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It's Not Easy Being Mean


The Aegean Sea by Frederic Edwin Church (1877).

Teneb, the Harvester by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai.

I generally try not to circle back to a commander too soon after I first write about it, but today I've got what I think is a different and interesting take on a very powerful legendary creature that was printed this year in the preconstructed Brawl decks.

Today's deck brings the general strategy of hitting below the belt to a new level. Do you hate when someone steals your stuff? Do you hate when someone locks you out of the game? Do you hate mass land destruction?

If you're looking for the kind of deck that will help you lose friends and have people give you dirty looks for months, this might be the deck for you. I'm going to introduce you to my Chulane, Teller of Tales Druid Tribal deck. As with many of the decks that I actually build and play, this is something of a work in progress. I've been struggling to make it as nasty as possible, and that is not always easy for me. I like to play decks that my friends enjoy playing against, so a build like this finds me pushing against my normal tendencies.

The Chulane Train

The leader of the "Wild Bounty" brawl deck, Chulane, Teller of Tales, is a druid. That might seem like an afterthought. Druids aren't the kind of tribe most players get excited about. As it turns out, they happen to be a fantastic fit for Chulane.

Chulane, Teller of Tales

This legendary Human Druid has vigilance and will let you draw a card and put a land onto the field every time you cast a creature spell. If that's not enough, for three mana he can tap and return a creature you control to your hand so you can cast it again. If that sounds ridiculous and highly abusable, you're right - it is.

Whitemane Lion
Cloudstone Curio

It's relatively easy to set yourself up to be able to infinitely cast and bounce a Whitemane Lion or Kor Skyfisher to your hand. Aluren will let you cast little creatures for free. Cloudstone Curio will let you bounce creatures and tapped lands to your hand so you can keep going. A way to make infinite mana will usually set you up to win the game even if your Aluren is nowhere to be seen. Once the "Chulane Train" gets rolling, it can be very hard to stop.

The build I've been working on centers around winning through combat, but I've already been run over by a Chulane deck that wins with Laboratory Maniac. The former might be more fun and might feel more "fair" but the latter is arguably more effective. Lab Man wins games.

Before we dive into today's list I should reiterate that I wrote about a more generic "goodstuff" Chulane build back in September. You can read about it here.

Druid Tribal

Mana dorks are a fragile but powerful way to speed up your early game. Playing a turn one Birds of Paradise into a turn two Sylvan Caryatid and Utopia Tree will set you up to play a six mana commander on turn three if you're hitting your land drops. While none of those three creatures happen to be Druids, there are an awful lot of Druids that tap for mana, tutor for lands or interact with lands in some way. It's kind of their thing, and that's why they make such a great fit for Chulane.

They are also quite cheap to cast.

Arbor Elf
Elvish Mystic
Llanowar Elves

Many can generate more than just one mana.

Incubation Druid
Leafkin Druid
Karametra's Acolyte

Some even have cool abilities or hilarious flavor text.

Druid Lyrist
Joiner Adept

This deck is running over 20 Druids because we want to have an ample supply of low cost creatures to be able to keep our mean, Green Chulane Train rolling along even if we don't draw into Aluren, Cloudstone Curio, Whitemane Lion or Kor Skyfisher. We've got some "goodstuff" in this deck, but I am running a ton of Druids.

We have so many Druids that I should probably throw in a Coat of Arms for those games where I need to simply make my dudes swol and go to the red zone. I am still running Jazal Goldmane, Elder of Laurels, and Craterhoof Behemoth so that I can get the same effect if things play out right. Coat of Arms works remarkably well, but helps your opponents if they're also running a tribal deck so it can backfire on you quite easily.

Manifest Destiny

This deck is built around Druids but the point isn't to win by having more lands than anyone else. Well, actually... it is, but not in the way you might think.

There are three cards that should work together in this list to set us up to do one of the meanest things you can do in a game of Commander. We're going to be ripping up the "Social Contract" like it's a Chaos Orb and we'll be throwing it in our opponents' faces and laughing while we do so. Well, that might be a bit much, but we'll be doing something pretty mean. This is worse than playing Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger.

Seedborn Muse

It starts with a normal Chulane Druids early game where we play some druids, play Chulane and maybe have a turn where we play a few more druids. Then we get Seedborn Muse out. This Spirit will let us untap our permanents on each other player's untap step. That's good but few players will freak out when they see a Seedborn Muse. It's not like a Food Chain just hit the table.

Kindred Summons

You might want to cast this instant as soon as you untap on your opponent's turn, but I'm not going to dive into the timing of playing this card. It's an instant and you will want to play it when you have at least four Druids on the field. If you can do it when you have 6-8 Druids or more you'll maximize your chances of hitting the card you really want on the field.

I can see an argument for just including more tutors like Chord of Calling and Genesis Hydra, but Kindred Summons is an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. You should be able to reach a critical mass of 7 (or 14) Druids and also have a good chance to get our next Druid on the field. Where an opponent will likely counter Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, they are less likely to counter Kindred Summons because it isn't as obvious a threat.

Gilt-Leaf Archdruid

If your opponents' allowed Kindred Summons to resolve, and if you are able to put enough Druids on the field from your deck so that you have at least 7 untapped Druids, your opponents are in trouble.

As soon as Gilt-Leaf Archdruid hits the field, you can tap 7 Druids to gain control of all lands an opponent controls. If you can do this on your turn and have Seedborn Muse out, you tap to steal all of the lands from the next opponent in turn order. On that player's turn your permanents will untap and you do it to the next player. By the time your turn comes around again you should be untapping with nearly every land on the battlefield under your control.

A key to winning games of Commander is being able to generate more mana than your opponents. Another key to winning Commander is denying your opponents access to key resources. This strategy does both.

You might not think this is a realistic path to victory, but you'd be surprised how quickly Chulane is able to pump out lands and draw cards even without any combo pieces in play. I fully appreciate that just having all the lands doesn't stop your opponents beating you to death with the creatures they have on the battlefield (if not their dice bags, playmat tubes and the chairs they fell out of when you stole their lands).

You'll still have a pretty hefty upper hand in the game and a good shot at turning your ridiculous boardstate into a win. The deck is running a few counterspells along with Teferi's Protection and Heroic Intervention to allow you to try to protect your board if you can't win on the same turn that you "go off".

The Decklist

This is the list that I'm currently playing in the Commander league I run every Saturday. I play a wide range of decks throughout the year so even if I'm playing a "mean" deck this month, that doesn't mean I'm always playing the nastiest decks I can get my hands on. I've also played Zedruu the Greathearted and Phelddagrif along with a wide range of janky casual decks. I like to mix things up and give the guys and gals in the league something new and interesting to contend with every now and then, even if my decks aren't always quite as competitive.

The mana base for my current deck doesn't include any ABUR duals, but I've set a goal for myself to eventually pick up one of each. I won't ever proxy cards or use a staples binder, but I would like to have those arrows in my quiver so that if I do want to build a true "cEDH" deck I've got dual lands that I can run in it. Gaea's Cradle is amazing in Chulane, as you wind up getting a ton of creatures. There are Druids that untap lands and there are ways in this build to bounce it to your hand so that you can play it again with another Chulane cast trigger. If you had to choose between running Cradle and running a Tundra, Savannah, and Tropical Island - I would definitely tell you to go with Gaea's Cradle.

Early Results

I would love to tell you that as soon as this deck came together in its current Druid Tribal form, it started to win games at an alarming rate. My Marwyn, the Nurturer deck came out of the gate with a string of wins and my Grumgully combo deck hasn't lost a game yet. Chulane still feels like a strong build, but I haven't had quite the same luck with it.

The early build before I reworked it into a Druids deck actually won me a casual game. I think I went to combat with a big board and used some creature combat trick to kill the table. It might have been Pathbreaker Ibex that did the job, but it was over a month ago and I forget the details.

This deck's first game in League play was possibly my worst game (so far) of 2019. I managed to build up a decent boardstate and then faceplant in epic fashion. I tried to use Heroic Intervention and Wrath of God to protect my board and blow away my opponents' armies. An astute tablemate who happened to be playing a Black deck was able to use her creatures to ping my board down to nearly nothing before the protection spell resolved.

My "faceplant" involved using Shaman of Forgotten Ways to reduce everyone's life total to the number of creatures we each controlled. I had a Serra Ascendant on the field and had it in my head that I'd be able to swing it as a 6/6 flyer with lifelink to kill the aforementioned tablemate. When my life went below 30 my Serra Ascendant lost flying, lifelink and its +5/+5 boost. It was a pretty embarrassing oversight and cost me a game I probably could have won.

I decided to play Chulane in the second round of league play even though I found myself at a table against another Chulane deck - the one I mentioned earlier that is much more combo-focused than mine. I was also up against a cEDH Kess, Dissident Mage deck piloted by a very capable player and another very capable player who was piloting a janky, casual but still dangerous deck led by Alela, Artful Provocateur.

In this game, I was able to really blow up and play a ton of creatures. I found myself with Gilt-Leaf Archdruid and Craterhoof Behemoth in hand and was able to draw out a counterspell from the Kess player with the 'Hoof and then play my Archdruid with six other Druids in play.

As it turned out, the Kess player used a Pact of Negation to stop my Craterhoof so I tapped my Druids and chose him to steal lands from. On his turn he wasn't able to pay for his Pact and promptly lost the game. The Alela player was able to play a clone as a copy of my Chulane and had an impressive turn that made me and the other Chulane player nervous, but which didn't actually close out the game.

The other Chulane player is a great guy and an accomplished Commander deck-builder who happened to be the person I had once stolen lands from with a Yisan Druids deck using Gilt-Leaf Archdruid. At the time he was pissed, and while it was years ago he still remembered. As a show of good faith I decided not to steal his lands in this game. I could have done so, but the Kess player was too vulnerable not to target and without a Seedborn Muse on the field I wasn't in the position to fully "live the dream" of this deck.

That choice - to give the other Chulane player a pass on having his lands stolen - might have been my downfall. On his turn he tutored for combo pieces and proceeded to combo off. I wasn't particularly upset about the loss, though I am definitely hoping to grab his lands and anyone else's that I can get my hands on before the month is out. I think his build is probably closer to a "cEDH" list but I'm still optimistic about being able to steal some lands and some wins in our League this month.

Future Directions

I always enjoy thinking about future directions I might take a deck in, even as I'm playing my current build and seeing what it can do. I doubt I would load the deck up with even more tutors and go after a Lab Man wincon, as I find that more than a little tiresome. I want to win games, but I want to enjoy them too, and I don't particularly enjoy Laboratory Maniac.

Genesis Wave
Gelatinous Genesis
Helix Pinnacle

One build path could be to go after "big mana" wincons. Pouring fifteen or twenty mana into a Genesis Wave or Animist's Awakening to put a ton of lands onto the field will thin out our deck and make sure we probably won't have mana issues as we push into the late game - even if we haven't managed to steal an opponents' lands. That "big mana" could also be poured into a spell like Gelatinous Genesis to create an army that should have the power to crush anyone still in the game. If going to combat is too boring, Helix Pinnacle will let us dump mana into it on our turn, or on everyone else's turns if we've got Seedborn Muse out, and if we get up to 100 tower counters we'll win the game at the beginning of our upkeep.

Big mana outlets make a lot of sense in this deck, but my Marwyn, the Nurturer deck is already doing much the same thing. It makes big or infinite mana and wins the game through pouring that mana into outlets like the ones shown above. It's fun and effective, but I'm unlikely to have Chulane follow in Marwyn's footsteps.

Deep Forest Hermit
Nut Collector
Squirrel Wrangler

The most likely path I'll wind up taking is a whimsical one. Squirrels aren't a particularly notable tribe in Magic, but there are a handful of Druids that can create Squirrel tokens. Squirrel Wrangler is a uniquely good card to play in a deck that wants to steal lands. You can use his activated ability to tap a stolen land and a forest, sacrifice the stolen land and put two 1/1 Squirrel creature tokens into play. You can also tap a stolen land and a forest, sacrifice the stolen land and give all Squirrels +1/+1 until end of turn.

Being able to get lasting value out of your opponents' lands before you (hopefully) eliminate them from the game is a cute way to improve upon this deck's basic game plan. If you wonder why I'd consider building this deck in this direction when other build paths are clearly more competitive, you're missing the point. I'd rather experiment with goofy, unexpected cards than build, play and win with the single most optimized list for a particular Commander, even if it means losing more games as a result.

Final Thoughts

Do I think you should build all of your decks in a way that makes your friends dread playing against them and loathe seeing them "go off"?

Of course not.

Commander is an amazingly broad and varied format and there is room in any playgroup for both brutal and casual decks.

If you want to build "Chulane Manifest Destiny" because you think it will be fun to make your buddies miserable by stealing their lands, that's fine. Do that, but don't ONLY do that. Play other decks too, including ones that let them play their decks actually have fun when you play.

If you're in a casual meta I would urge you to build and play Commander decks with your own fun in mind, but also with some consideration for the experience of your tablemates. If nobody ever wants to play with you, your Commander decks won't be of much use outside of competitive play.

"It's not easy being mean" is true for me.

I don't own a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. I don't enjoy playing a card and having the entire table react with a mix of dread, revulsion or even disappointment. I have a hard time playing decks that other players find overly frustrating to play against. That's just not how I roll. As emotional as I and many others can sometimes get about our Commander games, I do know that it's just a game and that it should be OK to be incredibly "mean" to your tablemates sometimes. This deck is an experiment in building and playing in that direction and I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that this deck's strategy is more cutthroat than they're willing to be.

If you've built Chulane and have suggestions for me, or if you've put your own unique spin on this powerful Brawl Legendary, please comment below. I've been very impressed with the draw power of this Teller of Tales and would love to hear what you've done with him and how successful your build has been.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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