I am far from the first person to look at Chainer and see an interesting & powerful commander. While I don’t have a ton of money to throw at any one deck, I wanted to see what I could do with this lord of nightmares. Running full tilt into Mono-Black goodness, I have a deck that looks pretty tight. Instead of spurning infinite combos, I tried to pack in as many combos and synergies as I could. It will still struggle (even in best-case scenarios) against decks with turn 3-5 clocks but I don't think that is easily solved without just choosing a new commander. With that said, I would appreciate any comments or recommendations on this thing.
In my eyes, Chainer falls into a fascinating intersection of strategies. On the one hand, black gets some of the best tutors and allows for multiple combos and 2-card synergies. At the same time, however, Chainer is one of the two reanimator commanders who truly benefits from all of black’s mana doublers rather than using reanimation to avoid paying costs (the other being Geth). Chainer’s downsides force you to use a number of sac outlets… though you would want to use them either way to help spam ETB and Death effects over and over again. This deck could win through an infinite combo… or funnel infinite mana into an X effect… or lock players out of the game with contamination… or repeatedly spam Kokusho for the victory… or kill and steal your opponent’s creatures.
Thespian Stage + Dark Depths = To state the obvious, this combination has a number of outs for your opponents and very rarely kills more than one person in multiplayer. With that said, this is one of the few ways that this deck could knock out a faster deck (if in ideal circumstances).
Puppeteer Clique + Mikaeus, the Unhallowed + Sac Outlet: While Mike & Trike is famous for a reason, I wanted to include a single Mikaeus combo that doesn’t use artifacts. On its own, this lets you drag everything out of your enemy’s graveyard for a big swing. From there, you can get pretty nuts (infinite mana with phyrexian altar, instantly winning with altar of dementia, controlling what card you draw each turn with viscera seer, etc.). Throw in a blood artist and you instantly win.
Abhorrent Overlord + Phyrexian Altar + Chainer: Even if you have no other black permanents on the field, you can easily add two black mana to your mana pool for every three life you are willing to pay. If you do have one or two additional black permanents, you can generate a ton of mana or a ton of fliers. Add in Blood Artist and you win.
Sepulchral Primordial + Phyrexian Altar + Chainer: Probably the second-rarest combination that you’ll ever pull off. If someone else has a decent ETB or Death effect in their graveyard, however, this can suddenly become great. All that it takes is a single Duplicant or Solemn Simulacrum in your opponent’s graveyard to start generating value. Add in Blood Artist and you win.
Viscera Seer, Disciple of Griselbrand, and Yahenni, Undying Partisan are great creature-based sacrifice engines that can be used for little or no cost at instant speed. As none of our combo pieces have a CMC of 4, I generally prefer Yahenni to the traditional inclusion of Dimir House Guard as indestructibility for the turn is generally better than regenerating once… and because Yahenni can be an actual threat.
When you get a sacrifice outlet and the mana to repeatedly sacrifice some creatures, you need some good payoff creatures to get you where you want to go. To start with the classics, Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Kokusho, the Evening Star both help to kill off players while more than recovering the life loss you suffer from Chainer.
While this deck has a decent amount of mana acceleration, it still benefits from having a few ways to dump cards from your hand. Mindslicer and Oppression are classics that hurt your opponent as much as you. Trading Post allows you to trade a card for much-needed lifegain (because Trading Post is an all-star that does everything). Finally, you can choose to turn Sadistic Hypnotist on yourself if you really need something dead.
Erebox, God of the Dead and Withered Wretch: While these cards are vastly different in effect, they were excluded for the exact same reason. Commander is a format that commonly features reanimation, theft, and clones. I don’t want to give my enemies the tools that they need to seriously hurt me, whether by turning off vital lifegain or by removing your graveyard.
High Market: I should specify that I really like this card for Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Whereas that deck needs to sacrifice one creature each turn, this deck wants to sacrifice creatures over and over within the same turn. While I did include Phyrexian Tower, I didn’t want to splash in another sac land that can’t add black mana (without Urborg, I mean).
Additional Tutors: While I have seen Chainer decks run Beseech the Queen, Diabolic Tutor, and Liliana Vess, I am pretty happy with my tutors at the moment. While I’d gladly include a Grim Tutor or Imperial Seal if one fell into my lap, I decided to run a variety of win conditions that require different forms of interaction (2-creature combo, 2-land combo, 2-artifact combo, 2-enchantment combo, and repeated sacking-and-reanimating that is all but immune to counterspells) instead of searching for the same 1-2 cards each time.
Fetchlands: I have mixed opinions regarding these cards. I acknowledge that they can help any deck reach a critical mass of lands while increasing the chance of drawing nonland cards for the remainder of the game. With that said, 1) this deck doesn’t seem particularly geared for speed, 2) this deck actually WANTS to get a ton of swamps, 3) I’m not in love with the idea of paying additional life in spite of life gain. I am open to criticism on this matter.
Mana Crypt: Okay, I’ll admit that some part of me is just trying to justify not spending extra money on this card. This card makes decks run faster and may (occasionally) represent a chance for this deck to keep up with naturally faster decks. While Mana Crypt is great, however, I will contend that it adds much less to Chainer than it does for most other decks.
This deck hopes to win by triggering Chainer’s activated ability over and over again (whether to wipe out threats, drain your opponent, or search for combo pieces). Mana Crypt, for all of its virtues, cannot help to pay for that ability. If you draw the mana crypt once you have already reached 5 mana, its usefulness is drastically reduced. Further, the damaging effect has more impact when paired with a commander that regularly has you paying life. While Mana Crypt has a demonstrable history of making decks faster, I am convinced that this is one of the decks in which it would be the “least good”.
All is Dust and Karn Liberated: I can understand why Chainer decks use these cards. Black does not interact with enchantments or artifacts. With that said, I admit that I’m not seeing where these cards would be essential.
On the other hand, I doubt that I’d be able to pay the expensive mana cost on these cards at all if my opponent is locking my mana down with Winter Orb and Stasis. Likewise, the high cost makes me doubt that these spells could be cast in time to stop any infinite combos my opponents might be fishing for. Maybe I just need this explained to me.
Pros: Can be brought back from the graveyard more reliably if discarded, milled, countered, or destroyed. Three black mana to bring them back with Chainer is actually makes them cheaper than the enchantments. Entomb, Buried Alive, and Corpse Connoisseur act as additional “tutors” for the 7-drop vampires. Defiant bloodlord can actually trigger the life loss needed to start the infinite loop without support. Cons: As with everything Chainer brings out, you would have to sacrifice these vampires the moment a lightning bolt is directed at Chainer or your last sac outlet is targeted with destruction. Increased vulnerability to creature board-wipes. Enchantment destruction is generally less common in commander. Deck already skews towards expensive cards.
Interested to hear your take on the matter.
Harvester of Souls: To be clear, I would like to use this card in place of Grim Haruspex. Being more expensive is less of a downside in this deck, the body is more relevant, and getting multiple cards for Fleshbag Marauder or Massacre Wurm is excellent. With that said, I’m a bit wary about adding an 11th 6-drop card to the deck.
Living Death: Because Living Death is Living Death. Works well with Gary and Abhorrent overlord and there’s enough ETB effects to justify using it as soon as I carve out some room for it.
Reanimate: I have been running this card in all of my black reanimation decks for a long time. Bringing out a giant dude on turn 2 is great. Unfortunately, none of the big creatures in this deck really seem like they would slow opponents down. No Blazing Archon or anything of the sort, alas.
Sheoldred, Whispering One: This one hurts me just to say. I’ve been running various builds of Chainer for years and this card has always been part of it. The floor of effectiveness is very high with this card (you basically break even if you end your turn without it dying) and it can lock players out of the game. The joy that I’ve had bringing this out on turn 2 with entomb and reanimate is impossible to describe.
With that said, this card doesn’t really lend itself to “abuse”. It doesn’t grab combo pieces any better than Chainer, plays no real part in repeatedly reanimating and sacrificing your dudes (whether as a reanimator or reanimation target), and only really “synergizes” with Urborg. I’d love to use this card but…
One thing I thought of since you're running Scrying Sheets: Lens of Clarity. Not a super strong inclusion, but cheaper than Sensei's Divining Top. It can save you wasting mana on Sheets just to peek at the top card and can help you more selectively mill with a weenie. That expense of two mana for the minimum of looking at your top card may not be an issue with mana doublers.
I'm not going to edit my above post since it was a while ago, but I noticed Chainer + Altar + Abhorrent + Disciple of Griselbrand is an indefinite loop with a net gain of tokens/life/mana in whatever combination. Net gain of 3 life and 1 token per iteration, or stable life and 3 tokens every 2 iterations (every other iteration you keep a token and sac Abhorrent to Altar instead of to Disciple).
And any time you can make a net gain on tokens, Altar + Skullclamp/Infernal Tribute basically means "play your whole library". Endless mana + XHD + Rings + a tutor does pretty much the same thing. Or play everybody else's decks (or just leave their entire libraries in exile and pass turn).