Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
November 2, 2017
Commander [EDH]: 3.88
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale.
1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
The Grand Arbiter here is from what has turned into a long lineage of taxing cards in white – as he’s stronger in combat than Glowrider and gives a discount on your own cards, which actually puts the opponent at a two-mana disadvantage, he deserves not to be overlooked. He is sometimes off people’s radar, as he’s not currently that well positioned in competitive Modern and has likely caused the breakup of various Commander groups, but the effect is extremely strong in the abstract. Even Council of the Absolute from Dragon’s Maze, which is strongly based on him with a less universal effect, was a dominating card in its day, and I wonder if there’s ever any call to use them together – it seems like complete overkill.
Instead of not doing anything, you can win the game by doing Nothing. And this is what Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, lovingly nicknamed “The Pope”, offers: Nothing. To your opponents, at least.
Tax effects historically have been pretty powerful with the right set-up: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Sphere of Resistance, and Thorn of Amethyst are all famous iterations on this effect with a good amount of power. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is a one-sided version of this: your opponents have to pay more, but you get to pay less. And the wording on The Pope makes him especially egregious in Azorius-colored decks, since it makes spells that are both blue and white cost 2 less. Narset Transcendent, Venser, the Sojourner, Ojutai’s Command, Dragonlord Ojutai, Swift Silence, Sphinx’s Revelation…those are some of the cards that benefit from it, and it lets blue better fulfill its goal of doing Nothing.
The downside of The Pope is that he’s a fragile body with no protection; 2/3 means he dies to Lightning Bolt like all other creatures that aren’t The Pope (but he’ll make that Lightning Bolt a Lightning Strike on his way out). He’s a powerful enabler, but his fragility is an issue, and he’s very much a card that snowballs an advantage instead of turning around a poor situation. He’s fringe playable in Modern (for his expense, he is powerful), but be prepared to protect him, lest you regret playing him.
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