Now that Ravnica Allegiance is released, we are very keen to get into all sorts of Arena Boys nonsense with the new cards. We had a lot of viewers suggesting Arcades, the Strategist in conjunction with High Alert as a deck we should investigate further, and of course we were happy to oblige.
High Alert is really what put the defender strategy on the map, finally pulling together a critical mass of the necessary effects to make the deck tick. Attempting to play 1-mana 3/3s and 2-mana 4/4s is all well and good, but without consistent access to an enabler card like Arcades, you’re just playing Draft chaff. By effectively doubling the number of payoff cards in the deck, High Alert is a total game-changer.
There’s a fair bit to unpack with this list, however, so let’s get into individual card choices, talk about the overall game play of the list (as well as specific tips and tricks), and how it can be improved moving forward.
Arcades and High Alert are the engine cards that allow this deck to even be a deck in the first place, so to call them obvious inclusions is not a particularly insightful observation. You absolutely want access to this effect—the deck does nothing without it—and so we’re playing the full eight copies. Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s better to play three Arcades because of the legend rule or something like that. It’s not, and they’re wrong.
Due to the need to find Arcades, Incubation // Incongruity is a fantastic inclusion that offers much greater consistency, and can also find a threat once your Elder Dragon is online. Digging five cards deep is no joke—this card has been super impressive so far. Don’t forget that Incongruity exists, either—it’s particularly effective against evasive threats such as Rekindling Phoenix.
The defender package is effectively just the “best” options at 1 and 2 mana. Resolute Watchdog is surprisingly useful, especially when protecting Arcades, while Wall of Mist is the gold standard when it comes to the stats-to-cost ratio. Apart from that, Portcullis Vine, Saruli Caretaker, and Grappling Sundew aren’t anything special, and their activated abilities barely ever come up.
Apart from the enablers and payoffs, there are two other important cards to discuss. Tetsuko Umezawa is such an important role-player in this deck, allowing you to push damage through any and all blockers with her ability. Even though Wall of Mist has an effective “power” of 5 with Arcades or High Alert, Tetsuko still renders it unblockable and ends games incredibly quickly.
Finally, Tower Defense is completely busted in this deck, usually acting as a juiced-up Overrun effect. Considering a normal Overrun, which only gives +3/+3 and costs 5, it’s not hard to see that giving +5/+5 for 2 mana is disgustingly broken. Don’t play fewer than four copies of this card. It will win you games you have no business winning.
On the surface, this deck is relatively straightforward. Play defenders, land Arcades or High Alert, and get in there with undercosted beaters. There’s a little more at play here, however, especially once you explore some of the more niche abilities of all the cards in question.
Generally, there are two approaches to take. The first, and probably most common, is to dump out as many early creatures as possible, follow it up with Arcades or High Alert, and simply overwhelm an underprepared opponent with a rush of early damage. Tower Defense is your best tool at closing out a game quickly after an aggressive start, as it will run rings around opponents attempting to stabilize.
But in a slower matchup where you don’t anticipate being able to punch through their defenses, sandbag defenders for Arcades’ draw ability, and build up a huge board presence before one-shotting them with Tetsuko. Arcades does enable a more value-oriented game, so you don’t always have to play with your pedal to the metal.
Be sure to remember important specific interactions between specific cards. For example, High Alert causes Tetsuko to hit for three, while Arcades doesn’t. Similarly, without High Alert, Arcades and Tetsuko don’t deal extra damage after a Tower Defense. Don’t make the mistake of miscalculating damage due to having Arcades out as your enabler rather than High Alert!
Defending Arcades is critically important, especially in the face of interactive, removal-heavy decks as they can neuter your entire game plan with a single removal spell. Resolute Watchdog is not only man’s best friend but also Dragon’s best friend here, protecting Arcades in the face of everything from Kaya’s Wrath to Mortify. Don’t be afraid to delay your Arcades until turn 5 so as to leave up mana to activate the Watchdog.
Finally, keep in mind that the defenders you play all have weird, niche abilities that may end up being relevant. Grappling Sundew can, when flooded, provide an important defensive element with indestructibility, and Portcullis Vine can start to cycle through your deck to find key enablers. These things won’t come up often, but when they do, take full advantage.
This deck can certainly bear improvement and benefit from some tighter card choices that better serve the overall game plan of the list.
First and foremost, Suspicious Bookcase can get the chop, as it was only included as a bit of a joke in the first place and probably isn’t any better than Grappling Sundew (especially with Tetsuko in the deck). All of the 2-drop 0/4s are close to identical, but Grappling Sundew’s late game staying power probably pushes it over the edge, purely for the time it buys while searching for High Alert or Arcades.
Tetsuko, while undoubtedly powerful, is more of a finisher and a card you only really want one copy of. A playset might be excessive, therefore, so cutting one copy is probably a good call. You feel like a real chump when you draw your second copy of Tetsuko, and ideally she only needs to be around for one turn to close things out.
These two free slots can be put towards bolstering a weakness of the list—defending key creatures, typically Arcades. Thankfully, there is a truly perfect option available to us: Dive Down. In this list, Dive Down is a Giant Growth that grants hexproof! This is a ridiculously powerful set of abilities on both offense and defense, and so the inclusion of two copies feels like a very good move.
Aside from that, there’s some fluidity to the 1- and 2-drop defenders, with the split between them not set in stone. Wall of Mist is pretty much untouchable, and I wouldn’t cut the Watchdogs either, but it’s possible to play around with the numbers of Saruli Caretaker and Grappling Sundew to find a better configuration.
Specifically, I’m of the opinion that more 1-drops is the right way to go to enable faster aggro starts and to burn through the deck faster post-Arcades, so I’m interested in increasing the overall number of 1-drops in the deck. Here’s an updated list, ready to tackle the Arena queues!