Dear Azami: Revisiting Vaevictis…Er…Karrthus

Cassidy does the first-ever revisit of a previous submission by talking to Tyler about how his retooling of his Commander deck has worked out for him.

Apparently, June is officially "Try New Things Month" here at Dear Azami. We started things off with none other than Sheldon Menery guest writing a column based on a Lavinia of the Tenth list that was submitted by a reader. Not to take away anything from my co-writer Sean or myself, but I’m sure there aren’t many people out there that can say they play a deck that was personally tuned by the "Godfather of Commander" himself.

The following week, I was able to put in some work firsthand on a reader’s Crosis, the Purger submission by working with my close friend and co-writer Patrick to actually build and playtest the deck live and in person before deciding what changes to make. It’s pretty eye opening to get in some firsthand seat time with a deck to really understand what makes it tick and what improvements could be made.  

Last week, Sean accepted a reader-submitted challenge to build an entire deck around the interaction between Mishra, Artificer Prodigy and Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author]. This was also new ground; typically, it takes an actual deck submission to be featured on Dear Azami because, well, we work on decklists. It’s hard to do the latter without the former. Sean has written some great explanations in the past on how he builds decks, but it was really cool to see him work through a process directly from start to finish.

This week, I decided to keep the ball rolling and do a first-ever revisiting of a previous submission. A lot of you have written in or commented that you’d like to see this happen, so I’m going to break some more new ground and give it a whirl. It’s very easy to put in the work on a deck, polish the article, send it off to Cedric to publish, and then just move on without another thought.

For me, this should be a great way to finally answer the question that’s been keeping me up at nights (kinda):

How badly do I actually screw up these poor people’s decks?

Fingers are crossed, folks…

The Worst Deck to Grace the Halls of Gen Con

Many of you will remember this guy from about a year ago:

This is Tyler. I took Dear Azami on the road to Gen Con last year, working some magic (or maybe voodoo) on his Legacy Lands-inspired Vaevictis Asmadi deck.

Tyler played his initial list in one of the Commander Constructed events. I don’t want to rub salt in the wound, so instead of saying where he finished with it, I’ll tell you that it starts with the letter "L" and rhymes with "fast"; interestingly enough, this was also the pace in which it lost to a fully built Hermit Druid combo deck.

For those of you who haven’t read the article, check it out here. For reference, here’s Tyler’s initial list:

Commander: Vaevictis Asmadi

Lands (49)

6x Snow-Covered Mountain

6x Snow-Covered Forest

4x Snow-Covered Swamp




Verdant Catacombs

Bloodstained Mire

Highland Weald

Glacial Chasm

Maze of Ith

Mystifying Maze

Mouth of Ronom

Deserted Temple

Scrying Sheets

Barbarian Ring

Terrain Generator

Buried Ruin

Kher Keep



Strip Mine

Bojuka Bog

Gargoyle Castle

Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

Petrified Field

Kessig Wolf Run

Blasted Landscape

Tranquil Thicket

Forgotten Cave

Barren Moor

Slippery Karst

Smoldering Crater

Polluted Mire

The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale

Dakmor Salvage

Damage! (8)

Seismic Assault

Land’s Edge

Underworld Dreams

Spiteful Visions

Wound Reflection

Iron Maiden


Ebony Owl Netsuke

Graveyard Hate (1)


Land Tutors (3)

Crop Rotation

Expedition Map

Reap and Sow

Recursion (3)

Beacon of Unrest


Creeping Renaissance

Win (1)

Worm Harvest

Spot Removal (2)

Maelstrom Pulse

Violent Ultimatum

Extra Land Drops (4)


Gaea’s Touch

Rites of Flourishing


Sacrifice Outlet (1)

Squandered Resources

Recursion (2)

Crucible of Worlds

Life from the Loam


Azusa, Lost but Seeking

Grave-Shell Scarab

Avenger of Zendikar

Oracle of Mul Daya

Mass Removal (4)

Decree of Pain


Dregs of Sorrow

Pernicious Deed

Damage Prevention (4)


Glacial Crevasses

Constant Mists


Draw (9)

Howling Mine

Font of Mythos

Temple Bell

Horn of Greed

Seer’s Sundial

Sylvan Library


Reforge the Soul

Wheel of Fortune

Tutors (3)

Demonic Tutor

Beseech the Queen


After digging in, we identified that the deck didn’t particularly have a win condition. We diversified the options in that area, pulled the creatures to make it a true creatureless deck to allow it to punish creature strategies a bit harder, and worked on the mana-base and removal a bit more.

The other major change was pulling Vaevictis for Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund; the thought was that a big hasty beater might be a decent backup plan in a pinch.

This is where we ended up:

Again, for those of you keeping score, I’m able to give Tyler a little extra ribbing here because he’s a friend of mine; we share a metagame and go back a long way. (In fact, he’s a better player and deckbuilder than I am if I’m totally honest!) He’s a big boy, and I’m sure he can take it.

Since the retooling, I’ve seen the deck in action a few times; it seems to win a lot of games due in part to the very unexpected game plan and decent defensive strategy. People tend to be initially hesitant due to the choice of commander, but Tyler spends a good chunk of the early and midgame setting up with the rather unorthodox card choices this deck packs and other players tend to dismiss him as a result.

By the time things are in motion, it’s hard to break through the protective front made up of fog effects and removal in time to prevent being shot to pieces with Wound Reflection and Seismic Assault or ground to nothing via Underworld Dreams.

It’s a great deck that benefits equally from strategy and unfamiliarity.

It also holds the distinction of the single-most awesome Commander win of all-time. The story has been told before, but I have to loosely rehash it a little bit. I was in a game at our local shop with this deck and a few others, notably another local player with a potent Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord deck. Things went south towards the end of the game, and when the dust from the Jarag sacrifices settled, everyone else was eliminated except for Tyler.

Tyler only had a few turns and was on the defense. In fact, if memory serves, Jarad needed only to draw, play, and sacrifice a reasonably sized creature in order to take the win. In the meantime, the Jarad player was swinging to keep the pressure on Tyler, who was stuck looking for a way to pull the game out.

With Seismic Assault on the deck, a draw effect left Tyler a few lands short of being able to pitch his hand for lethal damage. The turn passed, and the Jarad player added another card to her gigantic Reliquary Tower enabled hand, attacked in, and passed.

Tyler needed some way to win on the spot, and he found it when he drew Beseech the Queen. Thumbing through the deck, I figured Tyler had some means of immediately capitalizing on the power of Seismic Assault to take the game then and there.

Instead, Tyler went straight rock star.

"Tutor and play Iron Maiden, pass the turn."

We all looked at the Jarad player’s gigantic hand and then to her life total.

The room was silent for a few seconds.

"Did…did he just win with Iron Maiden?" someone in the back asked.

Raucous laughter ensued. And nothing has topped it in our little shop since.

Tyler Gets His Time in the Sun

I got in touch with Tyler to ask him a set of questions so that I can gauge how things have gone with his deck in the past year. He was very eager to play ball.

Me: First off, how many (if any) of the changes suggested did you actually make?

Tyler: I made all of the changes suggested—I wanted to try it out as you had envisioned it.

Me: Totally flattered! I hope my vision wasn’t horribly out of focus. Have you changed the deck at all since last year? If so, what have you done?

Tyler: I have a lot of decks and a limited amount of time to spend playing, so I’ve kept it the same in order to have the chance to really familiarize myself with it. It’s an interesting experience to play a deck built by someone else even if it was conceived by me.

Me: Sweet. It’s funny you mention the deck being "conceived." I was considering naming it "Honey, Why Does My Karrthus Deck Look Like The Mailman.dec."

And with that, there’s a full year of new toys out there since Gen Con; anything catch your eye to try out?

Tyler: Don’t quit your day job to be a comedian anytime soon. Just saying.

I actually haven’t been playing with the new cards this year (barring some Modern Masters drafts), but I have tried to peruse the spoilers to keep my decks updated. I think Return to Ravnica block offers a lot of solid role players like Abrupt Decay, Dreadbore, Vandalblast, Golgari Charm, Rakdos Charm, Mizzium Mortars, Clan Defiance, Crypt Incursion, Drown in Filth, and so on. Some of these could make their way in, but they are all really just "sweeper #3" or "spot removal #5"—none really add any big effects to the deck.

Urban Burgeoning can enhance some of my lands, but I feel it would really just sit around till I find Maze of Ith. Borborygmos Enraged is probably the more straightforward version of this deck now, but I like this version. Vraska the Unseen could help with removal, and Deadbridge Chant could provide a little card advantage.

I think the real hit is Havoc Festival. It fits the bill of killing everyone while I protect myself. It might be dangerous—sorry—it is dangerous, but I think it could add a lot. There are also a lot of cards I’ve put in a pile that are older but might want to work in. Ward of Bones, Oppression, Meekstone, and The Abyss all come to mind.

Me: You and your crazy "Eternal staples" reserve collection. I can’t say I’ve ever just tossed The Abyss into a pile.

Can you walk us through a typical game with this thing?

Tyler: Well, the early game usually involves setting up some draw engine for the table, like Howling Mine or Font of Mythos, Temple Bell or Horn…whatever. While everyone is building their board position, I am usually staring at a hand full of creature control.

A few sweeps and rebuilds later, I’ll have a Fog engine of some sort online, and the time will be right to start killin’. Now that it’s a race, I’ll usually get one or two damage engines going, whether it’s Vicious Shadows, Ebony Owl Netsuke, or maybe Underworld Dreams. Everyone else will now see where this is going and start to try to overwhelm my Fog engine and kill me off; whether I win or lose usually rides on whether or not I can Fog enough times to outlast them. (I’ve had about a 50% success ratio.)

Glacial Chasm is a huge part of whether I win or not. Eon Hub?

Me: Eon Hub is tech. What’s your favorite win-condition in the deck? Why?

Tyler: My favorite win condition is absolutely Iron Maiden. If only they’d print an Exodus card or a Testament card!

Me: I’m with that. I’m also putting the over/under on the percentage of Dear Azami readers who have any clue about either of those bands at about 15% 

What are the best-performing cards in the deck?

Tyler: I’ll take the over. I’m not scared!

I think one of the best-performing cards is Torpor Orb. I actually think one of the changes I would make is to add in more cards that lock out other people’s cards. This card does soooooo much work; I want to pair it with Null Rod, Cursed Totem, Stranglehold, and other ways to shut down things.

Me: That’s actually an angle that I totally undershot when trying to figure out how it would protect itself once the creatures came out. If there’s a deck that can swing a card like Null Rod or Stranglehold, this is it.

Give me the flip side; what cards are lacking?

Tyler: I hate to break it to you, but Runeflare Trap is just a better Lava Spike. The deck fills everyone’s hand, but not to proportions that want Storm Seeker. I like the idea, but as a one-shot Iron Maiden it doesn’t hold up.

Squall Line, Fault Line, and Lavalanche are a little underwhelming as well. For all its "lands matter" theme, this deck doesn’t ramp into much mana, so X spells are not what they could be. I think some replacement sweepers that are easier on the mana might help; the best ones are already here, but maybe Life’s Finale or Mizzium Mortars or something. I like Lavalanche, but all these X spells can’t find the room to be cast.

The other area that lags behind a little is spot removal. Maelstrom Pulse and Violent Ultimatum are overworked as my only answers to problems, and in these colors that’s unacceptable. I don’t need a lot of creature removal beyond the sweepers, but some answers to artifacts and enchantments would be helpful. What about the thing from Innistrad block where you choose an order for the types and then everyone sacs one, two, and then three of those types…Rite of Ruin or something? That seems like it could do some work.

Me: You’re killing me here. You know how much I love me some Storm Seeker. I suppose these are valid concerns, though. This thing needs answers to certain things in order to keep moving and actually be able to execute the game plan. Turbo Fog is great and all, but winning is probably better.

Hey…do you ever actually play Karrthus?

Tyler: I have considered playing Karrthus, which is close enough.

Me: Hmmm…dubious, sir. The French judge docked you style points.

Last but not least, does this feel like a "lands matter" deck?

Tyler: It does feel like a "lands matter" deck. I think you could make a deck that feels more like a lands matter deck, but I think it would be much less interesting, would involve cards like Devastating Dreams and Terravore, and would not be so fun to play. I think lands combo is also possible, but this feels like Loam Prison.

I really enjoy this deck.

Wait…weren’t you the one who said, "In all honesty, the commander of this deck isn’t very critical to the strategy. While I appreciate the inclusion of a creature that ages back eighteen years or so, the extra creature hate that I’ve added in will really serve to encourage you to never play Vaevictis rather than rarely play him."?

Me: Quoting the author in his own domain to discredit his poor attempts at humor. This means war! It’s fisticuffs the next time I see you, sir. Good day!

There simply aren’t enough fisticuffs in this world.

New Toys

The entire Return to Ravnica block has dropped in the last year since we looked at Tyler’s deck, which means there are a host of cards that might serve to make this deck even better than it is now. Going set-by-set:

Return to Ravnica

Abrupt Decay is a relatively decent consideration. There are enough Propagandas and Rhystic Studies and Swords of Value and Card Advantage out there that the targeting restriction doesn’t seem too big of a deal anymore.

Golgari Charm fits the bill too. It’s very flexible, as it deals with token swarms very efficiently, and also adds back in some of that enchantment removal Tyler would like the deck to have more of.

Havoc Festival is the big hit here. This deck hurts quite a bit in the face of life gain, and a solid win condition like this really levels the playing field against more aggressive creature-based decks.

Mizzium Mortars is just okay. Nothing amazing, and the triple red overload cost is not the easiest thing in the world to put together reliably in a three-plus color deck. Still, it probably nukes a huge part of the board that isn’t yours anyway.

Good thing you already got rid of the creatures.

Rakdos Charm might do a nice job of covering the other half of the bases that Golgari Charm couldn’t get. Graveyard hate, artifact hate, and ways to punish token decks? Seems great.

Underworld Connections is incredibly fragile as draw engines go, but it totally fits the lands theme of the deck. Worth a consideration.

Vandalblast is strong and reasonably costed even for the overload price. This can gain a ton of good advantage at the right moment.


Ground Assault is a good choice for a little extra creature spot removal. So thematic and so strong in the mid/late game.

It’d be the best thing ever if it hit players as well.

Thespian’s Stage probably goes in most Commander decks these days, but it’s very strong in this deck with the very creative and functional land base.

Dragon’s Maze

– I love Crypt Incursion as the new way to play Suffer the Past. There’s no damage to your opponent here, but the life gain and cheap cost more than make up for it.

Gaze of Granite is another solid piece of removal to add to the mix. It’s an X spell, but since we’re not talking damage and since it’s scalable to demand, this Pernicious Deed clone might be worth a second look; you won’t need a ton of mana to make it function in your favor.

I suggest taking a good look at the underperforming areas, making some cuts, and reorganizing this thing to take advantage of the strong synergy it already has. There are some great new options, and there’s never anything wrong with going old school and breaking out Oppression or The Abyss. That seems like a great way to actually tune out the weaker links and could be something to consider.

Closing It Down

With that, Dear Azami closes out another week. Tyler, thanks again for being as gracious as to sit down with me on this project; I really enjoyed getting some insight into how I actually did the first time around and what you see as high and low points. Seems like I didn’t really miss too many things. (And yes, I’m knocking on wood right now.) 

I’m interested in doing this sort of thing again, so if anyone out there has been a previous submitter for Dear Azami, please feel free to email us to let us know you’d be interested in getting the band back together for another run-through.

Tyler, you’ll be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com for participating in Dear Azami today. Again. Time to go shopping!

For the rest of you, keep the submissions coming. Let us know in the comments section if this is something you want to see again because I’d love to do it semi-regularly.

Thanks again, everyone. See you in two.


Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Sean’s Blake-inspired Mishra, Artificer Prodigy deck or Mike’s Crosis, the Purger 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 us a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here! 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! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here or check out his Commander blog!