Chain Commander

A while ago, I wrote an article on building a deck around a word chain. The idea is that you build a deck by going up and down a word chain. For example, suppose that the card with which one began was . . . Ember Beast.

Ember Beast

You are allowed to link plurals and possessive versions of a word but nothing else—no hyphens or other things. Find out the details in the first article.

Anyway, the goal was to build a word chain long enough to create a deck from the result. I had a few attempts in the article, and people seemed to enjoy it. As a joke, I suggested that someone might want to build a Commander deck. That would be just absolutely crazy . . .

So, I started working on that project. For the last two months, every so often, I would load up my spreadsheet and see what I could find. This deck took about eight to ten hours of work to build. It would seem that every time I found an interesting route to explore, it would dead-end two or three cards later. Names that looked as though they had a lot of potential would arrive in scummy darkness.

Take, for example, the card Sage Aven. I was building upward off the card in my deck Augur of Skulls. I went with Aven Augur and then Sage Aven. Surely there are a lot of good options that end in Sage, right? So, I looked around and tried to build off them. My favorite was going Gyre Sage, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, and Pawn of Ulamog. That added a lot of power. But what ends in Pawn? Nothing!

This would repeat over and over again. Another card in my deck was Ancient Spider, and I wanted to hit Arena of the Ancients. Then Arena, and then surely, something would end in Arena, right? Just Phyrexian Arena, but that is a powerful card in Commander, so that’s fine. But nothing ends in the adjective Phyrexian. What about Magus of the Arena? Nothing ends in Magus, so both cards that build off Arena are dead ends. I could bend the rules and put in Gate to Phyrexia, but that’s cheating. So I stuck with the intent of the challenge.

Thus, this project was a massive labor of love.

Let’s take a look at the deck in deck chain order and then discuss it a bit.

Reaper King
This deck was built around Reaper King. I felt it was a best choice for this sort of project. It enabled me to build all five colors into the deck, so I could move in a certain direction if I had to. It also gave me something to build off going both forward and backward—both King and Reaper were buildable concepts in the names of other cards.

Many of the cards included are not that hot. Very few would make a list of Commander’s Greatest Hits—Decree of Pain, Soul Warden, both Kozilek and his Artisan, Defense of the Heart, Dread, and Command Tower are about it. That’s not a very extensive list of awesome. There are a few good utility cards as well—Fight to the Death, Cauldron of Souls, Steel Wall, Sculpting Steel, Fire // Ice, and Ground Seal. After that, we have some cards that are passable, such as Pain Kami, Kor Chant, Spider Spawning, Seal of Fire, Raven Familiar, Mist Raven, and Arc Lightning.

But many of the cards here are not that strong. Frankly, that’s being a little nice. Tower Defense? Hey, I was able to fit in Command Tower and Defense of the Heart with it! Dragon's Herald off Herald of Serra took me to a weird place. All of the good Dragons I wanted were hard to build off—such as Thunder Dragon. Wouldn’t you think that Thunder Dragon was a Dragon you could really build off? There are a lot of great cards that end in Thunder—Orim's Thunder, Rolling Thunder, Resounding Thunder, and Hell's Thunder. Surely, one of those can be built off. But none of them could. So, I couldn’t run Thunder Dragon off Dragon's Herald. [Insert expletive here.] Dragons tend not to work as names, such as Voracious or Shivan. But Lightning Dragon opened up Arc Lightning and Scatter Arc, both very solid spells. That moved me to Wall of Essence, which is a decent enough Wall. I didn’t want to head back to Walls I had already visited with Wall of Heat and Warden of the Wall. Wall is very hard to build off. You think it’s easy because all of these cards end in “Wall,” right? But most of the words that begin the sentence are not conducive to chaining easily. Angelic Wall? Nope. Living Wall? Walking Wall? And so forth. But I was almost at the end, so I linked it with Steel Wall and Sculpting Steel and called it, even though I could go no further.

Soul Warden
Earlier, I was lucky to escape from Heat Ray with Wall of Heat and Warden of the Wall. I needed Heat Ray badly because it gave me Ray of Command, which was a decent enough build off the powerful Command Tower. There are not a lot of options that end in Heat. So, I wound up with Warden, which is not that bad of a card actually. That took me to the powerful Soul Warden. I was able to follow up on Command Tower with Soul Warden via these cards and add some nice power to the deck. The problem with Soul Warden is that you have a word that you think is easy to build off in Soul.

It took me at least thirty minutes to harness the powerful Cauldron of Souls. I wanted it, but settling for the awful Storm Cauldron was something I didn’t want to be forced into. But the other paths off Soul Warden were worse or nonexistent. The easy thing to do was to grab Cauldron and Stormy and move on. Ice Storm was a weak avenue to move off, but it was done to initially give me Sword of Fire and Ice. Yet, nothing easily builds off Sword as the last word—it’s a virtual dead end—just Wall of Swords works easily, and that pushes me back to Walls and gives me a lot of bad stuff. So, I rocked Fire // Ice instead, which put me on a powerful end-word. I think Seal of Fire is a pretty solid minor burn spell in multiplayer because of its rattlesnake nature. And Ground Seal is certainly no slouch either since it can stop some graveyard hosing by others and draws a card when you drop it.

Now moving off “Ground” was difficult. I looked at Stomping Ground and a few others. But ultimately, I was forced into the weak Familiar Ground. But that opened up Raven Familiar and Mist Raven, so that was not bad. A ton of card names end in “Mists,” and I had a few choices for direction. But the directions closed up because each one dead-ended a few cards later. Ultimately, I was let with few choices, and I included Knight of the Mists. Where to go from there? White Knight and Black Knight don’t work. I looked at a few names and followed up on “Blood.” That gave me Innocent Blood and Ghosts of the Innocent. Well, it kept the project moving! This was not a strong section of the deck, but keeping things moving made me happy. Sure, I had wanted cards like Barter in Blood, but they were not to be. The lousy section of the chain continued with Herald of Serra, Serra's Blessing, and more.

Umbra Mystic
On the other end, I tried to build off the “King” in Reaper King, but there were not as many options as I had initially anticipated. King Crab took me to Crab Umbra and Umbra Mystic, and that saw me out of the dark tunnels at first. Many cards begin with “Mystic.” I decided on Mystic Decree specifically to open up Decree of Justice, but that went nowhere, so Decree of Pain it was!

That led to Pain Kami and then difficulty finding a good Kami to enable the chain to rumble on. I knew that Golem would end in Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Truth or Tale, so I kept my options open on Kami of Old Stone into Stone Golem. I did the same trick in the first article. When the rest of my deck came together on the Reaper end of the chain, I chained to Truth or Tale on this end and called it.

During the chain, I tried to find cards that would fit, such as Pulse of Llanowar. For the most part, I was forced into certain paths, with the occasional fork that allowed me to make choices for my next direction.

The result is a crazy deck chained off Reaper King. That was a crazy project, and I’m not sure I want to duplicate it. But it was a lot of fun!

What legendary creature can you use to chain a Commander deck from?

See you next week,
Abe Sargent

P.S. Joe Gilbert posted a Commander deck with a word chain built around Progenitus. I thought it would be cool to show it off as well:

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, there is no card called Betrayal of Fire.