11053256_10206508757343415_3155709458365301609_n @hayesthehayes

Plains. Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Pass turn.

It is a turn 1 that any aggressive player can respect. Especially in EDH, a format that rewards players for investing into mana for future turns. It’s difficult to run a really low mana curve and dodge getting crushed by  the hordes of destructive and powerful mid to late game spells in the format.

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For years I’ve wanted to make an Isamaru deck but only recently with the spoiling and release of Dragons of Tarkir have I actually gone through the steps to build the deck.

While I was deckbuilding and looking up a few cards I might look to pick up at a Dragons’ release to fill slots for the deck I stumbled upon this card on a spoiler site:

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What?

I was really caught off guard by this card. Ever since the start of Dragons of Tarkir spoilers I had been eagerly awaiting the mono colored legendary creatures to see if any of them were worth building around. When I saw this baby version of Zurgo Helmsmasher I felt like a birthday ballon was deflating from within me. Can’t block big guys? It didn’t feel like an effect that synergized with my internal list of good red EDH cards. I wasn’t buying it. I wrote this guy off as a standard card and threw him into the back of my mind.

I had all but forgotten about the little red man when I stumbled upon him again while designing my Isamaru deck. I had pulled out all the equipment cards I own and laid them out on my desk in CMC piles when I noticed the sheer quantity of colorless equipment and support artifacts I was about to jam into Isamaru.

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I’ve decided that I am going to do a deckbuilding experiment with Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Zurgo Bellstriker. I already have my Isamaru deck (seen below). I’m going to play it for about a month or so, try to get as many matches as I reasonably can in with it, and report how it does. Then I am going to take basically all of the swords and colorless artifact cards and slot them over into a Zurgo deck and see how changing the color changes the playstyle.

Isamaru, Hound of Konda

My hypothesis: Isamaru is going to be a lot better at finding the swords I need and creating synergy between the artifacts while Zurgo is going to be better at scaling his damage output as the game goes longer.

While I’ve made a Isamaru list this is by no means the final list. I am going to need to edit it to make it more smooth and to match the synergy I am trying to find from within the deck.

I’ve been playing with this deck for the past week. In about three weeks I will present a final decklist and then transfer the cards over to Zurgo and present an initial list for his deck. I’ll play Zurgo for a month with my EDH playgroups and edit the deck over time to make it the best I reasonably can. After a month with Zurgo I’ll present my findings and compare the two end results.

Let’s take an initial look at Isamaru.

Part 1: Isamaru

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Looking at this pup, Isamaru seems trivial and underwhelming. He has no abilities. His only benefit is that he is aggressively powered for his mana cost. But that quickly diminishes when your opponents start ramping or drawing cards and outclassing your 2/2 with stronger plays.

The idea of this deck is to body slam your opponents with constant all-in attacks. The main route to victory is casting swords for your Isamaru and critters to grab and swing in with.

Note: Be aggressive. This type of deck is not for the conservative. I’ve already made tons of attacks with valuable creatures into bad blocks, but felt like I had to anyway. This is partially because if you don’t attack on any given turn it probably means that you have fallen too far behind. Getting pushed into a position where you are trying to topdeck in a mono white deck is not a good position to be in. This is why I am not afraid to declare suicidal attacks with Isamaru and friends.

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Some people like to think that playing aggro is easy and doesn’t take that much thinking. I argue that playing aggro can be just as interactive as playing control. Choosing attacks and blocks with your opponents is just like exchanging resources with your opponent. There can also be a great deal of bluffing what you have and what your motives for declaring a bad attack are. I’ll make ludicrous attacks with Isamaru wielding only a single sword. Sometimes they block and slaughter Isamaru. Other times they don’t and I get to open the window for a line of play where I can kill them a few turns down the road.

This is also EDH; a multiplayer format. There are other people with other creatures and threats on the board. If I offer up an attack that looks to either trade creatures or bluff a combat trick my opponent might be willing to take that attack without blocks if there are bigger threats on the board they want to block or another player they are trying to aggro out.

So while Isamaru looks simple with his design he actually has a lot of play to him. You just have to understand the psychological landscape of EDH.

What I usually do is cast him turn one and then equip him and send him on his way. Once he dies I generally don’t cast him again until the later parts of the game. Up to that point I’m trying to play on curve and cast my other threats. If the game goes long I can recast Isamaru and load all my swords up onto him. If this doesn’t work I have a couple of finishers in Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Baneslayer Angel and Darien, King of Kjeldor. I also have the combo-esque finishes of well timed Cataclysm and armageddons.

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What sword does Darien have on his back?

So far the deck seems to be fun. Though I often try to make my decks competitive I always want to play with something I am having fun with. Even when I start to get outclassed in multiplayer games I often have a lot of fun loading up all my equipment on innocuous creatures like Weathered Wayfarer and seeing what happens.

That’s it for this part of the experiment. Next segment I’ll post the final Isamaru list and go over some cards that stood out to me. Then I’ll go over my first build for Zurgo and what insights I have for him.

What cards do you recommend for an Isamaru strategy? What are your insights? Do you hate playing against these styles of decks? Do you think cards like Armageddon are too unfun?

As always I love criticism and feedback. Follow me @hayesthehayes! Comment section below!

Hayes