Conditions Allow - Shisato, Whispering Hunter

(Shisato, Whispering Hunter | Art by John Bolton)

Snakes on a Plane

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where we take commanders with a downside and turn it into a strength! This week I’m continuing my foray into the forest with Shisato, Whispering Hunter.

Shisato, Whispering Hunter is a 2/2 Snake Warrior with two triggered abilities. At the beginning of your upkeep, Shisato will force you to sacrifice a Snake. When she deals combat damage to a player, that player skips their next untap step.

While that last bit is pretty a scary effect, there are many factors holding Shisato back from becoming a dominant force on the battlefield. First, if you aren’t playing some form of Snake tribal, she will sacrifice herself on your upkeep. Second, people usually like to untap their permanents, especially lands. The possibility of being denied that opportunity will make this whispering hunter a major target as soon as she hits the field. Her CMC of 4 isn’t nothing, even in mono-green. Two or three removal spells and she won’t be easy to cast anymore. Finally, as a measly 2/2 without any evasion, it’s actually pretty difficult to get her damage trigger to go off.

However, if you can jump through all the hoops necessary, what does Shisato do for us? Making players skip untaps steps is reminiscent of Stasis, everyone’s favorite Stax piece. Shisato doesn’t feel like a Stax commander to me, though. She doesn’t help us break parity on Winter Orb effects like Derevi, Empyrial Tactitian, nor does she dodge Trinisphere effects in the same way Yisan, the Wanderer Bard does. Shisato is also not a reliable Stax piece herself. She only affects one player, leaving the other two relatively unrestricted and free to develop their own boards or start to take apart yours.

This makes me think of the Commander games that turned into Archenemy, though. In many of those games, I felt that if the players who were behind had just one more turn, we might be able to catch up. Shisato, Whispering Hunter can grant you that turn, forcing the player who is ahead to take one turn off, or at least to dramatically slow down to avoid being completely blown out by her abilities. That style of play sounds very similar to a control deck, trying to prevent anyone from running away with the game until it has amassed the resources it needs to win. It’s also not how green decks normally play, so I’m excited to see what we put together.

An Impenetrable Fog

Control isn’t a theme on EDHREC, so I turned to the list for both Group Hug and Pillow Fort to see what green cards and commanders might show up. One of the top commanders for Pillow Fort decks is Angus Mackenzie, a Bant commander with an activated ability that mimics Fog.

Green actually has a fairly high density of Fog effects, and they present a great way to control the pace of a game. You can use them to save a vulnerable player, or deny an opponent’s abilities that trigger from combat damage. Especially in metas where decks rely on combat to win, Fog can act like a counterspell, denying your opponents the chance to win and letting you get to your win condition.

For this plan to work, we’re going to want repeatable effects. Constant Mists is a great example of everything we want a card to do. It prevents combat damage and has an easily manageable Buyback cost. If the land we sacrifice is Temple Drownyard we can easily pay three mana to just bring it back to our hand. Crucible of Worlds and Ramunap Excavator accomplish the same thing by allowing us to replay lands from our graveyard. Glacial Chasm also appreciates the Crucible, as you can repeatedly fail to pay the Cumulative Upkeep and then replay Glacial Chasm to keep your defenses up.

For other creature options, Spike Weaver and Spore Flower both use counters to negate combat damage, although Spore Flower does accumulate them very slowly. Finally, Moment’s Peace can only be used twice, but we want as many reusable fogs as we can get.

To that end, we’ll want ways to find Glacial Chasm and Maze of Ith as reliably as possible. Crop Rotation and Reap and Sow will let us search for any land, with Crop Rotation putting that land into play at instant speed. It may not seem like much, but don't underestimate the value of flashing in a Glacial Chasm in your opponent's combat step.

Of course, we’ll also want some more direct ways to interact with our opponents. Lignify and Song of the Dryads are both very good options for dealing with opposing commanders, giving no chance to retreat to the safety of the command zone. Steel Hellkite can deal with token decks and other strategies that need lots of permanents on the field while Bow of Nylea can make any creature we play into a profitable blocker. Our final piece of removal is Tornado. This enchantment probably won’t stick around for long, and you won’t want to use its ability more than two or three times, but it is highly flexible removal and can prevent other players from casting their big threats early on.

Enter the Snake

Eventually, we’ll want to cast Shisato, Whispering Hunter and have her stick around. That means we’ll need to protect her and have a disposable Snake or two on hand. Seed the Land will produce a Snake token every time we play a land, while Snake Pit will make a token every time an opponent casts a blue or black spell. If your meta is light on these colors, I recommend Serpent Generator or Orochi Hatchery in this slot.

Hooded Hydra is our last token maker, and also a Snake itself. Lotus Cobra is a useful piece of pseudo-ramp, while Skullwinder helps get back a piece of protection or removal while picking up brownie points with another player. 

There are two other spells in the deck that help to protect Shisato, Whispering Hunter from her own sacrifice trigger. The first is Mimic Vat, which can Imprint another Snake for easy access throughout the rest of the game. In a real pinch, Mimic Vat can even Imprint Shisato herself. This is risky, though. If Mimic Vat is removed before another creature dies, Shisato will be stuck in exile.

A slightly more stable artifact is Nim Deathmantle, which changes Shisato, Whispering Hunter from a Snake to a Zombie. This means her sacrifice ability won’t apply to herself anymore, letting you keep your commander when there are no other Snakes present. Plus, Nim Deathmantle’s resurrection clause can keep Shisato around when your opponents would rather see her dead.

Of course, this isn’t the only card that helps keep Shisato, Whispering Hunter on the field. Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, and Sylvan Safekeeper all make our creatures hard to target, while Temur Sabertooth evacuates key creatures to our hand. Yeva, Nature’s Herald lets us play our biggest threats at the best possible moment, while Autumn’s Veil will ensure we can push through any blue decks at the table.

The final piece of any good control deck is card advantage. We want to be drawing cards as often as possible, so while cards like Harmonize or Life’s Legacy are good sources of draw, I want to highlight Tireless Tracker and Greater Good. These both give steady sources of card advantage that don’t require casting extra spells. That may seem insignificant, but becomes very important when paired with the next card in the deck.

Why Does it Always Have to be Snakes

Let's make sure we have ways to close out the game. Endless Swarm has a lot of flavor in a dedicated Snake deck, and a rather strange keyword. This spell is Epic, meaning that once it is cast we can’t cast any other spells for the rest of the game. During each of our upkeeps, however, we can copy Endless Swarm, except for its Epic ability, so each turn we’ll create a number of 1/1 green Snake tokens equal to the number of cards in our hand.

Of course, this isn’t good enough to win on its own. The tokens made by Endless Swarm are small and not numerous enough to win quickly. Luckily, we have plenty of ways to address that. Beastmaster Ascension and Seshiro the Anointed give our whole team a pretty sizable buff, while Vigor will make sure they always trade up in combat. Blackblade Reforged and Strata Scythe can also make a select few Snakes into significantly larger threats.

For some added punch, Creeperhulk and Rhonas the Indomitable have fairly cheap activated abilities that both pump our creatures and grant trample. This is useful for punching through blockers quickly and ensuring we get Shisato to connect when we need her to. Finally, Angel’s Trumpet gives all creatures vigilance so we can deal with incoming attacks.

With a little bit of ramp and a couple more lands, I think we have a deck.

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This deck aims to play the long game, gradually draining opponents of resources and options until it is safe to cast Endless Swarm. You want to have at least one of your creature buffs on the field when you do this, although two or three is ideal. If you can’t do that, it is often best to forgo the token strategy in favor of suiting Shisato, Whispering Hunter or Seshiro the Anointed up with Blackblade Reforged and aiming for a Voltron win.

No matter how you aim to close out the game, this deck will rely fairly heavily on politics to gain an advantage, making cards like Skullwinder extra valuable. For me, this adds to the flavor of the deck as you charm your opponents while slowly squeezing them to death, like Kaa in The Jungle Book.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this return to the forests of Kamigawa. Let me know how you would build Shisato in the comments. As always, if there’s a legendary creature you would like to see me tackle in this series, leave a comment, and you could be responsible for a future article!

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.