Last updated on February 28, 2024
Isshin, Two Heavens as One | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Mardu () players everywhere (including myself) are practically foaming at the mouth over Neon Dynasty’s Isshin, Two Heavens as One. Isshin perfectly embodies what white-black-red decks do best in what may be my favorite Mardu design yet.
Mardu decks love to use combat to generate value. Both Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and Kaalia of the Vast cheat creatures into play via combat. They want to deal combat damage with Oros, the Avenger or Zurgo Helmsmasher and can make their own armies of creatures with Queen Marchesa or Edgar Markov. Every Mardu commander crushes your opponent in combat, and Isshin was the missing link we needed to really capitalize on that phase.
This Isshin, Two Heavens as One Commander deck strives to represent the best Mardu has to offer. You’ll be swinging in every turn you can and forcing your opponents into combat as well.
Without further ado, let's jump right in!
Drana, the Last Bloodchief | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Battle Cry Goblin
Keleth, Sunmane Familiar
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Mardu Strike Leader
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder
Hero of Bladehold
Raiyuu, Storm's Edge
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
Drana, the Last Bloodchief
Etali, Primal Storm
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Curse of Opulence
Brave the Sands
Curse of Disturbance
Goblin War Drums
Glory of Warfare
Search the Premises
Gleam of Battle
Temple of the False God
I wanted to create the ideal Mardu combat deck with this build. Without doubling down on a specific mechanic I’ve included a variety of attack triggers that you can use to generate advantage over and over, eventually killing your opponents through combat damage.
In an attempt to keep the average cost for this deck less than $5 per card, there’s a handful of cheap not-so-great pet cards that have attack abilities I like. Mostly the “pingers” like Mardu Shadowspear, but also things like Boros Elite. Despite this I still splurged on a few cards I think the deck deserves.
If a creature attacking activates a triggered ability of a permanent you control, Isshin, Two Heavens as One makes that ability trigger an extra time. Doubling up on triggered abilities is a very powerful tactic since most triggered abilities are very valuable. We all remember the summer of 2019 when Yarok, the Desecrated decks flooded the meta and ended friendships everywhere.
While the semi-exalted ability seen on many of NEO’s samurai cards implies Isshin would fight alone I decided that's not true and amassed an army of warriors for Isshin to command on the battlefield. Nearly every creature in this deck has an attack trigger.
Marton Stromgald is also a sleeper threat. It gives each attacking creature +1/+1 for each other attacking creature. Things quickly get out of hand for your opponents. Stack your Warleader’s triggers with Marton so you have the most creatures when its ability resolves.
Besides these brutal attack triggers you’ve got a few “pingers.” They make great early game creatures and make sure you get some damage with each strike. Mardu Shadowspear, Pulse Tracker, and Scorch Spitter are great early game plays that aren’t to be underestimated once Isshin hits the field.
A handful of creatures act as support for your horde of warriors. General's Enforcer protects Isshin from just about everything, keeping it safe in combat.
This deck also makes use of three broad categories of enchantments: enchantments with attack triggers, enchantments that entice your opponents into combat, and enchantments that enhance your creatures’ combat.
The best enchantment for this deck is arguably Fervent Charge. The card saw a spike in price immediately after Isshin was revealed and for good reason. A creature gaining +4/+4 whenever it attacks is a massive boon.
Marchesa's Decree and Blood Reckoning ping your opponents for each attacker while Righteous Cause gains you life even if you aren’t being attacked. Gleam of Battle fits into both the “attack triggers” and “enhance your creatures’ combat” categories.
The second group of enchantments entices or forces your opponents into combat. Curse of Opulence is very hard to pass up, especially if you’re behind on mana. Isshin’s ability means you’re netting twice as many Treasure tokens per attack.
Brave the Sands keeps your blockers untapped to guard against a counterattack and swing again in an extra combat step.
And don’t forget to throw some double strike around your board with Duelist's Heritage.
No samurai enters battle unarmed and the same is true for Isshin. Don’t feel bad about absolutely loading it up. Look closely at its art and you’ll notice it’s wielding not one but two swords!
Isshin will get you two angel tokens per attack with Moonsilver Spear, and you run a second copy in the form of Seraphic Greatsword. Sigiled Sword of Valeron has a similar ability and comes with some bonus keywords.
Heart-Piercer Bow made some interesting combat scenarios in my test games too. An extra two damage can change an opponent’s blocking plan by bringing one of their creatures within lethal range or clearing away their tokens.
Finally there’s Argentum Armor with a powerful removal ability that just gets stronger with Isshin on the field.
Creature-heavy decks like this one need a game plan to protect your threats, or at the very least remove your opponent’s noncreature threats.
Getting the mana just right in non-green decks can be a little difficult, and that’s why you’re running four mana rocks to help you ramp.
Arcane Signet has become the most popular rock in Commander so it’s a given.
As far as multicolor lands you have a running the suite of gain lands in Mardu (Scoured Barrens, Bloodfell Caves, and Wind-Scarred Crag) plus the bounce lands Boros Garrison, Orzhov Basilica, and Rakdos Carnarium to help fix your colors.
This deck is simple: play creatures, play Isshin, Two Heavens as One, attack!
You want to cast some low-cost creatures in the early game like Pulse Tracker and Boros Elite to set up the board for Isshin’s arrival, which you should play as soon as you can. Even if you can’t protect it immediately its cheap casting cost means you’ll see it again before the game’s over. Start chipping away at your opponents with pings from Mardu Shadowspear and the like.
By the midgame your board should be swelling very quickly. Even a lowly Curse of Vengeance can get out of hand with Isshin on the field. Start equipping your creatures to double up on angel tokens from Moonsilver Spear and Seraphic Greatsword, and maybe tutor up Marchesa's Decree or Search the Premises if you see yourself starting to topdeck. Make use of recursion spells to stabilize your board.
I usually let Fervent Charge end the game. Keep it safely in hand until you see a clear opening and then drop it to swing for huge damage when your opponents can’t block. Combined with Master Warcraft you can easily push 20+ damage through in a single combat. And if Fervent Charge is unavailable then Etali, Primal Storm can grab finishers from other players’ libraries, or you can just beat someone into submission with Isshin’s commander damage alone.
This deck doesn’t run any infinite combos but it can generate some very aggressive synergies.
The best example is Godo, Bandit Warlord and Isshin, Two Heavens as One, which together net you two extra combat steps for each attack. This deck doesn’t make use of many other samurai besides Isshin but generating an extra combat step is always useful. Even if you’re just clearing away some blockers for your other attackers. Raiyuu, Storm's Edge also fits this role and these three creatures bask in an obscene amount of combat steps.
And there’s yet another instance where Fervent Charge can end games. Consecutive attacks continue to buff (and double buff with Isshin) your attackers, bringing them well above their starting power and toughness by the end of the turn.
Listen, I don’t play with “Rule 0.” Mostly because I don’t play Magic with players I don’t know, but partly because it doesn’t actually solve any of the problems inherent to the format.
But if you find yourself at your local game store’s Commander night at a table where folks are discussing it, feel free to let them know that your Isshin deck can’t go infinite. Then go around the table and listen intently as everyone tells you their deck is a “seven out of ten” power level.
This deck sits at just under $200 right now, a fair midground for a semi-tuned Commander deck. It can be easily edited to fit your budget.
The most expensive card in the deck is currently Fervent Charge. This is directly related to Isshin, Two Heavens as One’s release. Before NEO’s spoilers this goofy little enchantment from Apocalypse was less than a dollar!
It spiked to $26 at the end of February and has been slowly declining since. If you can’t wait to build this deck on a budget then this is your easy first cut. Or you can wait a month and get it for under $5. I’m no MTG finance expert, please don’t roast me when this doesn’t happen.
Then you want to ditch Marton Stromgald. It’s a neat Ice Age legend with a unique ability, but it’s also a Reserved List card so it’s expensive for no reason. It can easily be replaced with Adriana, Captain of the Guard.
It hurts me to say this, but every deck does not need Grave Titan. It’s ridiculously valuable as most of the titans are but could easily be swapped for another big beater like Drakuseth, Maw of Flames.
What if you want to punch up this deck? There are a few simple additions that can really make this deck dominate.
There’s also always room to improve your mana base. If you have access to fetch lands it’d behoove you to run them alongside Savai Triome to make sure your mana works when you need it. Goldspan Dragon can also generate an insane amount of mana with Isshin on the field.
While this Isshin deck strives for a well-rounded attack triggers theme there are a couple other Isshin builds I’d be remiss not to mention.
Isshin is an amazing commander for a samurai tribal deck. Neon Dynasty featured a lot of Boros () samurai and a lot of them have attack triggers that work specifically when a samurai attacks alone. Isshin stands to benefit the most from all those abilities when it doubles up their triggers as a samurai itself.
And these decks work great with exalted cards since these samurai abilities trigger only when a single attacker is declared. They’re typically reserved for Bant () decks running Rafiq of the Many but Mardu has access to some exciting black and red creatures. I can see an incredibly niche scenario where a Mardu exalted deck running Conspiracy drops samurai Ball Lightnings while the board is full of semi-exalted samurai attack triggers to push damage through.
Moonsilver Spear | Illustration by James Paick
Isshin, Two Heavens as One was the missing link to the Mardu puzzle. It was the piece we didn’t even know we needed, and I’ll give WotC a rare kudos for this one. I’m excited to continue playing and tweaking my Isshin deck in the coming months.
Am I missing anything? Any glaringly obvious attack triggers I’ve neglected to mention? What are some other interesting builds for Isshin? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter.
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