Wandering Archaic Sucks In cEDH

Drake Sasser • January 17, 2023

Wandering Archaic by Wayne Reynolds

Welcome back, readers! It occurred to me I was a bit unfair starting this series off with a green card instead of a card anyone can play. So let's start over shall we?

Wandering Archaic Sucks

Why I Didn't Think It Would Suck

I was among many who were extremely excited about Archaic when it was first spoiled. In fact, I think I was higher on the card than a lot of the cEDH community, but there were plenty of people giving it a look. We all know that triggered abilities that happen when your opponents take game actions are much more powerful in Commander, where your opponents will take three times as many game actions as you will in the average game. 

So at first glance there is a lot to like with Wandering Archaic given that huge counterspell stacks are more common than not, and powerful instants and sorceries like Ad Nauseam and Demonic Tutor are among the most potent effects in the format and featured in many decks. On paper the card reads quite well, at least, the front side of it. Combined with the fast mana we have available in this format, the best of which is colorless, and it looked like a sure winner. It wasn't. 

Why It Does Suck

As always, play experience beats theorycrafting. Various decks found room for Wandering Archaic. Some were built around cheating Archaic into play with Eldritch Evolution-type effects as a primary gameplan. These decks usually featured Thrasios alongside a Partner that could be sacrificed to the Evolution/Neoform effect, like Vial Smasher or Bruse Tarl, and sought to execute a midrange plan with Wandering Archaic as their top end. 

Others simply included Archaic in the 98/99 as another value engine among many. These decks usually were nongreen and included a more fair approach to the average cEDH pod they play, like Tymna the Weaver/Kraum, Ludevic's Opus "Blue Farm". In practice, in each of these decks I played with and against, a strange phenomenon occurred. Archaic frequently resolved, as creatures in cEDH often do, and would remain in play for a multitude of turns, and even have a profound impact on the way the game plays out. But it would not convert to a win.

It is not common for a card that reads powerful to perform as advertised but not lead to victory. It turned out, though, that Archaic functioned best at protecting your own win attempts by making each piece of interaction cost two generic more or you get to fire it right back at them. That kind of protection effect is powerful, and Silence-type effects are heralded as better than plain counterspell protection when attempting a win, but with Archaic, you're asked to first produce five generic mana to put it in play, then have enough leftover to produce a win either that turn or a subsequent one. Far from simple in cEDH, where mana is at a premium. 

Cards That Don't Suck

Ideally, Wandering Archaic would function in the same way as the blue enchantments, like Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora, and allow you to accrue value over turns as players continue to play their cards. Instead, it functioned more like a prison piece that prevents instant- and sorcery-based wins until a mana threshold is passed or worked to protect the pilot's wins. 

I subscribe to the idea that win rate in testing games is worth less than how a card or strategy impacts the game due to the quantity of variables needed to determine anything from win rate alone. This adage is at odds with what happened in-game with Wandering Archaic, which consistently felt performant but rarely converted. I originally thought that the card was good despite the fact that the Wandering Archaic player was frequently losing, even in situations where it was brought into play in a timely fashion. But with enough reps of the card appearing powerful but never really winning, I was forced to face the truth. 

It was clear that Wandering Archaic was nowhere close to the same power level as its blue enchantment-based value engines, common comparison points when it was first released. Part of the "trick" with those blue enchantments that trigger off of opponents casting spells is that players will frequently cast spells into the Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study effects hoping that the controller will fail to draw interaction for them to win. With Archaic, the consequences on the game of feeding it is face up. 

The known quantity of spells like Ad Nauseam being copied is not worth the risk of casting it while being unable to pay. Instead, the rest of the table waits to pay for Wandering Archaic when trying to combo off and the game slows to a crawl. Powerful perhaps, but in cEDH there are more powerful things to be doing with five mana. 

Even casting a below-rate tutor to find a Mystic Remora is probably more rate for your mana spent than putting Archaic in play. Skilled opponents don't feed it, they wait for the mana to pay for it or they wait for it to be removed. Archaic actually brings games to a conclusion faster for those that can still win with it in play instead of bringing any tangible return on investment for mana. Again, this is in contrast to the Mystic Remora/Rhystic Study effects, where the ability to draw useless cards off of the top allows for more openings where feeding them in an attempt to win is justifiable or other stax effects where there is no option at all.

It's Too Easy To Play Around

Wins that eschew using high counts of instants and sorceries or inexpensive instants and sorceries are the true downfall of Wandering Archaic as it stands now. Part of what allows players to play around Archaic is how easy it is to win with Thassa's Oracle along with a Demonic Consultation/Tainted Pact. Just wait until you can pay two additional mana and you're in the clear.

Even the Underworld Breach-based kills that cast Brain Freeze repeatedly fail to give the Archaic player anything of real value. A single copy of Brain Freeze made off of Archaic is irrelevant, the player attempting a Breach win won't even notice Archaic is in play. If cEDH moves away from these compact and inexpensive wins and more towards high cost instant and sorcery based wins again, Archaic might be worth another look. But for now, giving yourself a trump card in interaction fights is really all the card accomplishes.

When Archaic resolves, each player needs to assemble a win that works through the Archaic or remove it before the controller of Archaic assembles a win. Interacting is very much a dead end while Archaic is in play, and that shifts the texture of the game to become about who can win the fastest, regardless of the interaction available. While that may be powerful on a cheaper card, it's unacceptable for such an expensive one that requires so many resources to get into play. As a result, Wandering Archaic has been cut from all my decks no matter how fair-leaning they are and you should cut it too.

At Least It's Better Than Sylvan Library

For my debut into the world of cEDH writing, I wrote a lot about how Sylvan Library isn't quite up to par in cEDH. I felt strongly about my stance and made an aggressive case against playing the card. Here I shifted gears a bit to discuss another card that I feel is also not up to snuff, but feels like it is closer and worth a bit more nuance in examining why. 

Wandering Archaic is a unique effect that is powerful enough to keep an eye on. If the primary ways to win the game shift away from being easily sidestepped through not paying for Archaic at all or just paying once then it may be worth another look at Archaic in cEDH. 

As it stands, Archaic slows or stops a lot of the rest of the game that is played in most cEDH pods but does relatively little to stop or even interact favorably with the best ways to win the game. That's just not acceptable on a card requiring a five-mana investment up front and on your main phase. For now, though, Wandering Archaic sucks and should stay in your "cEDH extras" box where it belongs. Unless of course there is some combo with Explore the Vastlands I missed in my analysis. Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

Drake Sasser is a member of cEDH group Playing With Power, a commentator for Nerd Rage Gaming, and used to grind Magic tournaments on the SCG Tour.