Hello! Eldritch Moon has been officially released, and with it, we conclude our second outing to Innistrad. I love how Wizards managed to both bring us back to a plane that was wildly popular, and also tie it together with the ongoing narrative of the overarching world story. Best yet, we got a legend for a tribe that has been sorely lacking for a long time. And no, I am not talking about Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, I am talking about the big, bad spider: Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
Spiders hold a strange place in Magic history for me. They have been around since Alpha's Giant Spider, and though we have had roughly one Spider for every release, there hasn't been much variation. All of them have the reach mechanic, and most are back-loaded with a higher toughness than power. Many have an additional keyword tagged on, like flash, deathtouch, vigilance, etcetera, but for the most part this does not serve to make them remarkable. I don't want to say that the design of Spiders in Magic is lazy, but for the most part it is uninspired. I will also acknowledge that the Spiders are usually amazing in Limited formats, especially since small flyers are so strong, so maybe getting wild with the card design would lead to imbalanced Limited formats.
The other reason I find Spiders to be extremely interesting is the way they affect players who are arachnophobic. I attended a release draft for M13, and of course, Giant Spider showed its many-eyed visage in that set. As soon as I sat down to face my first round opponent, he politely asked me to not reveal any Giant Spiders that I cast, and instead have another player / judge / TO verify it is the said Spider. He said he was deathly afraid of Spiders, and seeing one on the card would ruin his fun times (I am paraphrasing at this point). In a game filled with all sorts of “objectionable” creature types (Demons especially, but there are a lot of icky monsters out there), I love the fact that Spiders are the only ones I've witnessed that create such a primal reaction in folks. Keep in mind, I don't mean to insult to anyone with arachnophobia; I hate IRL spiders quite a bit.
Before we get to Ishkanah, Grafwidow, there is one legend that has more or less served as a pseudo-spider for years – Doran, the Siege Tower. Since Doran is Abzan colors, he more or less covers all the Spiders in the game, and of course, he makes them into huge beaters with his “toughness-is-powah!” static buff. All those low-power arachnids are suddenly hitting with their butts, and usually doubling their combat prowess. Doran, the Siege Tower isn't a spider, but it is so good with them that it's fine to pretend. The Dorachnid (Doran, the Siege Tower + arachnids) deck is surprisingly effective, especially considering that a lot of the best creatures in the game are fliers, and they usually have stats that are largely symmetrical. I thought my Archangel Avacyn deck was pretty slick with the lean, efficient flyers, but Doran, the Siege Tower + spiders totally wrecks me.
Doran, the Siege Tower will serve as a benchmark for the deck, both in comparison and contrast. Ishkanah, Grafwidow might end up being much weaker than Doran, the Siege Tower, so Doran, the Siege Tower could ostensibly stay as the go-to Spider man. At the same time, we already have a commander who will make spiders attack with their butts, so we don't necessarily need to build another version of Doran, the Siege Tower. We actually have a little leeway because of this, and we can have more fun experimenting with Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow at least feels like she could be good. We won't have the raw power (toughness) of a Dorachnid deck, but there is certainly a lot of finesse to Ishkanah, Grafwidow and her activated ability in general feels like a real game winner. We have a lot to work with, so let's get started!
The first things we need in the deck are Ishkanah, Grafwidow's kin, so let's add some eight-legged creepy-crawlies to the batch. I ended up cutting a good amount of the weaker spiders, but of course I kept the ubiquitous Giant Spider as a show of respect to my roots. As I mentioned though, most will still only be a combination of reach and 'x' various evergreen / set mechanics, (Blightwidow has infect, Deadly Recluse has deathtouch, Juvenile Gloomwidow has wither, etc.).
But then again, we do have a section of Spiders that have some pretty unique effects. Acid Web Spider is great for melting Swords of X and Y or the dreaded Lightning Greaves. Nyx Weaver will mill our deck gradually, making Ishkanah, Grafwidow's delirium a little stronger, and of course has the instant speed Regrowth. Graverobber Spider will work alongside the Nyx Weaver, getting larger as our graveyard swells. Penumbra Spider will die and turn itself into a token, and of course, Ishkanah, Grafwidow has a leg in the token realm as well.
Most of the Spiders with extraordinary abilities fall into the 'flier hate' category, even more so than the reach mechanic they all share — Stingerfling Spider is a great example of this — so even if we do come up against flying creatures that are too big to block, we can just kill it dead. Spitting Spider is another good example, though it is far out-shadowed by my personal favorite – Silklash Spider. I can't even count the amount of games won on the back of the Silklash Spider, especially against flyer heavy decks like Kaalia of the Vast.
The last Spider I want to discuss is Arachnus Spinner, which is a very, very good card as long as Arachnus Web is also in the list. Arachnus Web can neutralize smaller creatures that are not going to cross into the red zone, or larger creatures with defenses that are too strong. Arachnus Spinner can use its ability as soon as it hits play, and doesn't even need to tap itself to activate. Not only can we search for the Web, we can also get it back from the graveyard on a whim. I used to think that the four power or greater clause on the Web was a weakness, but it actually allows us to get continual value from the card, much like Prison Term.
I haven't built around delirium much, mainly because it wasn't on a lot of strong cards. The few delirious cards from Shadows over Innistrad that were worth including, like Traverse the Ulvenwald, are good enough without delirium. To force the ability, we will need to make sure we can cover a lot of the card types, and they need to go to our graveyard. This is why Wayfarer's Bauble and Expedition Map are in the deck despite being inferior to green staples in most other contexts. The Planeswalkers in the deck are all an extension of the desire to cover multiple card types, and for the most part I chose the 'Walkers that I felt would serve the more grindy aspects of this build. Cards like Grisly Salvage, Moonlight Bargain, and Commune with Nature will give us card advantage while helping to sculpt our 'yard to a delirious state.
The deck is mostly filled out at this point, and I think the build is going pretty well. We are able to play a lot of good cards, all while sticking to the central theme and abilities of our new Commander. I want to come back to the anti-flyer tech in the deck, because in some sense, Spiders are actually kind of bad against land creatures. Land creatures are usually much bulkier without the wings, and are dead targets to Stingerfling Spider, Spitting Spider, etc. What we can do to even up the odds is give opposing land dwellers temporary flight, so our arachnid-targeting systems can lock on properly. Predator, Flagship is the primary example, as it acts as removal by itself, and will allow us to give multiple creatures an injection of flight. Power Matrix gives a lot of abilities besides the flying, which makes it a bit more useful as an offensive weapon as well. Evolution Charm can be a nasty surprise while a Silklash Hurricane is on the stack, and of course the other two modes are quite handy as well.
So, we have come full circle, and now we have to ask the question – Doran, the Siege Tower, or Ishkanah, Grafwidow? We do have access to Assault Formation, which is kind of like having Doran, the Siege Tower in play, but it is by no means a reliable way to win the game. At the same time, Doran, the Siege Tower still operates on the axis of combat math, whereas Ishkanah, Grafwidow can rise above, and simply sit behind Arboria while Spider-draining the opponents. It might even be worth it to run all the Propaganda-esque cards available - Koskun Falls, Elephant Grass, Glacial Chasm, and Ensnaring Bridge. The Ensnaring Bridge in particular is great with the low-powered creatures in here. The truth is Doran, the Siege Tower can be played with many different tribes, whereas Ishkanah, Grafwidow is mainly concerned with other Spiders, so I feel like Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the indisputable Spider commander.
Thanks for reading!
- Cassidy Silver
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