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.
OBVIOUS COMBINATIONS AND SYNERGIES
Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: As obvious as you can get and a staple in far too many decks to count but I would be negligent for not mentioning it.
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).
Sanguine Bond + Exquisite Blood: A classic combo worth noting.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed + Triskelion: The classic Mike & Trike is classic for a reason. Chainer on the board with buried alive in your hand and 9 mana available can seal the game VERY quickly.
Basalt Monolith + Rings of Brighthearth: Classic two card combo for generating infinite mana. If you channel that mana into Exsanguinate, Torment of Hailfire, or Geth, Lord of the Vault, you win very quickly.
Deserted Temple + Rings of Brighthearth + Crypt of Agadeem OR Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx OR Cabal Coffers: If you can get at least four mana from any land, you can turn that into infinite mana. While I am aware that the Crypt doesn’t work in all decks, this deck seems rich enough in creatures for it to be worth testing.
Contamination + Bitterblossom OR Reassembling Skeleton: While this synergy doesn’t necessarily win the game, it can seriously slow down a number of fast decks (such as Narset or Xanagos) if they can’t draw the right mana rocks.
Skullclamp + Bitterblossom OR Reassembling Skeleton: Even if you don’t draw contamination, you can pull off a pretty impressive card advantage engine.
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.
Blood Artist + Merciless Executioner OR Fleshbag Marauder + Chainer: On the topic of nice synergies, Blood artist can mitigate, negate, or even let you gain life from bringing back your Executioner or Marauder while draining your opponents.
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.
Wurmcoil Engine + Phyrexian Altar + Blood Artist + Chainer: If you find yourself in magical-christmas-land and manage to pull out all of these cards at once, you win the game pretty instantaneously.
GENERAL CARD ANALYSIS
The Sacrifice Outlets:
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.
Razaketh, the Foulblooded and Sadistic Hypnotist also deserve notice as reusable creature-based sacrifice engines as well, though the former feels more like a payoff card and the latter is strictly sorcery speed.
Altar of Dementia, Phyrexian Altar, and Spawning Pit were selected as noncreature sacrifice engines, each of which has no mana cost and allows for instant speed. Due to the high dependency on black mana to use Chainer, Ashnod’s Altar was notably not included in this build.
While they are generally less worthy of note, the deck does include a number of “slow” or one-time sacrifice effects in the form of contamination, trading post, Abhorrent Overlord, Diabolic Intent[/card], Disciple of Bolas, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, and Phyrexian Tower. Sacrifice effects that can’t be used at will are generally less useful for Chainer than they are for Meren, however. Even if I somehow come across a copy of diamond valley, I am uncertain of how much good it would really do here.
Chain-Sac Payoff Cards:
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.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Corpse Connoisseur, Razaketh, the Foulblooded, and Rune-Scarred Demon can all act as tutors to grab what you want and Sidisi’s ability to self-sacrifice effectively turns her into a reusable grim tutor. While less powerful, Disciple of Bolas can help grab new cards and gain back life.
Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder are fairly famous for clearing out difficult targets and being able to sacrifice. Meanwhile, Noxious Gearhulk can help gain life while Massacre Wurm makes for a nice boardwipe.
The remaining creatures of note are Sepulchral Primordial, Puppeteer Clique, Wurmcoil Engine, and Abhorrent Overlord, all of which can help flood the board
Mana Ramp and Card Advantage:
Thankfully, Mono black is a pretty good place to run mana acceleration. Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth take starring roles as they do in most black decks, though that’s the tip of the ice burg. Crypt of Agadeem and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx give some support as lands. Meanwhile, artifacts lend some support with the obligatory sol ring and the combo-rific Basalt Monolith.
As with most mono-black decks, the real big mana comes from doubling your mana. Crypt Ghast and Nirkana Revenant are creature-based doublers that chainer can revive (with the former allowing life gain and the latter acting as a potent creature in its own right). Extraplanar Lens (with snow-covered swamps for asymmetrical benefit), Gauntlet of Power, and Caged Sun shore up the artifact front. Finally, Bubbling Muck has the potential to be reused multiple times in the same turn if combed with Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.
Other than the 10 Tutors (and Tutor-Esque Cards) held within the deck, there is a nominal card advantage package in Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena, Disciple of Bolas, Grim Haruspex, and Skullclamp.
The Discard Package
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.
If my opponents put up Ensnaring Bridge or Sphere of Safety to stop me from attacking, this deck can still win. If my opponent limits me to one card per turn with rule of law or increases card prices with Sphere of Resistance, I don’t really need to “cast” many spells besides my commander. If my opponents try to lock me out with Rest In Peace or Leyline of the Void, I can still generate infinite mana and exsanguinate them.
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.
Butcher of Malakir and Defiant Bloodlord: I recognize that these cards are more expensive than Sanguine Bond or Dictate of Erebos and that the latter has a lot of bad press for being reprinted too many times. With that said, there are pros and cons to using these cards instead of their enchantment equivalents.
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…