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Perfecting the Art of the Kill with Diaochan, Artful Beauty


I know I talk about this a lot, but I really do enjoy building decks where the point isn't to try to win the game. I recommend it - give yourself another goal, rather than "win the game", and try to pull that goal off.

I've been a budget-conscious builder for so long, I normally avoid the cards from the Portal era. Because of their relative rarity in the United States, they've been really pricey. How great is Overwhelming Forces? But I've never played it because it's been so darn expensive.

One fun thing about doing these kinds of decks, though, is I don't worry about budget at all. I'm not handing you a precon deck, I'm giving you an idea you can take and run with, based on your personal choices, collection, budget, and ideas. So let's build a deck around a Portal-era Creature, one who, with the right support cards, can be quite the menace to a populated board state.

Diaochan, Artful Beauty

This crafty Mono-Red 1/1 for four can tap to destroy any Creature. After that, an opponent gets to destroy any Creature they want. We can only do this during our turn, before attackers. Let's unpack this a bit.

First of all, we can target any Creature we want - our own, someone else's. It destroys, so if the Creature has (or is given) Indestructible, it won't work. The creature can also be Regenerated, which is a weird old ability no one ever plays anymore but I suppose could come up. Additionally, the Creature must be targeted, so Hexproof (or Shroud) will keep us from pointing Diaochan's ability.

Next, an opponent gets to destroy something. They have the same limitations, but more importantly, there's no rule that it must be the opponent whose Creature just got 86'd. This means we can use Diaochan to make deals - "I'll kill that thing for you if you'll kill someone else's thing rather than my thing".

Finally, we can only do this before we declare attackers on our turn. This is true even if we have multiple combat steps - we can only use this ability before the first time we attack in a turn. However, there's no rule we can't use her ability more than once, should we figure out a way to do so. Given the right set of circumstances, we can use Diaochan to destroy an entire board. Don't worry, we'll get there.

Here's the list.

Diaochan, Artful Beauty | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

There are several ways one could build Diaochan, but what we have here is, essentially, a combo deck. The idea is to put together a combination of cards which allows us to keep people from playing Creatures at all. Then, we can use whatever we want to slowly beat people up, because they won't be able to block whatever it is we're using to attack them. In order to pull all this off, we'll need mana, so let's make some.

We've got our 40 Lands. For more information on why, read any other article by me in the last five years. In addition, we have 11 more ways to get more mana, most of which is in the form of Artifacts like Sol Ring and Patriar's Seal (which, hey! Works with Diaochan!), but occasionally is Burnished Hart or Navigation Orb. I mostly leaned toward Artifacts which make more than one mana, since we're fairly mana-hungry here, and it's not about ramping to Diaochan, it's about ramping to everything else that comes later. The Irencrag probably isn't something we want to attach to Diaochan, but it could be useful later on once we don't need the mana. We've also got a few random Treasure tokens we can create, and one of our Enchantments makes Powerstone tokens, which can be useful for us since we both have a number of Artifacts and activated abilities we can tap them for.

We've got some utility Lands, too. I love War Room in mono-color decks, and Homeward Path is a key player often in games I wind up playing. Kher Keep should probably be in every Mono-Red deck, just because those little Kobolds come in really useful and it's a way to use extra mana. But the big ones for us here are Detection Tower and Arcane Lighthouse, which will let us get around Hexproof and Shroud. We'll need that from time to time. Inventors' Fair is also useful for us, since there are a couple Artifacts we really want.

Impulse draw - where you Exile some amount of cards from the top of your Library and can only play them for a set amount of time, like this turn or until the end of your next turn - is tough for me. I struggle with the possibility of not playing a card I've chosen for a deck. If I don't want it, why did I put it in there? But I thought this might be a good chance to play around with that ability, and it works great here. We have spells like Commune with Lava and even Blazing Crescendo. Apex of Power is a big version of this, and Jeska's Will is a good one too. Visions of Phyrexia is the one which makes Powerstone tokens, but it also gives us access to the top card of our Library. Big Score and Thrill of Possibility net us even in the amount of cards we have but dig us deeper, in the event we need something specific.

But let's get down to it, shall we? The point of this deck is to make a killing machine. One that can kill all the Creatures on the Battlefield that aren't ours, and then make it so if someone tries to play a Creature, they'll just lose it on our next turn.

Darksteel Plate
We need to make it so Diaochan can't be killed by her own ability, so we are going to make her Indestructible. There are several ways to do this, most of which are Equipment-based, like Darksteel Plate and Shield of Kaldra. There are a few more, and frankly, if you get a way to search for a card like Gamble or Godo, Bandit Warlord, you probably want to get one of these first (I'm a fan of Mithril Coat, myself). This lets us fire off Diaochan's ability without worrying if she's going to take the hit back. We might lose a Kobold or something, but that's okay; we want Diaochan to survive. We've got a couple other random ways; if for some reason we need to use her ability but haven't gotten an Equipment yet, something like Soul of New Phyrexia can get us there.

We probably also want to give her Haste, so she can use her ability right away. So, we have a few of those as well, but I think my favorite here is Battlemage's Bracers, because in addition to having her do her thing the turn she enters, we can also pay an additional 1 and double up on her ability! That's great. Thousand-Year Elixir also lets her fire off the turn she enters, and gives us a second shot with her.

Umbral Mantle is great. For three mana, we can untap Diaochan and use her again, and depending on how much mana we've got we might be able to clear someone's board, and then untap her with several +2/+2 buffs. Nine Commander damage after having your board wrecked never feels good.

Battlemage's Bracers
Thousand-Year Elixir
Thornbite Staff

But the more important one is Thornbite Staff. If you can make Diaochan Indestructible, this is your next target. Because the Staff doesn't require you activate the first ability to trigger the second, this turns Diaochan into a machine gun: we tap her, destroy something, which untaps her. We repeat until literally everything on the Battlefield which isn't Indestructible is dead. After that, no one will play another Creature.

Darksteel Colossus and Darksteel Juggernaut are both here to win games; they're both tough to kill, and can't be targets of Diaochan's ability, so if we can play one of those out, we can probably start winning with it. At least it should be faster than trying to win with a 1/1 Diaochan. Shadowspear is clutch here, too, because that's our one way around Indestructible Creatures on our opponents' side of things. Buried Ruin is a nice hit if someone destroys our Thornbite Staff. And there are a few cards which interact with things dying, like Dingus Staff and Vicious Shadows. That can be a way to get people to point Diaochan activations away from you - "if you don't kill my Hoarding Dragon, I'll send that Vicious Shadows damage somewhere else!" Smoke and Rite of the Raging Storm both make the game different; Smoke limits our opponents' ability to do things to us and each other, and the Rite makes damage happen without pointing it at us, which only helps us in the long run.

The trick to this is making people think you don't have a machine gun in your guitar case. Yeah, you've got a Commander, and you made it so she can't die to her own ability, but that doesn't mean you've got a lock on the board. Play the diplomatic game, make people think the only way you can survive is by bargaining, then BAM! Drop the Thornbite Staff and wipe out the table. It'll be fun, and quite surprising.

What did I miss? Let us know on social media.

Thanks for reading.

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