Last updated on January 22, 2023
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
Although once only annoying to play against in 60-card formats, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV has become a classic in Commander (because it’s really annoying to play against). Be warned, potential deck pilots, you could become the table’s target for that.
Having the Grand Arbiter by your side really changes the dynamic of building around a card. It saw some play 20 years ago in Standard and it’s a cool card to build around. It was reprinted in Double Masters 2022, so now’s a good time to give it a spin.
The strategy, sometimes referred to as stax (because of the card Smokestack) or prison (named after Ghostly Prison), can be used with a lot of commanders like Derevi, Empyrial Tactician and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Here’s what it looks like with Grand Arbiter Augustin IV!
Temple of Enlightenment | Illustration by Piotr Dura
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade
Reidane, God of the Worthy
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Archivist of Oghma
Mangara, the Diplomat
Baird, Steward of Argive
Archon of Emeria
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Aura of Silence
Sphere of Safety
Grasp of Fate
Authority of the Consuls
Michiko’s Reign of Truth
Imprisoned in the Moon
Hall of Heliod’s Generosity
Sea of Clouds
Hall of Storm Giants
Cave of the Frost Dragon
Temple of Enlightenment
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV makes all your blue and white spells cost cheaper, or if it’s a gold/hybrid card. All your opponents’ spells also cost more, and that’s a key part of what you’re trying to do. You’re the table’s clown, annoying to a fault, denying opponents their resources while you build up your own.
It’s worth noting that your commander is a human and an advisor. You might think that these tribal themes pop up, but advisor isn’t a well-developed tribal theme. This deck also doesn’t use human synergies and is more of a noncreature-based deck.
The main game plan is to assert “mess with me, and you’re gonna spend more mana. So maybe don’t?” You’re taxing your opponents’ spells, so bounce becomes better than usual because they might not have enough mana to recast the spell (as if Cyclonic Rift could be any better).
These cards all help tax your opponents’ mana so that they have less at their disposal.
Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor taxes your opponents’ removal spells while giving you a loot effect and a creature.
Sphere of Resistance makes all spells cost more, but you’re not in a hurry.
Those cards offer overall protection and slow your opponents down, making their permanents ETB tapped and harder to untap.
Armageddon destroys all lands, bringing the game to a halt.
Frozen Aether makes a lot of your opponents’ permanents enter the battlefield tapped.
Although the deck isn’t a creature build and has very few creatures, they still play important roles related to what the deck is trying to do. The interesting part is how the taxes add up. Suddenly your opponents need to pay four to attack you, or three more to cast a spell.
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade counters free spells and halts “mana shenanigans,” so your opponents won’t benefit from a huge generation of mana coming from mana rocks and the like. They can’t play a six mana value noncreature spell with only three lands and some mana dorks and rocks.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes all noncreature spells cost more, but you have the cost reduction from your commander.
Archivist of Oghma draws you extra cards whenever a player searches their library, which happens a lot.
Hushbringer negates the ETB triggers from your opponents’ creatures only (since you don’t have any).
Spelltithe Enforcer adds to opponents’ spell costs unless they sacrifice a permanent.
Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset allow you to untap your stuff quicker, gain some life, and build towards the ultimate.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria gives you extra cards and untaps your lands to build up loyalty along with a removal spell in the minus ability. If you can ultimate you’ll be able to exile a lot of your opponents’ stuff.
Approach of the Second Sun is a wincon that needs to be cast twice during a game in order to win. Just like that.
Michiko’s Reign of Truth can be a powerful buff on its front side and a big creature once it flips in a deck full of artifacts and enchantments.
If nothing else works, there’s still victory via commander damage, or via milling (just kidding).
Hindering Light protects one of your permanents and draws a card.
Isochron Scepter potentializes a few instants from your deck. For example, imprinting Counterspell or Arcane Denial on the Scepter means that you’ll have a free counterspell per turn, while imprinting Swords to Plowshares means a free removal spell. Giving cards to your opponents with Arcane Denial isn’t even bad because this kind of deck doesn’t care too much about it.
You’re aiming to play a creature midrange deck, so flexible sweepers (abundant in white) are interesting. Blue’s mass bounce effects are also fun.
Supreme Verdict is your typical wrath.
Time Wipe costs only three mana if your commander is in play, and you can recast it from your hand afterwards.
Since you’re restricted to Azorius colors, you’ll have to reach out for dual lands and mana rocks in those colors.
This deck’s strategy is to do nothing. Seriously. You want to play important cards like Ghostly Prison as soon as possible because no one is going to pay two mana to attack you. In the early game, two mana is a ton.
After that you want to lead with your commander and start ramping stuff. If you lead with Winter Orb early you might as well delay the game for a few turns. It’s best to “lock the game” when you already have a powerful permanent in play like a planeswalker or something that’s giving you advantages like Smothering Tithe or Rhystic Study. The dream scenario is to keep a board state where every spell costs two or three more to cast thanks to your permanents. Your untap effects can also lead to mana and tempo advantages.
After you establish a lock you want to lay down Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Azor’s Elocutors, or Luminarch Ascension because they can win you the game or leave you in a very profitable situation. Or just cast Approach of the Second Sun. Or just cast Approach of the Second Sun.
Combos and Interactions
Counterspells that untap lands like Unwind and Rewind are very interesting when your deck has symmetric lock pieces and cost reduction. The untap lands clause nets you mana (for example, Unwind will cost two mana because of your commander, but you’ll untap three lands). Add to this that some of your lands produce extra mana when untapped, like Karoo and Azorius Chancery.
In the same vein, Treachery is a hell of a card because it gives you (steals) another win condition from an opponent’s deck and untaps your lands.
When you play a card like Stasis or Winter Orb, players naturally have less mana than usual. If a creature or enchantment requires you to pay one or two mana more, it’s usually what they have to spare, and your commander does that just by staying on the battlefield. You’ll need less mana for your spells for the same reason.
Isochron Scepter is usually a lock piece because you can imprint a spell that costs two or less and cast it for free every turn. You can also work your engine to untap the Scepter to continue. I’m not including a lock spell here on purpose to avoid those kinds of combo-y interactions (Dramatic Reversal, Silence, Time Walk).
In cEDH, stax and prison decks are considered a part of the metagame and slow down certain combo builds. In casual EDH, many groups can become very salty when you’re playing this kind of deck that limits what people can do. A lot of builds are also especially low at winning the game, lacking fast win conditions.
If you don’t care how much salty people become, then never mind, you’re playing this deck only to upset people. If you want to put a limit on how you want to annoy people then you’ll want to adjust the number of lock pieces and win conditions.
Some cards are expensive because they’re staples of the format, or they’re old and in need of a reprint. These changes are being suggested with price in mind only (I know that Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant and Cyclonic Rift aren’t the same card).
The most expensive cards and replacement suggestions are:
- Treachery -> Cryptic Command
- Rhystic Study -> Fatespinner
- Flooded Strand -> Brokers Hideout
- Cyclonic Rift -> Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant
- Esper Sentinel -> Leonin Arbiter
- Sphere of Resistance -> Drannith Magistrate
- Static Orb -> Kismet
- The Immortal Sun -> The Council of Four
Treachery is ridiculously expensive, and that’s because it hasn’t been reprinted since Urza’s Destiny. Rhystic Study and Esper Sentinel (which are almost the same effect) are expensive too, and you should replace those.
Going in the opposite route to raise the price of the deck, Back to Basics is an interesting card in this deck that’s very expensive. That said, you can wreak some havoc if you play enough Islands, Plains, and mana rocks.
One interesting possibility for Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is to use the cost reduction as a ramp/midrange value commander. Then you can play powerful cards like Cloudblazer, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Drogskol Reaver paying two less for each card. Similarly, Sphinx’s Revelation costs two less, as will a card like Migratory Route.
Another possibility is a mill deck with Persistent Petitioners. This build takes advantage of the fact that your commander is also an advisor, and that each Persistent Petitioners will cost one less. If you have four or more advisors in play then you’ll mill 12 cards (which is 1/10 of a Commander deck). Remember that the singleton rule doesn’t apply to Persistent Petitioners, so you can have 20, even 30 of them in a deck.
Bruvac the Grandiloquent is also an advisor that makes you mill more of your opponents’ cards.
Counterspell | Illustration by Zack Stella
For those that like to play control, prison, or stax, or those who like to watch everybody complain, this is for you. There’s some dirty stuff in this list, and you can win via planeswalker ultimates, manland attacks, or alternate win conditions.
See you around, folks, and have a good time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: