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Nitōichi - Two Swords As One:

As a nod to Miyamoto Musashi, Isshin makes use of Musashi's Nitōichi -Two Swords As One- dueling style. "In this technique, the swordsman uses both a large sword and a 'companion sword' at the same time, such as a katana with a wakizashi."

Isshin's ability, art, and name are all flavorful nods to Musashi's unique dueling style. Isshin doubles all attack triggers in a manner that lend themselves well to relentless offense or hardy defense.

In unison, these capabilities should let the deck either become the beat down once boards are cleared, or play defensively and politically, forcing the rest of the table to fight each other.

Isshin can lean heavily into various avenues such as Offense/Go Wide with tokens, Exalted and Equipment dueling, or Forced Combat Control and Pillow Fort. For this build I will lean most heavily into a Tokens Go Wide build, but include some political and control elements that can fit pretty seamlessly.

This deck changed a lot in the months since I started brewing it, and is now focused on the Aggro Go Wide theme. I'm excited to see how this deck will continue to evolve over time.

"A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks for the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study."

My custom Musashi sleeves. The source image is a woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

My Moxfield version of the deck - This version is always most up to date, especially during spoiler season. Spoilers tend to get added to Moxfield within a day of being posted online.

Considerations & Swaps

Making the last few cuts for this deck have been challenging. Here are cards that I own that I'm most likely to swap in and play-test:

  • Intangible Virtue - Excluded so far because it only cares about Token creatures

  • Village Rites and/or Reckoner's Bargain - A bit more cantrippy draw to sacrifice tokens to.

  • Always Watching - Exluded so far because it only cares about non-token creatures.

  • Cunning Rhetoric - The effect wasn't much of a deterrant the more I thought about it, especially since it triggered per opponent, instead of per creature attacking.

  • Custodi Soulcaller - Some more recursion could be useful in particularly grindy games. The deck currently runs 11 creatures at 3cmc or below ( 8 at 3cmc, and 3 at 2cmc), although the 3cmc slot especially has some spicy options for potential recursion.

  • Fable of the Mirror-Breaker   - A Saga with the upsides of mana acceleration and optional looting. The backside is like a pseudo-Kiki Jiki and can create some token clones for combat.

  • Florian, Voldaren Scion - Florian could be great card advantage for a deck that aims to play aggressively and throw a lot of combat damage around. He could be useful for digging for Rattlesnake effects and removal/interaction.

  • Guardian of Faith - Flexible board protection

  • Phyrexian Arena - Something I had in initial drafts of the deck. The more I play tested it, and played the deck, the more I felt that it was out of place pacing-wise. In early game it competed with ramp, getting Isshin online, or curving into a creature for Isshin to improve on Turn 3 or 4. Beyond a Turn 4 play, this felt clunky and slow.

  • Raid Bombardment - Front load some damage on token swings

  • Shared Animosity - A board full of tokens gets that much scarier. Would be more useful for smashing through other board states, especially if my creatures lack evasion.

  • Thorough Investigation - I like Clue tokens and Investigation, but I like them a bit more in other decks. The stapled on dungeon value was cool, but I think I generally prefer to leave mana up for removal/interaction

  • Faith's Reward - Boardwipe insurance that hits all my permanents. I'd like to include it, but 4 cmc kinda sucks to hold up, and creatures are more vulnerable to board wipes than other permanents in my meta.

  • Hoarding Ogre - Treasures are good.

  • Grim Hireling - Although Hireling is a combat damage trigger I think it could have some potential since a wider board can be harder to block, and Brutal Hordechief exists.

  • Kardur, Doomscourge

  • Mangara, the Diplomat - Dissuades attacks, since it could lead to drawing 2 cards. Also gives spell-slingers something to pause and consider. Swapped out recently since it didn't trigger off either of its clauses much at all.

  • Marton Stromgald - I swapped him out for Purphoros, God of the Forge. I figured that Purphoros has the upside of being Indestructible, is a beefier Impact Tremors, can add some Firebreathing if I have the mana up, and is a much beefier body than Marton when it is a creature.

  • Smothering Tithe - It's good. That much is obvious and not much else needs to be said lol. If I'm lacking for mana or taxing effects, then I know what could help fix that.

  • Winota, Joiner of Forces - I currently have Fireflux Squad in the deck, which I've liked in play-testing. Winota could be a future include, but I think I would need to up my Human count a bit, as I currently have 9 in the 99 that Winota could hit with her ability, as of 2/22/22.

  • Sun Titan - I had this in the initial build, but eventually cut it for some other effect around 5cmc. It's slower than Custodi Soulcaller in some ways, but has the upside of recurring other permanents in addition to creatures.

Upgrades

These are cards I don't currently own, but could be strong inclusions in the deck. These are all kind of expensive in their own rights. For me, all of the permanents carry a little tagline of " At worst it's removal bait, at best it can lead to some blowout turn."

  • Blade of Selves - Giving Myriad to something that shouldn't typically have it seems really fun. My biggest reasons for not pursuing it (yet) are that it costs about $20 as of 2/12/22, and that it's 6 total mana to cast and equip it.

  • Sneak Attack

  • Aurelia, the Warleader - Extra combats are cool, but feel a bit unnecessary for now. I think that there is too much setup needed in terms of getting a Vigilance anthem on board so that all of my creatures can swing in on every extra combat.

  • Scourge of the Throne - 6 cmc, doesn't have Haste, and it has an extra hoop to jump through for the extra combat. The extra hoop isn't super restrictive, but something to keep in mind.

  • Utvara Hellkite - Getting a board full of dragon tokens seems pretty fun and crazy, but 8 mana is a lot, especialy if I don't have a Haste enabler ready.

Eldrazi Titans and Annihilator Drazis are obviously worth mentioning, but are not my personal playstyle, and are cards I wouldn't pick up. Additionally, I think the steep CMCs of most Eldrazi aren't worth it, especially in Mardu colors.

As with any deck that isn't running Green, this deck is going to play a whole lotta Mana rocks.

Rocks

As of 3/13/22, I removed Fellwar Stone and Talisman of Indulgence for Tome of Legends and Vicious Conquistador. After playing the deck IRL a few times, I felt that the deck is already low enough to the ground that I can spare a couple of mana rocks.

"Ramp"

These cards aren't ramp in the traditional sense, but have an even higher ceiling thanks to Isshin:

  • Zhentarim Bandit - Can produce treasures on swing, and the "may" trigger is helpful for scaling if needed.
  • Sword of the Animist - It can grab 2 Basics per swing now. Will be super helpful even if it only triggers once or twice.
  • Captain Lannery Storm - Pumping out 2 treasures per swing with Isshin active will be spicy.
  • Battle Angels of Tyr - More so of a "catch up" mechanic than ramp, but does help generate a bit of Treasure. Will most likely be used against whomever is running the most Green ramp.

I could split hairs a bit, but this is my umbrella for "burst" draw (2 or more cards in 1 instance), Cantrips (1 for 1), and repeated Draw:

  • Canyon Slough - Cycling in a pinch or if Mana on board is well established, and a tapped land isn't needed
  • Savai Triome - Same idea as Canyon Slough
  • Skullclamp - This deck aims to create a bunch of creature tokens, so might as well get some extra mileage out of them.
  • Village Rites - Another instant speed option to sac a token to, or maybe a creature that's about to eat some removal anyways.
  • Deadly Dispute - Great card. I like the flexibility for the sacrifice requirement.
  • Plumb the Forbidden - "Oh you're going to Rakdos Charm me? What if I just-".
  • Tome of Legends - I wanted another piece of repeatable draw that would be lower to the ground than Phyrexian Arena and Mangara, the Diplomat, and could be used more proactively than both of those cards.
  • Triumphant Adventurer - With the help of Isshin, this Adventurer will be able to speed run through Dungeons. Each Dungeon offers a variety of value triggers, including Scrying and Drawing cards. I'll most likely spam Lost Mine of Phandelver
  • Tymna the Weaver - Tymna synergizes with swinging at multiple opponents, which will become easier with token swarms. Early on she may help us draw off attacking the least defended opponent(s).
  • Battle Angels of Tyr - More of a "catch up" draw, but will still be useful in closing the gap when needed.
  • Tectonic Giant - Can impulse draw on one or both triggers if needed.
  • Mezzio Mugger - Impulse draws up to 8 cards with Isshin out, and draws 1 additional card if cast for its Blitz cost.

Under Consideration

Removal

Board wipes and spells that destroy or exile single to multiple targets:

Under Consideration

  • Slaughter the Strong - A boardwipe that Isshin can dodge, and also helps get rid of bigger creatures that may be Hexproof and/or Indestructible. Replaced with Retribution of the Meek because it was 1 white pip less intensive to cast.

Interaction & Protection

I tend to think of "Interaction" as any effects that prevent opponents from interacting with my board, spells being cast, or their own resources as intended.

  • Scavenger Ground - This replaced Bojuka Bog. Even though it's generic mana, I wanted the option have it come in untapped, and I can keep Scavenger Grounds around until I need to activate it most.
  • Authority of the Consuls - Great early-mid game play, as it can leave potential blockers tapped down for a turn. The incremental lifegain has helped me before.
  • Reconnaissance - Pseudo Vigilance that also removes combat damage after combat is pretty damn great every time I've played it.
  • Dauthi Voidwalker - Creatures die a lot in normal games of EDH. Can hose Graveyard based decks, and force someone to play a removal piece on Dauthi. Also has the upside of being able to cast exiled cards from other players' Dauthi Voidwalkers.
  • Dolmen Gate - Help my dudes swing away (relatively) unscathed.
  • Grand Crescendo - I like that it's essentially a board protection spell for WW, but has the X upside to add some token creatures in if I can spare the mana.
  • Impact Tremors - Damage to the face of the entire table is fun.
  • Rakdos Charm - I love modal spells
  • Tibalt's Trickery
  • Deflecting Swat - Kind of a Swiss Army knife. Good spell is good.
  • Flawless Maneuver
  • Akroma's Will - Useful for defensive board protection, but should ideally be use for protecting an Alpha Strike.
  • Iroas, God of Victory - Like a beefier Dolmen Gate on a beefy body.
  • Purphoros, God of the Forge
  • Balor - I really like that this hits the rest of the table and gets even more benefit from Isshin. All modes can target opponents where they'll get the most mileage.
  • Mezzio Mugger - Will typically be cast for its Blitz cost, but may be hard cast if conditions are favorable. Can impulse draw and steal from opponents, up to 2 cards each turn with Isshin out.
  • Elder Brain - Hand destruction in mid-late game when an opponent would want to keep answers in hand is great. The upside of getting to play what they've exiled is nice.

Under consideration

  • Mana Tithe - Who ever expects a white counter spell? Just gotta hope they're tapped out for follow up responses.

  • Pyroblast - Blue Mages Hate This One Weird Trick

  • Smothering Tithe - I have a copy. It's an obvious include because it's so good. Will wait and see which 4-5cmc creature or enchantment feels most lackluster as a potential swap.

Here are the meat and potatoes of Isshin's attack trigger doubling for offense and defense

Offense - The Katana

Creature Token creation

Painful slices

Cards that punch heavily on their own, or frontload damage before blocks

Anthems and Buffs

Defense - the Wakizashi

This section has been significantly downsized, as I've removed some of the defensive elements to lean into aggro and removal a bit more.

These are all routes for Isshin that I think are cool and worth mentioning.

My initial build had a sprinkling of Exalted, but I decided against this route since board states in my meta tend to get gummed up, and I already have a couple of Voltron type builds.

This route could utilize equipment and its support with Exalted to go very tall with a single creature.

Exalted Triggers

Samurai & Warrior "Exalted" from Neon Dynasty

I won't name them all, but a few examples

Maybe instead of being full on aggro, give the rest of the table better incentive to fight eachother, or force them to.

Curses

Goad

Monarch

Forced Combat

Forced Combat Payoffs

Not a definitive list, but generally some types of effects that could work with forced combats as creatures may block and die:

Rattlesnakes

More Musashi quotes that lend themselves to the concepts for brewing with Isshin-

  • "In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won."

  • “If you do not control the enemy, the enemy will control you”

  • “The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.”

  • “The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy's useful actions but allow his useless actions”

I played some much needed games with friends last night. I played Isshin in two of the four games we played. Both games had plenty of back and forth from everyone involved, and felt like everyone had at least one turn where they popped off. All in all, the games felt close and balanced.

Game 1

Commanders: Isshin, Kangee, Sky Warden, Alela, Artful Provocateur, and Kardur, Doomscourge

This game was deadlocked fairly early on. Kangee and Alela were able to start build boards of small fliers pretty quickly, and mostly swung at each other initially to be the more dominant air force. Kangee played a fairly early Kinjalli's Sunwing (maybe turn 3 or 4), which had the double edged effect of helping keep Alela's swarm of Fairie tokens tapped and in-check.

Although I had removal to take out the Sunwing, I decided to instead use it on a Skullclamp on Alela's board, since it was being used to grind tokens into draw. Isshin's best play was a getting an early Duelist's Heritage, and offering up two instances of double strike to whatever creatures didn't hit me. Sadly my aggro strategy was fairly hamstrung, and I couldn't keep pace with Alela and Kangee. A mid-game boardwipe eventually reset everyone.

Kardur won a game of attrition, basically from being repeatedly bounced with Conjurer's Closet. We were all too busy swinging at each other, and Kardur quickly mopped us up later.

Game 2

Commanders: Isshin, Kardur, Doomscourge, Chatterfang, Squirrel General, and Krav, the Unredeemed//Regna, the Redeemer

Another token heavy and fairly balanced game. The biggest differences were that Isshin was able to keep pace with Chatterfang and Krav/Regna (Token aristocrats) in terms of early token production, thanks to Captain's Claws, and Kardur was not able to set up a blink engine to keep us swinging at each other.

This game consisted of plenty of back and forth between all boards. I got to live an Isshin goal by swinging out a board full of 8 Kor Ally tokens accumulated from Captain's Claws, pumping them with Battle Cry from Hero of Bladehold, and getting the ETB damage from Hero of Bladehold's 4 tokens from Purphoros, God of the Forge, all while having Iroas, God of Victory online.

I got everyone else near-death, but was quickly hated out after. As I said before that swing, "This next play is called 'I am at 16 life, and I want to be a problem'. So I hope you all understand what happens next".

It ultimately doesn't really matter all that much, but I am proud that this is (currently) the #1 Isshin deck on TappedOut and Moxfield. My Moxfield version of the deck is also my first that is more popular on that site than on TappedOut.

Internet points don't really mean much, but it does make me happy that so many people have engaged with this deck, and something about it has resonated with them. I've spent a lot of time writing and updating this primer, and have had a lot of fun doing so. I hope as this deck continues to evolve, people will continue to find something about this deck and primer that they enjoy engaging with.

Will this always be the #1 Isshin deck on both sites? Probably not. For me, this is a personal achievement as someone who has been on Tappedout for almost 9 years, and started with very janky decks and half-baked descriptions/primers.

Suggestions

Updates Add

Played some much needed games with friends last night, and played Isshin in both of them. These were both some of the worst, if not the worst games this deck has played so far. Still figured it was important to document these lackluster showings.

Game 1 was Isshin vs. Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Saryth, the Viper's Fang (I lent my friend's gf my Saryth deck My Viper Don't Want None Unless You've Got-), and Kangee, Sky Warden.

The first game was rough. I got hit pretty hard early on by some of Muldrotha's edict effects and struggled to re-establish a board because I was mostly drawing into removal/interaction, and got mana screwed on lands. I didn't do much this game and was knocked out first. At least my Saryth deck did well lol.

Game 2 was Isshin vs. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, Alela, Artful Provacteur, and Krav, the Unredeemed//Regna, the Redeemer.

This game was also rough lol. Unlike game 1, I mostly drew into creatures and had more mana available, but I drew into very little removal/interaction. TL;DR - we all teamed up against Korvold early on, because we've all seen what it can do. Alela ended up running away with the game afterwards. I couldn't keep up or produce tokens to any kind of meaningful effect and got smacked with commander damage from Alela. Krav/Regna used all their removal to try and manage Alela's board, but she bounced back fairly effectively due to deploying mostly mana efficient auras and artifacts.

Post Game Swaps

Still kinda figuring out if these will stay in the deck after some more games, but here are some changes I made based off last night's games, and some good ol gut feelings. The swaps listed are necessarily 1 for 1:

Out

  • Curse of Opulence - Kind of in a similar vein to my recent cuts of Revenge of Ravens and Marchesa's Decree, I felt like these effects didn't really discourage attacks at me nearly as much as I hoped, especially if my opponent was punching with a single Voltron'd up creature. In the games where I was mana screwed, I wouldn't want to have to rely on Curse of Opulence to help dig me out of a hole.

  • Liliana's Standard Bearer - The other draw effects I have in deck feel more consistent (if repeatable), or are faster/cheaper to play if also at instant speed. I also grew to not like how reactionary this one felt.

  • Delina, Wild Mage - I was on the fence between cutting her or Fireflux Squad. I figured that Fireflux at least already has Haste, and is pseudo-card advantage, since it can let me churn through my deck and get things out. Delina popped in one or two of my games, but didn't do much.

  • Marchesa's Decree - Didn't discourage attacks too much, especially if my opponents had a big creature to dome me with, or enough of a token swarm that they could survive the hit and kill me. Our play group also has a House Rule where the person going last in turn order becomes the Monarch at the end of their 3rd turn, so this felt less relevant and unnecessarily redundant.

  • Wandering Archaic  Flip - One of my pet cards that I didn't want to cut, mostly due to some of the fun moments this card had enabled in past games for "collaborative" removal efforts. It was time to replace this with something with better overall synergy. I'll miss you.

In

  • Infernal Grasp - I felt I needed at least 1 more piece of cheap creature removal. Would've been helpful last night lol.

  • Grand Crescendo - Protect my board, but also create some tokens out of it. I like that it's instant speed as well. Hopefully will get a chance to try it out.

  • Fervent Charge - Thought about it & figured that I'm lacking a generic anthem to really help push damage through with token swarms. This is a spot I'm also debating for Elturel Survivors. Although I have some P/T anthems in the deck, they're all mostly stapled to creatures.

  • Grave Titan - This is my most dubious addition. I like that it can immediately get a few tokens out on ETB, and pump out up to 4 with Isshin out. I'm also considering Living Death in this spot as a kinda board-wipe, but also kinda board rebuild. TBD as a I think about it some more.

  • Elder Brain - Eh fuck it, why not. The deck lacked a top-end bomb creature (maybe 2), and figured I could give this a try. Shout out DawnsRayofLight for the suggestion.

Also under consideration rn

Still weighing my options and what can be swapped, but here are a few things that are highest up on my list for swaps:

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