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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. My build leans most heavily into a Tokens Go Wide build.

This deck changed a lot in the months since I started brewing it, and is now focused on the Aggro Go Wide theme. I initially incorporated some of the pillow fort elements, but felt that they watered down the aggressive focus I was aiming for. 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."

"Fixation is the way to death. Fluidity is the way to life."

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.

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I received some rather unexpected but welcome feedback on this deck when I saw that someone posted to /r/EDH on Reddit that they used my deck as a base for theirs, but were getting dismantled fairly early. This section of the primer is intended for newer players and players that may be newer to playing Aggro.

Disclaimer: I play with a fairly consistent play-group, so a lot of my approach is informed by those experiences, and my occasional visit to LGSs in my area. When I play this deck, I tend to look for a couple of things in opening hands, especially in context of the other decks around the table:

  • I tend to swing at whichever board I think will provide the least resistance, whether it means smaller creatures or total bodies on board, and/or are tapped out for mana for possible removal/interaction. On occasion this may mean swinging out at other token strats that are behind on board development, or more combo/spell-slinger based strategies that will have fewer and smaller creatures.

  • When playing against other token strategies, I tend to keep hands that are heavier on removal and ramp, but have at least 1 token producing creature that I can start building my own presence with once boards are cleared.

  • If I'm playing against spell-slingers or other strategies that may commit to a squishier creature board, I will try to keep hands with a couple more creatures and an anthem if possible.

  • Starting with some kind of board protection spell, whether it's Teferi's Protection, Clever Concealment, Dolmen Gate, or even just a Tibalt's Trickery are all very helpful to maintaining momentum. I try to keep hands that have at least 1 protection effect.

  • If I am one of the more aggressive decks at the table, I will tend to lean into that and build as much momentum as possible. Either I become the Big Bad and get focused, or I gain too much momentum to meaningfully interact with.

  • If I am not the only token strat at the table, I may slow roll my board deployment a bit and accelerate once a few removal spells have hit around the table.

  • I try to keep the curve for this deck as low as possible so I can: muscle out early aggro momentum, rebuild my board quickly and efficiently in the event of wipes and removal, and hold mana up for cheap removal and interaction.

  • Impact Tremors, Purphoros, God of the Forge, Hellrider, Brutal Hordechief, Commissar Severina Raine, Mishra, Claimed by Gix  , and Tectonic Giant to a lesser extent are all group-slug effects that can act as finishers with a well-protected board state.

I think it is cool that others have used this deck as a primer for their own, but I highly encourage people to tune to their metas and play-groups. This deck is not intended to be a "Be-All, End-All" for Isshin token strats, but is hopefully a helpful starting point.

  • Connecting the Dots - Has a high ceiling to impulse draw a decent chunk of cards, & quickly replenish once our hand is light.

  • Sword of the Animist - Cut as of October 2023 for Fellwar Stone. The total of 4 mana to cast, equip, then swing felt very telegraphed the more I played it. This was in the deck since some of its earliest iterations, but felt slower and less useful as I removed more basics from the deck.

  • Cunning Rhetoric - The effect wasn't much of a deterrant in my meta, especially since it triggered per opponent, instead of per creature attacking.

  • 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, or Isshin builds that utilize more Group Slug effects like Vicious Conquistador.

  • Guardian of Faith - Flexible board protection. Definitely a budget option for players who may not want to pick up a copy of Terferi's Protection yet.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Decadent Dragon - Some might say it's "Goldspan at home", but the adventure provides some additional utility.

  • 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.

  • Fireflux Squad - A card I had a lot of fun playing for a decent chunk of this deck's initial 4-5 months. It shined best with a token producing attacker on board, but benefits from having a "may ability" trigger. As fun as it was, felt very Boom or Bust in terms of what it would dig out. I finally cut it for more consistency at the 4 drop slot.

  • 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 since it my opponents typically removed him or found ways to play around him. Could be great in metas with a greater abundance of spell slinger strategies.

  • 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.

  • 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."

  • Sneak Attack - I now own a copy, but currently run it in my Goro-Goro and Satoru deck, Neon Light Speed.

  • 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 of Modern Horizons 3, I'm now breaking this rule for Hideous Taskmaster specifically lol. Taskmaster seems like a great top-end finisher. If it didn't have Haste, I probably wouldn't have considered it as much.

Rocks

"Ramp"

These cards aren't ramp in the traditional sense, but have an even higher ceiling thanks to Isshin. This is better named the "Treasure Purse". Although Treasure is helpful for mana acceleration at any point of the game, the Treasure producers all work with Professional Face-Breaker's impulse draw ability.

  • Kellogg, Dangerous Mind - Pumping out 2 treasures per swing with Isshin active will be spicy. Treasures can be utilized for creature theft if needed.
  • Professional Face-Breaker - Complimentary to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Captain Lannery Storm, and Battle Angels of Tyr since it can pump out Treasures with them.
  • Seize the Spotlight
  • 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.
  • Goldspan Dragon - A card that essentially pays for itself the turn that it swings with Isshin on board. It really takes the top off the Treasure production by making all my Treasures tap for an additional mana.

Value Ramp

  • Land Tax - After playing the deck for two years, I decided this was a much needed upgrade in the ramp department. I play in a meta where Green is very prevalent, so it's not uncommon to be behind on a land drop or two by comparison. As of March 2024, the deck runs 9 basics to enable a few activations.

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:

Under Consideration

  • Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor - A group hug/slug. Gives my opponents the option to attack each other and benefit from it at a cost. Could be a potential swap with Tymna. TBD.
  • Necropotence
  • Painful Truths
  • Tocasia's Welcome - Complimentary to all of the token creature production. Recently swapped out to try Braids, Arisen Nightmare.
  • 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). Swapped with Hellrider as of 2/13/23. Wanted one more damage dealing attack trigger.
  • Brazen Cannonade - Group slug off of token deaths is cool, but having Raid to "draw" from is a nice upside. TBD on how I could shoe-horn it in.

Removal

Board wipes and spells that destroy or exile single to multiple targets. When possible, I try to make the wipe and multi-target removal be as asymmetrical as possible:

  • Swords to Plowshares
  • Rakdos Charm - Forreals, I love modal spells.
  • Soul Partition - Pulls double duty as removal or a protection spell if needed.
  • Anguished Unmaking
  • Council's Judgment - I previously had Grasp of Fate in this slot. I figured that Council's judgement has a slightly higher, although not completely reliable, ceiling of 4 nonland permanents that it can potentially remove. Additional upside is the the voting gets around Hexproof, Protection, Shroud, & Ward since voting does not target the candidate permanents.
  • Braids, Arisen Nightmare - Her trigger can force opponents into removing their own resources if they want to prevent me from drawing.
  • Generous Gift
  • Final Showdown - An instant speed board wipe with additional upside is pretty nutty.
  • Farewell - I prefer to use Exile based removal as much as possible, given the number of graveyard strategies in my meta, also making the mass graveyard exile relevant.
  • Hideous Taskmaster - Strictly a top-end finisher, especially in the context of my meta. My main playgroup leans more aggro, so Taskmaster is a means of stealing whatever heavy hitters are on board, then clearing things out with a ceiling of 8 Annihilator triggers (assuming Isshin is on board, & I manage to steal 3 creatures).

Under Consideration

Interaction

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.

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

  • Reprieve

  • 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 a lot of damage before blocks. Helps make combat damage more viable by softening up opponents.

Anthems and Buffs

Defense - the Wakizashi

This is a section that originally consisted of pillow-fort effects, but I've since shifted to focus more on board and creature protection.

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

It ultimately doesn't really matter all that much, but I am proud that this is (currently) the #1 Isshin deck on both TappedOut and Moxfield, and my post popular deck to date.

This is now my first deck to break 100 votes on both my Moxfield and Tappedout profiles. Lol what.. Beginner me on Tappedout 9 years ago would be so happy.

All in all, 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 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.

Updates Add

2024 is off to a fun start with some new stuff from MKM/MKC. I made a few changes to serve multiple purposes of: adding in some more draw, adding effects that encourage/reward my opponents for attacking each other, and lowering the curve where possible. My meta leans fairly aggro & go-wide, to which Breena, the Demagogue and Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant have each had their own successes. In games where I've played Breena, or played against decks where she was the commander, the table seemed to have fun swinging at each other and drawing cards (until Breena killed them). Given that past experience, I figured I'd lean into that a bit more:

  • Purphoros, God of the Forge out / Warleader's Call in - 1 mana lower on the curve & has a static +1/+1 anthem stapled on. Hard not to like.

  • Hellrider out/ Nelly Borca, Impulsive Accuser in - Opens up some more options for drawing & sending aggro around the table. Nelly has looked pretty fun & impactful in some of the different games I've seen her in on various YouTube channels.

  • Devilish Valet out/ Impact Tremors in - Pumping up Valet with token production to potentially One Shot someone out of a game was silly, but I didn't like its play pattern as much the more I played it. Figured I'd switch back to the old tried and true Impact Tremors, especially as another lower curve damage dealing option now that Purph & Hellrider are out.

  • Breeches, Eager Pillager out / Aurelia, the Law Above in - New Breeches was okay each time I played him. Helpful utility, but never really jumped off the page. I'm more interested in Aurelia as a draw option off her first lines of text, and figured the damage dealing would be treated more as a bonus. Given that Aurelia has Haste, she can easily contribute to her own requirements.

  • Reprieve out / Esper Sentinel in - Mostly because I feel like I have a decent amount of instant speed interaction as is, Sentinel can help with drawing or at least speed-bumping opponents to prevent me from drawing.


Other stuff on my radar:

  • Connecting the Dots - Essentially a Bomat Courier anthem for all creatures. The ceiling seems high with Isshin, to essentially impulse draw 2 cards per creature attacking. Seems like a means to get a decent grip after going in to Top Deck Mode.

  • Agrus Kos, Spirit of Justice - Kinda slow removal option.

  • Trouble in Pairs - Waiting for the hype on this to die down a bit. Reminds me a bit of Mangara, the Diplomat, which was in an earlier version of this deck. Mangara didn't deter my metas much, mostly on the aggro aspect. After seeing the hype cycle of white value enchantments like Monologue Tax and Smuggler's Share, I want to see how things play out a bit more for Trouble in Pairs.


Making this update feels a bit silly, as Fallout precons are about a month away. Very excited for the Caesar, Legion's Emperor precon, and will likely pick up the deck, especially given the quality of the WH40K & LotR decks. I recently replayed New Vegas to get hype for the deck, and also because I hadn't played it in years. It was a joy to play on my gaming laptop and mod out/patch lots of the old bugs.

Currently partway through the 3rd day of Fallout precon deck reveals. All in all, I'm pretty happy with some of the new cards from the Caesar & Scrappy Survivors precons. As I've had some time to let some of my fanboy excitement simmer down, I've had a chance to be a bit more objective about potential updates to this deck, and what new cards are most to least likely to make it into the deck:

Definite additions

  • Kellogg, Dangerous Mind - An upgrade over Captain Lannery Storm. Fallout 3 and 4 were the two I've played the most, so I'm quite happy that Kellogg made it into the precon, and has such a cool card to boot. Happy he has first strike, and an additional use for Treasures.

  • Caesar, Legion's Emperor - I was super excited when he was first revealed a few months back. At the time of reveal, I figured he would be a swap in over Firemane Commando, and I think that is still the call to make. Caesar does it all for this deck: pings damage, draws cards, & creates tokens to establish board presence or enable his activation. It's always a plus when the creature doesn't need to be the one to attack. Overall, a great flavorful addition.

Likely additions

  • MacCready, Lamplight Mayor - A fairly low to the ground Skulk anthem for creatures with Power 2 or less. Could be a helpful means for helping creature tokens get through for damage in a way that Legion Loyalist kinda misses the mark on. Still figuring out the swap, but might just drop a land, as the deck has operated well enough at 35 lands before.

  • Craig Boone, Novac Guard - Super happy that one of my favorite Fallout companions got his own card. Boone's card is so flavorful, & its mechanics flavorfully play into Boone being a sniper. Much like Adeline, Anim Pakal, Caesar, new Aurelia, & Karazikar, I like that Boone doesn't need to attack to trigger (he is a sniper after all). I like that Boone provides some defense against flying, & his damage and lifegain can balloon the longer he sticks around. Admittedly, his addition would be a bit of a pet card inclusion, given how much I liked him as a companion.

  • Paladin Elizabeth Taggerdy - An interesting take on the "polymorph" type effect we've seen on Arni Metalbrow, Fireflux Squad, Winota, Joiner of Forces, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, and Shadowfax, Lord of Horses. I like that they're trying new things with this design space. Although Paladin Taggerdy is tied for the cheapest in terms of mana investment, she does need to attack with at least two other creatures, but also draws a card. I think the Battalion requirements for Paladin Taggerdy & Boone should both be fairly achievable in a deck like this that aims to go wide.

  • Grim Reaper's Sprint - Another big flavor win, and a fun representation of the perk from Fallout. I think this should be fairly easy to cast for its Morbid cost, especially as creature tokens get chump-blocked in combat. This is currently one of the least likely additions of the cards in this category, but I could see it potentially swapping with Impact Tremors.

  • Sentinel Sarah Lyons - A top end card that might be more at home in the 99 for something like Anim Pakal, Thousandth Moon or General Ferrous Rokiric. As of 2/25/24, my deck has: 10 artifacts, 4 cards that create treasure tokens before combat damage, and 2 cards that create artifact creature tokens. I think Sarah Lyons would be too boom or bust in the current version of my build, but I'll keep her in mind.

Unlikely additions, but still on my radar

  • Pip-Boy 3000 - A cool equipment that I think may replace Sword of the Animist in some Isshin lists, mostly for the additional utility offered by the Pip-Boy. The land untapping gives Isshin decks a bootleg Bear Umbra, as well as the additional options of adding counters and looting/rummaging draw. I'm not the biggest fan of looting/rummaging draw for Isshin, especially once the deck is in mid-late game and going into Top Deck Mode. Aside from all that, I'm not the biggest fan of Equipment besides Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, & Skullclamp in decks that aren't Equipment focused.

  • Boomer Scrapper - Okay Boomer. Cool that one of the factions from New Vegas got a nod here. This may give some Isshin decks utilizing Laelia, the Blade Reforged an additional option. The Impulse draw from the Junk token, while helpful, is a bit slow at sorcery speed. The life loss from Boomer, while flavorful, can be risky in mid-late game scenarios where draw is needed, but life might be running low.

  • Veronica, Dissident Scribe) - An interesting mix of looting/rummaging and impulse draw. This could be an alternative for decks that are playing Audacious Thief. As mentioned for Pip-Boy and Boomer, I am not the biggest fan of discard based draw for Isshin, & the impulse draw on the Junk token is pretty slow at sorcery speed. Hoping we will get Christine, so the lovers can be reunited in a deck.

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94% Casual

Competitive

Top Ranked
Date added 2 years
Last updated 3 days
Legality

This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

Rarity (main - side)

17 - 0 Mythic Rares

59 - 0 Rares

11 - 0 Uncommons

3 - 0 Commons

Cards 100
Avg. CMC 2.91
Tokens Copy Clone, Elephant 3-3 G, Experience Token, Gnome 1/1 C, Goblin 1/1 R, Human 1/1 W, Rebel 2/2 R, Soldier, Soldier 1/1 RW, Soldier 1/1 W, Treasure, Vampire 1/1 W
Folders Attack harmonicon, Following, Isshin, EDH, Theme, EDH, Favorite Decks, Hello, I am stealing your deck. Thanks!, Cool, EDH
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