Yisan, the Wanderer Bard EDH
Yisan is fast, and he’s the most consistent commander in the game.
When Yisan, the Wanderer Bard was first spoiled, he was called too slow. Too fair. Too green. But that’s not really the case at all. Yisan is lightning fast, and insanely versatile.
Have you ever Craterhoof Behemothed in response to a Mutilate? Have you ever been the player the table looks to for responses as they try to resolve a spell, even though you’re playing mono-green? Have you ever Terastodoned so hard, you were the only player with non-elephant permanents?
Here is my multiplayer list.
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard EDH
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is well suited to tutoring for creature based combo. Not only does he find these combos, most of which are infinite mana and infinite creature untaps, he provides an outlet to spend the infinite mana on, which is pretty spicy for a tutor to do, if I can say so myself.
Before we discuss the combos, I should mention that Yisan can win with combat damage as quickly as he can combo in most multiplayer games, with the combos occasionally being a turn faster. The combos cards are really powerful in this deck as a means of rebuilding, as a plan B, if the value plan doesn’t work out.
Umbral Mantle + Any creature that taps for 4 or more mana
With a creature that taps for 3 mana, you do get an infinite powered attacker. But you have lots of opponents to beat.
Umbral mantle plus Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid, or Karametra’s Acolyte can easily go infinite. The Mantle untaps the creature, and the creature taps for more mana. However, once you get infinite mana, you can equip the mantle to Yisan, and activate him infinite times, since you can pay 3 mana with the umbral to untap him.
With infinite Yisan activations, it’s pretty easy to win, but here is a route to perfect victory (attacking for infinite damage against opponents who control no permanents): tutor Temur Sabertooth, then Ant Queen, bounce your Wood Elves and replay it to get all your forests, grab Duplicant to blow up every creature the same way, and then Regal Force to draw your whole deck (make a number of ant tokens equal to what you need to get the whole deck). Now go ahead and make infinite insect tokens. Play Concordant Crossroads. Play Terastodon to blow up any remaining permanents, cleaning up the tokens with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre for the feel good win. Cast Craterhoof Behemoth for more infinite damage. Attack. (Kudos to your opponents if they let you draw out your obvious victory this long.)
If you have an Umbral Mantle in hand at the start of the game with a mana dork, tutoring for Priest of Titania with Yisan after getting any elf leads to a modest turn 5 win if left uninterrupted. But getting a Sylvan Safekeeper and playing a value game to protect the combo is usually stronger if your opponent’s typically have early interaction.
Illusionist’s Bracers + Seeker of Skybreak + Any creature that taps for mana
Since Seeker of Skybreak doesn’t have a mana ability, the Bracers allow you to copy his ability. And since you probably control a creature with a mana ability, this is usually infinate mana, and infinite Yisan activations. This combo goes one further than the previous one, if you switch the bracers between Yisan and the Seeker to get two creatures at every CMC for extra win-more.
This combo is a weird one. You attack with Argothian Elder, and use Maze of Ith to untap him. Go ahead and reread Maze of Ith, I bet you didn’t know it could target your own creatures. Then you can proceed to tap the Elder to untap the Maze. What most people don’t realize is that the Argothian Elder is still attacking, even after the Maze was used. So you can use the Maze again to untap him, netting infinite mana during the combat step. Assuming Argothian Elder was tutored by Yisan last turn, and you have an untap effect, this turn you can tutor for Ant Queen and use that to make a few tokens. Untap Yisan to tutor Woodland Bellower and fetch a Quirion Ranger type effect, and again to get Regal Force to draw around half your deck. You can tutor for Craterhoof Behemoth if you drew Chord of Calling, but not the Craterhoof Behemoth. This win is easy if you run Yeva, Nature’s Herald (draw your entire deck, flash in all your creatures), but I made the choice to cut it from my list due to being generally useless except to combo.
With all of the Exploration effects this deck plays, Maze of Ith is a freeroll to play, since you always have plenty of land drops to make, and this combo makes it so any land tutor (Exploration Map, Sylvan Scrying and Crop Rotation are the ones in the deck) can go infinite with a Yisan at 3 verse counters. The Maze is even pretty good when you get attacked.
Argothian Elder + Wirewood Lodge + any land that taps for two mana
Rings of Brighthearth + Seeker of Skybreak + Any creature that taps for 3 or more mana
There are plenty of activated abilities in the deck that are worth copying for a measly two mana. That this card goes infinite is almost just bonus. Once again, this combo takes advantage of Seeker’s ability not being a mana ability.
Concordant Crossroads + Temur Sabertooth + A creature that taps for 3 more than its CMC
Tap the creature for mana, bounce it with the Temur Sabertooth and replay it. Repeat. This infinite chain is different from most of the others because it doesn’t directly result in infinite Yisan activations. However, if you have a Quirion Ranger you can get as many activations as you have lands, or Seeker of Skybreak you can still go infinite, by bouncing and replaying the untapping creature. If you don’t, tutor Duplicant (or Fierce Empath for Duplicant) the first chance you get, and destroy Yisan. Replay and activate Yisan for Quirion Ranger.
Wirewood Symbiote + Temur Sabertooth + A creature that taps for 5 or more mana + 1 mana elf
Use the Symbiote to bounce any elf creature to untap your creature that taps for 5 or more. Bounce the Symbiote with the Sabertooth, and replay both creatures, and repeat for infinite mana and untaps. This combo seems unlikely to be good, but it’s one of the most common ways the deck wins, thanks to Woodland Bellowers grabbing the Symbiote when you need it.
Like any tutor commander, certain cards tend to be tutored more than others. However, unlike commanders like Arcum Dagsson, where one chain is the safest route to a fast victory every game, Yisan can have wildly different game plans depending on what cards have been drawn, or what types of deck you’re playing against.
This is our fastest start. The power of the interaction between the Tribe Scout and the Ranger just looks like a cute do-nothing combo, but it is in-fact a super powerful mana engine when used with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. This synergy scales upward depending on the number of opponents you have: at 3 it’s amazing, and above that, it’s unbelievable. However, beneath 3 opponent’s and it’s note quite worth it.
To illustrate the speed of this tutor chain, let’s play out a sample hand, assuming the modest start of Elvish Mystic, Forest, Forest, Forest, Forest, and to keep it simple, we won’t be drawing any cards.
- Activate Yisan, for Scryb Ranger.
- Activate Scryb Ranger to untap Yisan, returning a tapped Forest.
- Activate Sakura-Tribe Scout to put the forest back onto the battlefield, giving you exactly 3 untapped mana sources again.
- Activate Yisan again during your turn for Wood Elves, fetching an untapped Forest
- During each of your opponent’s turns, untap Sakura-Tribe Scout with Scryb Ranger and use the Tribe Scout’s ability to get additional untapped lands.
- On your third opponent’s turn, you ought to have 3 lands untapped again, so use Scryb Ranger to untap yisan, and activate him to fetch a Karametra’s Acolyte (You currently have 6 devotion to green) or Nullmage Shepherd if you want to start interacting with the board (You have 4 untapped creatures now, and then you’ll get to blow up as many as you want after you get Seedborn Muse, especially if you get Avenger of Zendikar at seven.)
- Activate Yisan, for Seedborn Muse or Ant Queen.
- Untap Yisan with Scryb Ranger. Activate Yisan again, this time for Woodland Bellower. Fetch a Fierce Empath, use fierce empath to fetch Craterhoof behemoth to hand. (Tutoring Craterhoof Behemoth to hand lets us blow up the lands of any opponent who is threatening a Wrath of God by getting a Terastodon during your first opponent’s upkeep and blowing up white lands.)
- At this point you can cast the Craterhoof Behemoth (After making a few ants with your Ant Queen to get more pumps), or Activate Yisan two times per turn (if you get Seedborn Muse), until you get to eldrazi.
What’s great about this start is that your opponent’s might not see how out of hand you are until the end of the fourth turn, right before you untap and cast Craterhoof Behemoth. You might be wondering why turn 5 Craterhoof is so impressive, and I’d tell you it’s because you did it with 4 cards total, casting only one spell from your hand. With a second piece of ramp, or something like a Quirion Ranger in hand, you can shave a turn off this cycle so you don’t even need to be worried about Wrath of God.
This is the big mana start. If you started with a mana elf, this becomes really appealing. You could hardcast a Craterhoof Behemoth the turn Priest of Titania loses summoning sickness by untapping her with Quirion Ranger.
This is what you want to go for against removal heavy opponents every time. Losing your Yisan is much worse than getting off to the comparatively slower start by grabbing the Sylvan Safekeeper.
This is a value chain that legacy elves uses too. The Wirewood Symbiote gets you free untaps, free blocks, and free cards every time you recast the Elvish Visionary. This is comparatively less powerful in a multiplayer game than having Quirion Ranger is since you can’t really cheat on having elves, but I’d gladly tutor this in a 1 v 1 game since the card advantage is pretty hard to beat.
This gives you crazy amounts of artifact and enchantment removal.
This is how most fair games are won. It’s so nice that the token maker is directly before the token pumper.
Tips and Tricks
The Double Tap
After you activate Yisan, in response to his ability going on the stack, if you have a Quirion Ranger effect on board, you can untap Yisan, and activate him again. Each time you activate him, he gets a verse counter, but when he is actually tutoring for a card, it checks his number of verse counters on resolution. This means that you can skip certain creature CMCs in the chain and get two of the next. Conversely, you can skip two CMC’s and get three creatures of the same cmc if you have two Quirion Ranger effects on board.
Skipping from 3 to 5 is a common thing: the four drops are all situationally good, so grabbing a Seedborn Muse and an Acidic Slime is often better than a four drop and a five drop. The 6 CMC creatures are primarily removal, so grabbing both 7 CMC creatures can be much better.
The Quad Activation
Sometimes you need to go from 4 verse counters to 8 in a single turn, right after grabbing a big mana engine, such as Karametra’s Acolyte. If you already have Quirion Ranger on board, you can Activate Yisan for a 5 drop, and again using Quirion Ranger. Get Woodland Bellower. The Bellower will grab Wirewood Symbiote. Use the Symbiote to bounce the Ranger to get another Yisan activation. Replay the Ranger to get one last activation.
Bigger Multiplayer Games are better
Yisan plays a number of cards that become much more powerful in a multiplayer setting. This is primarily due to green’s penchent for getting cards with a “Activate this ability once per turn” clause. In multiplayer, most of these cards are just broken.
Chief among them is Quirion Ranger. Activating this card once on your own turn, and once on each of your opponent’s turns is such a powerful effect that it can’t be stressed enough how strong it is. And luckily for us, we get to play two of them, since Scryb Ranger has the same effect. I would play 3 of them if one existed at 3 cmc, that’s how good the card is. These two cards are the backbone of the deck, and one of the two will be tutored for with Yisan almost every game. What isn’t obvious is that these cards are much more powerful in a 6 player game than in a four player game.
The turn order can matter a lot
You want players playing Wrath of God directly to your right (so their turn is right before yours), because you have interact with that player more than the others. The way the Yisan chains end up working, you can rarely Brutalizer Exarch the first player’s lands, and you often can’t Terastodon them either, and land destruction is the best means of avoiding wraths in this deck.
I don’t know if it’s ethical to chose a seat based on strategic decisions, so that’s up to you. Just know that it often ends up mattering.
Never Mulligan a Burgeoning
Burgeoning is the most explosive card in the deck (except perhaps Mana Crypt, but you’d never mulligan that anways). It let’s you get Eldrazi before turn 5 (in a four player game), given that your opponent’s make their first few land drops, and you have at least 3 lands of your own. In a game with more players, you might even be able to shave a turn off of that.
Frequently asked Questions
This guide feels unrealistic because I would never expect Yisan to live long enough to get an 8cmc creature.
That’s not a question, but if you can expect Yisan to live for around three turns after you play him, you can expect to get high cmc creatures. You also have plenty of ways to protect him. Not included in this list are Oak Street Innkeeper and Swiftfoot Boots for extra protection from spot removal if you think you’ll need it. Don’t forget that Woodland Bellower also doubles as spot removal protection.
Sure, blowing up lands may work when you’re ahead, but how do you beat wraths when you’re not ahead?
This deck plays a handful of anti-wrath cards. Temur Sabertooth, Whisperwood Elemental, Yavimaya Hollow and the aforementioned land destruction cards. But what you might not notice, is that besides lands, this deck often doesn’t have time to play spells from it’s hand, so after a wrath, you might be down only one or two cards from your hand. This let’s you just play out your hand, and start the chain all over again, but it will be much faster since you have much more mana.
Why don’t you play more elves? This is an elf tribal deck, right?
This deck plays some elf-themed cards, but only because they’re the best cards in the spot. I can tutor as many elves as I need with Yisan when I draw them, or when I need creatures that produce a lot of mana. Other than Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, nothing can really compete with Priest of Titania, and Rofellos got banned. :(
My meta is all control decks. Is this a good deck?
Yisan is very good against counter heavy decks, and excellent against stax decks. However, Yisan is much worst against very early spot removal, and it isn’t great against wraths. I’d recommend him highest in a combo meta, since he can tutor silver bullets against other combos decks (Phyrexian Revoker, Scavenging Ooze, Nullmage Shepherd) while furthering his own game plan.
I need a deck that can’t lose to artifact and enchantment decks. Suggestions?
I keep returning so many lands to my hand that Avenger of Zendikar only makes like 3 tokens. Am I doing it wrong?
The same thing happens to me, but I’m not too mad about it because that means you’re probably winning. The jury is still out, but Hornet Queen might be a better card in that spot. The Avenger is much worse when you’re winning, but the tokens can be a threat on their own when you’re not. (Remember that Sakura-Tribe Scout and Scryb Ranger combo that we play? Landfall city.) Trading for creatures with the deathtouch probably won’t come up that often in EDH, but playing both wouldn’t be a bad idea at all.
I have written nearly 3000 words about Yisan. I hope you enjoyed the article. Any feedback would be welcome, about the list or the website. If you enjoyed it, please feel free to Subscribe.
I hope you’re inspired to build Yisan, and make your opponent’s wait while you tutor through your deck twice a turn, every turn.