Dear Azami: It’s All In Your Head

Now that Levi has gotten settled in to Dear Azami, he’s ready to take on some serious old-school challenges… like today’s Chainer, Dementia Master deck!

For those of you lucky enough to have a large playgroup, I’m willing to bet that with every new spoiler season at least one person tries their hand at each of the new legends. Often these decks quickly fall by the wayside; sometimes they stick around and become part of the metagame. Either way, these decks and attempts at decks create a sort of barrier to people who want to stretch their creativity, because even if that sweet new Zada deck your friend built lasted all of two days before they took it apart, it’s hard to stake out space for your own creation without stepping on someone else’s toes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variant of “I really want to make a (sweet new legend) deck, but (name of mutual friend) already did that.” For that matter, each new legend usually gets covered at least once on this very site. It’s understandable. After all, everyone wants to play with the shiny new toys Wizards gives us.

That’s why I think it’s important to highlight legends from the past whenever I get the chance, and it’s why I was drawn to this week’s submission.

Dear Azami,

Alison Gill suggested I submit a deck for your critique. I’m submitting a mono-black “classic” that I was hoping you could help update a bit. I’m a huge fan of graveyard shenanigans, and this is one of my favorites. It seems to be getting a bit stale – but maybe that’s just my metagame. What changes would you recommend? Price isn’t really an issue, I’ve been playing since Arabian Nights and probably own whatever cards you’d suggest.

Thanks in advance!

Commander – Chainer, Dementia Master


Rune-Scarred Demon
Grim Haruspex
Erebos, God of the Dead
Butcher of Malakir
Doomed Necromancer
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Merciless Executioner
Fleshbag Marauder
Graveborn Muse
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Baleful Force
Bloodgift Demon
Sidisi, Undead Vizier (new addition!)
Nirkana Revenant
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Crypt Ghast
Corpse Connoisseur
Disciple of Bolas
Massacre Wurm
Disciple of Griselbrand
Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Putrid Imp
Sepulchral Primordial


Caged Sun
Wurmcoil Engine
Expedition Map
Sol Ring
Lightning Greaves
Spine of Ish Sah
Crucible of Worlds
Charcoal Diamond
Grim Monolith
Trading Post
Claws of Gix
Altar of Dementia
Rings of Brighthearth


Phyrexian Arena
Dictate of Erebos
Grave Pact
Infernal Tribute


Vampiric Tutor


Imperial Seal
Buried Alive
Toxic Deluge
Demonic Tutor
Aether Snap (lots of tokens and counters in my metagame)
Rise of the Dark Realms
Sever the Bloodline
Life’s Finale
Beacon of Unrest


Liliana of the Dark Realms
Karn Liberated


Bojuka Bog
Volrath’s Stronghold
High Market
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Buried Ruin
Miren, the Moaning Well
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Petrified Field
Thespian’s Stage
Strip Mine
Deserted Temple
Phyrexian Tower
Cabal Coffers
24x Swamp

I can legitimately say that I’ve never seen a Chainer, Dementia Master deck in action, although he sees play in the 99 of several decks in my area and is obviously a very good card. Figuring out (or at least improving) an unknown puzzle appeals to the Johnny in me, especially because it’s the oddball decks built around little-known legends that makes each playgroup unique.

Reanimator in Commander tends to fall into one of two categories: grindy decks that use their graveyard as a second hand and try to have as much inevitability as possible, and combo decks that want to rapidly loop creatures in and out of play for value. Chainer naturally gravitates toward the second option, mainly because Suicide Black is a bad strategy when you’re looking to extend the game as long as possible. That means I’ll try to make the list as proactive as possible, and hopefully freshen it up in the process.

The Changes

Nightmare Fodder


Sangromancer Putrid Imp

Sangromancer is interesting as an option to combat Chainer’s life loss, but the fact that it only triggers off of your opponent’s misfortune kills it. Since this is just here to gain life I’ve replaced it with something with both more utility and a much greater capacity to gain large chunks of life.

Putrid Imp is a solid choice as a free discard outlet, but the deck only wants so many fragile one-drops and there was a card that I felt worked a lot better for this slot.

Wurmcoil Engine Duplicant

Wurmcoil Engine is a very good creature, but you aren’t really aiming to win in combat and the Engine is pretty irrelevant to the rest of the deck. Making tokens on death is nice with sacrifice outlets, but if that’s what we want there are several better options out there.

I like the idea behind Duplicant, and being able to pull hard removal out of the yard time after time is some amazing utility. This isn’t getting replaced so much as it is upgraded. Twice, because I think you could use more access to repeatable kill spells.

Doomed Necromancer Geth, Lord of the Vault Sepulchral Primordial

These three were all included to give you more reanimation power on top of Chainer, but Geth and Sepulchral Primordial can only retrieve things from your opponent’s graveyards. Both are great cards, just not what this deck wants to be doing. Doomed Necromancer actually came the closest to staying in the deck, but since his effect isn’t repeatable he basically reads as: “Gain three life by using him instead of Chainer,” which isn’t good enough for a slot.

Graveborn Muse Bloodgift Demon Baleful Force Erebos, God of the Dead

Your card draw engines. Don’t get me wrong, a deck like this lives and dies by its ability to dig deeper for cards, but I don’t think that these are the engines you want. You have roughly six zombies for Graveborn Muse to trigger off of, which means that most of the time it’ll only draw you one card a turn. Baleful Force and Erebos have a much higher top end at least, but they aren’t quite as good as what I’ll be replacing them with.


Viscera Seer Undercity Informer Sadistic Hypnotist

Your deck already has several more sacrifice outlets than normal, but I felt you needed a few more. There were two reasons for this: firstly, your deck is set up to win by cycling Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Kokushu, the Evening Star from the graveyard to the battlefield and back several times, and you need ways to get rid of your own creatures for that plan to work. Secondly, Chainer follows a long tradition of powerful black cards with incredible drawbacks. Targeted removal isn’t exactly common in Commander, but a single Murder pointed at your commander will usually take at least half your board with it… and do so permanently. This means that you need the ability to clear your whole board before the exile trigger resolves.

Viscera Seer and Undercity Informer are some of the best options for this duty given how cheap their activation coast are, and the benefit they provide for doing so is hardly irrelevant. Sadistic Hypnotist can’t be used at instant speed like the other two, but the sheer power of the card will make up for that when you’re going off.

Stinkweed Imp Thought Gorger Extractor Demon

You’re a graveyard deck, and these are some of the best ways to dump more cards into your own graveyard as fast as possible. Given the right circumstances Extractor Demon can even turn a wrath effect into a dead Token player, which is quite the bonus.

Big Game Hunter Shadowborn Demon

These can’t exile like Duplicant could, but they’re cheaper to play and count towards Devotion, which is actually relevant in this deck. Additionally, if you run out Shadowborn Demon in the early game the mandatory sacrifice can help you build a bigger graveyard.

Harvester of Souls Smothering Abomination

Some better draw engines, in the vein of the Grim Haruspex you’re already running. In most cases they’ll trigger at least as often as the cards you were running before, and when your deck is operating at full capacity you can easily get six or more cards a turn out of these. I’ll be adding more card draw into other sections, but these will let you build value very quickly out of very little resources.

Balthor the Defiled Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Replacements for Geth and Sepulchral Primordial. Balthor the Defiled is Chainer’s big brother, and will get all of your toys back without paying life at the risk of handing one of your opponents the game. Even if your metagame is nothing but Rakdos decks, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll be better set up to exploit Balthor’s effect than anyone else. Mikaeus will give most of your creatures a second life, although not Chainer or a few other random Humans. His other two abilities are mostly irrelevant, but every now and then they’ll come up.

Netherborn Phalanx Abhorrent Overlord Zulaport Cutthroat

As the last of the additions to the creature section, these are kind of a mixed bag. You mentioned that tokens were a problem in your metagame, and Netherborn Phalanx is one of the best ways I know of to punish that style of play. Given how many sacrifice effects you’re running, Abhorrent Overlord seemed like a solid choice for your own token producer, which will give you some pretty solid value in the midgame and becomes a little ridiculous once you’re trying to go crazy. Zulaport Cutthroat is a shiny new card from Battle for Zendikar that tacks a little life loss onto every creature that dies. It was a close decision between this and Blood Artist, but in the end I decided that hitting each opponent was better than triggering off of creatures that weren’t yours dying.

The Spells


Imperial Seal Vampiric Tutor

Don’t grab the pitchforks just yet, I haven’t completely lost my mind. I’m well aware that these are some of the best cards legal in the format, but Seth’s chief complaint with his list wasn’t lack of power, it was that the deck had gotten stale. He was running these two plus Demonic Tutor, Buried Alive and Entomb, and when you have that many “tutor for anything” cards the games start to play out the same way just a little too often. Add in the fact that this deck already hurts itself a lot and I decided to get rid of the worst two tutors and add in more action.

Rise of the Dark Realms

Another victim of the staleness complaint. Rise of the Dark Realms is like Insurrection in a lot of ways. Both are huge, epic effects that should make for some the best stories and biggest plays. The problem is that both cards could have their whole text boxes replaced with “I win the game,” and it wouldn’t change how they usually play out. Once Rise of the Dark Realms resolves, it’s usually followed by the rest of the table scooping unless someone has a wrath.

Aether Snap Life's Finale

Aether Snap came out for Netherborn Phalanx. Maybe this is just me, but I prefer punisher cards to direct hate cards… and most token decks want to make more creatures than their life total anyway. Life’s Finale is simply getting an upgrade.

Sever the Bloodline Beacon of Unrest

Sever the Bloodline moved over to the creature section and became Big Game Hunter. Sever the Bloodline is much better in a vacuum, but Chainer’s ability to rebuy the Hunter put it over the top for this list. Beacon of Unrest is something I was sad to cut, but I needed another card to come out and I tend to skew towards permanents over spells.


Living Death Damnation

Living Death gives you a lot of the functionality that Rise of the Dark Realms does, but at a discounted cost and much more chaotically. It will still benefit you more than your opponents, but it’s not just an “I win” button anymore. It also serves double-duty as a quasi-board wipe, which you can definitely use.

Damnation is just a strict upgrade to Life’s Finale, since you can’t use the Finale to put creatures in your graveyard. Normally I wouldn’t recommend a sixty-dollar card as a minor upgrade, but you did say you had an unlimited budget.



Phyrexian Arena Bitterblossom

Phyrexian Arena is getting upgraded the same way your creature-based card draw was, and you’ll see what I replaced it with soon. Bitterblossom doesn’t really fit in your deck, as great as the card is. You’re already paying life for a lot of things, and Bitterblossom’s slow buildup of tokens doesn’t really match the rest of your plan. I’d rather have Abhorrent Overlord, as weird as that sounds.


Dark Prophecy Necromancer's Stockpile

More card draw, this time on-theme. You’re very good at making things die for Dark Prophecy to trigger, and Neccromancer’s Stockpile does double-duty as a discard outlet. You won’t get the Zombie token often, but when you do it’s a nice bonus. Necromancer’s Stockpile is also absolutely great with Stinkweed Imp as a way to quickly fill your graveyard.

Whip of Erebos

One of the best lifegain cards they’ve printed in a while, Whip will give you the life to keep fueling your reanimation shenanigans while occasionally acting as a backup Chainer and bringing something back for the turn.


This might seem like an odd choice since you don’t have any stronger tribal synergies than Necromancer’s Stockpile, but the real point of this inclusion is to turn your creatures into not-Nightmares. That’s right, Conspiracy replaces existing creature types instead of adding to them. I debated adding several tribal cards to work with this, but in the end I decided that was too big of a change to the deck’s concept for me to make for you. (Although I still almost added Hagra Diabolist, just for how amazing it would be the one time it worked.)

Black Market Carnival of Souls

Something that I haven’t touched on up to this point is ramp, but your deck is extremely mana-hungry and is already running many of the best mana-doublers that black has access to. These two will usually wind up generating a ton of mana for you, although I would recommend being very careful about when you play Carnival of Souls. If you aren’t set up to use the mana when you play it, your opponents could easily burn you out by playing creatures before you get back to your turn. It’s not a may trigger, and it doesn’t just trigger off of your creatures. That being said, when it works the card can let you chain creatures together endlessly, although for that to work properly you need to have Chainer, a sacrifice outlet, a token maker like Abhorrent Overlord, and Gray Merchant or another creature that lets you gain life.



Liliana of the Dark Realms Karn Liberated

Those of you who’ve read my previous columns have probably noticed that I’m not a fan of Planeswalkers in Commander. It’s a subject that I fully intend to write about in depth at some point, but for now let’s just say that we can find better ramp than Liliana, and unless everyone is packing Rest in Peace-level hate you don’t need enchantment removal badly enough to run Karn.



Trading Post Spine of Ish Sah Lightning Greaves

Don’t get me wrong, I love Trading Post. It even has more relevant modes than normal in your deck, since you want to discard cards. The problem is that you can only use it once a turn. Spine of Ish Sah comes out for similar reasons as Karn, although you at least has a few sacrifice outlets to abuse the Spine with. Lightning Greaves were presumably included to protect Chainer. Maybe replacing it with Conspiracy was too cute, but I wanted to highlight that interaction.


Gauntlet of Power Phyrexian Altar

Gauntlet of Power is the card that Liliana wanted to be, giving you another way to double your mana and get to the big numbers you want to in this deck. Phyrexian Altar is the kind of card that can make this deck explode, and in a lot of ways acts like a considerably less risky copy of Carnival of Souls. I didn’t add in Ashnod’s Altar because of how heavily your mana requirements skew towards black, but Phyrexian Altar is almost the perfect card for your deck.



Buried Ruin Swamp

You don’t really have many artifacts to rebuy with Buried Ruin, and as many of your lands as possible need to tap for black.


Myriad Landscape Crypt of Agadeem

Both of these are ramp spells that only take up land slots. Myriad Landscape is a little slow, but this deck isn’t really aiming for speed and needs to hit big numbers for its combos to do much. Crypt of Agadeem might as well have been tailor-made for this deck, and it should generate some pretty absurd amounts of mana once you get past the early game.

Here’s the result:

The Price

Card: Price:
Netherborn Phalanx $0.25
Undercity Informer $0.25
Viscera Seer $0.29
Stinkweed Imp $0.29
Sadistic Hypnotist $0.45
Dark Prophecy $0.49
Abhorrent Overlord $0.49
Thought Gorger $0.49
Extractor Demon $0.49
Carnival of Souls $0.49
Necromancer’s Stockpile $0.49
Crypt of Agadeem $0.49
Big Game Hunter $0.79
Myriad Landscape $0.95
Zulaport Cutthroat $0.99
Harvester of Souls $1.05
Whip of Erebos $1.05
Conspiracy $1.65
Balthor the Defiled $2.45
Living Death $2.49
Smothering Abomination $2.49
Shadowborn Demon $2.89
Mikeus, the Unhallowed $12.65
Black Market $13.19
Gauntlet of Power $14.79
Phyrexian Altar $17.45
Damnation $59.99
Total $139.83

All told the changes I made add up to just under a hundred and forty dollars, not bad for a submission with an unlimited budget. Part of that is simply that Seth was already running most of the truly expensive cards that the deck wanted, and it’s partly because I’m fond of odd cards that don’t get much time in the spotlight. As always, Seth will receive $20 in store credit to StarCityGames.com for getting his deck featured in this week’s column.

Hopefully the rebuild will be enough to shake out the staleness and bring back the fun of playing Commander.

Join us next week for another one of Jess’s masterpieces, which my vauge and uninformed predictions can’t begin to do justice.

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