An Introduction to Grand Arbiter Augustin IV in cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • March 15, 2024

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai

Have you ever wanted to play a control deck in cEDH? How about the most control deck in cEDH. Not quite a stax deck, but as close as one gets before it crosses the threshold, a deck full of value engines, more counterspells than you can count (on one hand, at least), and a board wipe other than Cyclonic Rift. This is Grand Arbiter Augustin IV cEDH, a quasi-commander dependent list built around making more copies of your commander than any sane opponent would ever hope to see, followed up by a deluge of value engines firing off more triggered abilities per turn than the storm player can count.

Warning - clones incoming.

Who is This Deck For?

This deck is for people who believe that fun is a zero-sum game and want to have all of it. While GAAIV can pivot, by and large the majority of games played with this deck are going to be slogs. If you're doing things right, you'll have Grand Arbiter out early and your opponents will be under a severe mana lock and unable to participate. As such, this deck lends itself to those who love control and love counterspells.

It's also great for players aren't afraid to jump in to table-talk politics discussion in order to help explain common situations, like how your Drannith Magistrate is actually saving the table more than anything else. Additionally, while GAAIV means that you'll often be proactive in slowing your opponents, the overall structure of the deck is such that a bulk of the cards in your hand will be interaction, so players who like plotting and planning will love this deck.

Why Play Grand Arbiter Augustin IV?

My version of cEDH Grand Arbiter Augustin IV - a.k.a. The Grandest Arbiter - takes a look at cards like Rule of Law and attempts to answer the question "what if we could build a one-sided version of this?" Well, in a format where mana efficiency is often more important than card advantage, the easiest way to start on this project comes through none other than the deck's titular card, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.

A one-sided Sphere of Resistance with both Sapphire and Pearl Medallions attached, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is as close to a one-sided Rule of Law as you can possibly get. The best part, though, is that his effect stacks if you clone him. This is the defining feature: you really can have a one-sided Rule of Law. I've seen it; it's called "two Grand Arbiter Augustin IVs in play at the same time". 

GAAIV cEDH really only has a handful of proper stax effects in it: the titular GAAIV, Dauntless Dismantler, Aven Mindcensor, Drannith Magistrate, and Narset, Parter of Veils. Beyond these set-in-stone cards, however, we also add on two clones which look at the "legend rule" and essentially ignore it: Spark Double and Sakashima the Impostor. So, what legends are we cloning? 99 times out of 100, it'll be good-ol' GAAIV. One Grand Arbiter Augustin IV hurts. Two is back-breaking. By the time you have three, you'll be the only one casting spells.

Jeweled Lotus does not cast these versions of GAAIV.

I mentioned earlier that GAAIV isn't a true stax deck, yet I just listed seven stax effects, one of which is in the command zone, so what gives? The short answer comes down to proper interaction blended with value engines. Yes, GAAIV loves a slow, grindy game, but the deck should be understood as a layered control deck instead of a stax deck. A strong interaction suite, the potential for early combos, and a bevy of permanent-based value engines means that GAAIV can pivot to match any game you throw him in. 

How to Play Grand Arbiter Augustin IV in cEDH

Early Turns and Mulligans

Between turns one and two, your goal should (almost) always be to cast Grand Arbiter Augustin IV as soon as possible. Now, this priority shifts substantially depending on where you are in the pod; for example, if you are in Seat One, chase early GAAIV in your mulligans with everything you've got. Turn One, Seat One GAAIV is basically a Time Walk when it resolves, so going down to fewer cards is less dangerous then it otherwise would be.

However, if you're in Seat Four, you can afford to be a bit more conservative with your mulligans; your opponents will each be taking one full turn before you even get the chance to cast GAAIV, so focusing more on resource retention and accrual is a powerful alternative. Jeweled Lotus is still among the best cards you can see in Seat Four, but the power level is very different.

Arguably the best card in the deck.

Aside from chasing GAAIV, it should go without saying that the next two best cards to see in your opening hand are Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora. Both do a decent job at slowing the game down, and if they aren't slowing things down then you'll be drawing cards. Win-Win. These also feel a similar swing as GAAIV does in terms of pod positioning, but are much more useful/reliable cards regardless of turn order. If you can't find GAAIV early, find these.

Also good cards.

A third option - albeit the more risky of the three - is to keep up a hand full of interaction and crawl out from underneath the faster decks your opponents will be playing. GAAIV is an obvious threat, but the deck isn't: in the cEDH zeitgeist, most folks consider the deck outdated and outclassed. If you haven't found an early-turn value engine or GAAIV, then all hope isn't lost, because chances are people won't be too worried about you. Play that to your advantage : a mana rock here, a well-timed counterspell there, and then blitz out when you get the chance.

These third-class hands usually have a lot of mana/counterspells, but not quite the right combination of colored accelerant to play GAAIV turn one or two. Instead, we're talking big colorless rocks: Mana Vault, Grim Monolith, etc. These are the hands that play Nezahal, Primal Tide when nobody is watching.

Turbo Nezahal, a.k.a Lliam's biggest, most honorable fish.

The Midgame

You'll know you're in the midgame once players have started casting fewer, if any, spells but you haven't quite figured out how to close the game. Usually, this is turns 3-5. So, what are we doing amidst all this nothingness? Two things: consolidating power and setting up our win.

For consolidation, this takes one of two routes: if you played GAAIV on turns one or two, then the midgame is all about layering value engine after value engine. Rhystic Study, The One Ring, Trouble in Pairs, etc. These are things that make it less appetizing for our opponents to try and trudge their way through the trenches as well as more rewarding for us when they attempt to.

It may seem strange to argue for playing engines which are dependent on our opponents casting spells after we've already secured our commander which makes it hard for them to even chose to do so in the first place, but it's important to understand that cards like Mystic Remora perform an increasingly valuable psychological role in the deck as well. Not only is it hard for our opponents to cast spells, but now we've made the tax decision for them: for every mana rock they play, it'll cost them almost a whole turn and we'll be drawing cards in the process. 

Four mana well spent.

Our second route through the midgame is playing GAAIV (and his cloned friends) after the value engines. This makes GAAIV seem less threatening, as odds are that your opponents will have more lands in play and thus will be less immediately horrified by the one-mana tax, but - just as I mentioned before with the value engines - GAAIV's role here is to turn "mays" into "can'ts." A Rhystic Study which was previously drawing cards with every other spell will start to draw one with every spell, and so on and so forth.

Amidst all the counterspells, value engines, and myriad Grand Arbiter Augustin IVs in play, your other job during the midgame is going to be slowly assembling an "I win" turn. We're in Azorius, so our tutor economy is... not good, but at least we have Thought Lash and Thassa's Oracle! Use your tutors well, and, while your win may be telegraphed by a turn, it won't be stoppable.

How Do You Win With Grand Arbiter Augustin IV?

Last but not least, actually winning the game. This is GAAIV's biggest trouble: we'll have plenty of games where we have securely locked down our opponents, but in tournaments that doesn't mean we've won. We've still got a clock to beat, and with that in mind we need to chase our win conditions as fast as possible. 

Draws are an issue.

I hinted at it before, but our safest (and most frequently used) win condition comes via Thought Lash and Thassa's Oracle. Simply put, cast Thought Lash, cast Thassa's Oracle, respond to the trigger by exiling your deck, and bing-bang-boom, the game is set. The problem with this is that Thought Lash is a hard card to tutor for; all we have are Enlightened and Idyllic Tutor, so we often need to jump through hoops in order to find the tutor for our tutor for our win-con.

A much quicker combo piece, and one that is much easier to find, is Paradigm Shift, which does a handy job of emptying most of our library, but can become almost unusable if the game goes too long and our graveyard gets too full. It's also riskier, since, as a sorcery, you'll need to cast Thassa's Oracle after you've resolved Paradigm Shift. If you can read the room right, then by all means go for it. Otherwise, I encourage sticking with Thought Lash.

Finally, we also come to the resilient, albeit convoluted, win-con that is Hullbreaker Horror. This guy makes infinite mana with a ham sandwich (i.e., any two-mana-positive rocks), and, while we can't feed it in to our commander a la Thrasios, Triton Hero, we can use this flickering effect from casting spells to draw our deck via any of our planeswalkers or from a handy-dandy The One Ring, or Shorikai, Genesis Engine, or any of our tutors for The One Ring. From here, it's back to Thassa's Oracle again.

Hullbreaker Horror and its "ham sandwich."

What to Look Out For

Next up, let's look at two important cards to watch out for. The first is The Reality Chip. Since you can look at the top card of your deck at any time, Thought Lash becomes a repeatable topdeck version of Tainted Pact if you have The Reality Chip in play. Just exile away until you see what you need, and voila, your combo piece is now a tutor for the other combo piece. Outside of Thought Lash interactions, The Reality Chip is also just a very solid value engine which is among our more tutorable cards, so grabbing one early can often be the right call, especially in slower games where you need to crawl out from behind.

The second of these two important cards is Intuition. Make no mistake: Intuition is a very good card, especially with Sevinne's Reclamation, but it does not contain an "I win" line in our deck. Instead, treat it like a very capable tutor: grab both Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora in the early turns, or grab a Thought Lash in the late game. 

As for things to be afraid of, our biggest problem comes from the fact that the deck is primarily permanent-dependent. When we're winning the game (and sometimes even when we aren't), everyone notices it. This means that GAAIV is always marked as the threat by the table, even when you really aren't. Be careful about how you talk about your boardstate, highlight opposing threats, and navigate your way through what can, at times, be a deck which tends to overstate its position. This deck can police the table, and most games you will, but sometimes it will look like you're that far ahead when really you aren't. Communicating this properly is our biggest burden.

Wrap Up

For as long as I've been playing cEDH, I've been playing GAAIV. The deck has gone through myriad changes, but this is where I've settled with it in the long run: a flexible control deck that plays more Grand Arbiter Augustin IVs than you'd think singleton would permit. I'd also like to give a shoutout to the ShiftLash GAAIV version of the deck: this decklist (and primer) has existed since long before I picked up my own version of GAAIV deck, so if you'd like to take a look at another version of Grand Arbiter Augustin IV then I highly encourage you to start your search here. Best of luck hunting for Jeweled Lotus, and here's to a future full of countering spells.

Harvey's Grand Arbiter Augustin IV cEDH Deck

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Commander (1)
Lands (27)
Instants (21)
Artifacts (14)
Creatures (19)
Enchantments (7)
Sorceries (8)
Planeswalkers (3)

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Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.