Replacement Commanders - Recurring Nightmares

(Chainer, Nightmare Adept | Art by Steve Prescott)

The Next Link in the Chain

Welcome back, Commander faithful, to another 2019 edition of Replacement Commanders! This is where we shine the spotlight on the unique legendary creatures in the Commander 2019 precon decks that didn't make it on the front of the packaging. Before we get into the article proper, I want to take a quick second and just say a massive "thank you" to everyone who voted in the poll from the last installment. At a commanding 93.76%, nearly all of you voted “yes” to include the “bonus” legendary creatures from this year’s product, so we will be seeing some Replacement Commander articles for K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, Grismold, the Dreadsower, Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero and Tahngarth, First Mate. As a matter of fact, at the bottom of this article, there will be a new poll for you to let me know which one you want me to take on first! Make sure you vote after you finish reading the article, and with that, let’s look at today’s commander!

Chainer, Nightmare Adept

I know I briefly touched on this in the first article, but wow, Wizards of the Coast really knocked it out of the park with this year’s set of alternate commanders. I fell in love with Atla Palani, Nest Tender because she seems so fun to brew, but Chainer seems like a powerhouse. There are a few rule-based things I want to address when it comes to Chainer’s two abilities, just so everyone is on the same page. First, when we discard a card to activate his first ability, we do not target a specific creature card we want to cast. This means we can discard a creature card and then cast that card with the same ability. At first glance, that might seem a little silly or redundant; if the creature is in our hand, we don’t we just cast it from there? Because of Chainer’s second ability, of course! Casting the creature from our graveyard basically means we can give any creature in our hand haste. I also want to highlight that Chainer also gets haste each time we cast him from the command zone, which is a nifty bit of strategy that can really surprise our opponents if they get caught unaware. Finally, his activated ability doesn't get around timing restriction; unless you can cast creatures as though they had flash, this is a sorcery-speed ability, although it does say "this turn", so technically speaking, you can discard a card at the beginning and cast the creature at the end.

When Chainer was revealed, I thought of a dozen things to build a deck around him. Honestly, I may be more excited for Chainer than I am for Anje Falkenrath, the face card of the Merciless Rage deck. If we pull up the EDHREC pages for both new Chainer and the OG version, Chainer, Dementia Master, we’ll even notice that there's a fair amount of cards shared between the two, while the most obvious difference between the two is that new Chainer is Rakdos as opposed to mono-black, and that does give us some new interesting archetypes to build around.

Because we simultaneously want creatures in the graveyard and as many cards in hand as we can manage, I like the idea of using wheel effects, like Wheel of Fortune, to create a massive advantage early on. As with any other Reanimator style build, we're going to have creatures constantly entering the battlefield, so those ETB triggers will be triggering all the time. Last, but certainly not least, there's a famous (or maybe infamous) creature type that excels at coming back from the dead, meaning that Chainer may make an interesting Zombie tribal commander!

These are the three ideas I managed to narrow down to for this purpose of this article, but I’m sure there are some excellent ideas out there just begging to be explored and abused! If you have a new Chainer deck, feel free to let me know about it in the comments below the article. For now, let us enter Chainer’s nightmare!

Chainer, Wheelin’ and Dealin’ Adept

To start, I want to quickly point out that to fully use Chainer’s potential, we need wheels that specifically discard the cards in our hand. I mention this because cards like Teferi’s Puzzle Box and even Molten Psyche may come to mind when looking for wheel spells, but those effects are not what we want in Chainer; we’re looking more for cards like Reforge the Soul, Incendiary Command, Wheel of Fate, and the iconic Wheel of Fortune. Black even contributes to the wheel card count with Dark Deal. Creatures like Magus of the Wheel and Dragon Mage get a slight power boost; normally their lack of haste makes them easy targets for removal before they get a chance to use their abilities. Finally, with a commander as a free discard outlet and running so many wheel effects, I really like Archfiend of Ifnir, which can turn into a one-sided board wipe.

Of course, we also want cards that give us some value from all this drawing and discarding. Psychosis Crawler is a staple in these kinds of decks. Glint-Horn Buccaneer is kind of a discard variant of Crawler and can deal chunks of damage to the table. Both the new Bone Miser and the OG Waste Not will be huge bombs for our deck, creating explosive turns if we can wheel into other wheels. This version of the deck plays similarly to a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck without blue, so I used that EDHREC page for some removal and ramp before getting this list:

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Chainer, Nightmare Reanimator

The list above has a few great enter-the-battlefield effects because they just click so well with Chainer’s abilities. However, there are also a lot of other creatures with activated abilities or attack triggers that would take advantage of the haste that Chainer gives. There's also potential to focus solely on the ETB creatures, constantly casting them from our graveyard with Chainer’s first ability. Gray Merchant of Asphodel probably needs no introduction for reanimator players, but some extra synergy comes from cards like Disciple of Bolas, Sidisi, Undead Vizier and now God-Eternal Bontu for the sake of sacrificing creatures to put them into the graveyard so they can be cast again. Meteor Golem is a must-have, giving us a repeatable way to get rid of enchantments in a color combination that typically struggles with them. Both Grave Titan and Inferno Titan are double-dipping, getting their triggers upon entering and then when they attack with haste.

Speaking of haste, other creatures with awesome attack benefits, like Etali, Primal Storm, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, and Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion give us other attack triggers that'll boost our decks, especially since he allows us to fill our graveyard and hands back up, while also providing us some extra mana for our postcombat main phase. Surveil is a great mechanic for Chainer as well, meaning Doom Whisperer is an instant speed way to “draw” cards. The new Throne of Eldraine card Syr Konrad, the Grim acts both as a unique kind of aristocrat while also presenting a threat for players who are going to be looking to exile our graveyard at some point.

Along with the normal ramp, removal, and board wipes, I found a few ways to specifically get creatures from the graveyard into our hand. This means there's less chance that we will run out of gas to keep activating Chainer’s ability, as we already touched on the fact that we can discard a creature and then cast it with Chainer all in the same loop. Here’s what the deck turned out like:

You get an ETB! And You get an ETB!

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Chainer of the Undead

When I think about deck archetypes that benefit greatly from recursion, the first thing my mind comes up with is Zombies. Unfortunately, there are very few red Zombie creatures, with some of the more prominent ones being from Hour of Devastation and War of the Spark. Still, red provides us with some supportive cards that synergize with our deck, like cheap looting effects like Faithless Looting or even just enabler cards like Squee, Goblin Nabob. I've also been smitten with Dockside Extortionist, since artifact and enchantment decks have always been popular and the idea of looping this Goblin Pirate a few times as ramp seems like a hilarious idea! Zombies will, however, remain our bread and butter for this list, noting that Bone Miser is very luckily the right creature type. Undead Warchief will help reduce the cost of our Zombies and give them a power boost, while Plague Belcher and Vengeful Dead take the mantle of aristocrats for the deck. Looping Vindictive Lich seems both mean and fantastic at the same time, while Corpse Augur, Graveborn Muse and Stitcher’s Supplier will help keep our hands full of discardable cards. You may also notice that there's a Custodi Lich in the list below. The main reason for this is simply that I love the Monarch in any game I’m playing. It also doubles up to remove some creatures, though we have a cheaper version of that with Fleshbag Marauder.

Balthor the Defiled is an interesting card in the deck because Chainer has the Minion creature type, which Balthor gives a buff for. Furthermore, Balthor has a mass recursion ability for black and red decks, so it seems too good to pass up. Because the deck is dedicated to making an army of Zombies, I added two cards that I've been enjoying in my own personal Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck that I think are somewhat underrated and fit in nicely here. Open the Graves works well with the sacrifice outlets we're going to run in order to get creatures into the graveyard so we can pull them back out. When we do pull those creatures out, Desecrated Tomb has done so much work for me, creating a squadron of flying bodies to either chip in some damage or block against an enemy’s flying army. Wrap it up and put a black and red bow crafted from the garments of the fallen, and the deck should look something like this:

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Laying This One to Rest

Phew! I’m not going to lie, that was a fun article to write! There are few things in Magic that I love more than putting things into the graveyard and bringing them back out again, so Chainer is a home-run in my book. I hope you enjoyed the article and the decks, and I would love if you tell me in the comments below about your experience so far with Chainer. Before we wrap this one up for good, remember to vote in the poll right here for which of the bonus legendary creatures I should write about first!


Until next time, I hope your games are fun and filled with laughter! Good luck out there, and thank you for reading!

DM Cross started playing Magic: the Gathering when he was 8 years old. Currently 29 years old, he's become an avid lover of the EDH/Commander format and is constantly keeping an eye on everything coming out to see how to tune and tweak his favorite decks. DM can be found on Twitter @DM_Cross