Dear Azami – Snakes On A Plane

This week’s submission to Dear Azami is a “Snakes on a Plane” deck with Seshiro the Anointed as commander. Read what changes Sean McKeown makes to improve this fun, tribal-themed deck.


I’m sure that you get a lot of submissions with green commanders, but I’ve been working with a rather unusual green commander for a while. For a deck that started out as a joke, I’d like to turn it into something reasonably powerful but still fun to play. The commander is Seshiro the Anointed, and the joke is “Snakes on a Plane.” The deck features plenty of Snakes and several artifacts that work to give them flying and take advantage of the card draw that Seshiro generates. With so many Snakes, though, the deck seems to be poised between two different ideals. The first is massive mana generation that the shamans of the snake line tend to help create, and the other is the warrior theme that wins with large attacks. I could really use your help tuning the deck into something that still keeps the theme but seems a little more focused and cuts the dross.

 Here’s the list:

Commander: Seshiro the Anointed


Orochi Leafcaller
Sakura-Tribe Scout
Kashi-Tribe Reaver
Matsu-Tribe Sniper
Mold Adder
River Boa
Orochi Sustainer
Ambush Viper
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Death-Hood Cobra
Blight Mamba
Orochi Ranger
Tangle Asp
Glass Asp
Matsu-Tribe Decoy
Kashi-Tribe Elite
Ohran Viper
Orochi Eggwatcher
Sakura-Tribe Springcaller
Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro
Kashi-Tribe Warriors
Sakura-Tribe Springcaller
Matsu-Tribe Birdstalker
Chameleon Colossus
Acidic Slime
Krosan Tusker
Steel Hellkite
Oracle of Mul Daya
Wolfbriar Elemental
Kazandu Tuskcaller
Avenger of Zendikar
Eternal Witness
Omnath, Locus of Mana
Changeling Titan
Regal Force
Nemata, Grove Guardian
Garruk’s Horde
Fauna Shaman
Verdeloth the Ancient
Dungrove Elder


Seed the Land
Beastmaster Ascension
Primitive Etchings
Snake Umbra
Mark of Sakiko


Kodama’s Reach
Krosan Grip
Overwhelming Stampede
Squall Line
Genesis Wave


Graveyard Shovel
Birthing Pod
Eldrazi Monument
Emerald Medallion
Soratami Cloud Chariot
Snake Basket
Predator, Flagship


Garruk Wildspeaker
Garruk, Primal Hunter


26 Forest
Evolving Wilds
Terramorphic Expanse
Thawing Glaciers
Slippery Karst
Tranquil Thicket
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

The only restriction that I ask you keep is the “Snakes on a Plane” theme. It’s become a great theme that the group enjoys laughing about, and let’s face it: flying snakes are a seriously funny thing to get attacked by.

Dale Boyce

Okay, you’ve got me—flying snakes are a funny thing to get attacked by. In chasing this theme, you’re asking mostly for a straightforward Snake tribal deck but with added synergy. This deck is going to have a little bit of a combo aspect to it, in that in chasing the theme some truly wild things will be possible. There’s got to be a certain level of intentionality to it, then, if we’re to succeed at being the fun deck that also does some wild things once in a while. I think the bridge between the “Warriors Matter” attacking theme and the “Mana Matters” Shaman theme is to make it so that by attacking the opponent you accomplish your objective of making mana to intermix the two themes.

Fortunately, there’s a Snake for that, or as the case may be with Seshiro online and filling your hand…a few Snakes for that.

We’ll be auditing the creature base pretty heavily—I’m sorry, I have a hard time getting behind one-mana 1/1’s with no ability besides “counts as a member of my tribe” here—and while sticking closely to Snakes makes it a bit hard to choose only quality creatures, you can still do significantly better than a few of the ones you’ve got. Part of this will be winnowing the pack to attack better, while another chunk is going to be working on the mana engine and seeing if we can’t get somewhere interesting from there. There’s a lot you can do with green to multiply both mana and cards, and we’re going to chase that pretty hard…while doing something different than Omnath would do, because if that was what you wanted to pursue you’d go there instead. Refilling the hand with Seshiro and putting Snakes on a plane is your job, and making that cohesively work is mine.

Starting with the basic audit, I note one duplication and one slot unfilled, with Sakura-Tribe Springcaller being so nice you played it twice and one slot simply left out. Two blank slots get added in at this point, and we’ll allocate them to particular segments later on as we figure things out. One I’ll use right up front as I work on your mana base because I think the deck would be better by adding another land. Since my critics have recently been making fun of me for automatically adding Dust Bowl, out of sheer ornery stubbornness I’m going to not include it (though I think it would be useful since I always think it would be useful!) and instead include Winding Canyons as the blank slot.

Getting to play any creature you want as an instant is normally pretty sweet, but when your commander is a walking combat trick (though how a Snake walks I’ve never had sufficiently explained to me…) it’s even better than usual. Seshiro the Anointed gets an extra level of complexity when sometimes the Snake can come out of nowhere, which is a very important fact when jamming your Snakes on a plane in the first place.

Working on the rest of the substitutions, I cut four slots and added four back, with the caveat that if you can afford the ridiculously large sum of money it would take to get a Gaea’s Cradle for your mono-green creature-based mana ramp deck, it would benefit you to do so. The four cuts were two basic Forests and the two oddballs in the decklist—Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse. The benefit of thinning your deck of one land isn’t worth coming into play tapped for, so I started looking for something to make it make sense and frankly couldn’t find anything sufficient beyond Avenger of Zendikar and maybe Oracle of Mul-Daya. There were other lands I was interested in adding that came into play tapped, so I added those back in instead.

Llanowar Reborn: A little love on a land usually forgotten. While it’s not a really big deal—it’s just a +1/+1 counter, after all—the benefit of that extra power in an attack-centric deck like this one can be quite meaningful, as it’s the difference between being able to attack still and not being able to attack still. “Being able to attack still” is worth a card in your hand, meaning this little benefit adds up significantly when planned for correctly.

Mosswort Bridge: An easy card to add to a green creature deck if ever there was one. The only interesting thing I have to say about this card is that I recently explored it in Modern as a non-Tron alternative to casting Tooth and Nail or Emrakul for free off of Primeval Titan, and it ended up surprisingly well all things considered. I’m tempted to add a Primeval Titan—you’re a green deck, of course I’m tempted to add a Primeval Titan—but I really wanted to limit myself to one “you really should have this automatic Commander staple” in the deck, so instead you’ll just have a very good land that doesn’t show up any more often than any other.

Blasted Landscape: Cycling lands are good for a deck like this that really wants to moderate its draws in the mid-game but otherwise is light on draw manipulation. Cycling lands then made me want to add Life from the Loam, but not with Terramorphic Expanse, so I ran into the predicament of budget with this. Not only would it be better with a Gaea’s Cradle, if I were designing it from the ground up I’d include the four green Onslaught and Zendikar fetchlands and a copy of Life from the Loam as well, possibly a few Panoramas to help with consistency, and a Crop Rotation to find the Cradle… But at $50+ just for the parts that otherwise could be indistinguishable from basic Forest for you, it was hard to justify going there. A later addition—a certain legendary Snake—would be made all the better if this was the avenue pursued, but as it is Blasted Landscape is simply good enough to include without getting all complicated on it.

Reliquary Tower: Another reason Life from the Loam could be better, but also another reason to be sad it’s not included. There will be enough card draw from putting your Snakes on their planes that it would be a shame to waste any of it; this deck is going to be either thirsty for cards or drowning in them depending on how it is going and may in fact alternate swiftly between the two states depending on the favors of Fortuna. Reliquary Tower doesn’t help you go from poor to rich, but that’s Seshiro’s job; Reliquary Tower is instead here as a means to avoid going from rich to poor simply because your hand size is limited to seven cards.

Moving on to the artifacts, I thought of at least one more “plane” to put your Snakes on, and I had a few other suggestions for ways to make the deck a little more consistent. That spare slot will get spent here as well, rather than left to linger, so all told it’s three cards out and four cards back in. First we’ll analyze the three coming out for “why they aren’t working towards the same focus,” then we’ll build up the themes we’re already pursuing with new additions.

Emerald Medallion — I’m not actually convinced this is better for you than just a land, or in that case, better than Mind Stone would be. Are you going to profit more than one mana off of it by casting multiple spells a turn? Is it powerful enough to warrant the loss of a card when, inevitably, a sweeper clears the board? This doesn’t pass that test, so it gets cut.

Graveyard Shovel — As neither targeted graveyard removal for when you need it nor consistent lifegain when you need that instead, this is caught between two jobs and does neither one effectively.

Birthing Pod — This is clearly here as your Survival of the Fittest substitute, and it’s not just getting cut for Survival for “power reasons.” It’s here because it’s not actually doing that job particularly well, and there’s just not a whole lot that it does for you besides allow you to occasionally sacrifice something for a minor upgrade. I’d want a more consistent card just to begin with, something that actually builds you along one axis or another that you’re trying to work on, or better yet one that bridges both the “Shamans for mana” and “Warriors for power” divide that Sosuke and Sachi create within your deck.

Reaching for replacements, we don’t necessarily reach the most interesting replacements, but they do fit the themes and where you’re trying to build towards.

Sol Ring — The “staple card” I couldn’t resist having to add, though I really did try. Asking whether you’d ever get two mana worth of savings out of an Emerald Medallion in the same turn made it really, really obvious what card I felt should be in its place, and the explosive power of Sol Ring lets you do some nutty things alongside the Sachi side of the deck by going Shaman-crazy. It also helps get Seshiro and the attack phase plan working faster, so it’s just the best blunt tool for the job.

Akroma’s Memorial — SNAKES. PLANES. Any questions?

Door of Destinies — As a tribal supporter, Door of Destinies lets a few Snakes get out of hand very quickly by passing around mega bonuses to power and toughness even before adding Seshiro’s side of the equation. While I can never in clear conscience add Coat of Arms in Commander—there are too many tribal themed decks and token decks to make that anything other than a drastically suicidal move most of the time—Door of Destinies is laser-focused and doesn’t share.

Gauntlet of Power — Sorry if this is another “yawn” addition, but it both doubles mana access and increases power and toughness, meaning it’s another useful bridge across the Sachi/Sosuke divide.

Moving over to the spells, we’re going to do a significantly larger amount of surgery, pulling out the parts that don’t work or just get us off-topic. This deck wants to be purposeful and proactive, so too many Disenchant-style answers to opposing board effects is not really what we’re aiming for, and things that share too much and give too little likewise pull us away from our intended focus.


Hurricane, Squall Line — I get that these are both here as finishers to provide direct damage rather than “flier hate” to try and focus on that side of the enemy board, but even at that appointed task you’d be better off focusing on making your fast attacks more effective or your card-draw and mana-multiplication mechanisms more effective. This is so you can just do the job better the first time and not have to rely on drawing a crutch that sometimes might let you finish off an opponent who had managed to stabilize.

Naturalize, Bramblecrush — Utility, yes, but at what price? You can deal with an offending permanent, but the most direct answer will in many cases be “enforce your will via murder” as a means to handle problem permanents. If people rack up a troublesome board, well, Overrun them and the problems tend to go away. The problems you’re going to have to tend to focus on are board sweepers and things that get your Snakes off of their planes, and a little extra utility rather than a little extra consistency means you’ll often have more options but less impact. You want to do what you do well, not do it maybe and have a Disenchant in reserve.

Primitive Etchings — Sometimes you’ll get an extra card out of the deal after investing in this enchantment. Is that the best deal you can get, however? Abundance would let you skip drawing lands for the remainder of the game and thus have an immediate quality impact, while a different card-drawing spell could be picked to have immediate impact without having to wait, expose a permanent, and even then only maybe get paid off on it. Too inconsistent to keep around.

Snake Umbra — Cute as far as the Snake theme goes but not actually taking us anywhere by itself. Auras need to be really powerful to justify their inclusion, and in this case it’s just not true; cutting the same card to add Hystrodon instead would take us off the Snake theme (at least as far as the flavor goes; neither is a Snake but one at least purports to be…) but would nonetheless let you do the job you’re talking about more consistently and more readily.

Mark of Sakiko — The question again comes down: is this getting us anywhere we want to be? The mana acceleration, if effective, would be nice…but it’s just trying to get paid for Part A (Sosuke’s attack focus) in Part B dollars (Sachi’s mana acceleration focus). Focusing on doing either job well or finding true bridges that effectively work on both metrics will be what you’re trying to do, not this.

Seed the Land — I liked it until I read “its controller” because I thought somehow you’d found for me a new clever little token generating card. As it is, this makes some Snakes for you sometimes and definitely Snakes for other people a lot of the time, and you’d be better off focusing on a way to get yourself Snake tokens consistently without providing the opponent with chump blockers. Yes, your Snakes want to be on a plane so they shouldn’t get in the way too too often, but you have to plan for the fact that Seshiro without a mass-flying effect is more likely to be the plan of action and you draw fewer cards when you give your opponents blockers.

Filling back in, I’m going to move four extra slots over to creatures so that you draw a good mix of Snakes more consistently, and I’ll focus the rest of the way on profiting on mana or cards one way or the other.

Sylvan Library — In an aggressive deck like this one, you’ll probably be happy to pay some extra life up front for some cards, and unlike Primitive Etchings this will always pay you back for the investment the first time it triggers if you want it to. Between giving you the best of three options all the time and being able to just draw you cards (even if the exchange rate is “bad”), it’s the right tool for the job even if it’s a staple green spell and thus not necessarily that interesting.

Greater GoodSheldon Menery favorite card, at least as far as my word search of his weekly articles suggests. Purely powerful raw card draw isn’t to be underestimated, and this is a great way to get a whole pile of cards into your hand. A whole pile of cards in your hand has potential uses that aren’t visible yet but will be clearer when we get to creatures. At the very worst it helps us to keep going in the cascading mechanism of attacking for cards, investing more cards onto the table directly results in getting paid back even more for your investment.

Momentous Fall — I wanted another card drawer alongside the Harmonizes and Garruk -3s and so on. Momentous Fall takes some setting up and will never be outrageous in this deck—you’re not trying to get to “bonkers” levels of power on any one creature—but it should routinely trade itself in for a few extra cards and can usually be found an opportunity to sneak its additional cost away usefully by responding to a kill spell.

Sosuke’s Summons — Snakes! By honing in on the tribal aspect of the deck, you can bring this back to your hand again and again, and having played this with a straight face in Kamigawa Block Constructed I can honestly tell you the card’s way better than you’ve given it credit for. Rather than play an enchantment that passes Snakes around, this just adds the kicker cost of “2G: Put two 1/1 Snakes into play” to every Snake creature spell you cast. This may not sound like much, but over the course of a longer game this gets pretty inexorable as it’s a solid attrition mechanism in a format that’s already highly attrition-based.

Moving over to creature spells, I’m going to do major surgery without explanations in some cases…repeating “low power/toughness ratio” or “I wouldn’t even play this in Draft” gets boring after all, and it’s the additions that I find compelling, not the subtractions. We’re trying to focus on a tribal theme which is why the non-Snake creatures get cut back, but for every Snake cut it’s simply due to the fact that a more efficient Snake for the job can be found. Every creature added back in will be a Snake—no sneaking Primeval Titans in while you’re not looking—though some may have some wacky text to get us to that understanding.

Out: Sakura Tribe Springcaller (twice, technically!), Matsu-Tribe Birdstalker, Kashi-Tribe Warriors, Blight Mamba, Orochi Leafcaller, Dungrove Elder, Verdeloth the Ancient, Kazandu Tuskcaller


Sakiko, Mother of Summer — Sakiko is the “bridge” we’ve been looking for; Mark of Sakiko wasn’t kicked out of bed for doing the wrong thing but instead for being an enchant creature spell in a hostile environment. Sakiko is actually interesting enough that I’d be tempted to switch her out for Sosuke once in a while and see how the deck operates under each of their leads, because Sakiko can power some truly horrible Genesis Waves. I’m comfortable thinking “drawing a bunch of cards” is better than making a bunch of mana, but even with that I have to at least acknowledge Sakiko does add an interesting element.

Adaptive Automaton — Build your own Lord! Snakes you liked were torn between toughness-boosts and power-boost, while this “Snake” covers both sides. Since there weren’t exactly a lot of tribal Lords made accessible in Kamigawa Block for you to work with, this is an excellent gap-filler to help with your aggro curve.

Anaconda — Yes, he says with a straight face. Cutting a 2/2 for four for a 3/3 for the same cost counts as an upgrade, and Swampwalk is probably the best landwalk ability you can ask for while you do it—even opponents with no basic land types in their deck will often find themselves the possessors of a Swamp in play thanks to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Little upgrades matter, and this at least gives us more realistic aggressive consistency as we go up the mana curve.

Boa Constrictor — Less efficient but still better than Kashi-Tribe Warriors, unless you really like Kashi. Being able to block as a 6/6 is something you’ll likely use once in a while, though the “dream” I suppose would be to go to the air with Akroma’s Memorial and be able to swing as a 6/6 instead. 2/4’s are just pitiful, so this at least gets you to the three-power mark.

Hornet Cobra — Not really powerful but at least it’s cheaper than the four-drop it was replacing. Still wearing a straight face as I suggest some of these, if you’re curious.

Lotus Cobra — Now that’s a Snake! Pursuing Lotus Cobra once again drags me into the thoughts of a “higher powered” version of the deck with Life from the Loam, Crucible of Worlds, and fetchlands… Even “just” being able to provide a mana acceleration bump while still attacking is perfectly in-theme for what you’re trying to accomplish, even if it could work harder at that particular job if you wanted to press harder along that metric.

Mire BoaRiver Boa was good enough, and Swampwalk will happen more often. It’s just an efficient beater with regeneration, and that extra bit of durability is exactly what your tribe needs. I specifically cut Blight Mamba with this one in mind, not wanting to lose the regeneration ability but definitely thinking damage was better than poison when only one card in your deck deals out poison counters. The more effectively aggressive you are, the more likely you are to cascade past the tipping point with Seshiro-boosted attacks.

Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant — Sure the “flip this by showing seven lands” is probably never going to happen. The threat that it even could will see it killed on sight. But I suggested Hornet Cobra with a straight face, and this has two more toughness… The games where you start to run away even a little bit can definitely cascade if you try to push them that way, and flipping Sasaya into Sasaya’s Essence probably equates 100% with winning the game. I like it more the more high-powered the deck gets, and I would think it flips pretty easily with Life from the Loam in the deck…but even in this lower-powered, less combo-focused build it’s a decent body and something that will occasionally accidentally happen on really sweet turns.

Shisato, Whispering Hunter — The mean Snake. Shisato can technically lock an opponent out of the game, never to untap again, but the likelihood of doing so without being able to defend themselves (or someone else willing to drop a removal spell to defend them instead) realistically prevents this from getting too repetitively out of hand. It’ll be useful as a tool to slow a combo player down, as that’s probably the kind of deck the rest of the table will let you get away with poking and not coming to their defense, but otherwise it’s just kind of goofy and not necessarily the most effective. If you’re going to put just one Snake on a plane, though, wouldn’t you want it to be the most venomous snake you own?

Brass Herald — Okay, I apparently lied about the “all Snakes” thing, as unlike Adaptive Automaton this doesn’t become a Snake while it’s in play. It does, however, function as a Snake Ringleader, helping get more cards in your hand and benefit further from pushing on with that Snake-tribal theme. It also provides a boost to your Snake forces to pump them in combat.

Game-Trail Changeling, Woodland Changeling — Technical Snakes and sadly possessed of better stats than real Snakes at these mana costs tend to get you.

Putting that all together we have a final decklist, but I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’ve mentioned a theoretical “higher power” version not included solely because of the expense of the cards included. I wanted to at least group all of the cards I’d put into that deck together that aren’t in yours for budgetary reasons:

Mana Crypt
Jund Panorama
Naya Panorama
Bant Panorama
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs
Misty Rainforest
Strip Mine
Dust Bowl
Life from the Loam
Crucible of Worlds
Gaea’s Cradle
Crop Rotation
Slate of Ancestry
Praetor’s Counsel
Heartbeat of Spring
Shizuko, Caller of Autumn

Those last two are where I find it most interesting to think of what I’d do if I wanted to go full speed ahead, as they give others powerful access to resources in hopes of yourself getting beneficial resources out of the deal. I’m not even sure they’re right, but I do know that’s the metric I would be willing to go to try this Snake theme out and go “full combo” with the big green spell metric. These are all things to be considered and pursued further if you think it’s at all attainable anywhere in the future. I would hesitate to add Heartbeat and Shizuko without more of these beneficial mana multiplication cards like Gaea’s Cradle in there first, but once that’s the path you start to go down I see little reason to stop.

Putting it all together, we get the following decklist:

As always, you’ll receive a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store for your participation. With “just” $20 to work with, then, it’s obvious why I’m not able to suggest the turbo-powered version in good conscience since that coupon covers, um, one fetchland… Pricing each of these suggested additions out, we have the following:

With the decklist complete, I have just one sad bit of news to present: given my high level of social activism and the fact that I haven’t made a single meaningful step forward on the novel I’d originally stepped down from writing “Magical Hack” in order to begin, I’ve found that committing myself on a weekly schedule to this column is a more serious time commitment than I can continue to maintain. I’ve still committed myself firmly to this series and will continue (as it originally was) on an every other week schedule, but I’ve found that writing Dear Azami every week eats all of my writing time. I’d like to make some more progress…which means I have to reallocate the time.

This, then, is the last weekly edition of Dear Azami, at least for now… I have left the door open for our illustrious editor to consider finding a co-author for the series to continue it on a weekly basis. Hopefully this doesn’t disappoint anyone too seriously, and we shan’t consider our time together “over” by any degree just because I’m not on the website next week.

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like Trevon’s Bosh, Iron Golem deck or Phil’s Merieke Ri Berit deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami  includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store!

Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!

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