It would be easy for me to just tell you to look at my Reyhan/Ishai article and that be the end of it, but this series is supposed to make us build unique decks and as-close-to-original decks as possible. So I clearly won’t go against the spirit of the series and will discuss the partners from Breed Lethality that are Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker.
Something that bothers me about Ishai that I covered somewhat in the Reyhan/Ishai portion of the series is that Ishai is not proactive by default. Some commanders, like Narset for example, want you to call the shots. Attack with Narset and start doing things for free. Ishai wants your opponents to do things which usually isn’t good for you. Not to say it is entirely bad, but normally your opponent casting spells can cause you to lose some or all pieces of your build or they just render you irrelevant. Whether they’re building an army or killing things, usually you want to control that. That means you have one of two options: build better or stop them. In Magic terms that means bigger and better creatures or counterspells, respectively. I’d suggest both, and Ikra would love you forever for that.
Ikra wants you to have creatures with big butts (toughness) while getting damage through. Doing both of these things will result in a decent chunk of life for you to do whatever you choose. This could range from winning with Felidar Sovereign to making your creatures terrifyingly large with Cradle of Vitality (ultimately resulting in hitting your opponents with the train of a creature you’ve created). To gain all of this life we want to get damage through which means some amount of evasion, which you may notice that both of our Partners have: Flying and Menace. So let’s go over the strategies we will implement to get damage through, shall we?
Assuming we have larger creatures, Primal Rage and Brawn granting us Trample will also guarantee some amount of damage gets through, which in turn means we get life from Ikra. Levitation gives our guys flying but Archetype of Imagination makes sure nothing else can block our creatures as long as our opponents’ creatures don’t have Reach. Speaking of Flying, if we can keep Ishai alive with our opponents casting spells we end up with a large life gaining monster.
Beyond creatures with Lifelink built into them we don’t have too many ways to gain life. Granting our whole team Lifelink is possible and we are running the best colors for it with White and Black. Whip of Erebos allows for us to Reanimate our fallen comrades, albeit only once and then they’re gone forever. True Conviction is pretty self-explanatory: double the life and double the damage. Ikra and True Conviction are a match made in heaven. And while we’re gaining all that life, Rhox Faithmender just adds more life into the equation.
If Ikra wants us to deal combat damage but gain life based off of our creature’s toughness, then why not just make it almost like having Lifelink? Doran is one of my all-time favorite cards, and Assault Formation does the same thing with repeatable toughness boosts to boot. This also can take down decks that use high powered creatures, like one of the new partner commanders Akiri.
All That Life…
So now we have life, what do we do with it? Well you might recognize this from my age-old Synergy Chamber article about Tree of Redemption. While I’d love to include him and Tree of Perdition in this, it’s not needed. That sort of tomfoolery belongs elsewhere. This deck beats down and beats down fast and we don’t want to rely on too many pieces. The idea is to stick an Ikra and let the rest of the deck benefit. The Trees want Assault Formation to allow them to attack.
Anyways as mentioned before, Felidar Sovereign can basically win you the game and Cradle of Vitality pretty much just doubles a creature’s toughness. Ageless Entity gets out of hand fast. Aetherflux Reservoir lets you dump your life into any opponent and that is probably one of my favorite parts of the deck.
With a world of counterspells at our fingertips I figure it wouldn’t be too hard to pick a good and efficient group, so my recommendations are Absorb, Ojutai’s Command, and Sphinx’s Revelation on top of whatever other counters you want to run like Counterspell or Mana Drain or others. Removal is also pretty flexible with Vindicate, Anguished Unmaking, and Utter End being very versatile on top of any other removal you want to run (like Swords or Path or just Doom Blade).
Beyond the strategy cards, there are some other cards that fit well into this deck. Dragonlord Dromoka can help your cards resolve and force your opponents to take care of your stuff at instant speed or use their main phases to kill things. Flying, Lifelink, and a big butt also fit into our strategy almost template-like. Ulvenwald Observer will usually draw you a card when something you control dies. Courser of Kruphix can get you the land you need along with some life on top of that.
I believe at this point allowing you to build your own board wipe suite and land suite is the best route. It all delves down to how much you can afford to spend and I think that should be your call, not my lecture. I will recommend Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, and Gavony Township alongside as many fetches/duals you may have, but beyond that it is up to you. I don’t want to sound like a broken record player in this partner series.
I hope you all enjoyed my take on Ikra and Ishai, and as always happy brewing!