Vorthos Vortex: Enduring the Winter Chill with Isu the Abominable

Justin Fanzo • January 7, 2023

Isu the Abominable | Illustrated by Victor Adame Minguez

Hello, Commander players! I hope that you're all having an excellent start to the new year and that you're all looking forward to seeing what the Commander format has to bring this year as much as I am. In the first installment of Vorthos Vortex of 2023, we'll be celebrating the winter season by crafting a Vorthos EDH deck with Isu the Abominable at the helm.

For those of you who are new to Vorthos Vortex, this is a column that discusses Vorthos--flavorful and aesthetically minded--deckbuilding. The goal of decks designed in this column is to create decks where all, or most, of the cards in the deck fit within a particular aesthetic or theme. The theme could be anything from holidays, to art styles, to Magic: the Gathering lore. A Vorthos deck should leave some kind of aesthetic impression or tell some kind of story to other players. Competitive viability is also taken into consideration, though we build budget-friendly decks of more modest power levels (5 or 6 out of 10) for casual play environments. Today's deck is probably closer to a 7, simply because the snow theme already has many built-in synergies in the card pool, making it much easier to construct a Vorthos deck.  With that, let's jump back into today's deck!

Isu the Abominable is a Bant commander that cares about snow spells, so it won't be hard for us to design a Vorthos decklist for Isu. With the plethora of snow cards available to us in Bant, we will want to be meticulous in our assessment of individual cards, judging each for both their mechanical and Vorthos synergies. Isu has a number of abilities: it allows us to look at the top card of our library at any time, it allows us to play snow lands and cast snow spells from the top of our library, and it allows us to pay one of the Bant colors (blue, white, or green) when a snow permanent enters the battlefield to put a +1/+1 counter on Isu.

Our strategy for this deck is self-explanatory, we want to include as many snow spells as possible so that we can take advantage of Isu's latter two abilities, the second one in particular.  While roughly 80% of the cards in our decklist for Isu have the snow type (including lands), the other 20% do not, and that's okay! We have some non-snow cards in the deck that either fit the aesthetic of the deck, synergize well with the snow cards in our deck, or are Commander staples that I'm including in order to make our deck function properly and remain competitively viable in a mid-tier Commander game.

With that, let's jump into the deck!


Our decklist for Isu the Abominable includes 28 creatures, the vast majority of which are snow creatures. We will want a critical mass of creatures, as they are the bread and butter of this deck. Not only do they beef up Isu with +1/+1 counters, but they are also our central win condition, as our goal is to overrun our opponents with our heavy-hitting snow behemoths. One of the great things about this deck is that it isn't fully reliant upon Isu, and it can still win when Isu is indisposed.

Many of the snow creatures included in the decklist are self-explanatory, but there are several key players and powerhouses that I want to highlight. Avalanche Caller is one of the newer cards on the list, but in its relatively short time out in the wild it has proven to be deceptively powerful. I found it to be particularly powerful on MTG Arena in the Brawl format, and it's effective in Commander, especially as a win condition. What's nice about Avalanche Caller's ability is that it only turns lands into creatures on our turn, so they won't be affected by board wipes on our opponents' turns.

Conifer Wurm is another potential win condition in our deck, as it allows us to pay mana to pump it based on the number of snow permanents we control. Towards the end of the game, it could easily be pumping itself by double digits, allowing us to swing out one- or two-shot kills.

Diamond Faerie is an even more powerful version of Conifer Wurm that not only pumps itself, but all snow creatures we control, offering us a Craterhoof Behemoth kind of effect that is great for ending the game.

Icebreaker Kraken is a deceptively powerful card, as it initially seems to have a prohibitively high mana value of 12, but the card is discounted based on the number of snow lands that we control. Nearly every land in our deck is a snow land, however, so most of the time Icebreaker be receiving a hefty discount! We can play the card when we're ready to close out the match to prevent our opponents from untapping their artifacts and creatures on their next turn, then swing out when our opponents are vulnerable.

I also want to highlight Moritte of the Frost, which enters the battlefield as a copy of any permanent we control; specifically, I wanted to point out that it can become a copy of any permanent we control, which means that we are not limited to copying our creatures. We can also copy our enchantments, artifacts, or even lands, granting us a high degree of flexibility. However, Moritte does enter as a legendary permanent, so we cannot target any of our other legendary permanents, as the legendary rule would require us to sacrifice one of the copies.

Next, I want to bring attention to the two Ohrans: Ohran Frostfang and Ohran Viper. Ohran Viper lets us draw a card when it deals combat damage to a player, and Ohran Frostfang lets us draw a card when any of our creatures deals combat damage to a player. Both of them are important card draw engines, given that our plan will be to attack a lot.

Rimefeather Owl lets us place ice counters on permanents, which turns them into snow permanents. While this will help in buffing up Rimefeather Owl itself, as its power and toughness are equal to the number of snow permanents we control, it will also help in buffing up other creatures, such as Abominable Treefolk, Conifer Wurm, and Spirit of the Aldergard. It will also help in activating Marit Lage's Slumber (more info in the enchantments section).

Finally, I want to highlight Storvald, Frost Giant Jarl. While not a snow creature, Storvald is a frost giant, making him fit the Vorthos of our deck. This drawback can easily be mitigated with Rimefeather Owl's ability, but even without the type synergy, Storvald proves to be immensely useful in this deck. First of all, he will protect all of our creatures by giving them all ward 3, making it much more difficult for our opponents to target them with spells and abilities. Perhaps most useful of all is his second ability, which lets us turn any creature into our choice of a 1/1 or 7/7. That flexibility lets us choose to either buff one of our own creatures--such as one of our creatures that gets +X/+X for all of the snow permanents we control, as the abilities will stack!--or nerf one of our opponents' creatures. The nerf ability will be particularly important when we are trying to swing out to win the game, as doing so can be difficult when our opponents have their own heavy hitters defending them.

Artifacts and Enchantments

The artifact inclusions for this deck are self-explanatory, so I won't be discussing them here. There are a few enchantments that I do want to go over, however.

Winter's Rest keeps one of our opponent's creatures tapped permanently, which isn't only useful in preventing a creature from attacking, but it also prevents players from activating tapped abilities (e.g., Krenko, Mob Boss, Shorikai, Genesis Engine, etc.).

For those of you who read the Mayael the Anima edition of Vorthos Vortex, you will already be familiar with Snowblind, but for those of you who aren't familiar, it gives the enchanted creature -X/-X when it attacks, where "X" is equal to the number of snow lands we control. In our deck, this ability will effectively defang most creatures. The effect only kicks in when the creature attacks, so it's not as powerful as some other abilities, but the card synergizes incredibly well with our deck's Vorthos and will still be effective in putting our opponents on the defensive.

Finally, I want to highlight Marit Lage's Slumber. This enchantment's first ability is rather modest, allowing us to scry when snow permanents enter the battlefield. The second ability is why we are including it in our deck, however. Its second ability lets us sacrifice it when we control 10 snow permanents (which includes lands) to create a 20/20 Avatar creature token with indestructible and flying. It won't be too hard for us to fulfill the prerequisite to activate this card's ability, and we should be able to activate it by turn six or seven of most games.

Instants and Sorceries

For instants and sorceries, I first want to highlight three that have the snow supertype, meaning that they will be seen by abilities such as Isu's and Scrying Sheets'. Those cards are Graven Lore, Blessing of Frost, and Blizzard Brawl. In our deck, Graven Lore will usually scry for 5 and then let us draw 2, which is excellent value for 5 mana.

There are a number of instants and sorceries that don't have the snow supertype, but do have Vorthos synergy with our deck and provide excellent utility. Those cards include Icy Blast, Winter's Chill, Snap, Glacial Revelation, and Into the North.

I want to quickly explain how Winter's Chill works, as its wording can be a bit confusing. The spell lets us destroy X target attacking creatures unless our opponent pays either 1 or 2 for each creature targeted by the spell. If they pay 1 for a creature, the creature neither deals damage nor takes damage, essentially creating a Fog effect. If they pay 2, the effect is ignored entirely. Generally speaking, you want to wait until your opponent is tapped out or close to tapped out so that they cannot pay the protection costs against the spell.


Most of the lands in our deck, while having the snow supertype, don't have abilities. There are two lands with unique abilities, however, that I would like to discuss. The first is Scrying Sheets, which allows us to pay 2 mana and tap it to look at the top card of our library, and if it's snow, put it into our hand. Remember that the card must have the "snow" supertype in order to be seen by this ability, but about 80% of the cards in our deck do have that type, so more often than not, this ability will be a two-mana draw. That's an excellent value for card draw on a land!

The other land that I want to discuss is Faceless Haven, which can be turned into a 4/3 land creature with all types by paying snow mana. The thing that I want to highlight is that the card will count as a snow permanent whether it is a land or a creature, so don't worry about your snow permanent count changing whenever the ability activates (the card text notes that it remains a snow land even when it's a creature).

Final Thoughts

That will wrap up our first Vorthos Vortex of 2023. I hope you found this deck brew fun and interesting. If you or a friend are new to Magic: the Gathering or EDH and you want to brew a Vorthos deck, Isu is a great first deck to build (if you want to build something from scratch), as the card synergies are simple and easy to understand.

Thank you again for reading Vorthos Vortex. I'll be back in a few weeks with another exciting Vorthos brew. I wish you all an excellent 2023!

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

I'm an avid gamer with a passion for game design and both critical and creative writing. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering for over 15 years, and I've been playing the Commander format since its official adoption by Wizards of the Coast in 2011. My articles focus on vorthos deck building, designing decks for overlooked commanders, and designing commander cubes.