Singleton Shmingleton - Lifegain EDH Deck with Congregate

Congregate | Art by Mark Zug

Now That's the Life!

Hello, and welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week's card has captured my imagination since I first started playing Magic. In a metagame of 73-card decks wrapped up in rubber bands, Congregate was busted. No one ever attacked because then their creatures might die, so every game was a board stall, and Congregate often gained 30 or more life. The other player might have to concede right there. This card has never seen any competitive play, which sadly makes sense. It's a four mana card that only affects the game's least important resource, and it requires a specific board state to even do anything. But I have never been able to put Congregate into a chaff pile. It is what dreams are made of.

It's always irked me that EDH has commander damage as a way to bypass lifegain. Even in the format where nothing is bad, gaining life isn't a great strategy when most decks are built to keep accelerating power level into the late game. Against a Burn deck in Modern, gaining life can help outlast an opponent's fast but individually weak cards. But in Commander, everyone is playing cards that are going to be even better on turn twelve than on turn three. Why add a back door to kill a player that actually achieved the dream of stabilizing at 100 life? But that doesn't seem to have stopped people from gaining life at all. Lifegain is the third most popular theme on EDHREC, and people have taken it in every way imaginable from mono red with Heartless Hidetsugu to sultai with Yarok, the Desecrated.

Anyways, back to Congregate. There were surprisingly few versions of this effect that gain life for everyone's creatures, but there are plenty that gain life for each creature you control. Many of them are terrible even in Draft, but I found some gems I had never heard of as well. Here's the list:

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Of these twenty-six cards, only seven have the ability to gain life for your opponents' creatures as well as your own. The most played of all is Fumigate, which sees play in 56,663 decks. Not only does it count opponents' creatures, it also importantly does something beyond mere lifegain. Wiping the board is not to be scoffed at. The next most played is Benevolent Offering, in 13,181 decks. This is another case of a card that affects the board in addition to gaining life, and works well in very political decks. There are some serious hidden gems in here as well. Marshaling the Troops offers the chance to gain four life per untapped creature you control, and perhaps its low numbers (67 decks) can be explained by its exorbitant Portal: Three Kingdoms price tag. But that shouldn't be holding back Harmony of Nature, which does the exact same thing for one more mana and is in only 241 decks! Four life per creature is truly a massive win, and so is making your opponents read a card from a Portal set.

We even get a powerful commander in this pile in Aragorn and Arwen, Wed. Green and white is the perfect color combination to include almost all of our Congregate effects, and they can buff any creatures we create into a formidable army.

Making Creatures

Now that we have more than enough ways to gain life for our massive horde of creatures, we need to create said massive horde. Luckily, green and white are two of the best colors at making oodles of tokens. From steady engines like Awakening Zone to one-shot effects like March of the Multitudes to exponential explosions like Horn of Gondor, we can make tokens all day long. I for one am so excited for an excuse to play Awakening Zone again: for so long it was a green staple, until a faster format narrowed its applications to just decks that could use every part. And it's so freeing to play token-producers that create tokens of all types; usually when I try to raise an army it's in the context of typal synergies.

If we're going to be making a lot of creatures and building around gaining life, then a soul sisters package sounds perfect. Being in green gives us access to Essence Warden and Prosperous Innkeeper as well, so getting our life total up should be easy. I also like having a reason to pay close attention to the game even on opponents' turns, even if it's just to remember my Soul's Attendant trigger. It makes me feel more invested in what's going on, and I'm less likely to forget about any other effects as I sometimes do when I'm on autopilot.

I want to shout out a couple cards that work especially well in this deck. Genesis Chamber puts tons of tokens into play under everyone's control, which works incredibly well with any of our Congregates that count our opponents' creatures. Similarly, Sylvan Offering puts tons of tokens into play all over the board, letting us double dip with a Blunt the Assault or Fog of War. And finally, Pest Infestation does it all, acting as removal and a way to make an army that scales with how much mana we have. This card is great in any deck, but we can use it to the fullest. The Pests even gain life!

Making Lifegain Worth It

Now here's the real challenge! Green and white are great at making tons of creatures, and we've found a way to use those creatures to gain a lot of life. But unless we have something else up our sleeve, we've just added an extra step. Creatures already win the game, and it doesn't matter if we win at sixteen or 236 life. Thankfully, there are plenty of payoffs for gaining life, from Commander classics like Felidar Sovereign to new cards like Treebeard, Gracious Host. And in a deck like this, it's okay to have a slightly lower density of payoffs. Gaining life buys us time to find the cards we need, and Aragorn and Arwen, Wed can get a lot done one their own.

One way we can win is by creating a very large creature. If we attack along multiple angles, going tall as well as wide, our opponents will be less likely to be able to answer all of our threats. Treebeard, Gracious Host fits into this category, as well as Serra Avatar and Sunscorch Regent. Cards like Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn and Nykthos Paragon distribute counters among our whole board, makin a ton of big threats. Nykthos Paragon especially goes crazy in this deck. Alongside a single Congregate effect, all of our creatures will be as big as the board is wide.

We've got a couple more cards that reward lifegain in silly ways. Aetherflux Reservoir can kill opponents out of nowhere by dealing them 50 damage, and is often an "I win" button the moment we draw it. And of my goodness, Storm Herd. This card brings me back to old Commander, where it was almost unbeatable. Ten mana is probably too much to pay for any effect, but I couldn't cut it from this deck. It fits so perfectly with our Congregates, and we'll usually have the time to get to ten mana. I'm so glad this card received some new life recently in the 99 of Will, Scion of Peace

The Decklist

A Powerful Congregation

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Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Instants (15)
Sorceries (14)
Planeswalkers (2)
Artifacts (5)
Enchantments (3)
Lands (37)

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This deck is fun to play. Despite the high level of redundancy, we have so many different kinds of token producers, and so many different lifegain payoffs. Some games we'll be going crazy wide with Nomads' Assembly and swinging with Treebeard, Gracious Host, other games we'll be amassing value with Awakening Zone and turning our 0/1s into 4/5s over a few turns with Aragorn and Arwen, Wed. We just have to pray for no board wipes, and everything will work out fine. Lifegain also leads the game into some funny situations. Often one player will get very far ahead, deal enough damage to take out everyone but us, and then have to spend several turns attacking for thirty. It's freeing to have the luxury of time to set things up, without worrying about blockers and killing the big beater this second.

Until Next Time

I know this isn't the first version of this effect, but this is the version that I opened in a booster pack when I was twelve and felt cheated. It doesn't do anything! Though Dandân has given this type of effect a niche new life, it still feels like so little for one mana in the average environment. Can we find a way to break this terrible card (or at least make it work at all)? Find out next time on Singleton Shmingleton!

Read More:

Singleton Shmingleton - Ajani's Pridemate

The Over/Under - Predicting the Popularity of Lord of the Rings Commanders

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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