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b i r d w i z a r d [2.0] (cEDH Derevi Primer)

Commander / EDH Competitive GWU (Bant) Hatebears Multiplayer Primer Stax

Pongo_Pygmaeu5

Maybeboard


Do you also hate it when your pesky opponents have fun and play Magic? Then boy do I ever have the deck for you!

|The Bullshit Bird"

Hi! Pongo here.

First of all, a shout-out to cobblepott for his innovations on the original Glix "Grandaddy of All Things Derevi Prison" list, Empyre. Even though our decks have since diverged pretty significantly, I recommend you check his out for a different take on the strategy.

I also strongly recommend you check out NarejED's decklist as it is extremely well thought-out and features a few prominent, interesting differences to mine that could serve as useful metagaming choices for you if you are interested in trying out this deck.

Now, a bit about myself:

I've been playing Derevi Prison for several years now (and competitive Commander for much longer than that) and have matched up against just about all of the format's top decks at some point or another. This particular list represents many, many hours of tinkering, testing, reflection and research which continues to this day. It has a very successful record against a field of tuned, competitive decks. You may know me better as Jesse from the Team Turn Three cEDH YouTube channel (where you can actually witness a lot of the principles and lines described here put into action!).

Check us out at: http://www.youtube.com/c/TeamTurnThree

I strongly believe there is no such thing as a single, optimal deck list in cEDH: it's up to each of us to analyze the local metagame and alter our decks accordingly! And, on that note, I would strongly recommend that you use this deck list and primer as yet another data point in trying to optimize Derevi for your circumstances. I hope you enjoy this primer and find something in it that either inspires you to play Derevi or perhaps just improves your existing game with her! Feel free to send me your comments and questions as well as suggestions for how to improve upon both the deck as well as the primer. We are a community, after all.

"Static Orb" by Tommy Arnold What is Prison/Stax? Well, to quote the Stax Primer:

"Stax is a term used to describe a deck strategy that mostly relies on resource denial, taxing effects, disruption, and sacrifice enablers to potentially lock down opponents and make it difficult to cast spells, play creatures, attack, breath, sleep, and/or have any kind of reliable board state. The goal is to build your Rube Goldberg contraption of denial as fast and efficiently as possible thus allowing you to set up your win cons unopposed. Stax decks use an inefficient = efficient mentality when it comes to the game of Magic the Gathering. What this means is you're turning cards that normally would hinder everyone to your advantage."

Ultimately, stax decks can take on many different variations but the philosophy of the strategy remains more-or-less consistent among these different forms: resource denial. Whether it's removing permanents from the field, cards from hands or just access to mana, all dedicated stax decks intend to restrict players' options while they accumulate an insurmountable advantage in an oppressive game state. This stage is commonly referred to as a soft lock. Eventually, the accumulation of advantage and continued application of disruptive elements should enable this game state to evolve to the point where only the stax player will ever be able to interact with it meaningfully: this is known as a hard lock and it is the final goal of any prison deck.

A crucial component of a stax deck is the ability to make sure that oppressive cards affect opponents slightly more than they affect the player using them. This is called breaking parity--a fancy way of saying that disruptive effects that would otherwise be symmetrical (affect all players equally) are now asymmetrical (affect opponents more).

Thus, the goal of this deck is to do exactly all of this: create a hard lock on the game by exploiting a resource asymmetry produced by cards that help us break parity on effects that would otherwise deny everybody access to resources in a symmetrical fashion. Typically this is done by using Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as an Opposition in the Command Zone. Thus we will often transform attacks from our numerous creatures (which are selected to be disruptive in-and-of-themselves) into triggered tap effects that can be combined with cards like Winter Orb to continuously cut our opponents off from their lands.

If this sounds appealing to you (you monster!) then read on. Through the course of this primer, I hope to illustrate exactly how the deck intends to carry out these objectives, ultimately leveraging the unique strengths of Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as a Commander.

|The Bullshit Bird"

Reasons TO play Derevi Prison:

You enjoy deeply synergistic and flexible decks that actually care about casting their commander every game.

The full implications of Derevi's text box takes some time to understand well. You should be interpreting Derevi's abilities from multiple, holistic perspectives:

  1. Derevi can generate insane amounts of tempo by effectively ramping us with each creature we play. Imagine spending mana in the first main phase and then going through combat. In doing so, we usually generate a bunch of Derevi triggers and can untap our mana sources. We now get to spend all of our mana a second time in the same turn. You can probably imagine how quickly this spirals out of control. Ultimately, tempo is one of the reasons why we play so many small and evasive creatures like Derevi herself: they come down quickly to let us produce--and ultimately maintain--an early resource asymmetry.
  2. We can simultaneously play a value game. Derevi's untap triggers can be used to activate abilities on a card multiple times in a single turn and can even work as pseudo-Vigilance--a powerful effect, even with basic cards such as Weathered Wayfarer or Fauna Shaman. It's totally busted, however, with engine cards like Yisan, the Wanderer Bard coupled with Gaea's Cradle or just Captain Sisay. Derevi's activated ability also means that she dodges commander tax each time we replay her from the Command Zone. This positions her as a powerful engine in her own right through the use of sacrifice-oriented value cards such as Birthing Pod and Eldritch Evolution. Have you ever activated Yisan, the Wanderer Bard 7 times in one turn? Trust me--it's awesome.
  3. It affords us a surprising amount of counterplay to what our opponents might be planning. Did that pesky blue mage keep untapped to represent Counterspell? Just swing in at an opponent, tap down their sources and play the must-resolve spell in your second main phase. Another option is to do this to force an opponent to cast an instant or activate an ability earlier than they'd like, thus revealing important information to the rest of the table. We can even use this ability politically to cut off an opponent's ability to protect themselves from another opponent's answers. Beyond that, Derevi's activated ability means she can be played from the Command Zone at instant speed to do anything from block an attacker, untap an opponent's land to help them interact with a problematic card, or even just tap down a Static Orb before our turn--all while being immune to the majority of counter magic (just watch out for Trickbind!). There is nothing quite like the feeling of smacking a blue mage around while also playing around their counters!
  4. Following from the last point is the fact that Derevi's abilities let us play our very own control game. Not a typical counterspell and removal heavy version of control, mind you. Instead, we use the ability to tap down opponents' permanents to play a resource denial and prison control strategy utilizing cards such as Winter Orb and Stasis to cut opponents off from any possible route to victory. If you enjoy more interactive, controlling strategies then a stax deck is one of the best ways to replicate this type of gameplay in a multiplayer setting.

The strengths of / "Bant" color identity.

Derevi's color identity gives us access to nearly everything we could want in a competitive Commander deck of this sort:

  1. Some of the game's best ramp in the form of mana dorks (which often pull double duty as attackers). These are especially good for making stax effects more asymmetrical.
  2. Answers to just about any type of permanent.
  3. Excellent tutor ability. Running a deck so heavily-focused on creatures means we can leverage 's tutors to make up for missing out on 's unconditional tutoring.
  4. 's powerful suite of disruptive hatebears.
  5. 's massive amounts of card draw. This softens the blow from missing out on 's tutors even further and also provides us a steady supply of gas as the game progresses.
  6. A huge share of the game's most playable stax and prison cards.

You want to play something different from fast combo.

This deck does not usually win quickly. In fact, most of the time we are trying our very hardest not to lose. Eventually, after making sure to not lose for long enough, we'll have hopefully created a board state where it is basically impossible for our opponents to win. At this point, they typically concede.

If you enjoy non-linear decks that require extremely tight play and knowledge of the format's many decks, win-cons and how to counter them, then you'll appreciate the challenge and power that piloting this one provides.

Reasons NOT TO play Derevi Prison:

You prefer decks with a clear win-condition.

This deck doesn't really play any immediate, game-ending combos. The closest thing we have to one is Living Plane coupled with Linvala, Keeper of Silence or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite for a near-immediate lock on the game. Usually games are won by attacking with an army of small creatures over multiple turns while our opponents are completely unable to interact with the game state in a meaningful way. Thus, games can take a fairly long time to finish between our disruption, opponents' meddling and the high starting life totals of multiplayer commander.

Sometimes we will simply lose games as a small chink in the game plan can be exploited by faster, more proactive decks. The bright side is that we have lots of redundancy and are not easily shut out by the loss of any particular card. Don't play this deck if you want to consistently end the game on turn 3.

You don't like creature-oriented strategies or your meta is filled with hate for them.

This deck is, fundamentally, a creature-oriented stax deck. It barely functions at all without access to them. If, for whatever reason, you prefer strategies that don't involve creatures then steer clear of this deck. If your meta is filled to the brim with cards like Humility, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or Toxic Deluge then you might find yourself strongly rethinking your life decisions while playing this deck. That said, we do play outs to many of these cards!

You play in a meta that is predominantly creature-based combo decks.

decks that feature lots of mana dorks are something of an issue as they are able to play a similar game to us; leaning on these alternate mana-sources to continue casting spells while being denied access to their lands. Furthermore, our taxes generally affect non-creature spells so they'll often walk right through them and win despite our best efforts. We do run answers in the form of cards like Linvala, Keeper of Silence , Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Static Orb but these can occasionally be too little too late. Furthermore, we aren't able to use powerful cards like Cursed Totem to as great effect as many other stax decks.

Not all hope is lost, however. My meta features many of these types of decks and I can often navigate such matchups to a win. Doing so is challenging but very rewarding and will truly test one's mastery of the deck and the stax strategy.

The Lands

Command Tower by Ryan Yee

The mana base of this deck is designed to do three things: Ensure we consistently draw an ideal mix of lands and nonland cards, ensure color consistency and provide the most possible tempo for us.

  1. This list runs 30 lands. If this number seems low to you, you should keep in mind that 40+ cards in the deck are mana sources. Furthermore, this deck can do a lot even if it gets stuck on 2 lands and a couple of mana dorks, thanks to Derevi.

  2. A further point to look at is the type of lands we run: Casting a turn 2 Derevi consistently is very important and, as such, we've maxed out on fetch lands as well as the good rainbow lands such as City of Brass. Additionally, pain lands such as Yavimaya Coast and Brushland help us play a turn one mana dork and simultaneously fix our mana in a secondary color (n.b. colors in order of importance for this deck: , then ). This also means that we avoid lands that are unable to generate mana the turn they come down.

  3. While mana fixing is important, it's also important to be able to fight through nonbasic land hate. Having mana dorks helps to a certain extent and we are certainly better off than most tri-color decks at operating through an untimely Back to Basics. That said, we can still be caught with our pants down from time to time. This list runs a few basic lands that will be high-priority targets if we anticipate an opponent playing Blood Moon. Usually one or two basics on the field is plenty to ensure we can continue playing through that type of effect.

  4. Horizon Canopy is just as good here as it is in Modern and Legacy, single-handedly doing the two things we want out of our mana base: reduce the odds of flooding while also fixing our mana. Gemstone Caverns, though a somewhat unfortunate land in situations where we can't put a luck counter on it, is worth running just for the few times it does its best Mox Diamond impression. This can help us steal the initiative even when we're not on the play. Gaea's Cradle only generates but what actually matters is the sheer amount of mana it can generate for us. It's really stupid, period. Finally, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This can sometimes act a little like a second Gaea's Cradle in the mid-to-late game but with the added benefit of tapping for not only huge amounts of , but also and on rare occasions, .

The Mana Dorks (and rocks!)

Noble Hierarch by Mark Zug

These are possibly the most important cards in the deck; simultaneously acting as mana accelerants, attackers to trigger Derevi and, finally, ways to generate mana through our lock pieces. As such, we run nearly all of the ones in our colors. I don't think it's necessary or even useful to discuss each and every mana dork individually so instead I'll discuss what they almost all have in common:

  1. They all cost just to play. This means they are all able to come down turn 1 in order to enable a turn 2 Derevi. Generally speaking, dorks that cost more than one mana to play need to be considerably more powerful to be worth running given the speed of cEDH as a format.

  2. They are stable sources of mana production. While the raw power of a card like Deathrite Shaman cannot be denied, gives us access to Noble Hierarch--a much more consistent mana source on turn 2. Arbor Elf is an acceptable risk given the fact that over half of our lands can be considered a potential turn 1 forest.

  3. They tap for colored mana. While a card like Boreal Druid checks both of the previous boxes, it is a little weak in our deck given that we want to consistently hit three colors on turn 2 and also need to generate lots of colored mana through the entire game even when we may only have reliable access to a single land a turn under various Winter Orb effects.

Mana Crypt by Matt Stewart

Some of our other accelerants share a few of these features but are different enough to warrant their own discussion:

  1. While Bloom Tender often only comes down turn 2 due to its mana cost, this is acceptable as it will almost always tap for and is completely broken when you get to use it multiple times a turn thanks to Derevi and other untap shenanigans. It's particularly busted when you get to play it turn 1 off of a land and a Mox Diamond or Chrome Mox and then cast a turn 2 Derevi with these other mana sources. Derevi's "enter the battlefield" trigger can be used to untap and reactivate Bloom Tender after already floating . This line effectively gives you nine mana on turn 2 (between playing Derevi and also netting six off the Bloom Tender) which is among the most explosive openings possible in the format.

  2. This--and other degenerate, explosive opening lines of play--is the reason why we also run powerful artifact ramp in the form of Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox and Mana Crypt. This, even despite the presence of substantial, often symmetrical artifact hate in our deck. While the exclusively colorless mana produced by Mana Crypt will often be awkward, the undeniable power level of this card to power out very early stax effects (especially coupled with Derevi untap triggers) makes it effectively an auto-include in the deck.

  3. Carpet of Flowers is similar to -costing mana dorks in that it will almost always produce mana on turn two, given the popularity of -based commanders in cEDH and the multiplayer nature of matches. While it isn't a creature and thus can't be used to trigger Derevi, it will often begin to generate silly amounts of mana in later turns as a great deal of decks simply can't avoid playing islands. This card is one of the best that has to offer in competitive Commander.

  4. Utopia Sprawl/Wild Growth is admittedly an experimental card taking the place of Sol Ring in the list for the time being. That said, it has been excellent. Whereas Sol Ring has always felt like the worst turn 1 play in the deck--as it doesn't enable a turn 2 Derevi and untapping it after casting Derevi rarely lets us do anything else that turn--these enchantments will often let us follow up our turn 2 Commander with something like a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or a Stony Silence.

The Card Draw

Edric, Spymaster of Trest by Volkan Baga

Given our low curve and ability to generate lots of mana, it is crucial that we have ways to also draw through our deck in search of more gas, more pieces to strengthen our lock and, ultimately, to close out the game. It's also ideal that our card draw spells are efficient enough to play even when we have multiple taxing effects in play. While tutoring for specific cards is great, sometimes you just need a boatload more cards in hand. Fortunately, being in means that we have some excellent tools at our disposal for precisely this purpose:

  1. Our most powerful and important "draw spell" is likely Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Often regarded as a high tier general in his own right, he single-handedly turns our board of hatebear weenies and mana dorks into repeatable card drawing engines. It's not unusual to draw 3-4 cards off of him the turn he comes down, with the potential to produce recurring and ever-growing value in subsequent turns. Beyond that, his being and a creature means that it's easy for us to tutor him out and play him through most of our Thorn of Amethyst effects. While his effect is somewhat symmetrical, we will often have the most creatures (and, in particular, the most with evasion) on board by the time he comes down.

  2. Rhystic Study: This card is a staple in midrange Commander decks but is even more absurd here. Early on it will often act as a one-sided Sphere of Resistance or simply a repeated source of card draw. Later in the game, it will be entirely impractical for our opponents to pay the for it as they'll typically already be constrained on resources. Either way it's a win-win for us as it will either draw us cards, slow down our opponents' development or force them to tap additional lands into a Winter Orb-effect. The main downsides are that it can often cost a fair bit through our taxes and doesn't generate immediate card advantage for us when we play it.

  3. Similarly, Mystic Remora can also be a powerful source of card draw for the low cost of just . Opponents will rarely be able to afford to pay the extra to play their mana rocks, tutors, removal, counter spells, utility cards, etc. thus letting us draw. It has similar issues to Rhystic Study in that it doesn't provide immediate value and that it's a noncreature spell. In addition, the cumulative upkeep does mean that it's impractical to keep around for a long time. That said, this card has often been akin to an Ancestral Recall for me and has even drawn more cards over the course of a couple of passes around the table.

  4. Sylvan Library at it's worst is like getting a free activation with Sensei's Divining Top every draw step. At it's best it's doing what players everywhere have already proven is pretty okay: using our life total as a resource to draw chunks of extra cards. I will frequently take eight damage and draw three cards while resolving Sylvan Library's effect without an ounce of hesitation just to see a fresh batch of cards in the following turns. Always remember: "Greatness, at any cost."

  5. Lastly, our biggest "draw spell": Timetwister. As the only Commander-legal Power Nine, Timetwister does so much it's not even funny. Did an opponent use an instant speed tutor in response to you forcing them to tap out, or do you suspect they might be holding up an Ad Nauseam? Twister it away. Is an opponent's graveyard stacked with goodies that they want access to? Twister it away. Need more gas? Twister away. One of the most delightful things about this card in this deck is that we can generally pay for it in the first main phase, untap our mana sources with Derevi during combat, and then cast our newly acquired goodies in the second main phase.

The Tutors

Worldly Tutor by David O'Connor

Every competitive Commander deck needs to be built not just with speed and resiliency in mind: consistency is key. We run a number of cards whose express purpose is to allow us to search our library for specific answers, lock pieces and even just some necessary utility:

  1. Worldly Tutor and Eladamri's Call offer us just about everything we could want in a tutor: they are efficiently-costed, instant speed and they find any creatures. Given the fact that nearly 60% of our non-land cards are creature spells, these tend to be our most flexible search effects.
  2. Chord of Calling isn't quite as efficient as the aforementioned tutors unless we're ahead enough to abuse Convoke. That said, it does something exceptionally powerful that the other two tutors don't: put the creatures directly into play. This means that we can search up specific hate pieces or answers in response to what our opponents might be doing. In addition, we can often tutor something right before our turn starts and then swing with it immediately.
  3. Green Sun's Zenith might look like it lines up poorly against the last few tutors, due to it being a sorcery and the fact that it can only put creatures into play, but that couldn't be further from the truth. What it lacks in speed and versatility compared to our other tutors it more than makes up for in terms of efficiency. Paying only one extra mana to put our choice of cards like Quirion Ranger, Ulvenwald Tracker, Copperhorn Scout, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, Captain Sisay, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Fauna Shaman or Scavenging Ooze directly into play is awesome and this card is banned in Modern for good reason.
  4. Survival of the Fittest and Fauna Shaman are very similar but there's no doubt that the former is by far the stronger card. We run both for redundancy and because Fauna Shaman is easier to find with our other tutors. They offer unparalleled toolboxing power and can also help set up Loyal Retainers reanimation combos with any of our legendary creature cards (though typically with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite).
  5. Eldritch Evolution is a recent addition from Eldritch Moon that has quickly proven its worth in the deck even despite being a sorcery. Sacrifice a mana dork and get just about any hatebear. Sacrifice a useless or redundant piece and grab one of our powerful 4-drops. Sacrifice Derevi for value.
  6. Recruiter of the Guard While some people have criticized it as being too slow, I have found that more than offset by the fact that it dodges most of our taxes, provides a body to trigger Derevi with and is incredible sacrifice fodder for the aforementioned Eldritch Evolution or Birthing Pod. The fact that it only searches for creatures with toughness 2 or less is rarely an issue as the majority of our creatures fit that description.
  7. While Enlightened Tutor doesn't search for creatures per se, it can hit often-relevant artifact creature targets such as Phyrexian Revoker or Ethersworn Canonist. More important, however, is the suite of ramp, engine, lock and combo pieces it can hit. I frequently find myself using it to tutor for such targets as Mana Crypt, Sylvan Library, Birthing Pod, Winter Orb, Sphere of Resistance, Null Rod, Rest in Peace, Stasis, Living Plane or Survival of the Fittest. As you can see, it does a ton for us.
  8. Weathered Wayfarer will often let us make sure we don't miss land drops in the early turns of the game. It can also turn unspent mana or otherwise useless Derevi triggers into additional land drops later on. Don't underestimate this effect--it's not unlike drawing extra cards in terms of the card advantage and value it provides. Finally, it finds us Gaea's Cradle like a boss.
  9. Crop Rotation generally serves two purposes in this deck: Find Gaea's Cradle (honestly, the card is so busted in this deck), Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Strip Mine. Why Strip Mine? Because sometimes mean people play cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or their own Gaea's Cradle. It's nice to have an answer to those types of cards while increasing how consistently we'll have access to our broken enablers.

The Taxes

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss

This selection of cards (also known as "Sphere Effects") represents one of the most significant pillars of our prison strategy. By forcing our opponents to pay more for their spells we can often effectively Time Walk them by rendering their cards unplayable. You'd be surprised just how much worse many spells are when they cost a mere extra--let alone or more. Meanwhile, our deck construction, plentiful mana sources and ability to generate resources through combat means that we usually have no problem paying extra for spells. We can typically categorize tax effects into two groups:

  1. Noncreature spell tax effects: This category includes Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Glowrider, Vryn Wingmare and Thorn of Amethyst. These are typically our best tax effects--except when they're not. Generally they will affect our opponents more than us as we run a whopping 36 creature cards that ignore the symmetrical effect. Additionally, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben's First Strike is not just a cute freebie: it can be used to tap down fetchlands--prompting their activation--before the rest of our Derevi triggers go on the stack in order to keep opponents locked under a Winter Orb. These cards can be extremely underwhelming against decks that play a similarly high density of creature cards, notably decks such as Animar, Soul of Elements and various shades of elfball/creature-combo such as Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. On the other hand, a single one of these effects is often enough to make a Storm player's life absolutely miserable. Fortunately, we have other tools at our disposal to tax creatures...
  2. Indiscriminate tax effects: This category includes Sphere of Resistance, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV and Trinisphere. All of these cards are exceptionally important against other creature-based decks as those can often ignore the noncreature spell tax effects. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is especially disgusting (and a potent stax general in his own right) given that he's both a one-sided Sphere of Resistance as well as one-sided cost reduction effect for many of our spells. Trinisphere probably has the highest ceiling in terms of potential impact given that: it's effect is applied after all applicable cost reductions (I'm still looking at you Animar, Soul of Elements!), it can demolish tempo in the early game and it combos exceptionally well with Winter Orb to shut out our opponents. You haven't truly felt the power of stax until you've pulled off the dream of a turn 1 Trinisphere on the play. It's especially dirty when opponents were hoping to play a bunch of mana rocks/dorks in lieu of a third land drop. This is probably the closest things we get to the fabled "Turn 1 Win."

The Removal

Cyclonic Rift by Chris Rahn

While we would of course rather that our opponents never play anything, sometimes things get through the cracks. This is why we run a few direct answers to what our opponents may play. In particular, we should prefer cards that provide additional or recurring value over single target removal due to the card disadvantage such cards represent in multiplayer contexts. Anything that can deepen our overall control of the game while serving as an answer is especially welcome.

  1. Aura Shards is an excellent example of a powerful removal spell that also provides us an immense amount of control over the game. When every creature we resolve has a Naturalize stapled to it, it becomes extremely awkward for opponents to commit important new artifacts and enchantments to the board. Meanwhile, we can pick off any stray mana rocks lying around.
  2. Speaking of Naturalize on a stick, Manglehorn and Caustic Caterpillar are both here for additional removal. Being creatures means that it's far easier for us to tutor them, they are affected by fewer taxes and they can provide additional value thanks to our Commander as well as cards like Birthing Pod and Eldritch Evolution. It's nice to have access to both in the event of Cursed Totem or Torpor Orb effects being played. Manglehorn in particular is a nice new addition that's an inherently asymmetrical stax piece with broad applications in the format.

  3. Cyclonic Rift barely needs justification. A card that doubles as wide-ranging instant-speed spot removal as well as a near-complete one-sided board wipe while also being reasonably costed doing either? Yes please. Don't forget that we can even use this card during the combat step--particularly with something like Bloom Tender or Gaea's Cradle--to fuel the Overload cost.

  4. Nature's Claim also barely needs justification. This is a card that you will possibly want to substitute for cards: Swords to Plowshares, depending on your meta. In my case, it's extremely valuable as an additional answer to cards like Humility, The Chain Veil or just an early mana rock or scary enchantment.

  5. Ulvenwald Tracker is a bit of tech I'm trying out after seeing it run in a few Blood Pod decks. In theory it is another way for us to interact with mana dorks, problematic commanders and even annoying hatebears under our opponents' control (e.g. Aven Mindcensor). The spicier uses for it involve getting Derevi to die in a fight against a bigger threat so we can replay her at instant speed to tap down something like a Static Orb or just using Derevi as a sacrificial lamb to kill 2/3s and 2/4s with multiple activations off of her triggers. Beyond that, Derevi eats Tymna the Weaver for breakfast in a fight.

  6. Spell Queller is another bit of tech I'm trying out as, in theory, it's a counterspell that plays pretty nicely with taxes and leaves behind a flying body. There's also a lot of cards it just outright blanks (e.g. other counterspells). Plus, nobody ever sees it coming.

The Engines

Birthing Pod by Daarken

Remember how I said that Derevi can easily play a value game? This selection of cards represents our best tools for generating obscene card and board advantage, especially when combined with untap triggers. Situated in a nebulous space between tutors, card draw and just plain brokenness is this select group of powerful value engines. Each can single-handedly turn the tide of a game in our favor quickly.

  1. Captain Sisay is the ultimate tutor machine this deck can muster: we run enough legendary cards to effectively use her as an accelerator, a toolbox and a way to access win-conditions all-in-one. We can find Gaea's Cradle if we need to ramp. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV as well as hate bears if we need to establish or deepen our lock. Edric, Spymaster of Trest if we need card draw. I have even been known to tutor up Sakashima the Impostor or Yisan, the Wanderer Bard in certain circumstances to great effect. Most of the time, we follow the traditional Captain Sisay plan of first tutoring up Gaea's Cradle, then following it up with something impactful like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Hokori, Dust Drinker. In her own deck, she's well-known for winning through a combination of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Living Plane. Thanks to our commander, we can often do this all in a single turn. Who needs Paradox Engine when Derevi already lets us repeatedly untap and abuse Captain Sisay? /s
  2. Next up on the long list of "I use your general better than you do" (I kid, I kid) cards is Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. Already a competitive general in his own right, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is insane because he's not totally unlike a repeatable Green Sun's Zenith on a stick. Until he gets 3 verse counters on him, that is. By the time he gets to 4 counters, he's not only tutoring creatures; he's cheating their mana cost, putting them into play at instant speed and--best of all--isn't limited to creatures only like Zenith. Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is such a powerful engine in this deck that the entire list is constructed in such a way as to best take advantage of his toolboxing ability. From relevant hatebears to tax effects to specific answers and utility, everything is accessible at key points along the curve. Further along our curve is a number of huge bombs we can cheat into play such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Given that we aren't really assembling specific creature-combos, the most effective chains vary heavily between games. Typically I will pick either Quirion Ranger, Copperhorn Scout or a Caustic Caterpillar on verse 1. On verse 2, I'll pick up a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Bloom Tender or a relevant hate bear. By the time we get to verse 3 and verse 4, the possibilities are enormous. See the "Typical Lines of Play" section for a more detailed analysis of the silly things we can do with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard.
  3. One of my favorite cards in the deck has to be Birthing Pod. Powerful enough to have spawned an entire (now banned) archetype in Modern, Birthing Pod offers us the potential to tutor creatures and accumulate value repeatedly for very little cost thanks to the broken Phyrexian Mana mechanic. The card is utterly busted when combined with Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, however, as we can use her untap triggers to get multiple activations out of it per turn. We can also repeatedly sacrifice her and then return her into play for just in order to tutor up a selection of 4 CMC creatures. Again, sometimes we even have enough mana to do this repeatedly by using her 'enter the battlefield effect' to untap the Birthing Pod. Given the raw power of our 4-mana creatures (who doesn't want to follow up a Hokori, Dust Drinker with a Grand Arbiter Augustin IV?), this happens a lot more then you'd expect! A personal favorite line of play of mine is sacrificing Derevi and then returning her to play in response to the Birthing Pod trigger. It's at this point that we find Sakashima the Impostor to copy Derevi and do silly things with the sheer number of tap/untap triggers now available. Remember what I said about how our deck is constructed to take advantage of Yisan, the Wanderer Bard? Such curve-conscious deck construction also enhances the power of Birthing Pod and makes it an indispensable engine card for us.

The Hatebears

Gaddock Teeg by Greg Staples

I know that many of these creatures aren't "bears" in traditional Magic parlance. Sue me. What all of these critters have in common is that their effects make them strong pieces of disruption against different strategies and win-cons our opponents will try to use against us. Typically we'll use our tutors and engines to toolbox these cards as necessary given the matchup and ever-changing situation on the board. Their cumulative effects contribute to what we call a "hard lock" i.e. a board position that is impossible for our opponents to interact with.

  1. Aven Mindcensor is clearly the second best "Bird Wizard" ever printed. Flash it in in response to a tutor, a Survival of the Fittest activation, Doomsday or even just a fetch land. Proceed to watch your opponents whiff while searching the top 4 cards of their library and witness their decks' strategies crumble. Drink their tears.
  2. Our largest "bear" by far is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. She's also probably the most powerful and serves two purposes in our deck: hating on opponents' creatures and making our beatdown plan far more expedient. Seven mana might seem like a lot but often we'll be cheating her into play through a couple of Survival of the Fittest / Fauna Shaman activations combined with Loyal Retainers. She is truly a must-have against any creature-based strategies. An absolute house against competitive decks such as Karador, Ghost Chieftain, Brago, King Eternal, Narset, Enlightened Master, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and any elfball or weenie style deck. Beyond that, her presence on the battlefield makes Laboratory Maniac far less reliable as a win-con.
  3. Ethersworn Canonist might seem like a curious inclusion given our ability to produce considerable tempo but trust me on this: you'll be thankful for the Rule of Law effect. Many decks in competitive EDH are designed to win by repeatedly casting cards in a loop or by casting a certain critical mass of spells. With Ethersworn Canonist in play, we can continue piling on hatebears and artifact stax pieces at a very reasonable pace without worrying quite as much about being blown out by a Food Chain, Tendrils of Agony, Doomsday or any number of infinite combos.
  4. Hushwing Gryff aka Torpor Orb with wings is a powerful answer to Food Chain Tazri/Sidisi, many Protean Hulk variants, Breya Combo, Brago Stax, Ad Nauseum Sidisi, Birthing Pod combos and much of Animar or Yisan's shenanigans. It's also an evasive beater for Derevi purposes. Worth it, even if we lose value from Derevi, Manglehorn and Recruiter of the Guard.
  5. Kataki, War's Wage: Sometimes our opponents will have very fast starts involving multiple mana rocks strung together and this will make it difficult to reign them in. This friendly spirit allows us to undo our opponents' explosive starts to a significant degree by basically forcing them to commit their mana to keeping their rocks in play. The card's true power shines, however, when our opponents play artifacts that aren't repeatable sources of mana or sources of mana at all. Just be careful with this card as it can occasionally make operating under our own stax pieces a little bit more awkward or serve as a sac outlet for an opponents' stax piece that we might actually appreciate.
  6. Linvala, Keeper of Silence is bae. As a one-sided Cursed Totem, she's one of our few answers to other decks that plan to play out a significant amount of mana dorks. In addition, she is a nightmare for decks like Yisan, the Wanderer Bard or Selvala, Heart of the Wilds to fight through. All this in addition to being easily Birthing Pod'ed for by sacrificing our commander and an evasive beater in her own right.
  7. Phyrexian Revoker is absolutely what I'd consider a flex slot but it has been incredible for me in my largely creature-oriented meta. It will often come in naming an opposing commander like Thrasios, Triton Hero, Teferi, Temporal Archmage or Captain Sisay to put an opponent off their combo. Furthermore, it's basically never dead: at the very least you can often get away with proactively naming cards like Aetherflux Reservoir, Lion's Eye Diamond or Food Chain to disrupt many combo decks. Phyrexian Revoker's power is largely based on your skill as a player and how well you know your opponents' decks, win-conditions and outs.
  8. Sanctum Prelate is a recent addition that has absolutely earned its place. Setting it to one or even zero will disrupt tons of storm decks seeking to play lots of the game's most efficient spells. Setting it to three does the same by turning off Doomsday and Yawgmoth's Will but also hits format staple cards like Food Chain, Toxic Deluge, Cloudstone Curio, Umbral Mantle, Beast Within and loads more. Sanctum Prelate is another skill-testing card that again depends on your knowledge of the format to determine its effectiveness.
  9. Scavenging Ooze. Honestly, I would fit even more graveyard hate into the deck if I could find the cuts (and trust me, I'm trying really hard to get Rest in Peace in here). Being able to hate on graveyard strategies is becoming increasingly important in light of a few developments in the format: the unbanning of Protean Hulk, the printing of Razaketh, the Foulblooded and the development of Blood Pod as a deck. Scavenging Ooze slots in nicely as it doesn't hate on our own graveyard (for what that's worth) and it can be tutored relatively easily with any one of our creature tutors. Additionally, it's not a huge nonbo with many of our best cards like Containment Priest is.

The "Combo" Pieces

Living Plane by Bryon Wackwitz

You might be asking, "Didn't you say that this isn't a combo deck???" We aren't, in fact, a dedicated combo deck. That doesn't mean that we don't run cards that--when used in conjunction with other cards--produce exceptionally powerful synergies, near-guaranteed wins or incredible value. Typically our combos are better seen as enablers rather than win-conditions per se. The ultimate goal of assembling our combos is still to help further a game state that only we are able to interact with.

  1. One card that looks downright bad on its own but combines incredibly well with our commander, our lock pieces and our overall deck construction is Copperhorn Scout. One of its biggest strengths is in allowing our mana dorks and other creatures to attack to generate Derevi triggers and then be used for mana/value in the second main phase. It can also allow us to generate extra resources and tempo by simply doubling up on the activated abilities of the aforementioned cards. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is Copperhorn Scout's ability to produce a resource asymmetry when combined with cards such as Static Orb or Stasis. Being able to devote tap and untap triggers to targeting lands often allows us to maintain a Stasis lock indefinitely and can also give us insurmountable advantage with Static Orb on the field.
  2. Loyal Retainers is a classic G/W/x reanimation combo piece and is particularly good with Survival of the Fittest and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. For us, it also represents a form of recursion for our numerous legendary creatures--especially if our Hokori, Dust Drinker gets destroyed somehow.
  3. Quirion Ranger represents many things: an additional way to get away with running a low land count, a powerful synergy with mana dorks, and an extremely effective way to abuse our engine creatures such as Yisan, the Wanderer Bard to generate additional value/pull off some neat tricks. Beyond that, it also enables us to maintain a Stasis lock indefinitely when combined with a Tropical Island, helps produce an asymmetry when combined with Static Orb and also synergizes beautifully with Winter Orb effects and Tangle Wire. See the "Typical Lines of Play" section for Yisan, the Wanderer Bard for further information about how to use these two cards to their fullest.
  4. Sakashima the Impostor is a monster of a 4-drop. Unlike other clones, we can use Sakashima the Impostor to have two Derevis on our side of the battlefield simultaneously--doubling our attack triggers. This combines exceptionally well with Winter Orb and Static Orb to slowly choke our opponents out of the game. It also allows us to perpetuate a Stasis lock indefinitely as we can always use the additional untap triggers to untap a source each turn and to cut our opponents off of newly played mana sources. Often times we will already have a soft lock in place and under these circumstances copying Grand Arbiter Augustin IV to have a second one-sided Sphere of Resistance will generally force our opponents to concede to us. Finally, it's important to keep in mind that Sakashima the Impostor can clone anything on the battlefield. If we're missing an engine piece and an opponent plays one that we can take advantage of, clone it! If an opponent steals Derevi, clone her to get back into the game! Don't be afraid to commit Sakashima the Impostor to the board early: we can always return him to our hand to copy something else later! Ultimately, this card provides us a tremendous amount of flexibility and I consider it an indispensable part of the deck.
  5. And finally, Living Plane: the one card in this deck that combos with others to provide a near-immediate one-sided lock. When used in conjunction with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Linvala, Keeper of Silence, our opponents' lands are either rendered unusable or destroyed outright. Without access to artifact mana, this usually results in the game being over. Living Plane is also useful as a stax piece in its own right. Combined with Winter Orb we can keep our opponents permanently stuck on one land due to all their future land drops having summoning sickness. In addition, we can use this card to turn our lands into beaters to generate additional Derevi triggers, to increase our creature count for Gaea's Cradle or to turn land drops into Naturalizes with Aura Shards on the battlefield. It can also be combined with Birthing Pod and Eldritch Evolution for value since we'll often be operating with just a few lands at a certain point in the game.

The Lock Pieces

Stasis by Fay Jones

Ahh yes, we've finally reached the end. This list represents our deck's most powerfully disruptive cards: the ones that will stall out the game before ultimately locking our opponents out of it permanently. Many of these are referred to as "Orb" effects due to their similarity to Winter Orb. Playing these cards will generally elicit groans from the table. At the end of the day, you must always remember: Team Stax is love.

  1. Our quintessential lock piece is most certainly Winter Orb. At only mana, it comes down quickly and tends to slow down the pace of the game tremendously. In combination with taxes, other hate pieces such as Null Rod or Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Derevi tap triggers, Winter Orb can easily create a hard lock on the game. In many situations, a well-timed Winter Orb can do an excellent imitation of Armageddon.
  2. Hokori, Dust Drinker is in some ways a better Winter Orb for us. This is true even despite the higher mana cost as it is far easier to tutor due to it being a creature. Sacrificing Derevi to Birthing Pod to hit Hokori, Dust Drinker is very satisfying and often an extremely strong play. Finally, the 2/2 body isn't irrelevant as it can also attack to trigger Derevi.
  3. Tangle Wire is a fantastic card early on to disrupt our opponents' tempo while we assemble a stronger lock. The card does not lose as much relevance in the late game in our deck compared to a lot of other decks as we are almost always happy to see extra cards that will deny our opponents resources and because we prioritize having Orb effects out a lot more than many other stax decks do.
  4. Static Orb is at once more powerful and also weaker than Winter Orb. Simply put, it's harder for us to break parity on this effect due to the fact that we typically find ourselves relying on mana dorks and attackers to produce mana for us/deny mana for our opponents and they won't untap with this out. Making matters worse is the fact that opponents can untap two lands through this Orb effect. Static Orb really shines, however, against opponents that are also heavily reliant on alternative mana sources such as rocks and dorks by potentially denying them access to more mana than Winter Orb. Beyond that, cards like Copperhorn Scout, Quirion Ranger and Sakashima the Impostor can help break parity on this effect in a big way.
  5. Root Maze is an incredibly efficient, tempo-denying lock piece that also helps create a hard lock with any of our orb effects in play. It's a little awkward if we are trying to use Quirion Ranger as a way to break Stasis parity but it's just so impactful early on not to run. Just keep in mind that many of our orb effects won't work if they are tapped so you'll want to plan to use a Derevi trigger to untap them the turn you put one down while Root Maze is in play.
  6. Finally Stasis. This card is by far the lock piece with the highest potential but it's also the most demanding to pull off. Often times it will single-handedly win us games given the right support cards. Breaking parity on this effect requires that we have Quirion Ranger and a Tropical Island/Breeding Pool or else Copperhorn Scout, Sakashima the Impostor or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (for her Vigilance) out, otherwise it's just a matter of time before it becomes impossible to pay for Stasis' upkeep cost. There are situations where it's correct to play this card to buy time even without the intention of maintaining it indefinitely.

The Early Game

Because we are looking to play an extremely interactive game with our opponents, the first step in any match is to look around the table and evaluate what our opponents are likely to be doing. Having the right plan of attack and mulliganing correctly is one of the most challenging parts of piloting this deck.

When you look at your opening hand you'll want to ask yourself the usual question any Magic player must ask themselves at this stage in the game: "Does this hand DO anything?" Naturally the answer to this question needs to be YES to even consider keeping a hand, but in our case we also need to ask ourselves whether or not our hand does the RIGHT things. The "RIGHT" thing in any given matchup will vary, and experience against the many decks in the format is crucial for making such evaluations correctly on the fly.

Typically what we want to see in our opening hands are:

  • A few lands.

  • A mana dork or two (or another piece of mana acceleration).

  • A relevant hatebear.

  • A lock or tax piece.

  • An engine/source of card draw.

  • A tutor that will fill in a missing piece of the above.

  • A turn 1 Trinisphere on the play (this is a joke, admittedly, but it's pretty hard to lose in the rare situations where we can pull this off).

We don't need to have literally all of these pieces in every starting hand (though lands are nice!) but some mixture of lands, acceleration and a few 'business' spells are crucial. We really can't afford to durdle for too long before starting to challenge our opponents' game plans. In general, this translates to playing a turn 1 mana dork into a turn 2 Derevi with the possibility of developing another 1-drop off of a Derevi untap trigger. From this point on, the primary goal is to use Derevi triggers, disruption/lock pieces and engine cards to manipulate the game's tempo in our favor while accruing value and developing our position. That said, it's important to keep in mind that there is no "one size fits all" type of hand as our best line of attack against, say, Ad Nauseam Zur the Enchanter will generally be radically different from what we need against a deck like Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. In short, this deck is extremely non-linear and skill-testing precisely because it requires the pilot to adapt to the type of disruption other decks in a pod will undoubtedly be playing (again, requiring considerable knowledge of the format) as well as the ever-changing game state and to not expend resources prioritizing redundant or useless disruption.

To illustrate this point, let's return to the previous example with Zur and Yisan. While on the surface it might seem crucial to disrupt Zur, given that the deck is undoubtedly faster than Yisan and Derevi on average, it is important to also consider that Yisan also plays a number of taxing and disruptive effects such as Thorn of Amethyst and Null Rod that are likely to be an absolute thorn (wew) in their side. Therefore it will often be smarter to prioritize getting a card that disrupts Yisan like Linvala, Keeper of Silence online over something like a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben due to the dynamics of the matchup. Naturally, there is a near-infinite amount of possible combinations of matchups and it's impossible to discuss how to play every one. I merely want to emphasize that playing this deck is challenging (in a fun way) and that occasionally it is necessary to make extremely unintuitive plays to win in the long run. Finally, this style of thinking also helps inform what kinds of opening hands are viable keeps!

The Mid-Game

It is often said that in order to play this deck properly, you shouldn't try to win. Instead, you should try to not lose. I prefer to think in slightly different terms: In order to be successful with this deck, one must be proactively reactive. That is, try not to be forced to react to a problem. Instead, make sure that the problem can never come up in the first place! Personally, I feel this is a far easier concept to grasp--especially for new players to the deck. You are not playing a traditional, reactive control deck. Instead--in a manner similar to the combo decks at the table--you want to be asking your opponents questions at every stage in the game. The question differs, however. We aren't asking, "do I win?" Instead, we want to be asking, "how do you plan on winning NOW?"

At this stage in the game, other decks will begin threatening their wins. It is crucial that we begin to develop hate cards, taxes and sources of denial to slow down the game to a point where our value engines and the tempo provided by Derevi herself allow us to pull ahead. More often that not, you'll be burning your tutors at this stage to try and find some interaction that disrupts multiple opponents (or just the most threatening opponent). This is the trickiest part of the game to navigate as it requires understanding your opponents' outs, win-conditions and reading the board as well as the possible contents of their hands in order to interfere. It will often correct to make unintuitive decisions such as play out a Null Rod or Kataki, War's Wage even if it denies us access to a good amount of mana. Did I mention that this is a challenging deck to play correctly? :)

The Late-Game

If we've made it this far, we're probably in pretty decent shape. It's likely that we have a soft lock on the board and have hopefully developed an engine of some kind. At this point winning really becomes a matter of drawing or tutoring more and more lock pieces to transition to a hard lock. Never get too confident, however. You want to always be thinking about what possible outs your opponents may have and try to plan accordingly. Don't play nice. If there's one particular player that you feel could threaten your lock, don't be try to play politics and instead just focus them down. Getting an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or two (thanks Sakashima the Impostor online will decrease your clock significantly and help you close out games.

This deck has a number of hard lock conditions.

  1. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite + Living Plane + Null Rod : This combination of cards simultaneously destroys all our opponents lands, likely destroys all their mana dorks, and shuts down mana rocks. This leaves only Elvish Spirit Guide/Simian Spirit Guide with a removal spell as possible outs--handily countered by a single tax effect. Linvala, Keeper of Silence can substitute for Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in a pinch, but this line does not protect us as well from opposing beats.
  2. Copperhorn Scout + Stasis : This combination will keep our opponents from untapping any of their permanents while we easily untap our creatures and an island after combat to pay for Stasis. You'll generally only want to commit this combo to the board when your opponents are already tapped out or being taxed. It's not always necessary to have Copperhorn Scout in play before we drop Stasis either. Finally, the scout can be replaced by a number of different cards, including: Sakashima the Impostor, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and/or Quirion Ranger.
  3. Trinisphere + Winter Orb : Admittedly these two cards won't do it on their own, but combined with other sources of mana denial such as Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Null Rod and/or Root Maze, it becomes virtually indistinguishable from some of the aforementioned, harder locks. Just swing in with your board and tap down opponents' lands while continuing to assemble even more denial. Both of these cards can be replaced with other orb and tax effects.

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard Lines

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard by Chase Stone

Wew, now this is an exciting part of the deck. If you've ever played with or against Yisan, the Wanderer Bard then you'll know how quickly he can go from 0-60. In this deck, we try to get him from 0-100 in the same amount of time by abusing Derevi triggers and activating him in the combat step. On top of that, taking Yisan out of the mono- colour identity and letting him fetch up hatebears makes him that much more insane. Allow me to quickly discuss some of my most often used Yisan chains and tricks. If you want a more detailed analysis, I suggest you look up one of the many wonderful primers for Yisan's deck, specifically.

This particular chain aims to set up a series of hatebears that will render most win-cons in the format extremely awkward to pull off unless opponents can first wipe the board. A tax effect or Sanctum Prelate can be substituted in at various points along the chain, if necessary, to play around this possibility.

  1. Verse 1: Any 1-drop will generally do here but I usually go for Quirion Ranger or Copperhorn Scout.
  2. Verse 2: Ethersworn Canonist
  3. Verse 3: Eidolon of Rhetoric
  4. Verse 4: Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Having two hatebears to prevent casting multiple spells means that opponents can't simply remove one and proceed to win. This hates on decks like Food Chain Tazri, every variety of Storm, Doomsday/Ad Nauseam, Prossh, Teferi and more. Linvala on 4 prevents nearly all creature-based win-cons, including Razaketh/Thrasios-based ones and Blood Pod/Kiki combos.

This is a chain I generally recommend when you have a few impactful hatebears out already or, more importantly, an orb effect. It's probably my favourite chain for transitioning into the late game.

  1. Verse 1: Quirion Ranger
  2. Verse 2: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
  3. Verse 3: Activate Quirion Ranger to untap Yisan and double up on four-drops.
  4. Verse 4: Grand Arbiter Augustin IV and Sakashima the Impostor, copying Grand Arbiter.

Whoo boy, this is a doozy. If our opponents are already feeling the squeeze due to an orb effect or something like a Null Rod denying them resources, this is almost certain to completely shut them out. All of their spells will cost a minimum of 2 extra, with the ones we are most afraid of costing at least 3 extra. In cEDH, this might as well mean they are uncastable a lot of the time. All of sudden, tutors and counterspells become extremely bad and we've virtually created a Rule of Law effect on the board by virtue of our taxes. Extremely oppressive.

Sometimes the game is already pretty under control thanks to some early stax pieces and we just need more gas to begin tightening the noose.

  1. Verse 1: Generally any 1-drop will do, I'll typically pick up Quirion Ranger if I plan on doing shenanigans with Yisan/Bloom Tender or pick up Ulvenwald Tracker if I'm worried about something hitting the board like a Zur the Enchanter or Tymna the Weaver. If we don't already have Gaea's Cradle, Weathered Wayfarer is another attractive option.
  2. Verse 2: Generally a Bloom Tender if we want more mana or a Fauna Shaman if we want to set up to cheat an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into play in order to speed up our clock.
  3. Verse 3: Here we almost always want to pick up Edric, Spymaster of Trest for raw card advantage but Sanctum Prelate is also nice if the possibility of a board wipe is concerning. Additionally, I will often park Yisan on 2 verse counters so I keep the option of putting Spell Queller into play as a counterspell.
  4. Verse 4: Here's where things get fun. We can either grab Captain Sisay in order to give us access to a host of powerful legends or, alternatively, we can skip that step entirely and put a Sakashima the Impostor into play copying anything. Sometimes this means an extra Edric, Spymaster of Trest but other times it'll represent a fresh new Yisan, the Wanderer Bard ready to pull out more value for us.

Ultimately it's difficult to talk about "typical" chains in this deck as we are mostly using Yisan, the Wanderer Bard as a value/toolbox piece. Hopefully the examples above help you think through the enormous possibilities available to you during your own games and thus to toolbox according to the matchup and gamestate you are presented with.

In this section, I plan on discussing a few notable omissions from the deck and giving my justification for why I don't run them. This list will hardly be exhaustive so I encourage you to ask in the comments section about more specific cards I may have left out! :)

  1. Food Chain: While I like the idea of having a combo that can, in theory, close out games on the spot, in practice I found that Food Chain and Eternal Scourge are too unimpactful on their own for a deck that gets a great deal of its 'virtual' card advantage playing pieces that should make our opponents' cards useless or unplayable. On top of that, we lack access to which means that we aren't going to be able to consistently tutor the missing half of the combo. Compounding this problem is that Derevi herself only serves as a way to generate infinite mana (and lock down our opponents' mana sources) with the Food Chain combo assembled--we actually need one of a few different third pieces to pull off a win once we're in this position. I think there's merits to this combo and really wanted to like it. I just find it adds a little too much inconsistency to the deck to be ultimately worth it.

  2. Consecrated Sphinx is another card that frequently sees play in Derevi that I have chosen to cut. While the card does have its upsides (huge, flying beater that is pure gas), I have found that I was frequently drawing it when I didn't want it and was only ever really happy with it when I was able to slam it down on turn 2 off a turn 1 Bloom Tender or when I was able to grab it with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. Honestly, even grabbing it for 3 mana at 6 verse counters felt kind of overkill, so I've cut the card in the aim of slimming down the curve a bit.

  3. Willbreaker. This was a painful cut as I've had so much success closing out games with it. Honestly, it could find its way back into the deck at some point. It was mostly cut for curve considerations and because my meta transitioned away from the creature-oriented and midrange strategies this card is really useful against.

  4. Bident of Thassa. Not a bad card at all and extra card draw is always nice. I'm not running it because I've found that the mana cost makes it a bit too steep of an investment before it pays off. This is especially true with a tax effect or two in play.

  5. Paradox Engine. No doubt this is an exceptionally powerful card that can produce some insanely explosive turns and help break stax symmetry. That said, 5 mana is a lot for something that does not generate advantage on its own and this card clearly works better in a deck with a higher density of mana sources that don't come into play with summoning sickness. Beyond that, it relies on us already having a pretty significantly established board before it can do anything close to the busted things it does more readily in spellslinger-type decks.

  6. Azami, Lady of Scrolls. Another card I really wanted to like--along with the whole Wizardball plan in general. Triple in the casting cost has been a sore spot in this particular list (ask any mono- player and they'll tell you it can sometimes even be tricky for them too!). More important is the fact that we aren't playing a critical mass of wizards to really abuse her ability. As for Wizardball more generally, I found that forcing lots of synergistic A+B+C combos (with many otherwise dead pieces) or just relying on very specific pieces (with little in the way of redundancy) ended up making the deck way too inconsistent at interacting in the early game or in setting up its locks. Ultimately, the deck's best games came as a result of somebody else laying down a stax piece or two in order to give me enough time to establish the deck's slow, inconsistent engines. This led me to wanting to play more stax pieces myself, ultimately forcing me to ask myself, "why am I not just playing traditional Derevi stax?"

More to come!

Suggestions

Updates Add

New cards get released and need to be tested. Other times, I feel like giving old cards another chance.

Adds: +Runic Armasaur, +Archon of Valor's Reach, +Negate, +Aura of Silence

Cuts: -Aura Shards, -Fauna Shaman, -Timetwister, -Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

Archon of Valor's Reach provides a potential new win-con lock by locking out Instants and then, through Sakashima the Impostor copying the Archon, locking out Sorceries. While this doesn't win on the spot, it provides a rather fast flying clock and denies almost all forms of interaction and tutors from our opponents. It turns off most of the format's win-cons. Archon synergizes with the stax plan and can be played proactively. Vigilance, as always, is a very relevant ability.

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-1 Wild Growth main
+1 Wild Growth main
+1 Ravenous Slime maybe