Do you like big creatures? Powerful artifacts? Midrange, Aggro, and control? Do you like to beat face but also win with ridiculous combos that will make your opponents’ jaws drop to the ground? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then I sure have the deck for you!
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is a versatile midrange, combo, and aggro deck that seeks to slow down the early game and win through beating face with elves and other large green creatures. Its keepsake card and commander, Yisan is akin to having Birthing Pod as your commander and really packs a punch. While he doesn’t seem like much, Yisan is arguably one of the most powerful commanders in the format and has a lot going for him. The toolbox aspect of the deck allows its pilots to play a plethora of versatile answers and adjust to whatever their local meta has to offer. It is one of my favorite EDH decks and I have been slowly working on refining my personal list for a while now.
I am going to break this primer down into a few various sections, so let’s get started!
Is this deck for me?
Yisan is a deck for you if:
- You like big creatures
- You enjoy toolbox strategies
- You are okay with not playing counterspells
- You like versatility and resilience, but not an over-reliance on glass cannon combos
- You can’t get enough of playing elves
Yisan is not for you if:
- You have to play counterspells
- You like being faster than everyone else
- You enjoy doing super broken and oppressive things
- You want to play a themed deck
– The Deck –
As stated before, Yisan is a resilient and powerful deck if piloted by the right hands. It has the potential to be incredibly powerful and you can build a list to suit any level of competitive or casual play. However, due to Yisan’s toolboxy nature the deck has a fairly steep learning curve and if you want to play it well it can take a while to master. Personally, there are some games where I simply get swept away because I missed a card in my 99 that could have dealt with an answer. The deck generally has a card that can answer about every single problem you could face, but the struggle comes in knowing when, where, and how get to your answers. Playing Yisan well involves reading your opponent, understanding what their deck is about, and having a vast knowledge of the cards that are typically played in the format. It is very similar to a deck like Death and Taxes or Kiki-Chord in Legacy and Modern in terms of how difficult it is to learn and how many lines of play it has. Personally, I absolutely love decks like that and can’t get enough of them, but if you prefer decks that can glide through on autopilot and don’t require as much effort to learn but still want to play a green deck, I suggest checking out my Ezuri list here.
Due to Yisan’s versatility as a card it is possible to play him in a bunch of different strategies. After the primer I will mention a few other possible ideas for the deck, however today I am going to focus on what most people consider an optimal build. Since this is EDH there is not a 100% accepted consensus over what that is, however I believe that this list has the ability to play very strongly. Of course you can always take out some of the combo pieces and powerful toolbox effects in order to make the deck much more casual. The nice thing about this deck is that since it mostly relies on toolbox plays you could just simply choose to not search for said cards in a casual environment.
– Card Choices and Strategy –
Since there are so many cards in EDH decks I am not going to go over a description of every single card in the deck. However, I will explain some of the most prominent combos, toolbox effects, and how to generally play.
First and foremost, Yisan is a midrange deck that seeks to win the game through a combo. Its goal is to slow down the board or wait out the faster combo decks and then utilize its tutors (Wordly Tutor, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, Green Sun’s Zenith, etc) in order to find its combo pieces and win the game. The added bonus of running so many tutors is that you have the ability to use your tutors at any time to find cards that help you not lose to oppressive combo decks or plays your opponents make. In this list I have added a very strong creature toolbox sub-theme in order to take the most advantage of this fact. Additionally, since this deck is green it runs a lot of acceleration. Acceleration in green generally comes in the form of elves, so if your combo plan doesn’t always work out it is very easy to switch over to an elves beat-down strategy. I’ve played games following both lines of play and have had success with each.
If you are facing other powerful decks I highly recommend getting as much mana as you can as quickly as possible and playing down early disruption such as Null Rod, Thorn of Amethyst, and Sphere of Resistance. These cards are very effective at stopping oppressive combos and give us more time to set up our own strategy. However, be careful as some of these cards also have an affect on our own plays.
The best way to play this deck is to slam down Yisan as early as possible and start singing. The faster that you can sing, the better your chances of getting ahead. However, it is important to be weary of what your opponents are up to and to utilize all of the deck’s toolbox pieces to their greatest advantage. Much like Death and Taxes, I feel a lot of pressure from my opponents whenever I play this deck and I’m always kept on the edge of my seat. There is never a dull moment, and you always have to be aware of what your opponents are doing. Not to say that Yisan is unforgiving (He is basically a recurring tutor every turn), but it is definitely not as forgiving as other decks in the format.
If you are playing against a control match up with lots of board wipes it can be difficult to get past your opponent’s answers. The best bet is to either hope that they don’t find them or try to combo out faster than they can answer you. Cards such as Eternal Witness, Gaea’s Herald, Scavenging Ooze, Thorn of Amethyst, and Bane of Progress are usually fairly powerful against control and stax strategies.
Toolbox Removal and Answers
Since we are in green we are limited to the amount of answers that we can play, however it turns out there is actually a surprising amount of leverage in the color. Besides playing a full suite of cards like Song of the Dryads, there are many creatures in the deck that serve as powerful threat removal and field equalizers.
Here are a few of the most notable additions to the list:
Phyrexian Revoker: Phyrexian Revoker is useful in a pinch. It can help us stop oppressive combos at instant speed through our tutors or allow us to shut down things we don’t like that our opponents are doing. I think it is most useful in shutting down artifacts, however EDH has such a variety of cards in it that it can find uses in almost any game.
Thought-Knot Seer: Thought-Knot Seer seems like a very niche card, but in a deck that doesn’t have counterspells this is our best friend. The situation does not come up in every game, but if there is a time when we know that our opponent has a combo card in their hand and is going to go off we can search up this guy to stop them from doing their shenanigans. It is a very solid choice and in the end the card draw typically does not affect the game that much.
Manglehorn: Manglehorn is a powerful way to deal with artifacts that our opponents play. So many of the big combos in EDH are based around artifacts, so Manglehorn is a great include and something you should always keep in mind.
Terestodon: This card is pretty much the only board wipe that we have access to. It is most effective if we are very behind and need to equalize the board to clear way for our own plays.
Duplicant: Duplicant is good against all of those pesky indestructible creatures. Sometimes you will run into decks that either play or win through a creature that has indestructible and green lacks in the ability to remove said creatures from the game. So, Duplicant serves as our way out of such situations.
Riftsweeper: Riftsweeper is primarily in here if an opponent exiles one of our essential combo pieces.
Somberwald Stag: Somberwald Stag may seem like a sub-optimal choice, but it is one of the best removal spells we have access to since it can be tutored. While being a bit high in cost, Yisan helps to make this card a reliable staple of most lists. Unlike our other removal spells, the stag can be tutored up at instant speed to deal with a threat at any point in the game.
Bane of Progress: If your opponent is playing aggressive artifacts then this is the card for you! Bane of Progress is almost an auto-include in every green deck, and I can’t blame people for using it. It is just a very solid artifact wipe all around.
– Combos –
There are a few different ways that a Yisan deck can win. However, the most common way is either through infinite mana, infinite card draw, or a Craterhoof Behemoth beatdown. Please note that any card that has an asterisk next to its name is one that is interchangeable with any other card of a similar function.
Something very important to note about Yisan is that we have access to something called double singing. What that means is that if we have a way to untap Yisan with Quirion Ranger or a similar card we can actually tap him for his ability, untap him, hold priority, and tap him again to get two creatures of the latest counter put on him. One of the best times to do this is when getting our four drops because we can get Karametra’s Acolyte and Temur Sabertooth (two powerful combo pieces) in one turn.
Basically the way that this combo works is you must have an elf in play that can generate four or more mana. Once you have that tap said elf for mana and activate Wirewood Symbiote’s ability to return any elf to hand to untap your mana dork. Then use Temur Sabertooth’s ability to return Wirewood Symbiote to your hand. Then play both cards you returned to your hand again and tap your mana dork for mana and repeat until you have as much mana as you need.
There are three artifacts in our deck that can combo with our elves in order to easily make infinite mana. The combo is fairly self explanatory, but basically each artifact has an ability that allows you to untap a creature for a certain amount of mana. Thus if said creature can make more mana than the ability requires you can generate infinite mana.
Other Win Conditions:
Some other notable win conditions in the deck are using Craterhoof Behemoth or Terastodon to out value or run your opponent over with creatures. Craterhoof can win the game in one turn if you have enough creatures in play, and if the board state is right Terastodon does have the ability to disrupt your opponent enough that they can no longer do anything.
It is additionally possible for us to win by lock-down and normal aggro, however such scenarios are more rare and happen on a case by case basis. For example an early placed Null Rod could in fact lock out the entire game against certain strategies giving us the opportunity to easily sweep over our opponent without even needing to go for our combos.
– Other Ways to Play –
Since Yisan is such a versatile commander there are countless different ways to play the deck. Below I have listed some other various ideas that can serve as launching points. I have ordered the list from top to bottom in what I believe to be the most to least competitive iterations.
- Elves Tribal
- Mono Green Beat-down (no combos)
- Other Green Tribal (Treefolk, Bugs, etc)
– Closing Notes –
Overall, Yisan is a powerful, adaptable, and challenging deck to master that can be super fun to play. It has a wide range of great toolbox answers and reliable combos to back them up. The list I posted in this article is by no means a finalized list, but it just serves to provide a starting point for your own adventures with Yisan. Anyways, if you are a fan of toolbox or midrange decks I highly recommend giving Yisan a try. His beautiful melodies may pleasantly surprise you. Now go out there and compose a grand symphony against all of your EDH adversaries!
I hope this article was helpful in some way to you. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. And as always, happy gaming!