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Shanna, Purifying Blade in Commander

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Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome (1872). Huatli, Radiant Champion by Chris Rahn.

Today's deck was a particularly fun one for me to write. I got the chance to find some fun ways to use some janky old cards I used to run in the Zedruu the Greathearted deck that I played when I was first getting into Commander. Zedruu is that weird old Jeskai minotaur goat lady who lets you gain life and draw cards for the number of permanents you own that other players control. Today's list isn't as janky as a Zedruu deck but it's got a few tricks up its sleeve.

The card that inspired this flashback to my early days of EDH is none other than Shanna, Purifying Blade, a Bant Human Warrior.

Shanna, Purifying Blade

Shanna is a 3/3 with lifelink and a pretty neat party trick. At the beginning of my end step, I can pay X and draw X cards, but X cannot be greater than the amount of life I gained this turn.

The fact that Shanna is a Warrior might be a hint that I could easily lean in a voltron direction with this deck, but just last week I took a perfectly good Artificer and tried to build her into a voltron deck. If that's your style, by all means suit Shanna up with auras and equipment and go have fun with her, but I'm going to do something a little different today.

Delusions and Illusions

I'm not saying you should build your EDH decks around weird janky cards that make you strangely nostalgic. It can lead to suboptimal decks, but on the other hand, it also makes me happy to use weird old cards in new ways, so that's exactly what I'm doing with today's deck.

Delusions of Mediocrity
Illusions of Grandeur

These two cards could easily find themselves in an un-set, but they are both real, genuine Magic cards. Delusions of Mediocrity was printed in 7th Edition and Urza's Legacy. I favor the art from Legacy, but either one will cost you well under a dollar. Illusions of Grandeur was printed in Ice Age and costs even less than Delusions, currently running at less than a quarter.

Both enchantments will have you gain life: 10 for Delusions and 20 for Illusions, but if the enchantment leaves the battlefield you will lose that much life again. For Zedruu this is a delightful little trick you play on your tablemates by casting it, giving it to an opponent, and then blowing it up or bouncing it to your hand. You are the one who gains life but your opponent is the one who loses life. Illusions of Grandeur has a cumulative upkeep of 2 mana, so eventually its controller won't be able to pay the upkeep cost and will have to take that 20-life hit.

Alchemist's Retrieval
Light the Way
Cyclonic Rift

This deck is loaded up with low-mana bounce spells that can bounce an enchantment. Most of them cost one mana, but a few cost two and there are ways to destroy an enchantment as well. My ultimate goal is to get to the late game, play one of these two enchantments to gain a bunch of life, bounce them for 1 mana and on the end step pay mana to draw up to 10 (or 20) cards!

Shanna sees the life gained during a turn but doesn't care about the life lost, so there's no need to worry about my "net gain" when looking at Shanna's end step trigger. I double-checked this with a few online MtG judge / rules resources and I'm confident that this is an accurate rules interpretation. If anyone tells you that you gained 10, lost 10, and therefore you can't pay any mana because by the end of the turn your life total is the same, ask them where on the card it goes into that level of detail. It doesn't. All it says is "the amount of life you gained this turn". These weird old enchantments do indeed gain you life.

It's worth mentioning that there is no reason for you to necessarily bounce Delusions of Mediocrity or Illusions of Grandeur on the same turn that you played it. You could keep it out as long as you like, but you are risking getting killed if you leave it out, your life total drops too far, and then someone removes it. Having that elevated life total tends to make you a target for other players, so I'd rather pass the turn at 37 with Illusions of Grandeur in my hand than pass the turn at 57 and have everyone feel like they have to attack me.

Paying the X

This grand plan of gaining 10 or 20 life and cashing in for some major card draw on my end step isn't going to take me very far if I don't have the mana to pay into Shanna's X ability. That means a large part of this deck's focus is going to have to be making big mana.

I'm running 37 lands and some of my usual ramp staples, but I've decided to focus on running some familiar cards to try to pump up my mana production.

Mirari's Wake
Zendikar Resurgent
Nyxbloom Ancient

Mirari's Wake pumps my creatures by +1/+1 but more importantly it will let my lands tap for an additional mana. Zendikar Resurgent will let me draw a card when I cast a creature spell, but will also add an extra mana when I tap a land for mana. Not to be outdone, Nyxbloom Ancient merely triples the amount of mana I'll be producing when I tap a permanent for mana.

In the late game if I've got 8 lands on the battlefield, I could realistically be playing my Illusions/Delusions enchantment, bouncing it to my hand and on the end step I should be able to draw up to a full hand at the very least. With two of these I might be drawing a dozen or more cards.

Incremental Lifegain

My game plan for Shanna isn't solely built around these weird old enchantments. I also have a lot of incremental lifegain built into this deck with the goal of being able to draw cards in advance of the late game when I should have the mana to really go nuts with my card draw.

Serra Ascendant
Jaddi Offshoot
Invoke the Divine

This deck has a decent number of creatures and a bunch of them have lifelink. The Ascendant, the cheesiest of one-drop EDH staples, definitely has a place in today's list. I didn't go all in on lifelink creatures, but I did throw in a few that might not belong here, including the one mana 1/1 Healer's Hawk. It might seem like a silly include, but I ought to be able to get an extra 1 life by swinging at someone without a way to block it, and I can turn that 1 life into a card at the end of turn. Odric, Lunarch Marshal is in the mix and can give all of my creatures lifelink if I have one creature with lifelink. I've also got some heavy hitters in Dragonlord Dromoka, which can lock my opponents out of casting spells on my turn, and Drogskol Reaver, which can give me additional card draw when I gain life. I'm sure with a little work I could improve the creature list in this deck, but the bottom line is that you want creatures with evasion and lifelink in this deck.

I've got a few ways to get incremental lifegain from landfall triggers in Jaddi Offshoot, Grazing Gladehart and Kazandu Nectarpot. I've also swapped out a bunch of my usual removal staples like Return to Nature and Naturalize for removal that has lifegain tacked onto it. Invoke the Divine can gain me 4 life. Natural End and Sanctify can gain me 3 life. Appetite for the Unnatural gains me 2 life. These artifact and enchantment removal spells are overcosted but if I can pair some removal with some end of turn draw, I'll be happy I paid the extra mana.

Spike Feeder Combo

When I added Archangel of Thune to this list, I realized I should probably throw at least one combo into the mix. Archangel of Thune puts +1/+1 counters on my creatures when I gain life.

Archangel of Thune
Spike Feeder

Spike Feeder will allow me to pull counters off of it to gain life, which in turn will allow me to put counters on all of my creatures with Archangel of Thune. This can loop to let me build up my creatures as much as I want and gain as much life as I want, and I'll be free to pour as much mana as possible into my end of turn Shanna card draw.

Gaining infinite life will safely lock up a game unless your opponents have a viable way to combo off or kill you with infect or commander damage. It's far from a sure way to get a table to concede, but it is nice to not have to worry about regular combat damage.

With this combo you're more likely to have mana be your limitation than lifegain. Since this combo puts +1/+1 counters on your creatures, you may well be able to kill some of your tablemates. If you don't just win on that turn, on subsequent turns if your lifegain combo pieces are still on the field you can gain more life and draw more cards until you pull into a wincon.

A Wincon

This deck can try to win through combat, and there's no reason in a casual game that you can't try to win that way. Your Spike Feeder combo should put an arbitrary number of counters on your other creatures allowing you to swing for a win, but if that isn't an option for some reason, it's nice to have another way to try to win.

Approach of the Second Sun

Approach of the Second Sun will give you a shot at winning. You cast it once and if it resolves it goes 7 cards deep in your library. The second time you cast it, if it resolves you win the game.

This deck could try for a Laboratory Maniac / Jace, Wielder of Mysteries wincon but I'm skeptical that this draft is really going to get me that close to drawing myself out. I can make big mana, but this deck isn't built to go infinite that way. If you wanted to load up with infinite mana combos, you would definitely want those wincons on the field so you could make infinite life and then draw yourself into a win on the end step.

Shanna Delusions

This list is again feeling like a work in progress. I've got incremental lifegain and enough extra mana that I should be able to get some mid-game card draw, but I do find myself wondering if I should have taken the hint from Shanna's Warrior creature type and just built her as a voltron deck.

While I love the cute interaction with Delusions of Mediocrity and Illusions of Grandeur and bounce spells, I also love that it gives me an excuse to run a ton of bounce spells. I should have a good chance to have the ability to respond to problem permanents, even if I'm only bouncing them to an opponent's hand. What this deck is lacking in is stack interaction. I'm in Blue, so I really have no excuse, but I often leave something out or have it underrepresented in any first draft I put together. I could easily see a few counterspells be the first upgrade I make once I've played this deck a few times.

Shanna Delusions | Commander | Stephen Johnson

Card Display

If you wanted to tune this deck down, you might start with the mana base. I'm running a bunch of dual lands that range from cheap bounce lands to more expensive shocks and fetches. You could also drop out Cyclonic Rift and Enlightened Tutor and lean into the voltron build path that I ignored. I think that a voltron Shanna, Purifying Blade build could be a lot of fun and surprisingly powerful given that she natively has lifelink.

If you wanted to tune this up, I think you'd be looking at adding in mana combos to have a viable and reliable shot at landing those incredibly entertaining Lab Man wins. Given that Shanna is in three colors that can easily play out combos to make infinite life and infinite mana, an all-in combo build with Shanna as the finisher makes a lot of sense. I didn't build that deck today, but I could see that kind of list playing well at high power tables and maybe even creeping into fringe cEDH territory. Card draw in the command zone is an undeniably powerful thing.

Final Thoughts

I was able to play this list online on Tabletop Simulator and I'm definitely tempted to build Shanna in paper. The more I play EDH, the more I kick myself every time I parade out yet another deck without enough card draw for the meta I play in, and the meta I play in right now demands a lot of interaction, removal and draw. Shanna could solve that problem and give me a deck I can build with the ability to go voltron or play a combo game.

One match is not much of a sample size but the game went surprisingly well. I wiped the board once, losing my commander in the process, but let everyone build back up and then cast a Fumigate to gain a bunch of life, cast Shanna and drew some cards on the end step. I was able to play out a Conqueror's Flail, draw into a hand that included Illusions of Grandeur, a bounce spell, Approach of the Second Sun, Sea Gate Restoration, Archangel of Thune AND Spike Feeder. Thanks to an Upwelling on the group hug player's board and 15 mana that I was able to overflow from the previous turn thanks to a Nyxbloom Ancient, I very much had the win when I untapped on my turn.

This first draft doesn't lean into a voltron strategy, but after playing the deck I'm thinking that voltron lifegain might be more fun than incremental lifegain (from landfall, upkeep triggers, etc...).

One of my favorite things about EDH is how many different directions you can build in, even when you're building around the same commander. Shanna is a great example of this, and I could see many more types of decks being fun and viable at different power levels. You could probably build any number of tribal decks around Shanna with her as your core draw engine and whatever tribe you like gathered around her. Griffin tribal Shanna? Why not?

That's all I've got for you today. I expect to keep digging into Dominaria United until Brothers' War is upon us. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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