Ixalan is just around the river bend, which means we must turn our attention from the tribes of Commander 2017 to the tribes of this dangerous new plane. We have a ton of new and exciting legendary creatures headed our way, but there’s one in particular that stands out. Commander Showdown is all about comparing and contrasting similar-looking commanders, and there’s a new Merfolk in Ixalan so directly reminiscent of a previous commander that it would be a sin to ignore her. I’m talking, of course, about Tishana, Voice of Thunder.
Our new Merfolk Shaman costs seven mana and has power and toughness equal to the number of cards in your hand. Seven mana is a lot to pay for a Maro effect, but Tishana doesn’t stop there—when she enters the battlefield, she draws you a card for each creature you control, including herself. Better yet, you won’t have to worry about discarding down to seven cards, because she also eliminates your maximum hand size, allowing her to grow to epic proportions.
Of course, there’s another big Merfolk lurking out there, one who’s maybe a little affronted at how brazenly similar Tishana’s abilities are to her own. She’s the guildleader of the Simic Combine, the deliverer of the Fathom Edict, and she’s fiercely protective of her people. Her name is Prime Speaker Zegana, and she’s got a fishbone to pick with you.
These commanders are so alike that I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they’re secretly twins, separated at birth. Zegana has been with us for a while, so we’re fairly familiar with her abilities. She too draws cards when she enters the battlefield, and she too can grow her power and toughness to crazy heights. However, rather than draw based on the number of creatures you control, she draws cards based on the greatest power among creatures you control. It’s the same difference between Collective Unconscious and Soul’s Majesty. Where Tishana goes wide, Zegana goes tall.
A few other details differentiate these commanders as well. For example, Zegana’s stats are stagnant, while Tishana’s size will ebb and flow as you draw and cast cards. If Tishana draws ten cards with a Stroke of Genius, she’s flying high, but if she’s hit with a Sire of Insanity trigger, she’ll sadly swim away. (Don’t worry if someone casts a Windfall, though; state-based effects aren’t checked until the spell finishes resolving, so Tishana won’t drop to zero toughness in the middle of the spell. You’ll just check her new power and toughness once the spell is finished.)
Additionally, Zegana can be cast with an empty hand. Tishana would be quite stranded in such circumstances. If you have no cards in hand when she enters the battlefield, her triggered ability will go on the stack, but state-based effects will see that she has zero toughness before that trigger gets a chance to resolve. For Zegana, an empty hand is no problem at all.
So how do these minor differences affect deck construction for these two commanders? What differences in card selection and strategy result from a Merfolk that goes wide versus one that goes tall? Let’s take a look.
I’d like to start with Prime Speaker Zegana, but before I begin, I have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The competitive-minded among you would maroon me on an island if I failed to address Zegana’s potency as a combo commander. By now, we’re all probably familiar with the rhetoric online that labels Deadeye Navigator as a ban-worthy card in EDH. While I’m not in that camp myself, I do acknowledge that Prime Speaker Zegana is one of those cards that makes Deadeye Navigator look pretty darn ridiculous.
Deadeye Navigator gives creatures the deeply abusable ability to blink themselves, leaving play and immediately returning to trigger their enters-the-battlefield effects over and over. If you’ve ever run up against a Roon of the Hidden Realm deck, you’ve probably seen it in action, and know how scary that interaction quickly becomes. When paired with a Palinchron, Great Whale, or Peregrine Drake, Deadeye produces infinite mana.
Enter Prime Speaker Zegana. With all that mana, you can then cast Zegana, blink Deadeye with its own ability to pair it with her instead, and then repeatedly flicker your commander in and out of play to draw all the cards your heart desires. Voilà! You now have your entire library in your hand, and infinite mana to cast it all.
Prossh goes infinite with Food Chain all by himself, but Zegana does need another helper to finish out the combo. In both cases, the end result isn’t pretty for your opponents. When Zegana combines Food Chain with Misthollow Griffin or Eternal Scourge, the infinite mana once again rears its ugly head. Food Chain exiles the creature, which can then recast itself from exile, for a net gain of one mana each time this loop is repeated. Per the enchantment’s restrictions, this mana can only be cast on creature spells, but this is where Prime Speaker Zegana shines. Repeatedly exiling and recasting Zegana will, once again, let you draw as many cards as you desire.
For both combos, once you have your entire library in hand and a ton of mana to spend it on, it’s not difficult to imagine how to win. The easiest example is probably Laboratory Maniac, since you can easily draw out your entire library. Walking Ballista is another great choice when you have infinite mana. Just hold up some counterspells to make sure your combo fires off without a hitch, and you have the game in the bag.
This is the competitive side of Zegana. When your commander draws a bunch of cards, it’s pretty easy to abuse. When you’re in green and blue, the colors of ramp, card draw, and counterspells, the combos only get easier to achieve.
Not all of us want a combo-tastic deck, though. Many players are drawn to Prime Speaker Zegana purely because she embodies the spirit of green and blue so perfectly: she’s a big creature that draws cards. Timmies, Jennies, and Spikes alike can all find something to love from this commander, whether they’re bashing face with a 15/15 or they’re comboing out for a million mana. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t acknowledge how busted Zegana can be, but for the rest of this article, I’m going to discuss Zegana outside the context of combos. If you like Deadeye and Food Chain, the deck practically builds itself, and I doubt you need my help to flesh it out. For the rest of us who just want some good old-fashioned Simic games, let’s see what other fun stuff this commander can provide.
Let’s start by taking a look at the average decklist for Prime Speaker Zegana. This usually gives us a good idea about how players are using this commander.
Well, would you look at that—just like an actual game of EDH, Deadeye Navigator won’t seem to go away. Humorously, if we take a quick peek at Zegana’s EDHREC page, there’s actually only one Signature Card, and you guessed it, it’s Deadeye Navigator. Even without infinite mana shenanigans, the synergy between Deadeye and Zegana is extremely potent. There are a few other great synergies for Deadeye in this list too, such as Mystic Snake, which substantially locks other players out of the game. Be careful letting a Zegana player resolve a Tooth and Nail for these two cards. It might be the last thing you ever do.
A few new cards from Commander 2017 also make an appearance. Traverse the Outlands is a home-run in this deck, since you’re likely to have a large Zegana on the battlefield, or at least a large creature that Zegana will soon use to draw lots of cards. I’m very surprised to see Kindred Discovery here, though. Very few creatures in this average deck share a creature type. They’re all over the place, from Sakura-Tribe Elder Snake to Trygon Predator Beast. Using EDHREC’s new Theme feature, we can even see that less than 3% of players are running Zegana as a Tribal Merfolk deck.
Interestingly, there aren’t a ton of high-power creatures in the average Zegana deck. I expected to see more fatties that could be used to take advantage of Zegana’s power-based draw ability, but they’re few in number here. The most powerful are probably Terastodon or a souped-up Altered Ego. Under the right conditions, Overbeing of Myth and Psychosis Crawler aren’t bad either, and over time, Lorescale Coatl and Chasm Skulker could get respectably large too. That’s about it, though. The rest tend to stay in the one- to two-power range. There aren’t even any massive hydras.
In retrospect, this makes sense. Zegana doesn’t give you an infinite hand size, so drawing eleven cards is a little overkill. Playing out your entire hand and then dropping Zegana to draw just four or five cards is sufficient to keep you active in the game.
In fact, when surveying this average decklist, I have to say that it looks precisely that: average. Consecrated Sphinx, Eternal Witness, Cyclonic Rift… it’s like The Ultimate Collection of Simic’s Greatest Hits, Vol. III. Compare this decklist to the Simic Staples page and we see a nearly 100% overlap. There’s a reason Zegana only has one card in her Signature Cards section, and its because her cards tend to be nonunique. Most green-blue commanders run the same cards she does.
This isn’t to say she’s a bad commander. Far from it. She’s simply more of a generic commander. That might sound like an insult to some, but it’s definitely not; Rashida Scalebane is incredibly unique, and she’s terrible. Zegana falls into a category that some might call “Simic Goodstuff,” running lots of frequently seen but nonetheless exceptionally powerful green and blue spells. Leave the tiny creatures to Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Leave the counters to Vorel of the Hull Clade and Experiment Kraj. Zegana’s ability is just so good overall that you don’t really need to commit to it. She’s what I’d call a quintessential Simic commander, versatile enough to do whatever you’d like in EDH’s most efficient colors.
What about Tishana, Voice of Thunder? How does our newcomer compare?
First of all, I should point out that the aforementioned combo-tastic cards also apply to Tishana, so you could see some Tishana lists going infinite out there in the wild. If players have already built Prime Speaker Zegana as a combo deck, I doubt there’s much incentive to switch their pre-established list over to a new commander, but it could certainly happen.
Second, despite the extreme similarities between Tishana and Zegana, I very much doubt that their lists end up looking identical down the road. Many of the famous Simic staples will make an appearance, no doubt—who doesn’t love a good ol’ Coiling Oracle?—but the differences between Tishana and Zegana, while subtle, are nonetheless substantial enough to merit a significantly dissimilar strategy.
Obviously, the first place everyone’s mind went when they saw Tishana was tokens. Avenger of Zendikar is famous for the number of bodies it puts on the board, and Tishana would be happy to draw cards from them. Hornet Queen is another great example, one that will keep you safe from all those The Ur-Dragon decks flying around right now. Blue adds some fun to the token mix as well. I particularly like Chasm Skulker. No matter whether you cast Tishana before or after the Skulker dies, it’ll give you a great payoff.
I’ve also seen some speculation about building Tishana as “Maro Tribal.” Maro and other such creatures get more powerful based on the number of cards in your hand, just like Tishana. Overbeing of Myth is a great Simic example, but there are plenty more: Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, Masumaro, First to Live, Soramaro, First to Dream, and Sage of Ancient Lore, to name a few. My favorite is definitely Psychosis Crawler, which loves the number of cards Tishana can draw.
I did honestly toy with making a Tishana list, but the deck didn’t quite click for me. To be frank, it struck me as a better deck for Prime Speaker Zegana, since Maro creatures go tall, not wide. Still, the idea is pretty great, and I’m eager to see any lists people come up with for this idea.
Instead, I went somewhere a little different for Tishana. Between Ixalan and Commander 2017, I just couldn’t resist jumping into the tribal game myself. There are just too many new tribe-centric toys to play with. So did I put Tishana in commander of her fellow Merfolk? Nope. I went for a good old standby: Elfball.
Elves may not have anything to do with Tishana’s own tribe, but if there’s any deck I can count on to vomit tons of creatures onto the battlefield, it’s Elves. Tishana doesn’t care about the quality of her creatures, just the quantity of them. Thankfully, with elves, we get to have both. Tishana’s mana cost doesn’t seem so high when she can tap Elvish Archdruid or Priest of Titania for five or six apiece.
Most Elfball decks like Ezuri, Renegade Leader have the small problem of running out of steam. Elves are aggressive, and it’s pretty tough to aggro down several other players before one of them finds an answer to your army. This is why Elf decks tend to run non-Elf creatures such as Regal Force, to refill their hand and catch back up. With Tishana, we have a Regal Force in the command zone whenever we want, which hopefully adds a little more resilience to the deck.
Adding blue to elves also gives us a ton of extra-fun gadgets. Kindred Summons is grand, but Kindred Discovery is flat-out bonkers. Those Elves will turn Tishana into a giant without even trying! Distant Melody is another great tool, nearly half the cost of the aforementioned Regal Force. That new Vanquisher’s Banner looks amazing as well. Pump and card advantage? It sounds too good to be true, frankly. It’s also nice to throw in a Counterspell or two, to help protect your army from unwanted Damnations.
Now, Craterhoof Behemoth is an awesome win condition, there can be no doubt about that… but it’s not my favorite one. My favorite is Overwhelming Stampede. This isn’t the type of card I usually play, but it just seems so epic for any Tishana deck, with or without the Elves. If you’re doing your job right, you’ll have lots of creatures in play and one super-powerful commander. Overwhelming Stampede shares the love. It’s not a very novel win condition, I admit, but in this deck, it’s right at home.
As always, I’ve got a few extra suggestions for cards that I think each commander should play more often. I doubt most players will take the Elf Tribal route for a Tishana deck like I did, and go more for the classic Simic token cards. To that end, I’ve got some recommendations for cards you shouldn’t forget to include. Check them out:
I hope this comparison helped shed some light on the differences between Tishana and Zegana, though I suspect the verdict is still up in the air for a lot of folks. It’s reductive to merely state, “One goes wide, the other goes tall,” though in truth, that is certainly the biggest takeaway. Over the long term, I suspect Zegana will remain the “Simic Goodstuff” commander, while Tishana will nestle herself alongside Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Edric, Spymaster of Trest at the head of a Simic army. However, unlike Ezuri and Edric, who restrain themselves to two-power and unblockable creatures, respectively, Tishana’s potential is more fluid. She can go big or small, unblockable or trampling, tribal or not.
That’s the key difference, the real thing to take away from these two commanders. As mentioned before, Zegana doesn’t need to do much to be good. Her ability is powerful even with just one other creature. However, she plays it safe. She doesn’t break limits. She’s comfortable drawing five cards. Tishana, on the other hand, opens the door to more possibilities. She requires a more dedicated strategy. That strategy might be tribal, it might be tokens, it might be anything at all, but whatever it is, she commits to it. She demands that you take a bigger gamble in your deck construction, but if you pull it off, she gives you an exponential payoff. It’s not merely about wide and tall, it’s about risk and reward. Do you play it safe, or do you take a chance? The choice is yours.
Of course, you could also just use either of them to combo into infinite mana and draw your entire library. That works too.
Til next time!