Dear Azami – Merieke It Like That

This week Commander expert Sean McKeown betters a reader’s Commander deck with Merieke Ri Berit as general. Read to find out what changes he makes and why and for a bonus Modern decklist.

Hey Sean,

Here’s my current list for Merieke Ri Berit with notes about some of the cards.

The idea behind this general is that she is great at stopping me from being attacked in the early parts of the game. In the late game when people are running out of gas she can be the lynchpin that seals the deal, preventing people from getting back into the game. She is also absolutely incredible with Minamo, although I don’t Tutor for Minamo unless I copy a Primeval Titan or I have my other utility lands in play already.

The deck isn’t really about her, though—she’s just a nice addition and distraction to the further the point of the deck. That is to sit around quietly and build up mana and a solid board position, using opposing creatures against my opponents both with Merieke and also with graveyard recursion and clone effects. Once I’m comfortable, the idea is to sweep the board and play some of the larger fliers (Angel of Despair, Rune-Scarred Demon, Sharuum the Hegemon), and then the following turn drop Magister Sphinx and start killing people. In this way, I don’t really care about people’s life totals until the very end of the game. I have numerous ways to reuse the Magister Sphinx as well via Academy Ruins and High Market or clones or simple recursion and High Market. I also run Sorin as a backup plan to Path to Exile, and the deck is capable of dealing the right amount of damage without the help of setting life to ten although it does speed things up a bit.

I also want to stress that while I do play Sharuum and Phyrexian Metamorph, I don’t play the third combo piece, Bitter Ordeal. It’s fun to win games, but it’s boring after a while to combo out and it’s not the point of the deck (if it were I’d have Sharuum as my general). Bitter Ordeal is also pretty bad if you don’t have the combo, sitting in your hand looking glumly at you. I wouldn’t mind having an incidental win combo in the deck, but as it is Bitter Ordeal in of itself isn’t good enough unless it is the “point” of the deck.

I also do play the Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo because it’s strong but it isn’t absolutely broken and is fairly easy to disrupt. It’s a nice source of life gain from Necropotence and works very well with Cabal Coffers / Urborg and Sword of Feast and Famine. I do not, however, play Time Sieve for the same reasons I don’t play Bitter Ordeal (or Sculpting Steel for that matter).

There are several cards I’d like to play but don’t necessarily have the room for, and I’m sure there are cards that I’m not playing which I could be that would amp the power level of the deck. I don’t love Expedition Map but I do want to be able to get specific lands out of the deck so it seems a necessary evil. I also don’t love the Signets but they aren’t too bad with Sharuum since I can get them back after a board is wiped. Apart from that, there aren’t too many cards that are underperforming.

I also would love to play Future Sight as another target for Academy Rector.

I also have been thinking about adding Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to have a second Massacre Wurm effect (or to double it up if I draw both) and to pump my Thopter tokens.

Dispeller’s Capsule (searchable with Tezzeret and Trinket Mage, recurs with Sun Titan)
Expedition Map (finds Minamo for Merieke, Urborg or Coffers, Strip Mine, Reliquary Tower for Necropotence, or Bojuka Bog)
Sol Ring
Sensei’s Divining Top
Dimir Signet
Orzhov Signet
Azorius Signet
Sword of Feast and Famine (the best Sword possible available for the deck because it loves mana; great with Thopter/Sword combo)
Oblivion Stone
Thopter Foundry
Tormod’s Crypt
Sword of the Meek
Stoneforge Mystic (finds half the Thopter/Sword combo or Feast and Famine)
Bone Shredder (recurs on his own with Sun Titan generating a lot of card advantage)
Sun Titan
Magister Sphinx (part of the “kill” of the deck)
Sphinx Summoner (finds Solemn Simulacrum, Sharuum, Magister Sphinx, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Duplicant)
Solemn Simulacrum
Sharuum the Hegemon (didn’t want this to be the commander because I don’t want to play combo—in this deck it’s just a good card)
Phantasmal Image
Phyrexian Metamorph
Rune-Scarred Demon
Academy Rector (finds Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena, Animate Dead, Necromancy)
Puppeteer Clique
Trinket Mage
Angel of Despair
Snapcaster Mage
Consecrated Sphinx
Body Double
Massacre Wurm
Myojin of Night’s Reach
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Fact or Fiction
Mystical Teachings (finds Snapcaster Mage and all the instants)
Go for the Throat (needed another pinpoint removal spell at instant speed)
Return to Dust
Vampiric Tutor
Enlightened Tutor
Pact of Negation
Spell Crumple (better than Hinder since I run Tutors and Teachings; not great with Snapcaster though)
Austere Command
Hallowed Burial
Demonic Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Will
Diabolic Intent (very good with lots of the creatures; also surprisingly good with Sun Titan + an animate spell as you can just get the guy back or resurrect something else; conveniently Tutors for either half of that while we’re at it)
Profane Command (helps as a finisher)
Phyrexian Arena
Animate Dead
Sorin Markov (part of the “kill” of the deck)
Tezzeret the Seeker
Drowned Catacomb
Underground Sea
Watery Grave
Sunken Ruins
Hallowed Fountain
Glacial Fortress
Mystic Gate
Isolated Chapel
Godless Shrine
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Fetid Heath
Scalding Tarn
Bloodstained Mire
Arid Mesa
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Marsh Flats
Vesuva (copies Cabal Coffers if I already have one or copies Strip Mine/other utility lands like Bojuka Bog; also a legendary land Strip Mine)
Command Tower
Reflecting Pool
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cabal Coffers
Strip Mine
Tolaria West (finds everything the Map does plus Pact of Negation)
Bojuka Bog (utility)
Reliquary Tower (great with Necropotence)
Academy Ruins
4 Swamp  
4 Island  
3 Plains

Last week we had a look at Rubinia Soulsinger, and I decided I couldn’t resist following it up with a look at her evil twin, Merieke Ri Berit. Esper and Bant are pretty close companions, after all, and having looked at a deck that presumably is less “evil” because of green’s nature-loving ways, I thought I’d peer through the looking-glass darkly and see what inspirations came. Fortunately, there were no endless chants of “Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The goat of a thousand young!” so I get to claim sanity still in so doing…

Working with a definite purpose in mind, I warn you one thing will make you unhappy: Necropotence is going to go. Whether this is a decision that will cost you dearly will come down solely to…whether you are playing within, or outside of, the typical Commander social construct. Jim Hanley’s Universe is your playgroup (the advantage of actually knowing where your contributor for the week games!), and the $5 Thursday Commander casual tournament will make you regret not playing Necropotence…as will playing against Omar Hernandez and his Sneak Attack-centric Adun deck as seen a few months back when I looked at Adun Oakenshield for him. Everyone else…will conform to the rule of “if he casts Necro, we’re going after him,” and thus as powerful and awesome as it is, it’s a liability. Twitch reflexes, likely caused by the fact that many people strongly feel that The Skull needs to get The Axe. You can ban it in your playgroup…or you can make your own “gentlemen’s agreement” to just outright murder anyone playing Necropotence every time they play it.

Unfortunately, Necropotence is so ridiculously good that even going three-on-one it can give you the fuel to keep up, but I don’t see it as worth the hate…and am one of the haters. It’s mutual disarmament or mutually assured destruction, so with those as the two options I repurposed an Occupy Wall Street chant: “Hey hey! Ho ho! That Necropotence has got to go!” Sure, it’s not the cleverest thing I’ve ever heard, but you try being clever marching six miles in thirty-degree weather across Manhattan; it’s harder than you think.

While we’re discussing real estate, I want to suggest only one change to yours: Reliquary Tower. With Necropotence definitely getting the axe, this no longer has meaningful synergy with the rest of your deck, and the local playgroup is not really big on the card that makes this a must-have for your own self-defense, Jin-Gitaxias. Since you don’t have to worry overly much about your defensive posture, we can apply the land slot to the card I am most likely to try to marry (if marrying cardboard ever becomes legal, not if we elect Santorum!): Winding Canyons.

Rather than re-hash my ode to the tactical advantages of gaining flash to gain the initiative in each of your battles and get the most out of your creatures by dodging sorcery-speed suppression cards, I’m going to say that I know you know it. If somehow you don’t, well, back when this series started and it was just “99 Problems” with two articles and no further plans… I wrote this love letter to Winding Canyons for anyone who wants a refresher.

Next up is Vesuva — sure, you can sort of use it to get a second Coffers online if you have one or bootstrap a Coffers if someone else does already, but it’s not really doing very much for you or being very special. If you used that much mana ever, okay, we’d be talking—instead, once you get to the ten or eleven mana range you’re set to do something every turn and have a response spell online, so getting to twenty doesn’t actually get you anywhere. I’d pick a land to help you get to that ten over one that might let you technically get to twenty in that case, and substitute it for Thawing Glaciers.

We can correct for some of that by strengthening the ways to interact with an opposing mana base by choosing Dust Bowl over Strip Mine as your first option. We don’t have to worry too terribly much about killing a basic land to destroy an aura—I know, from the guy who last week dredged up Animal Boneyard to drop into a deck—but having to deal with recursion on Cabal Coffers is very common indeed. Without much in the way of non-creature recursion yourself it’s important to have that first one stick around for repeated use.

Then we get to the fetch lands. I assume price is not actually an object when I see a deck with three dual lands in it, so the lack of Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta as your first fetch land choices is a little unusual. Considering that I’m going to cut five fetches and add two back, we end up at roughly the same price point, so I’m going to do so in good conscience by pulling out Bloodstained Mire, Arid Mesa, Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest, and Verdant Catacombs and replacing them with the two fully on-color fetch lands you’re missing plus Azorius Chancery, Dimir Aqueduct, and Orzhov Basilica. Getting to the higher mana reaches in a card-economic way is an advantage worth having, and the only decks I tend to see skipping these on purpose are worried about getting Strip Mined in a one-on-one game, which is again not the problem since one-on-one is outside the scope of what we’re talking about here. Barring Onslaught fetches, Mirage ones will do, and Flood Plain + Bad River would still be a neater fit than Scalding Tarn and Arid Mesa can hope to be.

Out: Bloodstained Mire, Verdant Catacombs, Arid Mesa, Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest, Vesuva, Strip Mine, Reliquary Tower

In: Azorius Chancery, Dimir Aqueduct, Orzhov Basilica, Dust Bowl, Winding Canyons, Thawing Glaciers, Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand

Next we look to the artifacts, and people who’ve read my article for some time—apparently yourself included—can see me pulling the Signets out of this deck from a mile away. Signets are there to get blown up for free, so with artifact mana sources you really have to commit. If they’re that good for your deck you should have more of them, but if you aren’t really accelerating anywhere you should have fewer. The argument that Sharuum or Sun Titan can buy back a dead Signet is somewhat counterproductive, so we’ll just avoid it entirely instead of staring too long at the “but your sixth mana source just got exploded…” question too hard. Adding bounce lands over Signets will help solve some of this straight up, so we can cut these for spell slots in good conscience. Other than that, Tormod’s Crypt has an upgrade option available, giving you the same utility but including the words ‘draw a card’ as an improvement worth investing that little bit of extra mana in.

Out: Tormod’s Crypt, Azorius Signet, Dimir Signet, Orzhov Signet


Nihil Spellbomb — Same utility as Tormod’s Crypt, but you trade the ability to find it with Tolaria West with the ability to draw a card with it at will. I think we should be building up that Trinket Mage in importance in the first place. Also I am very much in favor of not skipping a draw I don’t have to—I get weird looks for cutting Tutors that skip draws and will get them again later here, but having cards going through your hand is so important in this format.

Puppet Strings — Part creature control (since you don’t have any Maze-like lands to work with here) and part commander “combo piece,” this helps regulate the board a little and can work your commander harder. In the Rubinia deck, we needed sac outlets so that we can untap her and go to work on another creature…but in Merieke, untapping is the sac outlet but she doesn’t do it naturally. It’s a bit of a corny way to do it, but it does the job.

Thousand-Year Elixir — Your “Lightning Greaves” as it were, in that it gives your commander haste when it needs to; it’s also an enabler for getting to take control of (or outright kill) more than one creature per turn. When you have an obvious card that by itself works wonders with your commander, you might as well run with it. Sadly, Rings of Brighthearth doesn’t do as much for your deck as it did the Rubinia deck, but this is still a hole-in-one.

The last slot gets moved over to creatures because twenty was not enough.

Moving onto the spells, I swapped out Necropotence for Future Sight one-for-one since you really wanted the cool card draw enchantment but had been relying on the broken-to-pieces one. After that, it’s just some minor repairs to account for the fact that your focus on reanimation effects is slightly off and looking for better ways to close out a game.

Profane Command isn’t that way, especially since you can never really use the Fireball + Fear plan (not really a beatdown deck) or truly call the reanimate + kill effect mana efficient in this format. Sure, it has options and can give you something to do with two Cabal Coffers, but shouldn’t one do it by itself? Reanimate I just cut because I’m not compelled to believe that it’s included as anything other than “good card” there because it’s powerful and mana-efficient… I want to focus more on what you’re trying to do and what you’re good at, instead of trying to jam power so hard it hurts, making Merieke the best she can be instead of just “a good Esper deck.”

Diabolic Intent gets cut because we no longer really need ways to do interesting things with the creatures—Puppet Strings and Thousand-Year Elixir neatly dispose of the bodies and get you back to where you need to be going. Go for the Throat is not the best in-theme choice you can make, even if it is very efficient, and will be replaced for something that combines better with your existing capabilities.

And then there’s Enlightened Tutor, cut because I’m cutting back on a lot of the things that skip a draw, and there’s a card that helps with Thopter/Sword just as effectively without skipping any draws and also having additional bonus utility. It’s a little more mana-intensive, but also a fair bit more option-intensive, so I call it a strict upgrade.

Out: Necropotence, Enlightened Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Reanimate, Profane Command, Go for the Throat


One slot gets moved over to the creature count and one becomes Future Sight, so we really just have four decisions to make. I had a pretty clear idea in mind when I did it, though, so we’ll give the following cards all a spin:

Executioner’s Capsule — In-theme for the artifact/Trinket package, and likewise something you can recur with Sun Titan or Academy Ruins if you were so inclined, all options Go for the Throat did not cover. Sure, it has more restrictions than Go for the Throat did, but it also has a lot more ways to be useful to you as an extra bonus, so it’s pretty clearly the correct choice.

Muddle the Mixture — Part efficient counterspell to increase the number of ways you have to meaningfully interact with a spell on the stack, and part Tutor for everything that matters to you (you do a lot on two and at the worst that’s “just” Demonic Tutor if you have the mana to chain off it). Given the current contents, it can kill a creature, copy one, assemble your combo, Tutor for anything, or let you cast any spell out of your graveyard.

Increasing Ambition — My favorite card from the new set in that it was the first one I clearly needed to own more than four copies of. Cutting a Tutor (Diabolic Intent) for a Tutor on steroids is a pure upgrade, and I expect you’ll be just as happy with it as I’ve been. Dirty trick: there’s a fun interaction with Snapcaster Mage and Yawgmoth’s Will that doesn’t involve paying full price…

Army of the Damned — I wanted a few more “game finishers” as well as something to replace Profane Command in the “massive swings” department. Army of the Damned is a control card finisher of choice and provides 26 power twice, split up in two separate waves so they don’t all just get wiped out by the same one Pyroclasm. With a possible weakness for weathering a long game and closing a game out, Army of the Damned gives you a lot to work with.

Moving over to the creature slots, then, we have two cuts and four additions; three of the four have flash to work with your Mystical Teachings a little bit more. Body Double is coming out because it’s just another graveyard-focused reanimation spell, this time with a clever disguise and unusual card type. Unlike the enchantments it can’t be recurred with Sun Titan and thus isn’t especially interesting. It gets cut for the same reason as Reanimate, so we can focus on what we’re doing instead of dealing with all these disparate elements and worrying over the cards in different zones of play. The other cut is Academy Rector; this is based on the fact that there are a sum total of four targets to pull out of the deck with it and thus it’s here as a “good card” rather than a functional part of any strategy. As a “good card” it relied upon Necropotence to really justify it, and with Necro going this is out of balance suddenly and asking to be cut.

Out: Academy Rector, Body Double


Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite — I try to pay attention to the cards people wished they were playing, and Elesh Norn addresses the kinds of decks that Merieke herself is weak at addressing. Your Commander handles individual creatures quite well but not really token armies, which the Grand Cenobite can handle with graceful ease. This doubles up on the power of your Massacre Wurm effects as well as doubling the number of cards you can potentially do that with.

Draining Whelk — A little more counter power and another good card to hunt up with Mystical Teachings. Really just here because its strengths overlap with your needs… You need finishers and you need countermagic in the later stages of the game, which is already a phase in which you intend to keep all of your mana untapped so you can use Thopter + Sword profitably to hold the board.

Aven Mindcensor — You’re a little weak to combo decks and can use another good target for Mystical Teachings and just general Tutors that will assist in shutting down the sorts of people who want to sit and manipulate their deck for the first nine turns with no one noticing. Aven Mindcensor neatly handles that, and if it’s a little fragile while it does it then so be it: the kinds of decks it really hoses are not the kinds of decks that you tend to see crammed full of one-for-one cheap creature removal in the first place. A few people finding it mildly irritating will nonetheless accept the use of the irritant to do meaner things to worse people than they and not just point the first thing they have handy at it.

Seht’s Tiger — Another potentially anti-combo card as well as just a catchall weird corner-case answer to odd things like Cruel Ultimatums and messily lethal Vicious Shadows turns. Looking for another card that functioned sort of like countermagic and was a creature with flash led me to stumble upon this old gem, which can counteract more than its fair share of Bribery, Prices of Progress, and the occasional Sorin activation that otherwise would set you at ten life. Especially in the context of the decks you’ll find around you, I think this will over-perform thanks to the fact that it can handle disruptive spells and supercharged swarm attacks, both things Merieke does not herself address.

Putting it all together, we end up with the following decklist:

Merieke Ri Berit
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 03-25-2012
Magic Card Back

As always, you’ll receive a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com online store for your participation, which should help soothe my conscience some at dropping the priciest two Onslaught fetch lands into your deck and throwing in the occasional hard-to-find card that literally no one would ever have in their trade binder (Seht’s Tiger says “Meow!”). I suspect from the dual lands in your list you won’t be too troubled by trying to get those, but there’s a little help in your inbox regardless just in case. Pricing each of these suggested additions out, we have the following:

As a bit of bonus content and since it appears one of my roles in tournament Magic these days is fun adventures with Commander cards in unexpected places, here’s a decklist for a variant of the Modern Mono-Green Tooth and Nail / Summoning Trap decks that have been popping up from time to time on the PTQ circuit that I brewed up and played at a recent PTQ…complete with a flagship commander showing up in an unexpected place, what with his being called “Constructed unplayable” on average…

With one of my favorite Commander lines of play including Primeval Titan for Mosswort Bridge and Omnath making a surprise visit (and getting hit repeatedly via Path to Exile and countermagic for being “too good in this format”), it seemed that though sixty-card decks and PTQ formats are far outside the scope of this article about 99-card problems…there was certainly enough overlap to want to present it for your amusement and edification. It was certainly a blast to play, though it does continue with my long-standing problem of “taking a normal deck and jamming Thoughtseize into it” for both Modern and the previous Extended format.

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like Bruno and Nate’s Wydwen, the Biting Gale deck or Daryl’s Child of Alara deck. 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 Sean 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 follow Sean on Facebook… sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week!