There are some legendary creatures that are so odd, so problematic that they are essentially impossible to build around. Some of these were created long before Commander was a thing, and thus playability in that format is certainly not a driving influence to having some great stuff here.
A while ago I started this series of articles and took on the impossible Commander challenges out there, trying to take cards that are usually thought of as nigh impossible and to hack out an interesting decklist. I then solicited your thoughts about which impossible commanders that I should do next. You can check out the index of stuff below, and in the meantime, let’s hit up the next of the impossible leaders out there.
Take a gander at Shauku, Endbringer. Cool name, horrible card.
So let’s drill into that Shauku, Endbringer a bit more.
First, you are going to lose three life every upkeep. And you aren’t swapping that life for resources like cards or mana. That’s not something you want.
Secondly, she can’t even attack unless she is the only creature in play. That’s just horrible. She’ll be stymied by everything from Mishra’s Factory and Mutavault to Stuffy Doll, and of course, the fact that the format involves a lot of players that play these things called creatures.
And the worst part about Shauku’s ability? That you can’t have a bunch of creatures out either. That’s just rough. No creatures?
Thirdly, even if you do manage to have her all alone on the board, and you are losing life, she’s just a 5/5 flyer for seven mana. She’ll kill with Commander damage only after five hits.
The only thing that she can do is tap to exile a creature, and to give her a +1/+1 counter while you do. That’s it. Clearly Shauku is an impossible commander, right?
I decided to take a quick look at some Shauku decklists online. They were all doing something that makes little sense to me. They were all running a bunch of creatures, and then simply using Shauku as a 5/5 wall that tapped to exile stuff and ran cards to abuse some tapping like Thousand-Year Elixir and similar cards.
Well that seems like a missed opportunity and a misuse of Shauku. Shauku doesn’t play well with others, right? So why water your deck down with a bunch of creatures? You can instead use all of the extra space to play something else, and something that everyone is going to want….
- 1 Liliana Vess
- 1 Sorin Markov
- 1 Liliana of the Dark Realms
- 1 Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
- 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Drain Life
- 1 Ambition's Cost
- 1 Ancient Craving
- 1 Unnerve
- 1 Subversion
- 1 Mirari
- 1 Mutilate
- 1 Mind Sludge
- 1 Staff of Domination
- 1 Well of Lost Dreams
- 1 No Mercy
- 1 Planar Void
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Consume Spirit
- 1 Syphon Mind
- 1 Brush with Death
- 1 Tainted Aether
- 1 Corrupt
- 1 Leyline of the Void
- 1 Gauntlet of Power
- 1 Tendrils of Corruption
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Profane Command
- 1 Rings of Brighthearth
- 1 Polluted Bonds
- 1 Umbral Mantle
- 1 Nightmare Incursion
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Sanguine Bond
- 1 Blood Tribute
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Consuming Vapors
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Spread the Sickness
- 1 Black Sun's Zenith
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Lashwrithe
- 1 Grim Affliction
- 1 Life's Finale
- 1 Sorin's Vengeance
- 1 Sever the Bloodline
- 1 Exquisite Blood
- 1 Underworld Connections
- 1 Silence the Believers
- 1 In Garruk's Wake
- 1 Palace Siege
- 1 Damnable Pact
- 1 Scour from Existence
- 1 Deadly Tempest
And there’s your creatureless mono-black deck. The benefits of yanking all of your creatures are many. And we can certainly explore them here. Let’s take a look-see.
First, and most importantly, you can run the full suite of mono-black control stuff. You have the space and room to make sure that you can drop down Extraplanar Lens or Caged Sun or Cabal Coffers. We also have Expedition Map as a backup Coffers. (Or something else if you prefer).
And that doesn’t end at the accelerants either. You can cast the typical spells of Consume Spirit, Profane Command, and Drain Life at folks for huge effects that will either kill a critter and gain you some life, or seriously drop a hole in a player. This is an obvious place for Exsanguinate as well. Drain a bunch of life and set yourself up for more. Don’t forget to follow up with Corrupt or Tendrils of Corruption for killing. These various mono-black control cards work alongside Shauku because you can get some mad life. And that helps to answer the life loss to your leader.
Plus the mono-black stuff can hit some other places as well. Need a mana sink? Nothing spells mana sink better than Staff of Domination. It’ll drop a cornucopia of powerful effects on the board. Don’t forget that you can untap and reuse Shauku to tap and exile some annoying creatures out there with the Staff. We have the space for Mirari too, which just makes too much sense in a creatureless deck to sit on the sidelines. It’s not like we won’t have the extra mana to fork a spell. Get another Corrupt!
The second place that we can go without a bunch of creatures holding us back is to run a bunch of anti-creature cards. And we certainly have a lot of options. Here’s one, get ready:
Tainted Aether was printed a few times long ago, and you’ve either never run one because of how it hurts you, or you have never even heard of it. Take a look at the card. Any time a creature comes out, you either sacrifice a creature or land. That’s obviously a great card, especially in a format where people are constantly running creatures that have abilities that trigger when they arrive to the battlefield. From Solemn Simulacrum to Mulldrifter to Eternal Witness to Shriekmaw you are shutting down all of that junk. They still get the effect, but a creature or land of theirs is about to die. It also really shuts down any mass token strategies since no player wants to play a self-Armageddon with a card like Decree of Justice. It’ll slow folks down, and it’s not like you are going to be triggering this card a lot.
It’s too bad that a card like Lethal Vapors has a built-in removal option.
Then after Tainted Aether you can strike out in a new direction. The obvious place to hit up is to run a bunch of Damnation and similar sweeping effects. You can drop every creature out there with a built-up Mutilate or cards like Life’s Finale, Black Sun’s Zenith, and Deadly Tempest. And if your Shauku manages to get killed, it’s not like you won’t have the mana to replay her, right?
A third angle you can hit because you aren’t running a bunch of creatures may not be obvious at first. Because you don’t have any other creatures, you are freed from a certain constraint that black often has. Because black is strong with reanimation effects, you often want to use your graveyard as a second hand, or at least, as a space to recur big stuff back. Due to your decided lack of good creatures, you could run some other recursion cards. Beacon of Unrest could pull back an artifact, or hit something back from an opponent. That’s certainly a mine-able direction. But instead, I think we can do a lot better.
We can do a full-on graveyard hosing. Graveyard effects and abuse is rife in the format. Since you aren’t looking to recur your own creatures for another jog around the track, you are freed to really fight against reanimation. I slotted in four cards, two of which do other things – Nihil Spellbomb can take out a graveyard and replace itself, while Bojuka Bog makes mana and does the same. Those are the sort of weaker targeted effects that you’d normally see.
But you can really take out stuff with two cards: Planar Void and Leyline of the Void. Let me tell you, with these two cards rocking the table, you will do some serious damage to anybody running popular strategies like Karador, Ghost Chieftain or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. Anyone with a reanimation theme, Flashback fun, with incarnations like Anger and Genesis or using effects that care about cards in the ‘yard (like Mortivore) is about to really have a serious problem.
With these three options, Shauku can hit a traditional mono-black shell but give a powerful slate of anti-creature and anti-graveyard options that a normal MBC deck couldn’t.
Where else can we go?
Well, one obvious place is to hit up some planeswalkers. I’m not running any tutors, so Liliana Vess is it if you want to dance. You can also use her to force a discard every single turn, and that’s okay too. Liliana of the Dark Realms is clearly a powerful adjunct to any MBC deck, so tossing her in makes total sense. Don’t forget our awesome vampire ally with Sorin Markov. Dropping someone’s life to ten and then ending them with one of your many finishers is a great way to take folks down out of nowhere.
I adore our good Reignited Nixilis for this deck. You can kill a creature or draw a card each turn. That’s a pretty saucy set of abilities, and it plays nicely with the deck’s control needs as well. The pre-Demon form of Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath is in here for that first ability. Drain everyone of a life and get it for yourself. I’m not expecting to use the Demon token making ability very often (although if you do, then do it).
I also decided to hit up the counter train. I have all four playable proliferate options. The bigger I can make Shauku, the faster I can finish off people. Plus you can pump up the counters on your ‘walkers. Both Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine send some -1/-1 counters over and can be used to tap and proliferate when you have extra mana, making them effective mana sinks.
Just like Ob Nixilis Reignited suggests, black has a lot of card drawing, but it requires life. So I tossed in a bunch of card drawing – Ambition’s Cost and Ancient Craving join the flexible Damnable Pact and Underworld Connections and Phyrexian Arena. You can also turn the Pact on someone else to kill them with life (or card drawing) with that mana.
But all of that card drawing comes with a severe price – life loss. And twinned with that life loss is that of Shauku herself. So I need to some more lifegain to rectify the situation.
I wanted to add in some powerful life gaining adjuncts to the deck next. The main place to look next was in gentle, slow, draining effects. Subversion is an old card that deals a little life to everyone each turn, and you gain some as well. While I normally add in Palace Siege for the Khans mode to recur stuff, in here I’ll choose Dragons to give me a backup Subversion. This sort of slow clocking is a good answer to the various Necropotence effects of drawing a card for each life loss.
Polluted Bonds has a similar feel for draining stuff, and it can fight a bit against mass ramp decks. If someone drops Boundless Realms or something equally gross, then you are about to drain a passel of life from them. Even an average of two lands a turn is quickly going to mount up. It may not end ramp singlehandedly, but it’ll keep the edge off the worst of it.
There are a few creature kill spells that bring some lifegain to the table, like Consuming Vapors.
Take a gander at Blood Tribute. If you play it, you can cut someone’s life in half. You can kick it by tapping a Vampire, which Shauku just so happens to be. Like Sorin, it can be used to slash life to a reasonable figure, and then to blow it out from there. And if you tap your leader? Holy crap! If you have out Mirari? Dang! You can halve two players, and if you kicked that spell, get two sets of life (A copy of a spell copies the various modes, so if you copied a Consume Spirit with 9 for X, then you get one set at that; so if Blood Tribute’s kicker is set too, so you don’t have to tap another creature to get the effect). I tossed in Sorin’s Vengeance for a similar feeling card.
With all of these lifegaining cards and effects in the deck, it feels like a perfect home for Well of Lost Dreams, doesn’t it? I think so!
Now I wanted to hit up Sanguine Bond here. Normally I’d eschew a standard Commander combo like it and its fellow friend, Exquisite Blood. They’ll kill folks as you gain life or lose it. Both fit in here singly, and if you only get that one, it still works perfectly with the rest of your deck. If you get them together, then you win. In a deck with a Vampire leader, they certainly fit the flavor. And without a bunch of creatures as winning conditions in here, having a combo backup feels okay to me. Plus, without Demonic Tutor or similar effects, they aren’t reliable either. Into the deck they leap.
I went with a spot of equipment. We do have another quasi-combo with Umbral Mantle. Equip Shauku with it and then tap it to exile a creature and give your leader a +1/+1 counter. Spend three mana to untap your guy, give it +2/+2 for the turn, and then repeat, exiling as many creatures as you can. You certainly could get a Shauku up to lethal level in one turn of mana, perhaps two.
The problem with too much equipment in this deck is the lack of targets. I added Lashwrithe since you can attack with your token on an empty board to clean stuff out and equip Shauku after the token dies to likely slay someone in one turn. I wasn’t comfortable pushing into any more equipment, although if the Germ token with the living weapon mechanic works after play, perhaps Batterskull or Scytheclaw would make sense as well.
That’s pretty much everything. A handful of discard cards (Unnerve, Syphon Mind) slid in as well as some more removal. Don’t use Scour from Existence unless you are in serious trouble, it’s your only answer to a problematic artifact or enchantment. If you fear more, you could slide in Karn Liberated too.
That’s a wrap! There are tons of other directions you could hit up as well. What about Thought Vessel or Staff of the Death Magus? Champion’s Helm? Darksteel Plate? Strata Scythe? Venser’s Journal? Homicidal Seclusion? Deadly Wanderings? Mind Peel? Jet Medallion?
The result is a powerful mono-black control build that handles creatures, graveyards, and has tools to fight against pillow fort decks (by killing the player), tokens, mana ramp, and nasty graveyard shenanigans. You have a ton of card drawing, removal, and other options built around the flavor of your deck. You just don’t have any creatures, and that’s okay!
I hope that you found some interesting stuff in here for your deck building. Even a creature like Shauku, Endbringer isn’t that impossible. So why not Bring the End of many lives at your next Commander night?
The Appendix of Impossible Adventures
1. Flipping power and toughness of all creatures not only seems pretty random, but also pretty useless in red that has a high number of high-power/low-toughness creatures, right? Right? Mannichi, the Fevered Dream disagrees.
2. How do you build a deck around Brothers Yamazaki when you can only play one? How about by building a deck that is meant to play with two copies in Two-Headed Giant? That’d work!
3. Hazduhr the Abbot was the inspiration for this old-school project with just cards printed through 1995. No worries, I have an updated deck later in the article for those that want it – two decks for the price of one article!
7. Rashida Scalebane does just one thing. She taps to kill an attacking or blocking Dragon. She has no other abilities, and she’s not in a color to play with creature types or force folks to attack. So how can you build a deck around her?