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Budget Commander: Arcades, the Strategist ($54 & $112)

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After I wrapped up my Budget Najeela article, I announced the next article will be about Gorm the Great and Virtus the Veiled. The partners looked fun to build around and I already had a list of fun cards to include, like Wound Reflection / Archfiend of Despair to 1-shot people with Virtus, or draw all the cards with Gorm equipped with Infiltration Lens. However, when I went to fill out the deck, I found out the quality of Lure tricks and evasive creature payoffs drops off significantly after like 10 cards; building an entire deck around those themes is tough! Yes, I could publish a deck around Gorm and Virtus, but it would be the weakest deck I've ever offered up, or it would be a Generic Golgari Goodstuff deck that runs a handful of thematic cards. Neither of those options appeal to me, so for now I'll shelve Gorm the Great and Virtus the Veiled for now until I come up with a list that I'm proud to show off.

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Instead, this Budget Commander will talk about the easiest deck I've ever assembled: Arcades, the Strategist. This is the first commander option that cares specifically about Defender Tribal: previously, Doran, the Siege Tower was the de facto Defender commander. Doran cares about all creatures with big butts not just Defenders, and the most optimal Doran builds are often Treefolk Tribal, not Defender. Meanwhile, Arcades, the Strategist is very specific: he wants Defenders. With such a specific requirement and access to only three colors, Arcades practically builds himself from a narrow card pool, which means I can knock this out in a day instead of pouring over hundreds of card like I usually do. Let's begin!


Defenders is Casual Fun

Let's get this out of the way first: Defender Tribal is a casual strategy at best. There are very few great cards with Defender, let alone broken ones, and very little Tribal support. If you're looking for a competitive deck, or even a semi-competitive one, you should look elsewhere, 'cause we're driving into Jank Town!

Because Defender cards are so bad, I'll be lowering the bar on what creatures I'd deem "acceptable" for this deck. We're gonna stretch the term "playable" here, folks. However, there's going to be a ton of people out there jamming absolutely terrible Walls under the assumption that Arcades, the Strategist is the Philosopher's Stone turning your horrible Guardians of Akrasa into solid gold. Spoiler alert: they are still bad cards and you'll feel bad when Arcades is promptly killed once / twice / thrice and you're stuck staring at these bad cards. Don't run the terrible ones, please. Instead focus on the ... less terrible ones. Here, these are some Defenders that make me cringe less than others:

The best Defender creatures are ones that support our tribe (Axebane Guardian), interact with the board in a meaningful way (Junktroller), bring some needed utility to the deck (Mnemonic Wall), or are super efficient beaters with extra bells and whistles (Wall of Denial). If we must include filler, they should be as cheap as possible so we can easily dump them on the battlefield when Arcades, the Strategist is out, draw our card, and benefit from Defender Tribal support cards (Steel Wall).

The MTG Finance community is hot on Defender Tribal too for some reason (do you really think there's a high demand here?), targeting some legitimately good options like Shield Sphere:


... and also picking more, uh, dubious cards to invest in, like Homelands allstar Wall of Kelp, which is mediocre at best in this deck. But hey, Reserved List means no repercussions, right? Good job, stock investors! All that kelp will look great in your dusty box!

Obviously I'll be leaving these two out in my lists. Don't worry, we'll manage without them.


Defender Tribal Support

Arcades, the Strategist is our biggest payoff for sticking to Defender Tribal, and it's a great one: all our Defenders cantrip and can attack using their toughness instead of power. That's everything we want and more. There are a few other payoff cards for us, however:

After Arcades, the most important support card has to be Assault Formation, since we absolutely need this effect for the deck to function. All of these cards are great for us though, and they're all (currently) cheap pickups!

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Low Power / High Toughness Matters

No matter what type of Defender deck you're making, the average creature's power is going to be low and its toughness will be high. We have plenty of amazing cards that can abuse that. Here are some of my favorites:

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Blink Subtheme

Arcades, the Strategist lets us draw a card whenever a defender enters the battlefield, so it's tempting to go all-in on that ETB trigger by running Panharmonicon for double the triggers and stuff like Brago, King Eternal and Momentary Blink for maximum value. While this is a great strategy when Arcades is on the battlefield -- I do love drawing cards! -- when our commander is not on the battlefield, these Blink support cards are mostly useless. Here are all the decent defenders that are worth blinking:

Not a lot.

I think it's worth keeping a slot open for Panharmonicon but if you're looking to go deep into the Blink theme, I think you're better off ditching defenders and just go with Roon of the Hidden Realm or Brago, King Eternal. You'll quickly find lots of better blink targets than defenders.


Mana Dork / Combo Subtheme

One standout in the Defender Tribal support pool is Axebane Guardian (and a lesser extent, Overgrown Battlements), since it can tap for a huge amount of mana of any color. This can easily lead to combo potential with things like Freed from the Real for infinite mana. Or you can turn all your defenders into mana dorks with things like Song of Freyalise, Cryptolith Rite, Earthcraft, and maybe combine it with Paradox Engine. With some combination of these cards in play you can mill people out with Doorkeeper or Blue Sun's Zenith, or just keep casting spells and drawing cards with Arcades, the Strategist.

If your Defender Tribal deck needs that extra oomph to cross the finish line, consider these options as a way to take your opponents by surprise.

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Sample Budget List ($54)

Defender Tribal is rather easy to pull off on a budget. Here's a sample list I whipped up that's sitting at $54 USD at the time of submitting this:

Playing the deck: I would hold off on casting most of your defenders until you get Arcades, the Strategist on the field. You can cast one or two as early defense, but drawing a card off them with Arcades is essential. From there you should be establishing your board state, setting up walls and controlling the board with your multiple one-sided wraths. Not only do you have wraths, but your opponents can't really commit to attacking into you thanks to effects like Meekstone -- which pairs marvelously with Blind Obediance, by the way! Eventually you'll start swinging with your defenders, getting evasion from Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive or Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, and maybe pumping your board up to lethal with Tower Defense.

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There really aren't any Defender Tribal cards left outside of my sample budget list except for Shield Sphere, which is great but certainly not worth the current $10 USD price. There's a lot of generally good cards to upgrade into though:

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Here's a more expensive sample decklist. The decks' goal remains the same but I've made small upgrades everywhere, like a better manabase, creatures and tutors: 

That's All, Folks!

Hope you enjoyed this quick n' dirty guide to Arcades, the Strategist. Next up is the big Budget Commander Deck Update, where I update all my old articles with newer cards! As always, you can reach me in the comments section below, tweet me @BudgetCommander, or email me at !

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