So I figured I’d grab another highly flavorful leader from that block to take for a spin, one that I haven’t seen in a very long time at the kitchen table.
Enter Chisei, Heart of Oceans.
I remember seeing a couple of Chisei decks way back in the past that would run a lot of cards that added counters for Chisei to pull off. Many added cards
positively; they just wanted to ensure that Chisei could stick around. I don’t want to pull counters off my Darksteel Reactor or Sand Silos. That’s a
(pardon the pun) counterproductive strategy. Instead, what I want to do is to mine the twenty+ years of Magic cards in order to locate cards that have
negative counters to pull off for your good leader. That way the deck works as designed.
- 1 Chisei, Heart of Oceans
- 1 Ferropede
- 1 Silver Myr
- 1 Musician
- 1 Sea Scryer
- 1 Serrated Biskelion
- 1 Shield Sphere
- 1 Deep-Sea Kraken
- 1 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 1 Aeon Chronicler
- 1 Chronozoa
- 1 Epochrasite
- 1 Infiltrator il-Kor
- 1 Chainbreaker
- 1 Grim Poppet
- 1 Leech Bonder
- 1 Lockjaw Snapper
- 1 River Kelpie
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Razorfin Abolisher
- 1 Scarecrone
- 1 Merfolk Wayfinder
- 1 Thada Adel, Acquisitor
- 1 Steel Overseer
- 1 Thrummingbird
- 1 Vedalken Anatomist
- 1 Scourge of Fleets
- 1 Genju of the Falls
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Unstable Mutation
- 1 Decree of Silence
- 1 Vedalken Shackles
- 1 Desertion
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mask of Memory
- 1 Reality Twist
- 1 Mystic Remora
- 1 Illusionary Terrain
- 1 Sky Diamond
- 1 Ancestral Knowledge
- 1 Ertai's Meddling
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Spelljack
- 1 Flow of Ideas
- 1 Ancestral Vision
- 1 Clockspinning
- 1 Reality Acid
- 1 Biting Tether
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Recurring Insight
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Steady Progress
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Inexorable Tide
- 1 Fuel for the Cause
- 1 Tezzeret's Gambit
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Eye of Doom
Now, it’s important to state right up front that this is not a suspend deck. Nope! But because of the synergy of suspend cards with a card
we are already playing – Clockspinning, I didn’t turn suspend cards away. I mean, cards like Aeon Chronicler and Deep-Sea Kraken are already really good in
multiplayer, so I just made sure that they wound up in the deck. Aeon Chronicler is a useful enough mana sink in the late-middle or early-lategame before
it draws you some cards uncounterably. Eventually, you get a beater too, but the cards are key. At least twice I’ve suspected a Deep-Sea Kraken on turn 3
and swung with it on turn 4 because that many suspend counters came off. It is a house of fun.
And don’t forget Riftwing Cloudskate. You can suspend it or just use it with that enters-the-battlefield trigger to bounce something while making an
evasion-oriented body. Even Infiltrator en-Kor makes a three-power (essentially) unblockable attacker, and you can guess the power of Ancestral Vision.
So, with my expectations for Chisei stated early and often, what sort of cards should we toss in for our good commander?
The first place that I dug was cumulative upkeep. A long time ago, cumulative upkeep was modified to place an age counter on the permanent in question.
Then you pay the upkeep cost for every counter on the permanent. Now you can use Chisei to pull off an age counter which reduces the cost of keeping them
Take a simple card like Illusionary Terrain. It’s an enchantment that turns all basic lands of one type into another. I think we can all agree that that’s
a pretty potent spell, and at a table where some players, like red or black mages, really don’t have a lot of answers, you would like to tie in a
self-destruction mechanism into this effect.
So Illusionary Terrain gets that age counter every upkeep. The first upkeep you pay twp colorless mana to upkeep your Terrain. Then four, six, eight, etc.
Clearly it’s not going to be around for very long, right? Now, if you have out Chisei, your Illusionary Terrain suddenly will keep losing age counters at
the same rate it gains them – once per upkeep. You’ll be at the same level of mana upkeep as long as both are in play.
Now, you can’t stack them and prevent any upkeep at all. Imagine you play a cumulative upkeep card after Chisei, and then next turn, you go to do both. No
matter how you stack, you have to upkeep:
1) Cumulative Upkeep resolves first? Age counter and pay the effect at the same time. Then resolve Chisei and pull the counter off.
2) Chisei resolves first? Pull the counter off something else. Then do the age counter and pay.
Neither way works. Sorry Spikes.
Of course, one of the main problems with this trick is that a lot of cards with cumulative upkeep that are colorless or blue really really suck. Especially
in a modern environment. For example, Illusionary Presence is a wordy version of Phantom Warrior. But we have to add in that cumulative upkeep because
that’s just too good! Others like Glacial Chasm still have a pretty tight cost that I don’t want to pay for too long.
Note that there is a card I would love to play that I can’t due to the color identity rules. I cannot run the mono-blue Reality Twist because it has other
mana symbols in the cost. Take a look at that card though, it’s awesome! But nope.
There were a few cards here and there in the earlier days of Magic, such as Mtenda Lion, that mention another color’s mana as a way to either reduce the
power of the card in question or to add in a hoser element to it. The color identity rule of Commander prevents a green deck from using Mtenda Lion or from
my Chisei deck from using Reality Twist. The rule is intended to prevent me from using cards that might have abilities that aren’t in the flavor of my
commander, such as Granger Guildmage in a Gruul deck or somesuch. We get it.
But you know what, it’s illegal, but I’m putting Reality Twist into my deck anyway, because it just works here, and the color identity rule gets in the way
in this context and prevents me from playing a flavorful mono-blue card that fits and doesn’t have any other colors being used. It’s not Krovikan Whispers,
which does violate the rule and the spirit too because it allows me to upkeep it with black mana. (Take a card with you that’s not illegal as your 101st
card and if someone really seems to care, swap it out. Make it a commonly complained about non-banned card like Deadeye Navigator. Then you can keep the
fun Reality Twist or the vile-but-legal Navigator.)
With that out of the way, what other cumulative upkeep cards work today in a modern Commander context? Musician and Mystic Remora are in. If you wanted to,
you could embrace the sheer nastiness of Tidal Control (any player can pay two colorless mana or two life to counter a red or green spell? That’s just
wrong.) But we have a few tempo cards in the deck. I didn’t want to push the tempo train overly much. I didn’t include Inundate or Cyclonic Rift. Oh, and
while a card like Smokestack is downright antagonistic in this deck, that’s just a little too much. That’s not this deck. We’re keeping the relationship at
a casual level with stuff like Reality Twist and Illusionary Terrain.
The next place I wanted to mine was -1/-1 counters, and persist was a great start. But there aren’t a lot of strong mono-blue persist cards. After I tossed
in Glen Elendra Archmage, River Kelpie, and Cauldron of Souls, that was as far as I could dig into the persist theme. But I liked where I was. So I began
to move into deeper waters in the -1/-1 counter pool. Take Serrated Biskelion. Tap to place a -1/-1 counter on both itself and another creature. Chisei
yanks the one off your own Biskelion, and you can keep on using it.
I could tell this was going to be a useful space to harness, so I tossed the proliferate shell cards, like Contagion Clasp and Engine, Fuel for the Cause,
and so forth. There are a few odd cards in Shadowmoor/Eventide and Scars of Mirrodin block that both use this space (because of the use of -1/-1 counters
for infect and wither).
Consider a card like Leech Bonder. Yes, it begins with some -1/-1 counter fuel, but you can also just pop counters from hither to thither from one creature
to another. It doesn’t even change the nature of the counter, so if I move an age counter from my Musician to your Shivan Dragon, you don’t have to start
paying its upkeep, and it remains an age counter (which is even more awkwardly written than Giant Fan, and yet Giant Fan is not legal in black border
world). So Leech Bonder can share its own -1/-1 counters or you can use it a similar sense as your commander.
And we have lots more where Leech Bonder came from. Vedalken Anatomist can be used to tap down an opposing creature and to toss a -1/-1 counter on it too.
As you start adding counters to things, Razorfin Abolisher looks like it’s in some powerful space. You can also bounce your own stuff if it has too many
This is a great place for Chainbreaker (pull -1/-1 counters off those persist guys, or itself!) or something like Grim Poppet. In fact, the Poppet wants a
handful of -1/-1 counters on itself so much that you could regularly hit it when you proliferate.
Do you know what else puts -1/-1 counters on your stuff as a disadvantage? That’s right, Unstable Mutation. That’s an amazingly awesome card for this deck,
right? You can pull counters off with Chainbreaker or Chisei, or move them with a Leech Bonder. (You could run Essence Flare too, but it’s not as
Have you noticed that Ferropede is essentially an unblockable Chisei? Only a little better since you can pull a loyalty counter off an opposing
planeswalker or a +1/+1 counter off that Animar, Soul of the Elements. It’s pretty strong stuff here!
I wanted to toss in a few more cards that work with Chisei and friends, like Dark Depths, Decree of Silence, Chronozoa, Eye of Doom, and Shield Sphere.
Yes, that Shield Sphere. Block away, my friends, block away!
Now that we’ve mined that territory, I started to look at cards that would flesh out the Chisei deck. There are some strong EDH standards that work here
too, from Sol Ring to Rhystic Study. Normally, I try to add in different cards into these projects where I can to illustrate the diversity of the format,
but I just tossed in Unstable Mutation, so I think I hit my cool quotient for the day!
I suspect that the occasional targeted removal spell might be aimed at the Heart of the Oceans! We want to protect our good Spirit with Boots and Greaves.
In went mana accelerants like Silver Myr, Scuttlemutt, and Sea Scryer. (Actually, in my original decklist, I had an Alloy Myr. Then I swapped it over for
the better card.) Because we have a lot of Scarecrows in the deck to use with her, Scarecrone seems like a solid adjunct to the deck.
Actually, we have a lot of artifacts too. Hmmm… We have a lot of tools and cards that are powerfully on-theme already in. I don’t want to toss in every
blue and or/colorless artifact enabler we’ve ever seen, but Steel Overseer seems like a pretty good card for this deck since we have so many proliferate
cards already. I’ll toss in a Tezzeret the Seeker to fetch up artifacts or play with them, but that’s it, no more pro-artifact junk.
I like the idea of stealing a creature and then pulling counters off it since we see so many in Magic-dom. You can use a card like Vedalken Shackles to
steal an opposing creature such as Skullbriar, the Walking Grave or the many creatures in the post-Tarkir environment from the Abzan clan (or its bolster
buddies the Dromoka folk). I included Thada Adel for this very reason. (Steal an artifact from a deck that just works with you!)
And that’s our deck! Now, this is not a poison counter deck, and I refused to include any infect cards. That’s not this deck. That’s another deck.
And you could easily toss in cards like Umezawa’s Jitte, Trigon of Thought, Workhorse, Ring of Evos Isle, Sun Droplet, and move into the charge counter
love of things like Vedalken Infuser, Coretapper, and Energy Chamber. Take a look at Arcbound Reclaimer or more Scarecrows.
But I hope that you enjoyed the oddness of this Chisei deck. From cumulative upkeep and -1/-1 counters to Island-friendly mechanics and proliferate, we
have it all! What do you like? What did you unearth? Where did I go wrong?