Dear Azami: Broken Glass And Vials Smashed

It’s possible the next dedicated Commander product will be on shelves before we even make a dent in all the amazing interactions the last one gave us! Levi Byrne helps a reader smash vials left and right in the penultimate Dear Azami!

Before I look at this week’s deck, I have some news to share with all of you. Dear Azami is saying goodbye. This will be my last piece for the long-running column, and soon Sean will pen the final article for Dear Azami.

For my own part, I can only say that it’s been an incredible experience to write for the column that cemented my love of Commander. I started out as just another fan devouring Sean’s work to try to get an edge in the near-constant games that my friends were playing, and for the past year Dear Azami’s helped keep my love for the format alive after most of those friends moved away and I wasn’t able to play more than once or twice a month. Above all, I’ve been honored to work with and help out players of all different stripes, playstyles and experience levels. That might seem like a cheesy stock line, but it really isn’t. Seriously, you made Dear Azami what it is. I never would’ve gotten that chance to write for the biggest Magic website out there if it weren’t for you.

So there’s one thing I want to say, to everyone reading this.

Thank you.

The partner mechanic is one of my favorite innovations to hit the Commander format in a while. The idea of being able to “craft” your own four-color commanders is a brilliant move by WotC and grants us players a glut of opportunities. However, I also love how a few of the partner commanders can actually stand on their own.

Cards like Thrasios, Triton Hero are clearly meant to be support and would likely not be impressive leading their deck alone. But cards like Vial Smasher the Fierce are somewhat analogous to already existing commanders (Kaervek the Merciless). And while Kaervek will likely deal more damage than Vial Smasher (pending on how cast-happy you opponents are), I appreciate that Vial Smasher gives you more control over the trigger. And while their ability only triggers once per turn, it triggers if you cast a spell each turn. So, if you are running some instant x-spells, then the damage could flow undeterred.

My plan with the deck is to run a healthy amount of x-spells (instants when available), which means abundant mana will be helpful. This game plan makes me think a controlling deck would be best for Vial Smasher with the hopes that my commander’s trigger will be mostly good enough to handle my opponents. I’ve tried to place some alternate win-cons in the deck, too, that hopefully don’t run against my primary gameplan.

Commander: Vial Smasher the Fierce

Red Sun’s Zenith

Comet Storm



Damnable Pact

Rakdos’s Return

Everflowing Chalice

Sol Ring

Nirkana Revenant

Magus of the Coffers

Caged Sun

Crypt Ghast

Rakdos Signet

Commander’s Sphere

Rakdos Cluestone

Cultivator’s Caravan

Mind Stone

Expedition Map

Journeyer’s Kite

Phyrexian Arena

Underworld Connections

Bloodgift Demon

Outpost Siege

Palace Siege

Charmbreaker Devils

Read the Bones

Baleful Force

Staff of Nin

Magus of the Will

Erebos, God of the Dead

Disciple of Bolas

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Dark Petition

Kaervek the Merciless

Army of the Damned

Rise of the Dark Realms

Chainer, Dementia Master

Demon of Dark Schemes

Wound Reflection

Noxious Gearhulk

Overseer of the Damned

Archfiend of Depravity

Scour from Existence

Spine of Ish Sah

Viashino Heretic

Dwarven Miner

Dwarven Blastminer

Hoard-Smelter Dragon

Avalanche Riders


Withering Boon

Murderous Cut

Ingot Chewer



Silence the Believers

Withered Wretch

Darksteel Plate

Lightning Greaves

Mask of Avacyn

Nim Deathmantle

Grim Return

Lavaclaw Reaches

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Temple of Malice

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Command Tower

Myriad Landscape

Terminal Moraine

Warped Landscape

Winding Canyons

Thawing Glaciers

Blood Crypt

Urborg Volcano

Molten Slagheap

Bloodfell Caves

Dragonskull Summit

Mortuary Mire

Bojuka Bog

Crypt of Agadeem

12 Swamp

5 Mountain

I am pleasantly surprised with how powerful this deck seems. I like the choice of X spells, and I appreciate that they are subtly different from each other. They all do damage, but Rakdos’s Returns can also empty a player’s hand; Damnable Pact can mill a person out; Exsanguinate gives me some life back; Comet Storm and Starstorm work as battlefield wipes; and Red Sun’s Zenith gets put back in my library.

I feel as though I have the major bases of mana-enabling pegged for this kind of deck. Doubling the potency of Swamps is one of my favorite things (I take advantage of this liberally in my Grenzo, Dungeon Warden deck). And beyond the ramp, I have Expedition Map to help find one of my more useful lands.

I wanted a lot of card draw that wouldn’t require me to cast spells as to not waste my first spell on a low CMC card. Fortunately, black has a ton of passive draw, and red can even help with things like Outpost Siege. I also look forward to spell recursion with Charmbreaker Devils and Magus of the Will.

As mentioned previously, I am depending on my commander to win me games most of the time, so my other win-cons are there to support that mostly. I mentioned Kaervek’s ability seems like a cousin to Vial Smasher’s, so it seemed reasonable to run. Wound Reflection seemed like doubling down on Vial Smasher, which is great. And as I am the controlling deck, I assumed I would be killing a lot of creatures. So recurring others’ threats with Chainer, Dementia Master; Demon of Shady Dark Schemes; and Rise of the Dark Realms all made sense to me.

Rakdos colors are mostly limited to killing creatures, lands and artifacts, so that’s where most of my removal is directed. I added in some colors cards that can take care of anything to shore up any enchantment weaknesses. I even threw in a Withering Boon to counter a creature spell just to keep people on their toes.

I figure people will want to get rid of my commander, so I assumed running some amount of protection would be smart.

Last, the manabase is fairly straight forward with a clear emphasis on swamps for obvious reasons. I have Winding Canyons in here to help take advantage of Vial Smasher’s “each turn” clause. Nothing like flashing in Baleful Force to surprise somebody with eight damage.

Here are my concerns, though: 1) Am I right to focus on X spells, or should I be molding the deck in a different way? If the X spells are a good idea, am I running the right ones/enough of them? 2) Am I missing recursion elements for my spells? Since I am pure Rakdos, I don’t have access to Seasons Past or Archaeomancer, so recurring my X spells is a bit more difficult. 3) Am I too reactionary? I know I am playing control, but I feel like I am running a lot of answers. Control isn’t really my forte, so I want to make sure I am doing it right.

Aside from that, if I am missing any no-brainer inclusions, please let me know.

This alleged alt-timeline Ankle Shanker has burrowed its way into my heart, so I am willing to use a budget of $75 (including store credit) to refine this deck.

May all of your vials be smashed and your foes burned to cinders,


Small package? Potential to dish out lots of damage in the late game? Sign me up. Vial Smasher the Fierce is a potent little card that a lot of people have overlooked because it has the partner mechanic, and that means most discussion around him it focused on filling out certain color combinations with other partner commanders instead of pushing the card itself to the fullest extent.

Rakdos Control is an interesting direction to take the list, as I think that most people would gravitate towards a ramp or midrange style that relies on Eldrazi, Demons and Dragons for its end-game.

Given that Beth organized her deck by function instead of card type, I’ll go through the changes in the same way.



I’m adjusting your ramp package a little to account for the fact that you’ll usually want to play Vial Smasher on turn 3, which makes having a hand full of three-drop mana rocks a little awkward. In addition, as a two-color big-mana deck, you need ramp a lot more than fixing, so I wanted to focus on effects that pushed you towards the late-game as quickly as possible rather than smoothing out your early mana.


Talisman of Indulgence only taps for one mana, but only costing two makes it a lot better for this deck than the rocks that I cut. Yes, it’ll probably ping you for one or two over the course of a game, but you get past that point fairly quickly, and having it in your opening hand means you can cast Vial Smasher on-curve and get a free Lava Axe from playing your five-drop on turn 4.

Thran Dynamo and Gilded Lotus both come down after Vial Smasher, but they rocket you ahead on mana and singlehandedly push you into the late-game, where you can use your big haymaker spells to shake up the whole game. This is also where your X spells start to become scary, as if you get the player you’re targeting to line up with Vial Smasher’s ability, you can hit someone for almost twenty damage.

Black Market is kind of the ultimate big-mana ramp piece. You’ve identified as a black-based control deck, so creatures should be dying all over the place, especially with some of the cards I’ll be adding in later sections. I can say from experience that Black Market gets out of hand quickly. If Thran Dynamo and Gilded Lotus are here to get you to the point of controlling the game with haymakers, Black Market gets you to the point where you can one-shot people with X spells.

The Win Conditions


Going into this section, I wanted to trim a card to make room for more ramp and controlling elements, so this isn’t about the individual card’s power. One of this deck’s strengths is how it can ignore the combat phase as a path to victory and fight entirely on other fronts. Looking at all of the cards you listed as either X spells or win conditions, Army of the Damned stood out as the weakest. Yes, it’s 52 power in one card, but you don’t have any ways to buff the tokens or give them evasion, so unless you’ve already locked people out of having creatures, the tokens are going to wind up sitting around a little too much for my liking. Add in the fact that they enter the battlefield tapped when you really need blockers and I don’t think you need Army of the Damned.



One of the biggest concerns that you voiced was that you might be too reactionary and full of answers. I actually think you had about the right number of control cards, but that you were focusing in the wrong areas. It’s pretty clear based on your choices that you wanted answers to every card type, to be able to grind through any setup given enough time.

That is a valid approach, but I don’t think this is the deck for it. First off, you’re B/R. There’s not a repeatable way for you to deal with enchantments unless you want to go super-deep on sacrificing and recurring Spine of Ish Sah. Second, trying to take out a table of three opponents with repeatable but once-a-turn effects like Helldozer and Dwarven Miner is an uphill battle of the worst kind. Best-case scenario, you slow your opponents down but never become more than a minor annoyance and eventually mop up the last player with a big burn spell. Worst-case scenario, you’re actually successful in locking down the table, and your whole playgroup will gun for you from the start for every future game.

I trimmed back on your land hate package accordingly, although Dwarven Blastminer can still take out the likes of Cabal Coffers or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. As for the other two cuts, Noxious Gearhulk and Ingot Chewer are getting cut because one-for-one trades will only put you behind in multiplayer. I know sometimes there are cards that just have to die, but you’re currently a control deck with zero battlefield clears. That won’t work, and I’ll happily have few beaters in the deck if it means being able to just say no to Avenger of Zendikar and its 30+ Plant friends.


First off: yes, I’m raising the mana curve of the deck by a lot with these additions. That’s why it was so important that the mana rocks I added accelerated you as much as possible. Obviously Damnation would be one of the best Wraths to add, but it’s out of Beth’s price range and there aren’t many other cheap Black wraths. The next-best one is Mutilate, and I’m not willing to bet on that one killing everything you need it to outside of mono-black. Given that you were planning to ramp to big mana anyway, these Wraths are well worth the wait.

Decree of Pain will provide you with a massive influx of cards when you fire it off and can be cycled early on if you need an Infest to clear up tokens. In Garruk’s Wake leaves your side of the field unscathed and also nukes opposing planeswalkers, and Deadly Tempest comes down quickly while also dealing some potentially huge chunks of damage to anyone getting token-happy. It’ll hit you for a little damage, but it should never be more than four or five given how your deck operates.

Avatar of Woe is a big-mana spell that will usually only cost two to cast, but more importantly, it acts as a visible way to kill creatures at instant speed. Your opponents will be much more hesitant to attack you when you make it clear the biggest creature that swings at you will die. Even if no one takes that bait, you can still kill the most threatening creature at the table at the end of the turn before yours.



I like what you were thinking, but three mana to equip is less than ideal for a hexproof effect.


Swiftfoot Boots is the card Mask of Avacyn wanted to be, trading the stat boost for haste and a lower equip cost. Given that we never want Vial Smasher to get into the red zone, that trade is all upside for this deck.

Shield of Kalrda is a concession to the battlefield wipes that I added. You want to keep you commander around for the whole game, and blowing up the whole battlefield is counterproductive to that. You were already running Darksteel Plate, but this is the kind of effect that I’m happy to double up on. After all, an indestructible Avatar of Woe or Chainer, Dementia Master will do a lot of work for you over the course of a game.

The Lands


Both of these lands are fine, but your color needs aren’t too intensive and both Warped Landscape and Terminal Moraine are a bit slow. Given that there were the weakest virtual two-color lands you were running, it made sense to cut them to make room for a pair of cards that this list really wanted.


Adding Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth might be a bit predictable, but you’re a big-mana deck that skews heavily towards black. There a pretty common misconception that you should just cram both of these into any black deck regardless of playstyle or other colors, and I couldn’t disagree with that line of thought more, but this is exactly the style of deck that can utilize Tomb/Coffers to their fullest extent. Given that you’ve got the budget for them, it would be foolish to leave them on the shelf. The only time either card is awkward for you is if you draw Cabal Coffers with fewer than three Swamps on the battlefield, but I think that that will happen rarely enough that it’s worth discounting.

Putting it all together, we arrive at the finished decklist.

Vial Smasher the Fierce
Levi Byrne
Test deck on 01-10-2017

And the additions, sorted by price:



Talisman of Indulgence


In Garruk’s Wake


Swiftfoot Boots


Deadly Tempest


Avatar of Woe


Decree of Pain


Shield of Kaldra


Black Market


Thran Dynamo


Gilded Lotus


Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth


Cabal Coffers




The changes add up to $56.78, almost twenty dollars under Beth’s budget of $75. As always, she will receive twenty dollars in store credit to StarCityGames.com for having her work featured.

Normally this would be the part where I ask for all of you to send in deck submissions, but this week is the end of the line. Thank you again for your decks over the years. It’s been a pleasure.