Playgroup Brews – Back to Our Roots (Part 1)

There Can Only Be One

Hey readers! I’m taking a step away from the Scrambleverse series for a moment to focus on something that really piqued my interest with M19. As many of you may know, we just finished up the review for M19, and I was the author chosen to write about the gold cards. I was so excited about the original Elder Dragons getting new cards, I knew I not only had to write that set review, but I also to focus on them as commanders separately. As many of you know, the original name for the Commander format is “Elder Dragon Highlander.” The “Highlander” portion references the namesake movie and the quote, “There can only be one,” meaning one of each card within the deck. The “Elder Dragon” portion of the title references the Elder Dragons, who were the original Commanders of this format. Those dragons are Arcades Sabboth, Chromium, Palladia-Mors, Vaevictis Asmadi, and lastly, Nicol Bolas.

This article is going to be a little different from most other ‘deck tech’ articles, in that we aren’t going to talk in depth about a single commander or deck. Instead, we are going to glaze over some of the potential that all five of these new Elder Dragons have as commanders. I wanted to honor the title ‘Elder Dragon Highlander’ by having my playgroup devise a deck for each of these newly printed Elder Dragons. Now that I live in Connecticut, I play Commander every Friday night at Battlegrounds Gaming, a small LGS in Norwalk CT. I recommend it to anyone looking for a store, and everyone there is super friendly and play hilarious commander decks. From that shop, I had four friends who volunteered to help brew these decks along with me! We are going to talk about our initial reactions and brew ideas for each of the Dragons, how the chosen player ultimately decided to build the deck, and conclude with a very short deck tech. We’re only going to cover two Dragons in this article, and the other three in Part Two in a couple weeks! Without further ado, here’s our team!

The Battlegrounds Brewers

Jeff: Hey, everyone! I’m Jeff, and I try to make every deck I play fun for both me and for the rest of the table. I enjoy doing silly things and using unconventional strategies, and winning or losing a game isn’t as important to me as everyone having fun. I’ve always had a soft spot for obscure or underdeveloped tribes, and when I saw the new Arcades, the Strategist, I knew he’d be right up my alley, so I decided to try my hand at building and writing about him.

Nick: Hi, I’m Nick, and I’m a jankaholic. If there’s a bad card that can be made good only if you play it with six other cards, you bet I’m going to build that deck. Casual commander was how I was introduced to Magic: the Gathering, and everything I build is based on that first experience at the kitchen table. My decks do everything the hard way, but being able to Star of Extinction a Hornet’s Nest with Eldrazi Monument and Samut, Voice of Dissent in play makes it all worth it. I’m brewing Chromium, the Mutable.

Travis: I’m Travis, and I have been passionately losing games of Magic since Starter: 1999. I play a variety of formats outside of EDH, including Pauper, Modern, Canadian Highlander, and Limited. However, I find EDH to be the highest element of self-expression in MTG, and so that’s why my personal deck library now contains over a dozen EDH decks. Naya is my favorite shard, so I will be writing about Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner

Mike: I’m Mike and I started playing Magic in the mid 90’s when I was barely old enough to understand the rules. I remember being unimpressed when the first Commander set rolled around, and it wasn’t until Commander 2013 that I became interested. I started with competitive decks, but soon found that anyone can build a powerful Commander deck; it takes a lot more work to build a fun Commander deck. I chose to build Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire.

Christian: If you’re reading this article you know me as the author of the Scrambleverse. I build decks that no one would expect with very well known, goofy commanders. My ultimate goal as an edh player and evolutionary biologist is to have a tribal deck representing every major evolutionary group of life. My main colors are Grixis, so I chose to write about Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.


First Impressions: Arcades, the Strategist

Jeff: What’s this? A new, interesting commander in a great color identity that allows a tribe that previously wasn’t very synergistic to suddenly do some pretty silly things, all while maintaining a decent amount of card advantage? I’ll take 20!

Nick: Play walls. Smash people with walls. Cast Meekstone and laugh. Seems like a Doran, the Siege Tower player really wanted access to countermagic. I just hope people play the Glyphs. Oh, and if someone ever hits me with a Wall of Denial on turn 4, just know I will start keeping a Dwarven Demolition Team in my trade binder just so I can fetch it with my Mastermind’s Acquisition.

Travis: A guy walks into a barbershop and says, “I’m looking for a Bant commander that doesn’t cause me to lose friends like a game of Monopoly.” “Say no more, fam,” the barber says. And thus, this card was born.

Mike: The real story here is that it’s a 3/5 creature with flying and vigilance for four mana. It also has some defender stuff other people are impressed with. Any card that makes Tower Defense a lethal combat trick is good in my book.

Christian: As a Doran, the Siege Tower player, I feel personally attacked. I think Arcades adds a lot of good things to the defender theme, but loses out on a lot black has to offer. I also don’t see him having any flexibility outside of a defender-themed deck, so I don’t expect to see much diversity among decklists.


Jeff’s Arcades Deck Tech

The list I decided to build for Arcades, the Strategist is pretty straightforward, but it does what I was hoping to accomplish with this deck. The goal is to play Arcades, play Walls and other defenders, draw cards, and swing for big damage. Arcades lets your Walls attack despite having defender and hit with their toughness as well. Unfortunately, you can’t count on your commander being in play all the time, so having backup plans is a good idea. Things like Assault Formation, Wakestone Gargoyle, and Rolling Stones let you attack when Arcades isn’t in play, and the vigilance from things like Oathsworn Giant, Brave the Sands, and Hold the Gates lets those attackers protect you after swinging. (Gatecreeper Vine also aids in both ramping and turning on the Hold the Gate’s toughness boost while staying on theme.) Fortified Area lets us spread out the damage our defending Walls receive, plus we get to play with banding, which is always a fun time for everyone (other than the person who everyone always asks how banding works).

But of course, we gotta talk about the Walls. That’s what this deck is all about. Wall of Denial, Wall of Shards, Wall of Junk, and Shield Sphere are just a few of our many walls. Axebane Guardian and Overgrown Battlement can ramp when we have a lot of walls out, and Geist of the Archives gives us a scry every turn, which is always nice. A very important part of Arcades’ ability is that he draws us cards when a defender enters the battlefield, not just when we cast it. There are some pretty decent Flickering effects in Bant, like Brago, King Eternal and Eerie Interlude, which let us blink our Walls to draw more cards. On the subject of board wipes, due to our Walls having little to no power, things like Fell the Mighty, Slaughter the Strong, and Wave of Reckoning work very well in cleaning up everyone else’s board while leaving ours practically untouched. Lastly, effects such as Meekstone and Meishin, the Mind Cage work very well with the low power of our creatures, giving us some extra protection by making our opponents’ army a lot less scary. Best of all,Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive and Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa turn off our opponents’ ability to block pretty much every creature we have.

While there are definitely ways to build Arcades with combo in mind (Axebane Guardian and Freed from the Real is an infinite mana combo I’ve seen people use), I decided that I would enjoy this deck the most as just a “play silly creatures and turn them sideways” deck. I encourage everyone out there who enjoys silly synergies to keep Arcades in mind, as he seems like a blast to pilot no matter the deck! And now, here is the deck in the article, and click here to see it on TappedOut!

Arcades and His Walls

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Instants (7)
Planeswalkers (1)
Enchantments (9)
Artifacts (8)
Sorceries (6)
Lands (36)


First Impressions: Chromium, the Mutable

Jeff: This is a bizarre commander, and I’m excited to see how people build him. Chromium’s in great colors for a lot of different strategies, and an unblockable commander is a serious threat. Also, never underestimate the power of a discard outlet in the Command Zone.

Nick: See, this sort of card design is exactly the kind of thing I love about EDH. It’s unique enough to be built around, but generic enough to work with everything. Instant speed, can’t be countered, hexproof, plus a huge evasive body… this is a wonderful casual Commander card. Esper is a great color combination for anything from Voltron to reanimator, or even madness strategis, with access to the best control spells EDH has to offer. Outside of Nicol Bolas, I think Chromium has the most flexible deckbuilding possibilities of all the new Elder Dragons.

Travis: For decades, Wizards has designed some really peculiar but interesting cards that make players scratch their heads. That’s exactly the point with a card like this. Out there, somewhere, is a player that is saying, “I have been waiting years for this kind of commander.” That is what Chromium is all about.

Mike: He’s flavorful but boring. It gets some props for being a decent three color commander that you don’t need to build around; Commander needs more of those.

Christian: Chromium is WEIRD. I have no idea what to do with him. He has some evasion by turning into an Invisible Stalker, but other than that I’m not sure where to go. Maybe Voltron? I like it, but it confuses me at the same time. I expect to see weird brews of him.


Nick’s Chromium Deck Tech

The most unique part of playing EDH compared to other formats has to be the idea of Commander Damage. All the Uril, the Miststalker and Rafiq of the Many players out there may have ruined it for a lot of people, but you have to admit that there’s a dark humor to awkwardly beating someone down with a Gonti, Lord of Luxury over 11 turns.

Commander Damage is based on the original 7/7 Elder Dragons, which meant three hits from a commander would be lethal. So how about we build a deck designed to take advantage of a mechanic unique to EDH with one of its namesake creatures? The lore of Chromium, the Mutable is pretty cool – he protects humans from his ravenous sister (Palladia-Mors) and periodically turns into a human himself to check on them – hence his ability. Naturally, since he loves his “fellow” humans, I thought that the best Voltron card we could use would be…. Coat of Arms!

Now, tribal decks in Commander don’t really work with Coat of Arms unless you’re able to generate a small army of tokens, and almost nothing in Esper makes human tokens. That is, unless everything is a Human. Maybe the humans Chromium is checking in on aren’t humans at all, but just pretending to be humans, too! It’s a… Conspiracy!

My take on this deck uses a number of cards that can make various tokens in huge numbers, such as Monastery Mentor, Army of the Damned, Secure the Wastes, and more. These flood the board, where we can then use tribal payoffs like Kindred Discovery, Distant Melody and Metallic Mimic to make our army work for us all on its own. Conspiracy, Arcane Adaptation, and Mirror Entity can then make all of our creatures Humans for Coat of Arms abuse. The most fun this deck can have is with Mirrorweave and Standardize, which is how we can make EVERYTHING a human. Coat of Arms buffs every creature in play that shares a type, including our opponents’ creatures, so if we make one opponent’s Zombie army into Humans (or turn Chromium into a Zombie), an unblocked Chromium can get to lethal damage really quickly, even despite a clogged board state.

Oh, do you know what else cares about your opponents’ creature types? Peer Pressure. If combined with an effect like Standardize, this silly, scary card is a permanent Insurrection as long as you control the most creatures. You can even steal all artifacts too if you have March of the Machines in play. It takes some jank, but when it gets there, oh boy does it get there.

Add a few madness cards to capitalize on Chromium’s ability, discard value like Archfiend of Ifnir and cycling lands, a few powerful control cards like Disallow and Anguished Unmaking to keep opponents honest, and some backup Voltron cards (honorable mention for Polymorphous Rush as a fantastic way to turn an unblocked Chromium into a copy of the biggest thing on the board). Altogether you’ve got a wacky, interactive Voltron deck like no other. Here’s the in-article decklist, and click here to see it on TappedOut. Enjoy the jank!


The End Step

These are just the first two of the five Elder Dragons released in Core Set 2019! Both of these guys look really interesting and are going to be an awesome addition to our Commander roster! We have the other three decks already built for Part Two of this article, and are really excited to talk about the others! In the meantime, enjoy brewing these two Dragons!

Do you think these were well evaluated? Any cards you think should’ve been mentioned or added to the decks that weren’t already there? How would you build Arcades or Chromium differently? While we’re working on the article for Vaevictis, Palladia-Mors, and Nicol Bolas, do you have any suggestions on ways to build them? Do you like this article series and want to see more things like it? Comment below!

While getting a degree in evolutionary biology, Christian spent all of his free time in college building commander decks after being introduced to the MTG in the Theros block. After spending the last several years building and playing biologically-themed tribal decks and surprising people with wonky builds of well-known commanders, he decided to share his thought and design process with the community, incorporating ideas from his many playgroups into articles, while also working in museums and scuba diving when he can.