Magic: The Gathering is such an interesting game because of how modular it is. As one of the game’s most popular formats, Commander is very indicative of this modularity. Today, I want to discuss a deck built upon my love of cross-format archetypes. The influence dates back to Mirage-era early Magic and has been a fascination that, until recently, I was unable to appropriately port over to Commander. Today’s deck has also helped reinvented the way that I think about deck building and has allowed me to find the upper limit of a power level that I am comfortable bringing to an unprepared table.

In my wildest dreams I never thought that Chatterfang, Squirrel General would be the general that would fit into all of these categories. As I will be discuss, it has surpassed my wildest expectations and become a deck that I love to play, but also know can only be done in limited samplings. And I think that distinction is a fascinating thing for any Commander player to really try to self-assess. Everyone’s metagame is different and there should be no reason why anyone feels like they need to pull their punches at the expense of having their own fun. But this experience has made me more aware of just what a powerful Commander deck can do to unsuspected players.

Notable pieces of the original Prosperous Bloom deck. Cadaverous Bloom, Prosperity, and Drain Life

Prosperous Beginnings

The journey to create this deck dates back almost a decade, with the intention to recreate Magic’s first competitive combo deck, Prosperous Bloom, in Commander. While I had heard the name thrown around a lot, I don’t remember precisely where I learned the actual make-up of the deck. It may have been one of Michael J. Flores‘ podcast appearances or directly from Mark Rosewater’s “Drive to Work” podcast. Regardless, the idea of the competitive combo deck immediately intrigued me and I wanted to find a way to bring the concept to life in Commander.

Looking at the original combo, using Cadaverous Bloom to cast a large Prosperity, leading to more Prosperities, and finally exiling cards to a Drain Life is a game plan that is perfectly reasonable for sixty-card formats. But for a long time I wasn’t adept enough at deck construction to backwards engineer this strategy into Commander. Before I had really learned the art of adaptation of archetypes, I assumed that I needed to craft something solely from the Sultai color identity, because those were the colors being used in the 1997 inspiration. I probably made half a dozen drafts of Damia, Sage of Stone or The Mimeoplasm between 2014 and 2016, before ultimately putting the idea away until this year.

The printing of Pestilent Cauldron to combo with Drain Life felt like the first real possibility to make the deck I’d dreamt of for so long. In the back of my mind, the intersecting potential between Alhammarret’s Archive, Squandered Resources, and The Gitrog Monster also had me questioning if Blue was actually a requirement for the deck to function. The problem, as I saw it, was that these were all cute combos, but were not redundant enough to commit to cardboard. Then Gala Greeters got printed and the floodgates opened.

Chatterfang, Squirrel General had been a deck that I wanted to build ever since the card was printed in Modern Horizons 2. And while I had had a lot of success in the hypothetical build I spoke about last year, nothing ever came together in such a way that I really enjoyed playing with the deck enough to move beyond proxies at my kitchen counter. But after constructing a Historic Brawl deck on Magic Arena helmed by Chatterfang after the release of Gala Greeters, I realized just how much fun the deck could be and wanted to explore it with the card pool that we have in Commander.

A week in, a fully functional squirrel tribal deck kept developing for me. But I wasn’t satisfied with where I was getting and kept feeling like half the cards were not up to snuff. From there, my thoughts wandered back to Prosperous Bloom’s goal of card draw and mana ramping to build towards a victory. With Dark Prophecy, Fecundity, and Moldervine Reclamation, I could see the card draw. And with Bootleggers’ Stash, Jaheira, Friend of the Forest, and Pitiless Plunderer, I saw the ramp possibilities within Chatterfang’s design. I honestly thought I may have finally cracked the code.

Chatterfang, Squirrel General, who helms this deck

General: Chatterfang, Squirrel General

Planeswalkers: Liliana, Dreadhorde General, Lolth, Spider Queen

Creatures: Bog Initiate, Deep Forest Hermit, Deranged Hermit, Gala Greeters, Jaheira, Friend of the Forest, Nadier’s Nightblade, Nested Shambler, Nullmage Shepherd, Pitiless Plunderer, Poison-Tip Archer, Scute Swarm, Toski, Bearer of Secrets, Underworld Hermit, Viscera Seer, Zulaport Cutthroat

Artifacts: Acorn Catapult, Blade of Selves, Bootleggers’ Stash, Caged Sun, Chitterspitter, Glaring Spotlight, Maskwood Nexus, Mimic Vat, Shadowspear, Sol Ring

Enchantments: Bastion of Remembrance, Bitterblossom, Cadaverous Bloom, Conspiracy, Dark Prophecy, Fecundity, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Moldervine Reclamation, Nature’s Will, Perilous Forays, Revel in Riches

Instants: Abrupt Decay, Culling the Weak, Deathsprout, Heroic Intervention, Noxious Revival, Reclaim, Second Harvest, Tragic Slip, Unravel the Aether, Urborg Justice

Sorceries: Acorn Harvest, Casualties of War, Consume Spirit, Cultivate, Damnable Pact, Drain Life, Dryad’s Revival, Exsanguinate, Growth Spasm, Kodama’s Reach, Nostalgic Dreams, Parallel Evolution, Soul Burn, Sylvan Offering

Lands: 10 Forest, 9 Swamp, Blooming Marsh, Command Tower, Darkmoss Bridge, Desert of the Glorified, Desert of the Indomitable, Evolving Wilds, Forbidden Orchard, Ghost Quarter, Grim Backwoods, Myriad Landscape, Overgrown Tomb, Spawning Bed, Tectonic Edge, Temple of Malady, Treasure Vault, Twilight Mire, Woodland Cemetery, Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth

Bog Initiate, Exsanguinate and Jaheira. One of a few Pros Bloom mimicking combos

Finally Building in Chunks

While I have built quite a few decks in the past where I try to think of the different synergies in a deck and design the skeleton to best take advantage of them, this was the first deck where I was explicitly making card selections based on trying to maximize the amount of options I was giving myself in terms of card draw, ramp, and recursion to the point where I was literally mapping them out physically on my desk and saying, “does this category need a seventh and eighth card, or can I get away with six?” This was absolutely new territory for me and something that I would advise that people try out if they really want to produce a deck that they have an intimate understanding of.

Moxfield’s custom tagged Bloom Combo cards

Moxfield has an option that allows you to filter the grouping of a deck based on customizable tags. Using this feature, I was able to not only mirror the physical piles I had made during theorycrafting, but also focus my options when the time came to start making swaps, such as by mana value or card type. All told, I was able to keep an eye on the amount of cards that I was dedicating to the prosperous bloom combo, while also being able to track how much of the deck fell into an aristocrat strategy, which was going to compliment what I was trying to do regardless.

Moxfield’s custom tagged Aristocrat cards

Knowing that I was working in a singleton format, it became important for me to understand what were viable substitutions for the key cards that had existed in the constructed deck. I was able to supplement the Drain Life with Consume Spirit, Damnable Pact, Exsanguinate, and Soul Burn. And instead of casting Prosperity, I would utilize my general’s ability to sacrifice tokens enmass to combo with Dark Prophecy, Fecundity, Liliana, Dreadhorde General, and Moldervine Reclamation.

In testing, I also realized that because I was trying to defeat an entire table, I was going to need some form of recursion. This is where the selections of Dryad’s Revival, Nostalgic Dreams, Noxious Revival, and Reclaim became the package that I was capable of fitting into the deck. In truth I would prefer to have a little bit more recursion, but the flashback on Dryad’s Revival was my economical choice to meet the needs of the deck as best I could.

Pitiless Plunderer and Nadier’s Nighblade, two pieces of a token sacrifice engine within the deck

When You’re Too Good

Due to this laser focus of design, the resulting deck has proven to be remarkably powerful and resilient. This is because combo cards like Pitiless Plunderer or Revel in Riches can very quickly cause games to reach a state where creatures without hexproof or shroud can no longer be a threat to me. And while I don’t want to play the kind of game where I am picking off any creature on a whim, that is the legitimate threat that I present once my game is up and running.This causes a lot of pressure to be put on me to either win or be the kingmaker.

I already knew in testing the deck that I had hit upon something very powerful; a deck that forces me to remain present in the game and really asks me to stretch my imagination to make the most of a board state and my hand is half the reason why I enjoy playing Commander so much. Even being as forthright about how this deck operates may seem a tad hyperbolic. But I can assure you that simply having Nadier’s Nightblade, Poison-Tip Archer, or Zulaport Cutthroat in play can take Chatterfang’s removal ability and turn it into a win condition. Ironically this is not how I want to win the game, I want to win by using some form of the Prosperous Bloom combo. And I think that preference of a specific fundamental turn is the saving grace that has kept me playing the deck without feeling like I’m pulling punches.

When I say this deck is too powerful, I do not mean that I think that it is degenerate or unfair, the problem is that it is very consistent at doing what it was designed to do, compared to most decks being brought out for a laid back night of Commander. More than once I have not been limited by the potential of my deck, but by my own sense of morality when it comes to abruptly ending a game that people are invested in. And I don’t have a concrete answer for how I plan to mitigate this tension in the future, because I do think that presenting a reasonable challenge can be refreshing for players that are equipped to handle it. Regardless it’s a fascinating position to be in, because I never intended to build something that could ignite an arms race.

I unequivocally love this deck, not only because it has a number of cards that most people have long forgotten about, but also because it is the culmination of nearly a decade of theory crafting on a deck that fascinates me to no end. I also just love the fact that such a powerful deck is a squirrel deck at its core. That juxtaposition of theme and purpose will probably delight me to no end for all of time. And at the end of the day, all I can say is, I hope that more people go out of their way to build the decks that they’ve always wanted to see exist. Until next time, thank you for reading.

Ryan Sainio (he/him) is a Graphic Designer exploring the Commander format and Magic history on a regular basis. Notable decks that value flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks include Shattergang Eldrazi, Doran Soul Sisters, and Chatterfang ProsBloom.

MTG Content Creator Awards 2022 nominee: Format Specialty Writing & Excellence in Writing Overall

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