Dear Azami: We’ve Got Spirit, How Bout You?

If you’re from the old school, if you’re from the days where kitchen tables were the only place to battle, this Commander piece goes out to you! Levi Byrne helps a reader put one of the oldest legends in the book at the head of the fight!

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I want you all to think back to the first Commander deck you made. At this point there’s probably an fairly even split between people who first bought in on one of the waves of preconstructed decks that Wizards has been printing and those who built from scratch. If you fall into the latter category like me, odds are that you didn’t start with a multi-colored Commander, but rather your favorite mono-colored legend and a stack of the appropriate basics. Put simply, that’s the easiest way to break into a pretty daunting and expensive format.

My first Commander deck had 40 Plains in it (and also 4 copies of Pacifism; I didn’t know the rules very well). I’ve always held onto a fondness for single-colored decks as a result, and that’s heavily reflected in my current stable of decks. I try to shine the spotlight that way every now and then, especially since the preconstructed decks mean that many players start in the realm of gold cards and never leave.

Dear Azami,

I’ve been playing with the same group for a while, and a common discussion that comes up is our favorite/least favorite colour(s) or colour combinations. I have a number of faves (Izzet, Temur, Mono-Blue) but even stronger than my like of those options is my disdain for black.

Don’t get me wrong, black is objectively a great colour in Magic. It boast potent creatures, powerful spells and reliable draw. And recursion?! Give me a break, black has recursion (and graveyard hate) in spades. My issue with the black segment of the color pie is its flavor. Zombies and Vampires have been done to death in mainstream media. And so many of the cards are so…dour. There’s no exuberance in black unless it has to do with going “insane” or drinking the blood of your enemies or something. Black is the color of brooding and/or malice. That’s why I prefer Temur–if nothing else the color of the cards imbue me with energy.

After a rant against the black slice of the colour pie, my play group decided upon a challenge for each of us to create a deck with our most hated colour(s). I am not one to balk at a challenge, so this leaves me in the realm of Mono-Black.

Like I said previously, Zombies and Vampires have been overused in everything, so I know I don’t want my deck to go that route. After looking through my card boxes and brainstorming a bit, I decided to go for a strategy that may very well be overdone but still seemed a bit out of the norm: Mono-Black Ramp. Ramp is supposed to be Green’s thing after all, so why not mix it up a bit.

To go with the theme, I wanted a Commander with a high converted mana cost, and I had just the card I was looking for: Spirit of the Night. Look at all those keywords! Trample, flying, protection from black, first strike (when attacking), and haste! If only I could slip this into a deck with Concerted Effort, but I digress.

So, here is my attempt at a Mono-Black Ramp Deck.


Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Liliana of the Dark Realms


Grip of Desolation

Spoils of Evil

Tendrils of Corruption

Crypt Incursion

Sudden Spoiling

Undying Evil


Loreseeker’s Stone

Jet Medallion

Thought Vessel

Staff of Nin

Everflowing Chalice

Caged Sun

Nihil Spellbomb

Seer’s Sundial

Unstable Obelisk


Charcoal Diamond

Worn Powerstone

Spine of Ish Sah


Phyrexian Reclamation

Grave Betrayal

Palace Siege

Vile Requiem


29 Swamps

Bojuka Bog

Myriad Landscape

Barren Moor

Polluted Mire

Crypt of Agadeem


Mortuary Mire

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Ghost Quarter


Toxic Deluge


Ambition’s Cost



Profane Command

Sign in Blood

Read the Bones

Disturbed Burial

Sever the Bloodline


Vampire Nighthawk

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis

Baleful Force

Desolation Twin

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief

Shimian Night Stalker

Tenacious Dead

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Xathrid Demon

Disciple of Griselbrand

Xathrid Gorgon

Sepulchral Primordial

Phyrexian Broodlings

Erebos, God of the Dead

Squelching Leeches

Dread Defiler

Liliana’s Shade

Pestilence Demon

Phyrexian Gargantua

Crypt Ghast

Magus of the Coffers

Phyrexian Rager

Bloodgift Demon

Fate Unraveler

It’s a bit everywhere, I know. My main thoughts were how hard can I ramp, and what can I do with the mana? For the former question, I decided pretty hard adding in things like Nykthos, Crypt Ghast, and friends. For the latter question, aside from my commander, I figured I could focus on three things: card draw, activated abilities, and big, ugly monsters. If I have a full grip of cards, then I will always be able to cast my spells. If I am ever out of cards but have permanents with activated abilities, then at least I have mana sinks to make the most of my resources. And big, ugly monsters means I get to play with things like Desolation Twin.

Any chance you can help me sand down the rough edges so I can have a polished deck to mop the floors with my play group? Pretty please?



Ho boy. We’re winding the clock way back today. Unless you played back in Mirage , you’ve probably only ever seen Spirit of the Night if you’ve searched Gatherer for all legendary creatures. Personally I’d never considered the black Akroma for a slot in the 99 before, let alone at the head of a deck. An overlooked general in mono-color? Sounds right up my alley.

A word in advance. The list you submitted was a few cards short of 100, so I’ll be adding a few more than I’m cutting to make up the difference.

The Creatures


Most of these cuts are happening to streamline the deck. Some, like Tenacious Dead and Fate Unraveler, are legitimately quite good at what they do. However, this deck doesn’t really need recursive chump blockers or one-off hate cards. If there was a theme built around Fate Unraveler or even some ways to tutor for it, I could see that, but on its own you don’t need it. Drana, Kalastrian Bloodchief is a fine mana sink, but I have something better in mind for this slot.

This deck doesn’t really have much in the way of token-making ability, so Phyrexian Broodlings is here just to prevent mind-control effects. You still need some amount of sacrifice outlets, but that’s what Disciple of Griselbrand is for. Disciple also scales with your giant creatures, which makes it a much better option for this deck.

Squelching Leeches gets pretty big, but I think you’re going to care about abilities more than raw size. And finally we get to Shimian Night Spirit, which is… just bad. Maybe I’d consider it if it weren’t limited to attacking creatures, or if it had some kind of regeneration ability built in. Or even if it just had more than four toughness. As is, the card is objectively weak, which isn’t something I say often.


If we’re going to ramp, we might as well go all the way, and Burnished Hart is one of my favorite ramp spells that happens to get ridiculous with the recursion effects that the deck wants.

Chainer, Dementia Master; Geth, Lord of the Vault; and Maga, Traitor to Mortals come in as a trio of mana sinks, and they hit hard. Chainer will reanimate any creature for three mana and some life. Geth does the same but costs more mana. He also mills to find more things to bring back, and in some situations will be able to deck someone over the course of a few turns. (I’ve seen it done.) Maga acts as a giant Fireball to the face and can easily pick off a player at a low life total. Killing someone right from 40 with him probably won’t come together in reality, but it’s far from impossible.

The last three additions are high-end threats to ramp into. Sheoldred gives you access to a nearly unmatched ability to grind card advantage and can lock Voltron decks out of the game while giving you reanimation every turn. Dread Cacodemon comes down and nukes everything you don’t control for the low cost of ten mana.

Speaking of ten mana, I usually prefer to keep the top end of ramp decks actually in-color instead of falling back on Eldrazi. But since you had Desolation Twin, there’s no reason not to include the new Ulamog as a brutal end-game. The Ceaseless Hunger is both stronger and less annoying to play against that his counterpart from Rise of Eldrazi, so I don’t think it will bring quite the same level of hate that annihilator did.

The Artifacts


I’ve tried to make Loreseeker’s Stone good before, and even in decks that ramp a lot harder than this one it’s always been clunky. Black has enough of its own card draw that you don’t need to fall back on subpar artifact options. Ditto for Seer’s Sundial, which is better but still not good.


Mimic Vat is yet another way to play up the reanimation theme and can be backbreaking with the right enters-the-battlefield trigger. Gauntlet of Power both doubles your mana and buffs your entire team, while Extraplanar Lens also doubles the power of your basics. Both cards are a little risky because they help your opponents, but since they only power up basics Swamps, the sliver of decks you’ll be helping is fairly narrow, and you’re better set up to abuse the extra mana than most other players.

The Enchantments


Vile Requiem has the potential to be absurd, but those scenarios involve it sitting on the table and doing nothing for almost the whole game. Considering that I’m adding Dread Cacodemon and In Garruk’s Wake as end-game removal, Requiem seems very subpar.


Greed is the card-draw engine that you really want, while Dictate of Erebos will slowly swing any war of attrition in your favor.

The Planeswalkers


I guess Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath is meant to crank out a Demon token every other turn, which would be sort of fine if it didn’t come with all of the inherent weaknesses of planeswalkers. As is, I’d rather not bother, especially since his plus ability doesn’t do much.

The Spells


Tendrils of Corruption and Corrupt are fine, but there are much better drain effects out there and I’d rather have those. Crypt Incursion is kind of clunky, especially compared to how backbreaking the top tier of graveyard hate can be. If you really wanted to stop graveyard decks in their tracks, I’d just play Leyline of the Void and be done with it.

Undying Evil is a cute trick, but unexciting when compared to the repeatable reanimation that I’ve added. Finally, Sign in Blood is a fine Divination effect, but I think this deck would rather fight its card advantage war on the battlefield and rely on repeatable engines to not run out of cards.


I said there were better drain spells that Corrupt, and they don’t get much better than Exsanguinate. It’s the kind of spell that can end the game on the spot or be fired off earlier to gain you a huge life buffer. In a black ramp deck, this card is a no-brainer.

Usually I’m not a fan of one-off reanimation spells, but being instant-speed and permanently granting indestructible pushes Fated Return over the top. The last two cards are super-sweepers. In Garruk’s Wake obliterates your opponents’ battlefields while leaving yours unscathed, while Necromantic Selection kills everything and gives you the best creature back. Both are great ways to turn the corner once you get to the big mana this deck needs to function, and are far from embarrassing even once you have a battlefield presence.

The Lands


This cycle. I will never not cut this cycle. I like the Ravnica bouncelands, but they both give you color fixing and let you use the land that you’re going to bounce. The original Karoos give you no such benefits, and I’m getting rid of Everglades while I’ve got the chance.


Gauntlet of Power, Extaplanar Lens and Magus of the Coffers all care about basics, so going up to 30 Swamps makes sense here. Obviously Cabal Coffers would be great here, but this overhaul wound up on the expensive side already and I didn’t want to add another twenty-dollar card.

Putting it all together, here’s the finished decklist:

And the additions, sorted by price:







Burnished Hart


In Garruk’s Wake


Fated Return


Necromantic Selection


Chainer, Dementia Master




Dread Cacodemon


Mimic Vat


Maga, Traitor to Mortals


Dictate of Erebos


Geth, Lord of the Vault


Extraplanar Lens


Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger


Gauntlet of Power


Sheoldred, Whispering One




The changes add up to $94.06, almost entirely on the back of the four most expensive cards. Fortunately all four of them are commonly played Commander cards, so if you have a playgroup of any size it should be possible to trade for one or more of them. As always, Daniel will receive $20 in store credit to StarCityGames.com in order to help him make these changes.

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