Challenge the Stats – Arcades, the Sneakiest Strategist

(Arcades, the Strategist | Art by Even Amundsen)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Hello, and welcome to Challenge the Stats, the series based off of the segment on the EDHRECast, where we challenge the rates of 10 cards on a commander’s page on EDHREC. We’ll highlight cards that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleeper picks (according to our data).

These suggestions are meant to accompany EDHREC’s data. However, inclusions made on account of flavor, budget, art, or anything important to you, as the deck brewer, are always valid and are what keep our format unique.

I know we’re all drooling over the Core Set 2021 spoilers, but I’d like to take a look back in time to two years ago when we saw the return of Elder Dragon Legends, of which Arcades, the Strategist was the most popular commander. At first glance, he’s a pretty straightforward, low-variance commander. We play Wall. Wall smash.

However, I think Arcades offers more complexity than just aggro animated Walls. In fact, he has the potential to be nimble, light on his feet, and reactive to our opponents’ strategies to gain an advantage over them. Aggressive and Battlecruiser decks like Arcades tend to amass a large number of bodies on the field, which makes them susceptible to board wipes and being outclassed by other strategies, but Arcades can dodge, parry, and strike in a unique way that lets our team keep pace. Based on the data of the almost 2,500 Arcades decks on EDHREC, I think there’s some challenging of stats that we can do to spice up our Arcades deck to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

I’ll get to the point: we’re in the perfect colors to use blink and bounce effects. This strategy is extremely useful with our Walls because it allows us to dodge removal, block anything without losing our creatures, and reactivate enter-the-battlefield triggers (such as Arcades) for an extremely low cost of the blink effect or replaying a cheap Wall. This strategy is already being employed by many Arcades players, as we can see Eerie Interlude being played in 49% of decks, the more expensive Ghostway being played in 14% of decks, and Ghostly Flicker being played in 7% of decks, the last of which won’t dodge removal but is still essentially an instant-speed Divination with Arcades out.

A quick note: there was a rules change for all creatures with the Wall type to have defender, and there have since been non-Walls made with defender. While we use both of these in our deck, I’ll probably just use “Wall” to refer to both because it’s easy.


Overplayed

1. Geist of the Archives (in 48% of Arcades decks on EDHREC)

Since we’re prioritizing low-cost Walls, we need to pay close attention to our mana costs. Any Walls over two CMC should either have a very high toughness or a very relevant ability. A good rate is 6 toughness for two CMC, or 7 toughness for three CMC. The Geist is a nice example of where I draw the line. Its scry 1 isn’t terrible, but I’d rather have a Wall of Runes for one CMC that I can replay for cheaper to also trigger Arcades and draw a card, or a Wall of Ice that packs a mightier punch. With that in mind, I’d take a skeptical eye to higher CMCs, such as Jungle Barrier (63%), Amaranthine Wall (33%), and Guard Gomazoa (24%). We have lots of options for Walls, so we can afford to be picky.

2. Mentor of the Meek (45%)

Granted, it will trigger from most of our creatures, but the Mentor requires us to pay extra mana to draw a card from playing a creature. While it’s a staple in mono-white or Boros, we’re in green, meaning we have access to Guardian Project, Zendikar Resurgent, and Beast Whisperer, which are all better options than Mentor of the Meek. We’re even in Bant colors, which means we have access to the powerhouse of Chulane, Teller of Tales (7%), which doesn’t feel nearly as broken playing in the 99. Chulane fits perfectly with our dodge and weave strategy with Arcades, letting us bounce a creature and adding more enter-the-battlefield triggers.

3. Huatli, the Sun’s Heart (43%)

This might be a hot take considering how many Arcades decks Huatli is currently played in. I will admit it is a good idea to have redundant effects for our commander, especially when we rely on them heavily to make our deck work as we do with Arcades. However, Huatli is only half of the equation. We need to do two things: 1. animate our Walls so they have the ability to attack, and 2. have them do damage equal to their toughness. We’re a sad camper when we have a card that only lets us do one of those things, like Huatli, Rolling Stones (20%), or Wakestone Gargoyle (16%). We don’t need these cards when we have access to two cards that do everything we need: High Alert (90%) and Assault Formation (83%). On top of that, we’re in the best colors to include cards to protect our commander. We have access to counterspells in blue, indestructibility in white (Unbreakable Formation, 16%) and Heroic Intervention (20%)), and regeneration in green, on top of our bounce and blink effects! With all of this in our arsenal, cards that do half the job aren’t worth a whole slot in our deck.

4. Doorkeeper (37%)

If our playgroup does a lot of tutoring to the top of their library, Doorkeeper might be worth an inclusion. However, milling our opponents to death with Doorkeeper won’t often be a viable win-condition. I’m wondering if this is a combo that people are including in the deck with Freed from the Real (5%), which makes the mill plan slightly more plausible. If we’re looking for an alternate win-condition, let’s think about using commander damage, since our commander has evasion, with large Equipment such as Blackblade Reforged. Another option might be the classic Triumph of the Hordes to Infect our opponents with poisonous Walls (that’s a funny mental picture).


Underplayed

5. Wall of Shards (26%)

This was creeping up in price, but it just got a reprint in Mystery Boosters, so now is a great time to pick it up! Don’t be afraid of the Cumulative Upkeep: we can use it for politics! Also, it works well with our bounce and blink strategy, since we can easily reset the age counters. Wall of Shards is exactly what I want in this deck: a big-butt flying Wall for cheap with very little downside! Wall of Shards is the next best thing since Wall of Denial and should see much more play in Arcades decks.

6. Wall of Kelp (17%)

I hypothesize that many Arcades decks are low-budget and/or are made from whatever folks have in their collection (which is totally fine!). Most Walls are cheap, and cost-prohibitive cards that go really well with Arcades seem to be represented in lower numbers than I’d expect. Wall of Kelp, Shield Sphere (45%), and Meekstone (51%) are natural inclusions when upgrading our Arcades deck. Wall of Kelp has double-blue pips, making it a bit harder to cast, but a Wall and a card every turn while being able to hold up mana for a counterspell (or bluff a counterspell) is a pretty sweet deal.


Sleepers

7. Erratic Portal (0%) and Crystal Shard (1%)

Now we get to the good stuff: these two are possibly my favorite challenges. Players are using them to enable shenanigans in many decks, including Etrata, the Silencer and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. For us, they are extremely flexible since they can be used for offense, defense, or utility. Did an opponent forget to leave a mana untapped? Oops–we bounce their best creature. Is an opponent trying to get through our defenses? Simply block and bounce our creature before damage is dealt to prevent combat damage. We don’t even mind because we want to replay our Walls to draw more cards. Board wipe or targeted removal against us? Save our best creature and have it return next turn to draw us a card. Temur Sabertooth is another similar effect that can only bounce our own creatures but can target more than one per turn. Chulane, Teller of Tales is nearly Crystal Shard stapled to a creature. With all of these effects, our Walls will be doing a vanishing act.

8. Evacuation (1%)

Of course Cyclonic Rift (30%) is amazing, but we’re in a deck that has the ability to replay our cheap Walls quickly, so we can take advantage of more budget-friendly options. Evacuation is a phenomenal instant-speed mass bounce spell that we’re going to be able to recover from much more quickly than our opponents. Arcades decks are the masters at breaking the symmetry of board wipes. Sure, there’s Winds of Abandon (6%), but we can also keep most of our board by playing Austere Command (10%), Solar Tide (12%), Retribution of the Meek (15%), Wave of Reckoning (51%), Fell the Mighty (64%), and Slaughter the Strong (75%). Since we’re playing white, we shouldn’t overlook those powerful effects, but as an instant-speed board wipe, Evacuation shouldn’t be underestimated. In a pinch, it may pull its weight by just letting us draw cards after replaying our Walls.

9. Leyline of Anticipation (2%)

With all of the creatures we’re bouncing back to our hand, playing them again at instant speed takes our game up a notch. We can dodge removal and play our creatures again before our turn to give them pseudo-haste, a tricky feat in our colors. Leyline of Anticipation was reprinted last year in Core Set 2020, making it much more affordable than it was prior to that. Vedalken Orrery would accomplish the same task, but hasn’t seen a reprint in a while, so it’s climbing up in price. The new Tidal Barracuda from Commander 2020 also allows us to cast any spells as if they had flash but has the big downside that our opponents can as well, just not on our turn. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out in games, but it’s definitely not as good as Leyline of Anticipation. Vivien, Champion of the Wilds might be a great option for this effect since we have a high density of creature spells. To that end, Alchemist’s Refuge or Winding Canyons would also be great utility lands.

10. Venser, the Sojourner (4%)

Arcades decks are often looking for a way make their Walls unblockable to end a game. Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive (86%) is a great way to do this and thus is played often with Arcades. Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa (29%) gives our Walls a weird sort of reverse flying evasion. Venser, the Sojourner is a tool in our kit to make our whole team unblockable, and a great option for tribal purists that won’t include non-defender creatures. Venser also fits with our theme of blinking creatures, as he can use his +2 to blink a creature, drawing a card with an Arcades trigger and granting pseudo-vigilance at the same time. Another great option (that does break the tribe) is Keeper of Keys. Monarch can be very hard for our opponents to take from us, giving us a great source of card advantage and a way to get damage through.

Let’s take a look at a decklist!


Secret Sneaky Walls

Commander (1)
Creatures (35)
Enchantments (4)
Sorceries (4)
Instants (11)
Planeswalkers (2)
Artifacts (7)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Bonus segment: Wall Flavor!

Here are a few cards we can enjoy in our Arcades deck for the flavor of them having Walls in their art.

For more Arcades insights, check out Joey Schultz’s Arcades vs. Doran Commander Showdown. Let me know if you have other thoughts about Arcades in the comments below! Were there any other cards that you’d challenge? What commander would you like to see in a future Challenge the Stats?

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He was terrible at Magic as a kid because he built singleton kitchen table decks. He is a nutrition science grad student, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramples and drawnanas. You can see him ramble about non-magic topics at https://medium.com/@jlortie