The general consensus going around seems to be that Magic 2015 is going to be one of the best Core sets ever, and I wholeheartedly concur. So many of the cards each have something to latch on to, whether as a sweet card for tournament play, as something fun for your Commander deck, or just being stuffed to the gills with flavor – or even just plain funny. I know Hot Soup has rubbed some people the wrong way for being too silly for Magic outside of the “Un” sets, but I think over-the-top humor is fine in small doses and it definitely has precedent, often found attached to Goblin cards. I just love the flavor that nobody wants to get in the way of someone carrying a large vat of hot soup, but if that someone is poked or pushed he's taken out by a scalding hot mess spilling all over him.
Interesting, the Hot Soup sticks around for someone else to pick it up and make a run…
One card that caught my interest was Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. My competitive side sized him up, noting his comparisons to Survival of the Fittest, Fauna Shaman, and Birthing Pod, and found him wanting. If he'd been a 0/6 with Hexproof I think we might have been able to talk, but as-is he's vulnerable, small, slow, and mana-intensive. He's clearly been designed for casual play. For the Spikes among us, they gave us Chord of Calling for this sort of effect.
Yisan seems very interesting to me in Commander, and he could be quite crazy as one of the 99 in a deck that can also run Intruder Alarm. Alongside some number of creatures that can tap to provide one green and two colorless, you can basically activate Yisan over and over again, just going right up the mana curve. That could certainly provide some spectacular haymaker plays, and is something I've got bubbling on the back burner, like a cauldron of hot soup.
First, though, I'm interested in considering Yisan as the Commander of his own deck. Going this route gives you the consistency of nearly always having Yisan available to you at the cost of limiting yourself to just green and colorless spells. Considering the quality of green creatures available to us, I don't think that's too harsh a limitation at all.
So what does Yisan give us that makes him worth playing over some other green legend? The tutoring aspect is nice, but is quite restrictive; if the answer you need costs four mana and you've only got one verse counter on Yisan, you're going to be hanging out there a while. No, I think what makes Yisan attractive is being able to bring a creature out of your deck and put it into play at instant speed. All of those great green creatures printed over the years get a whole lot better when they can come out at instant speed, especially when they can't be countered and, in some cases (with enough verse counters) can be brought out for cheaper than their mana cost.
When sketching out this deck, I decided to group creatures by mana cost first, and pick some with different roles: defensive, offensive, and utility. You fetch out defensive creatures when someone is attacking you, getting a creature that will make them pay and convince others to go elsewhere just from observing that exchange. You can also fetch out a utility creature to help address different situations, and if nothing else has been needed in any given turn cycle you can fetch out an offensive creature right before it would be your next turn and start to lay down the beats while Yisan holds down the fort with his song.
ONE CASTING COST CREATURES (6)
One of the first rules of a Yisan deck is to keep Yisan safe, and Sylvan Safekeeper does a pretty good job of protecting him from targeted removal at the rather steep cost of a land. Still, if you're paying your third installment of the Commander tax and someone points a Swords to Plowshares at Yisan, it's well worth it to trade a land for an effective counterspell. Ulvenwald Tracker doesn't play offense himself, but once you've got a large creature or two in play he does good work. Quirion Ranger is one of several cards we want in the deck to double up Yisan's activated ability.
TWO CASTING COST CREATURES (6)
Here's where we get into some nasty surprises! Deadly Recluse can block and kill just about any attacker, and Nightshade Peddler can join up with another chump blocker to kill two attackers. Epochrasite is sweet because it gets three +1/+1 counters if it enters play any way other than being cast from your hand, so it can either be a decent blocker or can go on offense for you.
THREE CASTING COST CREATURES (6)
Defense: Hornet Nest, Predator Ooze
Offense: Dungrove Elder
The indestructible Predator Ooze was an early choice for a durable blocker, but then as I was writing this Hornet Nest was spoiled and I was immediately floored — how awesome is this! Way back when I won Virginia States a key sideboard card that got me there was Saber Ants, adding a ton of resilience against Wildfire decks. It was a great card to just run out there on your main phase, but being able to hit at instant speed? I can just imagine some giant attacking creature – say, a Lord of Extinction – coming my way and Yisan playing a tune that brings Hornet Nest out to block, producing a huge swarm of very angry 1/1 flying insects with deathtouch! Of course, we also want the amazing and spectacular new Reclamation Sage in our list. Loaming Shaman seems like a helpful addition to shuffle in previously-killed creatures we can tutor up again, or even to pseudo-nuke someone's graveyard in a pinch.
FOUR CASTING COST CREATURES (6)
Utility: Nylea, God of the Hunt
Speaking of Saber Ants, why not put the original in here at the four-mana mark? Sure, they are just 1/1 ground-pounding Insect tokens, but if there are enough of them you can do some good work (or even just block for days). I picked Hunted Troll because he hits hard, regenerates cheaply, and can provide instant-speed blockers for an opponent you want to save or to get their help in ganging up on the table's Big Bad.
FIVE CASTING COST CREATURES (5)
Defense: Acidic Slime
Offense: Kalonian Hydra
Seedborn Muse is already busted in Commander, but in a Yisan deck things just get silly. Plaguemaw Beast is one way to jump up the verse counters to ramp up to the big stuff with proliferate. And maybe we can get Kalonian Hydra to attack alongside Scute Mob and Epochrasite!
SIX CASTING COST CREATURES (4)
Offense: Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Utility: Realm Seekers
Of all the M15 Souls, none gets my heart aflutter quite as much as Soul of New Phyrexia. How good is it going to feel when someone casts Wrath of God and you respond by barding up Soul of New Phyrexia and making all your dudes indestructible? Duplicant is of course for when you absolutely, positively have to exile some troublesome creature. Kamahl can let your entire team get aggressive on the one hand, while on the other hand he can also punish Sir Wraths-A-Lot by animating a bunch of their lands to die with all the rest of the creatures.
SEVEN CASTING COST CREATURES (3)
Defense: Hornet Queen
Offense: Avenger of Zendikar
Utility: Platinum Angel
The only thing better than fetching up an instant-speed Hornet Queen to Wrath all the attackers is an instant-speed Platinum Angel to steal someone's victory or prevent your imminent demise. Avenger of Zendikar might seem more defensive than offensive, but it doesn't take too many land drops before all those plant tokens get awfully fierce!
You may be thinking that it's a bit optimistic to be planning on accumulating four, five, or even more verse counters on Yisan, and you'd not be incorrect to think so. In most games it's very rare for someone's Commander to sit on the board unmolested for multiple turns doing stuff that's obviously going to be bad for the other players. Keeping this in mind, I decided to front-load the deck with lots of spells to help protect Yisan from an early demise.
PROTECTION AND ENHANCEMENT
Normally it doesn't make much sense to go to such lengths to protect your Commander since if it dies you can just replay it from the Command Zone. But Yisan takes so much time and effort to get going that I think it's worth pushing hard to keep him in play. Also, once you've got Yisan online, you've basically got to keep three mana back at all times, which puts limits on the mana you have to do other stuff –that led me to cut a lot of non-creature spells I would normally play at the higher points of the curve and add slots lower down the curve. Conveniently, a lot of green spells that can protect individual creatures are pretty cheap. I kinda like the idea of playing Yisan, untapping, drawing my card, playing a land and then passing the turn. At that point you're a loaded gun waiting to go off, and I can't wait to see the look on an opponent's face when he's grown tired of the tune my bard is playing and points some removal his way only to have it stopped by a green deck. I'm not entirely sure I want Lightning Greaves in this deck since you can't protect Yisan from sweepers if he's got Shroud, but I figure sometimes you might want to activate Yisan on your own turn, summon up a creature, equip it with Greaves and attack.
Here's what I've got cooked up, just ready for me to crack open a copy of Yisan, the Wanderer Bard from a Magic 2015 booster pack:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Epochrasite
- 1 Platinum Angel
- 1 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Deadly Recluse
- 1 Dungrove Elder
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 1 Hunted Troll
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Kalonian Hydra
- 1 Loaming Shaman
- 1 Magus of the Candelabra
- 1 Nightshade Peddler
- 1 Plaguemaw Beast
- 1 Predator Ooze
- 1 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Realm Seekers
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Saber Ants
- 1 Scute Mob
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Seeker of Skybreak
- 1 Spike Weaver
- 1 Sylvan Safekeeper
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Wasteland Viper
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- 1 Yeva, Nature's Herald
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Birthing Pod
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Power Conduit
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Thousand-Year Elixir
- 1 Avoid Fate
- 1 Mending Touch
- 1 Mortal's Resolve
- 1 Ranger's Guile
- 1 Savage Summoning
- 1 Sheltering Word
- 1 Unravel the Aether
- 1 Vines of Vastwood
- 1 Withstand Death
- 1 Wrap in Vigor
- 1 Bow of Nylea
You may notice I'm playing quite a few lands here. My reasoning is that you pretty much want to drop lands as often as you can until you get to six mana, enough for two Yisan activations if you've got a way to untap him. I've made sure to include the big mana lands to try and get around the 3-6 mana you'll have tied up each turn with Yisan.
I added a copy of Yeva, Nature's Herald not as a silver bullet but because she can act as a backup Yisan of sorts — namely, if Yisan is stranded in your Command Zone, Yeva can let you play the instant-speed game with any of your green creatures already in hand. Besides, I hear that Yeva likes bardic music and finds musicians very attractive...
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Yisan, the Wanderer Bard for Commander, either as the big man or as one of the 99. And if you're intrigued for Standard applications for Yisan, be sure to check out Michael Martin's column A Wanderer Emerges.
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus :
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice ( new player-friendly)
Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)