Chainge Will Do You Good

Posted in Serious Fun on December 8, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

I love a card that makes it plainly obvious what you should do with it yet offers all sorts of options. Chainer, Dementia Master is an example of an old-school card that makes it really clear what it wants you to do, but leaves you with so many options!

Chainge with the Times

Before I go any further, I know there is a small group of you out there who are trying to say that Chainer helps you build a Nightmare deck, or you can use his recursion ability, so it isn't all that clear what you should do with Chainer. While technically, you could build a Nightmare deck, realistically, that is nothing more than a cute theme deck choice. Even if you opt to try that route, you are likely going to be using Chainer's real ability to bring amazing creatures from your opponents' graveyards,[1] turning your attempted theme deck into a weak version of a real Chainer deck.

The only time the +1/+1 for Nightmares should matter is when you are attacking with the creatures you've brought back. It is a way to make Chainer's real ability hit just that much harder. Don't dismiss it from your mind, just don't inflate it into something it isn't.

Spare Chainge

Chainer is all about the recursion. If you are going to use Chainer, you are looking for the best creatures sitting in graveyards. The variations from this point are endless. Whether you are filling opponents' graveyards or your own, using discard or removal, milling cards directly from library to graveyard...The choices are plentiful, and we haven't even considered the creatures you could include in your deck just so that you can bring them back again and again.

I asked my friend Brandon for his Chainer suggestions, and he came back with this sweet brew:

Chump Chainge

Download Arena Decklist

The deck uses Festering Newt as a way to kill opponents' creatures and gain life, while Carnival Hellsteed and Dragonlord Kolaghan provide the killing blows. Kolaghan's ability to give your creatures haste is a boon for Chainer, since you can now steal opponents' creatures and attack with them on the same turn! Casting a Dread Summons while Kolaghan is in your graveyard means that there will be times when your opponent will try to cast something that is identical to the one in their graveyard. You can bring out Kolaghan at instant speed and leave your opponent with 10 less life. Somehow, losing 3 life doesn't feel like anything!

Real Chainge

However, if we're going to talk about a deck that wants to use Chainer's ability repeatedly, Commander just makes sense. While Chainer is black only, I'm sure we'll deal with that limitation. Dragonlord Kolaghan is not required to abuse Chainer!

Chainge of Heart

The first thing Chainer, Dementia Master needs is creatures in graveyards. The joy for Chainer is that he doesn't really care how they get there. Black as a color gets cards into graveyards better than any other color, so the color restriction is no restriction at all here. Given that, I looked for creatures that could do the job. If a creature like Bone Shredder kills something when it enters the battlefield, Chainer can bring it back to the battlefield after it dies, so I can get multiple uses. Bone Shredder, Nekrataal, and Shriekmaw are the obvious candidates, but there are others that can help out as well.

Black also likes to demand sacrifices. While opponents are less likely to voluntarily give up their best creatures to become Chainer fodder, repeatedly requiring sacrifices will lead your opponents to eventually be forced to do things they don't want to. Butcher of Malakir and Sheoldred, Whispering One are two options I particularly enjoy. Demon of Wailing Agonies is a more recent addition to black's options, so I thought I'd take it out for a spin as well.

Black is also good at forcing opponents to discard. Syphon Mind forces everyone to discard something. While we can't recur Syphon Mind with Chainer, it does have the added advantage of drawing several cards in addition to the discard. Liliana Vess also forces discards, while also being able to search for just the right card. My personal favorite is Mindslicer. While you can say that it hurts you as much as everyone else since you also have to discard, only the dullest opponents will not see how everyone playing without cards in hand benefits you more than anyone. With Chainer around, everyone's graveyard is practically a second hand for you!

When you think about putting cards from opponents' libraries directly into graveyards, you generally think blue. While "milling" is primarily a blue strategy, black does have some cards that do it well. I particularly like milling for Chainer, since it means that your opponents have limited control of what ends up in their graveyards. Making them sacrifice a creature gives them some control, but milling is much harder to stop or even limit losses. Dread Summons, a card from Brandon's deck above, makes an appearance here as well. If you assume a four-player game and the average player running 30% creatures, spending seven mana on Dread Summons should find four or five creature cards for Chainer and give you four or five Zombies to protect yourself while you bring back the evil stockpiling in the graveyards. Geth, Lord of the Vault is another option. Although Geth targets individual players' graveyards, with a single activation the options can really open up for Chainer.

Chainer, Dementia Master | Art by Mark Zug

Life-Chainging Event

With the way I hope to use Chainer, 40 life will not last long. Activating him just five times means 15 life lost. When you start to add in combat damage and every other way to lose life, suddenly Chainer looks like he'll be seeing more limited use. I'm not interested in having Chainer see limited use.

Lifelink is a fairly obvious way to gain some life, particularly in a deck that hopes to swing with opponents' creatures pretty regularly. Loxodon Warhammer and Whip of Erebos give lifelink to creatures. If a creature taken by Chainer gains you more life than it cost to get it, then it should be a pretty good deal. The Whip and Warhammer should help that along. I also included Wurmcoil Engine in here. A great creature that leaves friends behind is something I'm happy to bring back again and again with Chainer.

The Disciples, of Bolas and Griselbrand, both add to the graveyard totals while adding to your life total. High Market is another sacrifice outlet that provides some life gain as a small bonus.

Sangromancer is a joy in any multiplayer game, and in this deck, it should do particularly well. With the focus on death and discard, Sangromancer will gain you 3 life repeatedly. It offers an almost yin-yang balance with Chainer!

Finally, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a monster in a deck like this. With only Chainer and Gray Merchant on the battlefield, your devotion count is four. With three opponents, you gain 12 life. Find any way to sacrifice Gray Merchant, then use 3 of that 12 life to cast him again. You just netted 21 life. Admittedly, you needed eight mana to do that, but this is Commander. Imagine if you had 9 life and Gray Merchant was either on the battlefield or in your graveyard already? Imagine if you had other black permanents in play, further upping the devotion? And all of this isn't even considering what "Gary" is doing to your opponents' life totals. In our previous example where you cast him three times, you are taking 12 life from each opponent.

When you decide to play Gary, be sure you can handle the onslaught that will be coming your way. Your opponents simply can't have you doing that much damage to them repeatedly, all for the cost of three black mana as Chainer brings Gary back again and again. You will be the target until you, or Chainer, is dead. Even if Chainer is dead, expect to be the target. Life totals may not be the best way to determine who the strongest player in the game is, but it is the most-used metric. A massive life total means you will be attacked. Be ready.

Kokusho, the Evening Star isn't in the deck for just this reason. My group views Kokusho as a combo piece that exists only to end games through loops like the one Chainer offers. Nothing guarantees the wrath of every opponent like Kokusho. That said, this Dragon Spirit ends games quickly, so if you are prepared for the consequences, Kokusho would make an excellent addition.

"People Don't Like Chainge"

Put yourself into an opponent's position for just a moment. How would you stop this deck? The deck has some good cards that are difficult to deal with, but the real problem lies with graveyards. Chainer just keeps bringing things out of graveyards, while you are relying on your ability to draw answers. That is a losing battle. Destroying the creatures Chainer brings in is an option, but Chainer will just bring them back. Better to kill Chainer. You stop the loop of creatures from the graveyard, and the Chainer player loses all those creatures.[2]

All right, so it appears that our opponents are going to be gunning for Chainer, even more than Commander players normally gun for commanders. I recommend waiting to play Chainer until you have a way to protect him. I've opted for the full suite of Equipment that makes him untargetable. I know this isn't foolproof or particularly original, but it is effective.

Chainge Places

Essential to the deck are cards that allow you to sacrifice your creatures. When a card like Shriekmaw is on the battlefield, but you need to kill a creature immediately, having a way to sacrifice Shriekmaw so Chainer can bring him back is invaluable. There will also be a time when, despite your best efforts, Chainer dies. You do not want all those delightful Nightmares you've brought from graveyards to be exiled, so having a way to sacrifice them back into their graveyards before Chainer dies is very important. While I like Ghoulcaller Gisa enough to put her in the deck, she taps when sacrificing a creature. A card like Altar of Dementia allows you to activate it repeatedly with very little cost. This deck has ways to sacrifice creatures spread liberally all throughout.

Time for a Chainge

Time for a Chainge

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Chainer, Dementia Master

The rest of the deck includes cards that let you draw more cards, add more mana, or sacrifice your creatures, plus a bunch of creatures that seem to work with the deck. I have just a few quick comments about some of these additions.

  • Snow-Covered Swamps—These are in here for the Extraplanar Lens. Using Snow-Covered Swamps means that your Swamps produce two mana, but no one else's Swamps do. I love the idea of Snow-Covered Swamps to short-chainge your opponents. I'm sure smarter people than me have been doing this for a long time, but I only recently discovered this while looking at other Chainer lists online.
  • Black Market—If there's a card tailor-made for this deck, Black Market is it. Between Chainer and many other cards in the deck, it is a hog for black mana. This deck also chews through creatures, both your own and others', so Black Market's counters should climb very quickly.
  • Gauntlet of Power—I looked at the card and set it aside initially. With Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth giving everyone Swamps, I was reluctant to give everyone else mana as well. There are also plenty of other black decks that will run far more creatures, so it seemed like I was giving up too much for Gauntlet of Power. Daryl, my black mage in residence, reassured me that the card is a powerhouse in monocolor decks, and choosing black would certainly give me the strongest advantage.

Chainer, Dementia Master offers up a specific style of deck, but leaves you with so many options while building it. Chainer and similar cards are great for those of us who like building decks but are easily overwhelmed with options. These decks offer "training wheels" assistance while building, giving us confidence to build more open concept decks in the future.

Bruce Richard


[1] Almost every time I type "graveyard," I end up with "gravyard." While a yard full of gravy has some curious appeal, it just doesn’t carry the same ominous feel.

[2] Check out Chainer, Dementia Master again; when he leaves play, all Nightmares get exiled. That's right, you lose everything!

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