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 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.when it was first spoiled.
So at first glance there is a lot to like with given that huge counterspell stacks are more common than not, and powerful instants and sorceries like and 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 . Some were built around cheating Archaic into play with -type effects as a primary gameplan. These decks usually featured alongside a Partner that could be sacrificed to the / effect, like or , and sought to execute a midrange plan with as their top end.
Others simply included 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 / "Blue Farm". In practice, in each of these decks I played with and against, a strange phenomenon occurred. 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 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 -type effects are heralded as better than plain counterspell protection when attempting a win, but with , 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, would function in the same way as the blue enchantments, like and , 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 , which consistently felt performant but rarely converted. I originally thought that the card was good despite the fact that the 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 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 and effects hoping that the controller will fail to draw interaction for them to win. With , the consequences on the game of feeding it is face up.
The known quantity of spells like 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 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 is probably more rate for your mana spent than putting 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. 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 / 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 as it stands now. Part of what allows players to play around Archaic is how easy it is to win with along with a / . Just wait until you can pay two additional mana and you're in the clear.
Even the -based kills that cast repeatedly fail to give the player anything of real value. A single copy of made off of is irrelevant, the player attempting a win won't even notice is in play. If cEDH moves away from these compact and inexpensive wins and more towards high cost instant and sorcery based wins again, might be worth another look. But for now, giving yourself a trump card in interaction fights is really all the card accomplishes.
When resolves, each player needs to assemble a win that works through the or remove it before the controller of assembles a win. Interacting is very much a dead end while 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, 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.
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, 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, sucks and should stay in your "cEDH extras" box where it belongs. Unless of course there is some combo with I missed in my analysis. Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!