammer of Nazahn
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
The first thing you need to note is that since Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist is a partner, you need to pick an appropriate partner to pair with it. This deck is based on equipment. When Ardenn’s ability triggers each turn, it allows you to completely bypass the potentially expensive equip costs.
For a great equipment deck, you want to add red to your already white deck. Since Ardenn can cheat all your equipment onto one creature, it makes sense for your partner to be a great creature to move all of your equipment onto.
I’ve chosen Akiri, Line-Slinger, a nice cheap creature that can turn into a Tarmogoyf-level threat in no time. It also comes with a couple of nice keywords in first strike and vigilance, which help it when it’s in combat.
Another interesting choice for Ardenn’s partner would be Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh, though since you won’t need to spend mana equipping anything, I felt that I could afford to spend a couple of mana on a slightly stronger creature.
This deck needs some great creatures to pick up that equipment and start swinging. Thankfully, there are a ton of cool creatures that care about equipment for you to make use of.
The more obvious cards include Constructed all-stars Stoneforge Mystic, Sram, Senior Edificer, and Puresteel Paladin, but also a variety of spectacular cards from Limited formats, like Danitha Capashen, Paragon, and Bruenor Battlehammer.
You don’t even necessarily have to care about equipment for a creature to be good here. Naturally, all-rounders like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Esper Sentinel also fit well in this deck. Mother of Runes is also fantastic as a cheap, simple way to keep your creatures protected. Most commonly, you’ll be Voltron-ing all your equipment onto the same creature, so using mom to protect it should work very well.
There are so many powerful pieces of equipment out there that it’s hard to narrow them down to the best ones. Thanks to Ardenn’s ability, you can mostly ignore their equip costs. A card like Colossus Hammer is an absurdly good rate when you equip it for free.
There are now 10 “protection swords” available to you, and you could run all 10. But some of them just don’t have good enough triggers on them, so I’ve picked the five most useful ones for the deck. Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Sinew and Steel both give you handy removal options when you hit a player, which is something your deck is naturally quite low on. Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Forge and Frontier are great for giving you extra mana and some card advantage.
Sword of Light and Shadow isn’t that strong, but it’s the best of the four swords that give protection from white. I really wanted at least one way to give this, so I opted to run this one too.
You also of course have Umezawa's Jitte, perhaps the best equipment ever made. It’s clearly not quite that powerful in Commander, but you’re short on removal here. The removal mode on Jitte is what makes it the most relevant.
Beyond these, you really want to prioritize equipment with unique effects rather than ones that just pile on stats and keywords. Conqueror's Flail is a powerful card that turns any creature into a Grand Abolisher, stopping your opponents from disrupting your big plays with Ardenn.
Argentum Armor is a personal favorite that has a prohibitively high equip cost. But thanks to Ardenn bypassing that, it just provides an insanely big boost and some generic removal for any annoying permanent.
There are also the Commander staples of Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots to protect your creatures even more. Greaves can be problematic because shroud stops you from equipping anything further to a creature. But as long as you have any other creature out, you can move it around for free to remove the shroud ability at will.
It’s worth noting that double strike is the best keyword to go along with lots of the cards in this deck, so Embercleave is a huge card that is part of a lot of the crazy curves this deck can produce.
One of the biggest pluses in this deck is that thanks to a few different mechanics over the years, there’s a bunch of great cards that are equipment and creatures at the same time.
There’s also normal equipment like Bladehold War-Whip, Glimmer Lens, and Dragonwing Glider. The biggest issue a deck like this can have is finding the right balance between creatures and equipment because you want quite a lot of each. The awesome cards in this category basically let you cheat on that.
You need to support your deck, though you have very few slots available to do so. You just want your cards to have big, splashy effects.
There are some great equipment-centric cards in Sigarda's Aid and Forge Anew. Both double down on Ardenn’s ability to equip cards for free. You really don’t want to ever pay mana to equip a creature, so these enchantments help you accomplish that.
Fighter Class and Open the Armory also help you tutor for good equipment when you need it. Because Open the Armory can also search for auras, you have one cheeky aura in the deck that’s very powerful alongside equipment: Mantle of the Ancients.
My absolute favorite card in this deck supports this deck amazingly well, and that’s Sunforger. This really cool equipment lets you search up any red or white instant card from your deck and cast it for free. Since you have a bunch of ways to search for Sunforger, this means you have a bunch of ways to search for your instants. You can therefore include a variety of powerful instants to tutor up for the specific situations you need them in.
Master Warcraft and Settle the Wreckage allow you to really mess up another player’s combat phase. This package gives you a bunch of interesting ways to interact with the game, and it’s so easy to access them in most games that you play.
Two-color mana bases aren’t too difficult to build. Naturally, you want as many red/white dual lands as you can find. Sacred Foundry, Spectator Seating, Needleverge Pathway, and Clifftop Retreat are really easy includes, as is Plateau if you can afford it (though it’s definitely not necessary). You also get to play a good number of basic lands, in this case four each of Plains and Mountain.
A 2-color mana base also affords you a lot of room for utility lands. Some, like Eiganjo Castle and Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep are basically strict upgrades over basic lands. Some are great because they give you creatures for you to equip with Ardenn, like Needle Spires, Castle Ardenvale, Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, and Urza's Saga.
One thing to note is the lack of fast mana in the deck. Mana rocks are a staple of all Commander decks, but this one has an extremely low curve. Most of your creatures cost just two or three mana. On top of that, Ardenn bypassing all your equip costs significantly reduces the amount of mana you need each turn. You still need to hit land drops, but you don’t really need to accelerate it. Sol Ring and Arcane Signet are too good not to run, but you simply don’t need to run a whole suite of other mana rocks to make this deck work.
The deck’s general strategy is fairly simple. Your Commanders are a 2-drop and a 4-drop, so the ideal start is to play equipment on turns one and three, with Akiri on turn 2 and Ardenn on turn 4. Then, you get to attach any equipment you’ve played to Akiri and get an attack in right away. This doesn’t necessarily come together a lot, so all you’re really trying to assemble is one creature, usually Akiri, with as much equipment as possible in the early turns.
Dropping Ardenn after all that turns whatever creature you played into a massive threat and presses your advantage. It’s a powerful sequence of turns that can often threaten to kill a player in one hit if they don’t have any responses to you. It can make you a target at the table, but when you have a 20/20ish creature with double strike, trample, and protection from a bunch of colors, you deserve to be identified as a threat.
This deck isn’t really focused on any combos. Rather, it’s a very synergy-driven deck. One very popular infinite combo that equipment decks can play is Godo, Bandit Warlord + Helm of the Host. This combo gives you infinite combat phases and wins you the game on the spot; all you need to do is cast Godo, and it immediately searches for the Helm, which Ardenn can equip for free.
Because of this interaction, Godo is in the deck but Helm of the Host is absent. The card isn’t all that powerful in this deck since the majority of your creatures are quite small and weak without any equipment to buff them. You also don’t have very many “enters the battlefield” triggers to double up on. Using Helm in this deck would only be for the sake of the infinite combo, which I’ve decided not to use.
Since there’s no infinite combos or incredibly fast mana, this deck doesn’t really violate anything you’d discuss regarding Commander’s rule zero. While this can be an extremely powerful and explosive deck, it isn’t doing much that could be considered unfair and can definitely be disrupted by the right spells. A nicely timed Vandalblast or Farewell really screw you over in most situations.
However, Ardenn itself is a lowly uncommon and Akiri clocks in at a whopping $2.59, so the deck can definitely be built on a budget. A lot of the best payoffs are pretty cheap and accessible, as are a lot of the best equipment in the deck. Only a dozen or so cards are hard to get, while a lot of the deck’s most important cards are random uncommons or bulk rares that have been printed to death.
Ardenn does two things. Either it moves equipment onto one creature or it moves auras onto a target. While this deck has focused on its ability to bypass equip costs, moving auras around is a completely different way to look at it. Thanks to its partner ability, there are all sorts of combinations available to you. You could swap out Akiri for Vial Smasher the Fierce, and you can take this deck and add in a bunch of the really cool black equipment in the game, like Elbrus, the Binding Blade, Vorpal Sword or Drach'Nyen. You could even change it to Tana, the Bloodsower or Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus to get access to Belt of Giant Strength or The Reality Chip.
A more interesting way to build the deck might look like aura-based deck. Selesnya () or Bant () are great color combinations for an aura-themed deck. You could use Kodama of the East Tree, Kamahl, Heart of Krosa, or Thrasios, Triton Hero as a partner to get access to these color combinations and go really deep on powerful auras as a way to create a big Voltron-esque threat.
Another route is to use Vial Smasher the Fierce again and build a Mardu () curse deck. Ardenn can also move auras onto a new player, which means you can deploy a bunch of powerful curses like Overwhelming Splendor and Cruel Reality and just keep moving them around to whomever you think is most deserving of them at the time. This is a pretty nice home for one of my favorite legends: Ghen, Arcanum Weaver.
Building a deck around a single partner like Ardenn has so many unique and interesting possibilities, plus you can build it in any combination of 1-3 colors that include white thanks to the variety of partners available.
Jor Kadeen, First Goldwarden | Illustration by Jeremy Wilson
This deck has been a joy to play and to be destroyed by. I hope you enjoyed my take on this powerful commander and I’ll see you for the next one.
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