I was one of many Commander fans waiting patiently for a legendary Spider, and now we finally have that with Eldritch Moon! Ishkanah, Grafwidow doesn't disappoint either: a reasonable body and cost, plus the abilities are deliciously flavorful. The one concern I had was how to trigger delirium reliably in order to get those tokens. Loading up the graveyard dredge-style seemed like a good route to go, and utilizing as many combo-type cards as possible would make delirium a much easier target to hit.
Commander: Ishkanah, Grafwidow
So... I went in about a billion directions with this deck. Like I mentioned, I added in a lot of dredge cards as they seemed best to enable Ishkanah's delirium effect. I also included self-mill cards like Splinterfright to help the cause. But due to sending so many things to my graveyard, I added in a lot of cards to rebuy important cards, such as Eternal Witness and Den Protector. And heck, Nyx Weaver is a Spider and helps to self-mill and buys back stuff!
I included what useful Spiders I knew of, with Silklash Spider being my favorite way to deal with fliers.
Since Ishkanah's drain ability costs so much to activate, I included a lot of ramp. I also included a lot of token producers like Pentavus and Conspiracy to try to max out on the draining potential of Ishkanah. Oh, and I added in a lot of token multiplication cards like Parallel Evolution and Second Harvest.
I like all of these themes and see inherent use in all of them, but I feel like I went overboard. Can you help me winnow down to the bare necessities? My budget is about $100, but the lower the better.
I'm not going to lie; you had me at Spider Spawning.
Spider Spawning was crucial to an underutilized but key draft archetype in our first visit to Innistrad, one I had a perhaps-unhealthy amount of fun with at the time, and to see it finally having a good home in a Commander deck left me grinning.
That said, you wanted help figuring out what needs winnowing and how to make this deck work right, and the key here is in understanding just how easy it is to achieve delirium without trying too hard. Land is an easy card type to get into your graveyard at low cost, and both instants and sorceries go there when they resolve... barring unusual ones like the aforementioned Seasons Past, that is. That means you just need to get one of any of the other five card types into your graveyard at some point, the easiest one of which is likely “creature” because your opponents will kill them while interacting with you.
We don't need to jump through a lot of hoops to make delirium happen, so the dredge elements can get toned down considerably. I'd rather focus on those beneficial spells like Grisly Salvage that incidentally stock the graveyard while improving your hand instead of playing dredge cards with hardly any use just because they put five or six cards in the graveyard when you want them to.
This also makes your deck less graveyard-centric, and thus less likely to fold to a single graveyard-neutering spell because you haven't spent multiple draws just on stocking your graveyard. So we'll focus less on that and more on drawing awesome cards and doing neat things, which also means toning down the ramp a little because the fourth or fifth ramp spell is empty air and we don't want to spend our precious, precious draw phases on dead cards.
The deck's 100 cards instead of 99, but other than that it's doing pretty much everything right; we just need to shift its balance. Once it's well-tuned, it'll be a load of fun for all involved, because really, who doesn't love the very idea of "death by Spiders" being a valid path to victory in Commander?
We'll use a pretty light touch here; yes, you could play an Overgrown Tomb and then a bunch of fetchlands and this would technically make it easier to achieve delirium, but the cost to doing so is very high while the likely impact on the deck is quite low. I'm cutting that Dakmor Salvage because we're not dredging anymore, but also trimming three Swamps and four Forests in order to shave one slot to get back down to 99 cards and make room for the following:
While there is a long-running joke about me adding Winding Canyons to every deck and then moving on to the real considerations, with Winding Canyons presently being worth 10% of your budget, I can't quite bring myself to justify it here. I'd rather spend that budget space on another strong land from the earliest days of Magic, one that will make it much easier to hit your land drops and activate your commander's life-drain ability multiple times a turn.
Every other turn, Thawing Glaciers is worth a free basic land out of your deck. The more time and patience you have to spend, the more cards' worth of advantage you'll get out of it. This is not a deck that is in a rush, so you'll have plenty of time to spend on getting this to build up your manabase.
Three basics got cut for three nonbasics without shifting your color balance at all. Tranquil Thicket completes the set of cycling lands that is otherwise present; Bojuka Bog is basically a free spell (and a pretty good one, at that) which helps keep opposing graveyard shenanigans from getting too far out of hand; and Mosswort Bridge is an easy opportunity to get a little bit extra out of your lands with minimal effort. With the delirium trigger activated, your commander by itself nearly satisfies its activation conditions... and it doesn't hurt that it's another way to potentially break the instant-speed barrier that otherwise seems problematic to this deck.
Both Jund Panorama and Terminal Moraine are effectively the same card as the Warped Landscape you're already playing, so if it was good enough to add one copy in hopes of bolstering your delirium, it's probably still good enough to add a second and third. Mystifying Maze provides us with another instant-speed spell-like effect just as part of our manabase at minimal cost; it actually taps for mana itself, unlike Maze of Ith, though it also asks for a chunk of mana to activate rather than the Maze of Ith's convenient zero.
In the later stages of the game, where you have plenty of mana but not necessarily plenty of action, Mystifying Maze can hang out and provide an argument as to why an opponent should attack elsewhere. Not a lot of cards in this deck focus on playing defense; it's mostly manipulating its own draws and adding threats to the battlefield. Improving our defenses will be much appreciated, both here in the manabase and elsewhere.
Normally I look at artifacts next, but you barely included any at all in the deck, so I'll just lump them together with the spells and address both at the same time.
The large bulk of the cuts come in here, so I'll just let the cardboard hit the cutting-room floor and go from there. Lesser ramp spells, things that only made sense as a way to discard dredge cards, and things that weren't quite pulling their own weight all get cut here to make room for better versions of the same effect or entire new elements we need to add to the deck. While the pain here may be rather abrupt, we'll start plugging up the holes right away in order to improve the deck's ability to achieve its chosen goals.
We've made thirteen cuts but I'm adding fourteen cards back instead, so we have to cut one creature slot when we finish up the deck later. Adding back in, we'll begin with the minor graveyard-oriented cards that replaced the Mulch-like suite of cards; I'm a huge fan of Grisly Salvage in this deck, but to be worth including, you have to do a little better than "just" mill some cards and put something in your hand. Corpse Churn and Mulch were both culled, knowing I'd be adding these in their place:
Yes, I know I said we'd be cutting the dredge cards, but with five cycling lands in the deck already, it seemed to me that Life from the Loam would be an obvious fit. When it's not just putting a couple of lands back into your hand so you can make those vital mid-game land drops that will let you play two big spells in the same turn, it'll potentially function as a card-drawing engine by buying back multiple cycling lands a turn... and it'll fill your graveyard a little bit too while it's at it.
Gather the Pack has the ability to do most of what Commune with the Gods did, trading the potential to find an enchantment for the potential to get two cards out of the deal instead. Since I've also cut down a bit on the enchantments anyway, the easy-to-satisfy spell mastery condition seems well worthwhile in the later stages of the game. And Scout the Borders is much the same – rather than Mulching, I'd rather play a card that was equivalent to that Grisly Salvage ideal rather than just offering me lands in my hand, all things otherwise being comparatively equal.
Cultivate is the sweet spot for ramp in this deck, as you only want to spend a little bit of mana to advance your development, and getting two lands for the price of one card is pretty solid, even if it doesn't put them both onto the battlefield. I'd cut Explosive Vegetation because you want to start casting higher-impact spells by the time you're getting to the four-mana mark; knowing we had another Cultivate-like card, we could add in Nissa's Pilgrimage.
Now, very clearly it is not quite as good since it doesn't fix your colors – you have to pick two Forests and zero Swamps, even though you'd usually want to split them 1-1 and occasionally want the 2-0 split the other way around. The likelihood of this being a problem seems slim, especially since we've added a few effective two-color lands up above when we worked on your mana, and sometimes this will even give you three lands instead of two to make up for the fact that it's otherwise a worse version of Kodama's Reach and Cultivate. The cost is right and the effect is mostly the same, and in the establishing turns of a game of Commander, that one mana-difference is considerable.
That mana cost makes such a difference that I'd found room for Wayfarer's Bauble while I was at it. While it could comparably be Rampant Growth, Sakura-Tribe Elder, or any number of close equivalents, I wanted the artifact-based version in order to assist with delirium. As an added bonus, it's a colorless mana-fixer, operating whether you have a green mana source already or not, so while we'd just added a little bit of instability by cutting a land-search spell that could find either color of mana, we're now getting a little bit of that stability back. It's not an exact offset, but so few things are in Magic. The hope is that it'll help while otherwise being invisible and going a little bit of the way towards that vital delirium trigger.
Expedition Map is similar, except it's not actually a ramp spell – it's more utility than acceleration, even though it too can find you either color of mana at low cost and can emulate that “two lands' worth of advantage” side of Cultivate by searching up Golgari Rot Farm or (presuming you have the time) go even further than that with Thawing Glaciers. In addition to all of these tricks, it's able to find utility lands like Bojuka Bog and Mystifying Maze, and at the very worst it finds a cycling land. I wanted another delirium helper and a second effect that could target an opponent's graveyard at low cost, and this seemed like an easy way to get all of that plus some added utility while I was at it.
As it was originally built, this deck strongly focuses on building up its own side and then seems to just trust everything will work out from there. Opponents often have a similar plan to build up their battlefields and they may be more effective at it than you are, so I went looking for mass removal spells that could have a lopsided effect and at least potentially leave your side of the battlefield relatively intact. In Garruk's Wake and Plague Wind most obviously fit that bill, leaving your battlefield untouched while wiping out every other creature in sight – admittedly at the quite-high cost of nine mana, which hopefully will be somewhat mitigated by the other changes we've already made to the manabase and the spells that power it up.
I'd originally wanted Oblivion Stone here but saw it would cost a quarter of your budget to suggest it. As it is, I've found that I frequently don't have the turn to spend on saving one of my permanents when I cast it but have plenty of mana, so the budget replacement of Plague Boiler can take advantage of the fact that it's within your color identity to add another sweeper that is immediately effective. It's symmetrical, but you're already built to not be unusually vulnerable to it by largely skipping out on mana rocks in favor of ramp spells that put lands onto the battlefield; except for the too-good-to-skip Sol Ring that just demands inclusion on its own merits, for the most part we won't be harmed by the fact that we're also blowing up artifacts and enchantments.
The last Wrath effect added here is only a little bit one-sided; it will always kill all of your team, but it also does you the favor of leaving you with the best threat on the table after doing so. While it may not be ideal to wipe your side of the battlefield when you're hoping to build up those Spider-powered life-drain effects, solving all problems and being left in the best position afterward is too good of a deal to pass up.
Here's the biggest spike in that budget you'd mentioned; you said you had a budget of about $100 that you could dedicate towards the deck, and the biggest bonus to be offered here would be an upgrade from the lesser token-doublers like Second Harvest to the original. While there aren't many +1/+1 counter shenanigans going on in this deck, being able to instantly ultimate any of your planeswalkers is a powerful option and the no-hassles automatic doubling of your tokens is much better than only doing so after-the-fact.
Literally half of your budget is dedicated here, and if that's unreasonable, I trust you'll be able to decide accordingly and keep Parallel Evolution or whichever card you think best fits this slot. I think this is ideal even despite the expense, enough so that I worked a lot of that budget consideration around it. Hopefully it's at least potentially a reasonable option for you to consider finding a copy for the deck between paying for cards and trading for them.
The second addition here is to take advantage of the fact that a good chunk of the creatures you have added here – and your commander too! – have an enters-the-battlefield trigger we can re-use with Erratic Portal. It makes all of your Eternal Witness-type creatures just that much better, can save a mundane threat from creature removal, or give you a second crack at a sweet trigger, all for the low, low price of one mana once it's on the battlefield. It can even technically interact with other players' cards, though for the most part that's true only if they're willing to let you.
For our last two slots here in the spell section, I wanted a bit more card advantage. I'd built some of that in with the Wrath effects and Life from the Loam can eventually turn into a card-draw machine, but a few basic things that could draw some cards seemed like they would be beneficial to the deck.
Harmonize is a clean, simple draw-three, while Bitter Revelation is more in keeping with the rest of the deck's graveyard-centric spells – you draw two cards instead of three, but you get to draw the best two out of four and the other two go to the graveyard where they can count for spell mastery and delirium or can just be picked up later by an Eternal Witness if you have a need of it. You'll need to have some solid card draw spells available for whenever your synergy-based plans aren't coming together, as the best way to fight against opposing mass removal spells is to have a full grip when the dust has cleared.
Besides, who doesn't like to draw cards?
We're down to just the creatures, and it's not hard to predict that I'll be cutting all of your dredge creatures here because I don't think the cards themselves do enough once you've put them back in your hand. Other than that I'm mostly going to shift around your top end some, play around with tokens a little, and fill out the Spider tribe as appropriate.
First we have the cuts:
The dredgers I've already explained, but the other six bear some explaining. Erebos and Nylea aren't quite good enough even when they actually are creatures, so they seem like they're mostly here because they have two card types while in the graveyard and would make delirium easier to obtain. I think delirium will be covered just fine here as-is without them; ditto for Battlesphere and Pentavus, as we can do more with tokens at those points on the curve if we want to and don't really need these slots to count as artifacts too while in the graveyard.
Nighthowler just isn't what I think we're looking for. If we just wanted an efficient beater, Lord of Extinction would be well in keeping with the deck's self-mill tendencies, so I'm suspecting Nighthowler is here mostly for the bestow and the beneficial card type when I don't think either is very important to us. And Skullwinder is basically a social Gravedigger when I don't think we actually want anything like a Gravedigger at all here; our pursuit of Eternal Witness-type cards has gone a little bit too far with this slot and we can back away from it a bit.
Adding back in, first we have a pair of Spiders – Kessig Recluse and Stingerfling Spider. Basically any reasonable member of the tribe is worth including here, but unfortunately most of the tribe consists of 2/4 creatures or smaller with reach and no relevant additional text. Considering Deadly Recluse was worth including as a 1/2 with reach and deathtouch, I'm willing to include Kessig Recluse for its +1/+1 on those baseline stats, even though it's not exactly an exciting Commander card. “Counts as a Spider” matters to this deck, to the point where creatures with changeling were actively in consideration... and the other addition is just Spider plus Plummet in a format where you can reasonably expect Plummet to have a few juicy targets.
Stepping outside of the Spider tribe, I wanted another source of card advantage and realized I was pretty close to being willing to consider Seer's Sundial just to draw more cards. This isn't really a Seer's Sundial deck, though... spending two mana to draw a card would slow us down considerably, and it doesn't really mesh with our plan of casting ramp spells and being proactive.
Then I remembered another relatively new card does a surprisingly good impression of Seer's Sundial: Tireless Tracker replaces that optional card-draw trigger with an investigate trigger, which frankly is a better version of that same ability as you can easily be able to find the time later. That delayed decision really lets you optimize your mana on any given turn without losing the ability to eventually draw those cards. While it's not really on-theme, it's still in keeping with what you're trying to accomplish.
Now from here on out we're talking tokens, and I'm willing to play some weird cards to do it. We'll start with the more commonly-seen cards first, as they don't require much in the way of explanation...
Avenger of Zendikar is good with both the token-loving side of this deck and the ramp side, able to pump out far more damage than even the spinning powerball that is Myr Battlesphere can crank out. Both it and the Tireless Tracker will love the fact that we've added a few more lands that help enable Landfall to the deck, but the Avenger doesn't really need the help – especially not if you've gotten Conspiracy onto the battlefield, as Ishkanah's trigger now basically reads “Fireball somebody to death.” Hornet Queen is likewise the "better" version of Pentavus, as five flying creatures with Deathtouch is a whole lot of blocking power... and requires no additional mana investment to get there. Ant Queen is merely an efficient and sizable body that turns mana into tokens as you have it to spare, but it will serve very well in this deck because it fills out all of the roles you're seeking in a convenient and efficient manner.
Caller of the Claw isn't really a token generator in the conventional sense – it effectively has a morbid trigger though it predates that mechanic by about a decade, replacing all of your creatures that have died this turn with 2/2 tokens. Thanks to flash it's effectively Wrath protection rather than a true token generator, but as we're in the market for both tokens and Wrath protection, the card should fit admirably. The best part to me is that you may be able to knock out an unprotected player thanks to the sizable amount of power Caller of the Claw tends to leave around after a Wrath, so slotting it in around Krosan Grip, Beast Within, and Arachnogenesis in the three-mana-instants department means you will tend to have a lot of options available to you with just a few lands untapped if you want to defend yourself.
We have two slots left and I want to get a little odd here because the build allows us to. Our first card is not so much odd as it is under-utilized, but considering that we like both ramp effects and token generation, it's a good place to include Budoka Gardener. In the establishing shot of the game, those first few turns where you start positioning yourself to drop future haymakers, Budoka Gardener is basically an Exploration with summoning sickness – from turn 3 and onward you'll be able to play two lands a turn, for however long you keep having extra lands still in your hand.
...or until you hit ten lands, at which point Budoka Gardener flips to become Dokai, Weaver of Life and pumps out tokens that are 10/10 or bigger. You probably won't care whether these tokens count as Spiders or not; either way, ten power definitely counts as a problem for your average opponent. While it's not exactly likely that a turn 2 Budoka Gardener will stick around to flip and start taking people out with Elemental tokens, we'll still be happy just to get an extra land onto our battlefield off our two-drop before an opponent trades an actual card for it. Making tokens with it is a fine backup plan for when you draw it later in the game, unlike Exploration it is a card that still has relevant text on turn ten even if it is a weaker version of that effect in your opening hand.
When thinking about both tokens and one-sided Wraths, my worst experiences with Future Sight Limited came back to haunt me and reminded me of this odd little gem. A Wild Nacatl is a 3/3 for one mana with a bit of work; this is still a Nacatl and still a 3/3, but it wants five more mana just to cast it. It doesn't even do anything until it's survived a whole turn and tapped to attack, so yes, this is definitely an "optimistic" card as far as I'm concerned.
I usually fixate on the worst-case scenarios and plan around them happening routinely; this level of paranoia tends to serve me well because I often find myself in rough spots and the worst that can happen to me seems to occur quite routinely. So this one's normally outside of where I'd go, but seeing a deck that really wants to have a lot of tokens and really wants to be able to pull off a one-sided Wrath effect, I giggled madly to myself and remembered the War-Pride.
An opponent who has a lot of tapped creatures when you swing with the War-Pride is very likely dead. An opponent who has plenty of untapped creatures is still effectively Faltered, forced to block all of your token Cats before they can expend a single blocker on a non-Nacatl creature, losing any creature with three toughness or less in the process. An opponent with no creatures at all is useless to us, but the good news is there will be three opponents to choose from and you can plan your attack for the most dramatic effect. Just like how Kessig Cagebreakers represents a huge chunk of damage appearing basically out of nowhere, Nacatl War-Pride goes downright ballistic on your opponent whenever it taps to attack.
Unlike the Cagebreakers's Wolves, these spare Cat tokens don't stay around, but they have far more interesting rules text than just the generic 2/2's. Forcing your opponent to block is a potentially lethal move, either to their creatures or to their life totals. It's not a perfect fit because you don't get to keep the tokens and should always lose the original copy whenever it taps to attack, but for one brief shining moment between tapping to attack and combat's end, you may just have an absurdly large army of Spiders if there's a conspiracy afoot. Between the War-Pride's power level and your innate ability to recycle used cards – or even just use Erratic Portal to save the original – it should both do good work for the deck and get a smile when that weird "unplayable" card suddenly kills a player who didn't bother to read it.
Putting it all together, we get the following:
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Ant Queen
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Budoka Gardener
- 1 Caller of the Claw
- 1 Deadly Recluse
- 1 Den Protector
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Graverobber Spider
- 1 Greenwarden of Murasa
- 1 Hermit Druid
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 1 Jungle Weaver
- 1 Kessig Cagebreakers
- 1 Kessig Recluse
- 1 Nacatl War-Pride
- 1 Satyr Wayfinder
- 1 Silklash Spider
- 1 Splinterfright
- 1 Stingerfling Spider
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Archetype of Finality
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Nyx Weaver
- 1 Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
- 1 The Gitrog Monster
- 8 Forest
- 7 Swamp
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Blasted Landscape
- 1 Blighted Woodland
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Golgari Guildgate
- 1 Golgari Rot Farm
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Jungle Hollow
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Mystifying Maze
- 1 Polluted Mire
- 1 Slippery Karst
- 1 Temple of Malady
- 1 Terminal Moraine
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Warped Landscape
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Erratic Portal
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Plague Boiler
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Conspiracy
- 1 Deadbridge Chant
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Parallel Lives
- 1 Pernicious Deed
- 1 Vessel of Nascency
- 1 Arachnogenesis
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Constant Mists
- 1 Grisly Salvage
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Bitter Revelation
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Dark Petition
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Gather the Pack
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 In Garruk's Wake
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Necromantic Selection
- 1 Nissa's Pilgrimage
- 1 Plague Wind
- 1 Scout the Borders
- 1 Seasons Past
- 1 Spider Spawning
As always, for participating in this week's edition of Dear Azami you'll receive a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com® Online Store; you'd listed a budget of about $100 and I've tried to stay close to that, even while dropping $50 on a Doubling Season that would really make this deck hum. With the Doubling Season the budget comes to $109.30; without it you're at $59.35 – at the very least this would allow you to split the budget up over time, as you could complete the rest of the changes for $60 and try it out while deciding whether or not that Doubling Season is going to be worth stretching for.
Breaking the changes down individually by price, we get the following:
Either I've made a compelling argument for Doubling Season in this deck or I haven't, which means either you get to do awesome things like destroy opponents with a single attack of a Nacatl War-Pride that generates two tokens for every possible blocker or you'll get to keep the budget down around $60 for affordability's sake. I for one favor attacking for lethal with cards people often didn't even put in their 40-card decks, never mind 99s, but obviously it's quite a lift these days to justify getting a Doubling Season if you don't have one already.
If we were utilizing the +1/+1-counter side of the card more it would be aching for inclusion, but as it presently stands, it only makes the already-quite-lethal Avenger of Zendikar a bit more lethal and lets Tireless Tracker get two counters every time you sacrifice a Clue instead of one. There's always the trick with planeswalkers, like insta-ultimating Liliana Vess to just Rise from the Dark Realms at a discount, but that's one of the least interesting uses of the card (... as I learned when I finally got around to building a deck around doing exactly that, it was surprisingly boring to turn planeswalkers into badass sorceries).
I'm looking forward to seeing Ishkanah in action, and will probably be messing around with my Giant Box O' Commander Cards to see what piques my curiosity with the legendary Spider as well. That Second Harvest in your original build has been sticking in my brain for a while now, especially alongside that Tireless Tracker I added. While I cut the Harvest here, I really want to try playing around with them both in hopes of doubling my Clues somehow... maybe Ishkanah will be the deck that finally builds in that direction.
But with Eldritch Moon releasing on Friday, we've got several brand-new Commanders left to play with... if you've been curious about building around one of them, shoot us an email via the link below and you may find yourself featured in one of our next articles!
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