Aurora Borealis by Frederic David Church (1865). Soulherder by Seb McKinnon.
This week's project is to build a deck around another one of the Throne of Eldraine Brawl Deck legendary creatures - Chulane, Teller of Tales. I'm in a bit of a quandary because I can't decide whether to lean toward cEDH or lean toward a more casual, goofy, fun build. The reality is that sometimes, when I try to lean toward a casual build, I wind up making a semi-competitive deck and when I try to build a cEDH deck I usually come up a little short. Because I'm actually building this in paper and plan to play it, I expect I'll again wind up landing somewhere in the middle.
Chulane is a 2/4 Human Druid with Vigilance who costs to cast. He has the most powerful words in Magic - "draw a card" - printed on him and attached to a pretty convenient trigger. Whenever you cast a creature spell you draw a card and then you may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield. Notice that it doesn't say "tapped". That is an incredibly powerful ability, but that's not all. For three mana, Chulane can tap and return target creature you control to its owner's hand.
When I first started thinking about building this deck, I had fairly unrealistic visions of playing lands and dropping 1-drop creatures and digging halfway through my deck on the turn after I played Chulane. Sadly, the math doesn't work out that way. After your initial draw for turn, playing a creature, drawing a card and playing a land means your hand will be losing 2 cards for each card you gain. There are ways to help with that, but the bottom line is that while Chulane is extremely strong, it isn't insane... or is it?
Choosing a Direction
As I build more decks and play more games of Commander I feel like my understanding of what matters in competitive play has definitely grown. When I started preparing for this build I went through my cards and pulled out every vaguely playable 0-, 1-, and 2-drop creature in Bant colors. Since any of these will draw me a card and let me drop a land, the idea of going all in on little guys was tempting. I found myself with over 70 cards to choose from. Lots of them has interesting abilities, so it quickly became clear that I'd need to think hard about what kind of deck I'd want to end up with.
Here are just a few of the creatures and questions I found myself wrestling with.
My instinct is to add in some life gain because a little buffer of life can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing the game. I'm not talking about an infinite life combo - just a way to pad my life total so that if I take some aggro I won't be at death's door too quickly.
I think the cold hard truth is that valuing life gain isn't the kind of thing a cEDH deck would care about unless using your life as a resource is integral to your combo. This isn't going to be a cEDH deck so life gain should fit right in, at least until I take that left turn at Albequerque and find myself in Spikesville. Occasionally that happens.
Am I right about life gain not mattering in cEDH or can I still build this for a competitive meta and still have a little life gain in the mix?
If we're drawing cards anyways, should we try to add more card draw or card selection to the deck? In a word - absolutely. There's very little that's as important as card draw in a Commander deck so if we can crank our draw engine up a notch or two, we absolutely should. The problem is that there aren't a ton of great draw engines below three mana and I am trying to keep this deck's mana curve as low as possible
Edric, Spymaster of Trest should be an auto-include in this list, but at this point I don't yet own a copy of Edric. I really should pick one up, as I think I'm planning on attacking a lot. That likely means I'm building a semi-competitive deck, not a cEDH deck.
How heavy should I lean on card draw, and are there enough low-mana card draw creatures to run in this list?
As I went through my cards I noticed a lot of creatures with the scry ability. Scry will let you look at a number of cards from the top of your deck and put them on the bottom of your library or leave them on top. Most of these scry dorks will let you scry when they enter the battlefield, so that won't help you with your Chulane cast trigger, but you're likely to be casting more than one spell per turn so it should help you a bit.
Building around a combo or two would make scry incredibly important, but a combat oriented deck will also want to find cards that will help get the job done. I probably won't just add every card with Scry on it, but some might make the list.
Is there a combo I should add in and dig for, or will this be a more fun and effective deck if I keep the gameplan simple and try to win by combat?
The old me would be all in on mana dorks. I love those little guys and it always feels good to be able to drop one or two in the early turns to power out your commander ahead of schedule. I still like them, but I've come to understand that they're inherently fragile and that land-based ramp is almost always a better option.
Wanting to get Chulane out early is why I'm likely to run mana dorks in this list. If I keep to the really cheap ones, that play-a-dork, draw-a-card, drop-a-land pattern is going to feel pretty good. I'm planning on running Concordant Crossroads, a world enchantment that gives all creatures haste. It will let me play out a big board and swing on the same turn, but it will also let me play and use my mana dorks immediately.
Where should my cutoff be for mana dorks? One and two CMC creatures are fine, but should I look at higher CMC mana dorks, and how heavily should I really lean on these little guys if I'm already hoping to play extra lands?
If we're looking to drop additional lands when we cast creatures, it would help to have ways to put those lands into our hand. We might draw them, but there are a lot of low-drop creatures that can make sure we have a land in hand.
Dropping additional lands might seem like a good addition as well. There are also lots of creatures that will help us get even more extra land drops.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but we've already got a way to play extra lands. Will we find that more often than not we don't have an extra land to play? Will we flush our hand by playing lands and creatures too fast and have no cards in hand by the time we reach the mid-game?
In the same way that I once loved mana dorks, I also once failed to see the value in creatures that only served to protect your stuff. Then I started to play with better deck-builders and players and I learned the error of my ways. Protecting Chulane is going to be incredibly important.
It's impressive that there are so many 1-drop creatures that can help us protect our commander and it shouldn't take people long before they realize how important it will be to remove Chulane early and often.
The question here is simple. Why on earth don't I own a copy of Mother of Runes?
Even if you're not trying to build a cEDH deck, it is incredibly important to pack a lot of removal. You never know when you'll need to blow up a combo piece or remove a troublesome aura or piece of equipment from an incoming attacker.
I sorely wish there were more 1- and 2- drops that would blow stuff up, but destroying and exiling permanents is a powerful ability and generally costs a decent amount of mana. Reclamation Sage is over my target of a two-mana ceiling, but it's probably worth dropping out a few low mana creatures to add in creatures like Rec Sage and Manglehorn.
This time I'm not asking whether I should run more removal, but how high should I reach for the creatures I run that blow stuff up? I don't often run high CMC creatures like Bane of Progress, but I know they're great. How much should I break out of my low-CMC mindset for this category?
Meaningful combat tricks aren't likely to be found when looking at really low-cost creatures but there are a few that will help deal more damage or get damage through.
Pump and evasion could be important. Swinging with a bunch of 1 and 2 power creatures isn't going to win many games. Creatures with Battle Cry like Signal Pest and Accorder Paladin might help with our damage output. Creatures like Tetsuko Umezawa and Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa would help us get damage through. Adding in a Prized Unicorn and Taunting Elf could also help, as those creatures force all of our opponents' creatures to block them.
My current low-CMC plan seems like it won't pack much of a punch. Will a focus on low-CMC creatures with combat tricks be enough?
Creatures that will bounce a creature to our hand are the sort of thing that could help us dig even deeper when we re-cast them.
Is it worth loading up our deck with do-nothing 0-drops just to try to get more Chulane triggers?
That's a lot of options and a lot of questions.
Before I start assembling my list, it's worth going over what I'm guessing will be "staples" for Chulane. These cards are must-haves for the deck to do what I want it to do and their inclusion may affect my deck-building.
These are good or great cards that will catapult this deck from being casual to being semi-competitive. I'm not planning out how to combo off before turn five, so this won't rise to the level of a cEDH deck but that doesn't mean it can't be strong. These may not all make it into the list, but they're all under consideration
If we were to go all-in on low mana creatures, Aluren will let us play them for free. Unfortunately it also helps our opponents, but they probably won't be as good as Chulane at abusing those free castings. Paradoxical Outcome will bounce a bunch of creatures to our hand, draw us a bunch of cards and will let us play them again, draw more cards, and hopefully drop some lands. Concordant Crossroads will let us attack with creatures the turn we play them and will make mana dorks a little better as they can tap for mana on the turn they're played.
Abundance will let us draw a land if we need a land, and a non-land if we don't need a land. Earthcraft will let us tap any creature we play for mana on the turn we play it even if it isn't a mana dork. If we decide to set this deck up with a ton of lands, Burgeoning will let us drop those on our opponents' turns whenever they play lands.
Elder of Laurels and Jazal Goldmane will let us turn our wide board into a world of pain for our opponents, pumping based upon the number of creatures we control. Temur Sabertooth will let us bounce a creature to our hand so we can play it again. That's good with something like Manglehorn and fantastic if we've got an Avenger of Zendikar or Craterhoof Behemoth in play.
Ezuri, Claw of Progress is great in any deck that will be playing a lot of creatures. Whether or not it's worth playing Sage of Hours in a deck with only one way to abuse it is a question worth asking. I could add in Bloodspore Thrinax and use Temur Sabertooth to bounce Sage of Hours to my hand and maybe achieve infinite turns that way, but it might be too cute by half. For now I think Sage of Hours is on the bubble and if nothing else it will draw us a card and let us play a land if we play it when Chulane is out.
As I move toward actually making some decisions about how I'm going to build this deck I'm going to try to keep the following things in mind.
Removal is incredibly important and I should always run more of it.
Protecting Chulane well is a key to being able to enjoy playing this deck.
Getting more lands to my hand is more important than dropping lands even more frequently.
Mana dorks are a key to getting Chulane out early, and won't be dead draws later on.
With the amount of ramp I'll have, I should have ways to actually use big mana.
Creatures with ETB removal are rarely an adequate substitute for Instant-speed removal.
I think this means I'm going to start with my usual patterned approach to deck-building. I'm not sure if I'm going to go 9x7, 8x8, 7x9 or maybe even 6x10, but I'll definitely have multiple "slots" that are devoted to low CMC creatures.
Building The List
I felt like I was putting off this final step of actually building the deck. I hate to cut cards and even the lowly and somewhat useless Memnite has a place in my heart and can be hard to not include in the final cut of a deck.
I wound up making this deck in an 8x8 pattern, setting up stacks of 8 cards, each devoted to a theme. This wasn't as simple as choosing 8 cards eight times and being done with it, though. There was a lot of back and forth, shifting cards from category to category, and making the flimsiest of excuses to include a card I simply couldn't leave out.
I started with not one but two slots dedicated to removal. If you can't get rid of stuff, your game is usually not going to go well, so a full sixteen cards seemed to make sense for blowing up (or bouncing) things.
Despite my talk of going all in with tiny creatures, we should be dropping lands at a pretty decent clip, so I decided that having creatures over three-mana is worth it if those creatures have worthwhile abilities. Blowing stuff up is nearly always worthwhile. Bouncing creatures is good removal too, and is especially good in a deck that might benefit from bouncing my own creature so that I can re-cast it.
With removal fairly well covered, the next priority became protecting my own stuff.
Spore Frog might not fit neatly into that list but I'm pretty sure there will be times when I'm happy to have the "fog" Frog on the field. The rest of them should help protect Chulane fairly well, even if "Mom" isn't in my list yet.
Now that the boring stuff was covered I was ready to move on to the fun stuff - threats! How can we actually win these games?
Avacyn could have fit into slot three, but as I said - I'm playing fast and loose with my categories and mostly just trying to wind up covering as many bases as possible. Swinging for 8 damage and making my permanents indestructible makes Avacyn a "bomb", for my purposes at least.
The polar opposite of giant threats are cards that are small, fragile and cheap - mana dorks. They might seem trivial but I'm pretty sure these guys will wind up being an essential part of how this deck will get rolling and keep momentum going even in the mid and late game.
Shaman of Forgotten Ways could easily be put into slot four, but it taps for mana so this slot is still true to its purpose. None of the rest of our slots will be quite so neat and clean.
Our sixth slot is a mishmash of life gain, counters and a card that draws cards and puts a land back into our hand. That isn't very focused but I couldn't see dedicating a full 8 cards to any of those types of cards.
Lucky seven is a mishmash of staples. These cards should all pull their weight, though some might not be in the perfect list for what they bring to the game.
We wrap up our build with some sweepers, a couple of creatures whose power and toughness are equal to the number of creatures we control, a card draw staple, a bounce staple, and the commander staple of all staples - Sol Ring.
If you ever thought that experienced deck-builders just throw together their lists with no internal struggle over what cards to include and what cards to leave out, you'd be wrong.
There are cards in here that I'm not so sure about and there are cards I left out that I might have been better off including. I don't know if I've got nearly enough card draw, but leaning on my commander for card draw feels relatively safe. I didn't include any "scry dorks" or creatures that will let me drop lands onto the battlefield. I still haven't picked up Mother of Runes or Edric, Spymaster of Trest and will probably drop out some underperforming cards when I pick those two up.
You could probably go through the previous section and make up a list but it's our way here at CoolStuffInc.com to include a formal decklist whenever we're writing about a build. The land base here represents where I'll want to get eventually, but my actual paper version will likely have more basics and fewer expensive lands. I'll be playing this in a casual, or at best semi-competitive meta and if I enjoy how it plays I can always invest in the land base later on.
Chulane, Teller of Tales | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Chulane, Teller of Tales
- Creatures (42)
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 1 Archetype of Endurance
- 1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Bane of Progress
- 1 Benevolent Bodyguard
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Caustic Caterpillar
- 1 Champion of Lambholt
- 1 Cliffside Rescuer
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 1 Crusader of Odric
- 1 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 1 Druid Lyrist
- 1 Elder of Laurels
- 1 Elvish Lyrist
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Giver of Runes
- 1 Jazal Goldmane
- 1 Leafkin Druid
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Managorger Hydra
- 1 Manglehorn
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Pathbreaker Ibex
- 1 Rampaging Baloths
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Resolute Watchdog
- 1 Scion of the Wild
- 1 Serra Ascendant
- 1 Shaman of Forgotten Ways
- 1 Sidisi's Faithful
- 1 Soul Warden
- 1 Spore Frog
- 1 Suture Priest
- 1 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Sylvan Safekeeper
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Whiptongue Hydra
- Instants (11)
- 1 Call to Heel
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Dispel
- 1 Paradoxical Outcome
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Rewind
- 1 Snap
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Tragic Lesson
- 1 Unsummon
- Lands (35)
- 2 Island
- 2 Plains
- 5 Forest
- 1 Ash Barrens
- 1 Azorius Chancery
- 1 Bountiful Promenade
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Emergence Zone
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Fertile Thicket
- 1 Flooded Strand
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Jungle Basin
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Novijen, Heart of Progress
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Sea of Clouds
- 1 Seaside Citadel
- 1 Selesnya Sanctuary
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Temple of Enlightenment
- 1 Temple of Mystery
- 1 Temple of Plenty
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Windswept Heath
With every decklist I post comes a list of oversights and omissions. Sometimes I have no good excuse, as was the case last week when Joseph Chen caught me going out without my Swiftfoot Boots on. This time around I'm again missing some "staples", including Heroic Intervention, Cyclonic Rift, Smothering Tithe, and Beast Whisperer, each of which is as much of an auto-include as Sol Ring.
The bottom line is that the list I'm sharing today is what I'll actually be playing. My Cyclonic Rifts, Smothering Tithes and Beast Whisperers (and Swiftfoot Boots and Heroic Interventions) are tucked away in other decks. If you build this list and have extra Green, White or Blue staples that would make the list better, by all means add them in. With the sheer number of low mana creatures it should be easy to make room without severely compromising what this deck is trying to do.
Coming Up Short
While I've got a lot of interesting stuff in today's list, I'm missing one key thing that many Commander deck-builders swear belong in any Commander deck. I'm not talking about Cyclonic Rift.
I'm missing a game-ending combo.
I could have pulled a Deadeye Navigator out of another deck and thrown in Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake to be able to make infinite mana. Then I could have borrowed some tutors out of other decks, grabbed a Tooth and Nail to be able to close out games with the Craterhoof / Avenger combo (not actually a combo). I'd wind up with the kind of deck I wouldn't want to play in our casual Tuesday night Commander games. I didn't want to go there with this build.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't build this deck as a much more powerful list that can reliably win out of nowhere. Some folks don't care how much fun anyone else at the table is having navigating through complex boardstates and just want to be able to play a Tooth and Nail, swing for victory and feel good about having "won".
Winning is as much about enjoying the game as it is about coming out on top, and casual night combo wins always feel cheap and out of place to me. I still do it sometimes, but frankly - I think it can be tone deaf and a little lame to combo out when you're not playing against other high powered decks.
As I worked on this deck, I had an eye on my Phelddagrif deck's land base. I was tempted to pull it apart even though I enjoyed it immensely so that I could use the lands for this deck. Both are Bant and I figured I might repurpose some of the cards, but that deck was an enchantress build.
As I wrap up today's column I can't help but wonder if I missed an opportunity. Would enchantment creatures with the Bestow ability trigger Chulane's cast trigger? Could a Chulane voltron build with a mix of little creatures and Bestow enchantment creatures work? I'd love to have an excuse to go all in on enchantment creatures and our extra land drops might help pay their higher casting costs.
If this list is indeed a decent start, but not quite the perfect Sundae with a cherry on top, I ask you, dear readers, what you would add to it?
If the cherry on top is the combo wincon, what combo would you add in?
Is there a Chulane staple I left out that no Chulane deck should be without?
For next week's column I'm going to take another crack at my Commander "deck in a box" challenge, where I open a booster box and see if I can build a viable list out of those cards. It was a bit of a failure when I tried it with Modern Horizons, but with Kenrith, the Returned King at the helm I'm optimistic that I should have something playable when I'm done.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!