"Here was some opening in the rock far wider than any they had yet passed; and out of it came a reek so foul, and a sense of lurking malice so intense, that Frodo reeled. And at that moment Sam too lurched and fell forwards.
'Fighting off both the sickness and the fear, Frodo gripped Sam's hand. [...] They had not gone more than a few yards when from behind came a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss." ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Chapter 4, "Shelob's Lair"
It's hard to believe that it has taken over twenty years to get a named spider in Magic's lore, but here we are. Fantasy is replete with legendary spiders, of which Shelob is the one to rule them all. Ishkanah, Grafwidow - a 3/5 spider legend - is the latest to play on this fantasy trope and she is a fine addition to its legacy.
Before things get ugly, if eight-legged things that crawl isn't your thing, you might want to skip this article. Here is a link to /r/startledcats on reddit. See you next week.
Still here? OK don't say I didn't warn you - Here she is in all her glory!
Magic fans have long prodded Mark Rosewater to design a spider legend for EDH and he has delivered. Ishkanah, Grafwidow was intentionally designed as a Commander and it shows. The off-color activated ability gives her a black/green color identity for deck building, and her token production ties well into the deck's design, giving players a splashy effect to build around. So what will it take to build a deck? While the main card isn't out, you can start thinking about the other ninety-nine and picking up a card or two.
First thing you are going to need are a lot of spiders. In nature a group of spiders is called a "clutter", but trust me when I say there is no need to Google that. Gatherer says that there is a total of 38 green spiders to choose from - so that will form the base of this tribal deck. You can't really go wrong here. Spiders are typically pretty cost efficient and have a high toughness... so just pick your favorites. If you can have favorite spiders.
I'm an Old School girl, so you have to include the one that started them all - the Giant Spider. After that Silklash Spider is my favorite - it has a fantastic ability with the potential for a one-sided board wipe. Tangle Spider is nice for its Flash ability. You can save it as a combat trick but it's still a tribal creature, maximizing your deck's design space.
So Ishkanah is going to be a blast to play, but its never going to be more than a casual EDH build - so you should feel free to load it up with cards that will bring out the dark flavor of spider tribal!
These three cards are must-includes. Graverobber Spider and Spider Spawning both have black activation costs, making them a great fit. I love how Spider Spawning's flashback cost is identical to Ishkanah's ability. It's an elegant design nod. Hidden Spider is a goofy enchantment from Urza's Saga - but hey - it's a Hidden Spider, what more do you want. Also the art is way creepy. Shelob, is that you?
Making it Playable.
There is a reason Mark gave Ishkanah an off-color activation cost. It is far easier to build a commander deck around two colors than one. Commander matches go long and you need answers to you opponents permanents if you want to hang in the game. Black is a great color for permanent removal and a great choice to support this build.
Dismember is a Modern all-star and is a staple of targeted removal, eliminating most bomb creatures. Hero's Downfall adds to the removal suite and allows you to target an opponent's planeswalker. Speaking of which... everyone needs at least one planeswalker in an EDH deck, and I love Vraska the Unseen. She is an inexpensive include, and can take out just about anything on the board. I would recommend including all three cards in your build.
That's our preview of spider tribal. If you think Ishkanah could be the EDH Commander for you, get out there and buy some cards before the inevitable "new set price spike". I think this will be a fun deck and its one I am considering building for myself.
If you sit down with this deck, but your friends won't play just "one more game" of EDH quote the immortal words of Aragog, "Go? I think not. My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid on my command, but I cannot deny them fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Goodbye, friend of Hagrid."
It may make them reconsider.