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Against the Odds: Arcades (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 148 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an all-Core Set 2019 Against the Odds poll, and in the end, it was an Elder Dragon—Arcades, the Strategist—that came out on top. Initially, my plan was to play the winning card in Standard, but after trying a bunch of different ideas, I came to the conclusion that there simply aren't enough good walls (or defender payoffs) to make Arcades work in the format. Hopefully, Guilds of Ravnica will bring some sweet new defender stuff to make it a possibility. Anyway, after giving up on Standard, I switched to Modern, and the deck was a ton more fun! Not only can we beat down with a bunch of walls thanks to Arcades, the Strategist's ability, but we can go infinite as well and win the game in one big turn! Can Arcades, the Strategist work in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Arcades (Modern)

The Deck

As I mentioned in the intro, I started off by trying to build Arcades in Standard but quickly realized that it's not very good and, more importantly, not very fun. The problem is Standard is twofold. First, the creatures with defender are pretty bad, lacking any additional upside. Second, there isn't really a secondary defender payoff or a good way to make sure we find Arcades, the Strategist every game, so in most games, we just play a bunch of walls, our opponent kills our Arcades, the Strategist (or we never even draw it), and our deck does quite literally nothing. 

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Meanwhile, moving to Modern fixes a lot of these problems. We've got a ton of ways to tutor up Arcades, the Strategist along with cards like Assault Formation that work like backup version of Arcades; plus, we get sweet creatures with defender that add tuns of mana, draw tons of cards, and even go infinite if we get a bit lucky! The end result is a Modern deck with two plans, both revolving around the namesake Arcades, the Strategist. Our first plan is pretty simple—play creatures with defender, play Arcades, and beat our opponent down with massive walls—while plan two is an infinite combo that finishes the game with a massive Genesis Wave and us drawing our entire deck in one turn!

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Chord of Calling is important to our deck because it helps to make sure that we have our Arcades, the Strategist consistently, basically acting as copies five, six, and seven of our Elder Dragon. One thing our defenders are good at is making a lot of mana, so it's pretty easy to cast Chord of Calling x4 fairly early in the game. Meanwhile, Drift of Phantasms is additional copies of Chord of Calling, since we can transmute it out for three mana, making it copies 8 through 11 of Arcades, the Strategist. Plus, it allows us to play a bunch of sweet one-ofs and combo pieces (assuming they are three mana) and still find them with regularity, but more on this in a minute.


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While we have a ton of different defenders in our deck, the most important are our mana-producing walls. Wall of Roots is a good way to ramp us into our Arcades, the Strategist on Turn 3 while also supporting our other wall synergies. Meanwhile, Overgrown Battlement and Axebane Guardian can add tons of mana once we get a bunch of walls on the battlefield (and are important parts of our infinite-combo backup plan). Plus, all of these cards trigger Arcades' card-draw ability when they enter the battlefield and can even go beatdown with the help of Arcades, the Strategist, with Wall of Roots turning into a two-mana 5/5 and both Overgrown Battlement and Axebane Guardian becoming relatively on-curve attackers.

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Wall of Omens and Carven Caryatid are our card-advantage walls. They are fine on their own, adding big-toughness bodies to the battlefield and not costing us a card, and then they become insane with Arcades, the Strategist, not only drawing us two cards for a low price but turning into reasonable attackers, with Wall of Omens as a two-mana 4/4 and Carven Caryatid as a three-mana 5/5. Together, they keep us cycling through our deck to find our Arcades, our combo pieces, and more creatures with defender.

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Wall of Denial is our best beatdown wall. While it's our worst wall if we don't have Arcades, the Strategist on the battlefield since it doesn't add mana or draw us a card, if we have an Arcades, it's insanely powerful as a three-mana 8/8 flier with the upside of shroud to avoid our opponent's removal. It's also a good flying blocker, which can be important if we run into random Restoration Angels, Flickerwisps, and Lyra Dawnbringers. 

The Beatdown

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When it comes to beating down with defenders, apart from just playing Arcades, the Strategist, playing a bunch of walls, and attacking, we have a couple of support pieces. Assault Formation is basically a backup copy of Arcades, the Strategist that costs a lot of mana but has the upside of pumping our team of defenders. If we don't happen to have an Arcades, we can play Assault Formation, use our mana to allow our defenders to attack, and get in a huge hit with our massive defenders. Meanwhile, Tower Defense is the ultimate pump spell for a defender deck, essentially giving our entire team +5/+0 for just two mana at instant speed! Considering that all of our walls already have a lot of toughness, if we can get in for damage with just a couple, Tower Defense is usually lethal.

The Combo

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If we aren't winning with defender beatdown, our backup plan is an infinite combo built around three-drops, so that we can tutor out our pieces with Drift of Phantasm. Step one is to have Axebane Guardian (or, for a less infinite version, Overgrown Battlement) on the battlefield along with at least one other defender. Then, we tutor up our Freed from the Real to put on Axebane Guardian, which allows us to tap Axebane Guardian for two (or more) mana and then untap it for just one mana, making infinite mana. Then, we tutor up our Genesis Wave and cast it with X being enough to put our entire deck on the battlefield.

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Among the cards that Genesis Wave puts on the battlefield are our single copy of Laboratory Maniac, at least one Arcades, the Strategist, and a bunch of creatures with defender. All of our defenders trigger Arcades, the Strategist to draw us cards, but with an empty library, we win the game immediately thanks to Arcades triggers!

Other Stuff

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Otherwise, we have Path to Exile for removal along with a couple more three-drop tutor targets for Drift of Phantasms. Eternal Witness allows us to get an Arcades, the Strategist back from the graveyard or a Chord of Calling to tutor up another Arcades. Meanwhile, Ensnaring Bridge is great against creature decks. Since most of our defenders have zero power, we can still attack for lethal with the help of Arcades, the Strategist or Assault Formation, but assuming we can get empty handed, our opponent won't be able to attack us thanks to our Ensnaring Bridge. While we are far from a prison deck, having one copy of Ensnaring Bridge to tutor up actually gives us a chance to beat decks like Bogles or Merfolk that we would lose to about 100% of the time otherwise.

The Matchups

Arcades struggles primarily against two types of decks: hardcore control decks with lots of removal and counters and fast combo decks. Against control, even with Chord of Calling and Assault Formation, our opponent can usually just use their removal and counters to keep Arcades, the Strategist off the battlefield, which leaves us playing a bunch of walls that don't do a whole lot. Meanwhile, against combo, we are mostly just a slower combo deck. While we can go infinite on Turn 4 with a perfect draw, we're more likely to win on Turn 5 or 6 if things go well, which usually isn't fast enough to keep up with decks like Storm or Grishoalbrand. On the other hand, Arcades does well against random creature decks because even without Arcades, the Strategist, our deck is great at blocking, and then eventually we'll stick an Arcades, the Strategist and win with one or two big attacks!

The Odds

All in all, we played six matches and won two, giving us a 33.3% match win percentage, while faring slightly better in games, winning six of 15, good for a 40% game win percentage. This makes Arcades a bit below average for an Against the Odds deck. The good news is that the two matches we won were against Tron and Bogles, and since Tron and Bogles are two of my most hated decks in Modern, beating them should count twice. As for Arcades, the Strategist itself, it's extremely powerful when it stays on the battlefield, but even with a million ways to tutor it up, this doesn't happen all that often. In some ways, it reminds me of the Heartless Summoning problem, where our deck is insane when we have our namesake card but pretty bad when we don't. While this lack of consistency is fine for Against the Odds, since we do get some super-sweet wins, it makes it hard to imagine Arcades being a real deck in Modern, since it will lose to itself a bit too often. Still, over the course of our games, we managed to go infinite and get the wall beatdown kill, and both were pretty awesome!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Core Set 2019 is still new, so next week, lets play another sweet new card from the set. Like last week, the idea will be to play the card in Standard, but there are a couple of cards on the list that might be way more fun in Modern, so there's a chance we will switch formats if need be. Anyway, which of these Core Set 2019 cards should we play next week? Let us know by voting below!

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Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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