Putting The Widow In Your Graf

It seems like now that the dust has settled on Commander tables everywhere, the Eldritch Moon legend that has garnered the most love is Magic’s newest Spider! Bennie shares his preferred list here!

“…She served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.” – Description of Shelob the Great Spider from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

Like many of you, my gateway drug into high fantasy was J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When I used to visit my cousins out of town as a kid, I’d get to listen to my Uncle Gary read a chapter from Tolkien’s books as a bedtime story to his kids, and it didn’t take many visits for me to go hunt down the books and get to reading. Whenever I’d see my uncle, he’d ask me where I was in the saga, and what parts did I like the best, and what I thought was going to happen next. Getting to talk with him about Middle-Earth when I was venturing there for the first time was a heckuva storytelling rush.

I remember when Sam and Frodo first encounter the monstrous spider Shelob and it was the first time I was horrified by something I read in fiction. It’s one thing to read about Goblins, Orcs, Trolls, Dragons, and even Demons. But some gigantic Spider? Now that was truly frightening. There’s something primal about the fear many of us have towards spiders, and imagining one large enough to send you flying with a flick of its leg, and wrap you up tight in its web for feasting on later… well, it still gives me shivers thinking about it.

When I first started playing Magic and was opening booster packs of Unlimited, there was one creature that had the ability that we now keyword as reach: Giant Spider. The artwork instantly brought to mind Shelob. The Spider was so big, hanging on the side of a building, and its web reaching into the sky. Plus the flavor text: While it possesses potent venom, the Giant Spider often chooses not to paralyze its victims. Perhaps the creature enjoys the gentle rocking motion caused by its captives’ struggles to escape its web.

Fascinating to think about how the game mechanic of reach translates to the concept of a Spider in Magic—it may be grounded, but not even wings can keep you from having to face a Spider. It’ll just pull you down with its web.

Since Giant Spider, Magic has added 42 more Spiders to the card pool and a handful of cards that make Spider tokens. That’s enough to make a tribal Spider deck if you want to, but outside of Swarmyard and Arachnus Spider, there are no real “Spider matters” cards. Not even a legendary Spider we could build a Commander deck around.

Until Eldritch Moon. Until Ishkanah, Grafwidow!

I have to admit I was a little cool on Ishkanah when I first saw her spoiled. I liked the Golgari color identity, but the payoff for delirium seemed a little slight, and the activation cost was massive for what seemed like a very modest effect. It certainly didn’t feel like a mythic rare to me.

But then I started thinking about Deranged Hermit, another creature card that created additional token bodies. Deranged Hermit did a lot of work back in the day, including winning me the Virginia State Championship. For five mana, you put ten points of power and toughness onto the battlefield spread over five bodies. Those multiple bodies were a big deal when you were playing with Gaea’s Cradle and against pinpoint removal or something like Treachery, which would steal something large all wrapped up in a single creature.

The battlefield impact of Ishkanah is a bit more modest, providing just six points of power but a whopping eleven points of toughness spread across four creatures, all of which have reach. As a 3/5, the actual creature card Ishkanah is considerably sturdier than the 1/1 Deranged Hermit, not to mention the echo payment it demanded if you wanted it to stick around permanently.

Other things I’ve noticed about the card Ishkanah, Grafwidow:

1: The power of the Spider tokens, and the life lost for each Spider you control.

2: The toughness of the Spider tokens.

3: The number of Spider tokens, and the power of Ishkanah, Grafwidow.

4: The card types you need in the graveyard to achieve delirium and the generic mana part of Ishkanah’s casting cost.

5: Ishkanah’s toughness and converted mana cost.

6: The generic mana portion of Ishkanah’s activated ability.

7: The total mana cost of Ishkanah’s activated ability.

I guess you could even add Ishkanah’s power and toughness to get to eight.

Anyway, I’ve come around on Ishkanah, Grafwidow, both for Standard and as a commander to build a deck around. If you can reliably get delirium, the bodies provide a nice incentive to keep attackers at bay, and once you can activate the ability, you can knock down chunks of opponents’ life totals.

Achieving delirium isn’t that difficult if you put your mind to it, but it’s definitely a deckbuilding constraint. When I put together the Captain Sisay deck that was built to cast Emrakul, the Promised End early and often, I had to do a similar thing to what I need to do here, which is getting a diverse number of card types put into the graveyard on time.

Artifacts (11)

Mishra’s Bauble, Urza’s Bauble, Basilisk Collar, Expedition Map, Sol Ring, Mind Stone, Sword of Feast and Famine, Door of Destinies, Power Matrix, Trading Post, Salvaging Station

There are a fair number of artifacts that easily get put into the graveyard: Mishra’s Bauble, Urza’s Bauble, Expedition Map, and Mind Stone. Trading Post can pitch cards from your hand directly into the graveyard to achieve delirium. Whenever I play the Baubles, I also have to play Salvaging Station, which turns each creature dying into a free card to draw.

Sword of Feast and Famine is a great way to squeeze more mana out of your lands for multiple activations of Ishkanah, and Power Matrix can give any creature flying if you care about that – and some Spiders certainly do!

Enchantments (10)

Vessel of Nascency, Phyrexian Reclamation, Dense Canopy, Sylvan Library, Assault Formation, Nyx Weaver, Arachnus Web, Foster, Black Market, Deadbridge Chant

Other than Vessel of Nascency – and to a certain extant Arachnus Web – none of these enchantments will generally end up in the graveyard unless you discard them or your opponents destroy them. However, they are certainly good enchantments that your opponent will be interested in getting rid of. Foster is a cool card in that it can end up dumping a fair number of cards into your graveyard whenever you activate it. And of course Deadbridge Chant is a card that will usually give you delirium all on its own – though its triggered ability each upkeep could potentially break your delirium. Still, I think the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

Assault Formation is a natural fit in a Spider deck, considering most spiders have much higher toughness than they do power.

Speaking of Arachnus Web, I’m really glad we’ve finally got a deck where Arachnus Spinner and Arachnus Web can really do some work!

Sorceries (10)

Traverse the Ulvenwald, Life From The Loam, Cultivate, Maelstrom Pulse, Aphetto Dredging, Whirlwind, Spider Spawning, Dark Petition, Seasons Past, Verdant Confluence

The first sorcery I added to the list was the amazing Spiderspawning, and if we’ve been good about dumping cards into the graveyard, it should provide us with lots of little spiders to make Ishkanah’s activated ability quite a threat. Did you notice that Spiderspawning’s casting cost is the exact same as Ishkanah, and Spiderspawning’s Flashback cost is the exact same as Ishkanah’s activated ability? I thought that was a neat callback to the first time we were in Innistrad.

Since we’re going for delirium anyway, Traverse the Ulvenwald seemed like a slam dunk inclusion. I also figured the Dark Petition / Seasons Past combo from Standard fits perfectly here as well. Since Spiders delight in taking down fliers, I figured Whirlwind played into that theme.

Instants (10)

Grapple With the Past, Grisly Salvage, Malicious Affliction, Nameless Inversion, Go for the Throat, Arachnogenesis, Grim Contest, Harrow, Hero’s Downfall, Wretched Confluence

The first instant I added to the list was the amazing Arachnogenesis, which has the potential of generating a truckload of Spider tokens and is a fantastic combat trick in a deck full of Spiders. Grim Contest is something I’ve included in Treefolk tribal decks, but it certainly works perfectly in a Spider deck. I like Harrow as a way to provide some mana acceleration that also puts two card types into the graveyard, the sacrificed land plus the instant spell. Just be careful an opponent doesn’t ruin your day by counterspelling it.

Nameless Inversion is a little on the weak side, but it gives you a bonus card type in addition to being an instant – tribal! In addition to being a decent removal spell for small creatures, it can make a pretty good Giant Growth impression in a deck with lots of high toughness.

Creatures (21)

Aquastrand Spider, Deadly Recluse, Juvenile Gloomwidow, Hitchclaw Recluse, Nyx Weaver, Oran-Rief Recluse, Sporecap Spider, Blightwidow, Giant Spider, Graverobber Spider, Kessig Recluse, Penumbra Spider, Acid Web Spider, Sentinel Spider, Silklash Spider, Stingerfling Spider, Watcher in the Web, Arachnus Spinner, Skysnare Spider, Jungle Weaver, Goliath Spider

Last up is a lot of Spiders! To keep Ishkanah’s activated ability as potent as possible, I’m running all Spiders, all the time here. There were a lot of Spiders that got cut just so we could have a fair number of other card types in the running for delirium, but I think I’m including most of the good ones. Jungle Weaver is mainly here because it cycles and puts a creature card type in the graveyard. A Silklash Spider equipped with Basilisk Collar does a pretty good job of keeping the skies clear.

Skysnare Spider is the hero here as a huge 6/6 with reach and vigilance. Goliath Spider’s body isn’t really worth the eight mana cost, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut the biggest Spider ever printed.

Here’s what I’ve got cooked up:

Ishkanah, Grafwidow
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 07-29-2016
Magic Card Back

What do you think? Have I overlooked any Spidery goodness? How would you go about building a deck around Ishkanah, Grafwidow?

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 write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visonary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)