Dear Azami: Something To Erebos(t) About

Cassidy got asked to work on an Erebos, God of the Dead deck… which he was already working on at home for his own gaming pleasure. Let’s see where he ends up, after getting this new starting point!

Dear Azami,

I haven’t been playing M:tG for all that long, but I absolutely fell in love with Commander pretty much as soon as I heard about it. I mostly play fair-type decks, but I have yet to win a game since either I end up with mana problems or people focus on me, putting me out of the game early. I had been working on a mono-black aggro-control deck, focusing on playing creatures with strong abilities that will hopefully let me weather getting picked on. Not a whole lot of color-screw to worry about, either. I had no idea who the commander was going to be, though… until Theros. Hello, Erebos!


Erebos, God of the Dead

Not Creatures:
Whispersilk Cloak
Skeletal Grimace
Increasing Ambition
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Whip of Erebos
Grim Return
Stab Wound
Staff of the Death Magus
Tragic Slip
Curse of Death’s Hold
Underworld Connections
Devour Flesh
Staff of Nin
Aether Vial (Iona, Shield of Emeria is a thing. I can take care of her, but usually that means casting a spell…)
Dark Tutelage

Dread Slaver
Abhorrent Overlord
Desecration Demon
Liliana’s Reaver
Mogis’s Marauder
Xathrid Gorgon
Bloodgift Demon
Reaper from the Abyss
Kuro, Pitlord
Ink Eyes, Servant of Oni
Harvester of Souls
Pontiff of Blight
Corpse Traders
Necropolis Regent
Seizan, Perverter of Truth (almost my Commander)
Visara the Dreadful
Big Game Hunter
Disciple of Bolas
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Shimian Specter
Skirsdag High Priest
Maga, Traitor to Mortals (also almost my Commander)
Exhumer Thrull
Slum Reaper
Myojin of Night’s Reach (yeah, I know…)
Lord of the Void
Ascendant Evincar
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon (also, also almost my commander…)
Herald of Leshrac
Massacre Wurm
Knight of Infamy
Crypt Ghast
Magus of the Coffers
Shadowborn Demon
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Dark Impostor
Royal Assassin

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Rogue’s Passage
37x Swamp

Thanks for looking!

Nathan L.

Must… stop… craving… shiny… new… Ah, forget it. Can’t resist. Let’s do this!

Thanks for writing in, Nathan! I appreciate the list, and I’m glad you’re really getting into the game and the format in specific. I’m personally pretty excited to have an Erebos list show up in the Dear Azami inbox this past week, because I’m actually in the process of trying to build one myself. I was absolutely unable to fend off the urge to build a deck around a legendary creature with a god sub-type, so this past week I took roll-call of my current decks to find a color combination to go to work on.

I have a mono-white list already (Akroma, Angel of Wrath – Angels tribal), and a mono-blue list as well (Memnarch – no cards exist in the deck other than basic lands that don’t say “artifact” somewhere on them), so Thassa and Heliod were immediately ruled out. I was also pretty determined not to go with Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]; it has already started to pop up in decks in my metagame, and also my experience with it so far has been on the side of being moderately annoyed by it. The thing about the gods is that they just don’t go away, so tossing them out early often means they just sit there and, well, be effective. When it’s Purphoros, the game is essentially played in fast-forward mode, with everyone scrambling to take out the guy with him in play before he finds Avenger of Zendikar; meanwhile, every Goblin Balloon Brigade is an instant six-point swing at a standard table of four.

Yeah… not going there personally.

I also can’t bring myself to go mono-green these days; in my metagame, green decks ramp into broken plays without exception, and all other mono-green strategies that don’t seem inferior to the point of being a waste of time.

And so it was that I found myself opening my mailbox three days after was released, pulling out an envelope, and cracking it open to find a foil copy of Erebos, God of the Dead staring back at me.

The deckbuilding process went something like this:

  • Get excited to build a deck for the Wednesday game.
  • Get sucked into season one of Hannibal on Monday night with my wife. Pass out on the couch.
  • End up late at work on Tuesday night. Fall asleep on the couch for a few hours, then wake up and remember that I was out of time on building a list.
  • Run to my office and frantically pull thirty-eight lands and sixty-one black cards out of my deckbuilding box.
  • Sleeve up and hope for the best.

Long story short, the deck is in pieces on my desk again. It’s going through a very serious overhaul, as the first play experience I had with it involved me sitting around mana-screwed for a long time, finally finding and tabling Liliana of the Dark Realms, and managing to ramp it up to six loyalty while no one was paying attention. The next few turns involved twenty-three mana into a Drain Life, and then the same into a Maga, Traitor to Mortals the following turn. (I’m good at paying attention to board position. Also, Palisade Giant is a thing.) The other players didn’t let me stick around long after that.

At its core, this is all well and good. Giant, lethal Magas are pretty sweet, but the issue that arises is that I still end up in nearly the same position that you’re experiencing; mana issues and getting beaten up on when things suddenly look threatening. The deck is falling short in so many areas that it ends up not really engaging anyone or anything until it does something broken, and subsequently it gets effectively smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. That’s not my ideal Commander experience, so it’s back to the drawing board for me.

Speaking of…

Where We’re Headed Today

Here’s a quick synopsis of the good, the bad, and the plan going forward:


There sure are a lot of solid creatures in here. Also, you’re not afraid of removal, and thirty-nine land is just about perfect here. I’d say you’ve got a really good foundation for a mid-range mono-black control-ish beatdown-ish list.


There are some random things that show up in here that seem cool on the surface, but are pretty seriously weak at closer look. (Hello, Skeletal Grimace!) You’ve also got a few cards in here that do a wonderful job of drawing an inordinate amount of attention and retribution, and we’re trying to avoid that in particular.

Other effects that we should be trying to avoid are the random discard options you’re packing; things like Larceny, which in practice don’t ever force an opponent to discard what you want them to actually discard, and also… well, tend to really irritate people. See the paragraph immediately preceding this one for how we feel on that.

Lastly, you’ve got a commander that has the word “devotion” in the rules text. Now, I’m not suggesting that the deck should be completely commander-centric, but if you can pop out a solid draw engine that also happens to be an indestructible beater, you might as well at least give it the ol’ college try.

So let’s get to work on this thing and see if we can’t get it to a better place…

The Lands

There’s not much here to worry about. I’m totally cool with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (although I’m not as smitten by it in this format as many other people seem to be), so that stays. I’m also a huge fan of Rogue’s Passage, so I’ll leave it where it is too; I’m not totally sure why a god would need to sneak around, but the mental image is cool, so we’ll run with that.

Here’s what I want to do:

Out: 2 Swamp

In: Bojuka Bog, Cabal Coffers

What you have done with this list is completely omit graveyard hate. This is Commander, and you’re running a deck designed to send every creature you can to a graveyard somewhere, so we really need to prevent repeat performances. Bojuka Bog is the first of several options in this area to join the party.

With thirty-five Swamps, Cabal Coffers is a lock. Staple, schmaple; when a card makes sense, it makes sense. You’re not running Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (mostly because it would do nothing in this deck), so you should be fine here.

It’s still going to get Strip Mined like you read about, but oh well.

The Spells

This section remains decidedly less intact…

Out: Skeletal Grimace, Whispersilk Cloak

I’m serious… other than the artwork being pretty killer, I don’t see Skeletal Grimace being worth a slot for any reason at all. It’s not kicking towards devotion, and I don’t see a single creature that really needs to stick around so bad that regeneration is the thing for it. (And besides, you’d do better to take a cue from your commander and just run Darksteel Plate instead.) Whispersilk is in a similar boat, in that you have some creatures that have good effects, but not enough for the random inclusion to really pay off for the lost slot. (See also better equipment in the ‘boots’ suite – Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves.)

In: Gravestorm, Dawn of the Dead

Let’s get the devotion party started the right way. You’ve gone heavy on bomb-tastic creatures, so getting one back each turn for the low cost of one life while also turning Erebos into a creature seems worth the inclusion of Dawn of the Dead.

A little extra passive card draw never hurts either, so Gravestorm makes the grade. Again, we’re revisiting the graveyard hate thing, and this is pretty selective; remember that “can’t” and “doesn’t” can mean the same thing, so target the opponent with the empty graveyard as often as possible.

Out: Befoul, Stab Wound, Curse of Death’s Hold

These are basically just cuts of sub-par effects to make room for better ones. I’ve simply never been a fan of black’s tendency towards excluding itself from its own removal, and there are cheaper ways to get that effect anyway than using Befoul.

Stab Wound and Curse of Death’s Hold both fall into the “too little, too late” category. In the case of the former, it was pretty great in Return to Ravnica Limited, but in Commander, you’re not killing off Kresh the Bloodbraided with it; you’re just attaching a reason to have the controller beat you with it. In the case of the latter, you’ve got a good token deterrent, but that’s about it, and it doesn’t help you deal with token guy and other token guy as well.

In: Murder, Profane Command, Black Sun’s Zenith

Upgrades for everyone! Murder is what Befoul aspires to be, while Profane Command offers up a better way to give a creature –X/-X, stapled to recursion, stapled to direct damage, stapled to team evasion. While we’re in there, Black Sun’s Zenith takes care of tokens guy, other tokens guy, and everything else right up through Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. (Yeah… that means your own Erebos, too. Into every life a little non-bo must fall.)

Out: Devour Flesh

In: Tribute to Hunger

Because gaining life when a creature dies off is better than your opponent gaining life when a creature dies off.

Out: Larceny, Staff of the Death Magus

As I said above, I’m not crazy about something that hits the board and threatens to seriously annoy everyone unless it has the power to back itself up. In this case, the best case scenario is that you have enough of a team that you can keep everyone’s hands empty with Larceny, but if you’ve able to get through with that many creatures, you’re probably already winning anyway. Worst-case scenario is that your bored opponents can’t play the game with no cards, so they’re checking their smartphones for Twitter updates.

Well, worst case is that everyone just gang-piles you for representing any/all of the above.

And the Staff… let’s just say that Wizards of the Coast has been trying to make the “gain life when X gets played” thing work for the last… oh… twenty years or so. This is an improvement on Throne of Bone, but that’s like saying seasonal allergies are an improvement on a debilitating peanut allergy. You still don’t want either one.

In: Exquisite Blood, Skeletal Scrying

Again, one of the best ways to overcome being mana screwed is to simply power through your library with draw spells. Since Exquisite Blood provides the awesome lifegain that Staff of the Death Magus didn’t, you can afford to splurge on a solid chunk of instant-speed card draw. Mission accomplished.

Out: Underworld Connections, Aether Vial, Dark Tutelage

Again, we’re going to be talking mostly functional upgrades here. Well, except for Dark Tutelage; I’m guessing you’ve never had the pleasure of flipping Kuro, Pitlord with it, have you?

In: Phyrexian Arena, Oblivion Stone, Necropotence

Underworld Connections gets the upgrade to Phyrexian Arena, because you’d rather draw a card for the cost of just one life than for one life and effectively one mana.

In addition to Iona, Shield of Emeria, black also fears enchantments in general because it has a heck of a time dealing with them. I’m not sure exactly what line of play you plan on using to take Iona out with an Aether Vial, but instead of slow-motion telegraphing your play, Oblivion Stone just handles the problem instead. And all the other problems too. (And it won’t kill Erebos! Bonus!)

Finally, there’s Necropotence. If you’re gaining life, and you’re looking for ways to increase devotion and draw a ton of cards, there’s not a single thing that’s better in the format. Sure, it will paint a target on your head, but again, this is a case of the right card for the right purpose.

The Creatures

I see a lot of opportunity to make some solid upgrades and improvements to what you’ve got going on here. As I said earlier, there are also a few things that need to come out if you want to hope for the chance to make it through a full game without drawing undue hate from your table-mates.

Out: Dread Slaver, Abhorrent Overlord, Liliana’s Reaver

Dread Slaver is basically a strict upgrade to The Wretched, a card I used to adore greatly…and neither one is very good. This is begging for deathtouch to be truly effective.

I like that you’ve got an eye for devotion with the Overlord too, but at the end of the day you don’t have a tokens deck here, and a bunch of tiny Harpies aren’t doing anything but keeping Abhorrent alive. Why not just play a 6/6 demon (or bigger) with no strings attached instead?

Lastly, Liliana’s Reaver is another case of a card that seems better than it actually is. In Commander, it’s likely just a 4/3 that costs four mana unless you’re just picking on the guy with the terrible board position, and that’s not very nice.

In: Phyrexian Delver, Promise of Power, Suffer the Past

I know I’m spending the meager lifegain we’ve found for you at a pretty good clip here, but Delver is one of the stronger pieces of recursion that you can access stapled to a pair of legs. Er… make that giant mechanical wheels. In any case, five mana for a 3/2 body and your choice of creatures is a great deal, and will likely enable devotion on the spot.

Instead of a bunch of little tokens, aren’t cards better? And your flying demon is probably going to end up being much bigger than a 6/6; I’d guess that the average demon I summon with this card is about a 9/9.

And since I’m feeling badly about the life loss, let’s kill two birds with one stone and get you a good chunk of some along with some solid graveyard hate. Suffer the Past is criminally underplayed; it’s a solid source of life and direct damage, and the ability to exile cards from a graveyard at instant speed is well worth it alone.

Yeah… take another look. It’s an instant. I have no idea either, but it’s going in for sure.

Out: Corpse Traders

Okay… now this one you nailed, since you’re targeting what gets discarded. Even better, it’s not a tap ability. (I guess this is the other thing you do with the Abhorrent Overlord tokens…) Still, since we’re clearing out the discard, and since you don’t have a ton of creatures you want to be regularly sacrificing, playing this card will just scare your opponents into thinking you’re going to use it a lot, and that’s bad too.

In: Rescue from the Underworld

A little extra recursion never hurt, and this new option is flavor-first and extremely cool. The extra-cool thing in Commander is that if you sacrifice your commander to pay for it, it doesn’t matter where you send it to. Even from the command zone, it’s still coming back for free when the second part of the effect triggers.

Out: Myojin of Night’s Reach, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

Let’s address the twin 800-pound gorrilas in the room right now and get it over with. You already know what I’m going to say about the Myojin; this card just isn’t fun. Period. It’s not even all that effective, unless you’re down to one-on-one play, so all you’re doing by including it is scaring the crap out of the other players, making sure they all stop playing the game, or some combination of the two. Let’s get a more interesting option in there instead that doesn’t ruin the game for everyone.

And good old Skittles, friend to Mimeoplasm. Infect is really just no fun either. It’s basically just commander damage times two. (Well, really 2.1, I suppose.) This things holds the rarified distinction that few cards hold in this format – never ever eliciting a positive reaction from anyone when it gets played.

I guess other playgroups see things differently, and I understand that some people play competitively and just want to win faster than the rest of the table, but I want to see longer games filled with laughs and good times, and this card has never helped me to get there. Your mileage may vary.

In: Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir

Grave Pact is a must in this deck. It’s a colored-mana-rich enchantment that has a profound effect on the board, serving as a solid deterrent to attack when you have creatures out as well as a fantastic way to enable devotion while also handling difficult-to-remove creatures.

And if you like the enchantment version, it never hurts to staple it to a five-power flyer.

Out: Nighthowler

I’m not a fan of anything that can be invalidated totally by a zero-cost artifact. (I’m looking at you, Tormod’s Crypt!)

In: Filth

Instead, let’s take advantage of the fact that black is a pretty popular color in this format. Filth is often overshadowed by Anger and Brawn in the Incarnation cycle, but it has the potential to be truly backbreaking in a deck that packs so many huge creatures.

Out: Shimian Specter, Knight of Infamy

From the “Not Enough Impact In This Format” files comes these two. Shimian Specter is pinpoint exile, which isn’t totally worthless in Commander; however, it’s still a 2/2 flyer for an initial investment of four mana, which is incredibly fragile by all accounts. With a little more haste in the deck, I might consider letting this stick around, but again this is another card that you don’t want to run out and let people think about before you can bring it to bear.

The Knight… hmmm. I don’t follow, I guess. Am I missing something on this card? It seems totally outclassed in nearly every conceivable situation, so I have to assume that you have some niche use for it. Either way, I’d rather see something that’s just better to begin with.

In: Withered Wretch, Pestilence Demon

Withered Wretch is a 2/2 that I can get behind. Still the default poster boy (Girl? Thing?) for graveyard removal, there’s just no getting around the industry standard. One colorless mana, one targeted card gone. This is the best card there is at what it does, bar none.

I noticed Pestilence is in the deck already, and I love the inclusion. I can’t ask you to pull it, even though it will be hard to keep around with no demonstrated way to make tokens on the fly.

The Demon, however, is an incredible tool. You get the same effect on a huge body, enabling you the ability to manage the activations for strongest effect. It can act as a board sweeper or targeted removal, and it won’t go away when you kill off the last creatures on the board with it. (Unless you kill it with its own ability, but whatever.)

Besides, seven power in the air is a decent statement to make either way.

Out: Shadowborn Demon, Magus of the Coffers

I clearly like the Coffers effect, since I already added the land that is this guy’s namesake. Still, I’m fairly confident that the increased draw this deck now has will fix the mana woes, and I’m equally sure that a land will stick around longer than a creature will.

Shadowborn Demon is a tough sell for me. The condition for its removal is a far cry better than, say, Nekrataal, but I can’t help but feel that this deck will have a hard time keeping the graveyard stocked long enough for the flying body this thing brings to the table to be worth it. Nine times out of ten, I think an evoked Shriekmaw will be better.

In: Grave Titan, Sheoldred, Whispering One

In looking through the list up to now, I’m not totally happy with the reanimation suite. Sheoldred is kind of Commander low-hanging fruit these days, but the double-edged utility of no-questions-asked recursion and removal of your opponent’s creatures is too hard to overlook in a list like this that aims to exploit both of those strategies.

Finally, Grave Titan gives back some of those tokens I’ve been talking about, but in a far more aggressive manner. A little extra offense never hurt, and in mono-black, this thing is so good at just that. I’m always happy to draw this card.

The Deck

If I started with your list, Nathan, here’s where I think I’d take it:

This is a little more rounded and polished then where we started. To summarize, it’s very heavy on removal, which is just fine. To address the mana issues, I killed two birds with one stone by upping the draw in the deck, and to support the natural draw that Erebos provides, I added in some extra lifegain to offset things a bit. There’s a good chunk of graveyard hate in the list now which was sorely lacking before, and there are some solid inclusions designed to bump the devotion cause.

It may not be the most innovative set of changes I’ve ever put together, but it pushes the deck into a stronger direction overall. The largely-ineffective discard effects are gone, and some of the weaker links have been swapped out for better options for what should be a smoother operation all around.

It’ll do the trick, and you should be hanging with the other decks in your metagame quite a bit easier now.

Here’s the card-by-card breakdown:

You’re looking at a little less than $70, all told. You’ll be receiving the standard $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for your participation in Dear Azami today, so that’ll help the cause.

As a comparison to where my personal deck ended up, I decided to go with a far heavier lifegain component, packing in every Drain Life effect I could find. I decided to go off the wall a bit, adding in some alternatives to straight removal such as Darkness and Imp’s Mischief to provide some other ways to interact and get things done. There are some other removal options worth looking at, as well; there’s the low hanging fruits that are Plague Wind, Decree of Pain, and Damnation, but there are also great alternatives like Phthisis and Temporal Extortion that mono-black can easily support and will be pretty huge (and pretty epic) when they come down.

I’m actually also considering taking the whole thing creatureless, devotion to Erebos be damned. (See what I did there?) But that’s a story for another time…

I’ll see you all 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 Chris’s Adun Oakenshield deck or Jether’s Kozilek, Butcher of Truth 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 the StarCityGames.com Store!

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