Some cards deserve more love that you’re currently giving. Maybe they came out before you started playing, and haven’t made it to the top of EDHREC. Maybe you drafted it, slotted it in your binder without a second a thought, and now it’s collecting dust. Maybe it’s always the first draft of your deck, but always ends up being your 101st card. No matter what, you should be playing: Pako Arcane Retriever and Haldan Avid Acranist.

Over the past few weeks, this column has looked at some old and forgotten Magic cards. Today, that’s got to change. This week we’re looking at some brand-new cards from Commander 2020 that aren’t getting enough love. In fact, it’s basically criminal how little attention is being paid to Pako Arcane Retriever and Haldan Avid Arcanist

Sure Kalamax is the exciting, and easy to break, commander from the Arcane Maelstrom deck (and possibly the most broken of all this year’s new Commanders), but he’s so straight-foward. 

OK, in all fairness, Kalamax isn’t as boring and standard as Edgar Markov or Nekusar. But after a while, all Kalamax games kind of feel the same. Get him out early, tap him with Opposition or Smuggler’s Copter, get your value, then cast Reverberate (or something) to make a der infi lightning dinosaur. 

My problem isn’t with Kalamx. It’s that he already has 884 EDHREC decks, but our good boy Pako only has 441. That’s half the number of decks. And that is just flat out wrong for the most fun commanders I have played in years. 

Why You Want to Play Pako and Haldan

You like being active in your commander games. You know that sitting back and waiting just means everyone else will out value you over time. While your deck is full of fun cards that give you options throughout the game, you’re pretty sure your opponents have fun cards too. Who cares if you don’t have infinite combos, you have a giant, smashy doggo to end the game before the two hour mark. 

Tech, Tactics, and Strategies

I think one of the reasons people are sleeping on Pako and Haldan is they aren’t realizing just how beastly Pako gets. One swing, and you can have a 6/6 or 7/7 commander beating down the doorstep. And he just gets bigger and scarier from there. Pako is a one-card win condition. 

But when you add in Haldan, you get to play the most Temury of decks. Drop your massive, game-ending beast. Then sit back with your tricks and value engines. You’ll be putting on immense pressure early in the game, and you’ll be able to keep your opponents off balance long enough to close it out. 

Inside this framework, there are a ton of options to explore in deckbuilding. You can go heavy on theme, or just drop in a card or two with great synergies. Here’s where I’d start. 

+1/+1 Counters Matter

One of the most important cards in a Pako and Haldan deck is Herald of Secret Streams. Not only does he curve perfectly into Pako, but he almost always makes Pako unblockable. The Pako triggers hit the stack on attacks, so as long as at least one player reveals a non-creature card, our good boy is unblockable.

There’s a deep well of cards that care about +1/+1 counters. You could go all in with Gyre Sage, Champion of Lambholdt, and Forgotten Ancient. Or you could just get a bit of incidental value from cards like Plaxcaster Frogling and Fertilid. Either way, I’d strongly recommend running a Spark Double. The only thing better than Pako is another one. It doesn’t matter which one exiled a card, you get to play them all. 

Spells Matter

One thing you’ll learn really quickly is that you don’t need (or want) a ton of creatures in your Pako and Haldan deck. You don’t get to play them with Haldan, and they don’t beef up Pako. You’ll need a handful of creatures to maintain a board presence, but really guys will have valuable synergies or be able to take over the game all by themselves. 

Creatures also take up a ton of your mana during your turn. But you really want to be able to keep your options open to interact with your opponents, and make sure you stay in the lead. The best way to do this is with some efficient counterspells like Voidslime, Arcane Denial, and this deck’s MVP Memory Lapse. There is very little that feels better than countering a game-breaking spell with Memory Lapse, then fetching it the next turn. 

Extra combat steps are also amazing with Pako. It’s hard enough weathering one hit, but letting him get bigger, and getting extra fetch cards can often be game breaking. There are a ton of cards that give you extra combat steps. You can try to combo off with Bear Umbra and Aggravated Assault, but I prefer just ending the game on the spot with Savage Beating

There probably is a Pako and Haldan deck that just grinds out advantages by flashing back and retracing spells, but mine is looking for more immediate impact. The downside to this is that you find yourself with a lot of one-shot effects. That’s where recursion comes in. And for once, we’re not going to be running Eternal Witness. In this deck, Regrowth is just better than E-Wit. But there are even stronger options than Regrowth.

Reap is a pet card of mine. If you have even one black player at the table, you’ll always have at least an instant-speed Regrowth (which is awesome). Often you’ll be able to get 4-6 cards back, before your turn, for only to mana (which is awesomer). The massive upside of Reap always outweighs the risk of not having a black player at the table. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Seasons Past and Volcanic Visions cost a bunch, but each one can break games open. The best of the bunch might be Noxious Revival. For the low, low cost of G or two life you can get the best card out of any graveyard and fetch it with Pako. 

There are plenty of cards in the deck to recur, but one of my favorites is Soul’s Fire. It doesn’t take much for Pako to grow bigger than 13/13. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll swing with Pako then just end the game off a massive Soul’s Fire

Lands Matter

In order to keep all the goodness flowing, you’ll need to lean heavily on your lands. Luckily, Pako and Haldan synergize beautifully here. 

First off, the earlier you play Pako the better. Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach are typically great as they make sure you hit Pako on turn four. I also really like the two mana rampers here. A turn two Rampant Growth or Farseek let you put something impactful down on turn three before you drop the Pako hammer on four. With as much ramp as you are doing, Edge of Autumn is a sleeper pick. On turn two it fits perfectly into your game plan, but late game you’ll have access to all the lands you’ll need (even your opponent’s) so you can sac one for a free card. 

Sometimes Pako fetches you a removal spell, or some card draw. Other times he’ll fetch a game-winning bomb. But more often than not, Pako is seeing extra lands. With Haldan out, you can play those extra lands. That means you never miss a land drop into the late game and you can leverage some overpowered landfall creatures. I mentioned above that you aren’t going to play a ton of creatures, and that the ones you do play need to synergize and/or win you the game by themselves. Let me introduce you to my good friends Omnath, Locus of Rage and Avenger of Zendikar. These guys are legit bombs. Even if Pako was killed off too many times, you’ll still have access to a ton of lands and will be able to take over a game.

Top Decks Matter

One thing people gravitate to immediately when they see Pako is trying to control the tops of everyone’s decks. I think this is a trap. Sure, you could try to go full Lantern Control with Lantern of Insight and Codex Shredder, but I think that’s just a waste of resources. It’s not like you’re going to NOT swing with Pako. Even if one player has a creature on top, it’s only marginal value to make them discard it. 

Even though we’re not lantern-locking the table, we’re not going to ignore the top’s of libraries. Sylvan Library, Soothsaying, and Oracle of Mul Daya are just great cards to begin with. We’d consider those even without the extra value Pako provides. 

More interesting are cards like Temporal Spring that are both removal and help set up Pako. Magic has a surprisingly high number of these spells too, but most cost too much or only target creatures. We’re not in the market for Griptide. If all I can get is a creature, I’m playing the essentially free Submerge. What I really want is the access to clear anything off the board, that’s where Expel from Orazca and Consign to Dream come in. 

Planeswalkers Matter

The last set of cards we’re going to look at is planeswalkers. Because we don’t have a lot of creatures, we need some way to invest in long-term advantages. But we’re not really a control deck. We aren’t looking to build up a Super Friends army and grind out our opponents. We need quick, nimble planeswalkers that reliably give us value while we keep the pressure high. 

Domri, Anarch of Bolas is great here. He comes down early to ramp into Pako, and then acts as a mana and card free removal spell in the mid-game.

(Trust me, no one wins a fight with a beefy Pako).

Nissa Steward of Elements likewise has great Pako synergy and plays nicely with landfall. If someone does happen to have a blocker for Pako, Sarkhan Vol answers that problem, and also lets you  threaten a straight win after a mid game wrath. The biggest happy surprise was finding The Royal Scions. Not only can they help rid the chaff in your hand or on the top of your deck, plussing to give Pako trample can often just win you the game. 

Oh yeah… if you have access to a Jace the Mind Sculptor, you should probably think about playing him too. 

So What Does a Pako and Haldan Deck Look Like?

Normally, I’m not big on giving full decklists. Most of the time, this column isn’t going to be providing full decks. I’d rather show you something interesting, and let you unleash your own creativity. But this time, I’m sharing my current Pako and Haldan deck. It’s the most fun commander deck I’ve played in years, and I hope it inspires you to look past the obvious and pick out something truly great. 

Pako and Haldan | Commander

Creatures: (21)
Sprite Dragon
Scavenging Ooze
Trygon Predator
Den Protector
Plaxcaster Frogling
Edric Spymaster of Trest
Ethereal Forager
Spark Double
Herald of Secret Streams
Captivating Crew
Master of Predicaments
Oracle of Mul Daya
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
Kalamax, the Stomrsire
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Seedborn Muse
Silklash Spider
Rampaging Baloths
Omnath, Locus of Rage
Avenger of Zendikar

Artifacts: (2)
  Sol Ring
Whispersilk Cloak

Spells: (34)
Rampant Growth
Edge of Autumn
Growth Spiral
Memory Lapse
Arcane Denial
Temporal Spring
Consign to Dream
Expel from Orazca
Hull Breach
Soul’s Fire
Chaos Warp
Grab the Reins
Volcanic Offering
Relentless Assault
Savage Beating
Sylvan Library
Increasing Vengeance
Rhystic Study
Jace’s Sanctum
Fact of Fiction
Chain Reaction
Reins of Power
Rite of Replication
Noxious Revival
Seasons Past
Volcanic Vision

Planeswalkers: (5)
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Domri, Anarch of Bolas
The Royal Scions
Sarkhan Vol
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Lands: (36)
Command Tower
Frontier Bivouac
Thawing Glaciers
Scavenger Grounds
Kessig Wolf Run
Shivan Reef
Sulfur Falls
Izzet Boilerworks
Yavimaya Coast
Lumbering Falls
Temple of Mystery
Simic Growth Chamber
Stomping Ground
Raging Ravine
Cinder Glade
Rootbound Crag
Gruul Turf
Minamo, School at the Water’s Edge
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Mosswort Bridge