Welcome to my guest appearance redux here on Dear Azami, appointed by Sean as interim advisor as Cassidy is taking care of some other stuff for a while. And after my Las Vegas fiasco of doing terrible in any game I dare touched, I’d like to get back to some good ‘ol Commandering!
But why exactly do people play Commander? Well, the best reason for me at least is to have fun with friends, and I like to do that by telling stories. Everybody loves to reminisce by saying “remember that time . . . ” and I’m no different. And the kookier and crazier the story that can be told by our 100-card piles, the better!
An Enchanting Commander
Steven has chosen Horobi, Death’s Wail, an unlikely general who generally gets overshadowed by his expansion kin Azami and Azusa. While the Kamigawa set was marred by both awkward cards (One with Nothing), dominant cards (Umezawa’s Jitte), and those with both properties (Sensei’s Divining Top), the flavor really rustles my weeaboo jimmies. Horobi doesn’t do much, but the one thing he (it?) does well is killing creatures, black’s favorite pastime outside of making pacts with demons and stealing the candy of Little Girls.
But let’s be real—Steven’s true love is Endless Whispers, and if that silly rule that your commander has to be a mortal creature weren’t around, our sweet enchantment would helm our dastardly legion. Even though I’m an Izzet guy, The Color that Lies Between is not an unknown entity to me. While it can’t have some of the crazier cards in the game like Eye of the Storm and Grip of Chaos, it still has its own devious play style that I can handle.
This time I think I’m going to try to “optimize” this deck to make it more thematic and funny as per Steven’s request, but I’ll adhere to the normal Dear Azami method by examining what I’m taking out and adding as opposed to just making a deck from scratch.
But let’s just analyze our creature-enchantment duality. We’re always going to have access to Horobi, so we might as well have some sweet cards that let us target opposing creatures for value, either in a cheap repeatable way or in a cantripping way. It also means we shouldn’t count too much on our creatures living, so we need either guys with minimal investment or ones that are the Theme Song to Street Fighter IV. Our “Lieutenant” as it were is Endless Whispers. Our goal is to cast this as much as we can, and since we’re mono-black, we can use tutors to try to get this in our hand, then in play, and then combine with our general or other cards so that our opponent’s board will Horobiru (it’s Japanese!) and become our own. And maybe theirs again. Who knows?
Alright, let’s get started. As with any Commander deck, I’d like to take a look at the lands first since, you know, they are about half of the cards! Since we’re a mono-black deck, it’s surprisingly simple; we just have to figure out what utility lands to include with our Swamps. But of course the most important decision regarding lands is which basic to use. For Horobi, I suggest a strong infusion of APAC Land Blue: Taiwan to match Horobi’s fondness of . . . well . . . killing things.
Without something like Crucible Worlds, another color, or a need to manipulate the top card of your library, any kind of fetch land just isn’t needed. Rogue’s Passage is a lot of mana to make your guy be unbloc—I mean not able to be blocked. As for the combolicious with our commander, I’ve more than made up for it with some later additions.
IN: Tower Of The Magistrate, Urborg, Desert
These let us assassinate creatures in combination with our commander. Plus you never know if something might have Swampwalk or a Sword of Wreck your Deck attached to it!
Maxing out our “spells” by only using our mana base is a time-honored tradition of building Magic decks. Remember when Celestial Colonnade was spoiled? I had just started playing, and I already knew I wanted to play four of them in every deck forever. Even if it’s just a little bit of recursion, such as in this case, I’ll still take it. Worthless style points that nobody will appreciate (my specialty) are given since “Ruin” is a pun on Horobi’s name in Japanese.
You know what our commander does? With the power of terrible Draft commons on his side, he’s able to destroy any single creature known to man! So we don’t really need any “actual” removal. We’re better able to use these slots to accentuate our deck’s unique play style.
Our Modus Operandi is to kill things with our general and have crazy shenanigans with Endless Whispers. If we try to reanimate things and then they die (which they will, even if some people aren’t playing Horobi), they become a turncoat and fight for the enemy. I’d rather just not give them the chance to use our spells that let us use our opponent’s spells against them against us.
OUT: Death Butt, Demonic Collusion
The secret of these symmetrical effects is to leverage them asymmetrically in our favor, and we’re just not set up that way with this deck. Get back to me when you have Crucible of Worlds and No Rest for the Wicked. I’ve merely swapped Demonic Collusion for another five-cost tutor, one that gives you better long-term value all while not having to discard any precious cards.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t like too many tutors in a Commander deck, but this one is built to always have in play a harmless little enchantment that doesn’t do anything at all. Trust me. So I added another one. I’ve kept the costs on this deck fairly sensible, so there’s no Grim Tutor or Imperial Seal here. Although it would be sweet to be known as the guy who “Imperial Seal for Endless Whispers.” I’d reveal the card every single time just to spite all ten Vintage players in the world.
These cards are all used to combo with our commander to lay waste to minions. A noble pursuit, but I’ve added a few more in total, ones that are more efficient and less of a tax on mana.
After an initial investment, these spells no longer take up mana to kill creatures! Let all the peasants rejoice! Also, Staff of Nin draws cards. I like to do that. Plus you get to play with one of the three subtypes of artifacts! Can you name the other two? No Googling!
IN: Trading Post
This deck uses up a lot of your own life for cards, as black is wont to do. So we have to get some back somehow. I promise Brad Nelson threatening me to make people want to use his tokens more has nothing to do with my endorsement of the greatest artifact ever made. I just like to draw cards, alright? Ya gotta believe me!
IN: Pithing Needle
We can handle creatures. But can we handle Equipment? Other annoying artifacts? Planeswalkers? Not particularly, and that’s where this little guy comes in! You can reset it with the previous “IN:” card for awesomeness.
You will never, I repeat, never be upset for adding just a little bit more mana to a Commander deck. So I’ve added four more mana sources. Yeah, they’re not as unique as other cards on this list, but they are needed to get the more “interesting” bits flowing smoother. If the Commander format were a tree, drawing cards would be its phloem, and mana would be its xylem. I think so anyway.
Another approach that we could take is making things bad for our opposition. Torpor Orb, Null Rod, Tsabo’s Web, Damping Matrix, and other cards can be employed after just a little bit of tweaking to this deck. While these may help you win more, they make your opponents have a much less fun time and inhibit their deck. Anything that slows down the pace of the game just for the sake of trying to win (Ensnaring Bridge, Stasis, Winter Orb, etc.) or worse annoying the other players are not really things I’m interested in. Stax-like strategies can and do happen, and you can do whatever you want; just let me know before we sit down with what little free time I have, eh?
As with the sorcery section, we don’t need no stinkin’ removal. We have flying Spirits.
We also don’t need a lot of reanimation; we have so few creatures as it is!
OUT: Tainted Pact
Have you played with this card? I have. There’s a strong chance the top card of your library is going to be a Swamp. Do you just stop then? I sure as heck don’t want to keep going!
Have you ever wanted a one-mana instant Plague Wind? Well, this beauty is just what the doctor ordered. What’s sweet is that you can cast your commander and then immediately fire off this guy to end the lives of Phantasmal Images everywhere. Hey, guys can be beautiful!
IN: Imps’ Taunt
Well, Steven asked for funny. And The Little Black Spell that Wishes it Were Blue is about as funny as you can get. I guarantee that nobody will ever see it coming and that nobody will stop talking about that time you nabbed that one guy’s Time Stretch.
IN: Suffer the Past
Alright, shameless plug: this is perhaps my favorite black spell in the game. I played it for a while when it was in Standard, grabbing Bloodghasts, Vengevines, and Sun Titan targets alike. Everybody doubted me. They said the spell was horrible. They said the Darkblade deck I made Top 8 of an Open with was worthless and I’d never amount to anything. But I’ll show them! When the world turns its back on me, I shall turn my back on the world, and it shall rue the day they ever doubted Rise of Eldrazi Card #128! But seriously, in Commander I’m loathe to include Fireballs, but this deck needs them, mainly to gain life. This card also serves as some much-needed graveyard hate, and in a pinch you can even target yourself for a net zero loss of life to prevent Endless Whispers from giving away your sweeties.
IN: Karn Liberated
He slices, he dices, and he gets rid of a noncreature that’s bugging you! Not to mention Mr. Karn Liberace plays a mean piano! I’d like to instate a rule that if you restart a game where other players have already died they get to jump back in too! It’s the way of the Commander.
Remember when I talked about having cheaper alternatives to combo with our general? Yeah, it still holds true. Also, we really only need one or maybe two in play at a time, so we should be fine with what we have remaining.
And here lies the phloem. We’re a mono-black deck; how else are we supposed to keep up with those silly blue mages with their Divinations and those green mages with their Lair Delves? Yeah, these cost life, but if you stick one early on you should be good to ride things out. Also, you can’t feel truly alive unless you’re playing a deck that includes multiple cards with double-digit casting costs and a Dark Tutelage is in play. Of course, next thing you know you’re eating things two days past their expiration date and having an expected delivery of your Christmas presents on December 24th.
IN: Grave Pact
For when your commander isn’t around (or even if he is), this will make people think twice before killing your dudes. The Rattlesnake goes hiss.
With all the life loss we’re going to self-inflict, we need to recoup it somehow. And since we can’t really give our creatures lifelink all that easily due to our commander making most everything die when something so much as looks at it, Exquisite Blood essentially gives all your creatures lifelink and doubles up your Fireballs. Wound Reflection further doubles up these effects and lets the group gang up on “that guy.” If it turns out that the guy who is winning is you, Wound Reflection doesn’t help people hurt you more! Now hurry up and win so everybody can play again.
This is all the recursion we will need. It doubly serves to get back our guys as much as it stops our Lieutenant Enchantment from giving our creatures to other people as soon as they die by picking them back up from the graveyard before the trigger would give them away.
These guys either just don’t do much or they cost so much mana that if they ever got around to doing anything they might just inadvertently die because of our commander and fight against us because of Endless Whispers.
Let’s just leave things in the graveyard and not bring them out so that when they die our enemies get them again, eh?
Hey look! An infinite combo! I don’t like them; it’s fine if you run them to keep the combo guy down or kill him before he kills you, but it’s not my thing. And while Mikaeus is sweet, I still just don’t want to run him because he’s often just not involved in any savory subjects and might draw more fire than our poor old Horobi deserves.
OUT: Blightsteel Colossus
A one-shot infect creature? I’ll pass, even with the indestructible thing going on for him. I’ll kill people the way Richard Garfield intended: twenty damage . . . times two.
And here we come to the best reason to play with Endless Whispers. Yep, if they kill her, they die. If they don’t block her, they die. After all my harping about not liking infinite combos or one-shot kills, I’m endorsing this. Why? Well, it’s 2.5-card combo (she has to hit the graveyard somehow), and it’s in such a neat and hilariously black way that I myself really wouldn’t mind losing in this manner. I would actually try to keep a record of how many people she’s killed and tally it on her in some way. Steven wanted fun stories to tell, and hopefully this card creates some.
IN: Blind Zealot
I’m only including this little doozie because of the neat interaction that when the trigger goes on the stack it targets a creature and—then—you decide if you want to sacrifice the creature. So if your commander is in play, it can kill a creature every turn! Fo free! Neato.
IN: Nirkana Revenant
Crypt Ghast’s dear old auntie. I blame decks like these for making this card way more expensive than it should be.
Here’s the fat. They’re either hard to kill or come with lots of friends. Ulamog is inherently the “meanest” guy in this list, but come on, somebody has to have that title! We’re not cheating him into play or anything—just watch out for Bribery. He might even need to skip town because of that exact reason. Colossus of Akros is comically awesome, and I hope he gets the time to shine that he deserves!
You can’t kill him, he draws cards, he stops Oloro and other life gainers right in their tracks, and he can even attack! I almost made a deck with him at the helm myself when he was revealed, but I was too afraid of making it just mono-black “good stuff.”
This Dynasty Wars legend lets us retrieve our Endless Whispers (or most any other card in our deck) for when it gets blown up. He also can attack fairly well on his own. The worst part about playing him is trying to pronounce his name correctly.
IN: Pack Rat
And we’ve finally arrived to our last new addition. The scourge of Limited, Block, and Standard is looking for a new format to dominate, and he’s turned his eyes toward our beloved Commander! He’s useful in this deck because he can spread apart and the tokens aren’t given to somebody else through Endless Whispers. He’s also just good in that if you start to amass an army of them most decks can’t repel firepower of that magnitude. He’s small but begins to hit surprisingly hard surprisingly quick.
So with all these sweeping changes I’ve suggested, we arrive at the following list:
- 1 Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Phage the Untouchable
- 1 Horobi, Death's Wail
- 1 Dimir House Guard
- 1 Magus of the Coffers
- 1 Caustic Crawler
- 1 Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
- 1 Nirkana Revenant
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Blind Zealot
- 1 Pack Rat
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Abhorrent Overlord
- 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 1 Mogis's Marauder
- 1 Colossus of Akros
- 1 Jet Medallion
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Touch of Darkness
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Endless Whispers
- 1 Beacon of Unrest
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Tower of Fortunes
- 1 Tooth of Chiss-Goria
- 1 Scale of Chiss-Goria
- 1 Distorting Lens
- 1 Dirge of Dread
- 1 Charcoal Diamond
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Squee's Toy
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Corrupt
- 1 Pithing Needle
- 1 Imp's Mischief
- 1 Temporal Extortion
- 1 Darksteel Garrison
- 1 Profane Command
- 1 Beseech the Queen
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Wound Reflection
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 All Is Dust
- 1 Suffer the Past
- 1 Dark Tutelage
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Increasing Ambition
- 1 Exquisite Blood
- 1 Diabolic Revelation
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Underworld Connections
And as per Dear Azami tradition, here’s a list of some of the more important cards that you’ll be able to put your $20 StarCityGames.com store credit toward in hopes of making your deck more like I suggested. Or not. The world is your oyster, Steven!
||Suffer the Past
||Touch of Darkness
||Staff of Nin
||Beseech the Queen
||Phage the Untouchable
||Tower of the Magistrate
||Erebos, God of the Dead
|| Nirkana Revenant
Hopefully my breakdown and restructuring of Steven’s deck pertained to what he wanted: more fun, more chaos, and more storytelling. To me, that’s what Commander is all about! I did indeed take out some “worse” cards for some “better” ones, but I like tune things over multiple axes. Horobi is a very unique and cool general that you don’t see every day and along with his cohorts Phage, Pack Rat, and Colossus of Akros can combine with Endless Whispers to create fun and exciting stories that will be told for years.
Thanks for reading, Commander enthusiasts!
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