There’s a trick I have to pull with this column.
Yes, Chainer, Dementia Master is spiffy, but What’s a Nightmare, you ask? And therein lies the trick. While we can technically admit the existence of Nightmares here on the site… we can’t show you any. Except for that Nightmare they reprinted in Seventh Edition. So I have to show you how fun a card can be that pumps Nightmares, without using any Nightmares, or even saying the word “nightmare," or apparently having any bad dreams of my own.
That’s okay. We can do that. In fact, we’d all try to do that anyway, right? What fun is Eladamri, Lord of Leaves if you start with elves? What’s the point of a Crystalline Sliver if you can’t use it to make your Verdant Force untargetable, somehow? Why even play with Goblin Grenade if you weren’t going to sacrifice something even more worthless than a 1/1 goblin token…say, a 0/1 thrull token?
The fact that you have no Nightmares in your deck is far from the point. You don’t care if a creature is a Nightmare. You only care that it will be. And it will have +1/+1. And it will leave the game if Chainer leaves play.
And it will, naturally, come from a graveyard other than your own.
NO PAIN, NO CHAIN
Creatures in graveyards – that’s what Chainer feeds off of. That means if this card is going to work in a way that’s fun for you and your group, two things have to happen. First, creatures have to get put in the graveyard. And second, Planar Void may never hit the table. You’re on your own with Planar Void – any graveyard-feeding deck needs to deal with it – but I’ll be happy to help you get creatures into the graveyard:
You can kill creatures with red and black removal, mill them with blue and artifact tricks… or distill them with black discard. My personal choice? I don’t know if the Wizards-inspired mythology of the Magic universe agrees with this or not, but in my mind, Chainer has a constant companion, someone he just can’t live without. That would be Braids, Cabal Minion. While most of your opponents will try to sacrifice lands at first, eventually they will realize that they need mana to keep up with the problem, and they will start letting creatures go.
Braids becomes a target in multiplayer, but the beauty of it is, Chainer will bring her back someday, stronger than ever.
And if they waste too much effort on Braids, they will learn to regret it when her boyfriend shows up.
FOOD FOR CHAIN
When it comes to feeding Chainer’s activation cost, casual players around the world will all hone in on white life gain – Congregate; Atalya, Samite Master; Spirit Link; and so on. I’m not a big fan of the beaten path. Even strategies like Drain Life and Death Grasp are a bit obvious.
I prefer two strategies that may take a bit more thought, but in fact work a great deal better with Chainer. First is Claws of Gix, which is useful because it gains you life in moderate amounts, and because it lets you sack your Nightmares cheaply if Chainer looks ready to leave. That way, they go to graveyards instead of out of the game. Your black and red opponents won’t care so much; but your blue and white ones will.
The second life-gain fuel I would use would have to be extraordinary. I’m going to have high standards for this one. For now, we’ll call it the MYSTERY CARD, and we’ll want it to work something like this:
You: Go ahead.
Opponent: Okay, untap, draw, nothing in main phase, go right into combat and attack you with Rith, the Awakener and my Jade Leech.
You play MYSTERY CARD.
You: The Leech dies. I take no damage.
Opponent: Okay, end of turn.
You: Now Rith dies. I gain life. After the stack is empty, I’ll activate Chainer’s ability and bring Rith onto my side.
You’ve figured out the card, haven’t you? It’s Spinal Embrace, the great multiplayer kill card of our time. While it would take nine open mana to do this entire trick in one turn, simply having enough for the Embrace ought to be fine. The life you gain will be important fuel for Chainer, whenever you use him.
Hey, while we’re talking about creatures like Rith: Don’t forget to use a couple of Fellwar Stones in your Chainer deck. Some of these creatures you dig up aren’t worth a thing if you can’t work all their little levers and buttons, and to do that, you’ll need flexibly-colored mana.
So now that we’ve covered the basics, what will happen to a multiplayer table when Chainer hits it? You should expect three things, at least:
- No creature will die before Chainer does. I mean, really, what’s the point of investing a card to kill another creature, if Chainer can just bring it back for “free”?
- People will watch your life total more carefully than usual. There’s not always a good reason to pay attention to life totals by the fifth turn; but if you drop this boy as soon as you have , your opponents won’t see a player with 19 life. They’ll see a player who can steal 6 dead creatures and still be alive.
- Artifacts or enchantments that enhance or detract from colors or creature types will get special attention. Coat of Arms, Bad Moon, etc. – they may be worth a place in your deck, but you can’t expect them to sit for long.
What do those three things mean? Chainer is my favorite kind of multiplayer card, a screaming signal to the table that you intend to take control, a dare for them to do something about it. Hit Chainer, hit you, hit something.
Of course, if you REALLY want to know what it means, it means one word: Misdirection.
Spinal Embrace, Misdirection…does this mean all Chainer decks are blue-black? Probably not. Black-white gives you Wrath of God, Reverent Mantra, Cho-Manno's Blessing, and life gain. Black-green gives you Massacre, Dense Foliage, Refresh, and Spike Feeder. Black-red gives you tons of creature kill, and Soul Burn… but no good way to protect Chainer. Ditto mono-black. The point isn’t that you can’t build other kinds of decks; the point is that if you’re going to bother playing Chainer, don’t you at least want to see him work once or twice?
Let’s assume you keep him on the board for a while. Who should be working with him?
CHAIN OF FOOLS
In addition to obvious friends like Braids, there are some common characteristics of the creatures you’ll want in a Chainer deck. Not every one has to have all of these qualities; but most should have at least two:
- They should be cheap. If you’re facing a couple of creatureless decks, the only fodder you have for Chainer is in your own deck. That means most of your creatures should be able to come out before Chainer, so that they can die early.
- They should die easily. For those occasions when you want to preserve your creatures; we’ll supply protective cards like Misdirection or Cho-Manno’s Blessing.
- They should do something when they first show up. These creatures will very likely come into play at least twice. What triggered abilities will they have?
- They should protect Chainer, and/or his nightmares. This is less important, since we’ll be throwing creatures away fairly regularly; but every once in a while, having a particularly nice Verdant Force nightmare creature stick around on your side should be worth the trouble.
CHAINER VS. CHAINER
Finally, you should also give some thought to what you will do if someone else in your group shows up with a Chainer deck. Chainer is a legend, of course; so you can’t have two on the board at once, and the most recent copy dies. The two clearest solutions to the problem also happen to be blue:
- Man-o'-War will bounce his Chainer so that you can play your own.
- Unnatural Selection will modify creature types so that only one Chainer is a legend. (It will also protect your neo-nightmares, in a pinch.)
Using Unnatural Selection, it should be possible to have one Chainer summon up an opponent’s (dead) Chainer: you activate the first Chainer’s ability, then use the Selection to turn your first into a different creature type – say, penguin. (I’m afraid I’ve joined the penguin creature type bandwagon. These graceful, tuxedo-sporting, aquatic birds would add a touch of class to any multiplayer or tournament deck.) The second, resurrected Chainer comes into play. Check state-based effects – whup, is that another Chainer already on the board? Has the legend already preceded himself? Must one die? Why, no, not at all: that’s just a penguin, you see; and while it is the sort of penguin that can raise the dead and inspire nightmares, who’s to say some other penguin couldn’t waddle up and do the exact same thing? (In fact, if you have another Chainer in another graveyard, you might just want to do exactly that! Just make sure you change the existing Chainers into penguins, rather than the new ones, and you’ll have an easier time with the rules.)
Now, I’m not exactly certain what kind of benefit you can get from your ever-growing mutated half-penguin, half-dementia-master army; but I’m open to suggestions.
Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.