I wrote an article around this time a year ago about how Chainer, Dementia Master, is among the best of the best when it comes to reanimator commanders within Magic: The Gathering. This was written on a website called "Commander Fight Club", where players could make content about the Commander format (the website has yet to take off or update much since the last article was written, which was not long after my article). It was essentially the most in-depth I'd ever taken a deck tech, and the tech I am most passionate about having written to this day. It's a bit dated when you consider the exact configuration of the deck nowadays, but it's still pretty valid overall. If you want to follow along, the updated decklist can be found here. Enjoy!
A THRENODY FOR THE VICTIMS OF DEMENTIA
BY : JOSH NELSON
Commander is a format I've been playing since 2011, with different decks of varying levels of success. From Zur the Enchanter to Norin the Wary, my decks have done differently in terms of garnering wins. But none so much have scratched the level of infamy and terror that my favorite commander has done for me. The commander: Chainer, Dementia Master.
Chainer, Dementia Master is a 3/3 for 3BB, with – at first glance – a small, niche anthem (one that doesn't even affect himself), a recursive ability with a large cost, and a horrendous downside if not worked around. However, he is capable of working alongside such devastating components of play that he has been notorious among my friends and colleagues. This article aims to express how I utilize my Chainer deck to its fullest extent and potential. It's sort of something I nearly regret doing – it feels like I'm a magician (which of course, I am, playing this game!), revealing a shocking secret to a series of tricks meant to evade the public eye – but it's worth it in the end, if, when all it said and done, I've attracted a few players to Chainer as a commander.
If you have 3-4 lands and at least 1-2 things to play with just that, you've got a workable hand.
(Note for November 2019: The above statement isn't quite enough. You need something to do. I have found a pressing need to have a plan – even if three turns is a long time, you need to not get hated out right away. Innocuous will win games late, more often than aggression wins early.)
Optimally you shouldn't even need to do this but your very first tutor is either for lands (worst case scenario Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, better case Cabal Coffers or Thespian's Stage), or Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed. He's the lynchpin of your ideal game.
My usual course of action goes something like this:
Tutor for XD (Note for November 2019: "XD" here and hereafter refers to Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed), cast XD, sacrifice XD for a tutor, tutor for a big sorcery, resurrect XD with Chainer, cast the big sorcery you've tutored up, sac XD to recur the big sorcery, resurrect XD with Chainer, and repeat the loop of big sorcery and XD recursion as much as possible or necessary.
Torment of Hailfire is my weapon of choice, but Temporal Extortion does a good job of making your opponents feel the heat sooner, especially if you don't want to Hailfire them to death just yet. (Note for November 2019: I want to get myself an Exsanguinate but I don't know what to cut… Except for Temporal Extortion, which is honestly a great card.)
Additionally, discard effects really help your game by denying opponents of resources most of the time. This doesn't really work against reanimator strategies but some playgroups don't always profess to have a lot of that (other than myself – maybe that's a conceit, I'll admit, but it's often true). Nonetheless, choose your discard targets carefully. (Note for November 2019: There isn't much discard in the deck anymore with the cut of Sadistic Hypnotist, but Hypnotic Specter still does the job just fine.)
With regards to keeping Chainer safely in line, with respect to his one glaring downside (when he leaves play, Nightmares get exiled, which is obviously a bad thing), before you get him out and ready to mingle you need a sac outlet handy. two if you're feeling cautious, or three if you're feeling like counters are going to happen. Phyrexian Altar, Ashnod's Altar, and Altar of Dementia all work to this end, and each of these serve dual purpose (as sac outlets certainly ought to). Ashnod's Altar is a veritable combo piece (see Wurmcoil Engine, plus Nim Deathmantle, plus this!), Phyrexian Altar better facilitates Chainer's mana-hungry ability, and Altar of Dementia is a wincon in its own right (is your opponent playing original Eldrazi Titans? If so, resurrect it with Chainer in response to its own shuffle ability, then proceed.).
If you're feeling truly needy for board control, you have a third purpose in your sac outlets: Grave Pact and its ilk (Dictate of Erebos and Butcher of Malakir) make having creatures something hard to maintain for your foes, all the while filling their graves up for your own agenda, if that's what you're into. Another notable sacrifice outlets is Viscera Seer. Sscrying can be useful and plus it's a one-mana sac outlet, which is fantastic. (Note for November 2019: Grave Pact itself has been cut from the deck.)
Mana is vital here. I play doublers like Crypt Ghast and Nirkana Revenant to double my output (and I hardly bother with Extort via Ghast when I have other business to make happen first – keep this in mind!). Your land base also aims to reflect this need – Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Cabal Coffers, Ancient Tomb, and a Thespian's Stage to copy what you need to copy (most always the Coffers, to be honest) all do what is needed to get Chainer's fix of mana.
Furthermore, you're paying almost as much life as mana in this deck via cards like Necropotence, Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Doom Whisperer, and Ancient Tomb to a differing degree (you don't actually pay life into the Tomb, after all) each mean you need lifegain and other ways to capitalize on this aspect. Cards like Sangromancer are great for this deck since you'll be killing things and having cards discarded all the while, and since you gain 3 life a pop you practically assure yourself an effectively-"free" use of Chainer's ability each time, mana notwithstanding. A standard recursive loop of either Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Kokusho, the Evening Star will do that for you – with Chainer doing the work, Kokusho nets you 2 life minimum each time you loop out, and Gray Merchant nets you 1 life minimum each time you loop in. With more opponents this is increased (plus they all lose life in the process – a win-win!), not to mention with more black devotion on Gray Merchant's part.
When the gameplay lacks something, Chainer has what black decks arguably do best at his disposal – tutor effects. Between a Xiahou Dun loop of Demonic Tutor, Razaketh doing his thing, Vampiric Tutor, Beseech the Queen, Rune-Scarred Demon, and Mausoleum Secrets, there's no lack of good ways to get needed pieces of your win conditions, unless you are totally cornered from the beginning. Additionally, you have Dimir House Guard handy to transmute into any and all 4-drops you need. Want or need a board wipe? Transmute into Damnation or Nevinyrral's Disk. Need ramp? Solemn Simulacrum for the loop later. Need to start tutoring all of the above? Xiahou Dun! Xiahou Dun costs 4 mana! He is the best target for all applicable tutor effects.
Chainer, Dementia Master is meant to be your opponents' worst nightmare (forgive the pun – it had to be used somewhere!). He can take everything and anything he needs in order to massacre the opposition. He isn't always necessary to cast either, by the way, but when he sees the battlefield, he is assured to have capabilities that can make the deck infamous in your playgroup.