Just about a year ago I had conquered one of my Commander White Whales in the form of a green Spider with a black-green color identity. While this Ishkanah, Grafwidow deck found in this here article does not represent a first draft, it was a version of the deck I felt comfortable bringing to a social table. But even as I did that and goldfished the deck, it was clear I needed to make upgrades.
First and foremost, the deck was slow. While I intentionally built this deck to be less than blisteringly fast, it still had trouble getting off the ground. I would hit my land drops and cast spells – heck I was ramping efficiently. What I was not doing, however, was hitting delirium early enough. The entire conceit of the deck is to create a frightening number of Spider tokens with Ishkanah. In order to do that I needed to reliably hit delirium – that is four different card types in the bin – and the build in the article just did not do that quickly enough.
See, I had built the deck like so many others in my stable and figured I would sacrifice enough stuff to get a properly stocked graveyard. In practice, that was not the case. In order to get the deck to a place where I could send my eight-legged army after my opponent’s, I was going to need to address this gap and I identified two areas for improvement: card types and self-mill.
To make room for this, some of the more incidental cards left the party. Priest of Gix got the nod as a way to go infinite with Ishkanah, Ashnod’s Altar and Nim Deathmantle. However, this deck could just as easily create enough Spiders to win via the combat step and so the Priest hit the cutting room floor. Similarly, Brawn was a bit of overkill so it got the ax. Some of the more conditional reanimation cards like Infuse with Vitality, Blood for Bones and Back for More all lost their spot.
But perhaps the card that most shocked me in its removal was Greater Good. Greater Good has such amazing potential in decks that can reliably turn it into a card advantage engine. As I played the deck, I realized that it rarely, if ever, put me up cards. Instead, it did a great job of ruining my board position and emptying my hand.
These are just some of the more high profile cuts I made. This begs the question, what made it in?
Delirium is a fun mechanic if you can trigger it reliably. There are a few ways to do this and I will get to aggressive self milling later. But you can also run cards with multiple types – which I did with Sylvok Replica and Agent of Erebos in the original build. I somehow missed Dryad Arbor last time around and remedied that in my latest build. Sanctum Weaver is a decent to fantastic mana dork that also brings two card types to the party.
The real gas in this department is Shigeki, Jukai Visionary. Shigeki does a great job of ramping you while also fueling your graveyard. Once Shigeki has gotten you to where you want to be it can turn itself into an uncounterable pastiche of Restock. It’s the kind of card that Ishkanah needs to enact its game plan.
So, let’s talk about self mill. There are plenty of ways to flip cards from your library directly into the discard pile but I wanted some variety. I did not want Ishkanah to be a deck that ran out different cards that all played exactly the same. Instead, I found a few ways to switch up my milling.
First I looked at ones that would force me to attack. Grim Flayer is a favorite that comes down early and can start curating a draw while also turning on the Grafwidow. Kagha, Shadow Archdruid is a new addition but fills a similar role. Although slower, they have the advantage of letting you cast permanents from your graveyard that were milled that turn. For a deck that sometimes loses important cards to deck death, Kagha has been a revelation. She can even get in there for damage occasionally, but that’s secondary.
Next come the more reliable millers. Underrealm Lich not only helps to get things rolling but, like Grim Flayer, does a nice job of ensuring we are only drawing our very best cards. Cemetery Tampering has the upside of being a choice and the potential to cast a spell for free in the mid-to-late game. But my favorite of this bunch is Old Rutstein. Admittedly I was skeptical of including him in the deck, but after playing it out a few times, it does everything I want. It not only gets cards into my bin, but his ability to make Treasures helps power out my more expensive cards while Blood tokens help to achieve delirium.
But now it’s time to talk about Hermit Druid. The Stronghold two-drop is one of the most powerful creatures due to how pitifully easy it makes powering up graveyard synergies. I have hesitated to include Hermit Druid in my decks because it comes with a target painted on its sleeve. Yet it was such a perfect fit for this deck I could not avoid it, and given the sheer number of basic lands I’m running, I figured it was fair game. Besides, I’m not trying to mill past delirium, so it should only take one or two activations before I can set it aside to chump block and take one for the team.
Three more spells got added for various reasons. Kaya’s Ghostform should have been in the last version but it was busy seeing play in a now defunct Mardu Auras deck. As that deck has been dismantled, I can now run it here. Plumb the Forbidden is a nice way to draw some cards. Nissa of Shadowed Boughs provides another way to get Ishkanah on to the battlefield while also giving the deck with some more card type diversity.
Ishkanah is an ongoing project. While I’m very happy with how the deck is currently running, the fact that over time I am going to be able to iterate and continue to find more dual type cards to optimize it, without necessarily making it overpowered, is a fun project every spoiler season.
Commander: Ishkanah, Grafwidow 1 Agent of Erebos 1 Arasta of the Endless Web 1 Birds of Paradise 1 Caustic Caterpillar 1 Graveshifter 1 Grim Flayer 1 Hermit Druid 1 Kagha, Shadow Archdruid 1 Nyx Weaver 1 Old Rutstein 1 Oracle of Mul Daya 1 Rotwidow Pack 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder 1 Sanctum Weaver 1 Shigeki, Jukai Visionary 1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier 1 Skemfar Shadowsage 1 Skull Prophet 1 Sylvok Replica 1 Temur Sabertooth 1 Timeless Witness 1 Underrealm Lich 1 Bala Ged Recovery 1 Bone Shards 1 Casualties of War 1 Demonic Tutor 1 Diregraf Rebirth 1 Find // Finality 1 Necromantic Selection 1 Arachnogenesis 1 Malakir Rebirth 1 Plumb the Forbidden 1 Second Harvest 1 Village Rites 1 Windgrace's Judgment 1 Beastmaster Ascension 1 Binding the Old Gods 1 Cemetery Tampering 1 Cryptolith Rite 1 Doubling Season 1 Druids' Repository 1 Font of Fertility 1 Journey to Eternity 1 Kaya's Ghostform 1 Omen of the Dead 1 Parallel Lives 1 Pernicious Deed 1 Seal of Primordium 1 Sylvan Library 1 Arcane Signet 1 Ashnod's Altar 1 Blade of Selves 1 Eldrazi Monument 1 Erratic Portal 1 Golgari Signet 1 Helm of the Host 1 Nim Deathmantle 1 Talisman of Resilience 1 Throne of the God-Pharaoh 1 Wayfarer's Bauble 1 Grist, the Hunger Tide 1 Lolth, Spider Queen 1 Nissa of Shadowed Boughs 1 Bojuka Bog 1 Command Tower 1 Darkbore Pathway 1 Deathcap Glade 1 Dryad Arbor 9 Forest 1 Golgari Rot Farm 1 High Market 1 Llanowar Wastes 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood 1 Overgrown Tomb 1 Sanctum of Eternity 9 Swamp 1 Swarmyard 1 Tainted Wood 1 Temple of Malady 1 Undergrowth Stadium 1 Verdant Catacombs 1 Woodland Cemetery 1 Woodland Chasm