Dear Azami: Flashback Hordes

We’ve got a number of new graveyard tricks coming in Shadows over Innistrad! How can these best be used in Commander? Jess Stirba has some great and fun tricks for Magic’s special little discard pile!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Is anyone else excited for some Shadows over Innistrad? Innistrad v1.0 was one of the more beloved planes we’ve yet visited. Innistrad is a fun plane, ripped from old vicious Germanic folk tales and other sorts of classical horror. After a plane of Cthulhu horror, it’s a nice change… though there certainly seem to be plenty of clues pointing to a central mystery that may circle back to Ugin’s reminder that “they came as three.” Is Emrakul the Eldritch Moon? Is Marit Lage the thing worshipped in the depths? Speculation abounds, and either way, it seems like this stuff of classic horror may find itself again supplemented by something a little more Lovecraftian. Shadows over Innistrad may end up being more heavily influenced by The Shadow over Innsmouth than we can yet see it to be.

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy some of the classic tropes, one of which is the mythos surrounding Zombies. That’s right, I’ve gone back into the archive to find a year-old Dear Azami submission focusing on Tribal Zombies, and I’m going to upgrade it primarily with cards printed since its submission and new cards that look like exciting pre-orders from Magic’s newest set.

Let’s get to it!

Dear Azami,

I’ve been reading the column for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been playing Commander for five years. In all of that time, though, I have yet to build a tribal deck. I really want to! First, let me explain a little about why I’m presenting this Sidisi, Brood Tyrant Zombie deck for your consideration.

One of the things that keeps me out of tribal is that I don’t know how to build a satisfying tribal deck. To me this just feels like a pile of cards that all share a name but don’t necessarily share a purpose. The Zombie deck I envision is this: (1) It wins with hordes of Zombies or perhaps one giant Zombie and it feels inevitable, (2) it doesn’t rely on tutors or “unfair” infinite mana engines to get to where it’s going, and (3) it’s just as resilient as Zombies are in movies.

My problems with this deck have been numerous so far. I’m dead to fliers, and instead of packing lots of hate, I’d almost prefer a way to make my Zombies fly around or be able to block in the air. Also, my Zombies almost never come back. All it takes to knock me out of the game is a couple of good battlefield wipes, or maybe one Earthquake, and I’m struggling for the rest of the round. That’s not how Zombies should work!

Please help, and I’ll be eternally grateful,

Yog Sothoth

The list:

Commander (1): Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

Zombies (24):

Lich Lord of Unx

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born

Wight of Precinct Six

Withered Wretch

Lotleth Troll

Havengul Lich

Diregraf Captain

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Bone Dancer

Vengeful Pharaoh

Quagmire Druid

Glissa, the Traitor

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Zombie Master

Stronghold Assassin


Cemetery Reaper

Vulturous Zombie

Entrails Feaster

Fleshbag Marauder

Geth, Lord of the Vault

Zombie Related Spells (9):

Tombstone Stairwell

Army of the Damned

Call to the Grave

Zombie Apocalypse

Stitcher Geralf

Ghoulcaller Gisa

Grave Titan

Cover of Darkness

Curse of Shallow Graves

Finishers (4):

Living Death

Twilight’s Call


Beastmaster Ascension

Removal/Control (8):

Avatar of Woe


Desert Twister

Beast Within


Barter In Blood


Rain of Thorns

Ramp/Card Draw (7):

Liliana of the Dark Realms

Burnished Hart

Deathreap Ritual

Chromatic Lantern

Sol Ring

Gilded Lotus

Solemn Simulacrum

Random (11):


Bad Moon

Whip of Erebos


Dread Return


Hedron Crab

Jace’s Archivist


Mystical Tutor

Buried Alive

Land (36):

5 Forest

5 Swamp

3 Island

Command Tower

Cavern of Souls

Watery Grave

Breeding Pool

Overgrown Tomb

Sunken Ruins

Flooded Grove

Twilight Mire

Polluted Delta

Simic Growth Chamber

Golgari Rot Farm

Crypt of Agadeem

Tranquil Thicket

Drowned Catacomb

Creeping Tar Pit

Woodland Cemetery

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

High Market

Tectonic Edge

Dakmor Salvage

Evolving Wilds

Nephalia Drownyard

Grim Backwoods

Before we get to the changes I made to our friendly Cthulhu cultist’s deck, I’d like to give a shoutout to some of my Zombie tribal faves that fell outside the build limitations. These cards give some legs to the strategy and are generally worth running. They range from Lord of the Undead and Risen Executioner, which provide recursion and Anthems, to the Mulldrifter-plus-something-extra value that Overseer of the Damned offers. Unholy Grotto gets you access to fallen fighters, Unbreathing Horde is the type of Baneslayer Angel worth running, and Gempalm Polluter can snipe an enemy at instant speed. But the two that are most important are Noxious Ghoul and Vengeful Dead. One of them helps keep the board clear of non-Zombies, while the other makes mass removal significantly less effective (since you still threaten a bunch of damage should your battlefield get wiped).

Corpse Harvester offers tutoring and sacrifice, Agent of Erebos is a Zombie that nukes graveyards, and Graveborn Muse and Necromancer’s Stockpile draw plenty of sweet cards in a Zombie shell. Undead Warchief and Death Baron are both lords with upside and are strong additions to the tribal theme. Finally, there’s Shepherd of Rot, a card that will do a tremendous amount of damage over the course of a game if left undisturbed.

I’d also like to mention two cards that I would have included were they not pricy and unnecessary: Liliana, Heretical Healer and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Liliana’s on-theme, but her power is offset by the absence of significant tribal synergies (other than making a token and being generally useful for reanimation). Kalitas makes your Living Death and Twilight’s Call stronger while netting you cards and denying your opponent death triggers. If you really want to maximize that power, add in Fecundity as well. Kalitas robs that excellent enchantment of its symmetry, leaving you with something closer to a drawback-free Dark Prophecy.


Out (3): Drowned Catacomb; Tranquil Thicket; Woodland Cemetery

In (4): Blighted Cataract; Blighted Woodland; Hissing Quagmire; Lumbering Falls

Nature abhors a vacuum, and uneven cycles make me twitchy (she says, as she replaces some cards with an uneven set of Blighted lands). The difference between the Blighted lands and the Innistrad/Magic 2010 two-color lands is that there’s a definite power differential between the two included and the one excluded (Blighted Fen, which is a one-for-one unlike its two companions). And, while I think it’s probably the right call to not run a ton of U/G lands, Creeping Tar Pit just got some friends. Lumbering Falls and Hissing Quagmire aren’t amazing, but they round out the cycle, and creature-lands generally end up being a little more powerful than they might seem in practice.

I don’t think this deck needs a full 38 lands, but 36 felt a bit too low, thus the extra addition.


Out (4): Hedron Crab; Jace’s Archivist; Liliana of the Dark Realms; Mindshrieker

In (8): Corpse Augur; Evolutionary Leap; Forgotten Creation; Grisly Salvage; Mulch; Phyrexian Arena; Underworld Connections; Vampiric Rites

To dispel any confusion: reprints in Commander 2015 preconstructed decks count as cards printed in the last year. It’s good, as you’ll see; one of those reprints plugs a rather glaring hole. In the meantime, this decision brings some grade-A black draw to us. Phyrexian Arena is the gold standard of black draw cards, and Underworld Connections does a good impersonation of that powerhouse. They’re way more reliable card draw than Liliana of the Dark Realms; with seven Swamps in the deck and a self-mill subtheme, Liliana of the Dark Realms is not going to be sure advantage when you finally land her.

Evolutionary Leap and Vampiric Rites help guard against blowout by letting you sacrifice chunks of your team for cards, which can then keep you battling. They’re also just good cards, and work particularly well with Zombie tokens.

Jace’s Archivist is a good card, but in this deck Forgotten Creation is going to do a lot more work. Personally, I am excited to see how that card plays; given the power of Jace’s Archivist, having a similar ability you can trigger for free and that only affects you seems pretty good.

Hedron Crab and Mindshrieker are both relatively good at self-mill if you have a monoblue restriction (though neither is Mirror-Mad Phantasm), but in Sultai you have access to cards like Grim Discovery and Mulch instead. And while Mindshrieker does seem cute with Sidisi (and I love cute!), it seems like having a more reliable card in that spot will serve you better.

Finally, Corpse Augur is a Zombie, and I love that card. Hopefully, by beefing up your draw options, you’ll have increased resiliency to Wrath of God effects.


Out (2): Bad Moon; Beastmaster Ascension

In (1): Eldrazi Monument

In the email, Yog mentioned the following weakness: “I’m dead to fliers, and instead of packing lots of hate, I’d almost prefer a way to make my zombies fly around or be able to block in the air.” Do you know what card is amazing at doing that? Eldrazi Monument. Indestructible, flying, a power and toughness boost, and a “drawback” that is minimal at best in a Zombie deck… it does what you want it to do, no matter what that may be. It’s a great addition, and I was quite happy to see it reprinted in the Commander 2015 decks.

Bad Moon relies on being the only black deck for it to have the power you want it to have; the new world order may have made Slivers look weird, but I do appreciate not having to worry that my Anthem effects will be less powerful because I happen to sit down against a player using the “wrong”-color deck. This is an issue for plenty of old Anthems, including Crusade, but modern cards like Hall of Triumph and Beastmaster Ascension do not have this problem.

Beastmaster Ascension draws a bit too much aggro for it to be reliable outside of the broadest of swarm/token doubling strategies. The three Commander-playable Ascensions all have this issue; if your opponents let them go online they’re in trouble, and some decks don’t have access to something like Quagmire Druid to deal with enchantments. Those decks are going to have to resort to punching you in the face until the threat has passed, and that can interfere with battlefield development.


Out (6): Avatar of Woe; Beast Within; Desert Twister; Enslave; Rain of Thorns; Whirlwind

In (1): Cruel Revival

In tribal decks I tend to eschew off-theme removal. This occasionally leaves my decks with glaring weaknesses, but in those cases there’s always the “punch the problem” solution mentioned above. When I do run removal, I prefer it to be either a Mulldrifter (like the Overseer of the Damned mentioned towards the top of this article) or for it to otherwise have some degree of card advantage attached. Cruel Revival, for example, does this. It gets you a Zombie back while killing all but the most Thraximundar of threats, and it does so at instant speed. Good times.

Avatar of Woe is slow, Whirlwind is hopefully counterbalanced by the Eldrazi Monument, and Enslave seems like an odd inclusion in a deck that’s also running blue and thus has access to almost all the steal effects. Desert Twister and Rain of Thorns will be most of what you need when you need it, the one missing permanents but offering card advantage, while the other is the inverse. Again, though, they’re not on-theme, which waters down the theme in question.

Finally, Beast Within deserves some mention. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant has a good ability that triggers upon attack. Sidisi is thus a creature you want attacking. But Sidisi is only a 3/3, a relatively weak body in the grand scheme of things. Giving your opponent a token that can trade for your commander in combat is less than ideal, even if Beast Within is generally a great card.


Out (2): Bone Dancer; Vengeful Pharaoh

In (6): Baloth Null; Greenwarden of Murasa; Phyrexian Reclamation; Possessed Skaab; Relentless Dead; Seasons Past

Many green decks, when shooting for recursion, will automatically include a copy of Eternal Witness. It’s a strong card, and it’s the most notable version of Regrowth plus value… but it’s not the only one. And in a tribal deck, it’s sometimes not the best one. Greenwarden of Murasa is better for a couple of reasons. One, the things you’re going to want to dig out of your graveyard most urgently are five-drops like Eldrazi Monument and Living Death. Two, Greenwarden’s death trigger lets you get back the card most useful for rebuilding in the wake of a Day of Judgment. Three, Eternal Witness’s body is worse than a Zombie token, meaning it will make little impact on the battlefield. Greenwarden does not have that drawback; a 5/4 body can tangle with and trade up for many valuable things.

Seasons Past may do something similar; I’ll be honest, I included that card because it seems almost as powerful as Creeping Renaissance (another strong contender should you expand your addition criteria). It just looks sweet, especially in Commander where casting costs run the gamut. Phyrexian Reclamation is in a similar boat, for what it’s worth. The card is powerful and doing something broadly synergistic… that it’s got an unusual converted mana cost in Commander not only makes it more powerful, letting you play it at opportune times in your curve, but it also boosts the potential of Seasons Past.

Bone Dancer has to hit to do its whole thing, yet it doesn’t really have a dangerous enough body to make sure that condition gets met. Something like Baloth Null, that gives you advantage as soon as it enters the battlefield and then sticks around to tango… it’s a stronger card, for sure. Possessed Skaab offers a similar benefit, but with most of the advantages of Greenwarden given its lengthier list of recurred permanents than a typical Gravedigger.

Finally, we come to Vengeful Pharaoh. I always want to add that card to my Commander decks, but I find myself cutting it towards the end of the build. My main issue is that drawing Vengeful Pharaoh seems less than ideal, and the rattler effect tends to be rather minor. Its recursion is card-neutral, whereas something like Restless Dead not only gives you the benefit of being a sacrificial body like Gravecrawler, but it can also recur other Zombies that hit the graveyard.


Out (2): Curse of Shallow Graves; Entrails Feaster

In (5): Diregraf Colossus; Dread Summons; Drunau Corpse Trawler; Prized Amalgam; Scourge of Nel Toth

I’d like to begin by pointing out that Entrails Feaster is an amazingly flavorful way to add graveyard hate to a tribal Zombie deck, and I think a deck relying more heavily on mass resurrection would definitely play it. It’s just slow, even if its relatively unthreatening form means it will probably have time to snag at least a couple of cards from opposing graveyards. It’s very cool, but not amazing.

There’s an idiotic moment in Borderlands 2 in which one of the NPCs threatens to “bury you alive in a shallow grave,” which seems like not the most threatening of things. The entire point of shallow graves is they’re relatively easy to disturb, after all. The curse lives up to its name, in that it’s more shallow an effect than it might otherwise seem; this card says that if you attack the “right” person you’ll get a Zombie token, but only one a turn. The green curse in this cycle (Curse of Predation) is worded powerfully, in that the effect scales with the number of attackers, but Curse of Shallow Graves doesn’t offer that. It’s a weak card, maybe giving you a single tapped Zombie token each turn. There are plenty of ways to get that without also giving an opponent an advantage.

Diregraf Colossus is the newest Unbreathing Horde, and it trades invincibility for the ability to be cast with an empty graveyard. In and of itself that might be fine for a three-drop, but Diregraf Colossus has the added benefit of giving you tokens when you cast Zombie spells. That can be pretty sweet when paired with something like Haakon, Stromgald Scourge and Nameless Inversion, but even without some sort of combo ridiculousness, it’s a strong effect in a deck that’s at least one-third Zombie.

Dread Summons advances your self-mill plan while giving you Zombies as well. Drunau Corpse Trawler is halfway between lord and Mulldrifter, and it hangs out there making combat a Nightmare whenever you’ve got mana untapped. Prized Amalgam comes back on its own, without a mana investment, which will occasionally be useful. Scourge of Nel Toth does require a mana investment, but you also get a pair of sacrifice triggers for your troubles, and end up with a 6/6 flying Zombie Dragon, which should help with your aerial issues.


Out (5): Cover of Darkness; Lhurgoyf; Mortivore; Overrun; Wight of Precinct Six

In (1): Shadows of the Past

I’m not a huge fan of Cover of Darkness; if you want that sort of situational evasion, you can get it much better from a card like Intimidation that won’t additionally give fear to your opponents’ creatures. Sure, most of your creatures are black, and it won’t be a huge issue… but they aren’t all black. It’s why Zombie Master is such a dangerous card against the wrong deck. Even a couple of your opponents’ creatures being difficult to block can really mess up combat.

Of course, you could always sacrifice Zombie Master before blockers, but that’s a lot harder to do with an enchantment (at least in Sultai).

Lhurgoyf, Mortivore, and Wight of Precinct Six all have the same issue: Living Death decks don’t love it when opponents have well-stocked graveyards. While this is not a dedicated Living End deck, cards that offer nothing but a way to end the game quickly once you’re ahead are less powerful in Commander, where decks can have any number of escape hatches. Better to get the card advantage and grind them down. And do you know what card’s decent at that? Shadows of the Past. Multiple “scry 1” effects simulate card advantage through selection while also working quite well with your self-mill options.

Miscellaneous Cuts

Out (2): Gilded Lotus; Mystical Tutor

These are both strong cards! But neither is on-theme, and with only Glissa, the Traitor recurring artifacts, Gilded Lotus is probably not worth the risk of it being a blank in a deck that doesn’t care specifically about going from five mana to eight or nine mana. This deck has a far more reasonable curve to it.

Meanwhile, Mystical Tutor is just a card-advantage-negative tutor. You can find better ones without the card negativity; I’m a personal fan of reanimating Rune-Scarred Demon, but I’ve been trying to cut down on reliance on the tutor effects.

The List

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Jess Stirba
Test deck on 03-29-2016
Magic Card Back

The Cost

Without a specified limit, and given the time between submission and the article, I decided to go with “be reasonable” as an overall price restraint. That’s why I cut Liliana, Heretical Healer and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet but kept in Relentless Dead, despite them all being roughly the same scale of card. Relentless Dead is a brand new card with a specific thematic resonance; it’s probably going to be playable in Standard for a while as well, giving you the potential to get more use from the thing. Kalitas is a little off-theme and Liliana is close to her rotation point, so they seemed less worth the investment at this point… although, if you have them, or if price is no object, they are definitely worth checking out.



Cruel Revival


Grisly Salvage




Baloth Null


Blighted Cataract


Drunau Corpse Trawler


Possessed Skaab


Shadows of the Past


Vampiric Rites


Blighted Woodland


Phyrexian Reclamation


Underworld Connections


Corpse Augur


Evolutionary Leap


Forgotten Creation


Greenwarden of Murasa


Dread Summons


Hissing Quagmire


Lumbering Falls


Scourge of Nel Toth


Seasons Past


Prized Amalgam


Eldrazi Monument


Diregraf Colossus


Phyrexian Arena


Relentless Dead


With a total of $64.02, I like to think I kept somewhat close to that standard of reasonability. Of course, that cost will be further allayed by the $20 in credit for StarCityGames.com that our pseudonymous Yog Sothoth will receive this week for acceptance of his submission to Dear Azami, so submit! Even if you don’t hear back from us, there’s always the chance down the line that one of our older submissions proves interesting.

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here, in the Article Archives! And feel free to check Jess’s own Command of Etiquette column on Hipsters of the Coast for more Commander and casual content.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!