Underdog’s Corner – Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

(Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle | Art by Dimitar Marinski)

Sleeping Beast-y

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of my series, the Underdog’s Corner, where we shine a spotlight on the multitude of under-played, underappreciated, and underrated legendary creatures in EDH. Each installment introduces a legend and covers its playstyle and key cards to showcase its potential.

So who is our lucky underdog today? With War of the Spark releasing in two weeks, it’s a little too early to give the nominal title of an underdog to any of those legends yet; for the most part, that set so far seems to include two categories: Feather, the Redeemed, and everyone else.

With that said, we’re going to go back to Commander 2018. We’ve already covered many legends from the set, but I think there’s at least one more who will actually get even more overlooked after the release of War of the Spark. Everyone give it up for our newest entrant: Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle!

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

Arixmethes was one of the biggest surprises for me from Commander 2018, and it was arguably the character I was most excited to see get a card in the set. I started playing Magic around the time of Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx. The plane of Theros instantly became one of my favorites, not only because it was my first plane, but also because of my childhood love for Greek mythology. Arixmethes was a legendary Kraken who had a city built upon its back. The planeswalker Kiora specifically sought after the Kraken to aid her in her defense of Zendikar as well. I won’t go into more lore, but I loved the concept, and I hoped to one day see it get a card. So let’s check out the Kraken itself!

Before we read any text, lets just appreciate the fact that Arixmethes at first glance is a four-mana 12/12. That puts Arixmethes as one of the largest creatures every printed in Magic. This is also a great Easter Egg as well from a lore standpoint. When Kiora first saw Arixmethes, she described it as almost as large as Kozilek himself. Both versions of Kozilek are also 12/12s. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but I’d like to believe it was.

Let’s talk about the rest of Arixmethes’s text, though:

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle enters the battlefield tapped with five slumber counters on it.

As long as Arixmethes has a slumber counter on it, it’s a land. (It’s not a creature.)

Whenever you cast a spell, you may remove a slumber counter from Arixmethes.

{T}: Add {G}{U}

Normally I would break all of a legend’s text up to discuss each, but since every ability is linked to one another, we should talk about them in totality.

First, let’s talk about some rules that are going to be important for him. Arixmethes enters the battlefield with five slumber counters, and as long as he has a slumber counter, he is a land. The implication of this is that Arixmethes enters the battlefield as a land and will trigger Landfall abilities but not abilities that care about creatures entering the battlefield like Elemental Bond. However, abilities that modify how creatures enter the battlefield will affect Arixmethes. This includes cards like Master Biomancer and Bloodspore Thrinax, which add counters onto Arixmethes to make our giant commander even larger. I think the cutest effect with this duality is Primeval Bounty. When we play Arixmethes, we get a 3/3 Beast and 3 life. I don’t think Primeval gets an immediate inclusion as a result of this, but it’s a fun interaction.

Since Arixmethes will trigger Landfall effects, we should take a look at what options will be most powerful for us. In a way, he allows us to circumvent the normal rules for playing lands, just like a ramp spell. The obvious inclusion is Tatyova, Benthic Druid, as drawing cards is always powerful. After that, we can get more creative. Amulet of Vigor is a hotly debated card from what I’ve seen, but I think with the packages we’re going to include, it’ll buy back its inclusion. Even with just our commander, we can net {G}{U} mana which is enough to cast a myriad of value cards in Simic. I originally included Retreat to Coralhelm because I thought it could untap any permanent, but it cannot untap lands, so we have to wait until he’s a proper creature. Still, I think being able to untap Arixmethes after we inevitably attack with him will be worth it. Don’t forget, he doesn’t lose his mana ability when he’s a creature!

Speaking of his mana ability, casting Arixmethes is a bit like having an Explosive Vegetation or Simic Growth Chamber in the command zone; we ramp into tapped lands. I typically find when I cast Explosive that I grab one of each basic, unless I’m particularly color-screwed, so Arixmethes fills a similar role. While Arixmethes doesn’t bounce a land like the Growth Chamber, it still produces a blue and green mana at the same time. For most use cases, this won’t matter, but it is something to keep in mind when you’re planning out a color-intensive turns.

While having Arixmethes in the command zone lessens the need we might have for ramp spells at the four-mana slot, we’re still going to want to be able to chain quite a few spells together before we wake up the sleeping giant. We need to cast at least five spells before that happens. One important thing to note is that Arixmethes’ ability says we may remove a counter when we cast a spell. If our fifth spell happens in response to an end-of-turn Evacuation, for example, we can choose not to remove a counter so we don’t reset all of our hard work.

Two Sides of an Island

Now that we’ve taken a protracted look at his abilities, what will his deck look like? Looking at EDHREC, around 60% of decks on the site have Arixmethes leading a ‘sea monsters’ deck. While that is definitely a possible route we can take, I want to dig into what will make for smooth seas while piloting the deck.

To do that, I’m going to apply a set of advanced filters onto Arixmethes’ page. I want to exclude decks that are going too deep into the sea monsters theme, but I also want to keep some themes. First, I’m going to search for decks that include Stormsurge Kraken. I think this is a powerful sea monster to play, as controlling Arixmethes as a land turns on Lieutenant. Then, I’m going to exclude Kraken of the Straits which is mostly a large beater. This leaves us with 94 out of 279 decks.

The first thing we’ll notice is that the signature cards don’t really change much, and we’d likely need to apply more filters to clear the chaff, but we can work with this. The most prominent card before and after the filter is Whelming Wave. This is basically a blue version of Plague Wind, as we’ll likely clear the entirety of the board except ours. Even if we just are playing Arixmethes, we’re left with a 12/12 versus likely nothing else.

What else does this search tell us? If we scroll to the Top Cards, we’re going to see a lot of ramping capabilities. We have the typical staples of Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach with larger and splashier effects like Urban Evolution. We also have “pseudo-ramp” with Kiora’s Follower and Coiling Oracle. We can also see a dash of “power-matters” with Prime Speaker Zegana. While this is fairly standard for Simic colors, I think Arixmethes can leverage some of these aspects better than most.

The Sea-nter of Attention

With a commander that’s as looming as Arixmethes, we’re likely going to want to protect him. While he’ll be relatively safe from removal until he wakes up, he also is the only legal commander that innately dies to Wasteland and friends. Having our commander be removed normally isn’t a big deal if it’s a four-drop (especially in Green), but with Arixmethes resetting each time we release the Kraken, we need to make every appearance count.

Despite my warnings against the dangers of land destruction, most of the time, being a land will afford Arixmethes a great deal of protection; he can happily wade around until it’s time to be unleashed. However, having a land as our commander isn’t exciting, so how can we work with that?

Let’s start with Auras. Under normal circumstances I would advise against them, as Arixmethes shifting types will cause them to fall off. However, we have a few that I think should make the cut. Curator’s Ward currently sees play in only 6 Arixmethes decks. I’m both shocked and not surprised by this. You can be sure I’m going to advocate for it though. For three mana, we can give enchanted permanent hexproof. The key words here are “enchant permanent.” This Aura will not fall off of Arixmethes when he wakes up, and we can even attach it to him while he’s a land. It’s not often I want to give a land Hexproof, but this is the time. Not only that, if our commander somehow gets swept up in a board wipe, we’ll draw two cards. For three mana, we’re paying for protection and a delayed Divination. Sounds good to me.

There’s actually one other card that has the words “enchant permanent” that is useful for our game-plan and that’s Elemental Resonance. This card currently only appears in just one Arixmethes deck on EDHREC. By enchanting Arixmethes, we can generate {2}{G}{U} during each of our first main phases. If we tap Arixmethes as well, our “commander” has just generated six mana by itself. That’s an insane rate for most decks. While it will instantly make Arixmethes a magnet for removal, I think his status as a land will buy enough time to get one use out of it.

The Biggest Fish in the Sea

With Arixmethes being a four-mana 12/12, we have one of the highest power-to-cost ratios in the game. Keep in mind that it may take a while to harness those stats, but we can still build our deck to take advantage when we’re able. This means that we should include cards that take advantage of that power in our deck, as well as other high-power creatures. Since we’ve touched on it already, the obvious direction is sea monsters. However, I want to start with a different primal entity for inspiration.

Let’s be honest. No one has ever planned to play Ghalta for twelve. With our deckbuilding concerns, Ghalta can act as a second copy of Arixmethes: an under-costed beater. With that in mind, we can look to Ghalta’s page for some inspiration on cards to include.

To briefly keep with the Dinosaur theme, we have Wayward Swordtooth. A three-mana 5/5 that will eventually be able to attack and block is a great rate for stats. While it can’t fight early, it still provides us with a beefy version of Exploration. Letting us ramp closer to ascension and Arixmethes for three mana seems like a great deal.

Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma is a card that I’ve continually been impressed by. Reducing the costs of creatures with power 4 or greater is a massive boon. Not only that, but Goreclaw can also pump our team and throw out trample to everyone. Arixmethes doesn’t have any innate form of evasion, so chump blockers are a problem for him. However, plans change dramatically when your opponents can no longer just throw that 1/1 Solider in front of a trampling 13/13.

For more power out of nowhere, we have Berserk. While sacrificing our commander is certainly a big cost, the chance to one-shot an opponent is worth it. It only takes one game where this spell blows someone out before your opponents realize they always have to play around this type of effect. Always be wary of “double strike” effects, people! Even if we’re not throwing this on Arixmethes, doubling any large creature’s power will put a big dent in peoples’ life totals. We don’t just have to target our own creature, either! This can also function as a removal spell in a pinch.

Speaking of removal, let’s talk about “Fight Bear.” I’ve always had love for Ulvenwald Tracker, AKA “Fight Bear” ever since my best friend Josh introduced me to Magic, whereupon his love for the card infected me as well. While pet cards are usually irrational and not always useful, this particular card can actually do a lot of work for this deck. With sea monsters, Elder Dinosaurs, and other enormous creatures at our disposal, this is a repeatable source of removal for very little mana.

Lastly, we have some cards that care about power. I’ve seen these in action in our very own Scot Sutton‘s Ghalta, Primal Hunger deck, and I can confirm that they are insane. It’s one thing to know you’re staring down a 12/12 trampler, but its another to be able to consistently deal with it. Even when not attacking, green can take massive advantage of having that type of creature around.

How does drawing twelve cards sound? Greater Good and Rishkar’s Expertise are insane sources of card draw. The former currently appears in 9,300 decks (which feels very low for the effect), and the latter appears in 14,000 decks. We know these are tried and true cards for these archetypes, so I won’t expound on them too much. Try them out if you haven’t. There’s something visceral about being able to say, “…and I draw twelve cards.”

Traverse the Outlands is a card that I don’t see much talk about. Do people not know about it? Or is its power level just an unspoken agreement? Traverse currently only appears in 3,000 decks, which you guessed it, seems low to me. I’m sure the monetary cost is biggest factor, as I’ve eschewed purchasing staple cards for more affordable cards in the past. With that said, the effect is certainly worth it. Remember talking about Scot’s Ghalta deck? It’s a really bad day when you watch that player cast Traverse and fetch twelve Forests from their deck. As long as we’re grabbing at least three lands, we’re making good on the rate and a high power focus makes that trivial.

Go To Sleep

We couldn’t go this whole article without mentioning some combo potential. It’s important as a player and an opponent to be aware of the end-game threat of any commander that you’re faced with. There are always key cards to fear and be wary. Pemmin’s Aura and Freed from the Real are two of those cards. If we enchant Arixmethes with either, we have access to infinite green mana. Simple enough, right?

While Freed from the Real can’t end the game right then and there, Pemmin’s Aura can (at least for one opponent.) With this Aura, we can give Arixmethes everything he needs to close a game out: evasion, protection, and buffs. For a single blue mana, we can give our legend Shroud or flying until end of turn. Using the infinite green mana from the Aura’s untap combo, we can pump Arixmethes to a 21/3 to swing for lethal commander damage. While this won’t end a game if you happen to blink, it will still end the game in short order without an answer.

A Personal Vacation

That is going to be it for my review of Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle! I hope you have enjoyed the sunny shores and terrifying depths that our deep-sea beast brings to the table. Below is a prototype decklist that incorporates the themes that we discussed in this article. The deck is an absolute blast to watch go off. It also offers a differing playstyle than most value-based Simic generals, so I highly recommend giving him a chance!

”Great Tracts of Island”

Commander (1)
Creature (26)
Artifact (2)
Instant (10)
Enchantment (7)
Sorcery (13)
Planeswalker (4)
Land (37)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Thanks for joining me in this round of the Underdog’s Corner!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64