Commander Showdown - Chainer vs Chainer

Chainer, Nightmare Adept by Steve Prescott | Chainer, Dementia Master by Mark Zug

Chain, Chain, Chain...

Dreams are tricky things. Difficult to remember, hard to control lucidly, and terrifying if they continue for too long. For a person like Mazeura, known more commonly as "Chainer," those last ones are most interesting. From a sect of the Cabal known as the 'dementia casters,' Chainer can manifest his own fears and the memories of beings he has killed into real-life nightmares.

This is captured beautifully on Chainer's two cards, both of which have the ability to summon terrifying beasts from the graveyard over and over to demolish his enemies. However, if you're in the market for some nightmare fuel, how do you decide which Chainer to use? Does mono-black give us more room to devote ourselves to the darkness, or does a touch of red haste give us the extra flair we need to put our enemies into the graveyard? How does this one character's multiple cards change his overall strategy and deck construction? Let's find out on this nightmare edition of Commander Showdown!

Mono-Black Monsters

Let's begin with the original Chainer, the mono-black menace. Don Miner, creator of EDHREC, has a Chainer deck, and having played against it, I can confirm that this commander is terrifying to behold.

Chainer allows us to rip creatures right out of the graveyard by paying three mana instead of their full mana costs, which means we aren't waiting around for those creatures to die of natural causes. We want them in the graveyard, stat. Buried Alive, Entomb and the groan-inducing Mesmeric Orb are all great ways to get the ball rolling. The new Syr Konrad, the Grim ain't a bad way to fill the yard, either, if you have excess mana.

And excess mana is a thing we absolutely plan to have. This is a mono-black deck, and if there's one thing mono-black knows how to do, it's commit. Crypt Ghast, Nirkana Revenant, Caged Sun and even the Snow-Covered Swamp + Extraplanar Lens combo are quite handy in mono-black, so any mana-doublers you have access to, use 'em up here. This is a Cabal Coffers deck, through and through. A lot of these aren't cheap anymore, though, so use alternatives like Cabal Stronghold to help out.

There's a smorgasbord of possible creatures for Chainer to reanimate - including enemy creatures - but the most important ones are probably...

...these fellas. Repeatedly playing Meteor Golem helps you deal with permanents of any type, even enchantments, which black historically has difficulty removing. Plaguecrafter (and its cousins, Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner) are self-sacrificing, which lets Chainer bring them back over and over.

However, nothing is going to bring you closer to victory than a Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Kokusho, the Evening Star. These don't just drain life from your enemies, but also refund the life Chainer forces you to pay to reanimate a creature, giving you even more resources to use on future animations.

These cards are the meat of a Chainer deck, but a real Chainer player knows that a deck needs more than meat - it needs a backbone. Without a skeleton to stand the thing up, it'll all fall apart. There's one thing above all others that a Chainer deck really relies upon. Let's illustrate it with a decklist:

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That's right, the backbone of a Chainer deck is its sacrifice outlets. Without those, Chainer is a goner. Chainer gives a polite +1/+1 to his Nightmares, but he also gives them a tether to his consciousness, and if he is removed from the field before they are, they'll fade into the aether forever. Exiled creatures? In a reanimator deck? This will simply not do. It's Chainer's job to make sure those Nightmares can die proper deaths before he does.

It doesn't matter why you sacrifice the creatures, just that you can. Putting them back into the graveyard so they can be resummoned is priority #1. The most important of these is easily Viscera Seer, because it's a creature that Chainer can summon from the graveyard in addition to being a creature that can force Nightmares back into the graveyard. This is also what makes Sidisi, Undead Vizier and Disciple of Bolas so good in this deck, since they can insta-sacrifice a creature by popping in from the yard even when your opponents think they've destroyed your sacrifice outlets!

Chainer is not a deck that operates at sorcery speed. Chainer is all about using the stack. If someone tries to kill your commander, you sacrifice your creatures, use Chainer to bring them back, then sacrifice them again before he officially perishes. If someone tries to Bojuka Bog you, you have Chainer mana ready and waiting to get back the creatures you need to keep. I've seen a Scavenging Ooze-vs-Chainer 'in response' fight over a single creature in the graveyard that went at least seven effects tall before any abilities began to resolve.

Chainer is not coy, and he does not need a bevy of Nightmares to end the game. One repeatedly sacrificed and reanimated Gray Merchant of Asphodel (along with a lot of doubled mono-black mana) will authoritatively end the game. The trick is just to get the ball rolling. Once you've gotten things moving, no matter what shenanigans your opponents try to pull, Chainer will have powerful instant-speed interactions at his disposal that your opponents will barely be able to handle or meaningfully prevent.

Alright, now let's see what happens when we add a little red to the mix.

A Beautiful Nightmare

Chainer, Nightmare Adept adds a new color to the OG Chainer, giving him access to a whole new suite of revivable creatures. He also acts as his own discard outlet. The twist is that this version of Chainer does not pay a flat fee of three mana and three life to resurrect a creature, he pays full retail for them. Luckily, he has a bonus, in that he gives creatures you don't cast from your hand some nice haste. (This also means Chainer himself basically always has haste, since you'll rarely ever play him from your hand!)

Our new Nightmare Adept originates from the Rakdos Madness deck of C19, and there are more than a few things I'm happy to retain from that list. For example, Squee, Goblin Nabob gives us discard fodder forever. There aren't too many Madness cards Chainer may want to run, but Big Game Hunter can let us play a creature from our graveyard and make use of the card we discarded. My favorite is easily Bone Miser, who offers handy rewards for anything we toss away.

So which creatures does this Chainer want to play from the graveyard, then? When you're paying full cost to reanimate them, which red and black creatures rise to the top of the heap?

Yes, I'm going there. Sire of Insanity (and Mindslicer, if you're up for it) will not make you any friends, but I can't deny their potency with Chainer's abilities. Discarding your hand isn't so bad when you can reclaim the important creatures later. It's one heck of a way to mess with your enemies. But hey, if they're playing Chulane, Teller of Tales or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, then they're drawing more cards than should be allowed, so mass discard is basically just justice catching up with them. Be wary of enemy Muldrotha, the Gravetides, though, as they may be able to recover from these effects more easily than you.

Chainer's haste is what opens the doors to some great synergies, though. Etali, Primal Storm, Grave Titan, Inferno Titan, or any creature with a powerful attack trigger is a great creature to reanimate. If they die in battle, toss away some lesser creature and bring them right back! More uniquely, Doomed Necromancer and Apprentice Necromancer with haste are a pretty neat way to pay a low cost to resurrect more expensive creatures (which will also still get haste)!

Alright, let's see what else the red-black Chainer is up to.

Rakdos Reanimator

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Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Sorceries (12)
Artifacts (11)
Enchantments (5)
Instants (4)
Lands (35)

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As a quick rules note, the card Flayer of the Hatebound doesn't appear in this deck, and I wanted to mention why: casting creatures from your graveyard with Chainer's ability will move that card onto the stack, and then onto the battlefield. Thus, it won't trigger the Flayer's ability. Flayer may still be worth running in your own builds, depending on your ability to leverage its effects, but it's a rules tidbit that's easy to miss, so I wanted to make sure I mentioned it.

I went through a bit of exploration with new Chainer, and I'm ecstatic with the results so far. My initial draft was full of weird ways to mitigate Chainer's 'downside' of discarding cards. I used a number of Madness cards, not to mention Retrace and Flashback cards like Reality Scramble and Ignite the Future, which can be recast from the graveyard, to try and make up for the fact that I'd be losing cards from my hand.

Y'all, I am here to tell you that this is not necessary. Discarding cards is like sacrificing things: it is a benefit unto itself. I found myself wishing I could activate Chainer's ability multiple times a turn, not even to cast a creature from the graveyard, but just so I could have more things in my graveyard. The first time you get to use Balthor, the Defiled to revive your entire team, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Rakdos Chainer is all about velocity. Any Daretti, Scrap Savant player worth their salt will tell you that you can't develop personal attachments to the cards in your hand. If you play Chainer conservatively, holding onto cards that may be useful later, you are doing yourself a disservice. This is Thrill of Possibility and Tormenting Voice territory. Just like blue reanimator decks use Frantic Search and Chart a Course, here we use Cathartic Reunion, because every card we discard is still a card we can play later. That isn't Madness, but it sure is madness.

Chain of Command

Chainer, Dementia Master and Chainer, Nightmare Adept, to my eyes, represent two different philosophies of reanimation. On the one hand, you have the mono-black Chainer, which requires some extra assistance to put creatures into the graveyard, but who reanimates them with startling efficiency. Given how difficult it can sometimes be to get things into the graveyard in the first place, a deck like this will often default to tutors like Entomb for juicy targets and even Demonic Tutor to find Cabal Coffers and Crypt Ghast effects to rev the engines as quickly as possible.

This also results in a deck that operates fairly similar from game to game, particularly by looping a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Massacre Wurm, or other such big baddie multiple times a turn. This might feel a bit 'one-trick pony' to some, but the complexities of Chainer's instant-speed interactions to save his graveyard require a degree of cleverness and quick thinking that many reanimator players will enjoy.

On the other hand, you have Rakdos Chainer, whose ability is limited to one use per turn, but who serves as his own discard outlet. Putting things into the graveyard is not a problem at all, which means it's easy to get moving, and since he also gives haste to everything he plays, it's easy to start dwindling those life totals, too! Though he pays full price for his creatures, the rewards are worth it.

Rakdos Chainer turns any creature card in your hand into any other creature card already in your graveyard, which makes him fit squarely into the other philosophy of reanimation, that of the toolbox approach. Rather than looping one powerhouse, you get what you need when you need it.

In short, it's the difference between the reanimator deck that slams Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur into play as soon as possible (often seen in decks like The Mimeoplasm) and the reanimator deck that uses its graveyard as a box of tricks to suit any situation (a la Muldrotha, the Gravetide). Understanding this distinction, and which type of reanimator style you most prefer, is the key to harnessing the powers of each version of Chainer.

Cards to Consider

Let's take a brief look at some extra-special cards these commanders should think about when brewing up a deck.

Dementia Master

  • Soldevi Adnate: Sacrifice a creature, refund the mana you need to get it back. The summoning sickness and one-time use on this can be a pain, but it's still a creative inclusion.
  • Wayfarer's Bauble: Mono-black decks love Swamps.
  • Star Compass: I know the three cards I've recommended so far have all been about producing mana, but it's really quite important for Chainer. Thran Dynamo and other colorless producers are less useful for a commander who requires three black mana to use his ability, so extra black mana production is required.
  • Perpetual Timepiece: Fill graveyard, save graveyard. This is fast becoming a staple in my reanimator decks.
  • Life's Finale: It's a little silly, and six mana is a lot, but Chainer can steal creatures from any graveyard, so I like filling up other players' yards, too.

Nightmare Adept

  • Heartless Summoning: The overwhelming majority of cards we'll cast are five or six mana. Let's cut some costs. We have maybe three creatures for whom the -1/-1 will be lethal, but that's absolutely worth the cost of a four-mana Etali, Primal Storm with haste.
  • Fiendish Duo: Don't sleep on the new Game Night cards, this one in particular.
  • Tree of Perdition: Haste. Haste is good.
  • Cavalier of Flame: There's not a single ability on this card that Chainer doesn't like.
  • Bolas's Citadel: "Alright, on my turn, I'll go ahead and cast the top four creatures of my library for no mana, give them haste with Chainer, and swing for lethal."

The Ol' Ball and Chainer

So, which reanimator would you rather chain yourself to? Are you more prone to looping powerful creatures, or toolboxing your way to victory?

Oh, and which pair would you like to see on the next Commander Showdown?

Til next time!

Joey is the lead editor and content producer for EDHREC. You can find him hosting and creating tons of great videos over at or give him a follow at @JosephMSchultz on Twitter, where he likes to celebrate Commander, coffee, and corgis.