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Trying Not to Win in Commander: Chulane

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I'm just going to get this out of the way: building decks which actively don't try to win has been liberating. Freeing. More often than not, deck-building starts with the win-con, whether it's Voltron or combo or just winning in the red zone. We know where we're going and what we're trying to do. Removing that requirement is like taking shackles off your wrists. Suddenly the whole world gets a bit sharper, a bit more vibrant - the sandbox gets a heck of a lot bigger.

So far, we've done a Group Hug deck based on equity over equality and a kingmaker deck where we pick who will win. Now, I think it's time we take a look at another way to not win. Let's draw the game.

Drawing the game is actually fairly difficult in Magic, and normally requires a clock running out in a tournament. However, there is a card which allows us to draw the game, as long as we jump through some hoops. Let's get to jumping.

Divine Intervention

That's right, an eight-mana enchantment. It comes into play with two Intervention counters (thought for another don't-win deck: figure out a way to put Intervention counters on every permanent for absolutely no reason), and during our upkeep one of those counters goes away. Three upkeeps later we won't have any counters left and the game will draw.

Most of the time, the rest of the table is going to do everything they can to stop that last upkeep from happening: there will be removal, the entire table will try to kill you, it's going to be a challenge. We should probably try to move things along. Let's see if we can get some help.

Chulane, Teller of Tales

Chulane is a cool dude. He's underpowered for his cost, but he offers us a few things we can use. First, he gives us three colors to play with instead of just one. Since we have a big expensive Enchantment to cast, Green is going to help us get the mana we need. And because we'll need to protect that Enchantment, Blue will help us do just that. We also get some card draw and native ramp just from his existence, both of which are good things.

This deck can be broken into three main parts. Let's talk about each one.

The Combo

We want to draw the game with Divine Intervention. This means we need to get it out, remove the counters from it, and go through our Upkeep phase.

The first way I thought of was to Flash out Divine Intervention at the end of turn of the player who goes right before us. We'd use Alchemist's Refuge (three mana, because two for the cost then the Refuge itself), cast Divine Intervention (now 11 mana), then cast Clockspinning with Buyback once and without a second time (16 mana total), then allow the turn to resolve. We'd untap and win immediately on Upkeep. So, we have all those pieces in place.

However, a bit of redundancy would be nice. We can only have one Divine Intervention, but we have multiple ways to search for it. There are not a ton of ways to remove random counters from noncreatures, but we have two additional options aside from Clockspinning. Power Conduit is great because it only costs 2 to cast and nothing to activate; we just tap it, remove a counter and we're good. In case this is the way we need to go, we also have Voltaic Key, which will untap our Power Conduit for a single mana and allow us a second go. Alternately, Power Conduit and Clockspinning are a much cheaper way to remove both counters quickly. We've also got Trinket Mage (can find the Key) and Tribute Mage (can find the Conduit).

Finally, there are a few ways to give Flash to our spells. Leyline of Anticipation is great and can be hunted down with additional Enchantment tutors, Tidal Barracuda does it, and Emergence Zone can be used as a one-time use Alchemist's Refuge, which costs us one fewer mana. (Both the Refuge and the Zone can be found with Crop Rotation, Expedition Map, or Nylea's Intervention, too.)

Two cards need special attention.

Academy Rector puts an Enchantment on the 'field when it dies. This means we can skip over the eight-mana cost, but we need a way to put the Rector in the 'yard exactly when we want. We have High Market and the rather bizarre Fanatical Devotion to sacrifice the Rector at just the right time, and make sure you can get rid of those counters before going for it.

Nesting Grounds is another way to remove a counter from Divine Intervention, but it can only be activated during a Main Phase. That means we'll need to be prepared to keep Divine Intervention alive for an entire turn cycle and we'll still need a way to remove the second counter. It seems worth it to run since it's a land, but be careful if you decide to go with the non-Flash route of attempting to end the game.

Surviving

This section is actually about a bit more than survival, but it's a big part of it.

We need to achieve two things before we can pull this off: Make a ton of mana and don't die.

Mana's pretty easy. We run our 40 lands (read the lands section in this article if you want more information. Or this one by Jason Alt on this very site. Or this one by Kristen Gregory. Or many others. Seriously, just run 40 lands). We could run mana rocks, but those are more susceptible to a random Shatterstorm or whatever than actual lands, so as long as we're in Green let's take advantage. Most of our ramp spells grab more than one lands; the few that don't are worth it for another reason. Nylea's Intervention gets as many as we can afford, and while it's not actually ramp since they go to our hand, Chulane helps us dump them faster and we won't miss our drops. Gatecreeper Vine leaves behind a body and gets us a dual, which is helpful. Crop Rotation can get us one of our Flash lands or a Command Tower to help with fixing. You Happen On a Glade is also to hand, but it plays at being an Eternal Witness if that ends up being important. Our one exception to mana rocks is Chromatic Lantern, which is just nice to have around in a 3-or-more color deck.

Then we have survival. White means we're in the color of Wrath of God, so we have a few ways to wipe the board clean. However, we're making plenty of mana here, so we don't need to keep our wraths super-cheap. Instead, I opted for utility. Austere Command is one of the best out there, allowing us to choose what goes and what stays. End Hostilities will make an Equipment player suffer and Fumigate bolsters our life total. Supreme Verdict is uncounterable, and Time Wipe lets us put Chulane safely in our hand before wiping.

We've also got some spot removal, mostly in the form of Banishing Light and its ilk (Oblivion Ring, Detention Sphere, Cast Out). Path to Exile could be Swords to Plowshares, but exile-based removal is a good thing to keep around.

It seems silly to not run some counterspells, since we have a combo to protect and they can be instrumental in keeping others from winning the game. Voidslime and Plasm Capture are both fun. We've also got Bant Charm and Dawn Charm, each of which limits what it can counter but have other modes which can be useful.

Sterling Grove is mostly there as an Enchantment tutor, but the Shroud can be useful, especially if we end up with Divine Intervention out and no ways to move along the counters. Do remember if it has Shroud, we can't target it, so we can't pull the counters any way other than on our Upkeep when it sheds one naturally.

The Other Thing

A bunch of our creatures are Walls! Walls are great here, because they allow us to fend off attackers and get more value for our mana early on as we're trying to ramp and find our pieces. They also like to draw us extra cards (Wall of Blossoms, Wall of Omens), which is always good. Don't be afraid to use Chulane aggressively to return the cheap Walls and recast to draw more cards or get other effects.


The strategy here will change, but the basic shape of the game will be the same, most of the time. The early turns should be spent ramping as best as possible. Get lands in your hand and play them out. As you run out of ramp, start playing Walls to stay alive, and play out Chulane to keep mana and cards flowing. By now you'll have a piece or two of the combo, so start to figure out what else you need to put it together. Additionally, try to think laterally how you can piece together the win - got Academy Rector but no sacrifice effect? An extra Enchantment tutor can get you Fanatical Devotion. Tribute Mage but no Voltaic Key? Where's Clockspinning? You need to get Divine Intervention on the 'field, remove a couple of counters, and get to your Upkeep. How is up to you.

How would you do this? Would you go about it differently? Would you even consider playing a deck like this? I'm really curious - please let us know in the comments!

The budget was $500 and it just barely made it under at $499.19. We had to cut Cryptic Command to make it, but that's probably better than Counterspell. The issue is Divine Intervention itself is $250, and Academy Rector is nearly $150, so the vast majority of this deck is in those two cards. If your playgroup will let you proxy, I'd proxy the Divine Intervention and cut the Rector; the rest of the stuff is either cheap or worth having in your collection.

Thanks for reading.

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