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Convertible Commander: Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

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Soramaro, First to Dream
So my dad and I both play Commander. I live in Texas, though, and he lives in Maine, so we don’t have many opportunities to play against each other. We do talk about Magic a lot and regularly report on the games we’ve played that week. I recently had the opportunity to go visit him up there, and we decided to do a temporary deck swap — he took a few of my decks and I took a couple of his. The idea is we’d take them to our regular play groups and get to have a different experience.

Two games with his Soramaro, First to Dream deck (which started with one of the first ones I ever built for GatheringMagic.com but is fairly heavily modified for consistency) and my playgroup was over it. The first game ended rather abruptly with a divinity counter coming off a Myojin of Seeing Winds, and the second one started as a four-on-one. I held them off until all four of them attacked me in succession and I didn’t have enough answers to untap one more time. Normally jovial players were frustrated and grumpy, and I told them I’d not play it again. (I also told them to blame my dad.)

His playgroup, on the other hand, loves his Soramaro deck. They think it’s clever, fun, and completely fair. (Everyone from his and my playgroup feels my Meren of Clan NelToth deck is no fun, though I think it’s delightful to pilot. My group may be pretty casual, and I am too, but even I have a bit of the competitive gene.)

His group is, to use the term familiar to us Magic players, “Spike-ier” than mine. They play to win a bit harder, make choices based on what’s optimal in the deck, and appreciate lines of play which work to win the game. He was telling me about a player at his shop using a Hannah, Ship's Navigator deck. My playgroup has a house ban on that commander. We run more theme decks, more chaos and group hug decks, and more often play commanders and cards just because we like them, not because they’re the optimized choice.

Both groups are great, fun, friendly, and work well. Just like players in my group, the Maine players are concerned that their decks might be oppressive and un-fun for the rest of the table. But they’re a great demonstration of the difference among all playgroups: each group will find its own balance. One group’s oppressive deck is another group’s staple. When Abe Sargent recently asked “What is Commander to You?” he could just have easily asked “what is Commander to your playgroup?”

But with Convertible Commander, we have the option of adjusting our deck in fairly dramatic ways with very few changes. And that change is quite profound with today’s leader, who gives us options the more we use him.

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

He’s cheap, he tutors every turn, and he plays a lute. What more could we ask for in a commander? Let’s take a look at what a deck with Yisan at the helm could look like.


Regal Force
“But Mark,” you say. “That’s only 90 cards! Commander decks are 100 cards. Get it together!”

It’s true, but hang in there. Let’s start with what this deck is doing.

We’re going to play lands and do a bit of ramping. Not a ton, but some, with classic cards like Cultivate and Kodama's Reach. We don’t really need to ramp, but it can help in the late game if we draw one of our bigger creatures or have to replay Yisan from the command zone for the fourth time. We’re also going to draw some cards, mostly in big amounts. Early on, we can play (or search for) an Elvish Visionary or Wall of Blossoms, just to keep some juice in the grip at the beginning. Later on, we can pull up a Regal Force and draw a completely new grip. The new Benefactor's Draught can be played at just the right moment to draw a bunch of cards. We’ve even got the classic Harmonize to draw three.

Most of our creatures are utility dorks here, and they show up at low mana costs. We want a fair amount of 1-, 2-, and 3-drops because, let’s face it, Yisan’s going to get killed, which means we’ve got to start over. Creatures which give us extra mana, destroy things, return things from the graveyard, return cards to our hands, and untap creatures (because using Yisan twice in the same turn is good) are all here. We can go Arbor Elf into Sakura-Tribe Elder into Reclamation Sage into Temur Sabertooth in the early game, or Scute Mob into Gyre Sage into Eternal Witness into Polukranos, World Eater later. We’ve got toolbox answers for lots of different issues at different CMCs, which is just what we want with a deck like this.

We’ve also got a good number of support cards present. A few pieces of equipment grant haste, which is nice when we’ve got enough mana to play Yisan and use him right away. Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine work as removal and help us tick up Yisan even faster than normal. Relic of Progenitus can stop graveyard shenanigans. Illusionist's Bracers doubles up on Yisan’s ability (note we’ll search twice for the same CMC, because putting the counter on him is part of the cost, and the Bracers copy the effect). Primal Command is just quality, and Caged Sun and Staff of Nin give us mana or cards, respectively. Quest for Renewal works just like Vitalize but every turn, giving us multiple Yisan triggers per turn cycle.

What we’re lacking is ways to win the game, and that’s where our Optionboard comes in. We’ve got 10 slots, and in this case, 19 (or 20) cards in the ‘board. Putting in 10 of these cards gives us our ways to win the game, and they’re adjustable, depending on how we’re feeling.

Optionboard:

Cultivator of Blades
Playing against a more casual group, I’d slot in Cultivator of Blades, Giant Adephage, Gravetiller Wurm (which can be brought in at instant speed with Yisan, letting us time it to when a creature dies), Kalonian Twingrove, Myojin, Pelakka Wurm, Rampaging Baloths, Thragtusk, Wolfir Silverheart, and Woodland Bellower. There’s some strong stuff in there, but nothing is terribly backbreaking; for the most part, these things are just big and stompy.

If the game is a bit more cutthroat, Avenger, Woodcrasher, Exarch, Hornet Queen, the Hydra, Loaming Shaman, Mycoloth, Pathbreaker Ibex, Thunderfoot Baloth, and one other card come in. These cards are more synergistic, a bit more optimized, and cause bigger problems for a table, demanding a response or, likely, death. And, of course, it can be mixed and matched to fit how we’re feeling at any given time. Want to not go full Timmy but not full Spike? Cool. Feel like playing Hornet Queen no matter what? Sure. Heck, we can even just shuffle them up, deal 10 randomly, and throw them in without knowing what they are!

The nice things about all this is it’s quite inexpensive — the deck and the optionboard as it stands are under $100 — and is completely customizable. Want to run different creatures in the Optionboard? Traded for a Colossus of Akros or Darksteel Colossus? Cracked an Eldrazi you’ve been wanting a home for? All good options.

However, for $24 more, but still keeping under our total budget, we can add Craterhoof Behemoth. This card works really well in this shell with Avenger of Zendikar, because with seven verse counters we get Avenger and all the tokens it brings along. The following turn we get Craterhoof, giving +awholelot/+awholelot and trample to all our little plants. A bunch of games of commander can be won that way.

Something worth noting is Yisan is perfectly tailored to this kind of convertible deck. The fact we can use him to go get things, in a reasonably fair way, makes it so we can have a very different play experience with very few changes.

One thing I wanted to do was figure out a trick with Putrefax, a card which has no business showing up in Commander. I thought it’d be fun to have a chain which leads to Putrefax to kill a single opponent with a hit. I couldn’t come up with a 4-drop which would make Putrefax get through for 10, though. If you can, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

So what kind of group or groups do you play with? Is a deck like this, which can adjust to slide into games at multiple levels, something that would work with your playgroup? While we’re at it, what would you want to see as an option for Yisan?

A single deck, a cool commander, and choices to play casual to cutthroat, anywhere from Texas to Maine. And lutes. Sounds good.

Total cost of the main 90: $69.29

Total cost of Optionboard: $30.41

Total cost: $99.50

Total cost with Craterhoof Behemoth: $123.99


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