Commander Spotlight: Chainer, Dementia Master

Dreams are a strange and wonderful thing. We barely understand how they work, but we do know that they are essential to our ability to function. We teeter back and forth as to whether the contents of our dreams bear heavy symbolic significance or no significance at all. Sometimes we remember our dreams vividly, whereas other times we don’t remember at all the contents of our nighttime slumber. Dreams allow us to explore, experience, and feel literally anything our imagination can conjure up, and it does so with a striking sensation that, at least in the moment makes us convinced that it is our reality. In the moment, the most bizarre things make sense. In the land of dreams, everything is possible. Yes, Dreams are a strange and wonderful thing.

Except for those times when they are not.

For the most part, nobody wants to have a bad dream. But they happen. If dreams are our mind’s ability to process information in some kind of quantifiable way, then it only makes sense that their contents are influenced by what is on our mind, conscious or otherwise. Which means that negative experiences or negative thoughts, through no fault of our own, can manifest themselves as bad dreams. As nightmares. An experience polar opposite of a pleasant dream, fed by our own doubts and fears, these are the kinds of dreams where you are held captive by your own mind and your best hope for happy resolution of any kind is to escape quickly and return to the waking world. Yes, for the most part nobody wants to have a bad dream.

Luckily, in the real world no one has power over another person’s dreams. Even at its most benevolent such a power would be dangerous, reckless…and incredibly effective. Tapping into that realm opens the door to all manner of possibilities, most of which would not end well for the person on the receiving end of such machinations. For a prime example of this, you need look no further than to this week’s pick with a character who thrived on exploiting bad dreams with remarkable efficacy.

Today we have: Chainer, Dementia Master

Name: Chainer, Dementia Master

Edition: Torment

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Recursion

Highlights: The Odyssey block was memorable for a number of reasons (both good and bad), but one particular footnote involves the latter sets in the block specifically. Torment and Judgment experimented with the concept of having a Magic set with a distinct color imbalance – not in power distribution but in the breakdown of the colors. Judgement, for instance, leaned heavily into Green and White cards, whereas Torment was very, very Black. This was largely done (or at least justified) for storyline purposes, with Torment depicting the spread of the Cabal’s influence and Judgment depicting various responses to it. And right in the middle of all this was Chainer.

Chainer was a popular card among players at the time, especially among the casual crowd, though its use in more competitive arenas was a little less common. Chainer was also a popular character, which is part of the reason they brought him back in Commander 2019 in his less experienced version. This Chainer version, on the other hand, has already mastered the art of fear-based sorcery and lends itself well to helping you quickly assemble (or reassemble) a powerful table presence – particularly in a multiplayer setting.

For five mana, Chainer sits on a 3/3 frame, putting it on par with many contemporary spellcasting legends. This alone isn’t particularly noteworthy, but its modest size at the very least makes it difficult to be pinged to death easily. Which is helpful given the importance its battlefield presence has.

Chainer’s main ability is a very powerful reanimation ability, stating that for three Black mana and 3 life, you can take any creature in any graveyard and return it to the battlefield under your control. This alone is a handy ability, but it gets better. For one, the activation ability doesn’t require tapping, which means that so long as you have the mana and life to spare, you can activate it numerous times. Moreover, Chainer tags each returned creature as a Nightmare, which he then makes larger thanks to his static ability of giving all of them +1/+1. If properly fueled, Chainer can be a huge asset on the board and can quickly shift the balance of power thanks to this combination of effects.

So much so, in fact, that Chainer often becomes a target for removal if given the opportunity. Be prepared to either use him as frequently as possible prior to that happening or space his use out as to not pull too much aggro to yourself. This balancing act of deciding when to use him for fear of losing him bears some strategic considerations and admittedly is one of his weaknesses. His second feeds the first, in that all of these Nightmare recursions come with a built-in kill switch: if Chainer leaves the battlefield, all creatures reanimated this way are exiled, making him even more of a rather enticing target if you start using him to great effect.

Additionally, there is the notion of the activation itself. While 3 life is far less punishing in an EDH game versus a normal one, it’s not an unlimited resource. Which means that unless you have a means of gaining life, getting Chainer out in the later stages of a game as opposed to earlier can be is a less than lucrative option.

That all said, Chainer’s potential for strategic and tactical advantages are well worth the risk of a short lifespan.

Finally, as Chainer is legendary, there is the the area of using him as your Commander. It certainly can and is done, making for an interesting deck based around a generally affordable creature from the game’s teen years. The one caveat is that, as a Commander, all of its negative aspects are highlighted numerous times over throughout the course of the game: you will spend a not-insignificant amount of time gaining life and trying to keep Chainer on the battlefield, as he is one of those Commanders that just asks to be picked off regularly. It can be done without leaning into making the deck neigh unfun for everyone involved, but there are distinct considerations to be made if choosing to put him at the helm.

Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to quash anyone’s dream. After all, that’s kind of his shtick….

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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