The Chandra Flip

Abe thinks Chandra is the worst planeswalker in Magic Origins, and everyone knows red is the worst color in Commander – but taking two “worsts” and making a strong deck out of it anyway is the kind of challenge Abe loves.

The release of a new Magic set invariably seems to lead to new legendary creatures that Commander players love to build a deck around. In Magic Origins we have multiple legendary creatures, as well as the Pre-Planeswalker entries for famous characters like Jace and Chandra.

Clearly, I want to build a deck around a new legendary creature. But who intrigues me?

The legendary that I like the most for Commander is Pia and Kiran Nalaar, but that deck would look very similar to a Daretti, Scrap Savant deck, and the Built from Scratch Commander deck specifically. That’s pretty boring for you folks. So instead, I’m going to force myself to use a different legendary addition as my leader. Let’s go with Baby Nalaar! I like a good challenge…

And she definitely qualifies. Chandra is the weakest of the new cycle of “Legendary-transform-into-Planeswalkers” that we have in Magic Origins. Why is that?

Well, first, her tap ability just taps to zark a player – so there’s no chance for card advantage by killing off creatures, and in 40-life variant like Commander, that’s a little rough.

But what else?

Take a look at her post-transformation into Chandra, Roaring Flame.

Her first ability can add on a single loyalty and now you deal two damage to a player. Moving on up, aren’t we? You can subtract two loyalty to shoot a creature for… two damage as well. And then after that, her ultimate ability is to blow up for six damage to each opponent, and then the opponent continues to burn for three damage a round. Not exactly a powerful planeswalker there. Chandra isn’t going to dominate the board or anything.

All of the other entrants in the cycle are easier to transform, more powerful pre-transform, and more powerful post-flip. She is the worst of the cycle before the flip, the hardest to flip, and the worst post-flip. So of course I want to make a nice home for Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh.

From Fires Abroad

One of the problems with a lot of Chandra’s stuff is that she really likes red. Even the latest iteration of Chandra works best in a red deck, and that’s not true of any of the other Walkers – none of them are easier to transform in a mono-colored deck. But Chandra is. Annoying, right?

We can’t run a lot of Chandras. That would obviously hurt our ability to play our legendary Chandra. I’m just tossing in Chandra Ablaze, who works perfectly here, and then moving on.

Chandra is different than a lot of heavy-red stuff. It needs to be spell heavy, and yet, it can’t run too many expensive X spells because we need to play a lot of spells in order to flip Chandra. We have to run the cheaper effects. In some way, it’ll feel like an odd version of Talrand, Sky Summoner decks. Talrand decks generally run a ton of instants and sorceries, and each of them churns out a 2/2 Drake as well, thereby creating threats from cards like Counterspell.

The problem here is twofold:

1) Cheap red Spells tend to be burn spells, which won’t always be a one-for-one trade, thereby introducing card disadvantage.

2) Chandra cannot tap to deal damage to creatures, thereby creating opportunities for card advantage – each untap merely does another damage to one player.

I think we’d all agree that no one wants to see you play two burn spells, kill nothing on the table, untap Chandra twice, deal three damage to a player, and then transform Chandra. That’s too much work without any major results.

We have a few ways that we can mitigate these issues:

A) Try to find ways to flip Chandra without casting two spells.

B) Have additional cards that gain trigger when you play a spell so that each spell you cast provides some additional benefits.

C) Add in cheaper spells, such as removal, that aren’t tied to direct damage, and thereby give you card removal options.

Those are the three angles of attack that I want to explore, let’s take a look at each in turn

Find Other Non-Spell Ways To Transform Your Chandra

Notice that Chandra needs to deal three damage in one turn. Nowhere does it say she has to have tapped three times. Sure, untapping when you cast a red spell is one key way to untap, but there are others out there.

First of all, Chandra is a 2/2 creature. If you attack someone for two damage, then all you need to do is cast one red spell, untap her, tap to hit someone for damage, and she’ll flip without the two-spell commitment. In the early game, there’s often an open player you can hit to get that two damage from Chandra. Just swing at them, play any red spell as follow-up, like a creature or enchantment, and then you have your Chandra, Roaring Flame all ready to go. I’ve tossed in Rogue’s Passage and Whispersilk Cloak to help out with slipping in for a hit.

A second way to get Chandra to flip is to untap her with other cards. There are a lot of artifacts that untap a creature that we could dip into. I didn’t want to run too many, so I stuck with Thousand-Year Elixir since we can tap Chandra as soon as she arrives, and then also untap her once as well. You could easily toss in something like Magewright’s Stone or Puppet Strings as well.

A third way to flip Chandra early is to increase the damage that she deals. Ever since Furnace of Rath was printed, we’ve seen ways to increase the amount of damage something dishes out. I’m running a few of these cards; Dictate of the Twin Gods can double all damage that anything deals – spells, creatures, whatever. Meanwhile, Curse of Bloodletting does it against just one foe, so you won’t have to worry about pushback as players double damage against you. I’m also running Akki Lavarunner, and I really want to flip it into Tok-Tok, Volcano Born. If you dig into the color, you’ll find lots of ways to flesh out this shell in order to enable Chandra to deal more damage when you tap her.

Additional Triggers

Another way to push this theme is to include cards that work along the same vector as Chandra so that when you play that red spell to untap Chandra you trigger other cards of yours as well.

A perfect example of this is Cinder Pyromancer, who also taps to deal damage to a player, and will untap to dole out more damage when you play a red spell just like Chandra will. Finding cards like the Pyromancer is key.

Izzet has always had a Sorcery/Instants Matter theme to that color combination. Mono-red cards from the Ravnica blocks often delve deeply into that theme as well, so you can unearth a few cards here and there that will play into that Izzet theme. Guttersnipe is a perfect example – it shoots every other player for two damage when you play the right kind of spell, and that trigger doesn’t require any additional investment of mana on your behalf to trigger.

Young Pyromancer has already grown pretty famous churning out little Elemental tokens for every instant or sorcery that you play. You can place it alongside Goblinslide (which requires a mana to get the Goblin out of the trigger), Leyline of Lightning (another mana) or similar effects.

A few cards really need to be highlighted. Chandra’s Spitfire is a great adjunct to the deck, since Chandra, spells, and a variety of other sources are all dealing non-combat damage, and then you can easily have an engorged Spitfire smashing into someone from up above. Meanwhile, Chandra’s Phoenix easily recurs, especially after you’ve transformed your Chandra. It’s a cheap body you can play early (and even untap Chandra with for another damage) which brings a good game later on after it’s been killed.

We have some true jank in here too! Check out Lightning Cloud. That’s pretty janky, I think. Whenever someone casts a red spell (could be you, could be a foe, whomever) you can tap a red mana to shoot any creature or player for one damage. This gives you a few options, and you can also play political games: like have one player cast a red spell so that you can kill an annoying creature that a third player is running.

And you could easily unearth more, like Kiln Fiend, to toss into the deck.

Better Spells

Another way to make the Sorcery/Instant section of the deck work is to run cards that are cheap, can give you multiple options if needed, and can be used more than once. A simple one-cost spell like Lightning Bolt works well.

I wanted to include a few spells that you can use and reuse – such as Punishing Fire or flashback cards like Firebolt and Faithless Looting. By tossing in these sorts of cards, we give ourselves the chance to untap Chandra, as well as work with other engines that I just added above. Recurring Punishing Fire a few times and making some Goblin or Elemental tokens is pretty nifty, right?

Take a serious look at Thunderblade Charge, because this is a card you’ve mentally set aside as unworthy of your attention. You can play it to shoot someone (or something I suppose) for three damage. Now whenever a creature of yours deals damage, if the Charge is rocking your graveyard, you can pay five mana to play it again. Now yes, an additional five mana is a bit on the pricey side of life, but this deck has a lot of long game to it from all of these effects that you can activate over and over again and Thunderblade Charge is another example of that quality. Having problems getting in some combat damage? Then use that Whispersilk Cloak and Rogue’s Passage we already included!

Meanwhile, I wanted to include some non-burn ways to kill stuff. Chaos Warp is perfect, obviously. I was thinking about something like Aftershock or Fissure, but those just didn’t seem to have enough zest. Instead I leaned towards artifact removal with Vandalblast – just one mana unless you want to overload it, or Into the Core, which may cost four mana but it’s an instant and exiles two problems. Actually, I like the overload concept and I toss in Mizzium Mortars as well, since it’s good early for Chandra untapping or later for board clearing. In a similar way, Urza’s Rage can be a simple little burn spell early but becomes a huge punch to the face later on, while Grab the Reins can be used later on to steal and then sacrifice a creature someone else has to smash for some damage as well.

Because we have a ‘walker as our leader (part of the time at least), Volt Charge was a strong way to empower the deck just a little bit more.

This deck seems to “burn” through its hand somewhat quickly (sorry about that bad pun), so I tossed in both Wheel of Fortunes as well as Commune with Lava to help keep on pushing as your deck grows light.

Looking at the spells I’ve already tossed in, this deck is intentionally built around the early and medium games, with a focus on recursion and reuse to give it some longer-game elements. I want to include a few late-game spells as well to push things around; cards like Insurrection and Reversal of Fortune come to mind.

Red has always been the color of Fork ever since Alpha. With the enhanced role of spells here, forking appears to be pretty useful. So I wanted to include Dualcaster Mage, Wild Ricochet, and Reiterate as useful ways to double up our spells. Reiterate is particularly good since you can buyback the spell and acquire multiple triggers from your various cards. Plus, it continues to add to this deck’s re-use elements. But the best way to flex your deck is Mirari. Don’t forget to activate it whenever you have extra mana to get free duplicates of your spells all day long.

After those three elements have been accounted for, we’ve really fleshed out the majority of the deck already and there’s little left to do. I added some additional damage-based removal options so I can layer them together to take down creatures – like Goblin Charbelcher. Don’t be afraid to Belch a creature first, see how much damage you can deal to it, and then if it’s still alive to add a Chandra activation or tapping a Cinder Pyromancer or somesuch. In the same vein, Pyromancer’s Gauntlet is a great way to build up the damage you’ll deal from your sorceries and instants.

I tossed in a Shard Phoenix to give us another recursion-based element as well as another way to block, sacrifice for damage, or whatnot. On the same lines, check out a pair of bigger mythic bodies – Inferno Titan and Soul of Shandalar – which can be used to fend off bigger creatures as well as to blow stuff up and again, adding to our damage-dealing capacities and helping to keep unsightly creatures off the board.

The last few additions are a few more spell-matter cards (Charmbreaker Devils) and a bit of fleshing out with mana rocks and stuff.

I made a few choices to steer clear of while building this deck. It’s common in mono-colored Commander decks to see stuff like Caged Sun or Gauntlet of Power. And I could have pushed Chandra into a red-ramp deck with X-spells, and then ran eight or ten X-spells as well as Mana Flare and Extraplanar Lens and such. But that’s not the direction I wanted to go. We see too many mono-colored decks that follow that path, and I just didn’t see it this time. I’ve done that myself, there’s nothing wrong with it, but here I just wasn’t feeling it.

One of the advantages of running a mono-red deck in Commander is the ability to really hose manabases. Blood Moon, Ruination, and similar cards can just blast away at non-basic lands, and we can hack them to pieces. This deck could dip its toe in that direction too, and if you’ve been having some issues with people abusing non-basic lands overly much because it’s harder to answer them, then by all means feel encouraged to push your Chandra deck that way. But I’m comfortable not doing so in a normal metagame.

I also didn’t feel this was a good deck for Chroma or Devotion. With so many spells, and so few red permanents, I didn’t think that direction would help the deck much, so cards like Outrage Shaman or Fanatic of Mogis just weren’t really calling to me.

So I didn’t move towards options like Caged Sun, Purphoros, God of the Forge or Ruination. I also didn’t use a lot of “Mountain Matters” cards, and you could easily lean on something like Spawn of Thraxes or Jaws of Stone.

What else would you like to run? Bloodmark Mentor? Paragon of Fierce Defiance? Sulfuric Vapors? Past in Flames? Genju of the Spires? Stuffy Doll? There’s a lot of ways that you could move your deck.

I hoped you liked this take on the latest Chandra. This is the first time that our Commander decks have been able to be built around major characters like Liliana and Jace, so let’s take advantage of it!