The most dangerous four words in Magic: the Gathering:
“Search your library for…”
Students of Magic history know that many of the most unfair decks of all time revolved—in one way or another—around these four words. The culprits range from Survival of the Fittest, to Natural Order, to Reanimator decks built around Entomb, all the way Valakut and Wolf Run decks built around Primeval Titan.
Below is a (far from exhaustive) list of Magic cards which are banned in one format or another because of the presence of these four words:
But we hardly need to delve into the past to see the power of searching up particular cards (also known as “tutoring”). Birthing Pod currently reigns as the most dominant deck in modern. Cards like Green Sun’s Zenith, Natural Order, Infernal Tutor, Entomb, Intuition, Stoneforge Mystic, and Goblin Matron define Legacy. In Modern, it’s Expedition Map, Sylvan Scrying, Scapeshift, Verdant Catacombs, Knight of the Reliquary, and yes, Chord of Calling, that make the format what it is.
At minimum, these four words printed on a Magic card deserve great respect. For me, they set off alarm bells and get my mind working in new and different ways. So when I see not one but two very intriguing tutor effects among M15’s green cards, I can’t help but imagine the possibilities.
Modern players know Chord of Calling as a powerful and versatile tool for creature decks. It can complete a multi-card combo, it can search for a silver-bullet creature to win a particular matchup, or it can find a utility creature to get you out of a sticky situation. Or, you can simply cash it in for whatever creature gives you the most raw value!
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard may not have quite the speed or explosiveness of Chord of Calling’s modern partner, Birthing Pod, but it is a card that’ll dominate a game if it can go unmolested. I see these two cards as going together hand in hand in a number of possible standard decks. However, one shell in particular stands out to me.
These two cards offer the ability to break the limits imposed on Yisan by his designers. The card slowly but steadily ticking up one verse counter at a time is useful, but it’s very fair and very combatable. However, when sped up by Kiora’s Follower or Prophet of Kruphix, he might begin to simulate or perhaps even exceed the potential of Birthing Pod. After all, you don’t have to sacrifice a damn thing! What’s more is that Kiora’s Follower and Prophet of Kruphix combine exponentially, allowing Yisan to sing four songs in a single turn cycle!
Here’s one possible home for that combination of creatures:
Before getting into specifics, let’s discuss the shell of this deck. The healthy suite of mana creatures ramping into Polukranos, World Eater and other powerful creatures is reminiscent of decks like Monsters or, more precisely, Green Devotion. Instead of Green Devotion’s more common splashes of red (for Domri Rade, Mizzium Mortars, etc.) or black (for Pharika, God of Affliction, Golgari Charm, etc.) this deck uses blue for Prophet of Kruphix and Prime Speaker Zegana in addition to a few other gems.
G(u) Devotion has been tried before, in various forms. However, this deck is a bit less devoted to devotion, and instead focused on value. I still suggest three copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx because there’s not much cost, and they’re usually good for a bonus mana or more in the late game. However, this deck even splashes a third color (white) for Ephara, God of the Polis, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and whatever sideboard options your heart might desire (Detention Sphere is one good option).
The goal is to develop your mana early and to outclass your opponents in the mid and late game. When you combine the mana engine of Prophet of Kruphix with the card drawing engines of Ephara, Prime Speaker Zegana, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, and your planeswalkers, there’s virtually no limit to what you can do!
Chord of Calling plays the same role in this deck as it does in modern Birthing Pod. You can assemble your “combo” (something as simple as Prophet of Kruphix plus a card drawing engine). You can search for a silver-bullet creature like Reclaimation Sage or Nylea’s Disciple. Or you can simply go for your most powerful finisher—Aetherling.
Unfortunately, Wall of Roots is not legal in standard, and this deck doesn’t have quite the number of miscellaneous, cheap creatures kicking around that Birthing Pod might. Chord of Calling is actually an expensive spell in this deck which you likely won’t be casting until turn 4 or even later. Therefore I’ve restricted it to two copies because, useful as it is, drawing multiples early in the game might prove to be a little clunky.
The Yisan Mana Curve
I began today by praising the power of tutor effects. However, they can be dangerous as well. The temptation when building a deck around a tutor effect is to play lots of wacky one-ofs, envisioning extreme situations where you might find a particular card useful. However, from my experience it’s typically best to be as disciplined as possible. In most cases, the number of games you’ll win by tutoring for an overly-situational card will be lower than the number of games you lose because you draw it instead of something better.
In the case of Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, especially once you reach the higher mana costs, you can probably find a way to win with what you have; you don’t need to pack your deck with a variety of creatures to go for. For example, in writing up this decklist, I was tempted to include a copy of Progenitor Mimic—an extremely powerful creature given the right set of circumstances. But let’s consider…
In short, include the creatures that you’d most want to draw naturally, and you’ll still have plenty to work with.
Having options lower in the mana curve is slightly more important. For one thing, you’ll be searching for them far more often. (Typically, either Yisan will die or the game will be decided before his number of verse counters gets too high). For another, cheaper creatures are less likely to win the game on their own, so finding the right tool for the right job is more important.
It’s fine to always go for Elvish Mystic on one verse counter; a one drop providing extra mana is about as good as it’s going to get for this deck!
On two verse counters, you’ll typically want more mana also, or a Kiora’s Follower to accelerate Yisan’s singing. However, Scavenging Ooze is a powerful card in any deck containing thirty creatures, and is the two drop creature most capable of dominating a late game that’s available in standard (perhaps in all of MtG!). Moreover, there are some graveyard-based decks where Scavenging Ooze represents a silver-bullet, capable of winning the matchup all on its own.
On three verse counters, Courser of Kruphix is the objectively best card you can put into play. However, the new printing of Reclamation Sage is exactly the type of card that this deck loves. After the enchantment-themed Theros block, the ability to search for a Reclamation Sage (potentially at instant speed) is a huge appeal of a deck like Prophet Bant.
At four verse counters, you’re getting to the point where you’re likely ahead in the game no matter what you’re searching for. However, in addition to the bread-and-butter Polukranos, I’ve included two other options. Nylea’s Disciple is a nice card to have access to, allowing you to put yourself out danger in the late game once you’ve drawn a bunch of cards. Also, against dedicated Burn decks, Disciple represents a card capable of swinging a game in your favor all on its own.
Ephara, God of the Polis is a card you’d want one or two copies of anyway. I previously described it as a “card drawing engine,” and indeed it functions more like a planeswalker than a creature in this deck. Searching it up with Yisan or Chord of Calling will feel like cheating! With thirty creatures, you can count of drawing a card every turn cycle or, if you have Prophet of Kruphix in play, two cards every turn cycle! Ephara is the perfect card to search for if you expect the game to go on for a while.
Polukranos, World Eater, Arbor Colossus, and Scavenging Ooze are the meat of the deck. Turn 3 Polukranos is your best way to shut down an aggressive beatdown draw, and you need a critical mass of big guys in order for Prime Speaker Zegana to be at her best.
The last card that requires explanation is the one-of Curse of the Swine. A deck like Prophet Bant, which devotes such a large proportion of its cards to mana, cannot afford to play a lot of reactive cards like cheap removal. However, in long games where you draw a lot of cards via Ephara, God of the Polis or Prime Speaker Zegana, you want access to one card that can answer what your opponent is throwing at you. Curse of Swine is the perfect catch-all, high impact removal spell for the late game.
Fathom Mage Combo
The first deck I built with Yisan and Chord of Calling was Prophet Bant—an explosive and powerful value deck. However, it’s also possible to dream a little bigger. We may not have Restoration Angel+Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker, but there is one infinite combo available using creatures in standard.
Fathom Mage allows you to draw a card not only when it evolves, but any time that a +1/+1 counter is added to it for any reason. (Ajani, Mentor of Heroes for three +1/+1 counters, yes please)! When Fathom Mage draws you a card, Horizon Chimera gains you a point of life. When Horizon Chimera gains you a point of life, Archangel of Thune adds a +1/+1 counter to all of your creatures, including Fathom Mage. When Fathom Mage gets a +1/+1 counter, it draws you a card, starting the cycle all over again. Eventually, you’ll have gained as much life as you please, your entire team will be as large as you please, and you’ll have drawn as much of your deck as you please. Fathom Mage’s card drawing ability is optional, so you won’t deck yourself.
Fathom Mage Combo
The Fathom Mage combo version will play out in much the same way, with only small changes in the creature base. All of the combo pieces are respectable cards in their own right, but every once in a while, you’ll assemble them all together and win out of nowhere. To increase the chances of assembling the combo, I’ve added a third copy of Chord of Calling. Because the mana is a little more demanding, I’ve swapped an Elvish Mystic for a fourth Sylvan Caryatid.
There’s a cool trick you can play using Yisan, the Wanderer Bard and Kiora’s Follower. Adding a verse counter is a cost to activate his ability, but the ability will check the number of verse counters upon resolution. Say for example Yisan has two verse counters, you can activate his ability (adding a third), respond by untapping him with Kiora’s Follower and activating his ability again (adding a fourth verse counter), then both abilities will resolve, and you can search for two creatures with converted mana cost of four! It’s perfect for finding Fathom Mage and Horizon Chimera in the same turn.
Bonus Section: More Fun Creatures to Search for with Chord of Calling
Perhaps the greatest appeal of Chord of Calling is that it’s an instant. Prophet Bant being able to put instant-speed Aetherlings into play poses a huge problem for anyone trying to control the game with permission spells. Moreover, there are certain unique creatures that can really blow someone out of the water when they’re not expecting them.
You’re casting Sphinx’s Revelation for how much?
Who says mana ramp decks can’t play removal spells!
This one is a two-parter. First, you can destroy a planeswalker, a Whip of Erebos, a land being targeted by Underworld Connections, or most anything your heat desires. Second, you have a 6/8 reach! Good luck Stormbreath Dragon!
This one isn’t a particular blow-out to get at instant-speed, but having access to eight copies of a card like Eidolon of Blossoms makes it much more appealing to build a deck dedicated to it. It’s especially good in reference to Eidolon because the card is so great in multiples!
Once upon a time you’d have to fill your deck to bursting with life gain creatures if you wanted to have a great Burn matchup. Now every tutor effect that you add to your deck can represent a backbreaking card against Burn. The more extreme your opponent’s strategy, the better your tutors are likely to be.
My first impression of M15 is that green is getting dramatically more new playable cards than any other color. Chord of Calling and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard are only two of them, but I can’t wait to see how these cards unlock new possibilities and change the value of existing cards.