Intellectual Offering — Yahenni, Undying Partisan
[Editor's Note: The original release of this article used the pronoun 'it' to refer to Yahenni; however, that was this editor's change and not the author's. The author's original use of 'they' has been restored.]
Let me be straight with you for a minute, readers. I am very new to writing. Such a shock, I know. Therefore, this series will naturally evolve as it matures, and you may notice a change here and there as I get my “sea legs”. Hopefully nothing is too jarring, and overall the core concept of recommending a higher degree of card selection for decks remains the same, but the presentation may just change slightly. Why am I telling you all this? Because this week we’re going to look at a commander that’s so new it’s difficult to lean on statistics to inform our decisions. Nevertheless I will do my best to guide you through understanding the tool that is EDHREC.
That said, of the new legendary creatures in Aether Revolt there are two that excite me. The first is Sram, who this article is not about, as I think there isn’t much to be said. His deck is very straightforward and Flickering Ward is by a large margin the best card in your deck.
The other is Yahenni. Now I admit that, at first, I thought Yahenni is better served in a deck's 99 than at the helm; however, having had some time to play with them in the pole position, I realize how bonkers they are, darlings.
While Yahenni, Undying Partisan has a plethora of powerful abilities, what I think helped me understand Yahenni’s true potential was seeing them in action together. Thus, instead of breaking them apart, I’m going to discuss and build around them together:
Basically, Yahenni is a three mana, 2/2, indestructible creature, with haste, that gets bigger every time a creature an opponent controls dies. This makes Yahenni an incredibly powerful Voltron commander as you can easily keep the board clear with wrath effects, each one of which grows Yahenni. Additionally, being a three mana haste commander means that you get to begin attacking early, allowing you to maximize your attacks (and as this deck will aim to win through commander damage, maximizing the number of attacks is rather useful).
Looking at EDHREC it’s clear there is a consensus on some cards that you really ought to consider when building this deck. Things that help grow Yahenni are high on the inclusions list: Blade of the Bloodchief and Nightmare Lash have plenty of inclusions, Lashwrithe less so, which doesn’t make much sense to me, if you’re playing Lash, I feel like you should play…Lash. They even reference each other in name. The biggest miss here is the distinct lack of Bonehoard from these lists, it plays a similar role to the aforementioned lashes, growing Yahenni, but scales even better as the deck executes its plan of executing our opponent’s creatures.
There are plenty of options for growing Yahenni to one-shot opponents, but the issue is Yahenni's lack of evasion. All the power in the world isn't helpful if your opponent can chump block all day, or worse has critters with indestructible or protection from black.
What I imagine being chump blocked by an indestructible creature is like.
This defect is corrected in various submitted decklists with the inclusion of Whispersilk Cloak and Rogue's Passage. Cards that grant trample like Loxodon Warhammer helps fill this role as well, this particular inclusion has the added benefit of buoying our life total. I also advocate for O-Naginata to get a slot since it is basically a less mana-intensive Warhmmer, sans lifelink. The three power requirement shouldn’t be an issue, since killing a single creature is something this deck is designed to do.
Finally, while we’re on the topic of killing all the things, what’s with the lack of Curtains' Call? Jason Alt has written, and spoken, nonstop about this card since it was released, and with good reason. This card is 2B: destroy two target creatures, at instant speed. No restrictions. Even if you draw this in the late game and you have to pay 4B because there’s only one player left, that’s still better than double Murder by a lot.
As for cards I’d remove, that’s a bit more difficult. I’m not a big fan of the huge token makers, since all they really do is prove Yahenni fodder, we aren’t really planning to go wide, and don’t have enough to support that strategy. I included the more compact ones in Bitterblossom, Ogre Slumlord, and Grave Titan in my version. I do understand their inclusion though, and only testing will tell if the they, coupled with the self-recurring creatures such as Bloodghast and its ilk, are enough to keep feeding Yahenni.
I also avoided mass removal spells that give -X/-X. Yahenni’s indestructible ability doesn’t save them from these effects and while Yahenni may get big enough to survive a small shrink, I’d rather just have only synergistic spells such as the highly-included Decree of Pain and the less included Damnation, or the even less included card Pestilence which is fantastic with an indestructible creature. I also included the walking versions Pestilence Demon and Thrashing Wumpus. While there is essentially a built-in cap to the number of times you can activate these two creatures before they die, the trick is that you can put additional activations onto the stack in response to your first activation, hold priority, sac the creature to Yahenni, making them indestructible, and getting more damage off than their respective toughness.
Here’s the decklist I would play to maximize Yahenni as a commander damage threat:
I think the remainder of my choices are fairly self-explanatory. I crammed as many mass-removal spells into the deck as I think are reasonable. I also wanted to run more of the lesser known self-recurring creatures. Standard total whiff Relentless Dead is joined by standard champ Scrapheap Scrounger as cards that aren’t necessarily common inclusions, just things I’d like to see how the work. In a similar vein this is the first time I’d be playing Brood of Cockroaches, so it may eventually get the axe but feels like a similar card to Reassembling Skeleton in terms of mana intensity. Usual suspects Bloodghast, Nether Traitor, and Reassembling Skeleton are all there, along with the Yahenni-specific inclusion of Bloodsoaked Champion.
That’s my take on Yahenni, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the deck. How have -X/-X spells worked in the real world if you’ve played them? With so few lists for such a powerhouse commander I’m excited to watch the recommendations page coalesce over time.