Other People’s Decks: The Raven

From time to time, Sheldon likes to pay tribute to a friend or colleague with a Commander deck worth showing the world! Check out this masterwork of control based on Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem!

The decks we build frequently have a narrative structure. Rarely do they capture the narrative of a great piece of literature. When they do, the only
reasonable thing to do is to feature them. Last March, I did Lark Ballinger’s Dune-themed deck The Battle of Arakeen. This time around,
Lark has put on another clinic in how to build a theme deck (first secret: have an encyclopedic knowledge of the literature you’re working with) and
captured the essence of Poe’s classic The Raven. The deck is called .

Back when I lived in Belgium from 1994-2000, we would throw a rather large Halloween party for our international friends every year, and it always included
a reading of The Raven. Sometimes the party also involved burning a wicker man (hey, we were in Europe), but that’s a completely different story.
The haunting rhythm of the poem, generally delivered in a creepily-lit room, never failed to creep out people. You can check out The Simpsons’ version, featuring James Earl Jones. I’m going to let Lark’s own words get you
started on the deck’s idea, then leap straight into how he interprets Poe’s most famous work.

The central themes of are around three interpretations of “nevermore.”

1) “nevermore”: Nothing says “nevermore” quite like the exile zone. When the deck removes something, it does not bounce it, it does not destroy it, it
exiles it. The deck exiles cards from hand (Identity Crisis), from the battlefield (Utter End), the library (Sadistic Sacrament), and the graveyard
(Rest in Peace). When the deck removes a card, Riftsweeper is typically an opponent’s only recourse as Pull From Eternity deposits the card into a
graveyard that might be an instant round-trip ticket back to the Planar Void. The deck’s namesake (Nevermore) keeps an opposing general exiled in the
command zone.

2) “never more”: Restrictions are about the only thing that’s plentiful with this deck at the table. The deck restricts mana (Winter Orb), casting
(Arcane Laboratory), card draw (Spirit of the Labyrinth), tutoring (Aven Mindcensor), combat (Silent Arbiter), untapping (Static Orb), and permanents
on the battlefield (Ward of Bones).

3) “Never. More.”: The deck ensures that some things will never happen, like ETB creature triggers (Torpor Orb), non-land permanents untapping
(Embargo), creature and artifact abilities activating (Cursed Totem/Stony Silence), cards hitting the graveyard (Leyline of the Void), and even player
damage (Crumbling Sanctuary). On the other hand, the deck sometimes asks more of opponents, by way of taxes (Sphere of Resistance and Grand Arbiter
Augustin IV).

I purposefully designed to allow for further development on its themes. Players can go all in on the exile theme, adding cards like
Oona, Queen of the Fae; take the deck deeper down the Stax rabbit hole; or even swap the commander to Grand Arbiter Augustin IV or Teysa, Envoy of
Ghosts after a few adjustments.

Finally, if it wasn’t already apparent, the deck’s primary win condition is the Neverending Torment experienced by the poem’s narrator. Alternate
routes to victory include the Helm of Obedience combo; opponents’ creatures, courtesy of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver; beats to the face from Teysa, Envoy
of Ghosts or Gideon, Champion of Justice; or a Karn Liberated reset.

Commander: Sen Triplets

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…

Necropotence Vampiric Tutor Lim-Dul's Vault

While I nodded, nearly napping…

Torpor Orb Static Orb

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December…

Winter Orb Hokori, Dust Drinker Rising Waters

Vainly I had sought to borrow…

Helm of Obedience

surcease of sorrow

Embargo Ward of Bones Web of Inertia

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before…

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

so that now, to still the beating of my heart

Arcane Laboratory Rule of Law Eidolon of Rhetoric Spirit of the Labyrinth

Aven Mindcensor Crawlspace Silent Arbiter Portcullis

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer…

Crypt Ghast Nirkana Revenant Jet Medallion Pearl Medallion

perched, and sat, and nothing more

Cursed Totem Linvala, Keeper of Silence Stony Silence

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance…

Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts Karn Liberated Elspeth, Sun's Champion Gideon, Champion of Justice

unmerciful disaster followed fast and followed faster

Merciless Eviction Final Judgment False Prophet

that melancholy burden bore

Sphere of Resistance Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

Flickering Ward

‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee

Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’

Morningtide Leyline of the Void Planar Void Agent of Erebos Rest in Peace Identity Crisis

this home by horror haunted

Crumbling Sanctuary Descent into Madness Sadistic Sacrament

by that God we both adore

Thassa, God of the Sea

within the distant Aidenn

Land Tax

our sign of parting

Neverending Torment

‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’

Ashes to Ashes Soul Snare Council's Judgment

Swords to Plowshares Utter End Caustic Rain Revoke Existence

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

Swan Song

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted –


This Desert Land Enchanted

Cabal Coffers Cavern of Souls Command Tower Fetid Heath Flooded Strand Godless Shrine Hallowed Fountain High Market Island Island Island Island Island Maze of Ith Mystic Gate Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Plains Polluted Delta Reliquary Tower Sunken Ruins Swamp Swamp Swamp Swamp Swamp Swamp Swamp Swamp Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth Watery Grave

All of that leaves us with a deck list that looks like this:

Even setting aside my bias of irrationally loving theme decks, this is a thematically brilliant deck. Lark has taken the source work (a popular one to
boot), done a close reading, and dissected it to the atomic level. All the elements of the story are there, and more importantly, the mood. Breaking down
the three meanings of the combinations of never and more is particularly inspired. It provides a strong structure which I’m sure aided Lark in building the
deck and helps the rest of us understand the card choices.

Lark could have just as easily delved more deeply into the poem’s themes of madness and alienation. Gibbering Descent goes easily into the literary theme
as well as the deck’s tactical theme. Cards like Brink of Madness and Whispering Madness certainly go along thematically as well, although Brink of Madness
is pretty much unplayable. Running a string of cards with the madness mechanic which fit into the narrative might have been cool. Call to the Netherworld,
Circular Logic, Dark Withering, Obsessive Search, Psychotic Episode, Psychotic Haze, and Strength of Lunacy could go in quite easily, although a creature
enchantment in a deck with so few creatures might not be the smartest idea. Solitary Confinement fits the loneliness theme, as would (at least from a card
name standpoint) Guardian of Solitude. Lonely Sandbar might have stretched the theme a little, but I wouldn’t have deducted points.

Library of Lat-Nam would fit the setting of the library (Library of Leng might go, Library of Alexandria, even if it were not banned, wouldn’t), poring
over the forgotten lore-for which there are plenty more cards to think about (unfortunately, Forgotten Lore is outside the deck’s color identity): Curse of
the Bloody Tome, Emmessi Tome, Fool’s Tome, Jalum Tome, Jayemdae Tome, Mangara’s Tome, Thran Tome, Book of Rass, and Tome Scour all provide books and
book-searching, as does Browse-which without doubt goes into the nevermore exile idea. I would want to squeeze in Read the Runes, but it’s a stretch and I
know I’m irrationally attached to the card. I might also consider Immortal Coil, which goes along with the exile idea and must eventually be shuffled off
(but no silly Bazaar Trader tricks since you’re not in red).

The supernatural theme, especially the sort of haunting through which the protagonist goes, provides ample direction. Any of the game’s 277 Spirits or 121
Horrors in Esper make a case for being in there. Possessed Aven is the cool choice (that aven could be a raven!). I might want to focus on some of the
haunt cards, like Haunting Echoes (although that’s just barely playable in the format) or Haunting Apparition. Midnight Haunting seems perfect, but it
doesn’t really do what the deck does.

I might also try to work in a nepenthe theme, taking its original meaning, the anti-depressant drug of forgetfulness, which I’m pretty sure to Poe was some
combination of heroin, opium, and/or alcohol. Unfortunately, most the few potions in Magic are good for you, like Elixir of Immortality.

Tapping is a recurrent theme in the work, and although that means something different in Magic than it does in the poem, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to
make it an element of the deck. There are more than 200 cards in Esper which tap things, so we can’t list them all, but things like Dream’s Grip, Ghostly
Touch, Gigadrowse, Hidden Strings (inserted just for Marshall Sutcliffe), Midnight Charm, and Mind Games go name-wise with the theme, then there is always
Icy Manipulator, and if there were more creatures in the deck, Opportunity.

The most obvious missing piece is the raven itself. The aforementioned Possessed Aven could work, there’s obviously Mist Raven, but my choice would
actually be Raven Familiar. The raven is big and black, dominating the foreground of the art. While the background is a laboratory not a library, the color
scheme is suitably creepy to fit. If you squint just right, you can probably see it as a library instead.

I’m not sold on how playable the deck is and its Stax style is one I am just not a fan of. I’m reasonably sure that its only popularity with a group in
which it gets played will be the thematic elements, which will likely wear thin after a few plays through the deck. Otherwise, it looks like it could lead
to some rather miserable games, as most of its elements shut down other players’ opportunity to play the game. That said, there isn’t too much which is
super oppressive about it; it’s certainly not a finely-tuned, lock everyone out Stax deck. The elements are more of an annoyance than a complete lockdown,
so I see that there is room for it being somewhat of a challenge to get out from under-sometimes a fun exercise in its own right. Yet even with my
play/playability concerns aside, this is a spectacular piece of work.

Decks like this one and the Battle of Arakeen demonstrate that Lark is one of the finest theme deckbuilders in the Commander community. Whenever he tells
me that he’s working on idea, I get excited about it. I know you are excited to read about them, and I will happily share them as they come along.

This week’s Deck Without Comment is Merieke’s Esper Control (DECK ID 70426), which since Dragons of Tarkir is more like Merieke’s Dragon Control:

Merieke Ri Berit
Sheldon Menery
0th Place at Test deck on 07-24-2014
Magic Card Back

Check out our awesome Deck List Database for the last versions of all my decks:


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saga called “The Lost Cities of Nevinor”), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group ” Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”