Liberating Your Life Total

Count Bennie Smith wants to suck blood, and the Commander Celebration at Grand Prix Atlanta might just be his next feeding ground! See his latest sanguine specialty starring none other than the great Drana, Liberator of Malakir!

Before I get into Commander, I wanted to touch briefly on this past weekend. I was able to get out to the Virginia State Champs and give a new-ish brew a
try. Back in the Spring I made Top 8 at States playing G/W Megamorph with Mastery of the Unseen and was thinking of giving the archetype another try in the
hopes of it treating me well again. The format seemed to be developing into quite an aggressive metagame so a deck with lifegain seemed like a good move.
Also Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, Mastery of the Unseen, and Whisperwood Elemental give a lot of resilience to removal strategies and give you long
game inevitability.

Only sometimes that wasn’t true. Sometimes you ended up with a stalled board and no good attacks, despite having a large life total. Which sometimes led to
draws, which was a pretty miserable outcome.

Just about all the cards that were good about that deck are still in the format, but now there’s a card that helps you win from those unwinnable
board-stall situations. So I played four of them at the top of my mana curve.

I went 4-2-1 with the deck to finish 17th, basically first of the last batch of consolation prize winners. I won’t list the deck here because it still
needs a lot of work to be Tier 1, but it was basically four copies of all the usual suspects (plus Felidar Sovereign). I can say that I won two games with
Felidar Sovereign upkeep triggers, and one victory was truly epic. I was playing against a four-color Esper Dragons deck (splashing green for Dragonlord
Dromoka) and came out fast, knocking him down to six life before he swept the board multiple times, countered a few key spells and then dropped Dragonlord
Dromoka. While I struggled to come back, he got me down to two life before I managed to pull things around with multiple copies of Mastery of the Unseen
and some lucky megamorphs along the way. At this point, his life total was in the fifties, but I had just manifested a Felidar Sovereign so I quickly
racked up the life points with my three copies of Mastery, flipped Felidar Sovereign and won during my upkeep. That was game 1, and it took over 40 minutes
to complete, so we didn’t have time to finish another game.

I’m not entirely sure Felidar Sovereign or even Whisperwood Elemental has a home in a Standard where Crackling Doom is being thrown around so much, and
it’s often getting flashed back with Jace too. But the synergies with Mastery were really strong, and I can see pulling this out again depending on how the
metagame shifts.

It blows my mind that just three weeks from now I’ll be at Grand Prix Atlanta for the Commander Celebration. I’m so stoked! And have you heard the news? Wizards R&D rock star
Mark Globus will be there to help us celebrate the release of Commander 2015, which he had a hand in designing! In
fact, Mark has worked on all of the Commander products and was lead developer for the first go round back in 2011. I’m very much looking forward to
chatting and playing games of Commander with someone who’s been so involved in making cards specifically for our favorite format. Especially since he
apparently also has a Golgari heart beating inside his chest: You can

see his favorite Commander deck with
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave here

. Mark actually designed that loveable Zombie Elemental!

It’ll be great reconnecting with Sheldon Menery too. He lived in Virginia for several years, and I used to see him at all the Star City events in Richmond;
it was always fun talking with him about Magic. But that was before Commander (then called EDH) caught fire. Since then I’ve done a lot of writing and
thinking about the format, so it’ll be good to circle back around and talk with him about Commander and get some games in.

Oh and yes-there will be trashing talking!

So Grand Prix Atlanta is going to be chock full of epic games of Commander all weekend long, but there is something non-Magic related I’m interested in
trying to check out. I very rarely have the time or finances to travel anymore-pretty much all my time and money goes into raising my two wonderful
children-and I’ve never been to Atlanta before. Atlanta, Georgia happens to be ground zero (close enough) for one of my favorite TV shows of all time-The
Walking Dead! In fact, the yearly Walker Stalker Con Atlanta is being held just a few weeks prior to GP
Atlanta and is something I’d love to go to sometime. Anyway, I’m reaching out to any readers who might be local to Atlanta that could let me know if there
are any Walking Dead related landmarks that might be close to the Georgia World Congress Center that I could visit and geek out over? Any local zombie
apocalypse fans got the 411?

Speaking of the undead, it occurs to me that here we are in the month of Hallowe’en and Battle for Zendikar has given us a new legend to build a
spooky mono-black Commander deck around, and boy is she a good ‘un!

Drana, Liberator of Malakir is so good that she’s still commanding a very high price tag despite failing to appear in any top deck through two Star City
Games Standard Opens and practically non-existent at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar: Tomoharu Saito went 7-3 in Standard with a R/B Aggro deck featuring
three copies, and that’s it. She’s popped up in some of the States results and Invitational Qualifiers, but without any big and splashy results it seems
odd to me that she’s still commanding such a premium price tag.

The beauty of Commander though is that you only need one copy. If you were fortunate enough to crack open one Drana, you’re all set. And if you’re itching
to add the card to your collection, one copy won’t break the bank. Regardless of how you get your copy, once you do you’re on your way to building a pretty
sweet aggressive deck. Many legendary black creatures encourage a more control-oriented Commander deck, but I like that Drana pretty much encourages you to
liberate your opponent’s life totals with lots of attacking creatures. What’s really cool for this angle is that Zendikar is home for a more aggressive,
faster breed of Vampires than have traditionally been floating around the Magic multiverse, and now that we’ve visited the plane twice we have enough
troops to make an aggressive tribal Vampire deck with Drana leading the way. We also have solid options to help our deck be resistant to sweepers blowing
our tribal synergies away.

As loud as hell

A ringing bell

Behind my smile

It shakes my teeth

And all the while

As vampires feed

I bleed

— I Bleed, Pixies


Blood Artist, Blood Seeker, Kalastria Healer, Kalastria Highborn, Kheru Bloodsucker, Falkenrath Noble, Malakir Bloodwitch, Exquisite Blood, Blood Tribute, Defiant Bloodlord, Exsanguinate

Outside of tribal synergies that care about a specific creature type, I wanted to make sure to include plenty of cards that “bleed” my opponent to make the
deck feel very Vampiric. Draining life from your opponent to add to your own life totals is something black has done since the beginning of the game, but I
like how more and more that theme seems tied to Vampires and blood. Multiplayer powerhouse card Exsanguinate has a real dictionary meaning of “To remove or
withdraw the circulating blood; to make bloodless.” So when you cast Exsanguinate you are sucking everyone’s blood! Exquisite Blood plus Sanguine
Bond is a classic two-card combo that can start a chain reaction to kill all your opponents from any life total, and while I usually steer clear of such
things the effect is so dang Vampire flavorful I’m allowing the combo to exist in the deck, sans any way to tutor for the missing piece (not even Vampiric
Tutor). However, the new Zendikari vampire Defiant Bloodlord functions as a Sanguine Bond on legs-or wings, so to speak–so I’ll be using that card
instead. If I happen to draw both pieces, so be it; we can shuffle up for another game.

Malakir Bloodwitch is a total beating in multiplayer when you have even just a couple Vampires in play. I look forward to Malakir Bloodwitch/Nim
Deathmantle shenanigans with some sort of sacrifice outlet!


Viscera Seer, Bloodghast, Bloodthrone Vampire, Malakir Cullblade, Vampire Hexmage, Bloodflow Connoisseur, Dark Impostor, Vampire Nighthawk, Bloodbond Vampire, Mirri the Cursed, Sangromancer, Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, Mephidross Vampire, Skeletal Vampire, Ascendant Evincar, Necropolis Regent, Nirkana Revenant

Outside of the Vampires that bleed life totals, we’ve got a slew of good Vampire creatures up and down the mana curve. Vampire Hexmage may look a little
lonely without her good buddy Dark Depths, but I don’t think she needs the combo to be good-you can sacrifice to remove counters from planeswalkers to
destroy them or reset troublesome commanders like Animar, Soul of Elements or Mark Globus’s Skullbriar, the Walking Grave. Mephidross Vampire is another
combo piece that looks a little weird without its partner (in this case, Triskelion), but I like that Mephidross Vampire tacks on the old Sengir Vampire
ability to all your Vampires. The actual original Sengir Vampire unfortunately didn’t make the cut because it’s just so much worse than other options we
have at five mana. Creatures are so much better nowadays than they were back in the day!

Dark Impostor is a very cool card, but it’s too small and the activated ability is too expensive to have made a dent in tournament Magic formats. In
Commander though, the ability will really shine, especially since exiling a creature is often very important where the dead often don’t stay dead.

Vampire/Tribal Matters

Cavern of Souls, Mutavault, Blade Of The Bloodchief, Urge to Feed, Captivating Vampire, Urza’s Incubator, Bloodline Keeper, Vampire Nocturnus, Door of Destinies, Anowon, The Ruin Sage , Baron Sengir

We’ve got the usual generic tribal suspects: Cavern of Souls, Mutavault, Urza’s Incubator, and Door of Destinies. I’m really hoping that someone’s got a
Prophet of Kruphix or Seedborn Muse in play when I drop Captivating Vampire to bring them over to the fanged way of thinking. While Sengir Vampire might
not make the cut, I figured I should at least include big papa Baron Sengir in here to keep all the little vamps from dying untimely undeaths.

Vampire Theme

Elixir of Immortality, Vampiric Rites, Go For The Throat, Damnation, Slaughter, Cauldron of Souls, Erebos, God Of The Dead

While these cards aren’t specifically tribal or dealing with blood, they still feel on-theme. Cauldron of Souls is not only on theme but it plays perfect
alongside Drana, Liberator of Malakir’s triggered ability, which will knock off any -1/-1 counters on creatures that were given persist, so you can persist
again with the Cauldron. Vampires are nothing if not very persistent…

Getting in There

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse, Skyblinder Staff, Traiblazer’s Boots, Dauthi Embrace

I nearly forgot that Drana’s triggered ability only works if you can connect directly with your opponent’s life total. Since she flies and she comes down
pretty early, I figure there’s bound to be an opponent that cannot defend the skies even if you’re sending most of your other Vampiric army at a different
opponent. In fact, play your political cards correct and sometimes one opponent will let your Drana go unblocked just so the rest of your creatures can hit
another opponent harder. Of course you can’t always rely on open skies or generous opponents to give Drana the blood she needs to fire up her team, so I’ve
included some ways to ensure she can attack unmolested. I love the “combo” of Skyblinder Staff being equipped to a flier, though watch out for pesky reach
creatures. For more political plays, remember that Shizo, Death’s Storehouse and Dauthi Embrace can be used on creatures other than your own.

So here’s what I’ve got cooked up for our newest legendary undead commander:

If you don’t have access to the new Drana, the original gangster Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief makes a fine substitute.

Let me know if you have any questions about my card choices, and please chime in with any good cards I may have overlooked.