Often disregarded as a novelty tribe, squirrels were once the scourge of Magic.
A chittering, chattering, acorn-obsessed rodent horde that dominated the Standard (Type 2) of 2002. But in spite of their immense power, Wizards of the Coast saw their prevalence in competitive play as embarrassing, a cutesy accident that flew in the face of the fantasy atmosphere they were trying to create. Senior creative designer Doug Beyer said they were “hard to make cool.”
While that attitude has largely relegated them to the supplementary silver border sets for almost two decades, here we are in 2021 where the coolest (and strongest) commander from Modern Horizons 2 is far and away Chatterfang, Squirrel General.
The clear winner of last week’s poll, I don’t think there’s any question the tribe has more devotees than detractors. And why not? If rats, cats, and bats are suitably fearsome and fantastical enough to appear across multiple planes despite the banality of their real-world analogues, what makes squirrels any different? Lead designer Mark Rosewater isn’t wrong when he says “squirrels are just rats with better PR!”
As I mentioned last week, it’s extremely difficult to build this deck in a way that isn’t busted, so we’re going to lean into that and give Chatterfang a push with some high power Green and Black staples. This deck isn’t cEDH (competitive Commander) but with a proactive beatdown plan, multiple infinite combos and a healthy interaction suite, you can go toe-to-toe with anybody at a high power table. Our plan is to develop a strong board presence in the early game and then begin looking for a game-ending pump effect or one of our myriad combos.
So, what makes Chatterfang so strong, and how do we take advantage of the General’s abilities? At 3 mana, Chatterfang is already a fast commander, but we want him in play on turn 2 as often as possible, so we run a full suite of mana dorks to guarantee it.
First up is Chatterfang’s Forestwalk. While this is the least powerful line of text on the card, it still opens up the possibility for commander damage wins in the event of a longer game or an OTK with the right pump effects. It won’t come up frequently, but the potential is there and it’s always nice to have. It also lets us run cheap card advantage in the form of Keen Sense, an easy way to guarantee an extra card every turn. Forestwalk is conditional, but with Green being the most popular colour in the format, we’re unlikely to find a table where nobody has a Forest in play. In the event we do, Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth has us covered, a new Urborg effect that can also help us fix our mana for Green heavy spells.
Far more potent is Chatterfang’s second ability, a pseudo-Doubling Season effect that creates a 1/1 squirrel token whenever you would make another token. Read that closely. You don’t make a squirrel token instead of another token, you make a squirrel token in addition to every token you would have made to begin with. This really turns the tribal potential of Chatterfang to 11, turning cards like Deep Forest Hermit into a burst of EIGHT squirrel tokens. Deranged Hermit is also perfect for this, but reserved list cards can be hard to obtain, so the former is fine by itself.
Likewise, smaller squirrel producers like Squirrel Nest and the brand new Chitterspitter are suddenly twice as powerful. It’s not hard to see how easily you can swamp a board with squirrels once you have just Chatterfang and any of the above token sources, but the beauty of the effect is that it doesn’t care what type of tokens are being made, you’ll always be rewarded with bushy-tailed rodents.
This allows us to delve into classics like Blitterblossom and Avenger of Zendikar, giving squirrel synergy to cards that are already powerful in their own right and wouldn’t otherwise have them. You’ll see the decklist has a dozen efficient sources of tokens, as we just get so much more out of these cards than other decks do.
Taking advantage of these tokens once we have them is trivial. Other than being chump blockers and fodder for Chatterfang’s activated ability, we have plenty of ways to turn our squirrels into massive beaters or card draw. When we’re ready to puff up our tails, we look to our low cost anthems like the brand new Squirrel Sovereign, and Sylvan Anthem. Taking it a little further, we also have Beastmaster’s Ascension, and Craterhoof Behemoth, not to mention one of my favourite tribal support cards ever, Coat of Arms – but more on that later.
As for card draw, we are spoiled for choice. Possibly the best squirrel in the deck and Chatterfang’s right hand man (at least in my headcanon), Toski, Bearer of Secrets is an absolute monster of card advantage. Turning every single one of our creatures into a potential draw is already perfect for a token strategy, but being uncounterable and indestructible adds so much resilience and inevitability to the little critter.
We’re also making room for Driven // Despair and Ohran Frostfang for the sake of redundancy, with the former also being a soft-wincon later in the game when we can leave all of our opponents hellbent in one fell swoop. One of my favourite things about these effects is that they stack with each other, and you can find yourself in a spot where a single squirrel is drawing two or more cards at once.
In order to keep our board safe and our combos secure, we have the two best pseudo counters green has access to: Autumn’s Veil and Veil of Summer. Perfect for pushing through a spell when your opponent is going hard on counters or targeted removal, all you need is a single Green mana. Neither will protect us from a boardwipe, but that’s where old faithful Heroic Intervention comes in.
As we’re building with power in mind, we need high power staples like Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Worldly Tutor, and Natural Order. Feel free to tweak the amount of tutors in accordance with the expected power of your playgroup, but Chatterfang is so powerful that I recommend just going all out. Indeed, it isn’t the tutors that make this deck so strong but the targets, the core that makes it so powerful and resilient.
Believe it or not, everything we’ve just gone over is our Plan B. Tokens and doublers are powerful in their own right, and Chatterfang’s third ability allows us to convert any stray token into removal (part of the reason we run so little creature interaction) but at the end of the day, it’s how Chatterfang interacts with Pitiless Plunderer that makes this deck so utterly ridiculous.
Pitiless Plunderer is far and away the most powerful card in our entire deck. Nothing else comes close. From the moment we have Chatterfang and a single other squirrel in play, if we can resolve a Plunderer we put ourselves in a situation where victory is all but guaranteed.
When we sacrifice our squirrel to Chatterfang, Pitiless Plunderer will reward us with two things: a treasure and a squirrel. This means we’ve ended up exactly where we started, with the only difference being that one creature on the battlefield now has +1/-1. You can rinse and repeat as many times as you choose, effectively reducing the toughness of every opposing creature to 0. With two cards, you’ve just asymmetrically wiped the board. Not even the Indestructible will survive!
From this moment on, any creature your opponents play can be squirrel bombed at instant speed. Short of something that stops you from targeting, you now have complete dominion over the table. And somehow, this isn’t even the strongest thing you can do with the combo. Let’s say you start with two other squirrels in play. By activating Chatterfang, you’ll spend one mana to sacrifice two creatures, and you’ll receive two creatures in return, and two treasures. With a net gain of one mana with each repetition, you’ll not only wipe the board, you’ll generate infinite mana.
With infinite mana, you can dump everything you have in your hand onto the table, or just win on the spot with a Finale of Devastation for an arbitrarily large X. And still, there’s more. If you throw Skullclamp into the mix and use its (1) activated ability on any x/1 creature, you’ll net a squirrel and a treasure to pay for the equip cost again. Congratulations, you’ve just drawn your entire deck. Proceed to create infinite mana, and then put Zulaport Cutthroat or Blood Artist and repeat the above tricks to drain the entire table.
And if your opponents are wise to your tricks, packing plenty of removal and enough counterspells to ensure Plunderer never sees the light of day? Pivot to the backup plan of freshly printed Scurry Oak and combo mainstay Ivy Lane Denizen. Once these two creatures are in play, all we need to do is trigger Ivy or place a counter on Scurry. The easiest way to do this is by playing another creature, or just having Ivy on the field, playing Scurry Oak, and using Ivy’s trigger to place a counter on Oak. Immediately, the Oak will create a squirrel, Ivy will place a counter on Oak, and another squirrel will be created.
With minimal setup and relatively cheap creatures, you’ve just created infinite squirrels. The moment they lose summoning sickness, you’ll win the game. One of the best things about this combo is that none of the cards involved are dead by themselves, and you don’t even need your commander in play to execute it. We even have backup redundancy in the form of Coat of Arms, so long as we begin the chain with a squirrel already in play and keep Scurry Oak as a 1/2. Each squirrel after the first will be larger than the last, triggering the Oak with every repetition.
Our combo suite is concluded by the combination of Squirrel Nest and the hard to get but ludicrously powerful Earthcraft. As long as you enchant a basic land with Nest, you can create a token and use the Earthcraft trigger to untap the very same land. This combo is powerful enough that it has been banned in Legacy since it was called Type 1.5. The beauty of the aforementioned combos are that none of the pieces are particularly expensive or difficult to find, something that can’t be said for the Earthcraft combo. But the nice thing about a Chatterfang deck is that Squirrel Nest is perfectly playable in its own right, so feel free to substitute Earthcraft with a pet card or an additional squirrel synergy piece.
You’ll notice that despite the pushed nature of the deck, I’ve omitted some super powerful staples like Imperial Seal, Gaea’s Cradle, and the typical fast mana suite to give the deck some semblance of affordability. Hopefully the list as it stands will give you a baseline to work from and power up and power down according to your own needs. If you balk at the cost of a deck like this, I encourage you to make every budget concession that you need to, as the core of the deck – Plunderer, Scurry Oak, Skullclamp, Ivy Lane Denizen – is both affordable and powerful enough in its own right.
If I’ve done anything with this deck tech, I’d like to think I’ve done my best to prove that squirrels are in fact very cool. They’re an eye-catching tribe that most tables won’t have seen, and there’s a giddy little thrill that comes from taking on hordes of zombies, scores of legendary warriors, and phyrexian horrors with fluffy little wide-eyed animals. If you end up building this deck or you have any questions about how to tweak it to your own needs, please reach out to me on Twitter.
Next week in Jake’s Takes, we’ll be looking at Lonis, Cryptozoologist or Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar depending on which one wins the poll. If Lonis wins we’ll take a look at a powerful creature/clue deck, but if Asmorano takes the cake we’ll be building a just-for-fun culinary themed deck with a focus on flavour, food, and feasts.
Jake FitzSimons is a certified Magic tragic. He keeps one land hands, forgets at least half of his Rhystic Study triggers, and names “Pot of Greed” with Demonic Consultation. He is at his happiest flipping for lethal with Yuriko. You can follow him @Jake_FitzSimons.