Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mid- Week Update: March 31

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Mid-week update... LETS GET IT

This week, Carlos up up in here with yet another Arcane Laboratory, this week doing the best colour... RED, with Zo-Zu the Punisher. This is yet another 'pressure deck' in the same vein as Adam and I have been working on over the last little while and chirping about on the podcast. This is perhaps one of the most disruptive and evil versions yet, since it features land destruction (GASP!), something Commander players are apparently allergic to. Take your Benadryl and give it a read anyway; you just might be convinced to come over to the dark side of the LD debate (as a plus, on the dark side, Red isn't terrible!).

Just in case this article isn't enough Carlos for you, he also did a YouTube deck primer on his Yomiji, Who Bars the Way deck from Magic Online. The video is embedded below.

But we're not finished here. As a new... THING... in the mid-week update, we're now linking to my fam whenever they update. In case you're too lazy to RSS them, forget they have sites, or maybe have never checked out our links on the left, this gives you a chance to put their work in the scope. So have a look at these if you're burned through everything we posted already:

Arcane Laboratory 009 – Kill it with Fire!
So, in my ongoing foray into mono-colored theme-decks, I’m looking at Red this week. Partly because the podcast about pressure decks went up recently, and partly because I want nothing to do with building a blue deck just yet. I’ve still got absolutely nothing worth building in that color as of yet; everything that I try to build does stupid, unfun, broken things.

But red is a lot of fun to play. You get to burn EVERYTHING, and go all in on a certain gameplan, even a certain play. I’ve found that when building red decks, it’s often best to pick a game plan, and to pursue that particular game plan as efficiently and consistently as possible. Unless you’re trying for mono-red control, forget all your value engines, forget your utility. Obviously, you’ve got to run SOME answers, but you want them to serve the additional purpose of getting your opponent dead, Steel Hellkite being one of the best examples of this.

That’s sort of how I approach building a red deck. You pick a theme, and pursue it almost single-mindedly until you run out of cards that fit the theme (It’ll happen, trust me). Then you start looking for another theme, the powerful cards that fit that theme, and then some cards that sort of bridge the two. You’re basically trying to find two plans that mesh reasonably well, since there frequently just aren’t enough cards to do ONE thing and one thing only.

With that reasonably brief explanation of my approach on red decks, let’s take a quick look at what generals are available, both the over- and under-played:

Akroma, Angel of Fury – Mono Red Control
Ashling, the Pilgrim – Mono Red Control
Godo, Bandit Warlord – Voltron
Heartless Hidestugu – Combo
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker – Combo/Control
Norin, the Wary – Chaos!

So, from this we can see that even in the most aggro color in the game, people are trying to play the two-for-one game. Play all the Starstorms and Earthquakes you want, your answers are still more expensive and less efficient than most of the other colors, even white. There aren’t even good ways to draw cards in this color. I’ll be honest; I just don’t understand the attempts at making this a control color. There is almost NOTHING this color offers to control decks that other colors don’t do better.

Kiki-Jiki and Akroma are the two exceptions, as far as I’m concerned, because the one is a card advantage engine that also allows for combo finish, which is even tutorable if you’re running a goblin theme. Rakroma is just a really resilient win condition that is easy to cheat into play when floating mana for post-obliterate shenanigans. Godo is probably the most interesting of these, but also has the potential to be the most linear. Norin, while hilarious, has a tendency to devolve into potentially fun-wrecking chaos rather than a cohesive deck.

Here are some guys that haven’t been getting much love that could be fun to build around:

Adamaro, First to Desire
Zo-Zu, the Punisher
Zirilan of the Claw
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Rakka Mar
Kumano, Master Yamabushi

To start this off, I’ve built an Adamaro slight deck. I ran all the howling mines, all the mana denial, all the Ebony Owl Netsukes, and anything even remotely resembling acceleration and efficient burn. The deck was probably 10-15 cards off of being “good,” and got retired after I played my entire hand on turn 1 and killed the table by turn 6. Still, if there are blue players who like Reliquary Towers and drawing infinite cards, this is a reasonable way to punish them. Cast Adamaro on turn 2 as frequently as possible and try to kill as many players as possible before you get blown out by REAL cards.

Zo-Zu, the Punisher has been something I’ve been thinking about for awhile as a more resilient version of the Adamaro deck. You can focus on small-scale mana denial as opposed to Obliterates, force people to play more lands into your Zo-Zu. If they don’t have enough lands or resources, they can’t really kill him, and the damage adds up pretty quickly. It’s also a reasonable way to punish ramp decks, though I’m pretty sure they’re more than happy to pay 4 life to cast their Skyshroud Claim.

Zirilan…would be awesome if you could play dragons in other colors. As it stands, he’s just a bad Scion of the Ur-Dragon. Still, he’s a tutor and a beater, sets up recursion engines, and became infinitely better with Steel Hellkite being a thing. Be sure to run your Reito Lantern to recycle all the good dragons!

I’m actually shocked that I haven’t seen someone build the Squee deck yet. It seems like something that would be really, really fun to play, since there’s all kinds of cool tricks you could do with him. Skullclamp for one. Knollspine Invocation for another. Or just play Squee Voltron because you can. Hilarious? I think so.

Rakka Mar is another solid card that I’m shocked hasn’t seen more play. This card has been good enough for Cube at one point or another, and has the potential to get out of hand very quickly. Have people forgotten that there are ways to untap Red generals too, not just the blue ones? Thornbite Staff + removal is a good one. Still, making 3/1’s every turn is nothing to scoff at, especially when you can tutor up a Skullclamp to make up for your abysmal card drawing capabilities.

Kumano, Master Yamabushi is another guy that I’m surprised hasn’t seen more play. He seems like a great place to start off a red control deck. He’s a masticore that Exiles the creatures it kills, ending all recursion tricks right then and there, AND it can go to the face! Ignoring the fact that this was part of my favorite block combo deck, the guy is really powerful. Just give him Deathtouch and go to town!

My favorite of these is Zo-Zu, because it’s such a different approach to the game. The rest might do something interesting, but they’re still approaching the game the same way that other colors do, trying to tutor up your best cards and grind out an advantage over the course of a moderately long game. Zo-Zu wants to make it as hard as possible for people to get into the mid to late game alive, which is a totally different approach to the format, and is sure to be more interesting than yet-another-midrange deck.

My approach to Zo-Zu is to make it as painful as possible for people to play lands, then find as many ways as possible to keep people off of their mana, and THEN find as many ways to punish people for failing to play spells anyway. This means I’m playing as many permanent-based burn effects as possible, things like Mana Barbs and Ankh of Mishra, that will sit on the table and deal multiple points of damage to players over several turns. Let’s see how this turns out:

Desperate Ritual
Rite of Flame
Pyretic Ritual
Simian Spirit Guide

Mox Opal
Chrome Mox
Mox Diamond
Lotus petal
Coldsteel heart
Everflowing Chalice
Fire Diamond
Sol Ring
Mind Stone
Grim Monolith
Mana Vault
Mana Crypt

So, to be honest, I’ve never built a physical copy of a deck that started with Sol Ring/Mana Crypt, because I’m pretty opposed to that kind of acceleration. It tends to make games pretty one-sided. However, this deck is guaranteed to be playing a 3v1 game, so you NEED the acceleration to get out permanent-based burn to start whittling away at life totals. You have to get as much damage as possible in as quickly as possible if you’re going to deal 120 damage or so to every player before they get to blow you out.

Some of the artifact mana is there to synergize with your land destruction. All the land destruction that hits multiple players is also going to hit you, so your artifact mana is a concession to the fact that your own lands aren’t going to be around very long, so you’re going to want multiple pieces of artifact mana in play as frequently as possible so you can keep the pressure on.

Sulfuric Vortex
Ankh of Mishra
Sculpting Steel
Dingus Egg
Citadel of Pain
Power Surge
Furnace of Wrath
Gratuitous Violence

Flame Rift
Price of Progress

Koth of the Hammer
Hidestugu’s Second Rite
Quest for Pure Flame
Greater Gargadon

Wild Ricochet

The first set of cards here is your permanent-based burn. This stuff will sit on the table dealing 8+ points of damage to each player over the course of a few turns. Sulfuric Vortex is absolutely stellar, since it sits on the board pinging people, but also stops them from gaining large amounts of life to get out of burn range. Ankh of Mishra is just another copy of Zo-Zu, and Dingus Egg is an awesome complement to your land destruction plan. Sculpting Steel wants to copy either Egg or Ankh, but is also happy to copy one of your artifact mana sources or disruption artifacts. Furnace of Rath and Repercussion are interesting ways to scale up your burn, and give you a much better chance of actually dealing enough damage to be relevant.

The rest of your burn either punish people for playing spells, or punish them for NOT playing spells. I’ve heard Manabarbs called “the anti-Commander” card, and frequently get grief for it being against the spirit of the format, but it’s really good at doing what you want to do: punish people for playing slower, more expensive spells. Citadel of Pain and Power Surge are either awesome or terrible depending on what kinds of people you play with. If you play with people who like instant speed answers, or slow decks, then the cards are SO good, because they’re going to deal quite a bit of damage. The cards are terrible against decks that tap out on their own turn, especially with mana burn gone. Impatience and Antagonism are also there to punish people who like to play slower, typically blue-based decks that don’t necessarily want to cast spells on their turn or attack with creatures unless they’re already winning.

The second set of cards just contains a couple of efficient burn spells that can really get people. Flame Rift gets you 12ish damage to other players for just 2 mana. Slagstorm is hilarious with Repercussion, and is solid just as a burn spell. Earthquake is AWESOME reach that can kill multiple players from out of nowhere. It’s unfortunate that you’re never going to be able to cast it for as much as, say, an Ashling deck since you’re typically going to destroy a few lands multiple times per game. Price of Progress is another card who’s power is completely dependent on the metagame. This deck doesn’t play many non-basics, and doesn’t care much about its life total. The same can’t be said for many decks, and so the card can be incredibly powerful against budget five-color or three-color decks.

The next set of cards are just some bombs I used to round out the deck. Hostility gives you wins out of nowhere. With Hostility and Zo-Zu in play, if everyone plays a land and passes, you’ve got 6 3/1s with haste, which seems really powerful. It can also make people hold back lands or spells when you’ve got different sources of damage on the board. Hostility single-handedly changes your burn from annoying to game-winning. Koth is another card that’s fine to just run out and beat down with, but it also ramps you up to drop multiple pieces of burn/disruption, and is VERY rarely a win condition unto itself.

Hidestugu’s Second Rite is one of those hilarious cards that you’re obligated to play. I keep a tally on the card of how many people I’ve killed with it (five, at the moment). Quest for Pure Flame is something I’m currently testing. It seems like it could be AWESOME in some situations, combined with any burn spell, or just to get a couple extra points in on a crucial turn. It’ll be pretty hit or miss, but the hits will make it worth it. Greater Gargadon is something I haven’t actually had the chance to cast yet. I’ve suspended it, but the game is either over, or I’m dead by turn 10, so Gargadon never became relevant, but it seems really good backed by mana denial.

Wild Ricochet and Reverberate are good at copying land denial, or the big spells that people will find ways to cast. When you get to Reverberate a Harmonize, it’s exciting for you, since you have no “real” card draw of your own. These are effects that every red deck should pack a few copies of. Since other colors are capable of outclassing your sorceries, you might as well start copying/stealing theirs, right?

Mana Disruption
Blood Moon
Magus of the Moon

Crack the earth

Destructive Force
Devastating Dreams
Thoughts of Ruin
Tectonic Break
Keldon Firebombers

Burning Sands
Price of Glory
Stoneshaker Shaman
Storm Cauldron
Mine Layer

Here is the mana denial suite. The Blood Moon and Magus are awesome against multicolored mana bases. People are REALLY greedy with their mana bases, and this is really good at punishing them while you get your disruption set up. The second set of cards are a little more interesting. Crack the Earth and Tremble are absolutely awesome on turns 1-4 or so, and pretty awful after that unless you’ve got Dingus Egg up. The other disruption scales up over the course of the game though, because they can destroy multiple lands at any point in the game. The reason I picked these particular spells are because they’re more like disruption than something like Obliterate, which is seen as non-interactive. You’ve got multiple ways to disrupt people who are just trying to get to 5 or more mana to cast spells that are more powerful than yours.

Burning Sands is one of the most powerful cards in your deck, creatures die all the time, and now it makes it harder for them to play more creatures. This buys you infinite time to keep burning them out. Price of Glory is yet another card that’s really good against blue-based decks. Stoneshaker Shaman is yet another way to punish decks that don’t use their mana efficiently. Smokestack and Storm Cauldron make it really difficult to get enough lands on the table to do anything relevant. I’m surprised that Mine Layer sees so little play, since it basically wins the game if it goes unanswered for a few turns. Worst case it guarantees that it’ll trade with a removal spell so you won’t have to deal with another one later. Best case, it shuts down the mana hungry decks all on its own. Seems fair.

Card Drawing and Tutors
Wheel of Fortune
Chandra Ablaze
Knollspine Dragon


Godo, Bandit Warlord
Darksteel Plate
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Fire and Ice

The role of these cards is to give you some power to win in the mid to late game. The first three are there exclusively to refill your hand and find spells that are still relevant at that point in the game. Chandra has the absurd upside of casting all your land destruction again sometimes. This has only ever happened once, but it was AWESOME.  Gamble is a kind of tutor. It’s never the best card in your deck, but it’s the best red can do. You’re sort of obligated to run it just to increase the consistency of your red deck.

The Godo package does a lot of work here, and is really, really powerful. Godo on his own is a really, really fast clock if it picks up a sword. It’s also one of very few tutors in Red, and gets one of the best kinds of permanents in the format. Darksteel Plate is there to make sure they can’t get rid of Zo-Zu or Steel Hellkite, which is really, really good. Sword of Fire and Ice is more damage and cards, which is nice when you’re trying to win as quickly as possible by expending your card aggressively. I don’t usually like Sword of Fire and Ice in most decks; I do think that it’s way over-valued in this format, but I really like it in this particular deck. Sword of Feast and Famine, on the other hand, is one of the best cards in Mirrodin Besieged for this format. Discard is fine, but in a big mana format, doubling up your lands is absurdly powerful, and especially here, where you want to run out as many sources of damage as quickly as possible.

Steel Hellkite
Crucible of Worlds

These cards are just really powerful ways to lock down a game or try to get back in it. Crucible plus Wasteland is always powerful when you’re trying to keep other players on the back foot, especially backed up by additional mana denial, and Steel Hellkite is one of the red deck’s few answers to non-artifact, non-land permanents. Burn isn’t the best answer to creatures, and red has no good way to deal with Enchantments or anything similar. These give you a little bit of utility and late game plan, which is always a good thing to have, even if you’re playing a more beat-down style of deck.

Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors

Strip Mine
Tectonic Edge

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Barbarian Ring
Spinerock Knoll

1 Mishra’s Factory
1 Mutavault
1 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 Ghitu Encampment

18 Mountain

The lands, I feel, are pretty straightforward. Ramp, burn, beatdown. The more interesting part is the land COUNT. There are only 32 lands in this deck, which is really, really low. I typically advocate between 37 and 40 for most decks that focus on 3-6 drops. The thing is, this deck wants as many of its cards to DO things as possible, and it’s got tons of artifact mana to take the place of some of its lands, so I think the lower land count is justifiable. That said, I’ve gotten blown out by keeping 2 land hands and never seeing a third more often with this deck than with any other constructed deck I’ve ever played, so I could definitely see cutting some of the cards that are only good against slow, clunky control decks for a few more mountains, or maybe just some card selection like Sensei’s Divining Top and Crystal Ball or some such.

So, the gameplan of the deck is pretty straightforward, and can be broken down into four simple steps:
  1. Drop Zo-Zu or some other peramanent-based source of damage.
  2. Disrupt their mana
  3. Try to draw cards when you’re out of gas.
  4. Repeat until everyone is dead.

So that’s that deck. This is definitely one of my more competitive decks, and it only gets broken out when I’m feeling particularly vindictive about the greedy decks that some people are playing and getting away with. Some people like playing a game where they’re under pressure from the first turn or two, and some people want to play slower games with more dragons and swingy sorceries, and that’s something you’ve got to be aware of with this style of deck; it CAN ruin the game for some people because of how it approaches the game.

That said, I keep saying this deck is good at punishing “greedy” decks, and I’d like to take an opportunity to clarify that. Commander as a format encourages greedy play and deckbuilding. By greedy deckbuilding, I mean having low land counts, high mana curves, and tons of heavy color requirements. You’re assuming that no one’s going to punish you for doing that, when really sometimes it just takes is a strip mine to shut your entire deck down because it’s putting a lot of stress on its mana.

That’s all well and good when everyone rages that land destruction is so unfair, but really, it’s unfair BECAUSE people expect to be able to hardcast the Emrakuls and Progeneti of the format. If you run a few more lands, cut a few heavily colored spells, trim the top of your curve a little, then land destruction isn’t NEARLY as backbreaking, and it becomes a fair and necessary part of a healthy metagame. Moral of the story, red is weak because people want to run greedy mana bases and spells, and then don’t like it when you stop them from casting them.

Since this is quickly approaching 3,500 words, I want to throw in a bonus decklist. I’ve received a ton of requests over the last week to see a copy of the Ib Halfheart decklist I’ve been working on. Here’s the current iteration, still in progress, that I’ve run to hilarious effect in the last two Commander nights I’ve gone to:

Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician

35 Snow-Covered Mountains
Spinerock Knoll
Deserted Temple
Scrying Sheets

Forgotten Cave
Smoldering Crater
Blasted Landscape
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds

Thawing Glaciers

Mana Acceleration
Crucible of Worlds
Rings of Brighthearth
Expedition Map
Explorer’s Scope
Gauntlet of Power
Gauntlet of Might

Card Selection, Draw, Tutors
Sensei’s Divining Top
Crystal Ball

Chandra Ablaze
Wheel of Fortune

Godo, Bandit Warlord

Wild Swing
Capricious Efreet
Shivan Harvest

Haste and Anthems
Mass Hysteria
In the Web of War
Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Bushwhacker

Patron of the Akki
Shared Animosity
Quest for the Goblin Lord

Goblin Matron
Goblin Recruiter
Goblin Ringleader

Spikeshot Elder
Gempalm Incinerator
Goblin Sharpshooter

Goblin marshal
Siege-Gang Commander
Goblin Offensive
Goblin Warrens
Mogg Infestation
Empty the Warrens
Warbeak Trumpeter

Zo-Zu, the Punisher
Ankh of Mishra

All In!
Skirk Prospector
Goblin Sledder
Voracious Dragon
Goblin Bombardment

Boggart Shenanigans
Furnace Celebration
Goblin War Strike
Viscious Shadows

Mana Echoes
Brightstone Ritual
Koth of the Hammer
Inner Fire

And that’s all there is to it. A rules note on Wild Swing effects. You target three permanents, and then choose from whichever are left upon resolution. So target two mountains and a permanent you want dead, then sacrifice the mountains to make goblins in response. The only permanent left is the one you want to destroy, so it gets “randomly” chosen.

Other than that, the deck just wants to play a lot of lands, slowly get a critical mass of goblins into play, and then “combo off” by making your goblins gigantic, making them bigger, or just burning people out with goblins and sacrifice tricks. The deck is a BLAST to play, but it’s such a glass cannon. Any kind of disruption and you are DEAD, so it’s a “fair” beatdown/combo deck, even for this format.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Next week I’ll be unveiling the last mono-colored deck I want to build for awhile, and in the color I hate building in the most: blue. After that I’ve got a backlog of ideas I want to look at, as well as a few requests. If you’ve got any decks you want looked at, any ideas you’re interested in seeing, or just want to talk deckbuilding, shoot me an email at


Monday, March 28, 2011

CommanderCast S2E7: Spicing Things Up

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Once again CommanderCast is joining forces with another independent intertron Magic the Gathering venture; this time, our partner in SICK ASS PODCAST CONTENT PRODUCTION is Shoe of, a site devoted to alternative formats for Magic the Gathering. This episode we're beginning our series on discussing alternative ways to play Commander, so I figured Shoe is the closest thing to an expert on the topic I can think of. Hopefully, you agree with me and check out his own site. It's pretty rad.

Otherwise, we got some exciting stuff jumping off this week, including the downright TREACHEROUS Season 2 contest; the return of the Free-For-All Roundtable; two-headed giant stuff; and a thing on free cards (no, I'm not doing a giveaway... yet).

Show notes and pertinent links below. Enjoy.


00:00 to 02:36: Intro: Andy, Byron, Donovan and special guest Shoe open things up. HARD.

02:34 to 13:39: Free-For-All Roundtable: Tuck Effects: If you've been playing Commander for while, you've no doubt had your general hit with a Spin Into Myth, Bant Charm, or Hinder, and watched helplessly as they vanished into the abyss of your deck. This is one of the more controversial and counter-intuitive elements of the format's rules... and yet, it seems to be an important part of retaining whatever semblance of balance the format has. This week we're discussing whether Tucking is good or bad for Commander.

13:43 to 18:22: Community Spotlight: Shoe is going to talk about his website. This makes sense I think. You might disagree. You should still read his site.

18:30 to 28:58Community: Alternative Formats and Commander: Variant formats of a variant format? I can feel a singularity forming somewhere... but really, it's not that bad. Templating something like Star, Planechase, or Respawn can help keep things fresh in your playgroup. If Commander is getting tiresome but you burned all your 60x4 decks for some reason, then segment might point you in the direction of some much-needed variation.

26:06 to 31:59: Community: Contest 2: Do you ever think, "man, I wish there were more MtG podcast contests!"? Because if you do for some reason, then I guess we've got what you need. Our season one contest was successful enough to motivate me to create this new, shiny contest revolving around what has proven to be our most popular segment... SECRET TECH.

Want to learn more? Listen to the podcast, then check out this sweet-ass sweet page for clarifications and details!

32:09 to 55:31: Strategy: Two-Headed Giant: Shoe is running things as we delve into the world of Two-Headed Giant. What do you need to know before playing this alternative format combined with EDH? How do you prepare, if you decide to at all? What kind of rules do you need to be aware of? How does card valuation change, and which strategies have their stock increase or plummet? Shoe has the answers, and I have some offhand comments.

55:43 to 57:19: Technology: Break My Card: It's our new thing on Twitter. STRICTLY for our followers there because before this our e-mail guys got all the love (and the contest). Here's how it works:
  • Once a week, I give you a single card. It can be anything.
  • You let me know how to use it via Twitter. It has to be in one Tweet. You can use short versions, abbreviations, and acronyms, but if I can't decipher them you're busted. You can't send a second tweet, e-mail, or telegraph to explain what you mean.
  • You have to tell me what Commander will be in charge of the deck the card is used in. After that, you can say whatever; a combo? Some synergies? The type of deck it works in best? It's up to you to do something awesome with the card. 
This week's card to break is Infernal Genesis.

57:28 to 68:50: Technology: Alternative Casting Cost Cards: Byron has been experimenting with Alt. Cost/'Free' cards a lot. Submerge, Massacre, and the like have been getting played with positive results and he's going to share his wisdom with you on the subject. Like catching people by surprise? This segment is for you.

69:01 to closing: Outtro.

  • General show contact/E-Mail Andy: CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com
  • To E-Mail Byron: surgingchaos19(at)gmail(dot)com
  • To E-Mail Donovan: donokun(at)gmail(dot)com 
  • To Contact Shoe: Follow this link, freak
  • To Tweet Andy: (at)CommanderCast on Twitter

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mid-Week Update: March 23

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
IRL PHOTO! Deal with it! 

This week's mid-week update tomfoolery is a double-header. You know the Arcane Lab is going to be up in here with Carlos grinding out a deck so bad, even he can barely stand it. I think this speaks volumes, both about just how bad this deck must be and what kind of man Carlos is. Anybody who puts their Akuta, Born of Ash Commander deck just... OUT THERE and basically says "I tried... and it still sucks" deserves some love. So check it out and learn from the moral of the story. Which is don't run obviously bad cards as your general, I guess... or something.

But wait, there's moar... MistveilPlains has a Brion Stoutarm deck primer that's running around throwing guys, gaining life, and generally whooping ass. Go on, watch the whole thing. It's 40 minutes you were probably going to spend on something way worse anyway, like work. But even if you can't watch it all, it seems YouTube now remembers where you were in a video, so you can go back to the spot you left off earlier without even being inconvenienced to remember a few numbers. INTERNET WIN

Before I leave y'all to the remainder of the week, here's a few other things we have going down here at CommanderCast:

  • Updated the Personnel Page, the Content Index, Secret Tech Archive, and also added a pretty slick Music page by popular request. If you like any of my bumper music, now you can just steal it somewhere from the internet.
  • Put up a Listener Interaction page detailing ways you guys can help the show. But as a quick reminder, we can always be reached by e-mail: CommanderCast (at)gmail(dot)com, Twitter: @CommanderCast, on TEH FORUMZ, or the comment section below. Check out the aforementioned page for specifics about things we love feedback on.
  • Updated last episode's show notes with Jeremiah's League Achievement System and a link to the thread about Pressure Decks.
Also, don't miss next week's podcast, where we're announcing the rules for the Season 2 Contest

Arcane Laboratory 008 - Akuta, Born of Trash
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past two weeks, it’s that there are more people reading these articles than I thought (more than my girlfriend and Andy, and least). If there’s a second thing, it’s that people like pointing out mistakes, which is good, because I can trust people to point out any stupid things I say.

In the Sasaya article, I commented on how Candelabra of Tawnos and Cloudstone Curio combo. Well, if you actually read Cloudstone Curio, it clearly says non-artifact; something that completely slipped my mind. Almost every single one of the decks I build has a slip like this, where I completely forget how cards work because of how cool an interaction is if it did work. The most recent example of this is when I tried to use Sovereigns of Lost Alara to put an Eldrazi Conscription on my Progenitus to get in for 21 points of general damage. Let me tell you, that went over REALLY well. In short, I appreciate people pointing out mistakes like this so I can fix them and (hopefully) not make stupid mistakes like that again in the future.

But, moving on, besides having a really lame title (Seriously though, how do you make a pun out of ANY name from Kamigawa?) this week’s article is a continuation of my most recent project, building a few reasonable mono-colored decks that (hopefully) don’t fall into the same patterns that many decks in that color tend to fall into. We’ve already done Green and White, and this week I’ll be moving on into black. So let’s take a look at some of the more popular black generals, and the archetypes they tend to lend themselves to, and then some of the less commonly played generals.

As far as I can tell, these are the most popular commanders and themes:

Geth, Lord of the Vault - MBC/Reanimation
Maga, Traitor to Mortals - MBC/Combo
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker - Reanimation/Attrition
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon - MBC/Voltron Beatdown
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief - MBC/Vampire Tribal
Balthor, the Defiled  - Reanimation/Zombie Tribal

So, the first of two key themes here are mono-black control, usually involving some high number of board sweepers, Necropotence, Drain Life, and mass discard, usually finishing with some Eldrazi stuff. The reanimation decks usually involve some kind of dredge/Buried Alive into stuff, then Balthor them back into play. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Iname, Death Aspect style of decks that use their general as a tutor AND an enabler to go broken early on with mass reanimation. It’s kind of cool how many spirit-based combos there. Still, even though those decks aren’t that common, they’re pretty linear and done to death, so I want to do something a little different.

So, there really aren’t that many things that Black does besides grind out card advantage. I think the most interesting thing that can be done is to find a more unique way to do that as opposed to going through the typical Decree of Pain + Damnation + Cabal Conditioning route. Here are some of the generals that I’m thinking about:

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Greel, Mind Raker
He Who Hungers
Akuta, Born of Ash
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
Kuon, Ogre Ascendant
Mirri the Cursed

Well, let’s start with Endrek Sahr. Everyone loves tokens, you can do all kinds of fun things with them. Black is especially good at managing the number of tokens in play, since it’s the color that likes sacrificing things as a cost for all kinds of shenanigans. Seems kind of interesting, but you’ll have to play all kinds of terrible creatures just to start making tokens, for what that’s worth. You could definitely do some cool things with this, but I don’t know if it’s what I’m looking for.

Greel, Mind Raker is something I REALLY want to be good, but will probably never quite be good enough. You’d just be SO reliant on Geth’s Grimoire to keep your hand full, and Greel is just going to get hit with removal before you get to activate it. Paying 3BBBX for a repeatable mind twist seems okay, but paying 2 more for it eachtime you get hit with removal seems like a real blow to any kind of tempo you could generate.

He Who Hungers seems really, really bad, but it’s my kind of bad. You get to use all kinds of hilarious spirit-based synergy, sacrifice triggers, and even the long-forgotten SOULSHIFT mechanic! The real problem is that you have to target a single player. You do get to pick apart hands, but singling out particular players, even if you spread out the hate, is a great way to make enemies. This is definitely going to happen at some point, I just don’t know if this is his day.

Akuta, Born of Ash. So bad…it’s so, so bad. Not only do you have to have more cards in hand than the blue deck, but you’ve also got to sacrifice lands and put yourself behind the ramp player. So, you’ve got to be playing a really, really weird deck that doesn’t mind sacrificing permanents, but can keep its hand full. On the bright side, having a recursive beater is a good way to win games in some metagames. A 3/2 haste isn’t THAT bad, especially when it’s your general, and you could probably do some pretty interesting things, but it definitely won’t be too powerful. You’d be hard pressed to win games, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet is a general I really want to be good. He has a powerful effect, and you clearly want to give him haste, and I’m going to DREAM about putting a Thornbite Staff on him, but other than that he’s just generic mono black control, which is boring and uninteresting.

Kuon seems fine, but it’s another generic MBC general. You’re going to kill a bunch of guys, and that’s going to enable you to kill more guys. I like attrition/stax-y decks as much as the next guy, but…when you can only interact with one resource, and focusing on other ones makes it harder for your general to get online AND you don’t have a built in win condition with your general… it just seems like it’d fall short.

Mirri the Cursed is interesting, and I really want her to be good. The problem is that you have to ask why you’re playing Mirri over Skittles. I mean, your clock is twice as fast if you play skittles, and any equipment makes power gap between the two even more noticeable. It’s just really hard to justify playing Mirri for any reason other than flavor, and I can’t stand playing a really bad version of another deck.

So, I’m clearly going to be building some kind of Spirit-based deck, either with He Who Hungers or Akuta. Those are the most interesting to me, particularly because I get to build graveyard-based decks, which are always a blast to build and play. He Who Hungers seems a little slow to build around, and since black likes having creatures to sacrifice and isn’t lacking in sacrifice outlets, I think I’m going to go against my better judgment and build around Akuta. Feeling stupid? I know I am!

The key thing to keep in mind here is that in order for Akuta to be ANY good, you have to have more cards in your hand than any other player. That means you’ve got to be able to fill your hand with cards, and you’ve got to find ways to avoid playing cards whenever possible. You can also empty other players’ hands as necessary, but I think the key here is to avoid playing cards as much as possible, as counter intuitive as that is.

Let’s start by taking a look at the pieces of the engine that will let you avoid casting spells as often as possible. You want as many ways to turn one card into a long-term advantage as possible, and it turns out that black is actually pretty good at that.

More Recursive Guys

Reassembling Skeleton
Nether Traitor

These are your engine pieces in addition to Akuta. The deck has a sacrificial/recursion theme to it, since that’s really the best way to Black to attrition other decks out. You need a constant stream of bodies to turn into other resources so that you don’t need to cast the cards in your hand. It’s important to note that between Bloodghast and Nether Traitor you can get upwards of 4 bodies to sacrifice per turn, more if you’ve got fetchlands or Thawing Glaciers or some other shenanigans. Still, just as important as the recursive creatures are the things you’re doing with them:

Sacrifice Stuff!

Sadistic Hypnotist
Malevolent Awakening

Grave Pact

So there’s four “real” sac outlets here, but honestly, I think that’s enough. These cover most of the important bases, but you could add more cool things like Mind Slash or Gate to Phyrexia if you think the effect is necessary. Being able to turn your recursive guys into additional resources is KEY to this deck, since it lets you continue to play the game while keeping your hand full for Akuta recursion when the time comes. The next part of the deck follows nicely from this one. The real question is, how are you going to stock your graveyard full of good stuff? Here’s how:

Bury them Alive!

Buried Alive
Iname, Death Aspect
Undead Gladiator

Dakmor Salvage

Golgari Thug
Stinkweed Imp

First set of cards are pretty straightforward, they dump important creatures into the graveyard, and that’s about all there is to it. Undead Gladiator is the only exception, but he interacts nicely with the second set of cards, the dredgers. It’s unfortunate that you can only play the black-based ones, but that’s workable. It’s important to note that you can “loot” multiple times with Gladiator during your upkeep to dig for reasonable spells to cast. 

Necroplasm is one of the worst dredgers here, since you’ll almost never want to cast it. However, the creatures are going to be better in general since it’s easier to get them from hand to graveyard and back. Darkblast is pretty easy to recycle, but the creatures can be recycled for advantage. Here’s what you want to do with your dredged stuff:


Kuro, Pitlord
Horobi, Death’s Wail
He Who Hungers

Steel Hellkite
Massacre Wurm
Myojin of Night’s Reach
Geth, Lord of the Vault

Necrotic Ooze
Myr Propagator

Pretty straightforward here. The first three are ones that you WANT to get with Iname, Death Aspect. There are pretty common interactions that people play in Iname decks, but they’re powerful here too. Kuro + Horobi is a machine gun. He Who Hungers is really powerful with Bloodghast + Nether Traitor + stuff that’s really good at keeping blue players under control, and helps you keep your and size bigger than everyone else.

The other set of cards are bombs that you want to reanimate over and over until you win the game.  Steel Hellkite is necessary to answer most of the permanents that the deck tends to have trouble with. Massacre Wurm is one of the most awesome cards from the new set. Wrath the board, take 10? Sign me up! Activate Myojin once, and you’ll be ahead on cards for most of the game after that. Geth is one of the best bombs I can think of to get you ahead on the board after you cast it. It’s unfortunate that you can’t target your own graveyard, but it should be good enough to go after everyone else’s. After all, hypothetically you’ve been making people discard all their sweet stuff all game. Helldozer is a guy that’s sort of fallen by the wayside, but he was broken during Ravnica block constructed, he saw brief play in legacy for awhile, and is just absurdly powerful. Hate on non-basics all to your heart’s content.

Now, something that most of these have in common with one another is that they have activated abilities. That makes Necrotic Ooze a sweet catch-all, especially when you can spend a slot making Ooze busted: Myr Propagator. With Propagator in the yard, you can make copies of Necrotic Ooze, each of which can do broken things with other guys in your graveyard. Seems pretty sweet, right? With He Who Hungers, they can even sacrifice themselves so they don’t get exiled with Corpse Dance and Dawn of the Dead, which is always important.


Dread Return
Corpse Dance
Beacon of Unrest
Dawn of the Dead

Here are the reanimation spells you’re going to use to go broken. Dread Return is the most synergistic, since you can just dredge it up and then go for it. The rest need to be worked around a little. You’ve got to tutor or draw into them before you start dredging your deck away, so that you have a way to abuse your graveyard.

Victimize is the most powerful one-shot effect. Corpse Dance is probably the best overall, since it can be cast multiple times in a single turn once you’ve got the resources to do it. Dawn of the Dead requires the least investment, but Beacon provides the most utility. These are the most efficient methods of recursion, since they move things to play directly from your graveyard, but you do have some other mechanisms that also help keep your hand count high.

Keeping Your Hand Full

Tortured Existence
Krovikan Horror

Oath of Ghouls
Oversold Cemetery
Phyrexian Reclamation
Death Denied
Grim Discovery

Viscera Dragger

Graveborn Muse
Phyrexian Arena
Ancient Craving
Ambition’s Cost
Skeletal Scrying

Dimir House Guard
Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Beseech the Queen

So, the first two cards are the hidden gems here. Krovikan Horror doesn’t get NEARLY enough love as a black Genesis/Squee AND sac outlet. With Twisted Existence it’s like Phyrexian Arena that draws the best creature you’ve played so far. This is a REALLY powerful engine, and it’s a budget one! I’m seeing nothing but upside here!

Oath of Ghouls and Oversold Cemetery are two of my favorite cards in the format, though I don’t usually get a chance to play them. I “broke” these in legacy back in the day by pairing them with Aether Vial and Voidmage Prodigy. It might not have worked there, but this is definitely the format where value engines can be powerful tools. Phyrexian Reclamation is one of the most broken cards that you’ve never heard of. Go on, look at it.  This card is INSANE, and it barely costs anything, but no one’s playing it. I mean, sure, it’s no recurring nightmare, but what is? Seriously think about running this thing in the next black deck you play. It won’t disappoint.

Grim Discovery and Death Denied are pretty much exclusively ways to restock your hand late game. They aren’t the most powerful effects, but they do what needs to be done. The best part? Instant speed! Not only do they get you a ton of value, but they help protect your key creatures from graveyard hate. Seems good.

The real question is: what do you DO with all this recursion? If you haven’t got bombs and the like yet, what are you doing with your Oversold Cemetery? Viscera Dragger seems like a good place to start; turn them into free Phyrexian Arenas until you find more broken things to do. You could run Twisted Abomination too if you wanted. You can sacrifice key creatures to avoid removal and buy them back. These are slow engines that don’t do a ton, but the utility and protection that they provide to your engine makes it worthwhile. You might not need ALL of these effects, but you definitely need some of them.

Sidenote: You know what would be REALLY awesome with all of these? Xiao Dun, that stupidly expensive Portal legend. That’s more than a little out of my budget though, but a guy can dream, right?

This section gets rounded out with the most efficient card draw and tutors available to black. Feel free to substitute things like Sign in Blood, Promise of Power, and other powerful black cards; these are your flex slots. They don’t do anything specific besides keep your hand full and help you find your engine pieces. As long as you replace them with things that accomplish the same goal, the deck will run fine.


Crucible of Worlds
Rings of Brighthearth

Solemn Simulacrum
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Expedition Map
Gauntlet of Power

This deck is mana hungry. REALLY hungry. When your general wants you to be sacrificing lands, that can definitely cause you trouble. I mean, when you’re thinking about adding Storm Cauldron just for the extra land drops, you know you’ve got a problem.

Crucible lets you keep land-parity when you start sacrificing things. Rings of Brighthearth interacts positively with several of your cards, but is REALLY there for fetchlands, to help you get ahead on lands, even when you’re sacrificing some.

Solemn Simulacrum is really powerful here. You cast it, sacrifice it, recur it and do it again. It’s definitely one of the best creatures in the deck. Wayfarer’s Bauble is another positive interaction with Rings of Brighthearth. Gauntlet of Power makes it so that you don’t need as many swamps to function, so you can sacrifice more lands without hurting as badly.

Expedition Map is, as usual, one of the best cards for mono-black in the format. It finds the pieces of the Urborg + Cabal Coffers, even Vesuva or Deserted Temple if you want to go even more broken. This is the little map that could, providing you with some really powerful plays and approximately infinite utility. Here’s the rest of the mana base:


Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cabal Coffers

Deserted Temple
Scrying Sheets
Thawing Glaciers

Bojuka Bog
Mouth of Ronom
Reliquary Tower
High Market
Miren, the Moaning Well

Strip Mine
Dust Bowl

Terramorphic Expanse
Terminal Moraine
Evolving wilds

26 Snow-Covered Swamp

Pretty standard fare, honestly. Urborg + Coffers is the bread and butter of black-based decks. The second set of lands is an engine that goes into most of my mono-colored decks, and even two colored decks that need consistent ramp.  Having things to do with your extra 1 or 2 mana is important , since it means you get extra value that you wouldn’t ordinarily. The fetchlands are there pretty much exclusively for the interaction with Rings, so hold them if you can. You’ve got a pretty high land count in this deck, 43 if I’m not mistaken, so you’ve got a pretty consistent mana base, and shouldn’t have to worry about holding back on your fetches. You could definitely substitute those for the Zendikar/Onslaught fetches, I just don’t like the idea of using what are effectively two or more colored lands in a mono colored deck. While it’s not against the rules, it just feels wrong to me.

So, this deck is actually one I’m pretty disappointed in. It’s got some powerful interactions, some slow but strong value engines, but it’s really just a slower version of Iname, Death Aspect combo, and a less resilient version of Savra, Queen of the Golgari. Honestly, it’s a reasonable deck, it’ll probably make your group start playing more graveyard hate, but it’s definitely not the strongest or most interesting thing I’ve ever come up with.

So….bonus decklist time. Want to make your group start playing combo hate on a strict budget? Maybe you’re like me and don’t have the head for 100 card singleton storm combo. Whatever your reason, here’s another mono black deck, built to combo off in a simple and consistent fashion. This one I have played, and it’s a metagame wrecker if everyone’s playing ramp decks and bombs. You want to make people play more answers and less bombs? Give this a shot:

Awesome Bonus Budget Combo Decklist!

Maralen, the Mornsong

Expedition Map
Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Ad Nauseam
Sickening Dreams
Dark Sphere

Here’s the deck. No, really. You can fill the rest in with rituals, Peat Bogs, Lake of the Dead, and other ridiculous stuff to get Maralen out as quickly as possible. Add tutors for more consistency and to reduce your reliance on Maralen as a general. You’ve got Boseiju to force through Ad Nauseam if necessary, and Expedition Map to try to find it without using Maralen. Just how budget is this deck, you ask? While not quite as inexpensive as 99 Mountain Ashling the deck, you can buy the all of the necessary cards for the deck from Starcitygames for about $8. Probably for less at your local game store or some other online store if you’re willing to shop around to find Dark Sphere for less than a dollar. Hurry up, there’s only 1 NM Dark Sphere in stock as I’m writing this! How exactly do you win? Well, here’s the combo spelled out:

Tutor up and cast Ad Nauseam, draw your entire deck. Sure, this mandates that you keep the total CMC of your deck below 20 or so, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I mean, look at the required cards. You could add a bunch of expensive tutors and still be fine. Once you’ve drawn your deck, you can play Boseiju and pass if you’re afraid of countermagic, or just cast Dark Sphere, cast sickening dreams, discarding 40 cards. Sacrifice Dark Sphere in response to halve the damage from your own sickening dreams, deal 40 to everyone at the table, win the game! Seems simple, right?

The problem with Maralen is that it’s absurdly easy to hate her off the table if anyone wants to do it. They just have to play a few spot removal spells. The thing about magic players, and Commander players in particular, is that we’re GREEDY. Everyone wants to do broken things instead of safe things. Everyone on TEH FORUMZ says that if you cast Maralen, the next player will just tutor up removal to kill her and you’ll have been gotten pretty bad. You know what? In my experience that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s what usually happens:

You cast Maralen on turn 3 or 4 and pass the turn. The green player to your left COULD find Desert Twister or Brittle Effigy, but he figures the next player will take care of it, so he wants to get Primeval Titan and cast it instead. The blue player figures that the BGW player will tutor up a vindicate, so he taps out to Clone Primeval Titan. The BGW player figures that everyone else has gotten value off of Maralen, what’s the worst you could do? One of the other guys can tutor up removal next time. He decides to get a Sun Titan or some such. You get to untap, ritual up, and win the game!

Hopefully at least one of these decks was interesting. The Maralen one is a pretty cool take on the budget EDH deck. It’s pretty simple and repetitive, but it does force your metagame to adapt. More importantly, it forces players to stop being greedy, and actually spend their time evaluating threats. And honestly, you don’t CARE if Maralen gets killed a couple of times. Your deck is going to be 70ish lands at the least, you’ll be able to cast her multiple times, I promise.

The Akuta deck…well that’s about as close to a trainwreck as I’ve come so far in these articles. It’s definitely got some powerful things going on, but it’s really easy to have off the table. Anyone with too much removal or graveyard hate sneezes too hard at you and you’re probably scooping your cards up. Still, not bad for building around Akuta, right?

I’ve got a couple of reader-submitted decks I won’t be looking at until I finish my series of mono-colored decks, but there are only two colors left, so I’m still looking for content! Be sure to send me any emails with questions about decks, or just asking to see how I’d build a deck. Even if I won’t use it for an article in the immediate future, I’m still happy to talk decks with anyone who’s interested.

Next week I’m excited to be building a red deck. I’m a Johnny true and true, but sometimes you’ve just got to Lightning Bolt people in the face! Going all in on the beatdown plan is so much fun, and I’m excited to bring one of two builds I’ve been playing for the last couple of weeks. After that I’ll be rounding out the series with a Blue deck, but I’ve been dreading trying to build the blue deck. I’ve never been able to build a “fun” or “interesting” blue deck, since all the good cards are…well…good, but boring. If you’ve got any suggestions for a fun or off the wall blue deck, be sure to send them in! I’ve been kind of stuck, honestly; I’ve got a couple of ideas, but nothing too concrete yet. There may or may not be a Quest for Ula’s Temple theme deck in the works!

As always, I’m looking for question, comments, and criticism. If you’ve got any ideas, critiques, or decklists you want looked at, shoot me an email. I’d be glad to hear from you!