The Kitchen Table #345 – The Nether Shadow Primer

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Wednesday, July 7th – I wanted to write about the interesting intersections between several different cards and strategies that revolve around Nether Shadow and its fellow creatures. We don’t really have a name in Magic for the strategy of cards like Nether Shadow and Ashen Ghoul. Self recursion? Self reanimation? I call it Andre Rison.

Hello all! Back in late 2005, when I was first offered the opportunity to be one of the five writers to have a featured, weekly column for SCG, The Ferrett asked me to revisit older articles that I had written earlier in my writing career at SCG. Not everybody who was reading me in early 2006, as my column began, had been reading me all along. They might not know my articles and stuff from 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.

That made a lot of sense, so as I started writing articles, I would often go back and look at old articles again. Maybe I would update an older format article or an older strategy article with newer ideas and newer cards.

Imagine readers today! I doubt I have too many readers that have been reading me regularly for four or five years. I’m sure there are a few out there, and for those of you there — thanks! However, most of my readers are going to be those that started in the last year or two. Maybe you are an experienced player who is relatively new. Maybe you are a new player who enjoys it. Maybe you are just a casual reader, who occasionally clicks on the link if it looks interesting. Whatever brought you here, thanks!

I think I err sometimes. I assume that people have read my articles. That you know I like Scarwood Bandits and Goblin Bombardment, that you know my proclivity for Red/White decks, my love for multiplayer powers like Commander Eesha and Silklash Spider, and such. You know my enjoyment of large deck formats, such as EDH and especially Five Color. Does everyone know that?

I doubt it. The problem is how to write for the newer readers while also writing for the returning readers. Do I keep mentioned the same basic multiplayer theory over and over again? Or do I assume that at some point my reader base has got it, and then move on to more important things?

For example, as a multiplayer writer, the concept of card advantage is much different. When opponents are outdrawing you in droves just naturally, then pinpoint removal and countermagic is card disadvantage. This is a basic multiplayer theory I mention regularly in my articles. If you are a newer reader, then that may be a new idea to you. If not, perhaps you get tired of hearing me talk about it.

I remember Anthony Alonghi had a similar problem with his awesome idea of valuing Magic cards for multiplayer on various effects that he compared to creatures. The ability of a card to be a rattlesnake versus a spider versus a cockroach and so forth was just an awesome way of viewing cards, and I still look at cards through his eyes to this day.

The problem was that he regularly had to re-explain everything all of the time, because he could not assume that his readers read those articles. The newest article that he wrote about that strategy was possibly the first someone read, so he had to explain it again, every time.

As a regular reader, I remember often skipping past it to get to the good stuff of the article. As a writer, I do the same thing, but sometimes I think I do it too much, while other times probably not enough. Being a Magic writer is a bit like writing a script for a traditional TV drama. I can do anything I like to the characters during the show, but at the end, everything has to be restored back to the same state as before.

In a similar way, I can write about whatever I want in an article, but the same premises, same cards, same ideas, same strategies, will always reveal themselves.

Having fully realized that, I decided to embrace it this week, and in future weeks. Today, I am going to head back into my past, and start bringing out a few of my earliest decks, and then update them with newer cards.

So here is the new feature for my articles. Starting today, no matter what the article is about, I will be adding an appendix. What will be in the appendix? A deck! I will grab one of my decks from a previous article, and feature it again in an appendix. The SCG deck index only goes back a short period of time. I’ve made hundreds of interesting decks down through the years, and giving them another day in the sun helps to give newer readers a chance to see some of my better decks, at no additional cost to me, because it will take like two seconds to copy and paste, and write a few extra sentences as a preamble. It could also be a nice blast to the past for those who have read a ton of my articles.

Begin Actual Article

Okay, let’s move into today’s article. I wanted to write about the interesting intersections between several different cards and strategies that revolve around Nether Shadow and its fellow creatures. We don’t really have a name in Magic for the strategy of cards like Nether Shadow and Ashen Ghoul — self recursion? Self reanimation?

I call it Andre Rison. This comes from a tournament-winning deck I built just after Weatherlight was released. It was focused on Buried Alive and it packed some cheap creatures, Bad Moon, Nether Shadows, and Ashen Ghouls. Andre’s last name was a good double entendre word game with Rising, and since Andre Rison was nicknamed Bad Moon by Chris Berman, I used it as the name for my deck, and that name stuck even after I pulled the Bad Moons, because of the whole Rison — Rising part of the name. Since I know of no other name for these cards and this type of deck, I’m calling then Andre Risons.

During my time as a writer, I’ve regularly created Andre Rison decks. I’ve also played various incarnations of the strategy for years. Well, it seems like it’s about time for a full primer on the strategy, the cards that make it work, some deckbuilding ideas, and more.

The Strategy

The goal of an Andre Rison deck is to use creatures like Nether Shadow, Ashen Ghoul, and others to stock your graveyard with goodies, and then return them ad nauseam. You then use them to fuel various effects while also looking for victory via the attack.

For example, my earliest version of Andre Rison decks included Skull Catapult. This could sacrifice a creature to deal two damage to something. Then you could simply return a creature to play and keep going.

This deck differs from a normal recursion strategy which seeks to put a big fat creature in the graveyard, reanimate it, and then win. This deck seeks instead to reanimate hordes of smaller creatures, instead of one or two big creatures. This deck does not need to waste slots on recursion cards, like Reanimate or Zombify, but instead just plays the major cards in the strategy.

Because of the heavy use of Black in these decks, they need to be virtually or fully Black.

These decks are very resilient to removal. Whether it’s a Wrath of God or a Terminate, this deck can easily recover. They are also very resilient to countermagic. Other than a card like Buried Alive, there really isn’t much in here hurt by a counter. Counterspell an Ashen Ghoul? A Nether Shadow? That doesn’t make much sense.

The only sort of removal this deck does not like is graveyard removal and exile creature removal. Cards like Tormod’s Crypt and Swords to Plowshares are the enemy of an Andre Rison deck. You could add stuff like Riftsweeper and Living Wish to the deck, but I wouldn’t play Green just for that stuff. Plus, with all of the sacrifice outlets, Swords et al is not as big a threat as it may seem. You can just sacrifice a Nether Traitor to a Blasting Station in response to a Path to Exile. It’s really the graveyard removal that’s the real problem.

The Creatures

There are a very small number of actual creatures that can be used in this strategy and they are the core of every one of these decks. Let’s take a look at them.

Nether Shadow – The first and original card is this rare from Alpha. They were printed in a ton of base sets, and you can get them for super cheap as a result. They don’t have a lot of power, but they make up for it with maximum flexibility. They cost no mana to recur, and always come out when the condition is met.

Ashen Ghoul — They have the same condition as a Nether Shadow to activate, but cost one Black mana to recur. They are much more powerful, dealing three damage in combat and as such serving as your major attack force. They are the core of every Andre Rison deck.

Nether Traitor — The recently printed Time Spiral edition has shadow, so it cannot be a blocker, but it will almost always hit for damage in an attack. In order to bring it out, you only need to kill another creature and spend Black. That happens a lot. These have become a core Andre Rison card.

Bloodghast — Another newer entry to the Andre Rison deck is this rare from Zendikar. It cannot play defense, and it only has haste if you have an opponent on the ropes. It recurs during your main phase, and if you play these, then you do not want to play other cards that look to discard cards in hand for an effect, because you’ll be looking to play all of your lands. Playing a land can give you a bunch of creatures, and that’s quite powerful, but it does not recur with the regularity of the other creatures. I think you can build an Andre Rison deck without them, and they are the most expensive of these creatures in terms of dollars. However, they are still a really nice addition to your deck.

Krovikan Horror — This classic from Alliances is great because it does two things for you. It comes back out, like many of the other creatures in your deck, with no mana and with an easy trigger condition. It also is one of the cards that can be a great sacrifice outlet for your creatures, as a Goblin Bombardment for one mana on legs. It also comes back at the end of any turn, so you recur it multiple times before it gets back to your turn in multiplayer.

Reassembling Skeleton — This card from the soon to be released M11 looks like another major entry for your Andre Rison decks. Spend two mana, and bring it back, anytime and anywhere. You can’t abuse it too much due to the mana cost, but you can pull it out, and then sac for something, and then pull it out, and sac for something. You can also pull it out and kill it in order to put more cards on top of recently deceased Nether Shadows or Ashen Ghouls, or to put on top of a Krovikan Horror to bring it back.

Brood of Cockroaches, Endless Cockroaches — These two cards can be nice adjuncts to an Andre Rison strategy, but I think that Reassembling Skeleton replaces them.

Aphetto Vulture, Gravebane Zombie — I’ve never liked these cards for this deck. I would urge you to steer clear of them.

Undead Gladiator — Even though it doesn’t work like the others, this card often gets included in an Andre Rison deck because it works alongside the others very well. You usually pitch something that self-recurs to Raise Dead this back to your hand, and then cycle it for a card. It’s a bit mana hungry to do too much.

There are other creatures that have powers in the graveyard, and some will self-recur, like Nether Spirit, Coffin Puppets and Akuta, Born of Ash or even Ghastly Remains or Ichorid. Those don’t really fit in this sort of deck, though. The other creatures are more of an adjunct strategy than the main highlights, and we will look at them a bit later.

The Engines

There are a lot of cards in Black that sacrifice a creature for an effect. Everything from Skulltap to Rite of Consumption kills your guys. You also have artifact sac cards as well. Listing them all would take forever. Let’s take a look at those I really like:

Drawing Cards — Phyrexian Vault, Carnage Altar, Infernal Tribute: I like these cards. My favorite is Infernal Tribute in most decks, because it costs just two to use, and you can sac things that are not creatures for cards as well, such as extra lands, an artifact before it goes, etc. I have played Carnage Altar in a recent version because I needed to up my artifact count for a card to be seen later.

Kill Stuff — Gate to Phyrexia, Attrition, Krovikan Horror, Skull Catapult, Blasting Station, Fodder Cannon, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Plagued Rusalka, Stronghold Assassin: There are a lot of these cards running around. There are also some janky spells that do the same, like Death Bomb. I prefer reusable permanents, though. Some of these just outright kill creatures (Stronghold Assassin, Attrition), some deal damage (Skull Catapult, Fodder Cannon, Blasting Station, Krovikan Horror), some -1/-1 creatures (Plagued Rusalka, Phyrexian Plaguelord) and finally one kills artifacts on a one for one basis. (Gate to Phyrexia). Of this group, I really like Blasting Station or Skull Catapult in the deck, Krovikan Horror in the deck, Attrition in the deck, and Gate to Phyrexia in the deck. I prefer to steer clear of creatures that don’t recur or otherwise use a Buried Alive and such. Since the deck does not have good creature removal targets, I want to keep it that way.

Gain Life — Dross Harvester, Gutless Ghoul, Diamond Valley, High Market, Life Chisel, Miren, the Moaning Well: Gaining life is always a good thing; it’s just not usually a great thing. I like to include Mirens in my Andre Rison decks. I recently ran a deck with Life Chisel because it is an artifact, and I needed to up that count.

Discard — Mind Slash, Sadistic Hypnotist, Cabal Therapy — I like taking out cards from someone’s hand. Sadistic Hypnotist allows you to Mind Rot people for creature sacrifices, and that is very powerful card advantage, especially when you get that Nether Shadow right back next turn. Mind Slash is more precise, taking out the one card you really care about. I generally run Mind Slash when I play one of these cards. I don’t always run it, though.

Recursion – Malevolent Awakening, Recurring Nightmare, Hell’s Caretaker, Victimize: I think it is important to note that Recurring Nightmare is okay in this deck, but unless you specifically put creatures in here to discard and bring back, it’s not that impressive. Otherwise, you’ll be sacrificing a Nether Shadow for something like a Necrosavant, which you can do anyway. I’ve been known to run Hell’s Caretaker from time to time, but I generally steer clear of these cards because your deck really doesn’t need it.

Other Stuff — Deathgreeter, Altar of Dementia, Lightning Coils, Pawn of Ulamog, Spawning Pit, Blade of the Bloodchief, Contamination, Eldrazi Monument, Helm of Possession, Phyrexian Tower, Carrion, Ritual of the Machine: Here I mention other cards of note. Helm of Possession is great in this deck, and it’s more than just removal, so it does not fit exactly in the removal section above. I love the Helm. Ritual of the Machine is a surprise way to Control Magic something as well. Carrion makes you a bunch of chump tokens, which you can then use as fodder for your engines, while Pawn of Ulamog makes 0/1 tokens a bit at a time. Deathgreeter deals damage to opponents. Blade of the Bloodchief gets super big. Altar of Dementia is great to use on yourself or on opponents, as the situation requires. Spawning Pit can sac creatures, and then make new ones for the grinder.

Note that creatures in this deck often want to be sacrificed. It’s the end of an opponent’s turn, you have a Nether Shadow in play, and four creatures in the graveyard, including a Nether Shadow with just two creatures above it. Sac the one in play for an effect, which enables you to bring out the other for free during your upkeep. Might as well get a free effect, right? Even if that’s just gaining life from a Miren or getting a counter on a Spawning Pit, it is worth it.

I want to take a second and address the two most powerful sacrifice effects for an Andre Rison deck. The first is Eldrazi Monument. This is a very powerful combination of cards. You have plenty of fuel for the fire, and your creatures get a serious upgrade in power. Suddenly, Nether Shadow and Ashen Ghoul and company look really threatening. Consider it.

The second is the old school Contamination. This can prevent all of your foes from casting their cute non-Black spells, and you can laugh in their innocent little faces as your corrupt their very land. This card has a lot of power in this deck, so consider it. It also makes your colorless lands tap for Black, so lands like Miren and High Market and Phyrexian Tower now tap for Black.

The Other Creatures

Every Andre Rison deck needs to consider which creatures it will play, in addition to any that are engines and recursion creatures. What if your opponent powers out a really big creature while you are frumping around with little dudes? There are also a lot of creatures out there that work really well with this strategy, and are looking for a home. Let’s take a look at a few friends.

Nim Devourer, Necrosavant — I’ve recently been quite fond of Nim Devourer and running four Vault of Whispers and several artifacts in order to get it to 8 or 9 power on a regular basis. Having a 9/1 creature I can bring back by sacrificing a chump whenever I want is really quite grand. Necrosavant was nicknamed the Black Hammer because of its ability to come back again and again from your graveyard with a sacrifice as well. Do you want the 5/5 with no extra work required, or the one with serious power potential, but a very weak backside? Whichever you prefer can make a fine addition to your deck.

Unearth Creatures — Creatures that have unearth and are Black could very well be run in this deck as another body, and if they get axed, they can come back for another turn, and then get sacrificed to some ability and then they get exiled. That gives you two sacrifices, two chances to contribute, and so forth. In a similar way, creatures with persist can gives you as second chance. For example, imagine Murderous Redcap in this deck. They only difference is that you can recur the Redcap and keep playing it, while you can get the unearth creature in play after getting it in your yard via a Buried Alive or something. The best card from this group for your deck is likely Corpse Connoisseur. It’s a great way to add the right creature to your graveyard. I would say Extractor Demon also has some value here.

Carrionette — I love this card. It just sits in your graveyard as an assassin, and when someone fails to notice its presence, or they tap out for something major, you spring this on them and exile their best creature (and the Carrionette goes too). It loves Buried Alive.

Filth — This also loves Buried Alive. Run with an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to guarantee all of your creatures get through. Even without that, Filth makes sure your creatures punish anyone who dares to try to master the powers of shadow. Contamination punishes those who play other colors, and this punishes those who play your own. They work well together. You could also play Cyclopean Giant and turn a land into a Swamp with its leaves play trigger, but then it cannot be recurred, so it may not fit this deck.

Butcher of Malikir — Later on, you are going to see Grave Pact in my adjunct cards section, and this is one on a stick, that flies. He is a great card to run in your deck. Within seconds, your opponents may find themselves creatureless. He is also super vulnerable to creature removal in this deck, since people will save their Rend Flesh and Terminates.

Scion of Darkness — You can get it to your graveyard by cycling it, and then return it with some recursion your deck has. It puts it on top of cards to get them back out. It also provides you some beef for the later game.

Dredge — Do you want to include the dredge cards in this deck? They would really fill you your graveyard in order to bring out the ghouls and shadows. I would recommend Dakmor Salvage in your deck at least, if you run Bloodghast. This is a tough call, but I think your deck runs fine without many dredge cards, but it is always your choice.

Iname, Death Aspect — It will stock your graveyard with cards like Nether Shadow, Krovikan Horror, Bloodghast and Nether Traitor. This one card pulls out them all and puts them in your yard, and that is definitely worth considering. Note that since a large portion of your deck may be spirit creatures, cards that are good for spirit creatures, or have soulshift, have interesting abilities. For example, Thief of Hope will trigger on the casting of all of the above spells, and bring back a Nether Shadow, Bloodghast or Nether Traitor to your hand when it dies.

Avatar of Woe — Since your deck could have a ton of creatures in the graveyard, and others should as well, this is a great card to drop for little mana. It is a huge target for opposing removal. Note that this card has dropped massively in price from the old days, and now is quite affordable for budget oriented casual players.

Xathrid Demon — In the old days, Nether Shadow and Lord of the Pit were great friends before Breeding Pit was made. If you are going to play a big creature with a Lord of the Pit-ish feel, this is a great choice, since it will deal damage to an opponent. However, if you are playing a big bad, I would recommend trying out…

Demon of Death’s Gate — Here is another card from M11, yet to be printed. It is 9/9 with trample and flying. It can cost you 9 mana, or it can cost you the sacrifice of three Black creatures and 6 life. That means you can get it out very early in these decks. Buried Alive on turn three for Bloodghastx3, and then a land being played gives this to you. The lifegain mentioned in the engine section can help stave off the life loss for the alternate cost. This would be uber-awesome if it could be played out of the graveyard. For another big creature with a similar cost in creatures, but not life, see Delraich.

Kuon, Ogre Ascendant — This is just wrong if it flips into a version of The Abyss that is much better than any other version, since it works on artifact creatures and creatures that are not able to be targeted by The Abyss.

Sengir Autocrat — Because it gives you a lot of fodder for sacrifice outlets, I have played these before in Andre Rison decks. It doesn’t have a lot of power, though.

Adjunct Cards

There are a lot of cards that are very powerful in this sort of deck, but which are not engines or other creatures. Let’s take a look at some I recommend.

Buried Alive, Entomb — You need to get creatures into your graveyard in order for this deck to work. Corpse Connoisseur and Iname, Death’s Aspect are great in here. But you need something that can be cast early, and can get anything in your deck, even a Black Hammer or a Carrionette for removal, or whatever. 4x Buried Alive is essential.

Tortured Existence — This is your Survival of the Fittest. In this deck, it is great. It can pull out a Horror that gets a non-creature card on top of it. You can rearrange your creatures to put the Shadows and Ghouls on the bottom and ready for recursion. You can mine your graveyard for whatever you need, and you can put a recursion creature in just before it would come back, such as a Bloodghast just before playing a land, and then you can get back something to cast again.

Grave Pact — In multiplayer, Grave Pact breaks your deck wide open, and I am warning you that it gives it a ton of power, and can allow you to Wrath of God the board anytime you want, and yet, it also turns the Wrath of the Table onto you. People will not be happy. Understand it, and use it only when you need to.

Bazaar of Baghdad — If you have been playing as long as I have, and you have a player’s set from way back, then break them out for this deck. If you don’t mind splashing the cash and picked these up later, break them out for this deck. They are amazing in this deck, and one of several powerful tools. They’ll even tap for mana with an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth out.

Skullclamp — While on the subject of broken card drawing for an Andrew Rison deck, let’s look at this brokenly good card for your deck. You can kill off tons of the creatures in your deck for two cards each, and then gain cards a-go-go. This is an awesome way to draw a huge chunk of your library.

Reito Lantern — One of the issues with playing a mono-Black deck is the inability to bring back the good stuff from your graveyard. You can use something like Skull of Orm or Crystal Chimes to return enchantments, and there are cards that return artifact creatures, but bringing back artifacts is not something you can do. Therefore, playing one or two copies of the Lantern and restocking your library with the spells, artifacts, enchantments, and lands you need is a really good idea. I doubt you’ll need a stocked graveyard for things like threshold. This will also provide some resistance to targeted graveyard removal, as you can put the card in the library in response. They also allow you to keep going past your deck’s normal sell-by date. The Lantern can affect cards in an opposing graveyard, so you can use it as graveyard “removal” against a foe.

Other Cards

After including your main creatures, your main engine cards, and then adjunct creatures and cards, you may want to round out your deck with other cards like creature removal, tutors, discard, graveyard removal, card drawing, and such. Don’t forget your deck basics while building an Andre Rison deck. Note that if you use the right engines and adjunct cards, you may already have card drawing, creature removal, artifact removal, and more.

Don’t forget your lands. Several are mentioned above, but running a good suite of lands is quite valuable. I’d keep the colorless tapping lands to minimum, and focus on Black lands. Take a look at last week’s article for ideas.

That brings us to the end of another article. I hope you enjoyed it! We’ll see you next week, and enjoy the appendix, starting today!

Until later…

Abe Sargent


As promised, here is the first of many appendixes. This article was published as a Daily deck in March 29, 2006. It was a random card challenge, where I randomly selected one card from all of Magic to build a deck around, and I randomly rolled Keldon Battlewagon. This is the deck I built around it, and the description from that article, cut and pasted for you.

Okay, let’s take a look at this deck. First, note that one of the keys of this deck is a little Keldon Battlewagon trick. You can tap the Battlewagon to pump itself. Attack with a Battlewagon, untap it with a Seeker, then tap it to double its size. That alone will make it quite powerful.

Timberwatch Elf is a great mana-free way to pump your Battlewagon. The deck already has a lot of elves in it, but if Ambush Commander is in play, the Timberwatch alone will be crazy.

Mobilize and Vitalize will allow you to untap all of your creatures and make the Battlewagon even bigger. Remember to tap the Battlewagon for itself.

Blanchwood Armor is a great enchantment prior to going off in order to give the Battlewagon a nice base power.

You won’t have too much mana when you go off, unless you have a Cradle or Priest in play. As such, you may have to use only Vitalize, Mobilize, and Berserks, cheap pump spells, on the “go off” turn.
If you do have access to actual mana from Cradle and/or Priest, you can use the Nantuko Mentor’s ability several times to seriously pump the Battlewagon to amazing heights.

Tribal Forcemage is a great flip early in the “go off” turn to raise the heights of your creatures.
Let’s take a look at a few scenarios.

Suppose it is the fifth or sixth turn of a game. You have out:

1 Battlewagon
1 Seeker of Skybreak
1 Priest of Titania
1 Timberwatch Elf
5 Forests

In hand you have a pair of Vitalize or Mobilize.

This is not a great situation. Obviously you could be in a much better position. However, let’s get cracking.

Tap the Timberwatch to pump the Battlewagon. Tap the Priest to do likewise. Tap the Battlewagon to pump itself. Untap it with a Seeker and pump itself again. Everything is tapped, Battlewagon is at 16 power.

Cast Mobilize.

Tap the Timberwatch and Priest. Tap the Battlewagon, untap, and tap. Total power — 80.

Cast Vitalize.

Tap the Timberwatch and Priest. Tap the Battlewagon. Untap. Tap to attack. Total power when attacking: 168 power with trample.

And that was a minor group of creatures out. Suppose it’s a few turns later:

1 Battlewagon
1 Ambush Commander
1 Seeker of Skybreak
1 Nantuko Mentor
1 Priest of Titania
1 Timberwatch Elf
6 Forests

In hand: 2 Vitalize.

Tap the Timberwatch to give the Battlewagon +10. Tap the Priest for 10 mana. Tap the Ambush Commander and six Forest Elves for +8 power. Tap the Mentor to double the Battlewagon’s power. Tap the Wagon to double its power, untap the wagon with a Seeker, tap again.

After one round, 7 Green mana in pool, Battlewagon is at 144 power. Cast Vitalize.

Repeat except this time you tap the Priest for power instead of mana. 1304 power and 3 mana. Cast Vitalize again.

Repeat. This time you untap the Battlewagon with the Seeker and leave it untapped so you can attack. What do you have?

5292 power trampling creature of doom.

That’s a big creature.

In the above scenario, what if you had one more Seeker of Skybreak in play? 42336 power! An extra Vitalize or Mobilize? 338832 power!

2 Timberwatch Elves
2 Seekers
1 Nantuko Mentor
1 Priest of Titania
1 Ambush Commander
1 Blanchwood Armor already on the Battlewagon
6 Forests
3 Vitalize or Mobilize

2,634,496 power.

That’s right, over two million power. Raise your hand if you want to play the highest power creature ever seen in your life.